Foster care is a temporary service that states provide for children who can’t live with their families. A child in foster care might live with relatives or foster parents who aren’t related to them. The foster care system can also refer to placement settings like residential care facilities and group homes.
In Texas alone, an annual average of 17,000 children are removed from their homes. Reasons for removal include extreme neglect, emotional or sexual abuse, and physical abuse.
Being a foster parent is something people pursue, but it’s a big decision. You might want to expand your family, or you’d like to help a child in need. Whatever your particular reasons for considering being a foster parent are, the following are some of the important things to know.
Understanding the Goal of Foster Care
Fostering a child is not the same as adoption, and we’ll go more into that below. In most situations, a child enters the foster care system because their current home isn’t fit for them. Situations can change, though.
The child will have a social worker, and their parent or parents will too. That social worker can help take steps to get children back into the care of their parents.
There are, of course, some people who adopt while fostering, but there are also people whose foster children return to their homes and families. This is different to giving a baby up for adoption.
The goal of foster care is usually reuniting families when it’s appropriate and safe to do so.
Some foster parents have difficulty when a child leaves their home and returns to their parents, so being realistic about this is critical as you decide if this could be the right situation for you.
Some estimates show around 90% of foster kids are reunified.
Biological parents of a child, even when they’re in the foster system, do have parental rights until they’re terminated. Their rights can be terminated voluntarily, or children’s services can take legal action. The county agency that works with foster kids typically does everything they can to reunify.
If you really understand the foster system and recognize that you may not be able to adopt the child, you should have a clear perspective of why you want to foster. You need to be realistic in your expectations.
What to Ask Yourself
As you weigh whether or not fostering could be right for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your support system like? Fostering a child can be incredibly stressful. You need someone you can depend on and who you feel comfortable talking about these challenges. If you don’t have a support system and decide to foster anyway, you should consider joining a support group.
- How patient are you? Fostering is often not only hard but thankless. You’ll get very little in return, and you have to be prepared for that.
- Will you be able to deal with a child who’s not happy being in your home? Most people think that when they take a child in and foster them, they will be happy and grateful to be away from their parents. That’s not the reality. Even when they’re in an abusive home, children don’t want to be taken away from what they see as normal. If you expect a child is going to immediately be thrilled about living with you, you should change your expectations.
- A foster child may come from an environment with a history of neglect and abuse. They may be angry, sad, or resentful and could take it out on you. You can’t take it personally.
- Social workers will be coming to your home regularly when you’re a foster parent, and sometimes they’ll be there monthly.
- Will you be able to say goodbye if needed?
- Do you have other children in your home? How would fostering a child impact them?
Be Honest With Yourself
Before you take any steps toward becoming a foster parent, you need to make sure that you’ve been honest with yourself and evaluated whether it’s right for you.
Many families spend years thinking about whether they should foster a child.
Everyone in your family needs to be onboard with the decision, and you need to make sure you have the skills to be a foster parent.
Are You a Strong Communicator?
A lot of communication has to happen when you foster a child. You will be talking to many different people, including court representatives, other foster parents, social workers, teachers, the birth family, therapists, and the child.
You need to be comfortable talking to all of these people and often having them check in on you.
Foster Care vs. Adoption
Finally, people can often have the misconception that foster care and adoption are the same. Both do involve bringing a child into your home who you will care for, but there are a lot of differences as well.
Foster care, as mentioned, is temporary. The state agencies managing foster care want to fix the problems in the child’s home or with the parents. The overarching goal is to make it so that the child can return home eventually. If that ends up not being possible, only then would a child be placed for adoption.
Adoption is permanent, on the other hand.
When you adopt a child, it’s a legally binding relationship and commitment. The adopted child would have all of your biological child’s legal privileges and rights.
When you’re an adoptive parent, you have the same parental rights as if you’d given birth to the child. You can read more about adoptions over at the website Christian Adoptions, where there is lots of useful information to help guide adoptive parents.
You can get good support from the adoption agency you go with. For example, aactofloveadoptions.com offers counselling and support to help make the adoption process easier.
Foster parents can’t make medical decisions or decide on things like where the child will go to school without the birth parents’ permission. In some states, foster parents even have to get permission to do things like getting a haircut for the child.
In an adoptive scenario, the parents make all the decisions for the child, and they’re also responsible for medical care, education, and financial obligations.