If you've thought about foster parenting at all, even for a couple of minutes, you probably grasp that someone has to do it. Because the truth is that kids whose parents can't care for them has been a global problem for all of human history. It is a problem that could get better or worse with various interventions, (and I am 100% in favor of any interventions that make my work less necessary), but it is never going away. As I said in my last post, you won't stop being needed just because you aren't there.
While you've probably thought broadly that foster parents have to exist, you probably haven't thought about the fact that it isn't enough to just have one kind of foster parent - that in order to meet the needs of all the different kids that are in care, they need a lot of different KINDS of foster parents. That is, if everyone who signs up to do foster care is a white heterosexual English-speaking Protestant married couple who wants to take healthy babies... all the toddlers, preschoolers, school aged kids and teens can't get placed, and all the Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, Sikh and Catholic kids in care can't stay in their religious community, and all the non-English speaking kids get put in a home where they can't make their needs met because no one speaks their language and...well you get the point.
You probably have never thought much about the fact that no foster parent can take every child, any more than anyone else can do everything. Or the fact that even the best foster parents, if they end up adopting the kids who can't go home, eventually run out of bedrooms and seats in the car and time and resources and have to stop fostering...so more foster parents are always needed.
You've probably never thought about the fact that random factors like whose phone is on at 3 in the morning or whether there are more beds in the boys' or girls' room decide whether a sibling set stays together or gets broken up with one kid each in a separate home. That kids with allergies need homes without pets and some kids need a home with no other kids and for good reasons some kids need only a Mom or Moms and some do better with a Dad. Or that the behavior that is out of the question in one home is totally something you can deal with in another. It isn't just that a county or agency needs 75 foster homes, they need a MIX of foster parents of lots of different kinds who can do lots of different things.
And if your community or culture or religion or ethnic group has any investment in seeing its kids remain part of that culture, then YOU and your group need to have someone step up. Because as much as I have heard tons of people tell me that the Chinese community or the Jewish community or the Haitian immigrant community or whatever takes care of itself, or that your affluent educated suburb doesn't really have kids in care...that's garbage. There are kids in care in every county in America and kids of every ethnic, religious and cultural community who have needed foster care. Foster care does follow poverty, there is racial bias, but EVERY community has kids in care. And if you think it is important for kids in care to keep any part of their culture, then people from YOUR community have to step up and be foster parents - not just on the day when the case makes the papers and everyone is angry that those Sikh kids didn't get placed in a Sikh home (because there aren't any in your area and you can't become a foster parent in minutes for the most part - it takes a while), BEFORE you know you are needed. Don't get me wrong - not every kid can be placed in a home that is exactly like the one they left, and lots of amazing foster parents do everything they can to keep kids connected to their culture and community even though it is very different than their own. But if you think there's value in helping kids lose one less thing, and in keeping kids a part of your community, someone has to step up!
Note: While I am speaking broadly and nationally, regulations and policies vary a lot. There are some states not so friendly to gay or transgender fostering. There are some places where a studio apartment might be too small to take even babies. There are some agencies that might recruit only tribal or only foster families from a particular community and you might not be able to foster there. I have heard some pretty horrifying stories of prejudice against non-Christian families in areas where Christian agencies predominate, and about prejudiced workers who reject foster parents with disabilities or controlled histories of mental health issues. That doesn't change that those agencies DO need those foster parents, though, just means that work needs to be done to educate social welfare professionals about their needs and about what foster parents they don't accept have to offer.
I also need to add that I do NOT mean to imply that immigrant or transgender or white or Jewish or lesbian or physician foster parents are valuable ONLY because they can take kids like them. They are SPECIFICALLY valuable to the foster community because of special training or knowledge or cultural access or understanding they may have - but they are also valuable because their are great foster Moms and Dads in every culture and community. Most of the time the kids you care for probably won't look like you or speak your language or grow up gay or need your special education expertise. And you aren't bad if you are a doctor and prefer not to focus on medically needy kids or aren't a woman-only household who wants to take girls who can't live with men. Please take it as a given that I assume you will also be AN AWESOME PARENT to any kids - but also that there are REAL needs for specific areas.
So here are 100 kinds of foster parents we need.
