Posted by queenmadison

Considering a nontraditional family? Fostering is an option being considered by more and more couples. Find out if it might be right for you.

So, you're considering fostering a child? Given that there are about half a million children in the foster care system at any given time and only 125,000 families currently licensed to care for them, there is an obvious need for people to open their hearts and homes. But let's face it, raising children, even your own, is a difficult task; what makes someone want to take on the added responsibility of raising someone else's child(ren)?

Ask any foster parent why they took on this challenge and you are likely to get a range of answers. For many, the idea of making a difference in the life of a child (or children) is their motivation. Some enter the foster care system with the hope of being able to eventually adopt a child. In fact, about two-thirds of children entering foster care are eventually adopted by a foster family. Others are empty nesters longing to once again fill their homes with the laughter and activity of small children.

Whatever the reason, before taking the step that could forever change not only your life, but the lives of your family and the children you welcome into your home, take the time to ask yourself one basic question: Is it the right thing for me and for my family?

Can You Be Part of the Solution?
The first step, according to Madelene Hunter, a foster child advocate from California who also spent time in the foster care system as a young girl, is a frank self-assessment of your reasons for wanting to become a foster parent. Ask yourself, can I be part of the solution for a child's life or will I add misery to their unfortunate situation?

Hunter recalls her own experience in foster care as being mostly "dismal and hurtful" until she arrived at the home of the foster mother, whom she describes today as "an angel who reached out to me and provided me with kindness unlike anyone had done for me before." By providing a home rich in structure, love, and predictability, this foster mother was able to repair the early motional wounds suffered by Hunter and the countless other foster children that passed through that home in the ensuing years.
According to Hunter, foster parents are usually able to make a difference in a child's life if they are able to do three things. First, foster parents must have the ability to love a child unconditionally. Second, they must be willing to look beyond the issues and turmoil that a child might bring into the home to find strengths and talents that are waiting to be nurtured and developed. Finally, foster parents must be able to offer the child hope for the future.
Healing the Hurt
The next step is to understand that the child coming to you does so after having undergone physical and/or emotional abuse that is often beyond comprehension. Hunter warns that most foster children will arrive at your home "broken in spirit with mental, emotional, and physical hurt. You as a foster parent need to imagine that besides this child, standing there on your doorstep is baggage that became part of this child the first time he or she was abused, tortured, traumatized, neglected, or abandoned. This baggage enters your door when that child enters the door."
Jay DiLeo, MD, father of four and foster parent to four additional children, further makes this point by noting: "A child that has been taken from his or her parents has already been through a lot. As a result, they often don't go through normal lines of reasoning" when confronted with new or difficult situations. It is the job of the foster parent to help that child learn how to trust again, provide guidance when confronted with a complex situation and offer positive reinforcement every step along the way.
A Family Decision
Another factor potential foster parents must consider is the effect on their own family. Dr. DiLeo stresses the importance of including the entire family in the decision-making process. "Talk it over with your children first," he advises. "Let them know what they are in for." This advice is echoed by Emil Baldwin, Jr., a former foster care/adoption home-finder for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources who has also written a number of articles and essays on foster care. "We always talked with the kids in the applicant's family and encouraged the parents to listen very closely to what their children said," Baldwin noted. "They (the parents) also need to explain in very concrete terms what having a new addition will mean" in terms of children having to share bedrooms, closet space, toys, and Mom and Dad's time.
Baldwin also warns that the effects of bringing foster children into the home can extend beyond the immediate family. Extended family members can be "very supportive and loving," he says, while others "disown the applicants or at least question their sanity."

Considering Finances
Another consideration that is often overlooked is the family's financial situation. While foster families are given a monthly stipend, the amount varies greatly from state to state. Some states also offer a clothing allowance in addition to the stipend. And, while medical coverage is provided for the children, it sometimes doesn't cover everything. If the child coming into the home is a baby, there will be diapers and formula to buy. For older children, there will be the cost of food, school supplies, and entertainment. Given all of this, it's easy to see that there will likely be a need for the family to take on what could amount to a significant added expense.
Another important factor in your decision should be the level of commitment you feel you can provide. While some foster parents are needed for short-term placements lasting several days or weeks, others are needed to care for children for several years. Are you the type of person who easily becomes attached? If so, then perhaps you should state your preference for a child who will need long-term care.
Now, let's say you are comfortable with everything discussed so far, and are still willing to proceed. Certification requirements differ from state to state, as well as among agencies (i.e., state-run agencies may have different requirements than their private counterparts). In general though, before you can be certified to provide foster care, you will probably need to submit to an in-depth personal evaluation which, based on Baldwin's experience, can include questions about your finances, health, family, employment, friends, personal accomplishments, and aptitude for dealing with difficult children. You can also expect a background check for criminal activity, sexual offenses, and child abuse. Your home will likely be inspected to ensure it is safe and has sufficient living and bed-space. You can also expect regular (and sometimes, unannounced) visits from caseworkers after children have been placed in your home to ensure certain conditions and standards are maintained. Finally, training will probably be necessary, although the requirements differ from state to state.