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Foster Parent Requirements

Foster parents across the country provide the vital role of caring for children who are dependents of the state. Providing a good home environment helps foster children to grow and develop after the abuse, neglect, or loss they may have suffered. However, not everyone can become a foster parent. If you're considering it, you'll want to get up to speed on the various foster parent requirements, including state laws and screening criteria.

The following information covers the main requirements for a foster parent, although the specifics will vary by state and other variables.

General Foster Parent Requirements

The laws regarding qualifications to become a foster parent vary in each state based on a number of factors. Generally speaking, state laws require that people who want to become foster parents:

  • Be over 21 years old (over 18-years-old in some states)
  • Have a regular source of income sufficient to meet the potential foster family's needs
  • Have no record of felony convictions or misdemeanors convictions of child or elder abuse or sexual abuse
  • Have a home with sufficient bedrooms for a foster child or children
  • Submit to a home assessment of all family members
  • Attend all of the foster parent training sessions provided by the county or non-profit agency that coordinates foster care in your area

Foster parents can usually work outside the home. However, this could mean the foster child requires daycare or after-school activities beyond what's provided for free by the public school system. If so, the foster parent is typically responsible for that expense. Although generally, there are a number of programs foster children are eligible for at low or no cost.

Foster families usually don't need to make a set minimum income nor own a large home. Foster children can often share a bedroom with another child of the same sex or opposite sex if under a certain age, such as five years in California. Foster children under certain ages, such as under two years old in California, can stay in a crib in the same room as the foster parents.

Both single persons and married couples are generally accepted as foster parents. However, some states don't certify homes in which unmarried adults are living together unless they're related. Individual agencies may discriminate against same-sex couples and cohabitating heterosexual couples, although this is a developing area of law and may change along with developments in same-sex marriage and benefits laws.

Other Foster Parent Requirements and Considerations

In addition, the agencies who coordinate foster parents also look at other characteristics in screening potential foster parents, including:

  • Is the potential foster parent stable, mature, dependable, and flexible?
  • What experience with children, especially children with special needs, does the potential foster parent have?
  • Is the potential foster parent able to advocate for children?
  • Can the foster parent be a team player, working with the child, the child's family, the child welfare worker, the counselor, and others involved in the child's life?

The length of time a child may remain in foster care varies. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 requires states to seek a permanent placement for the child as quickly as possible, be it reunification with the birth parents, kinship care, or adoption. Foster parents can adopt their foster children. However, foster parents have to be open to the possibility that a child they hope to adopt is ultimately returned to their birth family.

Related Resources for Foster Parents

Learn More About Foster Parent Requirements From an Attorney

Taking on the role of a foster parent may just be the turning point in a young child's life. It may not be an easy decision, especially if you have other children in your home, but having a warm family environment can make a big difference in another child's life. As you start down this road, it's important to have the advice and input of an experienced family law attorney along the way. Speak with a family law attorney today to find out more about foster parent requirements and to discuss your specific situation.

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