Deciding to Become a Foster Parent?


Introduction

Have you been thinking about becoming a foster parent? With over 437,000 U.S. children and youth in foster care right now,1 there is definitely a need for foster parents. But, how do you know if foster parenting is right for you?

This document provides reflective questions to help you decide if becoming a foster parent is right for you and whether now is the right time. Deciding to become a foster parent is a big decision that takes thoughtful consideration.

In the process of considering becoming a foster parent, you may come to the following conclusions:

  • Foster parenting is the right choice for you, and you are ready to move forward right now.
  • Foster parenting is right for you, but now is not the right time.
  • Becoming a foster parent is not the right choice for you after all.

All these decisions are okay, and whatever decision you make will be the right one. Tips and suggestions to support your decision-making process are included.

Why Do I Want to Become a Foster Parent?

Consider the reasons why becoming a foster parent is intriguing to you.

Ask yourself,

  • “Why do I want to become a foster parent?”
  • “What do I hope to gain from becoming a foster parent?”
  • “What do I have to offer a child in foster care?”
  • “What do I need to learn about child development and foster parenting to help me make a decision about becoming a foster parent?”
  • “What is happening in my life right now that is influencing me to consider becoming a foster parent?”

Do I Have the Time to Commit to Foster Parenting?

Being a foster parent requires an investment of time. If you decide to become a foster parent, you will spend time going through the foster care training process to become a certified foster parent. Once you have a child in foster care placed with you, you will spend a lot of time caring for that child. Considering your available time is an important part of the decision-making process.

Ask yourself,

  • “Do I have the time to devote to being a foster parent?”
  • “What are the time commitments that currently fill my schedule?”
    • “Are these time commitments flexible?”
    • “Could I reduce or put some of them on hold?”

Consider your lifestyle and spend time visualizing how your life would change with the addition of a child. For example, if you work long hours at your job, how would that change if you have a child in your care? If you regularly go to the gym after work, what would you need to do differently to continue this activity and accommodate the needs of a child in your care? If you like to travel, how would that change if you have a child in school?

Ask yourself,

  • “Am I able to adjust easily to change?”
  • “Do I feel stressed when things don’t go according to my plans?”
  • “In what ways do I manage my stress?”

Considering your time commitments and your current lifestyle can inform your decision about whether to become a foster parent.

Tip

You don’t have to be a stay-at-home parent to accept a child in need of foster care into your home. Many foster parents work full time.

Am I Emotionally Ready to Be a Foster Parent?

Deciding to become a foster parent will also require an emotional investment from you. It is likely and expected that a child you foster will be with you for a temporary amount of time. The foster care system is built on the premise that children in need of foster care should be reunited with their family of origin.

Investing your heart in a relationship can be hard knowing that your time with a child in foster care will be temporary and they will likely return to their family of origin. Assessing your current mental health and emotional availability is important in the decision-making process.

Ask yourself,

  • “What is my current state of mental health?”
    • “In what ways would my current state of mental health help or hinder my ability to be a foster parent?”
    • “Are there any unresolved issues that are causing problems in my life right now? If so, how am I working to resolve those issues?”
  • “What are my strengths? How could I use my strengths as a foster parent?”
  • “What are my biggest challenges? In what ways could those challenges hinder my ability to be a foster parent?”
  • “How do I handle uncertainty and not knowing in my life?”
  • “Am I able to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously?”
  • “Do I feel a sense of contentment with my life?”
  • “Am I able to communicate my needs effectively?”
  • “How do I feel about supporting relationships that a child in foster care may consider important (e.g., parents, siblings, grandparents)?”
  • “How do I feel about supporting relationships with people of different religions, nationalities, or gender identity?”

You might also consider asking close friends or family members for feedback. Sometimes it is difficult to do a thorough self-assessment of one’s own mental health. Asking trusted friends and family members can provide insights into your strengths and areas in your life in which you might want to improve.

Tip

Start a journal to process your thoughts and feelings while you are deciding whether to become a foster parent.

Tip

Remember, it is okay to decide that becoming a foster parent isn’t right for you.

In What Ways Do I Practice Good Self-Care?

In order to be available to others, it is important to make sure that you are caring for yourself as well. In deciding whether to become a foster parent, consider your current self-care practices.

Ask yourself,

  • “Do I get enough sleep?”
  • “Do I engage in regular exercise?”
  • “Do I eat healthy foods that nourish my body?”
  • “Do I spend time doing activities that I enjoy?”
  • “Do I spend time with people that I enjoy?”
  • “What is my self-care routine?”
    • “Am I good at following my self-care routine when I am busy? Stressed? Sad? Overwhelmed? Anxious?”
  • “What areas of my life need work?”
  • “What areas are working well?”

Is My Environment Child Friendly?

Consider your home environment and what you could offer if you decide to become a foster parent and welcome a child in foster care into your home.

Ask yourself,

  • “Do I have a space in my home that a child in foster care could consider their own?”
  • “Do I have an extra bed or room?”
  • “Do I live in a child friendly neighborhood?”
  • “Is my home clean, well maintained, and safe for a child?”
  • “How do I feel about having regular visits from a caseworker if a child is placed in my home?”

Do I Have Strong Organizational Skills?

Being a foster parent requires skills in organization. If you decide to become a foster parent, you will be required to attend several appointments and will need to maintain copies of the child’s pertinent documents.

Ask yourself,

  • “Am I good at organizing my time?”
    • “Am I able to plan ahead?”
    • “Do I consistently show up for scheduled appointments?”
  • “Do I keep important documents organized in a way that they can be easily retrieved when needed?”

