Everything You Need to Know About How to Be a Foster Parent

Inspiring graphic about foster care in words

How to Become a Foster Parent.

Everything you need to know about Becoming a foster parent is an exciting and rewarding experience. It can be challenging but so worthwhile to become a foster parent. We hope you find all the information in one place, and we have lots of blogs to support the topic you are looking for about foster care.

An Overview of Foster care

This section provides the information you need to become a foster parent and includes requirements, the application process, and more.

Are you ready to become a foster parent? You'll join the ranks of over 200,000 foster homes that give foster children a safe place to live.

While that number may sound large, the fact is that the demand for foster homes far outpaces the number of people ready and willing to be foster parents. You are in high demand if you want to become a foster parent.

You're ready to open your heart and home to a needy child. But you don't know where to start. Foster care is a rewarding and fulfilling experience, but it's not easy.

No one knows how to be a foster parent right off the bat, but it's a skill that you can learn. Luckily, we've written a thorough guide on every aspect of being a foster parent.

From the application process to keeping in touch with your foster children once they turn eighteen, we've got you covered every step. Read on to learn more!

What are the Five Different Types of Foster Care

Many people do not know that there are six different types of foster care. Each type of foster care serves another purpose, but all sorts of foster parents are needed desperately.

Traditional Foster care:

Most people think of this when they think of foster care. These people accept foster children for short- or long-term placement. They may be "career or mission-driven" foster parents or people looking to see if foster care works for them. Children may end up staying for a long time, but typically the goal is reunification.

Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC):

TFC usually is short-term and intensive services, with a high level of support in coordinating services for children in the care of Social Services. The foster parents are trained in all areas of child support, from behavior to trauma-informed approach to working with the youth. These children have a higher level of support needs than regular foster care.

Respite care:

It is temporary foster care; this usually cares for children who already have a longer-term placement, but their primary foster parents may need a break or have difficulties with placement. 

Kinship Care fostering:

Kinship care keeps a child within their biological family as much as possible. It is when children are placed with close relatives, such as an aunt, grandmother, or family friend. Most child welfare agencies will attempt a kinship foster placement before reaching out to other foster homes network.

Emergency foster homes:

Come in when children need an emergency place to stay. These people are prepared to take in foster children at a moment's notice. Emergency placements are usually temporary or of shorter duration than regular foster care. 

Fostering to adopt is the most common form of foster parenting. Foster parents take in children with the hopes of bringing them into their forever families. While it doesn't always work out, many foster children get adopted through this process. 

What are the Requirements to Be a Foster Parent

Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to be young, married, and wealthy to be a foster parent. Foster parents come from all walks of life, educational backgrounds, and ages.

The requirements to become a foster parent vary from state to state. However, many state requirements are similar, and all meet a bare minimum of requirements.

In Virginia, the requirements for becoming a foster parent include:

  • Be at least 18 years of age (many Child Placing Agencies have their own rules above 18 years old)
  • Attend a foster parent orientation
  • Complete foster parent training sessions
  • Do a minimum of three face-to-face interviews
  • Pass a home inspection
  • Comprehensive background and criminal record checks
  • Complete a DMV check
  • Provide medical proof you can care for foster children
  • Show that you can financially care for foster children
  • Give three personal references

What is the Foster Parent Application Process

While the above requirements may seem like a lot, they are in place to ensure that foster children receive adequate care. They are also there to ensure that potential foster parents know what they are getting into and are prepared.

The application process begins after attending your first foster parent orientation. While it may take some time, social services just want to ensure that children are safe and well-cared for before placing them into foster homes.

During your application process, you will attend regular foster training sessions. These sessions prepare you for taking in foster children and include learning about issues that affect foster kids, how to be a nurturing foster parent, and how to navigate the rest of the application process.

What is a The Home Study process in foster care

Part of the foster care application process involves social services visiting your home three times for interviews. During these interviews, they will inspect your home.

