5 Questions to Ask If You’re Curious About Foster Parenting

“What kind of person is the best for becoming a foster parent?” — Anna Walker 

I’ve been digging into reader questions for our series on Oregon’s foster care system, and this is the hardest one to answer yet. 

The problem is that “foster parenting” can mean a bunch of different things. Sometimes it means taking care of a grandchild for a few months until they can be reunited with a birth parent. 

Sometimes it means looking after a child for a few nights while the Department of Human Services (DHS) finds a long-term placement. 

And other times it just means giving foster parents a weekend to themselves.

To foster at any of these levels, the state only officially requires that you’re at least 21 years old, have stable housing, and can pass a child abuse and criminal background check.

But becoming a foster parent is a huge decision, so here are five other questions to help figure out if it’s a good fit:

1. Do you want to invest the time to get certified? 

Only certified foster parents can take in placements from DHS, and to get certified, you have to complete at least 24 hours of pre-service training.

The one fostering option that doesn’t require certification is respite care, which is basically like babysitting.

Respite care providers only need to pass a background check to start helping out, and they’re allowed to fill in for certified foster parents for up to two weeks.

2. How big of a time commitment can you make?

If you do become a certified foster parent, you can choose between two general types of fostering: shelter care and long-term care.

Shelter care means looking after a kid for up to 20 days while DHS finds a suitable placement. This is obviously a short-term commitment, but it goes a long way to helping DHS keep kids out of hotel rooms and other less-than-ideal lodging situations. 

Long-term care is what it sounds like: It means taking in a foster child until they can be reunited with their birth family or adopted — or until they age out of the system at 18.

The average child spends about a year and a half in the foster system, and DHS’s goal is to keep them in a single placement for the entire time.

Achieving that kind of stability has been a struggle lately, so the state is making a big push to recruit long-term foster parents — and retain them by providing better training and support.

3. Are you prepared to say goodbye?

In most cases, the goal of the foster care system is to reunite kids with their birth parents, and that happens about 60 percent of the time in Oregon.

If saying goodbye to a foster child would be a dealbreaker for you, another option is to adopt a child through DHS.

Adoption is the biggest commitment of all — because it makes you the child’s permanent legal guardian — but it does eliminate the uncertainty that comes with traditional foster care.

4. Does your personal or professional background make you a good fit to care for kids with special needs?

If you work professionally with people experiencing trauma — or if you’ve experienced trauma yourself — you might be a candidate to care for a child with special needs.

And DHS really wants to find you.

The Oregon Legislature approved a $2.6 million package this year to recruit and retain foster parents for these placements, and the state offers much larger stipends to parents willing to take in children with above-average emotional needs.

5. Do you have an existing relationship with a child in the foster care system?

As I learned earlier in this series, about half of foster children in Oregon are taken in by grandparents or extended family — and others are fostered by family friends.

In a state where thousands of kids enter the foster care system every year, the odds are pretty good that there’s a foster child somewhere in your orbit who could use a little extra support, whether through mentorship, respite care, or long-term care. 

And if you already have a relationship developed, that’s often an easy place to start.

Got other Qs about what makes a good foster parent? This is the part where we give a shameless plug to our series sponsor, Every Child Oregon, which can answer just about any question you might think to ask.