Family & Relationships

Things to Consider Before Becoming a Foster Parent

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Becoming a foster parent is an admirable choice to make, but it is not a decision one should make lightly. Deciding to become a foster family and open up your home to children in need can take time and carry an emotional toll – on you as well as the kids placed in your home. For many though, the act of helping a child in need makes the experience that much more rewarding.

Raising a child can be one of the biggest decisions in your life, so it's important to be aware of the time commitment and financial obligations, as well as all of the legal ramifications of your decision before you start down that path. One of the best things you can do is get legal advice from an attorney in your state who practices in this area of law. They will know the relevant laws, can review your particular situation and will provide guidance on fostering process. Throughout the process, be sure to keep in mind that the best interests of the child(ren) placed in your care should be your highest priority.

What is foster care?

Though the child welfare system is intended to be a temporary placement, fostering is meant to protect children who have been abused, neglected or dependent and whose parents or relatives are unable to care for them. The average age of a child in foster care is eight, though children and youth can be placed in the system from infancy to young adulthood.1 They could have been placed there for any number of reasons. Alcohol or drug addiction, homelessness or guardian illness are just a few of the ways children end up in foster care. The number of children in foster homes did go down from 2008-2017, but the problem is still far from being solved.2

Many states require licensing or certification before bringing children into your home. Before taking steps toward licensing, consider which type of foster parenting is most applicable to your situation. Types include:

  1. Emergency or urgent care usually provides short-term care if a child is placed in protective state custody.
  2. Kinship care involves children being looked after by relatives such as grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins.
  3. Therapeutic or treatment care, for children who have faced traumatic experiences or who have medical conditions.
  4. Respite care or short-term care is when another foster family takes in a child to give their foster family a respite.

Different laws across the country

Each state makes has its own set of regulations for foster care placements. While you must be at least 18, state minimum age requirements can go up to 25. A background check will be conducted based on the rule defined by each location and nearly every state requires some sort of training, such as first aid qualifications. Often, the process looks something like this:

  • Family assessment. Also called a “home study”, this entails formally assessing your capability to care for children and collects information about other members of your family who live in the home.
  • Reference check. Agencies will usually ask for at least three, and they are generally confidential.
  • Background check. Fingerprints are taken to aid in searching local, state and national databases to look at any criminal or child abuse history you may have.
  • Home safety check. A house or apartment must be assessed to ensure it is a safe place for children. Usually requires adherence to local building codes and sometimes involves inspection by a fire marshal.
  • Orientation and Training. Training required by states can be anywhere from 10 to 30 hours before licensing. Agencies themselves may ask for more training and will include information on how to work with local agencies throughout the process.
  • Licensure. After training, licensing worker will provide an assessment with suggestions for which children might fit in best with the family or what further training is recommended.3

Additionally, an agency’s licensure and training programs will serve as a time to learn about things like:

  • agency policies and procedures;
  • roles and responsibilities of foster parents;
  • child development;
  • behavior management and appropriate methods of discipline;
  • cultural sensitivity;
  • attachment, separation, and loss issues;
  • home and child safety;
  • and the impact of fostering on the foster parents’ own families.4

Generally, priority for foster care is given to relatives of the child in question. Kinship care may be expedited or have different regulations. Some states may also offer temporary licensing to relatives in emergency situations.

Skills needed for foster parenting

Whether you’re a relative caring for children in your family or not, there are certain skills worth brushing up on. These include:

  • Knowing how to communicate. There are numerous people you’ll be speaking to before, during and after becoming a foster parent, including teachers and school officials; social workers and agency staff; judges and other court personnel; and many others.
  • Working with the foster care system and with foster children can be challenging. Because of the turmoil foster children often face, they may not be able to understand or communicate their feelings the way other children do. The system itself can also be overburdened and frustrating, especially for new foster families.
  • Take time to manage behavior challenges. Certain disciplinary methods used within your own family may not work or be allowed under the foster care system because of the issues foster children have previously been exposed to.
  • Learn how to manage grief and loss – for both the children and yourself. Everyone deals with pain and grief in their own way, especially children who may have faced a disproportionate amount in their young lives. Also fostering may not always go as the foster parent intends either, but it’s important to know and understand what is best for the child under your care.
  • Know how to work with others. As stated above, you’ll need to know how to communicate with many different people and be an active participant in the care of foster children in your home.5

Foster care adoption and other ways to help

After a certain amount of time, you may begin considering adoption for a foster child in your care. This process varies from state to state, so speak with an attorney or an adoption agency in your area for advice on how to proceed.

If you want to help children in need but aren’t quite ready for foster parenting, you might consider other avenues. Mentoring programs, becoming an advocate, donating time, money or school supplies – all of these things can help make a difference in the life of a child in the foster care system.

When you need to take action for legal matters in life, start by calling one of our ARAG customer care specialists at 800-247-4184, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central time. They’re here to help you identify your needs, figure out next steps and help you connect with local network attorneys.

1. “A foster care to adoption guide.” Together We Rise. https://www.togetherwerise.org/pdfs/foster-to-adopt.pdf

2. Children’s Bureau. “Trends in Foster Care and Adoption.” September 30, 2017. Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/resource/trends-in-foster-care-and-adoption

3. “Becoming a foster parent.” National Foster Parent Association. https://nfpaonline.org/foster/

4. Child Welfare Information Gateway. “Who may adopt, be adopted or place a child for adoption?” December 2015. Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.childwelfare.gov/

5. Craft, Carrie. “Six foster care skills you need to know before being a foster parent.” The Up Center. https://www.childwelfare.gov/

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