Ever wondered what it takes to get licensed to become a foster parent in South Carolina? I had so many questions when we first started thinking about going through the process. I vowed that I would record every step of the journey for posterity so that anyone else interested in becoming a foster parent through the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) system would be able to use this blog as a resource! This is a long post, but I like to think it’s an interesting process. Grab a glass of wine and settle in! I wrote this blog as each event happened, so everything stayed fresh in my mind.
Everything I have ever heard about foster care and adopting through “the system” has led me to believe that I’m in for one long, continuous nightmare. That’s part of the reason why AJ and I decided to start the foster care licensing process this spring – we had heard it takes some people up to a year. That was the case for one of our friends, and it seems to be the case on many blogs I’ve read. Figuring it would take a really long time, we figure we might as well start now so that in Spring 2018, we will be licensed and ready to accept children into our house. This gives us plenty of time to get over the shock of the mere concept of being a parent to a child which, admittedly, is…still kind of hard to imagine. As you’ll see, that’s not EXACTLY how things ended up working out.
- April 5, 2017: I submitted an “interest form” online through the South Carolina Department of Social Services website, indicating that I’d like to talk to someone about the foster care application process. The form asks what ages and genders we’re interested in fostering and um…I have no idea? The website tells me to expect a call within 24 hours.
- April 10, 2017: Having received no call from our form, I decide to call the number listed on the website, which says we can fill out our application over the phone. I figure this is just the first of many disappoints and delays from “the system,” so I vow to be proactive. The number listed is for an organization called Heartfelt Calling. The very helpful woman who answers searches for my “interest form” submittal, but can’t find it. It was never received, or it has been lost. She tells me she is glad I followed up because no one would ever have called me. She walks me through an application that takes about 15 minutes to complete and asks about our occupations, general background, income level, and again, what ages and genders we’re interested in fostering, and how many kids. I just say “we’re hoping training will help us decide!” She tells me the next step is for AJ and I to get fingerprinted, and then we should call back when that is completed. She sends me the instructions via email immediately.
- April 14, 2017: I go to get fingerprinted. It takes five seconds, and the lady is very helpful. She tells me I must keep my receipt because someone at DSS will ask for it. Thus begins my relentless anxiety about keeping perfect records of everything.
- April 17, 2017: AJ gets fingerprinted. I threaten to murder him if he does not bring me the all-important receipt.
- April 18, 2017: I call Heartfelt Calling back and tell them that we have completed our fingerprinting. The woman wants to get us set up for training immediately, which was something I was worried about. The training dates on the website seemed like it had to be completed in one month (two full Saturdays), and I was out of town on one of the Saturdays each month basically until September. However, she said it wasn’t a problem to split them up, so we now have our dates. May 13th and June 20th. I get an email confirmation immediately and feel a little panicked because holy crap, this is happening. WHAT ARE WE DOING? I then panic even more when I get an email with 16 attachments to help us start our application. In one of those attachments, it tells us that DSS is required to wrap up the licensing process in just 120 days by law, starting today. Ohhhhhh my goodness! That’s…less than a year. Like, a lot less. Supposedly, our assigned social worker will contact us in 5-7 days about our application and first interview.
- April 20, 2017: WHAT IS HAPPENING? I just got an email from our assigned social worker. It’s only been 2 days and we were told 5-7. This email includes 34 attachments and a request to set up a phone call so we can set up our first interview. I tell the social worker that any time after 10:30 am the next day is fine, and she responds immediately that she will call me AT 10:30 am. Whoever said the foster care system is sluggish was clearly not talking about South Carolina. For once, our state exceeds expectations at something! We spent the rest of the night filling out forms, including a 16 page autobiography that asked very detailed questions about our childhoods, relationships with our families, our marriage and dating history and information about our relationship, as well as how we would handle particular parenting situations. You know how hard it is to answer parenting questions when you’re not a parent? Um, kind of hard. (PS, if you have any tips on what to do with a bedwetter, let me know).
- April 21, 2017: Today, I had my first call with our assigned social worker. I was pretty nervous and not sure what to expect. If I’m being honest, I think I was expecting to hear someone who sounded bored, burnt out, and disengaged, just going through the motions. I could not have been more wrong! She was unbelievably friendly, easy to talk to, and reassuring. She asked some questions about our house and what age children we were considering fostering. I told her about how nervous we are (but of course, excited as well) and she said probably the most reassuring thing I’ve ever heard. “You should be nervous!” she said. “This is a big change for anyone, but since you don’t have children yet, of course you will be nervous. To me, that is a good sign. It means you are thinking this through and recognize the magnitude of what you’re doing. In my experience, the people who are the most nervous are the ones who end up being the most prepared. It’s the people who aren’t nervous that I worry the most about.” Whew! I felt about a thousand times better after that, as did AJ. We scheduled our first home interview for May 2.
- April 28, 2017: Prospective foster parents (and all other members of the household, if applicable) are required to get a medical screening as part of the licensing process. AJ and I went for our appointment today and it was a pretty standard physical. Our forms required that our doctor do a TB test (which requires you to come back a day or two later so they can verify a negative result), as well as a blood test that shows cholesterol numbers. The whole experience was pretty easy, and our doctor lit up when he saw our paperwork, which said “Medical Report for Prospective Foster Parents.” “This is the one kind of paperwork I don’t mind doing!” he said. He also mentioned that one of his other patients is a foster parent and said that the guy told him that 7 of the 10 kids he has had were very easy. Two were challenging and required a lot of attention, but showed big improvements with consistency. The last one ultimately was too challenging and required a different home. Those are a lot better odds than we were thinking, so we felt very encouraged by this little anecdote – however small.
