Perhaps you are thinking about becoming a foster parent but you are not sure if you could do it or not. Maybe you don’t think you are qualified or eligible for whatever reasons. Before you dismiss the idea, it’s worth reading further to see just what the requirements to be a foster parent really are. You might be surprised to find out that you are eligible after all. The requirements are not all that restrictive per se, however, there are a lot of rules and policies to follow once you are licensed as a foster parent.

There are often misconceptions about who can become a foster parent. Some people assume that you have to be a 30 something year old, married, wealthy couple who own a large home and fancy car to care for foster children. Reality is that foster parents are made up of people from all different walks of life. There are many different people from different families, backgrounds, careers, gender, race, marital status, and life situations that choose to be foster parents. The laws vary somewhat from state to state, but here is a list of general guidelines to help you determine if you might meet the eligibility requirements or not. You will also want to verify with your local county or agency before you proceed as some agencies may have additional standards. You can also view state specific criteria here.

1. Age

Most states have a minimum age requirement to be considered as a foster parent. In most states, an applicant must be at least 21 years old, however, in some states the minimum age requirement is only 18 years old. Of course, you should also consider your own level of maturity, personal situation, and readiness to foster before you apply. Even though your state may allow you to foster children at the age of 18, you may find it challenging trying to parent a foster child who is only a few years younger than yourself.

2. Criminal Background Check

All states require you to pass a criminal background check before caring for foster children for obvious reasons. They want to ensure that children will be placed in safe and stable home environments, with someone who can meet their needs. Each state has different standards for what they consider passing. Minor infractions may not automatically disqualify someone from being licensed, especially if it occurred more than five or 10 years ago for example. However, there will be certain crimes, especially crimes against children or involving violence that will permanently prevent someone from ever becoming a foster parent. Bottom line: if your background check is clean there is nothing to worry about. If there is something minor on your record and it was a long time ago, you can check with your local state laws to see if it will prevent you from becoming a foster parent or not.

3. Income

Many people think they could never be a foster parent because they don’t make enough money. Truth is, there is no specific income requirement to be a foster parent. Most states just require that applicants provide proof of adequate monthly income to meet their family’s needs. They basically want to ensure that you can pay your mortgage or rent, utilities, and provide basic needs such as food and clothes for the children. You may need to provide copies of tax returns, pay stubs, and utility bills as proof of adequate income.

4. Housing

There is no requirement for you to live in a mansion or certain size home or even to own your own home at all. Foster parents can rent homes or apartments and that is perfectly acceptable. Whatever your place of residency may be, you will just want to make sure that it meets the safety standards and that there is room for the number of children you wish to be licensed for. Each state will have specific rules regarding how many kids can share a room and if children of different genders and ages can share rooms. You will need to prove that you have adequate space for each child that meets these guidelines. Your housing will also need to meet the safety standards such as adequate supply of safe drinking water, electricity, smoke detectors, etc. Your home does not need to be new or immaculate. In most cases, pets are acceptable as well. People may worry they won’t be approved because of their animals, but if they are friendly and up to date on their vaccinations, pets should not be a hindrance either.

5. Health

Some people don’t think they could be a foster parent because they are diabetic, have high blood pressure, or some other medical diagnosis. There are no specific diseases that will automatically prevent someone from being a foster parent. Most states just require applicants to be healthy enough to meet the needs of the children. If your medical conditions are managed well with treatment and you are stable enough to care for children daily than your health should not be an issue. You may be asked to provide a letter or statement from your physician indicating that you are in good health or that you are fit to care for children. Particularly they are concerned about mental health diagnoses and making sure those conditions are managed and stable before being licensed as a foster parent.

6. Transportation

Owning a car and having a valid driver’s license is beneficial, but not always required to be a foster parent. Obviously if you are planning to drive, your license must be valid and you must have automobile insurance. Check with your specific state and agency regarding what they require for transportation. In some areas, you may only need to provide proof of reliable transportation which could be access to the bus, subway, train, taxi, relative, neighbor, etc. Having your own vehicle is preferred though since there are many places to transport the children such as doctors’ appointments, therapy appointments, visits, school, etc.

7. Marital Status

I’ve heard people say, “I’m single, I can’t be a foster parent,” but in fact a person can be single and still be a foster parent. There are many single foster parents and the ones I know personally do an excellent job caring for their children. You do not need to be married or to be a couple to be a foster parent. A few states may require couples applying together to be married but not in all states.

8. Citizenship/Residency

You do not necessarily have to be a US citizen to be a foster parent. This is one question I had and was pleasantly surprised about the answer since I was Canadian and concerned I would not be approved. Even though you may not have to be a citizen, applicants will need to at least be a legal resident and in some cases, may need to have been a resident of that state for a specific number of years before applying. A few states also have requirements of being able to read, write, and speak English. Basically, it is important for foster parents to be able to communicate with the children they will be caring for.

9. Experience/Training

You do not need to have previous parenting experience, although I’m sure it would help. Regardless of how much parenting experience you have, everyone must take the required foster parent training classes. These classes and the number of hours required will vary from state to state. These classes should be offered by your local county or foster care agency.

10. Home Study

Before anyone can be licensed as a foster parent, they must have an approved home study. Your home study will be completed by the county or agency that you will be fostering through. The assessor will come to your home for one or more visits to talk with you and your family. During that time, they will also look at your home to ensure that all the safety standards are met and that there is a place for the children to sleep etc. They will most likely ask many personal questions about your family so they can get to know you better and determine what kind of foster parents you would be. If you are open and honest with them you should not have any problems. Chances are if you meet all the previously listed requirements to become a foster parent, you should have little to no difficulty passing the home study.

Hopefully now you have a better understanding of what the requirements are to become licensed as a foster parent and whether you qualify or not. Because laws and information are constantly changing and vary from state to state, always make sure you verify everything with your state and county or agency.

You may also want to read: How To Be A Foster Parent & Adopt From Foster Care

Sherri Eppley is a wife and mother to two amazing children. As a foster and adoptive parent, she strives to raise awareness of all issues related to foster care and adoption. Her passions include her family, church, MOPS, and helping people in any ways she can.