Foster care requirements are a needed set of rules and qualifications potential foster parents must abide by in order to see if they’re suitable to have foster children in their home.
Fostering a child or children is a wonderful and selfless act of love, and you’re giving children in foster care a lasting experience by changing your life around to raise them and inviting them into your home—even if it’s for a short while. As a former foster child myself, I know firsthand the unconditional love and warmth of being part of a foster family, and I’ll never forget the amazing life that my foster parents have given my twin sister and I. If you’re considering fostering a child, or children, here are the requirements to follow.
You must be 21 years of age or older to become a foster parent.
When you have a foster child, all they come with is what they have in their bag. Children need essential things such as the following:
- A car seat for each foster child ages 7 and under
- Their own hygiene items (toothbrushes and toothpaste, body wash, a bar of soap, towels and washcloths, combs and brushes, shampoo and conditioner, and lotions. For teen fosters, they will need deodorant, feminine hygiene products, face wash, etc.)
- Diapers and pull-ups for newborns and toddlers
- Cribs and beds
- Formula, baby food, table food, snacks, and drinks
- Age-appropriate toys and books
- Shoes and socks
- School supplies
- Medical care
- Love and support
Have a Bedroom and Space Available
All children need ample space to live, eat, study, and play. The foster child or children will need a bedroom that will allow privacy, and if shared, they must have at least 50 sq. ft. of floor room. They must have their own bed with a mattress, pillows, pillowcases, sheets, and blankets (all of these items must be in excellent condition). Children are not allowed to share beds. If fostering a newborn or infant, you’ll need a crib, bassinet, or Pack ’n Play.
If you’re considering fostering multiple children, up to four children could share one room as long as there’s space for each foster child’s beds, dressers, and their other belongings.
Be a Person of Good Character
Foster care agencies and social workers require that prospective foster parents should be people of good character and be outstanding citizens. They should be honest, brave, loyal, fair, patient, kind, and responsible. Foster children will look up to you, not just in a literal sense, but they’ll be looking to you to see how people are supposed to be like. They need great role models to look up to, so be the best parent you can be. Of course you’re only human, and you make mistakes. Use your mistakes as a teachable lesson for your foster children, and they’ll learn how to fix their own mistakes. Being a person of good character will increasingly help the children you foster become good characters themselves.
Background checks are a mandated requirement to become a foster parent. Potential foster parents and anyone 18 years or older who reside in the home will need to have several thorough background checks. Child abuse clearances, state criminal checks, sex offender registrations, juvenile court records, domestic violence incident records, and federal criminal history records that are completed by fingerprinting are the background checks that are required in order to become a foster parent. Failure of any one of these background checks will disqualify you from becoming a foster parent.
The training that you’ll need to attend in order to become a foster parent is called “preservice or in-service training,” and they mostly happen the same time you finish your application to foster. These trainings provide you with the knowledge of parenting skills, child abuse, communication skills, crisis behavioral management, topics related to family changes, cultural sensitivity, drug abuse, CPR and first aid visitation, referrals for foster children with developmental disabilities, and much more. Training varies in each area. Most last between 12 hours for precertification training, and the hours also vary depending on which agency you go through. In some states, training can last up to eight weeks. Be sure to check with your state and agency to see what other topics will be covered in the training and the amount of time it takes to complete the training.
Foster children need to get to and from school, appointments, and visitations, so having a reliable vehicle is a good thing to have. Make sure you have enough seats in your car and functioning seatbelts. Your car needs to also have proper inspection and car insurance. Additionally, be sure to have a valid driver’s license. If you rely on the bus, be sure to familiarize yourself with the bus schedules not only for yourself, but also for older foster children too.
You don’t need to be rich, but having a stable income is a must when fostering. Foster children need a variety of things, so unless you have gracious friends and family, you’ll need to be able to provide your foster children with those needs. There isn’t a set income limit to be a foster parent, but most states want you to give them proof of income such as pay stubs, bill payments, and possibly income tax statements just to make sure you can provide for the foster child’s needs.
Safety Checks and Home Study
When the home study takes place, a social worker will inspect your home to be sure that you have everything in place to foster according to agency and state regulations. They’ll ask questions about your background, family life, your overall health, and plans on parenting to have a written record for the agency. The social worker doesn’t want to have any doubts about your parenting skills and wants to be fully confident that the child you want to foster will be in good hands. Home study lengths vary from a few weeks to a few months.
