Becoming a foster parent is one of the most satisfying yet highly challenging lifetime experiences for people who love kids and know how to care for them. As a foster parent, you need to be able to provide a loving, safe and stable environment for the kids in your care, for as long (or as short) a period of time as needed. The aims is always either to return foster kids to their birth families, when their birth parents are able to provide a safe home for them, or to have the children placed with a suitable family for adoption. This means that foster parenting often involves the painful experience of separation after a loving bond has already been established with a child. This is something that foster parents must be emotionally equipped to deal with. On the other hand, adoption services find it much harder to place older children and teenagers than babies and infants with new families, so if you foster an older child, the chances are that you may have him or her living in your home for many months or even several years.
Foster Parenting FAQ
The website of the US Administration for Children and Families (called the Child Welfare Information Gateway) provides information to prospective foster parents and to people who are already providing foster care. The site also offers numerous links to many other reliable US-relevant foster parenting sites, where you'll hopefully find answers to all your foster parenting FAQ - such as, how to become a foster parent? Is there such a thing as foster parent pay? What are the differences between foster parenting infants and providing foster care for teenagers? You'll also find foster parenting stories from experienced foster parents who've done the real job and want to help other people learn from their experiences.
Becoming A Foster Parent
People who wish to become foster parents will need to prove to their state child services department that they can offer children a stable and safe home, and this will probably require a rigorous assessment process.
The criteria for becoming a foster parent vary from state to state in the US, but basically, single people and couples can be foster parents if they:
- Are over 21 years of age
- Can pass a criminal and background check
- Have a stable family situation
- Can provide references of good character
- Have a regular source of household income
- Can pass a home safety inspection
- Can pass a family study/family assessment (usually carried out by social workers)
In some states, single people who live together in the same home, but who are not married, cannot become foster parents, but single people living alone can.
The Home/Family Study
The family and home study is basically a long testing process for prospective foster parents, in which they may have to attend classes and training sessions, agree to several in depth interviews, and have a social worker come and spend time in their home. As part of the home study process, social workers may write up a report on your family background; your health; your education and employment status; the relationships between the members of your family; your daily routine; your parenting and childcare experiences; the area in which you live; your religious practices; and your general suitability as a foster parent.
Many prospective foster parents find the prospect of a home study very daunting, as it really does involve exposing every aspect of your private life to the scrutiny of a third party. For advice about the home study experience, talk to other foster parents. Foster care givers in your area can usually be reached by contacting your state foster parenting association (perhaps they have a website) or by contacting your local department of children and family services.
The Challenges Of Foster Parenting
Foster parenting challenges are numerous indeed, but most foster parents agree that it's still worth doing. Remember that foster kids are separated from their birth parents because their parents weren't providing a suitable environment for them, therefore the kids themselves may be damaged and in need of a lot of love and attention. You also need to think about the effect of having foster kids in your home on your own children (if you have kids already). Again, to get an idea of whether or not you're ready to be a foster parent, you should speak to experienced foster parents, and imagine yourself in their position in some of the stories they tell you - how would you cope?
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