Support for foster parents
Being a foster parent is a rewarding—and challenging—job. Learn about your role and the resources available to help you succeed
When a child or sibling group is placed in your home, a journey begins that can last anywhere from overnight to several months. After the immediate safety of the child has been addressed, the next priority is reunifying the child with the family from which he was removed. Slightly more than half of all children who go into foster care return to their families.
Responsibilities of a foster parent—and how to find help
- Providing for the needs of the child
- Supporting reunification
- Making time for yourself to prevent burnout
- Accessing training and understanding your rights
While a child is placed in your home, you will need to ensure that his emotional, medical, dental, and educational needs are being met.
Children in foster care are removed from their families due to an abusive or neglectful situation and may require treatment to help them through past trauma and losses. It’s up to you to work with the child’s caseworker to connect children with therapy and the other services and supports the child is entitled to receive.
Requirements differ slightly among states, but foster parents are usually responsible for:
- Medical needs, including mental health. Most children who receive foster care payments from their states are automatically eligible for Medicaid.
- Educational needs. When a child or youth has to change schools it can create stress and set them back in their academic achievement. Some children have IEPs [individual education plans] and need special education services in their school setting. As the foster parent. you are often the one who is interacting with the school staff and need to keep the child’s caseworker up to date with their progress.
- Day-to-day needs, such as food, clothing, and school supplies. The state provides reimbursement to foster care parents using standard rates that reflect the child’s age and special needs. Each state sets its own rates for reimbursement. If you have questions about reimbursement rates in your state, contact your local foster care agency.
- Sleeping arrangements. Most children may share bedrooms. They must have a separate bed and children of the opposite sex can only share a room if they are under an age specified by the state (usually around 6 years old). Some children cannot share bedrooms because of behavior concerns.
- Other needs and special circumstances, such as going on vacation. Always check with the child’s caseworker first.
- Actively working with the child’s caseworker and supporting the child for continued contact with his family, including parents, siblings, and other members, whenever it is deemed safe and beneficial to the child.
Where to find help
- Find information about foster care resources in your state, including agency contact and orientation information and foster care licensing requirements.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway has compiled resources to help prepare and support foster parents, including a list of resources on topics including education, cross-cultural issues, and siblings in foster care and information about mental health issues and services.
- The National Foster Parent Association website provides information about becoming a foster parent and referrals to resources that support foster parents.
- The Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association offers comprehensive publications to help foster families support children in their care:
Lifebook pages provide an opportunity to get to know a child and prepare them for adoption. The IFAPA has created a library of 70 free lifebook pages for parents and caregivers to use.
Family connections booklet (3.5 MB PDF), in which birth parents can share information about a child’s medical history, bedtime routines, favorite foods, and other important details.
Pre-placement questionnaire (93 KB PDF), a tool for determining whether a child will be a good fit for your family.
As primary caregivers, foster parents play a significant role in working with birth parents and in carrying out the tasks in a child’s permanency plan.
Most children placed in your home will have regular, court-ordered visits with their biological parents, other adults whose care they were removed from, and their siblings if they weren’t placed together. It’s important for you to work with their caseworker to decide the location and time of the visits. The court decides whether the visits will be supervised.
Except in cases of extreme abuse, nearly all children who enter foster care have a primary case plan of returning home. The foster parent plays an important role in helping achieve reunification.
Where to find help
- The 2016 National Foster Care Month website. With a theme of honoring, uniting, and celebrating families, the website offers a rich array of resources on the topic of reuniting families, including a page devoted to foster parents and caregivers.
- Child Welfare Information Gateway has compiled a great list of resources on foster parent and birth parent relationships.
When reunification is not an option
If, after a period of time, reunification is not possible, the state will file for legal termination of parental rights or the parents may elect to surrender legal rights to their child in lieu of going through a lengthy termination trial. Either way, a child is not legally freed for adoption until the rights of all legal and biological parents have been legally severed.
Most children who are freed for adoption are adopted either by relatives or non-relative foster parents. The best interest of the child is always taken into account, including attachment and continuity of care. When a child’s relatives or foster parents are unable to adopt a child, the agency with custody of the child searches for other adoptive parents, often through local, state, regional, and national adoption exchanges, including AdoptUSKids.
If you want to adopt a child you’re fostering whose parental rights have been terminated or are in the process of being terminated, find out how to adopt.
Whether you’re a parent or foster parent, it can be hard to juggle the needs of your children with those of your own. Make sure to take time for yourself. Preventing burnout before it happens makes you a better parent all around.
As a rule, children in foster care can be left with a babysitter who is at least 18 years old, although your state may have specific rules and limitations about what requirements the babysitter must meet. Respite care might also be available to you. Respite care is short-term care of a child in order to give the regular caregiver a break. Each state or county has its own procedures for foster parents to get respite care.
Where to find help
For more information about respite care available to you, check with your child’s caseworker. You can find a list of respite care resources on the Child Welfare Information Gateway or search for respite providers on the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center website.
Professionals and parent-support organizations can find information about developing respite services in our publications Creating and Sustaining Effective Respite Services: Lessons from the Field (1 MB PDF)/en español (1 MB PDF) and Taking a Break: Creating Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship Respite In your Community (2 MB PDF)/en español (1.4 MB PDF).
Even though you have taken the required training to become a foster parent, there is always the opportunity to learn more.
Where to find help
- Information about in-services and specialized training for foster parents compiled by Child Welfare Information Gateway.
- A growing number of states are enacting a foster parent and foster children bill of rights. Read more and search for provisions in your state on the website of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
- A community of foster parents at the National Foster Parents Association offers support and information.