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Adoption: Foster Families

One important topic that's related to adoption is foster care, or foster families. Here's what you need to know:

What is foster care?
Foster care is a system, usually run by the state, that places infants, children, and teens in the temporary care of parents and families who are willing and able to give them a home. In many places around the world, foster care or "home care" programs are an alternative to the traditional system of orphanages and children's homes.

In the United States in 2009, over 450,000 kids were in foster care. 55,000 were adopted...and 123,000 were waiting to be adopted. The average age of foster kids was 9 years old.

Who are foster care kids?
These are children and teens who, for one reason or another, aren't able to live with their birth parents. Their parents may have died, or been judged "unfit" for neglecting or abusing their children. In many cases, foster kids are waiting to be adopted but have not yet been placed with permanent adoptive parents.

Who are foster care parents?
A foster parent is any adult who is able and willing to provide a stable, caring, and safe home to a kid who needs it. The best foster parents are those who truly love caring for kids, know how to put a child's welfare first, and understand how to make the most out a family situation that may not be perfect. Foster parents usually must meet specific requirements of the state (a clean, safe home, etc.), usually visit with foster care workers to check on progress, and are sometimes paid money to help support the kids they care for.

What's the goal of foster care?
Foster care has three goals:

  • To reunite children with their birth parents. If their parents are still living and are judged to be once again fit to care for their children, the system works towards this goal. In some cases, children are reunited with relatives, like an aunt or uncle, after being in a foster care family.

  • Permanent adoption. Often, foster parents will adopt a child they're caring for through a "foster/adopt" program. In other cases, foster parents provide care and nurturing for a child until the right adoptive parents come along.

  • Care until Independence. This relates mostly to older teenagers who are getting close to the age of 18 and have not been adopted. In cases like this, foster care tries to provide the care and resources needed until a person is old enough to live on her own and take care of herself.
No foster care system is perfect, and sadly, there will always be kids who "fall through the cracks" and end up in bad situations. But foster families answer an urgent need: there are thousands of kids and teens who don't have responsible parents, and they need care right now. Foster families provide this care until someone else can, and they're an incredibly important part of the system! We'd actually like to give them a big hand!

We can't be a foster family, but otherwise how can I help kids who are in foster care?

  • Many foster care agencies and homes need school supplies, shoes, clothes, or even toys. Collect stuff from your own family or organize a bigger drive through neighbors, school, or church. Suitcases or bags of any kind are often needed because many children go from home to home with their belongings in trash bags! Contact your local agency to see what would be most appreciated.

  • Take part in "Walk Me Home," a nationwide fundraising event that benefits foster care. See if there's a walk scheduled in your area, or start one.

On the next page, we look at how adoption can be Something To Celebrate!

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