fbpx A Beginner's Guide to Foster Care
Authored by Nexus Family Healing on May 12, 2022

What Is Foster Care?

Foster care is a term many families use with pride, providing support and guidance for many children and teens in our communities. The word “foster” is defined as “promoting the growth or development of; encouraging.” Fostering is the opportunity to encourage growth, healing, and healthy relationships in hopes families will reach their full potential. Meanwhile, “care” is defined as “the provision of what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something.” As common as the term “care” is, it can be hard to achieve for many families. For some, generational trauma or lack of guidance diverts them from their intended path resulting in unsafe behaviors or neglecting responsibilities.

In the foster care system, there are children who are neglected, abused, and abandoned, often having missed out on the care and fostering of their potential that they need. Children in foster care range from age 0-21, with most being over the age of 5. Many struggle with mental health diagnoses that have sparked from their past trauma. 

Foster families bring hope to many children each year. The first step in becoming a foster parent is to make sure you meet your state’s requirements and start the licensing process. 

In general, you must be at least 21 years old, have a reliable income, and can meet the licensing requirements of your state. The licensing process varies for each family, but the average duration is six months after completing paperwork and certification. To be a foster parent you do not have to own a house or be a married couple; you can be single and can rent a home as long the child has their own bedroom. You can have pets, a full-time job, have children of your own or no previous parenting experience. Foster parents can be anyone with the willingness to learn and obtain ongoing training to support the children in their community. 

If you live in Maryland, Minnesota, or North Dakota, you can foster with Nexus Family Healing.

Foster parents have social workers who will provide guidance and resources and do their best to match a child with an appropriate family. Education and support are key to a successful placement, as well as using respite care to ensure a balanced life. Being a foster parent is not an easy job and often requires patience. Respite allows families for a sabbatical rest or a moment of clarity to ensure their quality of care is maintained.  

First Day/Night With a New Child

Fostering is not as scary as it may seem. Once you get past the first hurdles, it’s extremely rewarding for all members of the family. 

During the first night, the pressure to get to know each other is strong, but it’s important to remember that you have weeks to get to know each other. First, give them a tour of the house and introduce your families and/or pets, then give them 1-2 hours to decompress, unpack, and take in their new environment. 

After a while, take them out to eat, drive around, or go get ice cream. Grocery shopping together can also be a great first day activity (check out our shopping list for new foster families). Being out of the house allows them to witness the family's dynamics and personality while getting to know each other in a laid-back environment. These more relaxed environments help the child to feel less intimidated and more open to talk. 

As time passes, crucial conversations must take place to learn more about the youth, their experience, expectations, and how you can help them through their journey. 

Long-Term Rewards

Fostering children has many rewards, from seeing them reach their goals or reuniting with their family to feeling good about your “toolbox” that helped them heal and grow. Foster parents have testified that their experience with each child has helped them become more trauma-informed and learn new parenting styles. 

The rewards of fostering extend beyond the parents to the entire family. Children who are already in the home often develop empathy when they create relationships with their foster siblings, become more aware of the real world, and have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of others. 

If you believe your family is ready for the next step of growth by being a foster family, learn more about our process here.

This blog article was contributed by Angel Manabat, Nexus Family Healing Intern and council member of the North Dakota YOUth Leadership Board.

Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health servicesfoster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 50 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.