Psychologist & Professor
Montclair State University
Executive Director of You Gotta Believe
National Center on Adoption & Permanency
Children in the foster care system have been removed from their homes (for reasons you can see below) and the role of a foster parent is to protect, nurture and raise the child until a permanent, safe home can be found for them.
That more-permanent home may be with their birth parent(s) in what is known as “reunification”, it might be with a foster parent (in what is known as “foster to adoption”), the home of a relative or another avenue.
There is a misconception that the majority of children in foster care were abused by their parents. As you can see from the data, in most circumstances, that's not the case. It's more likely that the child was removed due to instability in their home, often rooted in poverty and parental mental health challenges. Many times, the parents want to care for their children but may not have the personal resources to do that well at the time. In these cases, the goal is often to support the parents so that they can resume care of their own children.
Many people considering adopting a child also consider fostering a child: in both cases, you’d be helping to raise a child whom you didn’t deliver and who very much needs your love and support.
However, the reality is that many foster children have endured trauma, there is no guarantee you will become their permanent parents, and as a result, states often struggle to find a home for foster children.
As a result, it is faster, easier and less costly financially to welcome home a child as a foster parent than it is through domestic or international adoption, as you can see below.
Often the “upfront costs” to fostering are minimal, and as many foster parents will tell you, they received “the big call” sometimes days, if not hours, after they were eligible to take a child.
Most foster parents receive tax breaks and stipends of varying amounts to offset the costs to look after the child, and that child is often eligible for medicaid. While it may be harder to find pediatricians, physical therapists, emotional therapists and speech pathologists who accept medicaid (many foster parents will tell you their child needed two or more of these services), if you do, care is largely covered.
As many foster parents will attest, raising a foster child is both spectacular and difficult. As some foster parents tell us, “In many ways, I am helping to save a life. Nothing is more meaningful.” Your home might be the one that delivers the love, nurturing, structure and support that reverses a painful trend of emotional and physical abuse to a defenseless child. When a foster child calls you “Mom” or “Dad” for the first time, you will feel compelled to do everything you can to protect them.
All the same, most foster children have endured trauma and neglect at a pivotal stage and earning their trust, adapting to their habits and weathering their frustration is hard. Many foster parents stick with it, but some don’t, and there is a tight correlation (and as demonstrated in a study we’ll reference later, causation) between how often foster children are abandoned by their foster families, the emotional challenges they’ll encounter, and the odds they’ll transition from the foster system to the criminal justice system.
As we’ll discuss in the next few lessons, prospective foster parents really need to examine whether they’re emotionally up for the challenge because fostering unprepared can have lasting consequences for that child, to your well-being, a marital relationship and more.