Giving Back

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The rewards of foster care

Children sometimes must be separated from their families due to crisis or abuse. More than 510,000 children are in foster care in the United States alone.  That's a troubling figure, especially when one realizes there aren't enough foster families to take them in nor is there enough money to provide all of the necessities that every child needs.

Child abuse, substance abuse and criminal behavior can be difficult to discuss, and that may be one reason why foster care does not get much attention. Individuals looking to help young people in their communities may want to become a foster parent.

According to The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, of the thousands of children in foster care in the United States, the majority fall into two age groups: very young children five years old or younger and older children between the ages of 13 and 18. Many kids have to live in group care or institutional settings, and some children spend so much time in the foster care system that they simply age out and are forced to care for themselves upon turning 18.

Foster care families can change the lives of youngsters forever by opening their homes to children in need. The rewards of becoming a foster parent are numerous, not the least of which is the chance to connect with a child who may have lost a connection to others. Foster parents and families can provide for a child's physical, emotional and social needs while helping children and adolescents to feel safe and loved. A foster family may be a child's only experience with a positive family dynamic, and that can help pave the way to a better life. In addition, foster parents may add a beloved member to their family.

Laws vary depending on where the fostering will take place, but typically an adult with a steady source of income and his or her own means of transportation can be considered as a foster parent. A foster parent will become part of a team working collectively to ensure a child's well-being. It is the hope that a foster family and a birth family can work together for the best interests of the children involved.

The length of time a child will stay in a foster home depends on the situation. Some are there only a few days, while others may be with foster parents for weeks or months as social workers and courts work to determine what is in the best interests of the child. A foster home may be the bridge between moving back in with a birth family, being relocated to a relative's home or instituting the adoption process. Some foster parents choose to adopt foster children, but such willingness is not a prerequisite for becoming a foster family.

The most important quality potential foster parents must possess is a love of children and a willingness to help a youngster. Being a foster parent is not easy and may require a strong measure of patience. But the rewards of making a difference in a child's life can make any hardships well worth it.

Foster parents typically receive a monthly stipend from their state, county or province to reimburse them for the child's basic living expenses. Medical insurance may be covered by birth parents, or government assistance may be available to cover such costs.

Sometimes foster relationships stretch on well after the child has been reunited with his or her birth parents or placed in a new home. Strong attachments between foster children and parents can develop, and some kids even visit their former foster parents.