These children have been removed from the homes of their biological families after experiencing neglect or abuse. The process of becoming a foster dad can be overwhelming and emotional, but it’s also an incredibly important and rewarding way to form your family.
The best way to learn the ins-and-outs of Foster Care is to join the GWK Academy. Members of the Academy have access to the world’s largest social community dedicated exclusively to gay dads and dads-to-be. GWK Academy has been intentionally designed to eliminate much of the confusion and uncertainty that would otherwise plague your journey to fatherhood.
The information detailed below is just a sampling of the insights and support you will get as a member of the Academy. So let’s start by answering some basic questions.
There are many misconceptions surrounding the foster care system, also known as the child welfare system. The truth is that children in foster care are removed from their homes – at no fault of their own – due to abuse or neglect. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., ranging in age from infants to young adults.
A foster family provides a safe, temporary home to a child (or children) who desperately need one and plays a crucial role in helping that child to heal. While the goal of foster care is successful reunification with the birth family, only about half of children removed from their homes end up returning.
Approximately 120,000 children are currently waiting to be adopted. And, about 20 percent of those children “age-out” of care each year without permanent families.
Foster families provide loving homes for a child (or children) for days, months, even a year or longer. If a child’s birth parents have had their parental rights terminated (voluntarily or by the court), foster families may also permanently adopt. This is sometimes referred to as foster-to-adopt.
Sadly, more than 40,000 children are removed from their homes each year. The reasons are varied — but frequently poverty is a contributing factor. While poverty alone is not a reason to remove a child from their home, it frequently leads to circumstances that lead to neglect. For example, in the case of substance abuse, some families simply cannot afford to get the treatment they need.
Whatever the reason, the children are not at fault. While they come from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds and they range in age from infant to 18 years+ (some states have extended age limits to a few years beyond a child’s 18th birthday,) there are some groups who are overrepresented in the foster care system.
The number of African American children in foster care, while smaller than it was a decade ago, continues to be disproportionate relative to the population. Similarly, children from native cultures, and in some states Hispanic or Latino children, are more likely to enter foster care. These children are likely to remain there longer than white children.
According to a 2019 study more than 30 percent of children in foster care identify as LGBTQ+. These youth are more likely to suffer harassment and abuse while in foster care. Many are abandoned by their birth families due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, only to enter a system that does not provide the support and safe space they need.
Unfortunately, the child welfare system in the United States is being stretched beyond its capacity. There are simply more children in need of a home than there are available homes.
If your goal is to adopt a child from the foster care system, you will achieve that goal eventually! It just may not be the first child who comes to stay with you — or even your fifth. But if you approach fostering with the intention of making a lifelong impact in a child’s life, and you trust that the “right” child will eventually become “your child,” being a foster dad can be an incredibly rewarding experience.
Of course, knowing you’ve done the right thing for a child doesn’t mean it’s easy. You may fall in love with a child, and a child may fall in love with you, but being a foster dad means supporting the overall goal of reunification – of bringing families back together – and the truth is that when that child leaves your care, it can be heartbreaking.
One thing to ask yourself is, “Am I driven by the desire to give a child a supportive, safe and loving home, no matter how temporary?” If your answer is “yes,” you could be making a positive difference in a child’s life that goes far beyond what you may ever see or understand. But if your answer is “no,” that doesn’t necessarily mean foster parenting is not for you.
After a child’s birth parents have had their parental rights legally terminated, it is more likely that fostering this child can lead to permanent adoption. But there are some things to know. First, these children are typically over age 8 (many are teenagers) or are sibling sets. They may also have a more significant history of trauma, which comes from being in the foster care system for a long time.
If you desire to parent an infant or young child, this may not be the best route for your family. But if you are willing to open your home and your heart to an older child (or children), there are many children currently waiting for a forever family.
Deciding if fostering a child is right for you involves some additional soul searching. It requires being honest with yourself and taking inventory of your own capabilities and limitations. For example, could you foster an infant? What about an older teen or siblings who want to stay together? Do you support the overall goal of reunifying a child with their family of origin?
There are many paths to fatherhood, and only you can decide which is the best one for you. And it’s okay if you ultimately decide that this is not your best path forward. Also, know that there are many ways to support children in foster care short of becoming a foster parent — like serving as a mentor or donating to an organization.
