Foster Care 101: Your Guide to the Basics

In this informative article, we aim to give you the foster care 101 so you feel informed, equipped, and maybe even a little inspired!

We know that learning about the foster care system feels overwhelming at first. That’s why we’ve put together this starter guide covering the key things you need to know. We won’t hit you with a dictionary full of social work terms or make your eyes glaze over with statistics. We aim to give you the 101 so you feel informed, equipped, and maybe even a little inspired!

Shall we begin?

What Exactly is Foster Care?

  • At its core, foster care provides temporary homes for children whose birth families can’t care for them safely.
  • The key players are the foster child, foster family, birth family, and social workers.
  • The primary goal is to create a nurturing environment for the foster kids while services are offered to birth families to address challenges so kids can eventually return home.
  • When that isn’t possible, social workers pursue permanent placements with adoptive families or legal guardians.

The Main Reasons Children Enter Foster Care

  • Neglect – not having basic physical or emotional needs met
  • Abuse – physical, emotional, or sexual
  • Substance abuse – by caregivers preventing proper care
  • Incarceration – of a parent
  • Death of caregivers with no appropriate family to take the child
  • Abandonment

Did you know there are over 400,000 children in foster care in America right now? Behind each statistic is a precious child needing support.

The good news? We can all play a role in making a difference!

Dispelling the Myths

We want to take a minute to clear up some common myths floating around about foster care.

Myth #1: The system is primarily made up of orphans.

The truth? Over 85% of foster kids have at least one living parent. The key word in the phrase “foster care” is often missed – care. The system exists not only to protect children but also to provide families the help they require to hopefully reunite.

Myth #2: Foster kids are juvenile delinquents with behavioral issues.

While it’s true that the trauma these children have endured can sometimes manifest in concerning ways, we must address the root and not judge the fruit. Most foster youth are victims of circumstances undeserving of the stigma. They need champions, not labels.

Myth #3: Biological parents who have kids placed in foster care are bad people.

Life is complicated, folks. Oftentimes, these families come from generational cycles of brokenness and are doing their best with limited resources. They need grace and support, not scorn. In fact, reunification with birth parents is typically the preferred outcome if it can be done safely.

Our hope is breaking down these myths helps provide a more nuanced, compassionate perspective on the foster system.

Now, let’s move on and tackle some commonly asked questions!

Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve assembled some of the frequent questions we’re asked about how foster care works from the experience of over a decade of supporting these incredible families.

Who can become a foster parent?

The children need you, friend! Generally speaking, here are the baseline qualifications:

  • At least 21 years old
  • Able to pass extensive background checks
  • Complete a home study evaluating your readiness
  • Have adequate bedrooms/living space
  • Commit to training and self-improvement
  • Provide reliable transportation, etc., for appointments
  • Maintain a stable income without reliance on payments

Single parents, empty nesters, renters, married couples, members of the LGBTQ+ community – all are encouraged to step forward! The greatest need is for homes to welcome sibling groups, teens, and children with higher physical or behavioral needs.

What is the process like to become a foster parent?

Let us break down the key steps:

  1. Begin by contacting local foster care agencies
  2. They guide you through an info session and application
  3. You then undergo a series of background checks, interviews, home visits, and trainings
  4. Provided all looks good, you’ll be licensed or certified
  5. After all that prep work, children needing placement are matched with your family!

We won’t pretend this is a quick, easy, or inexpensive process. But we will say the reward of welcoming a child into your home and helping them heal is priceless!

What kind of support do foster families receive?

We’re so glad you asked! Here are some types of support you can expect:

  • Ongoing social worker guidance for you and kiddos
  • Free training and professional development opportunities
  • Financial assistance to offset costs of care
  • Respite care to give short-term breaks
  • Support groups in order to connect with other foster parents
  • Additional help accessing counseling, tutoring, healthcare, and more based on child’s needs

You don’t have to traverse the foster parenting journey alone. There is help and community along the way!

Wrap-up

Don’t underestimate what a secure, loving home can provide a child who’s only known chaos. Kids are resilient once given the safety net to blossom. If the idea of fostering calls to you, but you feel daunted, scared, or uncertain – you’ve got this. Take that next step into courage by simply exploring becoming licensed. Grace and help await. You are needed.

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