Should You Become a Foster Parent? –  Rules, Money, Parental Rights

Updated: May 13, 2022
A guide to becoming a foster parent. Understand fostering vs. adopting, the challenges of the foster care system and your rights as a foster parent.
Should You Become a Foster Parent? – Rules, Money, Parental Rights
Table of contents

Foster care is temporary housing and care for children who cannot live with their parents. If a child’s biological parents are unable to care for them, they may be removed from the parent’s home by child protection and placed in a foster family until a suitable plan can be made for permanent care.

If a child’s home situation is unsafe, due to child abuse, neglect, or otherwise, they may be taken in by another family member or by adoptive parents.

A caseworker creates a case plan for the child. This social worker may place the child into foster care while they are seeking out appropriate and willing caregivers. Adoption may be arranged through a child-placing agency.

Foster care may also provide temporary relief while birth parents work to improve the living situation so that the child can return home. This is called reunification. If reunification cannot happen, there will be a termination of parental rights.

Foster care can look different depending upon the child’s age. Teenagers in the foster care system may need their foster families to help prepare them for independent living rather than reunification. This will be reflected in the case plan.

Related: Adoption: Children Waiting in Foster Care

Fostering vs Adoption

Adoption is different from foster care because it is permanent. Adoptive parents become the legal parents of their adoptive children. Adoptive families are legally no different than birth families. Foster care is intended to be temporary while a permanent solution, is called a permanency plan.

Foster parents can adopt their foster children. This is not always an easy process. The child’s family is the first place that the department of social services wants to see that child go. Foster parents are supposed to show their advocacy for this as well, rather than fighting to adopt. But, if the child welfare agencies determine that their are no suitable and willing caregivers in the family, adoptive families are the next step in the case plan.

Being adopted by their foster family can be extremely comforting and grounding to a foster child. Consistency of care, assuming that care is high quality, is always beneficial.

Should You Become a Foster Parent?

Happy young family sitting on couch and talking with family counselor.

Foster parents play a vital role in the lives of the children they foster. Since these children often come from unstable family situations, what they need most is predictable, loving care.

Although fostering is intended to be a temporary situation, children’s needs are not suspended during this time. Foster parents are primary, full-time care providers, not part-time child care. Foster parents care for their foster children just as they would their own children.

Prospective foster parents need to be ready to support and love their foster child. But, they also need to be able to let go when the time comes for reunification.

Reunification is considered the primary goal, and if it won’t work out, finding an extended family to take the child in is the next priority. Adoption is possible but not always guaranteed.

Foster parents must be prepared to love and care for kids who have experienced trauma. Children in the foster care system have often endured child abuse and other trauma. Being removed from their home is a trauma in itself. They may have special needs or struggle with their mental health. Parenting children who have experienced a chaotic situation can be challenging.

Prospective foster families should be ready to meet the needs of the child and stick with their foster children until a permanent living arrangement has been decided upon. Children do best when they are able to stay in their initial placement until the permanency plan is complete. Being moved from foster home to foster home only adds to the emotional damage.

Requirements to Be Selected as a Foster Parent

The exact requirements to be selected as a foster parent differ depending up state laws, but generally, you will need the following:

  • Be 21 years of age (or 18 years of age in some states)
  • Pass a background check
  • Complete a home study
  • Have a dedicated bedroom in your home for children of exclusively one gender
  • Be financially stable and in good health
  • Your spouse or partner must be willing to become a foster parent
  • Have a living situation that supports child welfare

Foster Parent Application Process

If you meet the requirements, you can apply to become a foster parent through your local Department of Human Services. You will need to attend an orientation and go through pre-service training. Next, you will need to undergo a background check and complete a home study.

In the end, you will receive your licensure as a foster parent. Your contact information will be shared with your local child-placing agency.

Foster Care for Young Kids vs Teens

Affectionate young mom supporting stressed sad teen child daughter

You can foster babies, young children, older children, or teens. Generally, you can specify the age ranges that you would like in your child placements.

Choosing what age range you’d like to foster should be based on your own knowledge of your abilities. Can you stay up all night with a newborn and still function in your other responsibilities? Will you be able to set firm and loving limits for toddlers or older children? Don’t just think about what ages you like, think about the unique challenges that come with each age group and whether you can tolerate them.

Fostering is just as important for teens as it is for newborn babies. Often, teens in the foster care system have been through multiple foster families since their initial placement and the inconsistency has not been helpful for them. Or, no families will take them in so they have lived in group homes. 

Group homes are less preferable because all children need loving, dedicated parents and to be a part of a family unit. Teens need advocacy more than any other age group in the foster care system.

Costs of Foster Care and Financial Incentives

Foster parents do get paid. The money they receive is a stipend meant to cover the costs involved in parenting a child, such as food, healthcare, and shelter. It is generally a fairly minimal amount and you should expect to spend additional money of your own to ensure the child’s health and well-being.

In some cases, you may be able to get reimbursement for clothing and other supplies you need to get for your foster child, but again, it is a small amount and you will likely need to spend more than that.

In short, you won’t make money as a foster parent. But you will get some financial assistance.

Foster Care’s Impact on Other Children in the Foster Home

Having foster siblings can be a positive experience for your biological or adoptive children. Fostering sets an example for taking care of others who are outside of our own family circle. It shows kids that others matter and that they can make a difference.

Of course, kids might just see it as an extra playmate and that’s fine too. Kids might bicker or be jealous of foster siblings. This is normal and you can work through it in a similar way as you would with non-foster siblings. But, you know your family’s needs best and you should take them into account when deciding whether fostering is right for you.

Saying goodbye can be difficult for other children in your home when it comes time for reunification or when a permanency plan falls into place. You will need to support your children through this.

Parental Rights of Foster Parents

Father and toddler daughter in therapist office during counselling assessment meeting

Foster parents do not have the same parental rights as biological parents or adoptive parents. They are not the child’s legal guardians and they do not have custody of the child.

Foster parents are expected to try their best to adhere to the birth family’s value system, such as their religion or cultural heritage.

Establishing a Permanency Plan

A permanency plan is the process of placing a foster child in a permanent home. Your foster child’s caseworker from family services will work on their case plan. The goal is to reunite the child with their biological parents so that they can return home.

If reunification is not possible, the social worker will try to place minors with care providers who are family members within their biological family. If a grandparent or another member of the child’s extended family takes them in, it is known as kinship care. Kinship care may or may not include legal custody, but it does generally include some legal rights.

Understanding the legal and personal implications of becoming a foster parent can help you make the best decisions for foster kids and your whole family. Learn more about how to become a foster parent and create a safe and happy home for foster kids by reading up on the rules for fostering in your state. You can also check out The National Foster Parent Association for more information.