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What is foster care?

  • Foster Care is a temporary support to children who for one reason or another can not remain in their own family home. The reasons a child may need to come into foster care are as varied as each child is an individual.
  • Foster parents and their families provide a stable, supportive and nurturing family environment for the child or youth in need of care.
  • Many children come into the care of a Children’s Aid Society on temporary basis and are able to return home to their family once the stress or challenges at home have been alleviated.
  • Some children are only in care for a very short time while others must remain in care for longer.

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Who are foster parents?

  • Foster parents are individuals or couples with a genuine interest in caring for children or youth. They come from all walks of life, with a wide variety of culture, ethnicity, faith, education, experience and background.
  • Foster parents come with many differing levels of experience with children; some having raised their own children, some who have worked with children or have an education pertaining to childcare. Others have only their own childhood as experience. Everyone with an interest to be a foster parent comes with their own individual background to share with a child.
  • To be a foster parent it is best to have a  basic understanding of the needs of children and/or youth, and a willingness to learn. To be successful optimism, tolerance, patience and consistency are essential.
  • Foster parents work together with an agency that may be public, private, native, non-native or otherwise distinct.  The agency staff will develop a plan for each child. Planning will cover many areas of the child’s life: education; health; social skills; life skills; mental health; and permanency planning.

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What is permanency planning?

  • Ontario’s Child Welfare System is built on a foundation of permanency and the Best Interest of a Child and  how these work together.
  • Child Welfare is designed to protect children with a focus on the individual child and how to best achieve optimal outcomes. Permanency planning is one of the tenants of the child welfare system.
  • Foster care is designed to be a temporary feature of child safety, providing a home for a child when they can not be with their own natural family. Due to the intended temporary nature of foster care the system has instilled legal boundaries to help support a permanency plan for each child.
  • If a child arrives in a foster home before their 6th birthday the system only has one calendar year to make a decision on the permanency plan for the child. If the child has had their sixth birthday the system has two years to make the permanency plan. Although the decisions have to be made within each of these time frames; it is not uncommon for the enactment of the plan to take some additional time.
  • Permanency plans are varied and managed with the specific details of each child/family in mind. The plans are also prioritized.
  • The first priority permanency plan is for the system to intervene in a way that supports the natural family of the child in a way that entirely prevents the need for the child to come into foster care. Living at home with mom or dad is the primary permanence plan.
  • The second priority if a child has needed to come into the care of a foster family is for the system to support the natural family in mitigating the challenges they were facing in order to have the child returned home.
  • If a return home is not possible within the time frames the next priority is for the system to find kin. Kin is a person or family within the child’s biological family or biological families social community that may be able to come forward to offer day to day care for the child. If a child is placed with kin this is deemed to be a permanency plan for the child as the child is no longer in a foster home.
  • When a child could not return home, and kin can not be found, the system will see a legally permanent option for the child which could be a custody agreement – which is legally binding only up to a child’s 18th birthday. As it is not legal of one adult to have custody of another legal adult. Guardianship – which can surpass the eighteenth birthday but is generally based on a disability or special need that indicated the child is potentially going to need continued support as a legal adult. or adoption.
  • In the case of custody or guardianship there is a strong likelihood that the natural family will remain in the child’s life, and the legal agreement may be varied or terminated at some point in the future.
  • In the case of adoption the legal adoption is not open to termination or variance. However the adoption may come with an openness agreement or openness order.
  • If the child is indigenous the child may be placed through a family wellness center, in the home of an alternate care provider; who would be parallel to a foster parent in a non-indigenous agency. In the indigenous child welfare agencies permanency looks a bit different with a focus on Customary Care rather than kin, custody, guardianship, or adoption; which are all structures and terminologies pertaining to non-indigenous care.

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What is a Kin service family?

  • Kin is a person or family within the child’s biological family or biological families social community that may be able to come forward to offer day to day care for the child. Kin Service refers specifically to a kin family that is caring for the child outside of being a foster home. Kin service families are screened with a small home study that includes but is not limited to a vulnerable sectors police check, and a review of the physical family home and persons who live within the home. Kin service families are financially supported through Ontario Works, and have a wide variety of support or supervision by the placing agency.

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What is a Kin in care family?

  • A kin in care family is a family that for one reason or another chooses to be fully screened to become a foster parent for a specific child. Kin in care families are supported and supervised by the placing agency similarly to how the agencies foster families are supported. the placing agency also funds the kin in care family

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What is the Best Interest of a Child?

  • The Best interest of the child is the intent of the child welfare system to always be viewing the individual child and the individual child’s family in a way that guides the decisions, actions and supports for the child; in a way that is tailored to achieve optimal outcomes for the specific child.

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What is an Openness Agreement?

  • An openness agreement is a non legally binding agreement between an adoptive family and a member or members of a child’s natural family. The agreement is pertaining to some level of openness within the adoption. This may be anything from a photo and an update once or twice a year to regular in person visiting. The amount of openness is specific to the comfort and the interest of the families involved and the child. An openness agreement is flexible at any time to be reevaluated by either of the parties at any time.

What is an openness Order?

  • An openness order is legally binding. The order is generally outlined by the court at the time of the adoption and must be observed. the openness order can be anything from occasional photos or updates to regular scheduled in person visits. If any changes to the openness order are desired by either the adoptive or natural family; these changes will require applying for either a variance or termination through the courts.

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I am interested in Fostering, what are my options?

