We have all seen the TV ads about people opening their homes to children who need them. The foster-care system in the United States--which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services oversees--is in constant need of people who can care for children. Many people think about becoming foster parents, but all too often, are stymied by a lack of knowledge regarding the process. The requirements to become a foster parent vary by state, and it can be difficult to navigate the required steps. However, there are some rules that are the same regardless of what state you live in. So, what are they?
You must be at least 21 years old to be a foster parent. This requirement does not vary by state. You also must pass a criminal background check. If your background check indicates that you have a history of child abuse or neglect, your application is denied immediately. A history of drug or alcohol abuse also makes you ineligible to become a foster parent.
You and Your Family
A similar background check typically is run on adult members of your family, including your spouse, as they likely would have contact with any children for whom you become a foster parent. Any history of abuse in their background typically makes you ineligible. You also must make enough money to support your family. The foster-care system does reimburse foster parents, but the money is not intended as a substantial income source for the foster family.
Before a foster child is placed with you, your home must meet certain basic standards. Your home must meet all state fire, safety, and sanitary standards, and must have enough rooms and beds that you can provide a safe and comfortable space for any child that you foster. Although this does not mean that each child must have a separate bedroom, each child must have his or her own bed.
After your application is approved, most foster systems require that you participate in a training course. This course should familiarize you with all aspects of the foster-care system, including those individuals--case workers, child advocates, and other agency representatives--that you may have to deal with, as well as the legal aspects of foster parenting. Most states typically provide you with information about the behaviors foster children may exhibit based on the circumstances that lead to them being placed in foster care, and how you can handle common problems, such as acting out, once a child is placed with you.
Many states require a home study before a child is placed with a family. A home study typically includes at least one private visit to your home by a Foster Care Specialist or other qualified individual, like a social worker or similar government employee. Home studies ascertain that the information you provided on your application is valid with regards to your home and the sleeping area that you will provide for a foster child. In many cases, the specialist often likes to interview your family as a group to gauge your family's interaction and relationships. All of these events are routine, and should not cause you alarm. The goal of the foster-care system is to ensure that children are placed in a safe, supportive environment in which they can grow.