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Foster Parent Requirements

Foster parents across the country provide the vital role of caring for children who are dependents of the state. Providing a good home environment helps foster children develop after the abuse or neglect they have suffered. However, not everyone can become a foster parent. If you’re considering become a foster parent, learn more at FindLaw's How to Foster a Child, the National Foster Parent Association and the US Department of Health and Human Services Children's Bureau. Read on to learn more about the requirements potential foster parents must meet.

General Requirements

The laws regarding qualifications to become a foster parent will vary in each state based on a number of factors, including the past experience of the state with regard to foster care. Generally speaking, state laws require that people who want to become foster parents:

  • Be over 21 years old,
  • Have a regular source of income sufficient to meet the potential foster family's needs,
  • Have no record of felony convictions or misdemeanors convictions of child or elder abuse or sexual abuse,
  • Have a home with sufficient bedrooms for a foster child or children,
  • Submit to a home assessment of all family members, and
  • Attend all of the foster parent training sessions provided by the county or non-profit agency that coordinates foster care in your area.

Foster parents can usually work outside the home. However, this could mean the foster child requires day care or after school activities beyond what’s provided for free by the public school system. If so, the foster parent is typically responsible for that expense. Although generally, there are a number of programs foster children are eligible for low or no cost.

Foster families usually don’t need to make a set minimum income nor own a large home. Foster children can usually share a bedroom with another child of the same sex and opposite sex if under a certain age, such as 5 years old in California. Foster children under certain ages, such as under 2 years old in California, can stay in a crib in the same room as the foster parents. 

Both single persons and married couples are generally accepted as foster parents. However, some states don’t certify homes in which unmarried adults are living together unless they’re related. Individual agencies may discriminate against same-sex couples and cohabitating heterosexual couples. However, with the recent changes in same-sex marriage and benefits laws, this may change.

Other Foster Parent Considerations

In addition, the agencies who coordinate foster parents also look at other characteristics in screening potential foster parents, including:

  • Is the potential foster parent stable, mature, dependable, and flexible?
  • What experience with children, especially children with special needs, does the potential foster parent have?
  • Is the potential foster parent able to advocate for children?
  • Can the foster parent be a team player, working with the child, the child's family, the child welfare worker, the counselor, and others involved in the child's life?

The length of time a child may remain in foster care varies. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires states to seek a permanent placement for the child as quickly as possible, be it reunification with the birth parents, kinship care, or adoption. Foster parents can adopt their foster children. However, foster parents have to be open to the possibility that a child they hope to adopt is ultimately returned to his or her birth family.

Next Steps
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