Should I Become a Foster Parent? Checklist & Considerations

Fostering in Kentucky

Is Foster Parenting Right for You?

Becoming a foster parent is a deeply rewarding experience that can change both your life and the life of a child in need. But it’s also a commitment that requires empathy, resilience, and an understanding of the challenges involved. Like any major life choice, it’s helpful to ask yourself some questions before embarking on this journey.

Should I Become a Foster Parent? Questions to Ask First:

1. What are the pros and cons of becoming a foster parent?

Why should people become foster parents? Perhaps the best answer comes from Britt Kelley, former foster youth and staff at America’s Kids Belong who says simply, “We need you.” Consider that your unique life experiences and challenges you’ve overcome may have prepared you for this – to help a kid in foster care today who is suffering a great deal of pain and uncertainty. 

Hear from former foster youth on what makes a good foster parent.

Our founder Brian Mavis speaks to the issue from a broad perspective:  “You hear about homelessness, human trafficking and other social wounds, but you don’t hear about foster care (which is a major risk factor for all of these). When you step into foster care, you are going upstream. You’re helping kids avoid more trauma.”

Of course fostering isn’t all puppies and rainbows. Beyond the challenges of working within a complex system, the cons of being a foster parent may include navigating the various physical and emotional needs of kids in foster care, financial burden beyond state reimbursements, and difficulty bonding with the children in your care.

The truth is that becoming a foster parent will stretch you in ways you could not imagine, but that stretching will cause you to grow. Your heart, your family, your perspective on life – all of these can be deeply enriched through your choice to foster.

Explore fostering today!

2. Do I have a strong support system?

A support system is vital for a foster family to thrive. Fostering can be challenging and unpredictable, so having a strong support system can provide stability both for parents and the children in their care. 

Even before you are licensed, you can begin to seek out fellow foster parents, support groups, and resources to connect with others who understand. You can “begin to build your village,” says foster parent and adoptee Shyann Skelton, panelist of one of our FosterCon Webinars.

Although this might seem overwhelming in today’s digital and distanced world, sometimes just putting a pen to paper and making a list of the supportive people in your life will help reassure you that you are not going it alone. Think about your network of friends, family members, and professionals who can offer encouragement and practical assistance when needed. 

When making this list, be sure to include at least one or two individuals who would be willing to provide respite care or step in to help during times of crisis or personal need. 

Read a foster parent’s perspective on what it means to have community support.

The truth is that most foster parents last about 15 months before closing their homes. This is sometimes due to a lack of support, but sometimes they close because of integrating a newly adopted child into the family. However, it’s clear that having your “village” in place can help you foster longer and stronger.

As our founder Brian Mavis likes to say, “Foster care can be messy, but it doesn’t have to be lonely.” Surround yourself with people who will uplift and empower you as you open your heart and home to children in need.

Check out our Foster Friendly app to discover community resources near you!

3. Can I support reunification?

“Fosters have more of an impact on parents than they think. My fosters had faith in me as a parent, as a mother. They supported us 100%” – Rachel, a biological mom. Watch Rachel’s Full Story:

Keep in mind that the primary goal of the foster care system is reunification: to safely return children to their biological families whenever possible. As a foster parent, you play a pivotal role in facilitating this process by providing a nurturing environment for children while their families work towards reunification. 

Many people are afraid they will get too attached, but that is exactly the type of love a kid in foster care needs when they are living in that “in-between” space, waiting for their families to be in a position to care for them once again. 

The sacrifice to open your heart in spite of potential loss requires a deep commitment to understanding and respecting the bonds between children and their birth parents. It also requires a willingness to collaborate with case workers and support services to promote family reunification. 

Embracing the goal of reunification is prioritizing the best interests of the child, even if it means saying goodbye when the time comes.

Discover more about fostering.

4. Do I want to rescue children in need?

If you’re seeking to “rescue” children by becoming a foster parent, you may need to take a step back. Examine your desire to become a foster and be honest with yourself about whether it is based on a need you may have rather than those of the children you may parent one day.

While it’s natural to want to provide love and support to vulnerable children, it’s essential to approach foster parenting with a mindset focused on empowerment rather than rescue. Fostering is about offering a stable, nurturing environment where children can heal, grow, and thrive. It’s not about swooping in to save them from their circumstances. 

At America’s Kids Belong, we like to refer to foster and adoptive parents as healers rather than heroes.

Being a healer requires a strong commitment to understanding each child’s unique needs and strengths, supporting their development, and advocating for their well-being. It’s also a willingness to do hard, sometimes exhausting work that no one may ever see or acknowledge.

