Becoming a Foster Parent Guide

Make a lasting difference in a child's life.

Rachel Skousen March 26, 2014

There are over  400,000 children in the United States currently in the foster care system.  Often, these children have been removed from homes where they were neglected or abused, though some come into foster care after losing their parents or caregivers.  They have been to some very dark places and they need some stability and hope.


Becoming a foster parent is one way that you can make a real and lasting impact on a child’s life.  It can also be a bridge into foster adoption. (For more information about how to adopt a child from the foster care program, click here.)

Step 1: Decide to Become a Foster Parent
1. Step 1: Decide to Become a Foster Parent

The decision to become a foster parent should not be made lightly. A child in the foster care system is a whole human being with a wide variety of needs that need to be met.

This self-assessment might help you determine if you’re ready to become a foster parent.

Am I Qualified to be a Foster Parent?
2. Am I Qualified to be a Foster Parent?

As a foster parent, you will need to be patient, open to learning and adapting, and willing to reach out for help and support when you need it. You’ll need to be prepared to cope with the uncertainties that come with foster parenting and be able to open your heart to a child who may only be with you for a matter of days or weeks or months—or who may live in your home for years.

Successful foster parents come from many backgrounds. You don’t have to fit into a certain race, marital status, or income bracket to be a foster parent. If you have room in your home, enough money to support yourself financially, and a fairly clean criminal history record, chances are you’re qualified to be a foster parent.

3. Finances

It is a myth that providing foster care is an easy way to “make a little side money.” You will be reimbursed for the care you provide for any children placed with you, but that money is simply there to make it easier for you to afford the needs of a child—extra food, extra clothing, extra utilities, and time that you may need to take away from work to attend to your foster child’s needs.

Educate Yourself
4. Educate Yourself

Read about other foster parents and their experiences.

Find some real-life foster parents and drill them for information. “What do you wish you had known before you began foster parenting?” “What can I do to prepare myself to be a foster parent?” “What surprised you most about foster parenting?”

One place you can connect with other foster parents is through our foster care forums.

It’s essential that you spend time learning about how abuse and neglect can impact a child’s behavior and development.

You can find lots of great articles about adoption and foster parenting here.

Attend an Orientation Meeting
5. Attend an Orientation Meeting

Most states require you to attend an orientation meeting before you even submit an
application to become a foster parent. These meetings are usually 1-2 hours long and will give you a general overview of what to expect as a foster parent.

These meetings are a great way to meet other experienced and prospective foster parents and begin building your foster parenting support network.

This orientation meeting will hopefully give you an idea of the different types of foster parenting—emergency care, long-term care, therapeutic care, and respite care. You can select one or more type of foster parenting that you’re willing to do.

Step 2: Submit Your Application
6. Step 2: Submit Your Application

Each state has an application form you’ll need to complete to indicate your interest in becoming a foster parent. It’ll probably include the following information:

- Your contact information.
- Employers and residences over the most recent years.
- Information about your current marriage and any previous marriages, if applicable.
- Information about your finances.
- Names and locations of family members.

You will address many of these questions in greater depth when you complete your home study (more on that later).

Step 3: Complete Educational Classes
7. Step 3: Complete Educational Classes

Every state requires that all prospective foster parents (and foster adoptive parents) complete educational classes that will help teach them some of the skills you’ll need in order to parent a child with a history of trauma. Each state has adopted a different curriculum. These are the main programs in use today. You’ll need to check with your state for more information regarding locations, times, and requirements for classes. Most agencies will send you to these trainings free of charge.

Step 4: Complete a Home Study
9. Step 4: Complete a Home Study

A home study is a very detailed background check. A social worker will work with you to gain more detailed information about you, anyone else living in your home, your neighborhood, and your friends. Your social worker will also ask you to provide information about your reasons for wanting to foster a child, ask for references and follow up with them, interview you (and your spouse, if you’re married), and look over your home to make sure it’s a safe place with adequate room to house a child.

The state foster care program you’re working with will have one of its staff social workers complete this evaluation.

Many states provide the option of either

(1) Completing a basic foster-care-only home study or
(2) Completing a “dual” home study that would enable you to adopt a child in your care, should the opportunity arise. (Please note that you can complete an adoption home study later if you don’t choose this option in the beginning. If you want to learn more about foster adoption, visit our Foster and Adoption page.)

Click here for some great tips on surviving your home study.

Step 5: Wait
10. Step 5: Wait

Hopefully it won’t be long until you get a phone call about a potential placement.

While you’re waiting, continue reaching out to other foster parents and learning all that you can about foster care.

Step 6: The Call
11. Step 6: The Call

You’ll get a call when a social worker identifies you as a potential parent for a child in the foster care program. Take time to consider the placement before accepting. It is especially important for you to explore how the placement might impact any other children currently living in your home.

Step 7: The Placement
12. Step 7: The Placement

Do what you can to help foster children transition into your home. Help them understand what your role is as their foster parent and that you are there to keep them safe. Show them around the house, making sure they know that they can ask again if they can’t remember where the bathroom is. Introduce them to the routines, rules, and structure in your home, but keep it simple. For younger children, a picture book might help address some fears.

Be patient. Be kind. Open your heart. Many foster parents are afraid to “get too attached” to the children in their care, but these children need to know what attachment is, and oftentimes they have not had a chance to learn it from anyone else.

Thank you for considering foster parenting.

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Rachel Skousen

Rachel has a long-held passion for adoption that was sealed through her work as the content manager at She currently works as a content specialist at, finding and sharing amazing adoption content from across the web. She is a mom of three and loves reading and napping in her spare time.

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