Becoming a Foster or Adoptive Parent

Posted May 2, 2012
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog becoming a foster or adoptive parent 2012

It’s easy to take the first step toward becom­ing a fos­ter or adop­tive par­ent: Just call your local child wel­fare agency and ask. They can get you on the right track. 

Casey does not pro­vide fos­ter care or adop­tion ser­vices; we are a grant-mak­ing foun­da­tion. But we can refer you to places to learn more and can pro­vide infor­ma­tion about what’s involved.

Do I have what it takes?

Being a par­ent isn’t rock­et sci­ence, but it does take com­mit­ment, enthu­si­asm and flex­i­bil­i­ty. Being a par­ent is about more than pro­vid­ing a bed and meals: It’s about help­ing a child build a strong foun­da­tion that will last a lifetime.

To be a fos­ter or adop­tive par­ent, you need to be sin­gle or mar­ried, have a place to live (it doesn’t mat­ter whether you rent or own) and suf­fi­cient income to sup­port your­self and your exist­ing fam­i­ly (it doesn’t mat­ter whether you work or not). You also need to be able to:

  • Work with case­work­ers and oth­ers to sup­port the child in mak­ing the tran­si­tion to your home and family;
  • Be able to help chil­dren work through com­pli­cat­ed feel­ings and expe­ri­ences; and
  • Real­ize that the child you take into your home has anoth­er fam­i­ly, too—a birth family.

Of course, you’ll have a bet­ter expe­ri­ence as a fos­ter or adop­tive par­ent if you are sur­round­ed by a sup­port­ive community—if you have fam­i­ly or friends you can turn to for advice, sup­port and a good laugh. It also helps if you are curi­ous and inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about what makes peo­ple tick.

What’s involved

The costs of becom­ing a par­ent to chil­dren in the fos­ter care sys­tem are min­i­mal. You will need to pay for some of the basics a child needs—bedroom fur­ni­ture, for example—and some costs relat­ed to mak­ing your home safe. In return, you will get health insur­ance for the child and a sub­sidy to cov­er some of the child’s costs. Some tax breaks are avail­able and some employ­ers offer ben­e­fits to sup­port employ­ees who are fos­ter or adop­tive parents.

What about fos­ter­ing or adopt­ing a fam­i­ly member—is that pos­si­ble? Yes, often it is.

What are the first steps?

To explore becom­ing a fos­ter or adop­tive par­ent for a child in the child wel­fare sys­tem, you can:

  • Research local orga­ni­za­tions. Con­tact your local pub­lic fos­ter care and adop­tion agen­cies. Learn whether there are pri­vate agen­cies in your com­mu­ni­ty that are look­ing for fos­ter or adop­tive par­ents, too.
  • Learn about the chil­dren who are avail­able. Agen­cies should be able to describe the chil­dren in their care. Do they han­dle most­ly infants? Teens? Chil­dren of all ages? Spend time explor­ing the options.
  • Learn more about the process. Can you see your­self going through train­ing to become and to stay a fos­ter par­ent? Are you the kind of per­son will­ing to advo­cate for a child’s needs at school and else­where? One way to find out is to attend ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions at one or more agen­cies. Keep ask­ing questions!
  • Talk with every­one in your fam­i­ly. Are they on board with your plan to wel­come a new mem­ber? Fos­ter­ing or adopt­ing requires a com­mit­ment from everyone.
  • Attend train­ing. You may say, wait a minute—I already know how to be a par­ent. Two things to con­sid­er: You may real­ly appre­ci­ate learn­ing about the impact of child abuse and neglect on child devel­op­ment; it will help you par­ent a child who real­ly needs you. Fos­ter and adop­tive par­ents often say the train­ing and sup­port they receive is crit­i­cal to their success.
  • Oth­er details. There are sev­er­al oth­er tasks involved in fos­ter­ing or adopt­ing a child. For exam­ple, a home study and back­ground checks are nec­es­sary. Seems intrusive—but these chil­dren haven’t had an easy time of it, so the agency must make real­ly sure any fos­ter and adop­tive par­ents are a good fit for the job of par­ent­ing. Usu­al­ly a home study involves a case work­er help­ing you fill out forms and ques­tion­naires about your home, fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty. This paper­work will ask ques­tions such as: Is your home safe? Are you in good phys­i­cal, emo­tion­al and men­tal health? Do you have ade­quate income to meet your cur­rent family’s needs? You and the case work­er will also dis­cuss for which chil­dren you might be the right par­ent, con­sid­er­ing children’s ages, inter­ests, strengths and needs.

Remem­ber, every child and every teen needs a fam­i­ly. Please con­sid­er being a fos­ter or adop­tive par­ent today!

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