Foster parents are the unsung heroes in the world of child welfare. They provide a safe and nurturing environment for children who have been displaced due to tragic and horrific circumstances. If you are considering becoming a foster parent, keep reading to find out why the need is so great and how you can get started.
At any given moment in the United States, there are more than 400,000 children in foster care. These children range in age from newborn to 18 (21 in some states) and come from nearly every race, religion, and socioeconomic background. Almost 75% of these children have no suitable relative with whom they can live. This is where traditional foster parenting becomes so vital.
The steps to become a foster parent vary by state but generally include days or weeks of training, a background check, and a home study. The process can be intense, as the child welfare agency has to ensure the safety of the children in its care. Training is typically done in a classroom setting over several days or for one or two days a week for several weeks. The background check often includes fingerprinting and state, local, and federal records. The home study simply gives the agency the opportunity to see your home and verify that you have safe and ample space for a child or children. The home study may also include family interviews and personal references to verify that the family is a good fit for fostering.
While the process is intense, the requirements to become a foster parent are usually few and basic. In most states, you may own or rent your home, you may be married or single, you may be straight or gay. You may have other children in the home or none at all. You may also have pets. If your home is safe and just large enough to accommodate at least one child, it will probably be approved. You will likely be required to have a few small safety items such as a fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, and lockable cabinets for chemicals and cleaning supplies.
You may also be required to show proof of income. You don't need to be well-off to qualify. You simply need to earn enough money to pay for your own expenses. Foster parents receive a stipend for the children in their care. This stipend is designed to purchase clothing, food, toys, school supplies, and other day-to-day items the child needs. In some states, you may receive vouchers or additional money to cover the cost of child care, initial clothing outlay, or other expenses. While the stipend may cover the majority of expenses related to the child, it should never be considered as additional income for the foster family.
To learn about the specific requirements and policies in your state, contact your local child welfare agency--this is usually the Department of Children's Services or the Department of Child Welfare. Private agencies may also recruit foster parents in your area. A simple internet search for "foster parenting in (your state)" should bring up all of the foster care providers in your area.
If you do pursue foster parenting, hang on for the ride of your life. It is simultaneously joyful and heartbreaking, rewarding and frustrating, exciting and scary. But most foster parents will tell you that they wouldn't trade the experience for the world.