Becoming a Child-Specific Foster Parent and Guardianship Assistance Program
Many think of foster parents as those who provide care to children in the child welfare system with whom they have no pre-existing relationship. This is no longer the case! The state of Florida now divides foster care licensure into five levels of care. Level 1 Foster Care applies to relative and non-relative caregivers who are providing care to children in the child welfare system with whom they do have a pre-existing relationship.
In our community, there are numerous individuals who have stepped up to care for a child who is not their own. Whether this child is family or like-family, it is still a tremendous undertaking for which support is needed. There are many different financial avenues available to these caregivers such as TANF funds, Relative Caregiver Funds, and Non-Relative Caregiver Funds. Though these are all viable options, it is Family Integrity Program’s belief that the most beneficial program available to relative and non-relative caregivers is the Guardianship Assistance Program (GAP).
The Licensing Process
In order to become eligible for the Guardianship Assistance Program, a caregiver must go through the Level 1 Licensing Process. This is a simple process facilitated by Family Integrity Program’s GAP Specialist that consists of online educational training and a thorough licensing home study. Though the process proceeds at a pace reflective of each caregiver’s availability, if the caregiver is eager to complete the required steps, it is unusual for the process to last longer than 60 days. Once completed, the license is valid for 12 months and requires annual redetermination. A few benefits of being a Level 1 Foster parent are a monthly board rate, Medicaid coverage for the child, and additional community supports.
The required pre-service training consists, at a minimum, of one online educational course which introduces the basic concepts related to Florida’s Child Welfare System, explains the role of the caregiver, explores how trauma impacts children, and provides general first-aid tips in five short modules. From start to finish, this educational training takes no more than two hours but can be completed over the course of time that is most convenient for the caregiver. Depending on the location of the home, the caregiver may be required to complete an additional online water safety course and depending on the medical needs of the child, the caregiver may need to complete a medication management training. These courses may be completed from the comfort of one’s home, but if a caregiver does not have access to a personal computer, Family Integrity Program offers the use of their computer lab Monday through Friday, from 8:00-5:00.
In addition to the completion of the pre-service online training requirements, caregivers must participate in the development of a Home Study. This will include background checks on all household members and regular visitors, collection of financial statements, personal references, photo documentation of the home, discussion of family, personal, professional, and medical history, and a thorough assessment of the home environment. A benefit of Level 1 Licensure is that it allows for certain non-safety requirements to be waived on a case-by-case basis as long as there are adequate accommodations for the child. This means no family should assume they will not qualify for any reason! Though the home study process can appear invasive, it is important to consider the level of assessment that you would expect to have completed before entrusting one of your loved ones in to someone else’s care.
Guardianship Assistance Program
Unfortunately, once removed for reasons related to abuse or neglect, not all children are able to safely return to their parents. If reunification or adoption are not in the child’s best interest, a caregiver may commit to caring for a child long-term as their permanent guardian. Enrollment into the GAP program allows Level 1 Foster Parents to continue receiving the benefits of their licensure after the case closes until the child turns 18. In addition to the previously listed benefits, there is a Tuition and Fee Exemption Waiver for youth in foster care to any Florida public college or vocational program. If the child is aged 16 or 17 at the time of case closure, this family would be eligible for Extension of Guardianship Assistance Program (EGAP), meaning that as long as the young adult meets criteria, the family can continue to receive benefits until the youth is 21 years old. A vital requirement of GAP/EGAP is that the caregiver must be licensed as a Level 1 Foster Parent for a minimum of 6 months prior to case closure so it is beneficial to start the process in a timely manner.
If a child who is family or like-family has been placed in your care by the Department of Children and Families and you have not explored becoming a Child-Specific Level 1 Foster parent, please contact the GAP Specialist, Lisa Aiple at email@example.com.