1. People who know the kids already. The first choice for any child is someone who already knows and loves them and vice versa. If you are relative, that's called kinship care. If you are a teacher, neighbor, friend, daycare provider...fictive kinship care. Lots of people become foster parents this way, because someone in their community needs them RIGHT NOW. If kids you care about come into care, you can become a foster parent right away sometimes if you are kin by blood or connection.
2. Bi, Gay and Gay-positive families - Because gay kids come into care too, and your family has a lot to offer.
3. Couples of all kinds - because, well this is hard work and you need someone to vent to and watch the kids when you go to the bathroom.
4. Anyone who speaks another language. Because imagine being dropped in a home where you can't communicate at all, on top of everything else. Plus, how cool is it for kids to learn another language in your home?
5. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, other medical professionals. Because a lot of kids come into care because of serious medical needs and it helps not to be scared of the equipment, or the tiny premature babies.
6. People with big houses. Sibling groups, y'know.
7. People with tiny apartments. Because even in a studio, you can usually take babies or children under 2 or 3 (YMMV based on local regulations).
8. City folks - because urban areas have the greatest need, and staying in your neighborhood means preserving schools and friendships and continuity.
9. Country folks - because rural kids come into care too.
10. Indigenous peoples - because the ICWA (in the US, there are other laws in other countries) means that there is strong preference for keeping kids in tribal homes and communities.
11. Working Parents - Because often kids will come from homes where no one holds a job or works, and they need to see you being something in order to want to grow up to be something themselves.
12. People who hate babies and would rather die than change a diaper. Seriously, lots of people love babies, but you don't have to - foster parents are most needed for older kids and teenagers. Want someone who doesn't need a sitter, handles their own toileting and can go to concerts and basketball games with you? They are out there.
13. Single gender homes. Some kids really need parents and siblings of one gender because of prior experiences.
14. Grandparents. If your kids are grown and gone and you miss the days when there was a baby to rock or someone to take to Little League, your skills and experience and wisdom are needed.
15. People who want to adopt. Because 25% of kids removed my never go home. And if you are willing to take kids with higher needs, they may be legally free already.
16. People who DO NOT want to adopt. Because the other 75% will go to kin or home, and people who want to support birth families and help kids can do more work for more years than the rest of us.
17. Brave people who are willing to learn. Learn to help a kid with braces and crutches in the morning, learn another language, learn to be part of a community that wasn't yours by birth, to step up and ask a birth parent to help you understand...takes nerve.
18. Nerds and Geeks. Because you remember what it was to be the kid who didn't fit in, and you can be there for them. And 'cause legos and Star Trek costumes.
19. People who think spit up is an accessory. Because arms are needed to rock the babies. Addicted and medically fragile babies especially.
20. Young people in their 20s - You've got energy, you remember what it was like in school and you already know the words to Uptown Funk.
21. People with no pets. Some kids have allergies.
22. Farm folk. Because there is nothing as healing as critters and dirt and fresh vegetables that kids pick themselves.
23. Parents who already have kids with special needs. Because you know how to get that IEP through and how to manage the G-tube, and you aren't scared by the diagnosis.
24. People with a Sense of Humor. Because trust me, you will need it.
25. Religious people. Because foster children have a legal right to the support of their religion - and because it can be incredibly meaningful to kids to have ritual and structure in their lives.
26. Non-religious people and atheists. Because non-religious parents lose their kids too, and they have a right to the support of their culture. Because seeing the world without God can be incredibly meaningful too.
27. Transgender and trans-positive parents. Because kids gender non-conform too.
28. Multi-racial families. Because you already get it.
29. Black, White, Latino, Pacific Islander, Asian families - because kids feel comfortable when someone in their family looks like them.
30. Big families. 'Cause there's always something fun to do and hey, what is one or two more?
31. Small families. Some kids really need to be an only child.
32. Families who can care about and recognize the importance of birth families. Because they are always a part of your children. And sometimes you can build something wonderful with birth parents.
33. Grownups. Because it hurts when they go home, but at least YOU are bearing the pain, not them. Kids in care often are there because no one was willing to be the grownup. Here's your chance.
34. Smart people. Because this is hard, challenging work - getting your kids what they need, working with service providers, getting diagnoses, navigating the legal system...it is hard and being smart and thoughtful helps. But remember, that doesn't mean "went to college or grad school" it just means willing to figure out the system. There is no minimum level of education.
