Foster Care Licensing in the Tampa Bay Region
To call the licensing of foster parents in the Tampa Bay region confusing would be gentle criticism. When you get down to the specifics about what licensing organization would be best for your situation, most parents are completely perplexed and end with whatever agency is most convenient and available, not necessarily what is best.
Let’s start with a few basics.
There are now five different types of foster licenses in Florida.
Child-Specific Foster Home
This licensure type is the newest licensing type. It was designed for relatives and non-relatives who have an existing relationship with the specific child or children for whom they are seeking licensure.
Non-Child Specific Foster Home
This type is available to all individuals in the community who may wish to become foster parents.
Safe Foster Home for Victims of Human Trafficking
This type raises foster care to a whole new level and introduces elements of care that are challenging for most people, but necessary to victims of trafficking abuse.
Therapeutic Foster Home
This requires a home for caregivers who have received specialized training to care for a wide variety of children and/or adolescents who may have significant emotional, behavioral, or social needs.
Medical Foster Home
This type of licensing is for caregivers who have received specialized training to provide care for children and adolescents with chronic medical conditions. Typically children in this program range in age from birth through age 20 and they have medically-complex conditions.
Needless to say, most foster licensing is within the first two types. For more detail on these types, click here.
Overarching the entire system, are the Governor and the Florida legislature. They enact and enforce the laws that govern foster care in Florida. Just underneath the laws themselves is the Florida Administrative Code, a body of regulations that take the generalities of the statutes and try to make them work in the real world. Few people other than lawyers try to reach into the world of statutes and regulations.
To a degree, the state of Florida has “privatized” some aspects of foster care licensing. The completion of licensing for people seeking to become licensed foster parents takes place through community organizations.
To qualify as a foster parent you must:
- Be 21 years of age or older.
- Attend an orientation.
- Complete free foster parent educational resource hours, typically 20 to 30 hours that will make you more prepared for the challenges ahead.
- Have a child abuse and fingerprint-based, criminal background check.
- Participate in a home inspection, because you must have the physical requirements.
- Participate in a home study to review your readiness for fostering in your home.
You do not have to be married, wealthy, or even a homeowner to be a foster parent. What is needed is that you are willing and able to provide a caring environment for a child or children in need.
You may call 1-833-678-3735 to speak with a person designated as a foster community ambassador. You can learn the next steps for you. Or you can speak with or visit one of the local agencies. This is where it gets especially confusing. The Suncoast region of Florida stretches from Pasco County down to Collier County and is divided into four sub-regions. They are:
Pasco and Pinellas Counties
Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto Counties
Charlotte, Glades, Lee, Hendry and Collier Counties
The agency over Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto Counties is Safe Children Coalition.
The agency over Charlotte, Glades, Lee, Hendry and Collier Counties is Children’s Network of Southwest Florida.
Pasco and Pinellas Counties are under Family
Support Services of Suncoast.
As if that wasn’t hard enough, in Hillsborough County, Eckerd Connects is the overall agency in Hillsborough County but their contract ends June 30, 2022. The agency over Hillsborough County as of July 1, 2022 will be Children’s Network of Southwest Florida as the County transitions away from Eckerd Connects. Eckerd Connects has allowed different organizations to perform licensing and it is different depending on the county in which you live. That is not expected to change.
Through June 30, 2022, Eckerd Connects allows Children’s Home Networks (“CHN”) to be licensed and to license 3 other agencies to license people to be foster parents. After that, Children’s Network of Southwest Florida will take over the work Eckerd Connect had been performing.
The 4 licensing agencies are:
Pasco and Pinellas Counties
There are more than 20,000 children in Florida in foster care and over 8,000 in foster care in the Tampa Bay region. Being a loving foster parent is an opportunity to make an immeasurable difference in the lives of children who need something they have not had – stability and unconditional love.
Fostering can be challenging. About one-half of the families that become licensed to provide foster care stop after their first placement. For a few, that was all they wanted to do. But for many others, the task of facing the issues of children who sometimes have been badly abused, neglected or exploited, possibly going first to a hospital for essential treatment before being eligible to foster care, and then entering a world they didn’t chose or want is too hard.
Many who quit say they felt there was little support. They felt that the “system” was too difficult to figure out. They felt the system wasn’t responsive and actually opposed them. That is part of why The Idlewild Foundation has stepped in to try to eliminate some of the lack of support.
Click here to learn more about what The Idlewild Foundation and Idlewild Baptist Church offer to help.