Foster Parent

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foster parent

An individual who cares for children on a temporary basis, which may mean days, weeks or months. In some cases, the child remains in the home for years, and the foster parents adopt him or her subsequent to termination of parental rights. Increasingly, for teenagers, legal guardianships may be used rather than adoption.

Most foster parents are under the jurisdiction of the state public welfare department; however, many private adoption agencies that arrange infant adoptions place the babies in temporary foster care until the birthparents are certain adoption is the best plan for them and the child. This type of foster care generally lasts only a few weeks or months at most.

Foster parents undergo some type of licensing and/or certification process and sometimes attend classes prior to receiving their first foster child. The home will also be inspected for cleanliness and safety.

In addition, foster parents for the state will have an ongoing relationship with the public welfare social worker in regard to the child's progress, future plans for the child and so forth. The foster parents may in fact wish to have more contact with the social worker than the worker can provide due to heavy caseloads.

According to British author M. Shaw, studies have revealed two primary motivations among people who become foster parents. Foster mothers who choose to become foster parents to infants and young children are primarily motivated by the personal satisfaction they obtain through mothering the children. Foster mothers who concentrate on fostering older children achieve more satisfaction from a feeling of performing a socially responsible and important job.

Yet there can be severe frustrations with fostering. Foster parents may feel disturbed by what they consider unfair intrusions into decisions affecting the child by social workers or the child's parents. Con-versely, some foster parents complain that they receive inadequate support from social workers and the constant turnover of social workers makes it difficult to create a relationship with one social worker.

The authors of The Rights of Foster Parents believe the foster care system is undergoing a "metamorphosis," as increasing responsibilities are shifted to foster parents. They believe that foster parents must be able to be part of the "casework team" and should be able to visit with the child's parents and help in monitoring the child's progress. Rather than foster parents being perceived by social workers as "clients" and part of the overall "problem," foster parents would prefer to be perceived as part of the solution and treated as such.

Foster parents receive a monthly payment for the foster child. Most foster parents do not believe this amount covers all the expenses involved in caring for a child.

In recent years, foster parents were required to document their expenses on the child to avoid foster payments being considered as income, according to The National Advocate, a publication of the National Foster Parent Association.

The tax code was changed in 1986 to make payment to foster parents of children from a public agency or private nonprofit agency exempt from taxes. May is National Foster Parent Month.

The National Foster Parent Association Inc. is a support group for foster parents that provides legislative updates, a resource center, news from various regions and information on key issues. For further information, contact

National Foster Parent Association, Inc.
9 Dartmoor Dr.
Crystal Lake, IL 60014-8603
(815) 455-2527


Robert Horowitz, Mark Hardin and Josephine Bulkley, The Rights of Foster Parents (Washington, D.C.: American Bar Association, 1989).

M. Shaw, "Substitute Parenting," in Parental Behavior (United Kingdom and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986).

Kenneth Watson "Substitute Care Providers: Helping Abused and Neglected Children," National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1994.

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