How to Volunteer for Being a Foster Parent

Almost 800,000 children lived with foster families in 2006.
Almost 800,000 children lived with foster families in 2006.
©iStockphoto.com/Carmen Martínez Banús

For many people, having children is the dream of a lifetime. Sadly, not everyone can get that wish. Some have problems with infertility, while others may not find the right partner for a biological child. International adoptions have been all the rage among celebrities in the past few years (think Madonna and the Jolie-Pitts), but there's another option right here in the United States. Becoming a foster parent is a wonderful way to have the child or children you are looking for while helping people in need.

The U.S. Department of Health and Family Services Administration for Children and Families compiles statistics on the foster care system in the United States. According to its most recent official report, 510,000 children were in foster care as of Sept. 30, 2006 [source: USDHHS]. But those were just the children in foster care at the end of the federal fiscal year. In reality, almost 800,000 children were fostered at some point throughout 2006 [source: USDHHS].

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Children are placed into the foster care system for a variety of reasons. They can be removed from a home if their parents or caretakers are abusive or neglectful -- whether it's physical abuse or not providing enough food. Whatever the reason, the situation isn't good. Foster parents give these children the loving and safe homes they truly deserve.

In this article, we'll discuss the requirements for becoming a foster parent. Then we'll take a look at the benefits of foster parenting and the overall process. Read on to learn the requirements for these special relationships.

Requirements for Being a Foster Parent

Each state has different requirements for becoming a foster parent. You can call your local Department of Health and Human Services or search for foster parent services using a national database search engine [source: Child Welfare Information Gateway].

To get an idea of basic requirements, let's look at the state of New York. There, you must:

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  • Pass an evaluation process that shows you meet the requirements for the child's mental and physical health and safety
  • Be 21 or older
  • Be healthy (includes a physical examination)
  • Provide three references who can discuss your judgment, moral character, finances and ability to form and maintain good relationships
  • Discuss your motivation and ability with the organization and be interested in the permanency plan (a return home or adoption)
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Complete training courses 

[source: NYSOCFS]

Depending on your state, there may be additional requirements. These can include first aid/CPR classes and training on blood-borne pathogens and HIV/AIDS [source: WSDSHS]. There also could be requirements based on your status as a single, married or partnered person. In Montana, for example, couples will have to have been together for 24 months [source: MDHHS]. Check with your local resources to learn more about specific states.

Read on to learn about the benefits of becoming a foster parent.

Benefits of Being a Foster Parent

There are many common-sense benefits of becoming a foster parent. You're helping children have better lives. You're actively removing them from poor environments and providing them with the stability they're seeking. Even if you only have a child for a few months, you have the ability to teach the child lifelong lessons and set positive examples for how healthy families should function.

Most states provide financial compensation for the costs of foster parenting. The rates can differ based on the ages of the children or any special needs they have. An average 4-year-old child in Missouri comes with $282 per month to cover expenses, while a medical- or special-needs child would receive $671 per month [source: MFCAA]. Missouri also gives each child a Medicaid card and an annual clothing (or monthly diaper) allowance. If you have a job that would require daycare services, you can receive assistance for that cost until the child is 13 years old [source: MFCAA].

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It's possible to get other costs reimbursed, too. In the state of New York, foster parents can be reimbursed for school costs, tutorial help, club or organization fees, camps, excessive bills (such as phone calls to parents) or damages to personal property caused by the child [source: NYSOCFS]. You may also be eligible for tax deductions by caring for a foster child [source: IRS].

Does all of this sound good to you? Read on to learn about the foster parenting process.

The Foster Parenting Process

The foster parenting process begins with the initial idea, but you must think seriously about the commitment. Promising to care for another person's child takes dedication and stamina. There are some things to consider before you contact anyone:

  • There are multiple levels of need for the children in foster care programs.
  • Many of the children are preteen or teenaged.
  • Most of the children will be reunited with their caregivers at some point, so the situation is not permanent (unless you want to seek adoption).
  • You'll have to work closely with the court system, the foster parent system and the biological parent or guardian of the children.
  • Having a child move in or out of your home may disrupt or change your established home life. You may also have your private information made available in some cases, because court records can become public [source: MFCAA].

When you've decided to make a true commitment to becoming a foster parent, you can take the next steps toward receiving your foster care license. When a new child is placed in your home, you may experience an adjustment period. It's important to remember that the child has just lost his or her original family, so there may be an initial rough period. You will also need to have a close working relationship with any caseworkers, legal representatives or parents who are involved [source: NYSOCFS].

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Foster parenting is a big step, so it helps to know others who are going through the same process. Look for foster parenting local or online support groups to make new friends, get advice and have support during any difficult times. To learn more, visit the links on the next page.

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Sources

  • AdoptUsKids. "About the Children in Foster Care." (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.adoptuskids.org/resourceCenter/aboutTheChildren.aspx
  • Bosman, Julie. "Too Old for Foster Care, and Facing the Recession." The New York Times. 04/07/09. (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/08/nyregion/08foster.html
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway. "National Foster Care & Adoption Directory Search." (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/
  • FosterClub.com (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.fosterclub.com/
  • IRS. "A 'Qualifying' Child." 01/2005. (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=133298,00.html
  • MFCAA. "Get Started." (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.mfcaa.org/foster_getstarted.html
  • MFCAA. "Thinking About Becoming a Foster Parent? Some Things You Should Know." (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.dss.mo.gov/cd/fostercare/pdf/fpflyer.pdf
  • MDHHS. "Becoming a Foster Parent." (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.dphhs.mt.gov/cfsd/relatedtopics/fostercare.shtml
  • NYSOCFS. "Living with a Foster Child." (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/fostercare/living.asp
  • NYSOCFS. "Requirements to Become a Foster Parent." (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/fostercare/requirements.asp
  • Thompson, David. "Couple honored for giving decades of foster care." The Williamsport Sun-Gazette. 04/29/09. (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.sungazette.com/page/content.detail/id/525280.html
  • USDHHS. "The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY 2006 Estimates as of January 2008 (14)." 01/2008. (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report14.htm
  • USDHHS. "Trends in Foster Care and Adoption-FY 2002-FY 2007 (Based on data submitted by states as of January 16, 2008)." 01/2008. (Accessed 04/29/09) http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/trends.htm
  • WSDSHS. "Licensing Requirements." (Accessed 04/49/09) http://www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/fosterparents/be_FosterLicense.asp