If you want to become a foster parent, we’re so glad you’re here.
You might be wondering: where do I even start? Well, friend, you’re not alone. I know the foster care system from the other side of things — I spent time in care as a teenager. But even so, now that I’m considering fostering myself, the process seems daunting.
The good news is there are ton of resources available to you to help you navigate the process.
One of my personal favorites is Laura (@foster.parenting on Instagram and @fosterparenting on TikTok) who calls herself a “Foster Parent Partner.” She makes short, digestable videos about every aspect of fostering: from the application process, to social worker visits, to recommendations about child-friendly decorating.
And her TikTok channel is just one of the many resources available to you as you work to become a foster parent. Keep reading to learn more about the need for foster parents, the certification process, and the great places you can find information, community, and support.
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The Need for Foster Families
It’s important to remember that these children are in care through no fault of their own.
Children enter the foster care system for all kinds of reasons. They might have experienced child abuse or neglect, or their birth parents may be unable to care for them temporarily due to circumstances beyond the parents’ control.
Some might stay in foster care for months or years; others might return home to their birth families in a matter of days or weeks. Some children will find kinship caregivers among their extended relatives, and others will ultimately need adoptive parents.
Whatever the eventual resolution of their time in foster care — whether that’s reunification with birth parents or adoption — your willingness to meet a child’s need by fostering will make a real difference in their life and in your local community.
Who Can Become a Foster Parent?
The most important thing a foster parent needs is the ability to provide a loving and safe home for a the children in their care. The exactly requirements for who can foster vary state-by-state, but in most cases, you’ll need to be:
- At least 21 years of age (18 or 19 in some states)
- Financially stable — you don’t have to be wealthy (most foster families aren’t!), but you can’t rely on the stipend you’ll receive to help care for the child to meet expenses like rent or groceries
- Able to provide adequate and safe space in your home for the child
- Free from any convictions or criminal records that might put vulnerable children at risk
In most cases, you can be single or married; you can work full time outside of the home or you can be a stay-at-home parent; you can have your own children already in the home or not.
The key thing is that you’re able to put the needs of the child first!
The Certification Process
Before a child ever comes to live in your home, your family will need to complete appropriate criminal background checks and training processes. There’s a ton of paperwork involved here.
At times these processes might feel like a lot, but remember: you’re caring for a child who is going through an intensely traumatic experience and who is coming to you at one of the most vulnerable moments of their life.
Agencies want to make sure your home is the best fit for the children who will be in your care.
These processes vary a lot depending on where you live, but the basic steps are the same:
1. The Criminal Record Check
First, everyone over the age of 18 living in your household will need to pass a background check.
No, you don’t need to worry about that speeding ticket from a few years ago. Child welfare agencies are looking for any criminal record that might suggest a foster child wouldn’t be safe with you. Charges of domestic violence, child abuse, assault, or drug related crimes are grounds for disqualification in most states.
That said, be sure you tell the foster care agencies about the speeding ticket anyway. Withholding information during a background check can be a reason to deny you a license.
2. The Home Study
In addition to making sure you and the other adults in your home are appropriate caregivers for vulnerable children, agencies will want to make sure any future foster home (i.e., yours!) is safe.
At this stage, a social worker will visit your home and interview each member of your household. This is called a “home study.” They’ll likely also call your personal references to get more information about you as an individual.
They’ll also want to check out the physical space of your house. Again, you don’t have to live in a pristine house without a single crumb on the floor or stain on the couch (who does?), but your home should meet all safety and building codes and you should have enough space for the children who will be in your care.
3. Health Screening
Social workers might also want to know about your physical and mental health. Be ready to provide the results of a recent health examination.
The child welfare system want to be sure that foster parents are free from any major medical problems such as terminal illnesses.
This makes sense: children in care have already experienced a huge amount of disruption and trauma and deserve stability at this moment in their lives.
Well-managed chronic conditions like diabetes or anxiety shouldn’t disqualify you from fostering.
However, you should probably know that this can be a discriminatory process.
While our conversations about disabilities and mental health have come a long way, we certainly haven’t arrived at any sort of utopia. The best thing you can do to be prepared for this step of the certification process is talk to your doctor and ask them if they are able to vouch for your physical and mental ability to care for a child.
4. Pre-Service Training
All agencies require that foster parents undergo training before a child is placed in their home. The number of hours and the method of delivery for this training may vary from state to state.
Many states follow a program called the “Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting” (aka “MAPP”), which centers the needs of children and seeks to help the adults in their life build positive relationships.
These classes can include training in areas like first aid, trauma-informed parenting, cultural competency training, or the various support services available to you as a foster family.
This pre-service training is also designed to help you reflect on your motivations for fostering and to help you prepare mentally for the difficult and important life decision you’re making to support a child’s needs.
Your First Placement
Once you have all the stamps of approval, you wait.
Sometimes you might receive a placement call right away. Other times, it might be weeks or months before a child whose needs and behaviors line up with what you are able to provide. If you’re open to caring for many different types of children (various age ranges, gender identities and sexual orientations, or sibling sets, for example), make sure your social worker knows that, since your flexibility might shorten the time you wait for a call.
While you’re waiting, you can take steps to prepare yourself for the arrival of a foster child.
A Foster Shower
One way to do this might be to hold a “foster shower.” These are much like baby showers, where your family and friends come together to help you celebrate and prepare for a new family member.
This can be a great way to involve your community and lessen some of the initial financial burden of, for example, furnishing a child’s bedroom or building collections of age-appropriate toys for different developmental stages, or funding gift cards that a child might use to pick out their own first-day-of-school outfit.
However — and I feel strongly about this one — you should hold the shower before any foster children arrive.
While you know your friends and family are ready to invest in the children in your care, you have to remember that those people are strangers to the child: a foster shower where the child(ren) are present puts their trauma on display, invites invasive questions, sets you up as the heroic rescuer, and puts pressure on children to seem grateful without acknowledging the tremendous loss they’re currently experiencing.
When a child is settled in your home, it’s just the beginning. Successful foster parents keep learning with every placement how to better support children, both through first-hand experience and continuing training.
Fostering will be a rewarding and challenging task: don’t forget the resources and communities you have available to you both on- and off-line. We’ll list a few of our favorites below.
Online Resources for Foster Families
When you’re looking to become a foster parent, a lot of the fine details and processes will vary from state to state. Look to your state’s Department of Human Resources for a page or pdf on becoming a foster parent.
That said, there are some great big-picture materials available through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: check out this page and the linked documents on becoming a foster parent.
Finally, don’t forget about the importance of online community. There’s a lively foster parent world spread across various social media platforms. Start with Laura and carry on along through the #FosterParenting hashtags across Tiktok, Instagram, Twitter/X, and the blogosphere. Don’t be afraid to reach out, ask questions, and make new connections.
What other questions do you have about what it takes to become a foster parent? Drop them in the comments below!