You are required to have a bedroom for an incoming foster child. If you plan on taking in siblings, you will likely have to have two bedrooms, one for boys and one for girls. 

The inspection will also cover basic safety and health issues such as cleaning restrooms and kitchens and ensuring there are no fire or other safety hazards. While this may seem extensive or intrusive, inspectors want to ensure that children will be safe and cared for in your home. 

How to Prepare for Your First Placement

When a child needs foster care, the first step is to prepare for the placement. Preparing your home for the new arrival and ensuring you have everything you need.

When a foster child comes into your home, it's important to remember that they come from a difficult place and may not have a lot of possessions. They may not want to talk about their situation, but you must show them that you care about them and want them to feel safe.

Some things foster children need are clothes, toys, blankets and bedding, hygiene items such as a toothbrush, a bath or hot shower with all the grooming supplies, and kid-friendly foods and drinks.  

How Caring for Foster Children

When you foster a child, you become their parent. You are responsible for their care and welfare. It is a big commitment, and it takes time to get used to the new role.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to being a foster parent, there are some essential topics that every foster parent will encounter. Let's dive in deeper.

Understanding Fosterings Different Age Groups

The process of fostering an infant differs from that of an older child or teenager. Infants need around-the-clock care and attention. Infant care responsibility includes diaper duty, feeding, and bathing. 

Older children can often be much more self-sufficient, although this is not always the case. But the majority will be pretty independent and able to handle tasks such as dressing and bathing themselves. However, older children sometimes struggle with social and behavioral issues from past trauma and abuse.

Teenagers are often regarded as the most difficult to place in foster care. However, they are also the most underserved and needing group, especially those about to age out of foster care. Like parenting all teenagers, foster teens can have attitudes and behavioral and social issues. 

When applying to be a foster parent, please note your most comfortable age range and where you see the need to help a child in need. Not every foster parent has the personality to deal with children in every age group. Some people do fantastic with teenagers who would struggle with an infant! Here is a look at the percentages in Virginia for youth in Foster Care

How to Communicate With Your Foster Kids

Communication is an essential skill for foster parents. It is not always easy to establish rapport with children who have been through a lot of trauma and are struggling to trust adults.

Establishing communication with your foster children as soon as they come home is essential. A simple "I know you're adjusting to new things, but just know I'm here to talk when you're ready" can work wonders.

To establish rapport with them, you need to be open and understanding. If a child feels like they can trust you, they will open up more and share their feelings and needs.

You should also be active in listening to what they have to say. Foster children are used to being told what to do and not having their feelings considered. If you can show them that this is important to you, they will be more willing to open up.

You will want to check in with your kids as your relationship grows regularly. You may even consider adding them to a family phone plan so that you can keep in touch during the day.

How to set Rules and Boundaries for kids

As a foster parent, you are responsible for setting boundaries and rules for your children. Children are not always able to set their boundaries and need help.

Please don't start with a list of rules as soon as they walk in the door. Many rules are a quick way to get off the wrong foot. However, the topic of your home rules and boundaries should be addressed as soon as they are settled in and familiar with your home.

When setting rules and boundaries, don't give your foster children any rules you would not give your biological children. Rules should be logical, easy to follow, and in place to keep everyone safe and have a well-functioning home.

Additionally, be sure to ask your foster kids what their boundaries are. They may not be able to answer this question directly, but you can pick up on things like "wanting to be left alone when reading a book." 

It is vital to establish a household culture of mutual respect. If you respect your foster children and their needs and boundaries, they are much more likely to respect yours.

What are Safety Considerations for children in care

Foster children are at risk for abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Foster parents should discuss safety with their children and plan for emergencies.

Foster families should always have emergency contact info for themselves and their children. Additionally, having a quick-access list of services to call for foster care emergencies is advisable.

You should also keep first aid supplies on hand, such as bandages, gauze, and tape. These items can save someone's life if they get injured during an accident or if they suffer from an illness while staying at your home. Your Home study specialist will help you with all these questions.

