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Being a Foster Parent
Once a child or sibling group is placed in your home, a new journey begins that can last anywhere from overnight to several months. After the immediate safety of the child has been addressed, the next priority is reunifying the child with their birth family. Slightly more than half of all children who go into foster care return to their birth families.
What You Need to Do
- Work With the Child’s Caseworker
- Provide for the Needs of the Child
- Make Time for Yourself to Prevent Burnout
- Continue Learning About Being a Foster Parent
Most children placed in your home will have regular, court-ordered visits with their biological parents, other adults whose care they were removed from, and their siblings if they weren’t placed together. It’s important for you to work with their caseworker to decide the location and time of the visits. The court decides whether the visits will be supervised.
Except in cases of extreme abuse, nearly all children who enter foster care have a primary case plan of returning home. The foster parent plays an important role in helping achieve reunification. During the reunification process, the birth parents are provided help so they can have their children return safely home with them. Child Welfare Information Gateway has compiled a great list of resources on foster parent and birth parent relationships.
If, after a period of time, reunification is no longer found to be a viable option, the State will file for legal termination of parental rights or the parents may elect to surrender legal rights to their child in lieu of going through a lengthy termination trial. Either way, a child is not legally freed for adoption until the rights of all legal and biological parents have been legally severed. For children who are freed for adoption, either relatives or non-relative foster parents adopt the vast majority of them. The best interest of the child is always taken into account, including attachment and continuity of care. When a child’s relatives or foster parents are unable to adopt a child, the State tries to find other adoptive parents, often through local, state, regional and national adoption exchanges, including AdoptUSKids.
If you want to adopt a child you’re fostering whose parental rights have been terminated or are in the process of being terminated, find out how to adopt.
While a child is placed in your home, you will need to ensure their well-being in that their emotional, medical, dental, and educational needs are being met.
In addition to a child’s regular medical and dental needs, some children require therapy and treatment to help them through past trauma and losses. Children in foster care are removed from their families due to an abusive or neglectful situation. This can include physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, or neglect such as not providing enough food or leaving children who are unable to care for themselves alone.
It’s up to you to work with the child’s caseworker to identify and ensure all their needs are being met. Requirements differ slightly among States, but below is a general list of needs foster parents are usually responsible for ensuring.
- For medical needs, all children who receive foster care payments from their States are automatically eligible for Medicaid.
- For day-to-day needs such as food, clothing, and school supplies, the State provides reimbursement to foster care parents using standard rates that reflect the child's age and special needs. Each state sets its own rates for reimbursement. If you have questions about reimbursement rates in your State, contact your local foster care agency.
- For sleeping arrangements, most children may share bedrooms. They must have a separate bed and children of the opposite sex can only share a room if they are under an age specified by the State (usually around 6 years old). Some children cannot share bedrooms because of behavior concerns.
- For other needs and special circumstances, such as going on vacation, always check with the child’s caseworker first.
Whether you’re a parent or foster parent, it can be hard to juggle the needs of your children with those of your own. Make sure to take time for yourself. Preventing burnout before it happens makes you a better parent all around.
As a rule, children in foster care can be left with a babysitter who is at least 18 years old, although your State may have specific rules and limitations about this and about what requirements the babysitter must meet. Respite care might also be available to you. Respite care is short-term care of a child in order to give the regular caregiver a break. Each State or County has its own procedures for foster parents to get respite care. For more information about respite care available to you, check with your child’s caseworker or Child Welfare Information Gateway’s list of support services for foster parents.
Even though you have taken the required training to become a foster parent, there is always the opportunity to learn more when the need arises. There is a wealth of resources out there for you. Here are just a few:
- A list of resources about caring for children in foster care compiled by Child Welfare Information Gateway
- Information about in-services and specialized training for foster parents compiled by Child Welfare Information Gateway
- A round-up of foster parents’ rights by the National Center for Adoption Law & Policy at Capital University Law School
- Visit the National Foster Parents Association for support, information and community specifically for foster parents.