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Is Foster Parenting for You?

Every night in America, over half a million children go to bed in foster care. They have been removed from homes broken by death, divorce, drugs, alcohol, physical or sexual abuse, illness or financial hardship. Maybe you think you have enough love in your heart to help one or more of these kids. Perhaps you do, but those who have been there say it requires courage, empathy, patience and tenacity as well as love.

Challenges

Children are placed in your home on a temporary basis. Their stay could be as short as one night or as long as several years.

  • There are opportunities for adoption but they are not guaranteed.  See the "Can you adopt a child from foster care?" article. In the meantime, you are not the "real" parent. The goal of most state and private placement agencies is to reunite the child with his or her family as quickly as is safe and feasible.
  • Your house may be the latest stop for a child, especially an older one, who has been in the system for some time and may have been to many homes, some good, some not so good. Along the way he or she may have developed some defense mechanisms that can make it tough for anyone to get through to him or her.
  • Children in foster care are often the victims of neglect or abuse and they may have developed hostilities and insecurities that can disrupt your household.
  • Sometimes the problems aren't just emotional. Young children with medical problems, physical handicaps and developmental problems are the fastest-growing population in foster care.

Rewards

If you haven't been scared off by all those considerations, then here are some reasons to open up your home and your life to a stranger.

    These children need you. Right now, there is a critical shortage of adoptive and foster parents in the United States. The number of children who have no permanent homes has risen dramatically in recent years, from 280,000 in 1986 to more than 500,000 in 1997, according to the latest numbers available from the Child Welfare League of America. Meanwhile, the number of licensed foster family homes has declined to only about 142,000.
  • They want you. While it is not yet a universal trend, more and more foster care agencies are placing children with gay and lesbian adults - due, in part, to the growing number of children who need a home and the growing awareness that sexual orientation is irrelevant to good parenting. In fact, agencies in some cities such as New York and San Francisco have launched campaigns to recruit gay and lesbian adults as foster parents.
  • You can make a difference. Some of the hardest children to find foster homes for are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens; young people questioning their sexual identity; and babies born with HIV. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender adults are in a unique situation to help these young people.