How to Establishing Daily Routines for kids

Children feel most secure when their daily routine is predictable. Daily routines go doubly so for foster children who yearn to feel like part of a family.

Make sure you establish a daily and weekly routine with your foster kids. They should know when they wake up, when dinner is prepared and served, and when to turn off the lights for bed.

You should do your best to integrate your foster children into your family's regular routines. If you go to the farmer's market on Saturdays, ensure your foster kids know they are included and welcome. 

how to Provide support for Foster Children

The most important thing to remember is that foster children are children and need the same things as any other child.

Foster parents should be prepared for anything when providing for their wards. They should also be ready to give them everything they need to thrive in life - from toys and food to clothing and activities.

You want to go above and beyond to provide for your foster children, as 99.9% of foster parents do daily. Unfortunately, some foster parents only make sure to meet the bare minimum of care. However, you're here reading this article, so we know your goal is to do your best for your child.

Remember that you do not have to do this alone. There are resources for foster parents to receive, clothes and toys from state allowances and charitable donations. Most Child Placing agency CPAs have a storage area ready for most needs of a child you have access to when a licensed foster parent. You don't need to lavish your kids with gifts, but treat them like they are your children or a friend's child.

How to Find Counseling and Therapy for your child

Foster children often face a lot of hardships in their lives. They may have been abused or neglected and have to deal with the effects of trauma. Luckily, counselors and therapists are there to help them overcome these obstacles.

When taking in a foster child, you should be prepared to take them to regular counseling or therapy appointments. The state often provides these, although you are more than welcome to find your own therapist or counselor that takes the state's insurance.

There are many types of counseling and therapy available for foster children. Still, trauma counseling for PTSD and other mental health issues is the most prevalent. Treatment for this type of counseling is typically long-term, with sessions lasting between one and three hours per week.

Counseling is a typical therapy for foster children struggling with behavioral problems or other social issues. It's a process that helps them understand their emotions better and how they can best manage them without getting into trouble with authorities or friends.

What makes a good therapist for foster children?

  • Empathetic and understanding
  • Patient
  • Willing to put in the work long-term
  • Able to deal with challenging issues

How School and Academic Life helps a child

Schools are crucial for foster kids because they provide an opportunity to be part of a community and learn skills that will help them succeed outside school. 

There are many challenges that foster children face in school. They may be behind in academics and need extra support to catch up. There are also difficulties in school because they can feel out of place and sometimes be bullied.

Be prepared to find tutoring or help your foster child catch up in school. They have likely had to move schools at least once and may be behind. Some foster children also struggle with learning disabilities and need special education services, including an Individual Educational Plan (IEP), autism, and ADHD.

Foster children also have a difficult time fitting in at a new school. They may also face harassment and bullying. Be sure to address these issues with the administration if they happen.

Do your best to help your child integrate into their new school. School acceptance may include letting them join school activities and facilitating playdates or hangouts with potential new friends from school or family.

It is crucial to provide children with a safe, structured environment where they can learn and grow. After-school programs can help provide this environment by providing a space for kids to meet friends, build relationships, develop skills and interests, and reflect on their experiences at school.

Ways to Have Fun with your kids

Finding time for the things you enjoy can be difficult when you're a foster parent. Because your children require stability, consistency, and care, taking time off from their routine can be tricky.

But there are some ways to have fun with foster kids without disrupting their schedules.

Having fun with your foster kids is just as important as providing for their primary care needs. Fun activities outside the home's routine help them be more social and feel included in your family. Day trips, museum visits, going out to the movies, and going to parks are great ways to take a break from the usual daily routine. 

What are some Issues in Foster Parenting to be concerned about

Many foster parents face unprepared challenges, such as behavioral and social problems and manipulative behaviors.

Foster parenting is a skill that takes time to learn and effort to access the right solution for the problem at hand. Challenges can be avoided with more knowledge and a better understanding of the child's background.

