Foster Parenting

Becoming a foster parent means that you agree to take in and look after someone else's child as if or she was your own offspring. These children may stay in a foster home for a period of a few days or weeks, to several months or years. Fostering is therefore a less permanent arrangement than child adoption. There are children of all ages throughout the United States in need of good foster homes. As there is always the possibility of a foster child being reunited with his birth parents, we ask the question: is fostering a good option for couples considering adoption as a method of building their own family?

Fostering Versus Adoption

Adoption can be stressful and expensive, although adoptive parents generally think that the rewards make the struggle worthwhile. Adoption is also a massive legal commitment, which can be intimidating for some people.

Many couples see fostering not only as a way of helping a child in need, but also of testing themselves to see if they are ready to make the commitment involved in adopting a child. While this desire to be sure that they can do a good job is very laudable, it's also important for them to be sure that they can do just as good a job in caring for their foster child.

Fostering After Infertility

Couples who have not been able to conceive a baby (even if they already have other children), and who feel that their family is incomplete, may consider fostering a child, perhaps as a prelude to adoption. There are several important questions that couples in this position should consider:

- Are they prepared for the fact that a foster child may eventually return to live with his parents?

- Do they view fostering as a "dry run" for adoption? If so, is this fair on the foster child? Is it fair on them? (Although some foster children are eventually adopted by their foster parents, this is by no means always the case. Foster children therefore need people who are just as committed to providing a good home for a few weeks as they would be to caring for a child who was permanently adopted.)

- Are they prepared to take in a child who isn't a newborn baby? (Although some newborns are put into foster care, a great many older children are also in need of safe homes).

- If they were given a newborn baby to care for, would they be able to bear the separation if that baby was returned to his mother?

If a couple is not sure that they can handle the potential stresses and fluctuating family situation associated with fostering, they might be better off aiming for a permanent adoption from the very beginning.

Fostering Requirements

If a couple decides that they definitely do want to foster, they'll need to complete a lot of paper work and fulfill requirements in terms of appropriate lifestyle and home safety. Fostering in the United States is a state-run program, therefore child welfare professionals and social workers are involved in the vetting process for foster parents. This process will probably involve:

- Thorough background and security checks on both potential foster parents and all family members who would have contact with the foster child.

- A homestudy carried out by social workers - this involves visits to the home, observation and monitoring of family life, and interviews of family members.

- Signing an agreement not to smack the foster child (or any other children living in the home) as a form of discipline.

Starting Out

Local child welfare authorities are the first point of contact for further information about becoming a foster parent.

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