It’s important to understand how children in foster care think and feel. They have had their lives disrupted. Many have experienced significant trauma — and entering into the foster care system, and being removed from their families, is a traumatic experience in itself. So, it’s natural that they may be suspicious of new adults entering their lives.
When heading to a foster home, a child may be thinking, “How long will I stay here?” or “Will I have to change schools?” Some may be wondering, “Will my birth parents think I don’t love them?” or “Will I be abused again?” or “Will I ever see my siblings again?” They may be understandably angry, sad and feel lonely and isolated.
A significant part of the process to become a foster dad is training and learning how best to support a child emotionally. This starts with listening. And no one is better equipped to talk about the impact of foster care on children than the children who have been there. Foster Club, an organization dedicated to helping young people to realize their personal potential, (both in and from foster care,) publishes a blog called Youth Perspective. Read about their experiences and their hopes for the future here.
Let’s first get this question out of the way: Can LGBTQ people legally become foster parents in the United States? Many people are surprised to learn that the answer in every state in the country is unequivocally: YES!
This is thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, 2015, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriage in the country. This ruling, in turn, paved the way for gay foster care and adoption to become legal across the country. On March 31, 2016, a Mississippi federal judge ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex couples was unconstitutional, making Mississippi the last state to have such a law overturned. Since then, gay foster care and adoption has been legal in all 50 states and Washington, DC.
It’s not always that simple…
Still, many states have started passing bills that allow tax-funded child welfare agencies to legally discriminate against prospective LGBTQ parents on the basis of religious objections. (Some others have passed pro-LGBTQ bills forbidding this.) These laws also often target single people and have even been used to target people of different faiths. For this reason, it is important to know the foster care laws in your state.
But it bears repeating — though certain agencies may discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is still legal for queer people, in all 50 states, to serve as a foster parent and adopt. You will just need to make sure to find an LGBTQ-affirming adoption agency or professional. Every state should have at least one inclusive agency available for you to work with.
A home study is a required step for any family wanting to adopt any child. It is used for private and public adoptions, and for foster care, stepparent adoptions, kinship adoptions (when grandparents or other family members are raising a child), and second-parent adoptions following a surrogate birth or sperm donation.
The name ‘Home Study’ is misleading — this process is about much more than your home. It generally lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and will involve everything from background checks and interviews with the members of your household, to examinations of your physical and financial health, education and training where needed, and much more.
It is also a vital tool in preparing your growing family for the questions and realities ahead: race, identity, belonging, grief, curiosity about birth family, answering nosy questions from strangers and teaching your child how to respond to racial bias are some of the common themes addressed during this process.
It may sound overwhelming, but the process is meant to help build your capacity to be the best, and most prepared, adoptive parent you can possibly be.
For more information on how to prepare for the Home Study please enroll in The GWK Academy. The GWK Academy will help you to know who will be conducting the home study, what they will be looking for, what is expected of you and what could possibly disqualify you.
There are several steps involved in becoming a foster parent. Some are more extensive and detailed than others. Although the foster system is managed differently state-to-state, the overall process is similar no matter where you live.
The steps include: choosing an agency, attending orientation and information sessions, completing your applications, attending training sessions, completing the interview process and home study, receiving approval and waiting for a child, and finally welcoming a child into your home!
Once these steps are completed, congratulations you’re a foster dad! Whether you care for a child for one day or one year, and whether that child returns to his birth family or becomes available for adoption, you are making a positive difference in his/her life.
When you’re ready to get serious about fostering, it’s time to enroll in GWK Academy. This 90-day program will provide you with step-by-step guidance, experts, and the resources needed to get started.
Whether you provide care for a child for a few hours or a year or longer, the process to become approved (sometimes called “licensed”) and the ongoing training requirements are the same.
That said, there are several different types of ways to be a foster parent:
Some foster families provide short-term, emergency shelter for children until a relative or other foster placement can be found. Because children can be removed from their homes at any time and on any day, sometimes emergency care is needed while the child welfare professional seeks out a suitable option. Typically, foster families that provide emergency care may have a child for just a few days. It’s a short-term, finite commitment.
