So you've decided you've got the passion and resources to give foster kids the stable, loving home they desperately need. Now it's time to find out if you (as well as your family) meet both the state-specific and universal requirements for taking these little ones into your care. Here's a rundown of what's involved -- and what to do if you haven't yet made the cut.Universal Requirements
The details of being approved as a foster parent vary by state, but certain requirements are widespread. According to AdoptUSKids, to give foster kids what they need, you should have a stable, mature, and accommodating personality, as well as a flexible lifestyle that leaves time for caring and advocating on behalf of the child. After contacting a local foster-care agency and attending an orientation, you'll have to fill out an application, providing references and details about your age and finances. At this point, it's important to be clear about the kinds of cases you're willing to take on -- perhaps you feel equipped to foster kids who've experienced neglect, for example, but not physical abuse. "Be honest," advises 52-year-old Janet Kerin, who has served as a foster parent in Castle Rock, Colorado, for five years. "Don't just go in with a big heart and then take more on than you can handle." At this stage, it's also crucial to develop a positive, team-oriented relationship with the social worker guiding you through the process. You'll need this person to help you deal with any fostering challenges that come up later on.
Each state has its own rules determining which applicants will be approved for foster care. Many states have minimum age requirements (generally 19 to 21) and distinct conditions for criminal background checks. Some require federal background checks, for instance, while others don't; and in a handful of states, all members of the foster household must undergo background checks. All states require pre-service training, which informs you of foster kids' backgrounds and needs, but the schedule and content of the prep sessions vary widely from state to state, says Kathy Ledesma, National Project Manager for AdoptUSKids. You also may have to complete a home study, in which a social worker will evaluate your house and lifestyle as an environment for foster kids. In some states, receiving approval to foster children can also serve as the go-ahead to adopt from foster care too. To find state-specific information on becoming a foster parent, start with the resource map at AdoptUSKids.com.