There are many types of families. Some kids live with both parents. Others live with either just mom or just dad or go back and forth between their parents' homes. Others might live with a grandparent.
And some kids live with a foster family. In the United States, there are foster family programs where people find kids a safe caring family to live with if they don't have one. What's a foster family? Let's find out.
The word "foster" means to help someone (or something) grow and develop. It also means to take care of someone's needs. Foster parents, are people — other than a kid's parents — who give a kid a safe place to live and grow. Foster parents take kids into their homes and take care of them for as long as kids need. Together, they become a foster family.
All kids need and deserve someone to take care of them. Kids need a house, a place to sleep, nutritious food to eat, clothes to wear, and toys to play with. Kids also need someone who will take them to the doctor and dentist, make sure they get a bath, and get them up in the morning so they get to school. And just as important, kids need someone who loves them and does not hurt or abuse them.
Most of the time, kids live in homes where they are loved and get all the important things they need. But if a kid's mom or dad can't provide proper care or is hurting or abusing the kid, the state needs to step in and place the child in another home.
Most often, a kid goes into a foster family because his or her mom or dad has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Other times, a parent may be very sick, in jail, or have some other trouble. The parents may need so much help with their own problems that they aren't able to focus on what the kid needs. Kids who are being abused or neglected by a parent go to live with a foster parent so they can be safe and protected.
How long a kid stays with a foster family depends on the situation. Sometimes it is just overnight, or for a short time, until the kid's parent or another relative can care for him properly. Sometimes kids stay longer in foster families, for a few months or even several years. A lot depends on whether the parent can work out their trouble, and be able to take good care of their kid. Sometimes, this doesn't happen. In those cases, a kid may remain in foster care or go to live with another relative.
Not just anyone can be a foster parent. Adults at the foster parent program check out people who want to be foster parents. They need to make sure that foster parents are responsible safe people who will take good care of foster children. Foster parents can be a married couple or a single or divorced person. They can be young or old, with jobs outside the home or not. They can have young children of their own, grown-up kids, or none at all.
Before someone is allowed to care for foster kids, their home is checked, and he or she receives training about being a foster parent. Foster parents sometimes have to pass a written test!
It can be stressful for a kid to leave his or her parent, or parents, and move in with a foster family. Even if there were a lot of problems and unhappiness in the home. Foster parents need to be especially kind people to help kids feel safe and cared for during this stressful and emotional time.
Most often, a kid goes into a foster family because his or her mom or dad has a problem with drugs or alcohol. Other times, a parent may be very sick, in jail, or have some other trouble. The parents may need so much help with their own problems that they aren't able to focus on what the kid needs. Sadly, kids may be abused or neglected, too.
Some kids remain in foster care for a long time, but the goal is to limit the amount of time in a foster family. When possible, the same state agency that runs the foster family program tries to help the family get back together.
Going to live with a foster family means a lot of changes — not all of them bad ones. It can feel good for the kid to be in a calm, new place. But there are challenges, too. It may be tough getting adjusted to foster parents and the rules they have at their house. There may be other children in the family to get to know.
Living with a foster family also may mean going to a new school. New classmates, new teachers, and new rules — so many things can be different all at once!
It's no wonder, then, that kids in foster care have to deal with a lot of emotions. They can feel happy and secure when they're in a loving foster family, but also sad and worried about their own moms or dads. They might feel afraid, wondering what will happen next, or angry about the whole situation. All of this can make for a lot of stress.
Caseworkers, also called social workers, are people who work for the foster family program. Their job is to make sure kids are doing OK, and to help them adjust to the changes of being in a foster family. The caseworker makes a plan that describes what kind of help the kid’s original family needs so that they all can be together again. Also, the caseworker checks on how everyone is doing and arranges for the kid to visit with his or her mom or dad — and his or her brothers and sisters if they aren't living in the same foster home.
The caseworker helps make decisions about when the child and his or her parents can live together again. Courts and judges also play a part in these decisions. If a kid has worries, the caseworker is a good person to share them with. A kid might be worried about what it will be like to go back and live with his or her parent. Or a kid might want to talk over a problem they have with the foster family.
It's very important that the kid has a peaceful place to live and that he or she gets well cared for. If that's not happening with the foster family, the kid needs to tell someone. The caseworker can make changes, if necessary.
Some kids stay with a foster family for months or even years. Kids usually get used to being part of their foster family, and feel loved and cared for. They go to school, have fun with their friends, play sports, join activities, celebrate their birthdays and holidays, and do all the things kids need and want to do. Usually, they have visits with their parents, too. Parents can be glad to know their kid is in a good home and being taken care of by foster parents.
Everyone hopes that the kid can eventually leave foster care and return to his or her family. A family can get back together when caseworkers, the courts, and others agree that the family's problems are being worked out. Parents also must show that they are ready to do their job and take good care of their children.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: March 2014
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