Not everyone should be a foster parent. There. I said it. My job over the last 10 years as a foster care licensing specialist has been to screen, interview, and investigate potential foster parents. Most of whom are good, well-intentioned people. But every once in a while, I have uncomfortable conversations with people who do not qualify to be a foster parent. I have to “screen out” an individual. So, what are the minimum qualifications to be a foster parent? Keep reading.

1. Background checks

If, God forbid, one of your children were placed in the home of another person, wouldn’t you want to know that that person has a clean record, with no criminal history, no DUIs, and is not a sexual predator? That’s the purpose of background checks. It ensures that there are no dark secrets in a foster parent’s past, no skeletons in a closet, and no last-minute surprises. The first things that licensing agencies investigate are if you are a criminal, sex offender, and driving background checks. They also check with Child Protective Services. If you and all your other household members can pass these background checks, chances are, you can foster a child.

2. Physician’s Statements

Secondly, a person who wants to foster must be physically able to care for a child.  Most states ask for a physician’s statement that declares a person physically fit. This doesn’t mean that you need to be an Olympian, but if you cannot hold a child, or get on the floor to play with a child, you may want to think twice before applying. Foster parents are also expected to be in good mental and emotional health as well. If you submit an acceptable physician’s statement, you can be a foster parent.

3. Home inspection

Next, if a person has a safe, healthy home environment, they can foster. Depending on their state’s requirements, a foster parent does not have to own his or her home, but the home must pass a state inspection. The home does not have to be the Taj Majal, but if the home has exposed wiring, mold or mildew, an infestation of insects or rabid dogs, don’t expect to pass a home inspection. On the other hand, your state is probably not going to give your home the “white glove” test, but it does have to be safe and healthy. Foster care officials want to place a child in a better situation than what they came from. If your home can pass a state inspection, you can be a foster parent.

4. Training

Depending on your state, please expect to attend a preservice training which will teach you what to expect as a foster parent. You may have to attend trainings that include topics like first aid/CPR, trauma, child abuse, working with Child Protective Services, etc. The training can be anywhere from 20-30 hours. Your training may be completed in a classroom setting, online, or in the comfort of your own home. Check your state’s requirements. You may already be an experienced parent and wonder why training is necessary. While your biological children may have been raised impeccably, foster children have experienced trauma and have odd behaviors that “normal” kids do not. Therefore, training can help you to make sense of those behaviors. When you have completed your training, you will be in a better position to be a foster parent.

These are only a few of the minimum requirements to become a foster child. Check with your state’s child welfare website for more information. You may have a good heart and great motivations to be a foster parent, but ensuring that you meet your state’s minimum requirements is essential.  

Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children: 6 of which are adopted. His adoption children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.

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