10 Things to Know About Being an LGBT Foster Parent

by Katharine Swan

Becoming a foster parent is a major decision, as there are many considerations involved in bringing a child into your home – for any amount of time. One must consider not only practical issues, such as foster parent training, support, and reimbursement, but also emotional aspects of the decision, such as the impact on your emotions and your relationship with your partner. Therefore, before becoming a foster parent, it’s important to have a good understanding of the reality of foster parenting.

  1. Foster parenting does not require two parents. Perhaps in part due to the shortage of foster homes available, married couples are no longer the only ones eligible to be foster parents. On the contrary, agencies are becoming increasingly more tolerant of single foster parents, because they recognize that the importance of providing foster children with a loving home supercedes the ideal of a two-parent family.
  2. Gay and lesbian singles and couples may encounter many challenges to becoming foster parents. Despite homophobic fears, no study has ever been able to conclusively prove that gays and lesbians make bad parents. Many states are coming around to this reality, but in some states gay and lesbian singles and couples may find opposition to their goals to be foster parents. For this reason, if a choice is available you should seek an agency that is open to – and has a track record of placing children with – gay and lesbian foster parents.
  3. Foster children aren’t perfect children. It’s important to remember that foster children can be very troubled children. Many have been taken from their homes because of child abuse or neglect issues. Others are placed in foster care because of behavioral, psychological, or substance abuse problems. Some foster children may have physical health problems, as well. However, despite the difficulties foster children may pose – or perhaps because of them – they are desperately in need of a secure and loving home, for however long they remain with you.
  4. Foster parents are just one part of a whole team of professionals, focused on meeting the needs of the foster child. In other words, you won’t be left to deal with your foster child’s issues on your own. As a foster parent, you’ll work together with the welfare staff, attorneys, counselors, and possibly even the birth parents.
  5. Foster parenting requires lots of training. Unlike parenting a child that you have given birth to, before you can become a foster parent you must first go through the extensive training that the agency requires of you. Although this training may seem an unnecessary burden, it is in place to ensure that foster parents will be able to handle the various emotional and physical problems foster children may bring into the home with them. The training also effectively weeds out those who are not truly dedicated to helping the children whose care they will be entrusted with.
  6. The financial reimbursement you are awarded for your foster child may not be enough. All too often, reimbursement rates fall significantly short of the actual cost of caring a child. Therefore, reimbursement should not be depended on as income, and foster care should not be considered as a job or even as a “free trial” at being a parent. Like any type of parenting, you should expect foster parenting to cost you money.
  7. Foster care isn’t necessarily a smooth path to adoption. Many of the children who stay in your home will only be there on a temporary basis. They often have families to which they will be returned at the soonest opportunity. As a child’s foster parent, you will generally be given first dibs if the child becomes available for adoption; however, that will only happen after the state has exhausted any possibility of returning the child to his or her birth parents or to a relative. Therefore, it’s important to enter into foster parenting with the understanding that first and foremost, you are here to provide a safe, secure, temporary home for these children.
  8. Foster care will have an impact on your relationship with your partner. Whether that impact will be positive or negative is hard to tell. Some couples find that the joy they experience as a foster parent reinforces and validates their relationship in ways that aren’t possible as a childless couple. Other couples find that foster parenting puts a strain on them that sometimes causes irreparable damage to their relationship. As with any issue that faces a couple, the level of communication that you share with your partner is a key to whether your relationship will be strengthened…or destroyed. Couples who are very open and honest with each other are much more likely to survive, even if they decide that foster parenting is not an experience they want to repeat. However, couples who still struggle with communication issues should not consider foster parenting, as it could very well destroy their tenuous relationship.
  9. Bringing a child into your home, even temporarily, involves an emotional attachment. One of the hardest parts of becoming a foster parent is having to “give up” a child that you have developed an emotional attachment with. You have cared for the child for weeks, months, or even years, paying special attention to his needs, and you may feel protective and resentful when he is returned to his birth family. However, it is important to remember that the beauty of foster parenting is touching the lives of not just one or two children, but many.
  10. Despite everything, being a foster parent is a rewarding experience. Although foster parenting may require extensive training, working with professionals to effectively deal with a child’s problems, and the inevitable loss you suffer when the child is returned to her family. However, when all is said and done, being a foster parent will warm your heart with the knowledge that you were part of a child’s life when they were most in need.

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