Foster parents provide a much-needed service to children in times of crisis or transition. Becoming a foster parent can be one of the most rewarding experiences for qualified parents. The qualifications to become a foster parent vary from state to state, but there are some general guidelines that all interested parents should meet before deciding to become foster parents.
Applicants must be 21 years of age and pass a background check. Foster parents can usually be single, married or widowed. Foster parent applicants must be fingerprinted and pass a criminal record check, as well as successfully complete an in-home interview. In addition, prospective foster parents must provide character references that prove they are emotionally and mentally stable. Other adults who will be living in the foster home must be fingerprinted and pass a criminal check as well. Foster parents also have to be financially stable, and although foster families receive government assistance, they must be able to financially provide for the foster child on their own. A foster parent's home must also pass inspections.
Foster parents are required to obtain a family home license and complete foster parent training courses. Training programs vary by state but usually require a certain number of hours of training in subjects such as first aid and CPR. States require from six to 45 hours of training for foster parents, some offering group classes and others providing individual training. Therapeutic foster parents who will be fostering children with special needs are often required to take extra training courses in addition to the basic classes.
Prospective foster parents must be prepared to provide a loving, stable and supportive home where children can grow and reach their full potential. Character traits that help foster parents succeed include patience, kindness, understanding, sympathy, firmness, fairness, confidence and an overall concern for the foster child's well-being. Foster parents must be able to provide emotional, physical and mental support to children who are often coming from stressful living situations that may involve abuse, neglect and instability. The foster parents must be able and willing to reach out to social workers for support if they need extra help or guidance, and the foster parents must be prepared for mistrust or lack of faith in them on the child's part. The toughest job for foster parents is letting go after loving a child wholeheartedly.