There are 104,000 foster kids waiting to be adopted in the U.S., and each year more than 20,000 of them become too old to stay part of the foster-care system, which means they'll be on their own without any meaningful family connection. In a 2010 study from the University of Chicago, nearly a quarter of "aged-out" foster kids experienced homelessness at some point, and 68 percent had been convicted of a crime. Whether you're considering becoming a foster parent or thinking of adopting a child from foster care, you'd be fulfilling a huge need and helping a kid who desperately needs a secure, loving home. Do you have what it takes? Here, five questions to ask yourself.
Do I have the resources for a foster child?
You don't have to be rich to be become a foster parent, but you do need a little extra space in your house and some wiggle room in the budget. Each state has its own rules regarding room and privacy For example, 15 states require a minimum number of square feet per foster child, and 18 states put a cap on the number of children per bedroom. Think about the foster children you can best accommodate. "If you already have three teens in the house, and you're running around dropping them off at their activities or taking them on camping trips, then you may not want to care for an infant," says Roxana Torrico Meruvia, Senior Practice Associate at the National Association of Social Workers. Also consider how many foster children you can take at once; agencies often ask families to take sets of siblings in an effort to keep them together, which research shows significantly enhances their well-being.
All states provide foster families with stipends to cover foster kids' basic needs, such as food and clothing. The amount depends on your city's cost of living, the child's age, and other factors, but it's generally around $400 to $900 per month, according to a 2012 report from Child Trends, a nonprofit group that researches youth issues. Researchers also found that these stipends fall short of covering 100 percent of foster-care costs. While additional public funds may be available for extras such as books and holidays, the reality is that foster parents often end up filling gaps with their own money. To find out about resources and requirements in your state, check out the map at AdoptUSKids.com.
Am I open to fostering or adopting an older child?
The average age of children in foster care is 9 years old, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services, and there's a particularly big need to find permanent homes for teens. In a study by AdoptUSKids, 67 percent of staffers at foster-care agencies said their biggest challenge in making adoption matches was prospective parents' unrealistic expectations -- parents want to adopt a young child without special needs. "There's a big stigma out there about foster kids," says Janet Kerin, a 52-year-old chiropractor in Castle Rock, Colorado, who has been a foster parent for five years and who adopted three siblings at ages 5, 8, and 15. "One of the high school teachers wouldn't be helpful to my son because he was a foster kid. The attitude is that they're big troublemakers, but really they just need someone to show them boundaries and explain how life works." Kerin's oldest, now 20, was recently deployed to Afghanistan, and he told her that he never could have accomplished it without her. The Dave Thomas Foundation offers a list of organizations that publish photo listings of waiting foster children on their websites.