Have you considered becoming a foster parent but you aren’t sure if it’s the right step for you? We were foster parents for 6 years, caring for 35 foster children during that time. Here is helpful information about how to become a foster parent, considerations when caring for our country’s most vulnerable children, and answers to questions most often asked about foster care.
Foster care is the temporary placement of children in a home outside of their home of origin, most often due to abuse or neglect, with the goal of returning children to their first families. Children are placed in foster care through the Department of Child and Family Services in the county where they live.
Keep in mind each state and county has slightly different regulations regarding foster care, so be sure to check into guidelines where you life. What’s listed below is a general guide. Certainly check into specifics for your area before making changes to your home or purchases items before a home study, for example.
Prayerfully consider this huge decision. Any advice I give is not meant to encourage or discourage you but to offer honest and insightful information from someone who has walked this journey before you. My experiences as a foster parent are some of the most rewarding and also most difficult I have ever faced. This is no decision to enter into lightly.
If you don’t see an answer here to a question you have, ask it in the comments below and I’ll respond. May God bless you as you prayerfully consider if you will become a foster parent.
How to Become a Foster Parent: Table of Contents
- How to Become a Foster Parent: A Step by Step Guide
- Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about How to Become a Foster Parent
- Resources for How to Become a Foster Parent
Are you a foster parent or considering becoming a foster parent? Download my free Foster & Adoptive Parents printables pack now:
How to Become a Foster Parent: A Step by Step Guide
Check guidelines in your area. Individual state and county requirements vary.
Are you wondering what the process is for how to become a foster parent? Here is what you need to know.
1.Research the process and consider if your family is ready to be a foster family.
That’s what you are doing by reading this article!
Foster care is an amazing, life-changing adventure, and incredibly worth-worthwhile, but it’s also not for everyone. Keep reading to learn more about why it might or might not be right for you. You can absolutely find ways to positively impact the life of a child even if you decide foster care is not right for you or your family, and that is okay.
While I absolutely believe in foster care, and I know many children are waiting for foster and adoptive homes, I believe sometimes in our eagerness to find foster and adoptive homes we sugar-coat the realities of foster care and adopting children with trauma and this does more harm than good in the long run.
No children who come out of the foster care system are coming as a blank slate. Most are coming from trauma and a high percent have been abused, neglected, or drug exposed. Don’t kid yourself into thinking the behaviors of these children are not serious and life-impacting for you and your whole family.
We as a foster care and adoption system must do a better job of educating new foster parents, because when that does not happen the result is more moves for foster children (resulting in additional trauma), Secondary PTSD for foster parents, trauma for siblings, and more.
Every member of your family needs to be on board with the process of foster care because this will be a commitment and sacrifice of every family member.
Foster parents do not have custody of the children in their care, the children have experienced trauma, and they are removed from their families.
Do not expect the children who enter your home to want to be there or to be thankful for what you offer them — not right away and maybe never. That might not be what you want to hear, but it’s the truth. If you can accept that hard reality, you have the chance to have a real, positive impact in the world of foster care.
Your family also needs to:
- pass physicals
- agree to no spanking
- provide 5+ references
- agree to ongoing yearly training hours
- pass background checks and a homestudy
- agree to work with the birth family and all members of the team, with a goal of reunification
2. Contact a foster care agency in your area to request information.
Google “become a foster parent” and your city and state to find choices near you. Also check out www.adoptuskids.org for a listing of agencies by state.
In the United States, every foster child comes into care through the Department of Human Services in the county where he or she lives. You can be a foster parent directly with the county, or you can work with a partner agency, such as Lutheran Family Services, Catholic Charities, or many other agencies.
If you work with an agency, you still work with the Department of Human (or Social) Services, but you work with the agency, too. This was something I did not understand when I first became a foster parent. We worked with Lutheran Family Services.
The advantage of working through an agency is that you receive an additional layer of support. Often the reimbursement rate is higher through an agency because agencies typically place higher-need children. The disadvantage is that you are now working with 2 layers of systems, and you often have harder-to-place children coming to you. The county will call their own foster homes first, then once those are full they begin to call agency homes, starting with the larger agencies and those with whom they have a better working relationship, then calling smaller agencies.
3. Attend an orientation session.
Each agency offers an orientation session where the foster care process is explained and your questions will be answered. Agencies do their best to offer a realistic view of foster care while at the same time recruiting excited new foster families. Some do a better job of this than others.
4. Attend Foster Parent Training workshops.
If you decide to move forward with the process, you will attend Foster Parent Training workshops. Some agencies begin the Home study process during this time and other wait until after you have completed the training sessions. This training lasts 6-9 weeks for a total of 20-30 hours and is called MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) training in some areas.
5. Complete a Home Study.
A home study for foster care and adoption is a large document prepared by a case worker that explains why your family is qualified to care for children in need of placement. The case worker will come to your home for a series of visits, then prepare the home study document. This process takes anywhere from 2-6 months.
A private adoption home study is paid for by the prospective parents, but typically a foster care home study is provided to you by the agency or county.
Again, this can seem like an invasive or lengthy process, but the goal is not to exclude but to include families. However, keep in mind the ultimate goal is not about you but about the safe placement of children, which is as it should be.
Here is some of what’s addressed in a home study:
- Family of origin
- Current family situation
- Parenting strategies
- Financial situation
- Past abuse, trauma and recovery
- Why you want to foster and/or adopt
- Daily life schedule
- Your children’s ages, needs, and attitudes toward foster care or adoption
- References and background checks
- Safety in the home
- Which children you are willing and able to accept for placement (ages, needs)
You will fill out a lot of paperwork, including a background check, fingerprints, and there will be a home inspection. You might have to make some adjustments to your home such as additional fire extinguishers, locks on medicine cabinets and cleaning supplies, posting house rules and a fire escape plan, or other requirements based on the rules in your state and county.