Safety inspections are done when the social worker comes to your home to conduct a home visit. Your home should be free of hazardous environments, should be clean, and have good repairs. Materials that are hazardous like medications, weapons, household cleaning products, and tools need to be stored in a place that children can’t gain access to. Working smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, working telephones, heaters, working outlets, lights, ventilation, running hot and cold water, and a functioning bathroom are what you completely need to get your home ready before the foster children can live with you.
Other safety measures to prepare for:
- Gates or fences around pools and other large bodies of water
- Railways on stairs
- Weapons locked up and secured
- Fire escape pathways are always cleared
- Smoke alarms and carbon dioxide alarms have working batteries
- Windows are large enough to escape from and for firemen to access for rescuing
- Keeping the home free from clutter
- Electrical outlets covered
- Functioning heaters and air conditioning
- Appliances are in good functioning order
- Babyproof furniture corners
- Secured locks on windows (front and back doors)
The Ability to Provide the Love and Proper Care for the Foster Child/Children
Foster children often come from troubling situations with their birth parents, ranging from abuse, neglect, drug usage to extreme behavioral issues and traumas. Foster children will look to you to be a safe haven for them by being nurturing, loving, patient, and protective of them. Some foster children have a variety of special needs, so you’ll want to make sure you have the physical, mental, and emotional stamina to properly handle and take on their needs.
All children need to feel loved, and foster children who often come from troubling homes need it abundantly. There are many ways to show your foster children you love them through gifts, services, appropriate physical affection, spending quality time with them, and with words of affirmation. The unconditional love you show will last your foster children a lifetime even when they’re out of your care.
A physical is needed and must be completed by a doctor or nurse to verify that you’re in good health to be a foster parent, and each state requires it. Fostering children is no easy task, so your physical, mental, and emotional health are very important to keep in check. It’s very important to know how to handle the challenging behaviors and actions of foster children, so learn how to be resilient when things go wrong. Eat healthy, take breaks when needed, engage in activities, learn ways to manage stress, and take time to take care of your overall health.
References from Family and Nonfamily Members
References are a part of the licensing process for you to become a foster parent. References are needed because the agency needs to know if you’re the right person to foster a child. Getting references from people you know outside of your family like friends, coworkers, and/or neighbors will help the agency know that you’re a person of good character. Sending those reference letters out early will help the fostering process go smoother, because most times, it takes people a lot of time to return those much-needed letters. You should pick people who’ve known you for a while and have seen both the good and not so great sides of you. Pick people who will be honest about your character, who are supportive in your fostering journey, and can tell how resilient you can become in those tough times in life. The number of references varies by agency ranging from three references to nine.
The agency you’re applying to in order to foster would most likely ask if you’re single, married, divorced, separated, or widowed for your records. If you have a partner or spouse, he or she also needs to participate in the fostering process. You don’t have to be married or even in a relationship to be a foster parent. There are a lot of single people who make excellent foster parents and always make sure the child or children they foster have all the love and care that they desperately crave. Whatever your marital status or even your race or sexual orientation is, it’s absolutely not a barricade in your fostering process!
Other Things to Consider
– Maturity: Just because the foster care age requirement is 21 and older doesn’t necessarily mean that people are automatically mature enough to care for a child. Are you mature enough to foster a child? Are you trustworthy, flexible, and emotionally stable? If you have a partner or spouse, is he or she mature as well? Can you make sure the foster children have a major priority in your life?
– Experience: Do you have any experience with children? Do you realize how much they truly need to thrive? Do you have any experience with special needs children?
– Advocacy: Foster children need someone to be able to advocate for their needs. Do you know how to advocate for them? Do you know how to protect their rights, and if not, are you willing to learn?
– Team Player: Foster parents need to cooperate with a multitude of people like social workers, teachers, family members, and all of the other people involved in the foster child’s life. Are you willing to work and communicate with those who also have the best interest of the child in mind?
With all those requirements and qualifications considered, if you feel like you’re ready to start the process to become a foster parent, then, by all means, get started! By becoming a foster parent, you’re helping children go against the harsh fights of poverty, hunger, sickness, homelessness, drug use, and extreme mental health issues. There are so many troubled children who need people like you to love them, care for them, provide for them, and keep them safe. When you become a foster parent, you’re helping to pave the way for a brighter future for those children. Foster care requirements are more than just a general foster care checklist; they’re a very important key to unlocking huge doors of opportunities to change a foster child’s life for the better.
Kandice is an adopted twin, wife, and mother of two girls who loves spending time with her family and two rabbits. She loves reading and writing inspirational works of literature and loves telling stories.