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Becoming a Foster Parent: FAQs

Becoming a foster parent is a big decision. Below you will find the answers to some commonly asked questions.

How can I adopt from foster care?

At last count, there were more than 400,000 children in the foster care system, and about 117,000 awaiting adoption nationwide. Adoptions from foster care are usually handled through local and regional public agencies; however, some states contract with licensed private agencies to recruit, train and conduct home studies and license adoptive parents for these children.

What are the different kinds of foster care?

There are several kinds of foster care, including:

  • Straight or family foster care refers to the scenario where the state or local government places a child with certified foster parents, who are not related to the child.

  • In kinship foster care, a child is placed with a relative. This kind of foster care isn't always reported to an agency for oversight, because in many families, relatives step in to take care of a child (or a parent gives a child to her grandparents or other family members) without going through the court system. In some areas, close family friends can also be considered as kinship caregivers.

  • With pre-adoptive foster care, a child is placed with the family who will adopt her.

  • Treatment foster care, also called therapeutic foster care, involves placement of children with foster families who have been specially trained to care for children with certain medical or behavioral needs. Examples include medically fragile children, children with emotional or behavioral disorders and HIV+ children. Treatment foster care programs generally require more training for foster parents, provide more support for children and caregivers than regular family foster care, and have lower limits on the number of children that can be cared for in the home. Treatment foster care is preferred over residential or group care because it maintains children in a family setting.

  • Residential or group settings (also called congregate care and institutional care) include community-based group homes, campus-style residential facilities and secure facilities. Residential programs, and the staff who work in them, are generally focused on working with children who have certain special needs. Examples include community-based group homes for adolescent males who are involved in the juvenile justice system and residential campus facilities for children and youth with serious mental health challenges.

  • In some jurisdictions, children removed from their birth families are first placed into an emergency care setting. This may be a shelter/group facility or a family setting designed to keep the children safe while assessing their needs and finding a more appropriate placement to meet their needs.

  • In Shared Family Care (SFC), parent(s) and children are placed together in the home of a host family who is trained to mentor and support the parents as they develop skills and supports necessary to care for their children independently. SFC can be used to prevent out-of-home placement, to provide a safe environment for the reunification of a family that has been separated, or to help parents consider other permanency options, including relinquishment of parental rights.

  • Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) is a case plan designation for children in out-of-home care for whom there is no goal for placement with a legal, permanent family. APPLA is an acceptable designation only if there is sufficient reason to exclude all possible legal, permanent family goals. However, APPLA designations must include plans for permanent placements of children and youth that meet their developmental, educational, and other needs.

How can I become a foster parent?

The requirements are different in each state. Find the appropriate department in your state to learn about becoming a foster parent.

What are the rewards and challenges of being a foster parent?

The most significant reward of being a foster parent is having an impact on the lives of children and teens in a significant way. It is truly one of the few times in our lives that we can do something heroic.

There are many challenges involved in foster parenting, including realizing that your work may not be successful in changing the entire life experience for some children and teens. The support given to foster parents is often inadequate to meet the needs of the children and teens being fostered. The behaviors of some children and teens in foster care can be so dramatic that it can create very difficult home life for families. Perhaps most importantly, it is difficult to give your heart and develop strong bonds with a child whom you know you may not have in your life for very long, and it can be excruciatingly painful to let a child go, once you do have that bond of parental love.

Being a foster parent is truly a special calling, giving ordinary people the opportunity to do something extraordinary.

Where can I find information about foster care in my area?

There are many resources, both locally and nationally, where you can find information about adoption and foster care in your area. These include local and state governments, private agencies, faith communities and other organizations.

Visit to find resources in your area. Enter your state and criteria, and find information lines, government agencies and even photos of children waiting to be adopted.

What legal issues should I know before I enter into the process of becoming a foster parent?

While the federal government provides basic standards that states must follow, for the most part, foster parenting is governed by states. Learn more here.

More information

Last Updated
Healthy Foster Care America (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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