Some situations will need professional support to overcome. This is not only for the child but can include yours or the struggles of the foster youth. Your child placing agency will help you with extra training and community resources. Some Therapists will use evaluation tools such as Aces to treat trauma.

How to work with Discipline Issues

Even though you establish clear rules and boundaries with your foster children, they will break some at some point. All children do this, and it's part of growing up.

Physical or emotional discipline or punishment will trigger many children in foster care and could also be considered abuse. Your initial and ongoing training will help avoid any of these problems. However, you should never physically discipline a foster child.

Instead, you should follow logical consequences for broken rules. An example of this will be the loss of television privileges for a week if they watch something that's not allowed. Many kids want to be heard, which will help with all discipline areas.

how to understand Anger Issues with children

Many children enter the foster care system with anger issues from their past experiences. These children may have been abused or neglected. Many have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PDSD). They may have been in the foster care system for a long time and are now struggling to find a way to cope with any transition.

Often, anger can be one of the root causes of destructive behavior in foster children. While many factors contribute to anger in kids, there is no single solution for them.

For example, some kids might lash out because they feel like they don't belong, which is their way of fighting back against the welfare system. Others might snap because they feel like they are being ignored or left out.

Still, others might act out because they're feeling overwhelmed or helpless as a result of their past experiences as well as other stressors in their life. 

Many anger issues can be addressed by yourself. Still, in some cases, therapist and counseling will be beneficial. When dealing with anger in foster children, be sure to approach them with a calm, levelheaded, and open demeanor. These strategies will help them to calm down and talk more openly about why they feel the way they do.

How to children with Histories of Abuse and Trauma

Foster children are often exposed to physical and mental abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. In these cases, the child's brain develops in a way that cannot process the trauma they've experienced.

An abused child will often have difficulty trusting others because of past experiences; here are 12 ideas to help build trust. They might also struggle with self-esteem and develop negative behaviors such as substance use or self-harm.

As a foster parent, it is crucial to understand the signs of abuse, especially for incoming new foster children. Many types of abuse can happen to a foster child, and parents need to know these signs to be prepared.

Signs of Physical Abuse:

  • Bruises, welts, or bleeding
  • Injury or marks on the body
  • Severe burns or scars on the body
  • Signs of sexual assault 
  • Signs of physical restraint or hogtying

Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorders

Victims of abuse are why therapy and counseling for foster children are so important. During your foster parent orientation and training, you will learn how to recognize and report signs of abuse and how to manage its after-effects. Also, understanding how to navigate a mental health crisis is essential for all parents and how to gain help from your child's placing agency.


Unfortunately, even the best foster care parents sometimes face a runaway child.

There are many reasons that foster children might run away from their homes. Some of these reasons are a lack of understanding and support from the parents or other family members, fear of not being adopted, fear of losing their identity, and discomfort with a new home environment.

The consequences of a foster child running away can be severe, especially when they are on the streets without any support system or guidance. For example, they could lose their placement and be moved to a group home if they have a history of running away. 

The best way to prevent this is by making sure that your children are happy, healthy, and safe at home with you. New foster children will likely have to be monitored more closely until they show they are happy and willing to stay in the house.

To help prevent children in foster care from running away, there should be a robust system of support for them and their families to feel safe staying at home. There must also be more education about the dangers of running away so that these kids know what will happen if they leave home without permission or go missing for long periods.

how to help children Social Issues

Children in the foster care system can face social issues due to a lack of stability and emotional connection. 

Many children who have been placed in foster care often have a difficult time adjusting to their new surroundings and making friends. These social challenges can lead to social awkwardness, harassment, bullying, cyberbullying, and social media addictions that can cause long-term effects on the child's mental health.

As foster children age, they may also experience social awkwardness due to not fitting in with their peers. They may feel like they don't belong because they are behind their peers socially.

