You've been thinking about becoming a foster parent. You love kids and
have a lot to give. Your children are grown up and out of the house or you would
love a sibling for your child. Maybe you are single and really want to care for
a child or a couple who doesn't have children but wants to help children in
need. You see the need of children to have safe and nurturing homes and you know
you can meet that need. How do you know if this is something you are able to do?
Below are some thoughts to ponder in making your decision.
There is definitely a need for caring foster
parents. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and
Families, Children's Bureau, there were 463,000 children in foster care on
September 20, 2008 in the United States. There are a lot of children in need of
safe homes. There can be many rewards with being a foster parent but also a lot
Are you willing to make a commitment to the process and the child? Sometimes
prospective foster parents have a fairy tale idea of how a foster family will
look. Unfortunately, the reality of foster parenting can be much more difficult.
If you agree to a child in your home that you are not equipped to handle this
could very well lead to a failed placement of a child. Many foster children have
multiple placements. Children in multiple placements often have attachment
issues (Marcus (1991) as cited in multiple texts including Medscape by WebMD).
It has also been noted that foster care placement instability is also associated
with increased mental health costs during the initial year of foster care (Ruvin,
Alessandrini et al.)
Ask a lot of questions before agreeing to take a child. You may have a
caseworker begging you and the child may have a really sad story but if you are
not prepared to handle the child's needs you may end up doing more harm than
good. If there is a behavior you can't imagine having in your home such as
sexual acting out, drug use, or even a medical or a developmental disability, it
is OK to say that you are not a good match for that child. If you only want
babies or only want teens speak up. There is someone out there who will be a
good match for that youth and both the child and the placement will have more
Are you willing to let a lot of other people into your life? There will be case
workers and supervisors and court people all looking at your life. There are
home visits and court hearings and clinical meetings. Most of the professionals
will be competent, caring people. However, people sometimes have a tendency to
judge where they shouldn't. You may feel judged and as if the individuals coming
into your home don't seem to follow through with anything. On the other hand you
may get phenomenal workers and therapist who will ease the whole experience. You
won't have a lot of control over the professionals coming in and out of your
life so it is a good idea to assess how comfortable you will be with the lack of
control. Also assess how you will cope when you see professionals make decisions
on behalf of the child - who lives with you and you have started to know so
well- that you think are absolutely ridiculous.
Are you able to connect with the biological family? Are you at least able to be
positive about the biological family around the child and support visitation.
For most children in foster care the first goal is to keep children with their
family and return them to their parents. Children just seem to do better with
their own parents. As a foster parent you will be expected to make sure the
children are available for visitation with their parents and/or siblings. Some
agencies may even ask you to assist with transportation and sometimes even
supervision. Ask about visitation plans when you take a child in your home.
Truthfully let the licensing agency your comfort level with assisting with the
biological family. Try to be open to working with biological family. Some of the
most successful cases are when the foster parent and biological family can
engage with each other and learn from each other with the result being a
Remember the work load is just like parenting your own kids just with more rules
and maybe more services. There is still school, teaching, meal time, social
activities, discipline, extra-curricular activities and then sibling and parent
visitation. Depending on the child's age there may be mental health therapy
appointments and for most kids more required physicals and dental appointments
than you might have for your own children. Also remember that if there are
problems in your home now, the problems will be exacerbated with the addition of
child in your life.
Identify your motivations. Everyone has needs and underlying desires. It is
reasonable to want the good feeling that comes from helping another individual.
As a foster parent you can be the stable adult in a child's life. You can be a
role model and that adult who keeps them safe and provides a nurturing
environment. However, if you need a lot more validation than that, you might be
disappointed. You may get accolades from case workers and teachers and other
professionals. You may get less from the child themselves. Sometimes it is hard
to understand how a child can come from what might be a horrendous history yet
he or she is still not happy to be away from their family or grateful you are
taking care of them. Children love their biological families. Foster children
are brought into a new home where all the traditions and expectations are
different than where ever they've been before. They probably won't express
overwhelming gratitude for their life being put in upheaval. Foster children
often move many multiple times. A foster child may show gratitude and
appreciation but you may be disappointed if you go in with that expectation.
Remember that the foster child has suffered a lot of loss. They have suffered
loss of their biological family - for whatever reason. A child may have the loss
of living in a familiar environment, a loss of school or friends or traditions,
maybe even several different foster families. Many foster kids are in therapy
and/or need lots of support and understanding due to these issues. Ask yourself
if you can empathize. Can you recognize loss in your own life that will help you
connect with the child? A practical consideration is finances. You will be
reimbursed something for taking care of the youth but if you have your own kids
you know having kids is expensive. There may be a lag time before you get your
first 00000 reimbursement so figure out how you are going to handle that. There
will always be things that aren't covered or reimbursable so just make sure you
realistically look at finances before you take on a foster child.
There are some things not to worry about when deciding whether to be a foster
parent. First, remember you don't have to be perfect to be a foster parent. You
don't have to have unlimited resources or a perfect home or absolutely
everything going right in your life. Are you a reasonable, sane adult who has
stability and extra space? If yes, then you should be fine. There can be a lot
of emotional and tangible rewards to being a foster parent if you are up to the
When you decide to pursue being a foster parent it is recommended to research
the agencies available to oversee your license. There is likely a good fit for
you as a foster parent. Some agencies take anyone, some agencies pay different
reimbursements, some agencies may jump at a single person, a gay couple, or
childless individual and some may balk. Whatever your life situation, there is a
probably an agency that is a good match with you and has values congruent to
yours. Ask as many questions as you can think of. Talk to other foster parents
and learn from their experiences. Attend and listen at the trainings offered.
Make sure you are honest with the entity you licensing agency you go with. If
you are being a foster parent just to adopt - make sure they know that. Let them
know you only want children whose parent's rights have been terminated.
Conversely if you don't want to be a permanent placement but more of a safe
haven - let the agency know.
There is a place for all sorts of foster parents. Children and youth are in need
of safe, stable homes and maybe you are the one to provide it.
"Multiple Transitions" Training video that discusses foster care from a foster
child's perspective is called available from The Infant-Parent Institute, Inc.
based in Champaign, IL. This writer saw this video after many years in the child
welfare field. It seems like one of the best overview of a child's place in the
system and also illustrates many issues you may come across as a foster parent.
(This writer has no affiliation with this institute.)
"AFCARS Report - Preliminary FY 2008 Estimates as of October 2009 (16)."
Administration for Children and Families Home Page. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb.
David M. Rubin, MD, MSCE*,,,||, Evaline A. Alessandrini, MD, MSCE*,,||,, Chris
Feudtner, MD, PhD, MPH*,,,||, David S. Mandell, ScD*,,#, A. Russell Localio, JD,
MS||,**, Trevor Hadley, PhD PEDIATRICS Vol. 113 No. 5 May 2004, pp.
1336-1341Placement Stability and Mental Health Costs for Children in Foster Care
Marcus, R. (1991). The attachments of children in foster care. Genetic, Social
&General Psychology Monographs, 117(4) 367-395 as cited in Medscape Today by
webmd Foster Child Health and Development: Developmental Impact of Foster Care
by Julie Fanning LCSW
Julie Fanning has a private practice in West
Dundee, IL. Julie has over 15 years experience working in the child welfare
field and the above article is based on her own impressions of foster parenting.