  • Foster parents in Ontario have a number of options, so the first place to start is deciding what kind of foster care you are interested in providing.
  • Public foster care or private foster care – within each of these systems there are also options
  • for example: indigenous foster care referred to alternate caregiving, Jewish foster care, Catholic foster care, different age groups, or special needs.

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The Public Children’s Aid Societies

  • CAS are divided among those that are general public agencies, those that are indigenous, and those that are distinct (Jewish & Catholic). In general the CAS are the ones that manage the legal case pertaining to each foster child; the CAS has the legal authority to apprehend a child from their natural family; the CAS has the authority to return a child to their natural family or other agreed upon permanency plan. Most CAS have foster homes only and place youth in need of group care in the private system; but a few CAS also have group homes.

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Private Foster Care Agencies

  • These agencies are divided among those that offer foster care {a family model home with one or two parents}, residential care {treatment facilities}, or group care {care of more than 4 youth, in a staffed facility} . Some private agencies offer all three options. private agencies may also be distinct, indigenous, or focus on a specific type of placement (ADHD, FASD, teens, medically fragile – as a few examples).
  • The CAS has children in care due to the child having been apprehended by the CAS due to a safety risk or understanding of neglect; the natural family may not be in agreement that the child needs any protection.  Or the child may be in a voluntary placement by the natural family, often referred to as a temporary Care Agreement (TCA). generally these are cases where the family is in a degree of agreement to have the CAS intervene in the care of the child. there are also teens in care who they themselves have requested the provision and protection of the society.
  • The CAS will as a child comes into care through any of these streams assess where to best meet the needs of the infant/child/youth. many are laced in a public CAS foster home, others are placed in a private foster home, a group home or a treatment facility.
  • Why might an infant/child/youth be placed where they are?

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Residential treatment facility

  • A young person may be placed in a residential facility due to a significant health, mental health, life style or safety risk. This may be a risk to the young person or to others.  treatment facilities ideally are one step along the way of helping a young person and ideally following treatment they will be moved to a group or foster placement.

Group home care

  • A young person may be placed in group care if they have a care profile that is the specialty of the group home. They may be placed in a group home as a transitional place to learn skills and gain comfort with a family home model before moving to a foster home. they may be in a group home due to a better individual match to the function of a group environment, rather than a family home. They may be in a group home waiting for a foster home placement match. For some young people the group home offers more autonomy than a family model home.

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Foster Home

  • The majority of the infants/children/youth in foster care are in foster homes. The family based foster home model is the preference for children if it is safe, available, and family matching is obtainable. a foster home can be opened for one bed, two beds, three beds or four beds. Foster homes may not have more than four foster children in the home without specific and expressed permission from at least the CAS Executive Director.
  • Within the general one-four bed standard foster home expectations there are a few variances. A few agencies only allow one placement in a foster home at a time, but this singular placement may be a sibling set of 2,3 or 4 children. A few agencies are interested in their foster homes being open to consider adopting the foster children in their homes, this is referred to as “foster to adopt”. A few agencies require their foster homes to be open to potential adoptions, this is referred to as “unilateral foster with a view to adopt”, where families not open to adoption will not be considered to foster.

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Why does CAS place children in Private Foster Care when they have their own foster homes?

  • The CAS will place a majority of the infants/children/youth in their care in their own foster homes, but many are also placed in private foster care. this may be due to a number of factors. Sometimes a child needs to be placed in a certain location to be near natural family and the CAS has no homes in that area. Sometimes the child has a special need a private home is specifically trained to parent. Sometimes a child is high profile for one reason or another and the Best Interest of the child is protected with a degree of separation. Sometimes a child’s behaviors are such that the public CAS foster homes has declined to receive the child. Sometimes the child is medically fragile and the support the private foster home can access is required for the best interest of the child. Sometimes the CAS public foster homes are all full and the children need a place to go.
  • Private foster care agencies also receive placements on a voluntary basis through a variety of social support service agencies.

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I am interested in Fostering, but where do I start?

  • Once you have reviewed the different options available to you, you can make some inquiries.
  • If you are looking at becoming a public foster parent, you can log onto the Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies (OACAS) website and click on the link to “locate a society” and you can easily confirm the CAS that covers the catchment area you live in. You can also confirm if there are other options for your catchment area like indigenous, Jewish or catholic. You can then open up their website and read what they are all about and how to contact them to begin your home study process.
  • If you are looking at becoming a private foster parent you can log onto the Ontario, Association for residential Treatment of Youth (OARTY), click the link to their members and see a nicely laid out chard that indicates the kind of care the private agency offers as well as the area of the province they cover. then link into any websites that appeal to you and read through what they are all about and how to contact them to start your home study.
  • You can also check the Ontario Residential Caregivers Association (ORCA) Website and read up on some more private operators.

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What is a Home Study?

  • A Home Study is the process of evaluating a potential foster parent and their family. It is a very extensive process of looking into all areas of their family life to verify if they are indeed a safe and nurturing place for a foster child to heal and grow. The core details of most home studies will be:
    • A vulnerable sector police check
    • a driving records check
    • a child welfare records check
    • a medical reference letter (covering physical, and mental health)
    • a financial stability check
    • interviews of the foster parent(s) and foster family members
    • assessment of the family home
    • reference letters from friends and family
    • lots of paperwork, forms and conversations.
    • many agencies also have a training component where prospective foster families gather with other prospective families and train and conversate together; this is part training and part assessment.
  • The process is at no charge financially, it is comprehensive, thorough, and takes a number of months. The first step is a phone call from you letting your choice of agency know you are interested in becoming a foster parent.

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