- May 2, 2017: We had our first home interview today! I’ll admit – I was pretty frantic about cleaning the house and it was probably the cleanest it has been since we moved in. I did not really know what to expect and was thinking it would be a full-on top to bottom search of our house. Well, it wasn’t like that at all! Our social worker spent maybe 3 minutes total walking around the house, and most of that time was spent telling us where we needed to put smoke detectors (our house needs 9 by DSS standards and we currently have 4…oops) and checking our fire extinguisher. We will have four home inspections by the time all is said and done: this one, an inspection by SC Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), an inspection by the Fire Marshall, and a final inspection by DSS. Our DHEC and Fire inspections are scheduled for May 22, while our final DSS inspection will take place at the end of June. Most of our time was spent going over our paperwork and honestly, AJ and I asking a ton of questions about what we can expect. Our social worker kept reiterating that things were not going to be nearly as bad as we think and that while it will be hard, it is nothing we can’t handle. The highlight (or lowlight) of the entire 2 hours came when I asked her if our concerns were more or less extensive than the average family entering foster care – aka, how neurotic are we? Her answer was “Um…I’d say you’re a little over the top.” Story of my life! All in all, we left the home interview feeling more confident, better prepared, and further able to narrow down the ages and types of kids that would be a good fit for us. We should be licensed sometime in July and will receive our first placement around September 1, since I will be out of town for a big part of August.
- May 13, 2017: We had our very first official training today (we are required to attend two 7-hour training sessions before becoming licensed). AJ and I were both kind of nervous and not sure what to expect or what horror stories we might hear. There were single people and couples there of all different ages and races, including one couple who has been fostering for the past 12 years. As it turns out, we were completely and totally prepared for everything, and the training was actually pretty reassuring. They don’t sugarcoat anything, but they also are pretty clear about the fact that at the end of the day, foster kids are just kids. Our trainer has adopted two children who are 4th generation (!!) foster kids (as in, they, their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents have all been foster children) and she emphasized how important it is for us to help break this cycle and model normal family life for the kids. We left training feeling even more convinced that we are making the right decision – and that we can handle the challenges we will undoubtedly face.
- May 16, 2017: I submitted our final piece of paperwork! I’m glad to be done with all of that stuff. By the way, no one ever asked for the fingerprinting receipts.
- May 22, 2017: Today, we had our Fire Marshall and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC) inspections and…we failed both! First of all, I thought they would be two different inspections (done by different people), but the same person did them both. We failed on two different things. First, our water was too hot. SCDHEC requires that your temperature be no hotter than 120 degrees, which we knew. We had turned down the water heater, but I guess we didn’t do it soon enough, because the water was still too hot. I’d recommend turning it down a week in advance to give yourself plenty of time! Second, the deadbolt lock on our back door (to the outside of the house) required a key on both sides. This is a fire hazard because a child could not get out if the door was locked and they did not have the key – it can only have a key on the outside and a knob on the inside. We had no idea that this was an issue (it was never mentioned to us, nor was it in our paperwork), otherwise we would have fixed it. So, we have to replace that lock and make sure the water is the right temperature, and they’ll come back! It really wasn’t a big deal, but I felt bad – I wanted to do everything right the first time.
- May 25, 2017: We decided to attend the Greenville County Foster Parent Association meeting for May in order to meet other foster parents and get more familiar with the community. The meetings usually include dinner and a 1-hour training, plus time to socialize. We were able to meet a few other families and hear their stories, plus meet some of the kids. It was definitely a positive experience, so we decided to join and will be going regularly! Since we don’t know anyone who is currently fostering in our group of friends, we think it is really important to try and make connections with other foster parents who “get it” and will be able to help when needed!
- June 14, 2017: We find out that DSS needs “more detail” regarding my divorce, even though I have already told them the circumstances in painstaking detail. Specifically, they need the official complaint form (even though all it says is irreconcilable differences) despite already having the final decree. The problem is that I don’t have the official form anymore and neither does Kershaw County (where my ex and I lived), so I only have the electronic, unsigned version I sent. I’m annoyed that this is even an issue, given that the complaint form says the exact same thing as the final decree (and no details), but whatever. It ends up being fine.
- June 17, 2017: We take our second and final required 7-hour training class! This one was a little more based on practical applications and parenting strategies, so we found it more helpful.
- June 21, 2017: The fire marshal/DHEC official came back to do the inspection again, and we passed! Woohoo! This is the final thing we needed to do in order to get our license. Now, it is up to our licensing coordinator to complete our home study paperwork and get us licensed. Note: we’re still not accepting any placements until September 1 due to pre-planned vacations, but we can have our license in the mean time.
- June 24, 2017: Our home study is completed and submitted to the first supervisory level for approval. Now, we wait!
- August 16, 2017: After quite a bit of radio silence, we finally got word that our license had been officially approved! We expected a bit of a delay due to the summer holidays and the fact that we had made clear that we could not accept any placements until after I came back from Europe at the end of August. There was no reason for approval of our license to be a priority over other families who would take a placement immediately.
And that’s it! The entire process took I think 116 days from the “official start date” on April 14. We could have gotten licensed much faster had I not been traveling so much and we had been able to go to training sooner, but there was no rush for us. Overall, my impression of the South Carolina DSS licensing process has been extremely positive. They have really been on it every step of the way and communicated effectively and quickly. We never felt rushed through the process and we have been supported every step of the way thus far. Of course, I guess this is the easy part, but so far, so good!
Next, we will have a meeting with our assigned placement coordinator, who acts as a support system for us as foster parents. She will help facilitate matches for placements and is there as a resource for us when we have questions or concerns. She is a foster parent as well, so she is going to be giving us lots of suggestions and tips from that side of the coin. After that meeting, we could receive a placement at any time! I’ll write more about the placement process once I’ve experienced it.
LEAVE A COMMENT: What questions do you have about the foster care licensing process?