Many people find foster parenting deeply rewarding. Some foster parents go into the process looking to adopt, while other foster parents aim to be a safe waystation for a child on their way to a permanent home—whether back with a birth parent or with another adoptive parent. Still others start out as a temporary stop but then fall in love with the child and decide that adoption is the best option for them and the child.
Becoming a Foster Parent
Different states have different laws and processes in order to become a foster parent, although there are many commonalities across the states. All states require some kind of licensing or training of potential foster parents in order for them to have a child placed in their home. To become approved, the state will conduct home visits, interviews, and background checks to make sure that the home and parent(s) are safe for the child. There will also be trainings and other educational requirements. The time that it takes for licensure will vary from state to state and situation to situation. However, it is in the state’s interest to move quickly because there are almost always foster children waiting for homes.
Financial Assistance for Foster Parents
If you become a foster parent, the state will also reimburse you for some expenses. Typically, foster parents are given a small stipend to help cover the costs of housing a foster child, but it will not usually cover all of the costs that parenting a child requires. The amount varies by the state, the age of the child, and the child’s needs, but typically states will pay about $20-$30 a day to foster parents. This reimbursement is not taxable. States will also usually provide some kind of medical coverage and may pay medical expenses for the child.
Foster parents can also claim foster children on their taxes, as long as the children meet the residency requirements by living with the foster parents for more than half the year. If the child is under the age of five, they will automatically be eligible for WIC, a program that provides certain foods to parents and young children. Depending on the state and the situation, foster children may be eligible for other benefits as well.
Requirements for Becoming a Foster Parent
The main requirements for becoming a foster parent are having the emotional, physical, and financial (after state reimbursement) ability to care for a foster child. However, the specifics vary from state to state. Foster parents must be over 18 and must be willing to actively work toward reunification with the biological parent if that is part of the case plan. The foster child does not need their own room in the house, but they must have their own bed and an area for personal belongings. Most states will also allow single people to be foster parents. Usually, social workers will work closely with the foster parents to help make sure that any placement is right for the child and the parents.
Adopting a Child
One of the main complications of adopting through foster care is the potential reunification with the birth parents. When a child is removed from an abusive or neglectful situation and placed into foster care, their birth parents will usually retain parental rights for some time. States differ a bit in the specifics of the process. Generally, if a parent does not want to voluntarily give up their parental rights after the child is removed from their care, the state has an obligation to help the parent gain the tools and skills to become a fit parent. This can include counseling, parenting classes, and other interventions. The ultimate goal will initially be reunification.
The Possibility of Reunification With Birth Parents
During the time that birth parents still have parental rights and are trying to regain custody of their children, if they comply with any required plans and show that they can provide a safe home, the children can generally return home to them. If not, parental rights can be terminated, and then the foster parent can potentially adopt the child provided that no biological family members have offered to adopt the child during this process. In an effort to minimize the amount of time children spend moving back and forth between foster and birth parent homes, a federal law has been implemented that requires the state to file a petition to terminate parental rights if the child has spent 15 of the last 22 months in foster care. There are exceptions to this requirement, such as when the parent is able to regain custody of the child or when there are extenuating circumstances. For foster parents who are looking to adopt, it can be nerve-wracking to go through this period in which the child may end up leaving their care.
Adopting a child from foster care costs very little, and the state will often subsidize even this amount. However, social science research and current law tend to support reunification with the birth family as a policy goal. As a result, foster parents may need to be supportive of attempts at reunification even if they hope to adopt the child(ren) they are fostering.