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The Legal Requirements to Becoming a Foster Or Adoptive Parent in The US

Are you considering becoming a foster parent, but wondering if you are qualified or eligible? Before you dismiss the idea for whatever reason, it might be worth reading further to see just what the requirements to be a foster parent really are. You might be surprised to find out that you are eligible after all. The requirements are not all that restrictive, however, there are a lot of rules and policies to follow once you are licensed as a foster parent.

There are often misconceptions about who can become a foster parent. Some people assume that you have to be a 30 something year old, married, wealthy couple who own a large home and fancy car to care for foster children. The reality is that foster parents are people from all walks of life. There are many different people from different families, backgrounds, careers, gender, race, marital status, and life situations that choose to be foster parents. The laws vary somewhat from state to state, but here is a list of general guidelines to help you determine if you might meet the eligibility requirements or not.

Age

Most states have a minimum age requirement to be considered as a foster parent. In most states, an applicant must be at least 21 years old, however, in some states the minimum age requirement is only 18 years old. Of course, you should also consider your own level of maturity, personal situation, and readiness to foster before you apply. Even though your state may allow you to foster children at the age of 18, you may find it challenging trying to parent a foster child who is only a few years younger than yourself.

Criminal Background Check

All states require you to pass a criminal background check before caring for foster children for obvious reasons. They want to ensure that children will be placed in safe and stable home environments, with someone who can meet their needs. Each state has different standards for what they consider passing. Minor infractions may not automatically disqualify someone from being licensed, especially if it occurred more than five or 10 years ago for example. However, there will be certain crimes, especially crimes against children or involving violence that will permanently prevent someone from ever becoming a foster parent.

Income

Many people think they could never be a foster parent because they don’t make enough money. Truth is, there is no specific income requirement to be a foster parent. Most states just require that applicants provide proof of adequate monthly income to meet their family’s needs. They basically want to ensure that you can pay your mortgage or rent, utilities, and provide basic needs such as food and clothes for the children. You may need to provide copies of tax returns, pay stubs, and utility bills as proof of adequate income.

Housing

There is no requirement for you to live in a mansion or certain size home or even to own your own home at all. Foster parents can rent homes or apartments and that is perfectly acceptable. Whatever your place of residency may be, you will just want to make sure that it meets the safety standards and that there is room for the number of children you wish to be licensed for. Each state will have specific rules regarding how many kids can share a room and if children of different genders and ages can share rooms. Your housing will also need to meet the safety standards such as adequate supply of safe drinking water, electricity, smoke detectors, etc. People may worry they won’t be approved because of their animals, but if they are friendly and up to date on their vaccinations, pets should not be a hindrance either.

Health

Some people they are disqualified from becoming a foster parent because they are diabetic, have high blood pressure, or some other medical diagnosis. There are no specific diseases that will automatically prevent someone from being a foster parent. Most states just require applicants to be healthy enough to meet the needs of the children. If your medical conditions are managed well with treatment and you are stable enough to care for children daily, your health should not be an issue. You may be asked to provide a letter or statement from your physician indicating that you are in good health or that you are fit to care for children.

Transportation

Owning a car and having a valid driver’s license is beneficial, but not always required to be a foster parent. Obviously if you are planning to drive, your license must be valid and you must have automobile insurance. Check with your specific state and agency regarding what they require for transportation. In some areas, you may only need to provide proof of reliable transportation which could be access to the bus, subway, train, taxi, relative, neighbour etc.

Marital Status

A person can be single and still be a foster parent. There are many single foster parents and the ones I know personally do an excellent job caring for their children. A few states may require couples applying together to be married but not in all states.

Experience/Training

You do not need to have previous parenting experience, although it would help. Regardless of how much parenting experience you have, everyone must take the required foster parent training classes. These classes and the number of hours required will vary from state to state. These classes should be offered by your local county or foster care agency.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what the requirements are to become licensed as a foster parent and whether you qualify or not. Because laws and information are constantly changing and vary from state to state, always make sure you verify everything with your state and county or agency.

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