Do I Have Enough Income to Support My Household?

Foster parents do receive reimbursement to offset some of the costs of having a child in foster care. The child’s medical expenses and some financial resources to offset the costs of the child’s room, food, and clothing are provided. And, while you won’t be financially responsible for all the child’s needs, the financial resources provided by the State will not cover everything. It is important that your current income is enough to support your household without relying on the reimbursement that would be provided if you have a child in foster care.

Ask yourself, “Do I have the financial resources to support a child in foster care?”

Who Are the Supportive People in My Life?

Consider the relationships you have with important people in your life.

Ask yourself,

  • “Who are the people in my life that I go to when I need support?”
  • “Do I feel comfortable reaching out and asking for help when I need it?”
  • Thinking about the last time you reached out for help from supportive people in your life, reflect on,
    • “How did it go?”
    • “Did I feel comfortable?”
    • “Were there any problems?”
  • “Are there people in my life that are not good for me or that would not be good for a child for whom I would be caring?”

Who Needs to Be Involved in the Decision to Become a Foster Parent?

Deciding whether to become a foster parent is a decision that requires a lot of thought and collaboration with the people in your life (i.e., your co-parent, other children in your home, extended family). Spend time talking about this big decision together. There are several important conversations you need to have with important people in your life. These conversations can provide insight and help you decide if becoming a foster parent is the right decision.

A Co-Parent

Use intentional communication to have important conversations while also strengthening your relationship. See more information on intentional communication.

Some important conversations to have include:

  • How do you feel about opening our home to a child in foster care?”
    • “What do you think would be the biggest challenge for us?”
    • “What concerns do you have?”
    • “What aspects of foster care do you think you would enjoy?”
  • “Are we ready and/or equipped to take a child in foster care who might have a traumatic history, emotional problems, attachment issues, or other special needs?”
  • “How would you feel about having caseworkers and social workers in our home and having to follow certain requirements and rules?”
  • “If we decide to become foster parents, in what ways could we support each other when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed?”
Tip

Be willing to listen even if you don’t hear what you are hoping to hear.

Remember, you are a team. If your co-parent has doubts about becoming a foster parent, you could ask, “What would make you feel more comfortable to make this decision together?” Don’t rush or be in a hurry to decide. Don’t be forceful. Both of you will need to be aligned in your decision to proceed.

Other Children in Your Home

If you have children already living in your home, they will also need to be involved in deciding to become a foster family.

Educate your children about what foster care is and why a child would need to come into your home for foster care.2 There are many different reasons and circumstances that could lead to a child needing foster care. Talk about reasons parents may be unable to safely care for them in an age appropriate way. You could say, “Some children who need foster care don’t have a safe place to live, so they need to live with another family for a while.”

You could follow this statement with questions to process their thoughts and feelings and to build empathy for the other child. You could ask questions like:

  • “How would you feel about having a child come and stay with us for a while?” Process feelings and assure your child that even if another child comes to live with your family, you are always there for them.
  • “What do you think the child who would come to stay with us would be feeling?” If your child needs help to identify feelings, you could say, “I wonder if they would feel sad or feel scared. Can you think of a time when you have been sad? What did that feel like?” Helping your child identify and relate to another person’s feelings builds empathy and grows their social and emotional skills.
  • Ask for your children’s input. You could say, “Do you think our family should consider becoming a foster family? Do you have any concerns about having another child join our family?”

Extended Family

You might also want to involve extended family in your decision to become a foster parent. While you may not be seeking their approval of your decision, engaging your extended family in conversations early can help them feel valued and included and can reduce stress in the future if you should decide to become a foster parent.

What Other Resources Do I Need to Decide?

It can be helpful to seek out additional resources to inform your decision.

  • Consider reaching out to other foster parents. Talking with others who have experience as foster parents can provide valuable insights that you may not have considered. You could ask:
    • “What advice would you give someone who is considering becoming a foster parent?”
    • “What do you wish you would have known when you were deciding whether to become a foster parent?”
    • “What have been your biggest challenges?”
    • “What has surprised you?”
    • “What has been the best part of being a foster parent?”
  • Conduct a search online and visit popular foster parenting websites. Identify the topics that are often talked about and what is discussed about those topics.
  • Educate yourself about child development, foster parenting, and common topics like attachment, trauma, grief, and loss. Learning is key to feeling competent and ready to make a decision about foster parenting.

Closing

Deciding to become a foster parent is a big decision that takes thoughtful consideration. The reflective questions posed in this document can help you take a careful look at your current situation including your time availability, your current mental health, your support network, your self-care practices, and your environment. Each of these are important considerations when deciding to become a foster parent. Additionally, conversations with important people in your life will be critical to deciding. Conversations with a co-parent and other children living in your home can help you decide if becoming a foster parent is right for you and your family and whether now is the right time.

Download and print the at-a-glance resources highlighting key information for Deciding to Become a Foster Parent.

References

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families (2019). The AFCARS Report No. 26 FY 2018 data. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport26.pdf
[2] Whitney, T. (2018, June 31). Top 10 tips for blending children by foster care, birth and/or adoption. Retrieved from https://creatingafamily.org/foster-care/top-10-tips-for-blending-children-by-foster-care-birth-and-or-adoption/
Recommended Citation: Center for Health and Safety Culture. (2020). Deciding to Become a Foster Parent? Retrieved from https://www.ParentingMontana.org.
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