Approximately 400,540 children were in foster care in 2011, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway. Becoming a foster parent means providing a warm and loving home for those children in desperate need of stability. Foster parent qualifications, as well as the application process and requirements, vary from state to state, but there are a few main disqualifiers common on the road to becoming a foster parent.
1. Criminal Background
The CWIG reports that criminal background checks are federally mandated for all prospective foster families. In every state, this entails that a fingerprint check of each adult living in your home will be run through a national database. Nationwide, foster care applicants will be denied if they have a history of felony child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse or crimes against children. Violent crimes such as rape, sexual assault and homicide convictions will also be automatic disqualifiers. If any applicant has been convicted of felony assault, battery or a drug-related offense in the last five years, they will be disqualified from foster care. Each state may also have additional criminal background check disqualifiers.
2. Size of Home
While specific requirements vary between states, all prospective foster parents must own or rent a home deemed large enough to house a child. In most states, this means having at least one bedroom which can be designated for a foster child. New York requirements require a home free of health and safety dangers which is large enough to comfortably accommodate a child, and Alabama requirements also involve providing a bed or mattress large enough to allow for “good sleeping posture." These specifications can seem vague, but home study workers can provide more insight to the requirements specific to your state.
3. Insufficient Income
Most states require potential foster families to have a steady income which provides for the family’s needs and financial obligations. While additional payments are provided to foster families through the state, it is generally explained that this is to help provide for the care of a child and should not be viewed as income to the family. As such, a family already struggling to provide will likely be disqualified. Your financial situation will be discussed at length during your home study to evaluate whether or not you meet your state's specific requirements.
4. Who Can Foster?
Minimum requirements for fostering remain fairly similar in most states. There is typically a requirement that potential foster parents be at least 21 years of age in a financially stable situation. Sexual orientation will not keep you from becoming a foster parent in the majority of the United States, although some states, such as Mississippi, still prevent homosexuals from adopting through foster care. Marital status is also not typically a hindrance to fostering in most states.
- NYC.gov: Questions About Foster Care
- Change a Life Forever: Prospective Foster Families
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Who May Adopt, Be Adopted, or Place a Child For Adoption
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Foster Care Statistics 2011
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Criminal Background Checks for Prospective Foster and Adoptive Families
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Home Study Requirements For Prospective Foster Parents
- Child Welfare Information Gateway: Frequently Asked Questions From Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Prospective Foster and Adoptive Parents
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images