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How to Become a Foster Parent

Find out how to provide children in need with a suitable, temporary home.

Becoming a foster parent is a long and exhaustive process for both children and prospective parents. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Becoming a foster parent is a long and exhaustive process for both children and prospective parents.

How to Become a Foster Parent

Foster care is a government-run program that allows qualified applicants to provide temporary residence for children who, for whatever reason, have been removed from their homes. In most cases, children are ordered into foster care by the state in cases of abuse or neglect, or because one or both parents has been incarcerated and is unable to care for the child. The stated goal of all foster care programs is reunification, or the return of the child to his or her biological parents after the home has been established as safe. However, children are also often put into foster care as part of adoption programs.

Family Home License

The first step in becoming a foster parent is completing an Application for Foster Family Home License, an official state document (in this case, Indiana) that is often available on the Internet and certifies your home as suitable for a foster child. The laws for obtaining a license vary by state, but they almost always involve a background check and a series of character references from reliable witnesses. Many states also require that applicants be subjected to a home inspection and a training program prior to certification. All guardian figures must be 21 or older and must be able to demonstrate family "stability," which in some states means that couples attempting to become foster parents must be married.

Caring for a Foster Child

When you enter the foster parent program, you can choose the age, gender, ethnicity and needs level of the child you're applying to care for, but you don't get to choose a specific child. At that point, you wait until the program notifies you of a child who meets your description in need of care. In some cases, children come as sibling pairs, but these are only placed in homes certified as capable of caring for more than one child. For the duration of the child's stay in your home, you'll receive frequent checkups from a case manager, sometimes unannounced. The case manager also determines the level of financial support the government will provide to families caring for a foster child, as well as the treatment program necessary for the child's development while in foster care. Treatment programs often involve therapy, medical care and, if possible, visits with biological parents.

Challenges of Being a Foster Parent

Becoming a foster parent isn't as simple as a temporary glimpse into the experience of parenting: Foster children are often the product of a difficult upbringing, and they may have developmental issues that require special attention. Some of the children in need of care are born with mental handicaps or personality disorders too severe for their parents to care for. 

Regardless of the reason for children being put into foster care, separation from their parents can cause serious emotional distress. Even foster children without a history of mental or emotional problems can act out when placed into care, due to resentment against authority figures whom they perceive to have taken them away from their parents. If foster parents decide that they're no longer able to care for a child, they can inform their case manager, who will immediately remove the child from the home and find a replacement family to provide care. 

Even though prospective foster parents must take many precautions before entering the program, foster parenting is extremely important and necessary work that can shape a child's development. If interested, contact your local government foster care agency. The National Foster Parent Association also provides a resource for prospective foster parents to find local agencies that can provide support or answer questions.

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