If you’re in training to become a foster parent, or in the midst of the home study process, at some point you’ll be asked to consider what ages you are willing to accept for placements. Many social workers will tell you that older children are more difficult to place, for a variety of reasons, so it’s worth considering whether an older child might be a good fit for your family.
It’s important to remember that every child and situation and family is different. I’ve accepted placements as young as two days old and as old as fourteen. Some older children were a great fit for our family and others were more of a struggle. There are no hard and fast rules, but here are a few questions to ask yourself to help guide your decision.
Can you handle the additional demands on your schedule?
A foster child placement of any age will require adding things to your schedule. Court hearings, meetings with social workers and lawyers, and family visits are all part of the normal course of foster parenting. In my experience, this tends to be amplified with older children. You will also need to manage school schedules and events and extra-curricular activities. The older children who have been placed in my home have also been more likely to attend court-ordered therapy.
Some people manage busy schedules like this without breaking a sweat, but others need to have plenty of time at home to recharge. If you’re one of the latter, fostering an older child might not be the right fit for you.
Will you need to arrange child care for your foster child while you’re working?
Daycare costs vary by area, as does the reimbursement available to cover these expenses for foster children. If you will need to arrange regular child care for your foster child while you’re working, it’s a good idea to know these numbers and consider the cost.
What are the ages of other children in your home?
Consider how your children will react to kids in different age groups. Will they enjoy helping with a younger child, or would they do better with a potential playmate close to their age? Is it important to you to maintain birth order in your family? One friend of mine believes strongly in maintaining this, so she only accepts placements younger than her youngest child.
This is especially important with newly adopted children that may not yet feel secure in their place in your family. This was true for my daughter when I began fostering, so I would only accept placements several years younger than her. I wanted to help her feel like her place in our family as the oldest wasn’t changing.
It is also important to consider potential safety concerns. It’s your responsibility as a parent to keep all the children in your home safe. For my family, I made the decision to accept only female teenage placements, rather than mixing male and female.
How do you feel about diapers?
Babies may be cute and cuddly, but they also require diaper changes, middle of the night feedings, and bulky car seats that are not easy to move around. I love little ones, but there is a certain freedom that comes from not having to drag a diaper bag with you everywhere you go.
Do you have room in your heart and room in your home?
Really, this is the bottom line. Rather than asking yourself if you should foster an older child, maybe the better question is, why not?