Hundreds to thousands of children are born to families who abuse or neglect them. For them, their homes have been broken by divorce, physical or sexual abuse, drugs, alcohol, or financial hardship. Most of them have to go through years of abuse before getting out, while some never escape at all. Luckily, the law intervenes in cases like these.
When a child isn’t safe to stay at home due to a risk of maltreatment, including neglect and physical or sexual abuse, authorities need to put them in foster care. ChildTrends.org, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that studies children at all stages of development, reported that the number of children in foster care has increased in recent years, rising to 443,000 in 2017 from a recent historic low of 397,000 in 2012. In 2017, nearly 45% of all foster children lived in the homes of non-relatives, while 32% lived in foster homes with relatives.
While there are many couples who are willing to become foster parents to these homeless children, authorities still find it difficult to find appropriate guardians for them. Becoming a foster parent can be pretty intimidating because you not only provide the food, shelter, care, and love a good parent would provide for their own kids but also deal with the special circumstances of a foster child. Thus, anyone who’s willing to take care of a foster child must be well-prepared and committed.
Becoming Foster Parents
Taking care of children who’ve had a difficult past is not easy. But considering becoming a foster parent or thinking of adopting a child from foster care helps kids who desperately need a secure, loving home.
"It makes you a lot more understanding of kids and gives you more appreciation of life and of the little things you take for granted. A few years ago, we all went to an amusement park, and one boy I was hosting at the time told me it was the best day of his life. He still sends me a card on Facebook for Mother's Day,” Janet Kerin, a chiropractor in Castle Rock, Colorado, who has been fostering kids for five years, said.
Children are not easily taken away from their biological parents. Birth parents are still given a chance to improve their situations. In the meantime, children need to have another home where they can be taken care of. This is where foster parenting comes in. According to Very Well Family, a trusted and compassionate online resource that provides the guidance you need to improve your mental health and find balance, becoming a foster parent almost always begins with a visit to the appropriate legal division in your state.
You are required to fill out an application that will provide general details about your family and your home. After the application, an orientation class or a series of classes are conducted. In these sessions, all you need to know and concerns about foster parenting are answered and addressed. A caseworker will also have to conduct a home study to determine whether you're ready to foster. They usually evaluate factors such as social life, daily routine, and living environment.
Going through all these processes will still not guarantee that couples can become foster parents. A study conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy revealed that fewer than half of prospective foster parent applicants in many states get as far as completing a home study. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It only makes sure that foster parents are capable of raising a child.
"If the match is good from the beginning, it reduces the likelihood that the child will have to move again," Kathy Ledesma, National Project Manager for AdoptUSKids, a foster care awareness and assistance program provided by the US Children's Bureau, said.
If all of these processes go well, you will become a certified foster parent. The agency will try to find a child that is a good match for your home and allow that child to come live with you.
What to Expect
Anyone who’s willing to become a foster parent needs to expect to go through a long process. They also need to manage or deal with unrealistic expectations. A study by AdoptUSKids found out that 67% of staff at foster-care agencies said their biggest challenge in making adoption matches were prospective parents' unrealistic expectations. Many parents want to adopt a young child without special needs.
"There's a big stigma out there about foster kids. One of the high school teachers wouldn't be helpful to my son because he was a foster kid. The attitude is that they're big troublemakers, but really they just need someone to show them boundaries and explain how life works,” said Janet Kerin, a 52-year-old chiropractor in Castle Rock, Colorado, who has been a foster parent for five years and who adopted three siblings at ages 5, 8, and 15.
According to HowStuffWorks, an American commercial infotainment website, foster parents also need to expect that they will be working closely with a foster agency regularly. They may even need to have regular contact with a child's biological family as well. Foster parents also have to prepare financially. The Child Welfare Information Gateway reported that the processes may cost $20,000 to $45,000. This includes legal fees, home study costs, parent medical services, and more.
Ultimately, for foster parents who have other children, it’s important that the other children are informed about what they are planning to do. It's important to talk to all the members of the household. "Make sure everyone is on board and in agreement about why you're doing it," Roxana Torrico Meruvia, Senior Practice Associate at the National Association of Social Workers, said.
Ledesma added that it’s also important to know you have family and friends to talk to and even fall back on if and when issues arise with your foster kids. Another AdoptUSKids study found out that foster families reported high levels of stress when dealing with anger, defiance, impulsiveness, and other challenging attributes of special-needs foster kids. Thus, it's essential to have all the support that you need.