So you’ve decided to be a foster parent? Congratulations and welcome to the club! There is always a need for more families that are willing to open their heart to a vulnerable child.

One of the questions you will get asked during your home study process is about your preferred age range. This is a big question, and there are a lot of factors you can consider when making your decision.

Would you need to find childcare?

If you are a single parent foster home or one where both parents work outside the home, you should consider both the cost and availability of childcare in your decision. In some areas, the expense of childcare may be fully or partially reimbursed, but there will likely be an initial out-of-pocket cost to you. You may also want to consider how easy it is to find childcare in your area, especially for infants. Can you afford to take the time off work, with little notice, until you’re able to make those arrangements?

If you have biological or adopted children, how old are they?

There is no perfect formula for this. Some people say it’s important not to mess with birth order. Others might say it just depends on your individual children and their needs. The age range you accept can and should change as your family does. You may already have a gut feeling on what your children need, but if you don’t, ask them. Unless they’re too young to understand what you’re asking, this can be one way to make sure your children feel heard and included as you embark on this journey as a family.

Where is there the greatest need in your community?

Perhaps there aren’t too many foster families who willing to take teenagers in your area. Maybe your city or county is dealing with a huge influx of drug-addicted newborns and is struggling to find foster parents who can be home with a child before licensed daycare is an option. There may be a lot of sibling groups in foster care and not enough homes to keep siblings together. The specific needs for the community may change over time, but what a wonderful gift to be able to say, “I can help in whatever way you need me.”

These are just some of the factors you can consider, and while it’s a good idea to think about it ahead of time, remember that age is only one of many criteria social workers will use before calling you for a placement. Also, some kids may be one age chronologically and a different age emotionally. The best approach overall is to use an age range as a guideline only, and to remain flexible. You might just find that the best fit for your family is someone you weren’t even expecting.