Foster Care 101: The foster parent application process

When we decided to look into foster parenting, I quickly realized there aren’t a lot of resources for helping you understand what to expect.

Sure, there are Facebook groups, message boards, and videos. But, I couldn’t find any real-life accounts with answers to some of my biggest questions. Like:

  • How long does the process take?
  • What is an agency?
  • Is the home study scary?
  • What kind of training do I need?
  • What documents will they require?

So, I want to share our experience.

Please remember that this is unique to our journey. Your state, county, agency, and other factors will make your path its own, but hopefully hearing our process will answer some of your questions.

The timeline

I placed the call to our agency on May 1.

Little did I know that May is actually Foster Care Awareness Month! I like to call this a “God thing.”

Our caseworker told us her average time frame for opening family homes is 90 days. I immediately planned to skew her average by being the quickest. Part of this was due to my competitiveness, but the greater part was on account of how eager we were to get started.

Sure enough, we were an open home 52 days after I placed that initial call.

Our timeline looked like this:

  • 5/1 – Initial call for information
  • 5/12 – Fingerprints
  • 5/20 – Training begins
  • 5/22 – Caseworker visit
  • 6/3 – Training ends
  • 6/9 – First home study visit
  • 6/14 – Second home study visit
  • 6/15 – Third home study visit
  • 6/21 – Contracts signed
  • 6/22 – Open home

The agency

We chose to go through an agency after speaking with friends and family who foster/adopt.  The difference between an agency and going straight through DHS is that the agency acts on your behalf. They’re the middle man, so to speak, and are there for support.

Our agency contact sent me an application after our first call. There was no fee for this application, but that may vary by agency.

The application

The initial application seems like a lot, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. You’ll provide basic information about your family, as well as your workplace(s) and finances. You’ll also provide a list of references the agency can contact on your behalf.


Each reference we provided received a letter from the agency, with a questionnaire they were instructed to return.

Additionally, both of our bosses received the letter and questionnaire. So, make sure your supervisor knows you’re starting this process or that will be an unexpected piece of mail (lesson learned, Heather).

Fingerprints and background check

After submitting our application, we were asked to provide fingerprints and submit to background checks. Again, this may vary by agency, but ours paid for our fingerprints to be processed by an outside vendor. It was easy and super quick.

We then authorized background checks and driving history reports.

Documents and forms

After the initial paperwork was filed, an agency representative visited our home. This was not the home study, just an initial visitation. She provided us with a huge folder filled with a dozen documents we needed to complete and return. They included:

  • House assessment
  • Physicals for every member of the family
  • Water safety agreement
  • Family history
  • Personality profiles

Additionally, we were asked to provide copies of:

  • Social security cards
  • Drivers’ licenses
  • Car license plates
  • Proof of car insurance
  • Marriage license
  • Birth certificates
  • Check stubs from work


This will absolutely depend on where and from whom you’re receiving your foster parent training. Ours took place over two full Saturdays. The sessions were packed with information about foster parenting, including:

  • Understanding trauma (tissue alert)
  • Discipline
  • Visitation
  • Foster parent rights
  • Birth parent rights

We were given tons of material and resources, as well as informed of local support groups and opportunities to get involved.

Home study

You can read all about our home study in our “Foster Care 101: what to expect from the home study” post. It was a three-visit process, and not as scary as you may think.


Each member of the home, including our biological son, had to receive a physical. I’m fortunate to have a doctor at my workplace, so mine was relatively easy. Scheduling time away from work to obtain my husband and son’s physicals was a bit cumbersome, but hey, we should ensure we’re healthy anyway, right?

Alternate caregiver

We had to select an alternate caregiver who could care for foster children if we were away for more than one day. You need to ensure that whomever you choose is willing to submit to background checks and home assessments. It’s basically a miniature version of this whole process, and may be intrusive for some.

Evacuation plan

Mapping out our house was the final step in our documentation process. We created a floorplan using and marked windows and doors that could be utilized in the event of an emergency. Alongside our emergency contact information, this document was placed in clear view on our kitchen cabinet.


After all of our documentation was submitted and our home study was complete, we waited. Our home study underwriter met with our case worker to go over our file. From there, they sent it up the chain to a supervisor, who also reviewed it. 51 days after our initial call, a placement coordinator came to our house and went over all of our paperwork. We talked about expectations and signed contracts. That’s when we became an open home!

Folks, I won’t lie to you.

This process is grueling. And there will be many times you’ll question why you have to provide so much information and do so many things in order to be approved. In fact, I know I made the comment several times that anyone can have a kid, but if I want to care for one who needs a home, I have to go through all of this.”

That’s a normal response. But, try to keep in mind that these children need to be safe. The state is aiming to ensure their well-being (and stay out of legal trouble themselves).

Trust me—it’ll be worth it in the end. There’s nothing quite like getting the notification that you’re an open home.

Good luck on your journey! If you have any questions about the process, feel free to contact us by commenting below or visiting us at

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