Foster parents provide a temporary, safe home for children in crisis. They are part of the child’s support, treatment, and care programs. They are partners of the child’s social worker, attorney, teachers, and doctors. Being a foster parent is not a passive act of opening one’s home and providing food, clothing, and shelter. For some, it’s a first step toward adoption. For others, it’s a proactive statement of nurturing, advocacy, and love. But it’s not for everyone.
Children who need foster families have been removed from their birth family homes for reasons of neglect, abuse, abandonment, or other issues endangering their health or safety. Many of these children are filled with fear, anger, confusion, or a sense of powerlessness at having been removed from the only home they have ever known. Many are sibling groups, older children, or young teens. Some have developmental, physical, emotional, or behavioral problems.
They all need safe, supportive environments.
These are questions to ask yourself before taking the next step:
- Can you love and care for a child who has come from a difficult background?
- Can you help a child develop a sense of belonging in your home even though the stay is temporary?
- Can you love a child who, because of a fear of rejection, does not easily love you back?
- Are you secure in yourself and your parenting skills?
- Can you set clear limits and be both firm and understanding in your discipline?
- Do you view bed-wetting, lying, defiance, and minor destructiveness as symptoms of a child in need?
- Can you tolerate major failures and small successes?
- Can you accept assistance and guidance from trained social workers?
- Can you maintain a positive attitude toward a child’s parents even though many of the problems the child is experiencing is a direct result of the parent’s actions?
- Can you love with all of your heart and then let go?
All states offer financial support. The amount varies from state to state, but in all cases, you must be able to prove that your current family needs can be met without having to use any of this income. Many states also offer clothing, daycare or day camp allowances.
Requirements to become a foster parent vary from state to state, but this list covers the basics. Be sure to check with the Foster Care Specialist (or equivalent) in your state or province for detailed information.
- Be at least 21 years old.
- Have enough room (and beds) in your home for a foster child to sleep and keep his or her belongings.
- Live in a home that can meet basic fire, safety and sanitary standards.
- Be physically and emotionally capable of caring for children and have no alcohol or drug abuse problems.
- Be able to pass a criminal background check and have no substantiated record of abusing or neglecting children.
- Make enough money to provide for your own family so you do not need to depend on the foster care reimbursement you receive from the state as income.
What Kind of Training is Needed?
Pre-placement training is required to help prepare prospective foster parents for issues that can arise after a child or sibling group is placed with them. Many children bring not only unique needs but a history of life experiences that may affect interactions with foster parents, other children in the family, schoolmates, and others. Issues related to disability, culture, early abuse, birth family members, etc., should be discussed with your social worker to your satisfaction.
These training and licensing programs go by various names (MAPP and others), and online training programs are also available. Check state training requirements. Your foster care specialist can provide more information.
It Isn’t for Everyone
There are many reasons you may not want or be able to become a foster parent. Even those with the best intentions have found the demands too heartbreaking disrupting to their households.
If you are aware of the potential difficulties as well as the enormous rewards and think foster parenting is for you, consider the different types of foster care, contact your state Foster Care Specialist (or equivalent) to learn about training classes and other licensing procedures.
A Word About Adoption
According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, 64% of children adopted from foster care are adopted by former foster parents. Many approach foster parenting as the first step toward adoption. While foster parents are sometimes the first choice when a child in their care becomes available for adoption, it is wise to listen to the words of an experienced foster parent:
There are children who will, in fact, come to your home and have no one. If you would like to adopt a child like this, wonderful. But many, if not most, of these children have families, and the objective is to find a safe healthy place within these families for them to live. Don’t try to keep a child who is wanted. Save that space and that place in your heart and home for the child who has no one. Believe me, they are out there.