What to Consider About Being a Foster Parent

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Well-meaning adults often consider foster care so that they can help provide a safe home for children who need it, but it's important to think about it before making such a big decision. Being a foster parent is not easy as it’s a major commitment in terms of your time, energy, and emotions.

This article explores some of the factors you should consider before deciding to become a foster parent. It also suggests some signs that can help indicate you’re ready to take this step, as well as some indicators that you may not be ready yet.

Foster Parenting Considerations 

These are some of the factors to consider before becoming a foster parent, according to Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University. 

Fostering Is a Temporary Situation

The goal of foster care is to provide a safe and loving home for children whose families cannot care for them at the moment. However, it is a temporary arrangement, until the children are reunited with their biological parents or adopted by other families.

Foster parents often get attached to the children—and vice versa—which can make it difficult to say goodbye when they have to leave.

Fostering Children Can Be Challenging

While foster parenting can certainly be rewarding, it’s not always easy. The National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) notes that it can be an emotionally and socially challenging undertaking that requires a lot of time and patience.

The high levels of stress associated with foster parenting can have repercussions on your mental and physical health.

Foster Children Need a High Degree of Care

It is estimated that 75% of foster children are separated from their families because they have faced abuse or neglect. As a result, they are more likely to have higher emotional, developmental, medical, or mental health needs than other children and require a high degree of care.

For instance, the child may have trouble trusting you, behave aggressively toward you, or engage in defiant, risky, or inappropriate behaviors. They may also have other symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, nightmares, eating disorders, headaches, and other physical complaints. At school, they may have trouble focusing and have academic or disciplinary issues.

Your Foster Child May Not Be Happy in Your Home

There is a very real possibility that the child you’re fostering may not be happy in your home, despite how much you love them or do for them.

Though the child’s home environment may have been untenable, the child may not necessarily understand that. Children often struggle with changes to their home or family unit and may have trouble coping. For instance, the child may try to run away or repeatedly say that they want to go back home, which can be painful for you.

A 2021 study notes that there is a high prevalence of depression and anxiety among foster children.

Fostering Is a Collaborative Effort

In addition to caring for the child, fostering involves regularly interacting with other caregivers, such as the child’s biological parents, social workers, teachers, and healthcare providers.

For instance, the social worker assigned to the child may visit your home regularly, which can sometimes feel intrusive. Depending on the circumstances, you may also have to interact with and cooperate with legal authorities, such as the police, lawyers, and judges.

Fostering Can Have Repercussions on Your Own Kids

If you have children of your own, your decision to be a foster parent can impact them as well. Your children will have to share everything with the foster children, right from their space and toys to your love and attention.

Additionally, your children will be exposed to all your foster children’s habits, both good and bad. The destabilizing effects of their upbringing can make foster children more vulnerable to substance use disorders, and sexual, disruptive, or illegal behaviors. You will have to set firm boundaries and be vigilant, to keep all the children in your home safe.

Are You Ready to Foster Children?

If you’re trying to determine whether you're ready to foster children, these are some indicators that can help you make your decision. 

Signs You’re Ready to Become a Foster Parent

These are some indicators that you may be ready to foster children, according to Dr. Romanoff:

  • You are a kind and patient person with a lot of love to give
  • You are understanding, compassionate, and empathetic
  • You are flexible in your thinking and can adapt to unexpected circumstances and challenges
  • You are emotionally stable and able to cope with stressful situations
  • You have strong communication and conflict-resolution skills and are able to manage multiple stakeholders
  • You have a safe, stable, and nurturing home
  • Your household members are on board with your decision to foster children
  • You have a support system you can count on for help, if you need it
  • You are willing and able to commit your time, energy, and love to a foster child
  • You have clarity of thought and self-awareness
  • You have evaluated your reasons for wanting to foster a child and understand that it’s a temporary situation, not a permanent one

Signs You’re Not Ready to Foster Children

These are some indicators that you may not be ready to foster children, according to Dr. Romanoff:

  • You experience emotional highs and lows
  • You struggle to cope with unexpected stressors
  • You have difficulty adjusting and have inflexible expectations
  • You have unresolved attachment issues that can make it difficult to let go or say goodbye
  • You have work or other responsibilities that can make it hard for you to commit time and energy to a child
  • Your partner, children, or other household members aren’t on board with your decision to foster children
  • Your life at home is tumultuous, with frequent conflicts among family members

A Word From Verywell

If you’re considering fostering a child, it can be helpful to discuss it with your loved ones and talk to other foster parents who can offer their experience and advice. It’s important to think through your decision carefully and evaluate yourself and your circumstances honestly—for your sake as much as your family's sake and the foster child's sake.

8 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Foster Parent Association. Becoming a foster parent.

  2. Mancinelli E, Dell'Arciprete G, Salcuni S. A systematic review on foster parents' psychological adjustment and parenting style-an evaluation of foster parents and foster children variables. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021;18(20):10916. doi:10.3390/ijerph182010916

  3. Kaasboll J, Lassemo Eva, Paulsen V, Melby L, Osborg S. Foster parents’ needs, perceptions and satisfaction with foster parent training: A systematic literature review. Children and Youth Services Review. 2019;101:33-41.

  4. Stanford Medicine. Signs and symptoms of abuse/neglect.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Child abuse.

  6. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Child abuse.

  7. Moussavi Y, Breivik K, Wergeland GJ, Haugland BSM, Larsen M, Lehmann S. Internalizing symptom profiles among youth in foster care: a comparison study. Front Psychiatry. 2021;0. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.711626

  8. Havlicek J, Garcia A, Smith DC. Mental health and substance use disorders among foster youth transitioning to adulthood: past research and future directions. Child Youth Serv Rev. 2013;35(1):194-203. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.10.003

By Sanjana Gupta
Sanjana is a health writer and editor. Her work spans various health-related topics, including mental health, fitness, nutrition, and wellness.