How to Foster a Child
Providing a temporary home for a child is important, selfless, and difficult work. However, figuring out how to foster a child in your state can be challenging and time-consuming. But the experience for both foster child and parent can be quite rewarding.
Foster parents provide children with temporary, safe, and stable housing – for a matter of days or even years – until they can be reunited with their families.
Learning how to foster a child includes figuring out how to jump through some administrative hoops, including the application and certification process. While the exact procedures may vary from state to state, this article provides general step-by-step instructions on how to foster a child. See Foster Care: Background and History and Types of Foster Care: Group Homes and Kinship Care for some background information about foster parenting.
Step 1: Decide if Foster Parenting is Right for You
The first step is deciding whether you truly want to foster a child. This is no small decision. You need to take stock of your parenting skills and limitations. Some questions to ask yourself include: Do you have a strong support system of family and friends? Are you a patient person? Are you willing to have social workers in your home, possibly monthly or weekly? Have you talked to other foster parents and evaluated your desire to parent honestly?
Step 2: Apply to be a Foster Parent
Once you've committed to fostering a child, the next stage is to contact your state's foster care agency and apply. The county often subcontracts out foster care to private agencies that place children with families. Check first with the department of health and human services in your county for specifics, but see Foster Parent Requirements for a general overview.
Filling out the application can be time consuming. You often need to include your personal and medical history; provide personal and professional references; and indicate the age and type of child (race, gender, language, special needs) you will accept.
While state and local laws determine the criteria for who may become a foster parent, most states require foster parents to be over 21, have a regular source of income, and have no felony convictions. Again, your county will have the full list of criteria. Los Angeles County, for instance, allows a wide swath of the population to become foster parents:
- You can be single, married, divorced, or living with a partner. You can live in an apartment or house and either rent or own.
- There is no minimum income, as long as you can support yourself and provide a safe, stable home for yourself and your child.
- You can still work. For working parents, appropriate childcare arrangements need to be made.
- You can be of any race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or culture - all of which can be the same or different as the child you want to parent.
Step 3: A Foster Home Study and Visit
Schedule an appointment for a required home study and visit by a social worker. You'll typically have three visits: one to inspect the home itself to see that it is safe and suitable, and the other two to investigate your psychological background, check that applicants are mentally healthy, and complete additional paperwork.
Step 4: Foster Parent Training and Certification
You may be required to complete 15 to 30 hours of training in foster parenting skills (regulations vary by state and agency). Once you've been approved, you should receive your foster parent certification or license.
Foster children usually crave consistency and stability in their foster home. If you are willing to open up your home (to both children and social workers) and have a lot of love to give, fostering a child is a great way to help needy children in your community. If you have more nuanced questions about your specific legal situation, you can contact a family law attorney.