35. People who get angry about injustice. Because the kids and their families are part of the greatest slow moving tragedy in the world - our lack of caring for the most vulnerable. You can help and make a real difference.
36. Strong folks. Because this will push you to your limits, and past them.
37. Fathers. Single and married, gay and straight. Many kids have never had a man in their lives who was safe and loving and caring, didn't even know that they existed.
38. People with pets. Because the love you get from the dog or the cat can be a huge gift.
39. Stay-at-home parents. Because newborns can't go to daycare and some kids really need a full-time parent.
40. Families that already have kids. Because a brother or sister is a gift, and parents who have been there know how to do the baby dance or help with math homework.
41. Families that have no kids. Because you won't compare them to anyone and they deserve to be the center of your world.
42. People who really want boys. Because they are harder to place than girls.
43. Special educators. Because you can look past the diagnosis and see the kid, and you aren't scared by it.
44. Crunchy folk. Because the kids need good healthy food and fresh air and parents who believe in holding and talking.
45. Scientists and analytical people. Because someone has to sort out what works and what doesn't for the kids. Plus, home physics experiments.
46. Quiet introverts. Because some kids are like that too, and overstimulation is tough on traumatized kids.
47. Loud, crazy, silly, I'll do anything parents. Because there's nothing like a dance party to break up a tantrum or Mom wearing her Elvis costume to set kids to giggling.
48. People who are willing to work hard in the world and in themselves on anti-racism. Because if you are going to have kids that are not the same color as you, you need to do that work.
49. Gentle people. The kids have experienced so much violence. Be gentle.
50. Curious people. Because the system and the underlying issues in it are fascinating, often in a train-wreck kind of way. If you want to have your eyes opened, this is good for you.
51. Social welfare and legal professionals. Because you understand the system and can work with it.
52. Fierce, protective Moms and Dads. Because you are going to make sure your child's needs get met.
53. People who love their brothers and sisters. Because you can imagine how wrenching it would be to lose your sibling, and you can make room for kids to stay together.
54. People with a "what the hell, sounds interesting" attitude. Because who else will take a sibling group of six or newborn twins and a 2 year old?
55. Athletic people. Because they will keep you running, and you already know about endurance.
56. Warm, soft people. Because all those curves and soft parts are great for cuddling.
57. Aunts and uncles. You love your nieces and nephews and spoil the heck out of them. And you could do it for someone else.
58. People who are scared to foster. Because we all are scared when we open the door - it is a huge, life changing thing. It is ok to be scared.
59. Minorities within minorities. Because sometimes kids are minorities within minorities and you can understand the complex interplays of race, class, disability, gender, etc...
60. People who were angry, troubled adolescents themselves. Because you'll get it. When they get their tatoos, you can show them yours.
61. Empty nesters. Because you have done it all before, and can do it again, and let's be honest, you kinda tear up when the 6th grade band plays the Star Wars theme badly.
62. People who had tough lives. Because you get it. Your experience with getting through abuse or addiction or trauma can help them, if you can deal with your own triggers.
63. People who can let go and trust in God. Because sometimes you have to admit stuff is out of your hands, and sometimes prayer helps.
64. People who can let go and trust in themselves. Because sometimes prayer doesn't help, or isn't for you, and you have to keep trying.
65. People who are nervous about becoming parents. Because everyone with a brain is. It is a huge transition and if you are smart enough to be scared, you have a good start on things.
66. Managers, accountants and the super-organized who color-code their socks. Because it makes life a lot easier if you can keep it all together.
67. Hard workers. Because the race doesn't go to the swift in parenting - it takes the same 18 years for each kid to get to adulthood. It goes to the ones who keep coming back to it and trying their best and trying again and again.
68. Unselfish people. Folks who can love and accept it might be a while, maybe a long while, before they are ready to love you back.
69. People with goats. There's just something about goats.
70. Mothers. Single and Married, Gay and Straight. Because, well, Mommies.
71. People with good friends. Because you are going to need a lot of support in this journey. Make sure you tell them what you want from them.
72. Couples who love each other deeply. Because this can be hard, and you will need each other. Plus kids need to see good love to model it in their lives.
73. People with young children. You are already changing diapers, right? So...
74. People with older children. Because that teenager who can barely tolerate you can be a different person when he's playing with his four year old sister.
75. First and second generation immigrants from everywhere. Because your experience can help others, and your worldview is wide.
