Foster parenting can be a great way to share the love of a family and a safe, nurturing home with a child in need. While the challenges can be numerous, the benefits of caring for a child in foster care can be great as well. Foster care is defined as 24 hour care which is provided for a child outside of their home. These can be foster homes, as well as group homes, and residential homes.
Children who might require foster care placement are those who are part of the child welfare system. This system is supervised overall by the government but each state and even specific counties can have their own programs and rules. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), there were an estimated 423.773 children in foster care in the United States. Approximately a quarter of these children were placed in homes of relatives while about half were placed in nonrelatives’ homes. Children who end up in foster care can be infants who are just days old or adults up to 21 years old in some states. Sometimes placement is voluntary and occurs when the parent decides they do not have the resources to care for the child. The parent then turns the child or children over to the state for care. In other instances, placement is not voluntary. These are usually abuse or neglect cases where the state intervenes to protect the child.
The primary goal of foster care is usually reunification with a biological parent but sometimes the goal might be adoption to another family. Obviously, this depends on each situation. The average amount of time a child spends in foster care is 13.7 months. During this time, the state will assist the biological parents with parenting education and other resources to increase the likelihood that they can become effective caregivers. Some children reunite with parents, others get adopted by other family members or nonrelatives, some emancipate or age out of the system and unfortunately, a few run away. In recent years, there has been a positive trend of more children exiting out of the system than entering into it.
While foster care is necessary, it is not often ideal as qualified caregivers are always in high demand. Unfortunately, children who have been in foster care tend to be at greater risk for a number of health issues, both physical and psychological. Whether this stems from earlier abuse or neglect or from care while in foster homes is often unclear. Some of these issues can be intimidating to people considering foster parenting. However, many children are matched with wonderful families that can support their needs and help them through their issues to get them to be productive, happy young adults. All foster care programs include a period of education and training for potential parents to ensure everyone is well-prepared to care for the child.
Other requirements for parents interested in caring for a foster child are that the parent must be 21 years of age or older, they must pass a criminal background check, they must have a stable family situation, provide references to their character, have a documented, steady source of income, pass a home safety inspection, and go through a home study assessment with the foster care agency. Other requirements could be required by certain states and counties and these can be found on social services web sites for each area. Those who are interested in foster parenting are encouraged to learn as much as they can about the process by first contacting their local foster care agency, then talking with other foster parents and finally, by going through the orientation process to obtain approval.
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