Thinking of becoming a foster parent in L.A.? Here’s how

Nefertiti Austin’s journey to motherhood started in her 30s. Things she never noticed before — diaper bags, bottles, strollers — were jumping out at her in stores.

“It was really just this overwhelming sense of wanting to be a mother,” Austin said.

Austin didn’t have a partner then and she didn’t mind if she skipped pregnancy. She knew adoption would be the right choice for her.

“At the time, lots of people were adopting from Ethiopia, South Africa and China,” she said. “I wasn’t interested in that.”

Austin knew there were many children in the L.A. area who needed homes. So she applied to become a resource parent, previously called a foster parent.

According to the Child Welfare Indicators Project, more than 58,000 children in California are in the care of their county’s social services department and in the process of joining a resource family. More than 20,000 are in Los Angeles County, where the agency tasked with helping those children is called the Department of Children and Family Services. There are also 51 private agencies in the county that help place foster children in homes.

One of them is the Children’s Bureau, where Cindy Stogel is the foster care and adoption coordinator.

“We try really hard to have the philosophy of, ‘If I couldn’t keep my child and my child had to go to another family, what would I want to know about that family? What would I want to know so that I know my child is safe?’” Stogel said.

If you’re considering fostering a child, you’ll need to learn the process of applying and gaining approval, and you’ll need to answer some challenging questions. You’ll also need to learn about the term “resource parent.” Here’s a guide.

Why ‘resource parent’?

Before you fill out an application, you’ll want to understand why you’ll be called a resource parent and not a foster parent.

In 2015, California enacted Assembly Bill 403, which brought new policies and terms to the foster care system. One notable change in the bill was the transition from the term “foster family” to “resource family.”

The Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services said stigma can be attached to the word “foster,” for both the caretaker and child.

“‘Resource parent’ is a term that more precisely defines the services provided by these individuals to the community,” a county spokesperson said via email.

Who becomes a resource parent?

A resource parent can be a relative of a child, a single person or partners, married or not. Applicants must be at least 18. They can be stay-at-home parents or not; renters or homeowners.

As long as applicants are capable of parenting or co-parenting and are approved by their county’s child and family social services department or a private agency, a child can join their home.

Austin knew biological parents didn’t have to be a child’s guardian. She and her brother were raised by their grandparents, for example, and her best friend was adopted.

“So I knew your parents didn’t necessarily have to give birth to you,” Austin said.

The only hesitancy she had was being a single person applying to be a resource parent. She didn’t know how she would be received during the in-person (this was before the pandemic) training classes.

But, “Once the class got underway, it really focused on who the children are and why they come to the foster care system,” she said. “I felt I was able to shift the focus off myself.”

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