76. Disabled people. Because while you may not be able to run as fast as he can, you can give him time and help him navigate a world that wasn't built for traumatized kids either.
77. Single parents - Because you already have mastered making it all work, and you have amazing skills to share.
78. People part of strong, nurturing communities. Because getting a new placement is like having a baby - and getting a sibling placement is like having four babies. You will need their help.
79. Suburban residents. Because suburbs have kids in care too.
80. Gamers and Game geeks. Because gaming with your kids is awesome. You might have to wait a while on Cards Against Humanity, though.
81. Great Homemakers. If you care about making a beautiful, peaceful, safe home - well, kids need that. Making home a refuge can be incredibly healing.
82. Not-so-Great Homemakers. You can be a slob and a foster parent if you can learn to clean up for the social workers. Trust me on this one.
83. Gardeners and DIYers. You are used to fixing up and making do, preserving and preparing. You'll find those skills are valuable both in the practical value of feeding the kids and in the metaphorical area of building them up. Moreover, alongside you, the kids learn competence.
84. People who have been or are poor. You do have to be able to feed the kids, but the truth is that you don't have to have a lot of money or own a home to be a foster parent, and understanding where they came from is good.
85. People with roommates and housemates. As long as everyone passes the background checks and there is room for the kids, households don't have to be traditional to be loving and wonderful.
86. People who have lost people they loved. Because you know you can live with grief if a child goes home.
87. People with experience of mental illness. Either personally, in your family or in your work, your knowledge and understanding can help kids from families with mental health issues and kids with mental health issues.
88. Parents who sometimes lose their temper, who don't always do it right, who wish they were better parents. Because all of us do. You can't hit the kids, but nobody is perfect, and you don't have to be to be a foster parent.
89. People who can roll with it. Because expecting the unexpected is the rule in foster care. That call in the night at 11pm. The fact that there's one more kid than they told you...
90. People with handicapped accessible housing. Because disabled kids need a place they can get around in.
91. Folks that live in diverse communities. Because kids are most comfortable where they don't stick out.
92. People who love the outdoors. Because a lot of kids have barely been out of their homes and never knew the glory of the natural world.
93. Rabid sports fans. Because helping your kid kick a ball down a field or cheer for your team is a great bonding activity. And that competence thing again.
94. Stubborn, Never-Say-Die people. Would you rather have your eyeballs put out than ask for directions? Do you cheer for your team even though they've never won a championship in living memory? Will you stay out in the cold wrestling with the broken thing for 3 hours rather than admit you can't fix it? Awesome. Because kids who have had trauma need people who will stick it out and keep trying and trying and never give up on them.
95. Mechanical people. If you are interested, rather than freaked out by a breathing monitor or the project of building a better ramp, awesome. And if you can't think of anything more fun than showing your daughter how to fix her bike, here's your chance.
96. Foodies. Because a lot of kids have been terribly deprived, and bringing them into the kitchen and making sure they know there will always be dinner is a gift to them - and teaching them how to make it themselves is an even bigger gift.
97. People who like gross out jokes and aren't squeamish. Lots of pee, poop and vomit in this job. Best you find it funny.
98. People who want to leave the world a better place. A fostering and adopting friend once called it "Earning your breathing air." You will.
99. People who don't want biological children or don't care about biological relationships. Great - one less reason for the kids to worry "You love her more than me because..."
100. Just plain old regular, ordinary people. Someone a lot like you.
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Is there some way I could "dip a toe in" and be helpful before applying to be a foster parent? I mean, I don't have kids, I'm still intimidated by teenagers, and I really, really don't want to mess up anyone. Is a program like Big Brothers/ Big Sisters a good way to find out if you're good with kids of any age?
Yup. Or you could apply to be a youth mentor, or a CASA, a court-appointed special advocate, which is a volunteer position where after some training you could help make sure a child doesn't get lost in the system.
Lots of good ways to do that.
My wife and I just had our first meeting with the county agency that administers the foster program here. When the paper work and background checks are done, we will be licensed to be a foster home. We ( I) am a bit nervous, but we are sure it's something we could and should do. And, just this week, Mother Jones had an article covering the foster situation nationally, and the potential problems with privatized foster care, where the profit motive adds potential for skewed priorities. Glad to see you posting some now, and I hope you are able to keep doing so.