Fostering a child in need brings great rewards, but also real responsibilities. As many experienced foster parents describe it, the highs are higher but the lows can be lower too. However, with the right support and training, the difficulties usually smooth themselves out in time. If you’re considering becoming a foster parent, read on to learn more about what’s involved.
Why Children Come into Care
There are many reasons why children come into the care system, from cases of neglect or abuse at home to emergency situations where parents suddenly find themselves unable to cope. In the United States, there are almost 400,000 children in the foster care system. In Henrico County, where I live, there are currently 132 children in foster care, and 112 are under the age of 18. Around 65,000 children live with foster families in England as of March 2021, with thousands more in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Whatever the individual circumstances, or your location in the world, local authorities and agencies strive to provide security and stability via foster placements while permanent plans are arranged. Foster care placements aim to minimize disruption to education and links with the community too, such as fostering siblings together where possible.
Who Can Foster
People from many walks of life successfully foster children. You must be over 21 and have space at home, but formal qualifications or previous parenting experience isn’t mandatory. Around half of approved foster parents are in work, balancing caring with jobs. The assessment process is rigorous but reasonable – checks must be made to ensure children’s safety. As long as you’re patient, loving, and responsible, you will be considered.
Understandably, prospective parents worry they won’t bond with children who could leave at short notice. However, many discover that saying goodbye, while often sad, is made worthwhile by the progress children make thanks to their support. Another common fear is that troubled behavior will disrupt family life significantly. Behavioral issues are diverse but manageable with specialist training. Overall, these concerns tend to recede once parents get fully involved.
Many children arrive in care struggling to regulate their emotions or make healthy attachments. Specialist training equips parents to employ positive, nurturing techniques focused on resolving problematic behaviors. Progress might seem slow at first, but breakthroughs nearly always come. With understanding, children can blossom again.
The Matching Process
Before any placements occur, you’ll have the chance to talk through what suits your family best. Agencies strive to make close matches based on location, schooling, interests, experience, and crucially, current dynamics at home. However, foster parents must keep an open mind about the children placed with them in an emergency.
Getting Set Up
Once matched, introductory meetings are arranged wherever possible so you can get to know each other a little. They may also get a chance to meet any children already living with you. Moving in can still feel daunting for everyone, but agencies provide support. In most cases, foster children become settled into a new daily routine over time.
Support Every Step of the Way
You’re never alone as a foster parent. Social workers make regular visits offering guidance on issues like behavior management, emotional support or practicalities around schooling and family contact. Support groups and additional training help too. Funding packages also cover costs associated with caring for each child placed.
The path to becoming a foster parent has its challenges but forging positive relationships with children who need you brings joys money simply cannot buy. Every foster parent plays a valuable role in offering security to some of society’s most vulnerable children. With dedication and compassion, you could transform a child’s life for the better.