Respite caregivers provide short-term care for a child living with another foster family. It could be evening or weekend care for a family who needs time to relax and recharge from providing ongoing care, or it could be for a week or longer when a foster family may need to travel out of state for a funeral or family emergency. Respite care and emergency care are great ways to see if becoming a foster parent is the right choice for you.
When a family member or other non-related familiar caregiver, for example, a teacher or coach or scout leader, provides a safe home for a child until he/she can safely return home to another more permanent option, it is known as kinship care. Someone the child knows and trusts is preferred.
Traditional foster parents provide care and support for a child until a permanent solution is implemented. This could mean that the child returns to his/her family of origin or it could mean becoming available for adoption. Foster parents are committed to the wellbeing of the child and to partnering with child welfare professionals and the child’s birth family for the best possible outcome.
Thanks to TV shows, movies and rare but shocking stories that find their way to mainstream media, there are several common myths about foster parents and the children in their care. Most of the preconceived notions and stereotypes about the foster care system are quite simply not true.
Children in foster care are juvenile delinquents or have severe behavioral issues. Nothing could be further from the truth! The children in foster care have been placed there because of unsafe living conditions. The reasons are varied. There may have been violence in the home, or substance abuse. Perhaps a parent’s child is incarcerated and there are no family or friends available to care for the child. Sometimes the death of a parent leaves a child without a home, and sometimes a child is abandoned. Often, the child’s family is trying to do their best but doesn’t have the tools or the support they need to adequately care for their children.
Only heterosexual, married couples can adopt from foster care. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption addresses this one best. “Families who adopt are as unique and diverse as the children in their care, and children in foster care do not need to wait for some specific notion of family.” There are all kinds of loving families. In fact, same-sex couples are four times more likely to adopt a child than opposite-sex couples. And nearly a third of adoptive children live in single-parent homes. The bottom line is that children in foster care need adults who will commit to caring for them, to understanding the trauma they have experienced and to supporting them.
Some states prevent same-sex couples from adopting. This one does have roots in reality. It is true that each state creates its own laws regarding foster care and adoption, and it’s also true that some states continue to permit discrimination by child welfare agencies that do not receive federal funding. However, today same-sex couples can become foster parents and can adopt children in every state. It may be more challenging to find a welcoming agency in certain areas, but it is possible.
I’m too old to foster or adopt a child. There are millions of children being raised by grandparents across the U.S. There’s also no perfect age to become a parent. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation, nearly 25% of adopted children live with a parent aged 55 or older! It bears repeating that “there is no specific notion of family.” Children of all ages are being raised by dads of all ages. What’s important is your willingness and commitment to providing care for a child who needs it.
Medical issues prevent me from fostering or adopting a child. Neither illness nor past addiction necessarily disqualifies prospective dads from fostering or adopting a child. This includes HIV and cancer. What is important is that your illness is being managed appropriately and that you can provide resources and a stable home for a child. Some agencies may require a substantial period of sobriety when there is a history of substance abuse, or that life-threatening illnesses such as cancer have been in remission for a certain period of time. The intention is not discriminatory, but rather a way to ensure that you will be prepared to parent a child who may require a significant amount of your energy and attention. The best interest of the child always comes before that of the foster parent. But many people successfully foster and adopt children despite chronic health conditions.
It’s expensive to foster a child. Actually, the opposite is true. Compared to other paths to fatherhood including private adoption and surrogacy, foster care is very inexpensive. The average cost to become a foster parent ranges from $0 – $1,500. Financial support is usually available to help care for a foster child and in fact can continue post-adoption by way of federal and state tax credits, employer benefits, assistance with college expenses for older youth and more. You do not need to be wealthy to foster or adopt a child. You don’t even need to own your own home!
Biological parents can later “reclaim” their children. This is actually a pretty common misconception. But it’s just not true. Once a child’s birth parents have had their rights terminated, they cannot regain custody. Period. Adoption is permanent and adoptive parents enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as parents whose children are born to them. Open adoptions of children in foster care are becoming more common. This means that the adopted child maintains some level of contact with his/her birth parents. There is a wide range of how open adoptions are interpreted. It could be a birthday card and annual photo, or it could be regular visits and Sunday dinners. What it looks like is a negotiation between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. But regardless, biological parents cannot “reclaim” their children once they have been adopted.