Here is a link to more detailed information about the home study process.
While everyone within the system wants foster children to feel included and involved in a family while they are in your home, it’s important to remember that you do not have custody of these children and so will need to follow the rules in place by the county for as long as foster children are placed with you.
6. Approval and placement of children.
Once your Foster Parent Training Classes are done, your home study is complete and all your background checks and fingerprints are returned and accepted, you are approved to be foster parents. Congratulations!
The next step is placement. Generally the foster placement agency or county will call you when a child becomes available, explaining the child’s needs and situation. You will discover the way placement is handled varies widely, even within one agency, because at placement time people are often working in crisis-mode.
See the FAQ for more details about placement, but overall it’s important to remember to ask as many questions as possible, and never feel pressured into accepting a placement you do not feel is right for you and your family. Don’t feel that because you say “no” to one placement you will never be called again. It’s always okay to say no if the situation is not right for you. I said no to MANY placements and I received many more phone calls asking if we would accept children.
This is the overall process for how to become a foster parent. Still have more questions? Keep reading for answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
Frequently Asked Questions about How to Become a Foster Parent
These are some of the commonly asked questions about what is involved in how to become a foster parent. If you don’t see your question addressed here, please leave it in the comments below and I’ll respond.
Q: I want to become a foster parent, but I’m not sure I could give the kids back. I would be so heartbroken.
A: Indeed, saying goodbye to foster children is heartbreaking. There were times during our six year career as foster parents that we had foster children to moved into adoptive homes and other safe, secure situations. These times, while it was hard to say goodbye, we felt good knowing the children would be safe.
Other times children were returned to birth families and situations that were far from stable. The grief was worse than with a death, because I worried constantly for those children and if they would again be abused or neglected.
There is not easy answer to this, but I felt such a strong calling to help abused and neglected children, I could not stand by when it was in my power to provide a safe and loving home even if only for a time and even if it meant my own heart would break. I have a strong faith in Jesus as my Savior and provider of all that is good. I know with the power of the Holy Spirit my heart will heal.
Q: What is foster to adopt or fost-adopt?
A: Foster to adopt or Fost-adopt is fostering children with the specific intention to adopt. Sometimes this is done through a separate program within the foster care system, and other times these are foster parents who make the choice to adopt children who become available when first families are no longer able to care for their children.
We were foster parents for two boys who we then adopted. We did not enter into foster care with the specific intention of adoption, but we were open to it if the situation was right. For these two boys, we fully supported the reunification process with their birth families. But when that was no longer an option, we moved forward with adoption.
Today, almost all foster parents are approved with licenses and home studies to also adopt.
With specific foster to adopt programs, families only accept placements of children when rights of birth parents have already been terminated or the TPR (Termination of Parental Rights) process is already under way.
Q: I only want to care for a specific age or type of child. Is it still worth it for me to become a foster parent?
A: Yes. The need for foster parents is great, and if you are able to care for only one age range, those wishes will be accommodated. That’s not to say you won’t receive phone calls for children outside of your age range, but you can always say no.
For example, we primarily cared for medically fragile babies. We did care for older children for respite placements.
The one caution I would give is that if you are hoping to adopt a Caucasian newborn baby with no medical issues, you are in for a long wait. It does happen but is rare. If you are willing to adopt transracially (adopt a child of another race) or adopt a child who has been drug-exposed, your chance of adopting sooner is much more likely.
The need is greatest for foster parents who will accept pre-teens, teens, sibling groups, and teen moms with their babies.
Q: Can I home school my foster child?
Occasionally special permission is granted for foster children to be home schooled, but typically no, you cannot home school your foster child. He or she will attend public school.
After adoption if you choose to adopt, you will be free to make whatever school choice you wish just as is the right of any parent.
Q: Do foster parents get paid?
A: Foster parents do not get paid, but they do receive a reimbursement for expenses for caring for a foster child.
Q: Do I need to make a certain income to become a foster parent?
A: There is not an exact income you need to make to become a foster parent, but you need to prove that you are able to support yourself without using the foster parent reimbursement as income.
Q: At what age can I become a foster parent?
A: At the age of 21 you may become a foster parent, and at 18 you are able to adopt.
Q: Do I need a certain house set-up in order to foster children? Does each child have to have their own room?
A: Each state has specific requirements for your home set-up, which will be explained to you before your home study. Foster children do not need to have their own rooms, but each child must have his or her own bed with sheets and a pillow. Each state has requirements of the number of square feet per child required. Other requirements include items such as: working fire extinguisher, dresser for each child, sufficient food in the kitchen, a cup in the bathroom for each family member, posted fire escape routes, and posted poison control number.
Q: I hear about the need for kids in foster care without adoptive families. But I know a couple who waited years to adopt a baby. I don’t get it.
A: The need for foster parents and adoptive families is great. However, the children who are waiting in foster care are older children and many of these children have special needs, difficult behaviors, and emotional issues from early childhood trauma. Often these waiting children are from a different race than the adoptive parents. Typically the wait for a baby, especially one without medical issues, is long.
Have a question about foster care that isn’t addressed here? Ask it in the comments below and I’ll answer.
Resources for How to Become a Foster Parent
10 Traits You Must Have to Parent Kids From Hard Places – free e-course
Creating a Family website
Homestudy Book Camp – book
Another Place at the Table – book
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Are you a foster parent or considering becoming a foster parent? Share about it in the comments below.