Instead of viewing foster parenting as a heroic act, consider it an opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the life of a child.

Explore fostering.

5. Can I support children who have different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs than my own?

Foster parenting often involves welcoming children from various ethnicities, cultures, and religious backgrounds into your home. It requires an open-minded approach, where you respect and celebrate each child’s unique identity. 

Are you prepared to learn about and honor the cultural traditions, customs, and beliefs of the children in your care? Will you create an environment that fosters understanding, acceptance, and appreciation for diversity? 

As many of our own staff who are foster parents can testify, embracing differences enriches the fostering experience, providing opportunities for mutual learning, growth, and connection.

6. Do I have patience?

For foster parents, patience is not just a virtue, but a necessity. Fostering children who have experienced trauma, neglect, and loss requires high emotional intelligence and a great deal of empathy. It entails supporting children as they navigate complex emotions and behaviors on their path to healing. 

Being a foster parent is stressful — between managing the needs of your child(ren), expectations of your family and friends, and the connections of your biological children and partner, stress is to be expected! However, this doesn’t mean fostering is the wrong choice. Many of the most rewarding and beneficial life experiences are stressful, too — from having a baby to getting married to changing jobs.

Are you prepared to remain calm and composed in the face of difficult moments? Can you offer consistent love, guidance, and support even when progress seems slow or setbacks occur? Patience is not only about waiting for change but also about actively nurturing and guiding children in your care throughout their journey.

7. Am I willing to parent from a trauma-informed perspective?

“Trauma in general is the reality of what’s happening within our body… in a moment, in an experience” – Lindy Green Johnson, LCSW

Many children entering foster care have experienced deep trauma, disrupting their ability to trust and develop healthy relationships. This means the kids in your care need your support and love but may also despise it at the same time. This is more common with older kids, but can happen with any age. Are you willing to do what it takes to love children when they treat you poorly, don’t appreciate you, refuse to cooperate, etc.? 

Parenting from a trauma-informed lens means understanding the effects of trauma on a child’s brain and behavior and responding with empathy, patience, and sensitivity. It involves creating a safe and predictable environment, establishing routines, and implementing positive discipline strategies prioritizing connection and understanding over punishment. 

Trauma-informed parenting often means you’ll have to be okay with disciplining differently than you do with your biological children. Are you prepared to educate yourself about trauma and its effects on children, and to tailor your parenting approach accordingly? Are you willing to prioritize healing, resilience, and growth in your interactions with the children in your care, even when faced with challenging behaviors or emotions? 

More resources on trauma awareness here.

8. Is my immediate family on the same page about fostering?

Fostering affects not only the parents but everyone in the household, including children and other family members. Have open and honest discussions with your immediate family about the decision to foster, addressing any concerns, fears, or expectations they may have. 

Are you prepared to involve your family in the fostering process, creating an atmosphere of unity and collaboration? It’s essential to establish clear communication channels and support each other through the ups and downs of foster parenting.

Learn more about this topic: What To Do When You Want to Foster but Your Partner Does Not.

9. Am I financially stable?

Financial stability is an important consideration for those contemplating fostering. The state provides financial assistance to cover the basic needs of the children in your care, but it’s not enough to cover all of the expenses most parents incur for fostering children, and it’s certainly not an income replacement. 

Additionally, fostering may require flexibility in your budget to accommodate unexpected changes in your household dynamics such as the need for a larger vehicle. Evaluate your own financial situation to ensure you can meet additional expenses associated with fostering, such as food, clothing, transportation, and extracurricular activities. 

It’s good to ask yourself, “Am I financially stable already, without any income I may receive from fostering?” In almost all cases, you should be prepared to spend more money than provided for by the state to provide a stable and supportive environment for the children in your care.

Explore fostering today!

10. Can I work within an imperfect system?

When stepping into the foster care journey, it’s important to recognize that many things that happen will be outside of your control.

Jamie Howard, foster and adoptive dad to a sibling group of four, named this uncertainty as the most challenging aspect for him. Read our blog post about men and foster care here.

Yet the ability to navigate an imperfect child welfare system while maintaining respectful and constructive relationships with social workers and other players is essential for your own well-being as well as that of the child in your care. 

The first step is a willingness to communicate openly, empathetically, and transparently with case workers to build mutual understanding and trust. By embracing a partnership mindset and working together to support children and families, you can overcome challenges within the system while promoting positive outcomes for all involved.

Types of Fostering

When considering foster care, potential foster parents should be aware of the various types to meet the diverse needs of children in care. Read this if you’re wondering about the difference between legal guardianship and adoption.

