Foster parents, foster families, and caregivers care for children who don't have parents or a guardian. Under the Department of Health and Human Services, the Children's Bureau supports states' foster care programs. Within each state, foster care is typically run by a child welfare agency or the state's department of social services.
A good home helps foster children develop after child abuse, neglect, or loss they may have suffered with their birth parents or birth family. Foster care is a great first step if you are considering becoming an adoptive parent. Unfortunately, not everyone can be a foster parent or an adoptive parent.
Foster care systems need people willing to provide care and well-being for children. Here are the main eligibility requirements for being a licensed foster parent. The specifics will vary by state and other variables. Most will include home studies, criminal history background checks, and training requirements.
General Foster Care Requirements
Foster parent licensure eligibility varies by state, but generally, most states require the following:
- Be over 21 years of age (over 18 in some states)
- Have enough income to meet the potential foster family's needs
- Have access to childcare, education, and transportation providers
- Complete a criminal background check with no felonies or child abuse, elder abuse, or sexual abuse misdemeanors
- Have enough bedrooms for a foster child or foster children
- Submit to a home study of the foster home and all family members and provide the caseworker additional information
- Go to foster parent training about foster care placement of children in your area
Federal law requires that all adult household members complete a criminal background check. This includes fingerprinting. This includes a background check with the federal sex offender registry and state registries for child abuse or neglect.
Foster families usually don't need to be wealthy or own a large home. Foster children can often share a bedroom with another child. Foster children under certain ages can stay in a crib in the same room as caregivers.
Both singles and married couples can be licensed foster parents. Some child and family services agencies may discriminate against same-sex couples and cohabitating heterosexual couples. But this is a developing area of law and may change along with developments in same-sex marriage and benefits laws.
The approval process for becoming a licensed foster parent can take time, but emergency options may be available in certain circumstances.
Support Services for Foster Children
Foster parents can usually work outside the home. If so, the foster child may need daycare or afterschool activities beyond what's provided for free by the public school system. The foster parent is usually responsible for that expense. However, respite care, child care, afterschool daycare, and other low or no-cost programs may be available. Foster children are often eligible for Medicaid and free or reduced lunch through their school. Child support in some states can reimburse expenses like food and clothing. Out-of-home care may be available through a waiver program.
Other Foster Parent Requirements and Considerations
Foster care agencies look at other variables in screening prospective foster parents, including:
- Is the foster parent stable, mature, dependable, and flexible enough to meet the needs of the child?
- Is the foster parent related to the child or the child's family? Kinship care is usually preferred, especially when there are cultural concerns.
- Does the foster parent have experience with children with mental health or behavior issues?
- Can the foster parent advocate for the child with the courts and educational and medical providers?
- Is the foster family willing to consider being an adoptive family for the child?
- Is the foster family a resource for a whole sibling group?
- Is the foster parent a team player able to work with the child and others involved in the child's life?
Foster Care and Adoption
The length of time a child may remain in foster care varies. A permanency placement could be:
- Reunification with the birth parents
- Placement in an institution or group home.
Some states limit court-ordered foster care because permanency is best for the well-being of the child. Foster parents can apply to become adoptive parents of their foster children. Foster parents must realize that a child they hope to adopt might eventually return to their birth family. The needs of the child might exceed the abilities or resources of the foster family, thus, the child may need to go somewhere else. Some programs and reimbursements stop if you become an adoptive parent. You can negotiate these in a subsidized adoption agreement.
Related Resources for Foster Parents
- Foster Care (Children's Bureau, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services)
Learn More About Foster Care Requirements From an Attorney
Being a foster family is not an easy decision. It can be even more difficult if you have other children in your home. But you can make a big difference in another child's life, especially one who has experienced child abuse or neglect.
As you start down this road, it's important to have the advice and input of an experienced family law attorney. Speak with a family law attorney today to learn more about foster family requirements and discuss your situation.