Mental Health Considerations For Foster Parents

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Foster parenting involves providing a safe, stable, and temporary home for children whose birth families are unable care for them, until the children are reunified with their birth families or are adopted by another family.

The aim of foster parenting is to provide temporary protective services that support the child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, particularly since they have left the familiarity of their home and family, or may have experienced a trauma or loss.

Foster parenting requires you to open up your heart and home to a child. This article offers some mental health considerations for foster parenting, some signs that you are ready as well as signs that you may not be ready yet, and some strategies that can help you prepare to become a foster parent.

Mental Health Considerations of Foster Parenting

These are some mental health factors you should consider before deciding to become a foster parent, says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Yeshiva University.

Fostering Is Not Permanent

The goal of fostering a child is to provide a safe home for the child until they can be reunited with their parents. Fostering is therefore not a permanent situation. The child’s biological parents still hold parental rights until they are terminated.

It may be helpful to explore your intentions, expectations, and goals as a foster parent. The goal is not to provide a permanent home, but a safe, stable, nurturing, and caring temporary environment. Being honest with yourself and your reasons for fostering a child can help you be more aligned with the role without trying to force the dynamic into something that it is not.

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD

Although you may want the best for your foster child, there is often a loss that is experienced when the child leaves your home.

— Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD

Fostering Is Not Easy

Fostering children is an opportunity to contribute to society and can be very rewarding. However, it’s not easy. It is a full-time commitment that will require a lot of your time and energy. 

There are many highs and lows involved with being a foster parent. It’s important to be honest with yourself and consider whether this role is right for you and your family. Foster parenting is not something you do for yourself, it’s about the child.

Foster parents may experience high levels of stress, which could manifest through mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and substance use, says Dr. Romonaff.

Foster Children May Have Special Needs

Children often struggle with changes to their family unit or environment. Foster children may be scared, anxious, or angry about having to leave their home and family. Additionally, they may have experienced losses or trauma that can affect their emotional and mental well-being. According to a 2021 study, there is a high prevalence of depression and anxiety among foster children.

Despite having the best intentions in wanting to help the child and nurture them, you may find yourself challenged in caring for their special needs. You may also find yourself feeling disappointed if the child is not receptive to the relationship you hoped to build with them, or frustrated at their behavior if they act out.

The more you can become aware of your own expectations, triggers, and responses, the better you will be able to recognize, manage, and prepare for them.

Are You Ready to Become a Foster Parent?

These are some indicators that can help you determine whether or not you’re ready to become a foster parent, from a mental health perspective.

Signs You’re Ready for Foster Parenting

These are some signs that you’re ready to become a foster parent, according to Dr. Romanoff:

  • Flexibility: You are highly flexible and can adapt to unexpected developments.
  • Stability: You have achieved stability in your life and the ability to regulate your emotions.
  • Social support: The people in your support system, such as your family, friends, and partner, are supportive of your decision. Not everyone in your life needs to approve of your decision, but having other people to turn to for help or assistance can make a significant difference. 
  • Nurturing environment: You have developed deep patience, compassion, and understanding, and are ready and able to create a loving environment for a child. You create and protect a physically, emotionally, and relationally safe home for yourself and those in it.
  • Communication skills: You have strong communication and interpersonal skills. In addition to building a rapport with the child, you will need to communicate with their biological parents as well as other stakeholders such as social workers, judges, doctors, therapists, or teachers. 
  • Conflict resolution skills: You also have strong conflict resolution skills to help you cope with any friction that arises. For instance, an argument between a foster child and a member of your family.
  • Self-care: You are able to prioritize yourself and practice self-care. You need to have a strong ability to care for yourself in order to have the capacity to care for a foster child. 
  • Self-awareness: You have clarity on your own thoughts, feelings, and actions. You understand why you want to foster a child and can communicate that clearly to others.
  • Commitment: You are in a place in your life where you're ready to make a commitment to fostering a child.
  • Empathy: You have the ability to understand other people's feelings. You'll use this ability as you help a foster child.

Signs You May Not Be Ready to Foster Yet

These are some signs that you may not be ready to become a foster parent, according to Dr. Romanoff:

  • You struggle with flexibility. Being a foster parent requires a high level of flexibility as well as an ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances. If you are rigid in the ways that you think and do things, have difficulty collaborating or compromising, or have high and inflexible expectations, it may not be time to foster until greater flexibility can be practiced and embodied.
  • You have unaddressed attachment issues. You struggle with forming secure attachments to people or resist endings and goodbyes. Saying goodbye to a foster child can be difficult. It is also important to be able to separate from them with love and care in order to unconditionally support whatever is best for the child.
  • You have a demanding job or an unyielding schedule. You do not have the time or capacity to deal with additional responsibilities or stressors.
  • Your current level of stress is significantly impairing your ability to function. You experience significant declines in your mood state or struggle with managing highs and lows that would make caring for others or the addition of unexpected stressors unbearably difficult. The goal is to provide stability for the child, but if you struggle with creating that for yourself in a consistent way, it may be difficult for you to deliver that.

How to Prepare for Foster Parenting

Dr. Romanoff suggests some strategies that can help you prepare to become a foster parent:

  • Discuss it with your family: It’s important to discuss your decision to foster a child with your immediate family. Bringing a new person into the house can affect the routine and dynamics of the family, so it’s important for everyone to be aligned with and in support of the decision to foster.
  • Build social support: Create a strong support system ranging from friends, family, a therapist, and support groups. Plan for difficult times when you might feel overwhelmed by asking friends or family members to be available to provide support, babysit, take your foster child out for a fun day, or be there for you in case of an emergency.
  • Connect with people who have experience fostering: Seek out mentors and people who have successfully fostered children in the past to learn from their experience and to form realistic expectations of the experience. 
  • Prepare yourself for when the child leaves: Foster parents often experience grief when the child has to leave, which is a normal and healthy response when you care for someone. It can be helpful to prepare for this grief period in advance by having support systems in place to help you through the difficult transition. Make and protect time and space to mourn the loss and to be gentle with yourself. Sadness is a sign that something is important to us, and your love and care for your foster child is meaningful and matters.

A Word From Verywell

Foster parenting can be both challenging as well as rewarding. Before you embark on this journey, it’s important to evaluate yourself honestly and ensure you are equipped to deal with the challenges you may face, for the child’s sake as well as your sake.

3 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. Font SA, Gershoff ET. Foster care: How we can, and should, do more for maltreated children. Social Policy Report. 2020;33(3):1-40. doi:10.1002/sop2.10

  2. 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

  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.

Additional Reading

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