  1. Traditional foster care involves providing temporary homes for children removed from their birth families due to issues such as neglect, abuse, or parental incarceration. 
  2. Kinship foster care allows children to be placed with relatives or close family friends, providing a sense of familiarity and continuity during a challenging time.
  3. Therapeutic foster care caters to children with complex emotional, behavioral, or medical needs, and requires specialized training and support for foster parents. 
  4. Respite care offers short-term relief for full-time foster families, while emergency foster care provides immediate housing for children in crisis situations. 
  5. Remand foster care is a special type of fostering for children who are awaiting court dates for an offense they are alleged to have committed.
  6. Short-term foster care provides temporary placement for children until a permanent solution is found, while long-term foster care offers stability and continuity for children who cannot return to their birth families. 
  7. Fostering for adoption allows foster parents to provide a permanent home to children whose parental rights have been terminated, with the intent to adopt. The rules for this differ in each state.* 

*While foster-to-adopt is wonderful, understand that most adoption-eligible children are over the age of 10. Infants and toddlers are nearly impossible to adopt via foster care if you aren’t already fostering towards reunification first. Yet thousands of families have found their lives enriched through the beauty of adopting an older child or sibling group. Meet waiting kids here.

Each type of fostering presents unique opportunities and challenges, so it’s essential for parents to explore their options and choose the type that best aligns with their abilities, preferences, and commitment to supporting vulnerable children.

Discover more about fostering!

11. One Child or Sibling Groups?

While most people set out to foster just one child at a time, fostering a sibling set offers numerous benefits; most importantly, the preservation of family bonds which reduces the trauma experienced by a kid entering care.

Keeping siblings together provides a sense of familiarity, comfort, and support during a time of upheaval. It allows them to share experiences, memories, and milestones, which creates continuity and belonging.

Adoptive mom to a sibling group of four, Adriana Howard describes it as “having little team members” who are helpful and committed to making the new family dynamics work. Watch more of her story here.

Practically speaking, you should consider your capacity to meet the needs of multiple children, including emotional support, logistics, and financial resources. You also need to assess whether your home environment, resources, and support network can accommodate the needs of a sibling group. 

Despite the challenges, the opportunity to keep siblings together and provide them with a loving and stable home environment can be immensely rewarding for both the children and parents.

12. What type of child am I prepared to welcome?

When considering which children to foster, parents should evaluate their own abilities, preferences, and resources to ensure they can provide the best possible care. Age is an important factor to consider, as the average age of children in foster care is 8 years old and up. Caring for young kids requires different skills and resources compared to older children or teenagers. 

Read how one couple answered the question, “Could we really consider foster care?”

Respect for the religious preferences and cultural background of the kid you foster is essential, as is the ability to provide a supportive environment for children of all sexual identities, recognizing that some jurisdictions may restrict the disclosure of this information. 

Additionally, you should consider your capacity to meet the needs of children with special needs, developmental needs, learning disabilities, or challenging behaviors. It’s important to be honest about your strengths and limitations and to seek training and support to effectively meet the diverse needs of children in your care.

In all of this, remember that just as no one ever feels one hundred percent ready to have a child of their own, you may never feel completely ready to foster a child who falls outside of your parameters. But this doesn’t mean that you cannot grow into that capacity. As Adriana and Jamie, adoptive parents of four like to say, “You will become the kind of person who can handle it.”

Learn more about what it takes to become a foster parent.

Be Flexible

Being flexible about the type of children you’re open to fostering is key. So while you may have preferences or initial ideas about the type of child you feel most comfortable fostering, remaining open-minded can significantly broaden your opportunities to help children in need. 

Create all the “lists” — but be flexible enough to say “yes” even when something doesn’t fit your perfect list. Eventually you will learn how to strike the balance between what is ideal and what could be possible by stretching a bit out of your comfort zone.

Private Agency vs. State Agency

To get started, you’ll want to know whether to sign up with a private agency or with your state’s agency, often referred to as Department of Social Services (DSS) or Child Protective Services (CPS). Going with the state often means you get “first dibs” on certain placements, receive a slightly larger daily stipend, and have fewer workers to deal with. 

However, private agencies can offer more comprehensive training, additional types of support (especially for children with more complex needs), and better options for respite, among other things. 

When making your decision, consider factors such as the level of support, training, and resources provided by each agency, as well as their reputation and track record in the community. 

Choose an agency that aligns with your values and goals as a foster parent, as they will play a significant role in guiding you through the fostering process and supporting you in your journey to provide a safe and loving home for children in need.

Take the first step to becoming a foster parent

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