Foster parents need to be aware of these social issues to support their children through this challenging time and help them develop into happy, healthy individuals. They should be emotionally available and ready to gently nudge their foster children into social situations with support and guidance.

When do Children Age Out of foster care

Suppose you are not planning to adopt your foster children. Virginia has a program called Fostering Futures, which helps with the transition if some criteria are maintained. In that case, you should be aware that they must leave foster care at 18 unless they enter a specific program as in Virginia Fostering Futures, in some states its 21 years old. They do not necessarily need to move out, but their state support system is generally removed now.

How Adolescents Fare After Aging Out of Foster Care

The foster care system is designed to provide a temporary home for children. If this is not possible, the foster agencies will help while working through the adoption process. However, once a child turns 18, they are no longer eligible for the system and must fend for themselves. Over 20% of children who age out of foster care become homeless immediately. 

After aging out of care, adolescents often struggle to find a stable home and support system. The National Foster Care Association estimates that there are 4,000 children yearly living on the streets or in shelters and transitional housing programs.

In addition to homelessness, many aged-out foster kids face issues such as substance abuse, pregnancysexually-transmitted diseases, domestic abuse, and other issues.

Setting children in foster care Up for Success

Support for former foster children is critical as they age out of the system. Many former foster children need help transitioning into adulthood and finding their place in society.

The first thing you can do to help your foster children be successful after aging out is to encourage them in their education. Many foster children drop out of high school, but finishing is a gateway to better jobs and opportunities.

Allow foster youth to explore career opportunities while still under your care. Give them support and resources for pursuing those after they leave. You can also support them in finding a trade or career they are interested in studying.

You should also be speaking with them about financial responsibility after they leave foster care. Too many people who didn't even go through the foster care system struggle with finances as young adults, so a child with limited support will struggle a lot.

Setting them up with a bank account and debit card and allowing them to have a part-time job teaches them to have independence. It also teaches them money management skills.

You can also help your former foster child look for apartments, buy them a car, and even pay for continued education such as trade school, community college, or university education.

how to Continue to Support youth who have left foster care

While foster children age out of the system at 18, some supports are still available. However, it is up to them to seek them out, and many may feel overwhelmed or opposed to getting help.

Aging-out programs vary from state to state. In Virginia, the program is called Fostering Futures. There is also a multitude of private non-profits that help with housing, employment, and other adult responsibilities.

There is also continued therapeutic and counseling support available for fostered young adults. However, this is not always readily available or free.

how to Stay Part of the Family after you leave foster care

Even though your foster children may age out before being adopted, you can remain a positive adult role model in their life. Make it clear that you are still there for them, even if they don't live with you anymore.

While some foster parents cannot afford to continue supporting a foster child financially, having emotional support can be just as valuable and vital to these young adults. A close friend and mentor they can turn to for advice can make a world of difference in their lives.

You can still have an open-door policy with your former foster children if you want. Family dinners, holidays, and continued financial support are all on the table if you are comfortable providing these things. 


Adoption is the time a parent takes on a life commitment to a child with the athoricy of the courts that a child becomes yours with all the rights and responsibilities and fun.  While not all foster parents intend to adopt foster children, many do; around 70% of foster children are adopted this way. In fact, potential adoptions are why many foster parents do it in the first place! 

Foster to Adopt

If you are interested in "foster to adopt," please note that on your application or let an advocate know. Being a foster to adopt parent puts you in the running for children available for adoption right from the outset.

It is imperative to remember that fostering is not a cheap and easy way to adopt a baby. Many people who want to "Foster to Adopt" and only want to take on infants are turned away due to the long wait times and very low number of babies in foster care.

Suppose you are open-minded and willing to adopt children of any age. In that case, your foster-to-adopt experience will go much smoother. Thousands of great kids in foster systems all over the United States would love to call your house their home and you, their family.

Another thing you should consider is that foster care's primary goal is to reunify children with their biological families. It would be best if you were prepared for your foster placements to be taken back home anytime.

