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How to Foster a Child

Thinking about becoming a foster parent? At its core, the concept of foster care is to provide children with temporary, safe, and stable housing – for a matter of days or even years – until they can be reunited with their families.

We may think of foster care as a small family unit of unrelated parties, but the reality is that there is more than one type of foster care. Foster homes can be group home situations or even foster care arrangements with relatives. It's important work that may be difficult at times, but it can also be quite rewarding for both the foster child and parent.

If you're thinking about becoming a foster parent there are specific requirements for each state, which you will need to navigate. While the exact procedures may vary from state to state, this article provides general step-by-step instructions on how to foster a child.

Step 1: Decide if Foster Parenting is Right for You

The first step is deciding whether you truly want to foster a child. This is no small decision. You need to take stock of your parenting skills and limitations. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Do you have a strong support system of family and friends?
  • Are you a patient person?
  • Are you willing to have social workers in your home, possibly monthly or weekly?
  • Have you talked to other foster parents and evaluated your desire to parent honestly?

Step 2: Apply to be a Foster Parent

Once you've committed to fostering a child, the next stage is to contact your state's foster care agency and apply. Counties often subcontract out foster care to private agencies that place children with families. Check first with the department of health and human services in your county for foster parent requirements.

Filling out the application can be time-consuming. You often need to include your personal and medical history; provide personal and professional references; and indicate the age and type of child (race, gender, language, special needs) you will accept.

While state and local laws determine the criteria for who may become a foster parent, most states require foster parents to have a regular source of income, and have no felony convictions. Most states require prospective foster parents to be over 21 but some only require foster parents to be over 18 years of age. Again, your county will have the full list of criteria.

Los Angeles County, for instance, allows a wide swath of the population to become foster parents:

  • You can be single, married, divorced, or living with a partner. You can live in an apartment or house and either rent or own.
  • There is no minimum income, as long as you can support yourself and provide a safe, stable home for yourself and your child.
  • You can still work. For working parents, appropriate childcare arrangements need to be made.
  • You can be of any race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or culture - all of which can be the same or different as the child you want to parent.

Step 3: A Foster Home Study and Visit

Schedule an appointment for a required home study and visit by a social worker. You'll typically have three visits: one to inspect the home itself to see that it is safe and suitable, and the other two to investigate your psychological background, check that applicants are mentally healthy, and complete additional paperwork.

Step 4: Foster Parent Training and Certification

You may be required to complete 15 to 30 hours of training in foster parenting skills (regulations vary by state and agency). Once you've been approved, you should receive your foster parent certification or license.

Have Questions About How to Foster a Child? An Attorney Can Help

Foster children usually crave consistency and stability in their foster home. If you're willing to open up your home (to both children and social workers) and have a lot of love to give, fostering a child is a great way to help needy children in your community. If you have more nuanced questions about your specific legal situation, you can contact a family law attorney.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified family law attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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