While this can be devastating, you should never forget that it is in the children's best interests to be reunited. 

Direct Adoption

Another option for adopting foster children is to adopt them directly. Various agencies match willing families with foster children ready to be adopted.

Like becoming a foster parent, you will still need to undergo an application to adopt foster children directly. Direct adoption is very similar to the process of taking a foster placement.

Sometimes, foster children do not want to be adopted. Maybe they have too much family trauma, or they are highly independent. 

Directly adopting foster children means that you are meeting with kids who actively want to be adopted. These kids will be over the moon to be part of a forever family.

Typically, you will apply for adoption. You can list preferences such as age ranges, genders, level of care needed, and other criteria. State agencies or Child Placing Agencies will match your preferences with available children.

You will then meet with these children, often over many visits. This allows you and the children to get to know each other and see if it's a good fit.

After deciding to pursue adoption, there is quite a lengthy process for filing paperwork and legal documents. But in the end, your new family will be ready to begin a new life together!

Support for Adoptive Parents

Adopting foster children is a rewarding and life-changing experience. But sometimes, it can be hard to go at it alone.

Luckily, specialized supports are in place for parents of adopted foster children. 

Some states have implemented a post-adoption support program to support adoptive families. This program helps the adoptive parents by providing one-on-one counseling and social groups.

There is also an option for parents who want to connect with other adoptive parents. These can range from informal support groups to group counseling sessions.

Adopting Older Children

There is a lot of misconception about the benefits of adopting older children and teenagers. Many believe it is not worth the risk or that the adoptee will be too challenging to take care of them. However, there are many rewards for adopting older children and teenagers.

Teens generally have less trouble adjusting to their new family than younger kids would. They already know what it's like to be away from their biological parents and in need of help.

Some consider adoption an investment in a child's future. For example, if you adopt an older child, they will likely have more success in life than if they age out of the system. Adopted teenagers and older children often have better social skills and academics when they reach adulthood. 

Adopting before aging out can also help with self-esteem and self-confidence for those who have been through difficult times in their lives, such as abuse or neglect. 

How to Foster sibling groups

Keeping a family together is so essential for the safety of a child and their brothers and sisters. Coming into foster care is traumatic, and being separated from your kin is even more challenging. Foster care in Virginia tries with the Virginia Department of Social Services to keep siblings together. Still, the need for parents in Treatment Foster Care (TFC) willing to take sibling groups is always being sort to help these families care for children.

All local Departments of Social Services try very hard to keep kids together. Still, it is up to us to find these fantastic families and give these services to the children most in need. Local social services departments will always seek kinship care first with the help of social workers to locate next of kin. Still, when the family can not be found, it is best for the child's welfare to stay together while in foster care and during the adoption process.

Foster Care Statistics

In the United States, it is estimated that there are 437,000 children in foster care on any given day. The Commonwealth of Virginia alone has over 5,000 children in foster care. 

It may come as a surprise to some, but not every foster child is available for adoption. The ultimate goal of foster care is to reunite children with their biological families. However, this is not always the case. Their foster families adopt almost 70% of Virginia foster care children. 

Unfortunately, foster care also nationally has some sad statistics. Over 20,000 children age out of foster care every year without finding a permanent home. Foster youth have higher school dropout rates, have higher rates of abuse and trauma, and have more difficulties in their adult lives. 

An excellent foster care experience is crucial for foster youth to thrive and reach their full potential. With caring foster parents, these children can flourish and do just as well as their peers. 

Foster Care: Life-Changing and Needed by so many children in America

We all wish foster care were unnecessary in our society, but it is. All children deserve a loving and supportive home. But foster families can be a life-changing source of love and comfort for those that do not have that.

If you are interested in becoming a foster parent in Virginia, you are not alone in this journey. We offer helpful articles, FAQs, and assistance starting the application process.

Contact us at 1 (866)782-9474 or fill out an information form to get in touch with a foster parent advocate today!

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