"What?" Our surprised friends and relatives asked us, "You want to be foster parents?"

We already had seven children, what business did we have wanting to open our home to others? Yet the billboards on the highway beckoned each time we saw them, and we knew that we were being summoned for a work that was beyond what we originally envisioned for our family.

We called the phone number and within a few days, we and our home were being assessed for suitability by county officials. The paperwork we completed reviewed every aspect of our lives and our home. We reported our health history, parenting style and philosophy, and our desire to take children from difficult backgrounds and situations into our home.

We had to ask ourselves the following questions:

Is your home ready?

Foster parenting is usually administered on the county level, with licensing requirements determined by the State Human Services Agency. An example of a state foster care handbook is found on the North Dakota State Government website.

The place of residence must be checked for fire safety standards, including fire alarms, extinguishers, two exits in each sleeping room (door and window) with ladders or fire escapes for upper levels, and adequate insurance coverage. Having sufficient bathroom facilities for the number of bedrooms is also a must. Your family will need their own privacy, and the foster child will as well.

The location of the home will be examined for proximity to schools, medical facilities and county services. Foster families are integrally involved in the lives of the children for which they care. Many have school issues the foster parents will be involved in. There may be frequent medical appointments, counseling sessions and team meetings at the county offices.

A family home assessment completed by the local county social services will determine if the home is adequate for use in foster care. For our family, this meant adding fire alarms, fire extinguishers, making an escape ladder for the second floor of our home and establishing an escape route that was practiced on a regular basis.

Is your family ready?

Children come into the foster care system for a number of reasons, the majority of which include family difficulties. Some are abused, neglected or abandoned. Others come into the system due to mental, physical or emotional problems. Still others may have become orphans and need a place to stay as there are no relatives that can provide a home for them (information taken from the Foster Care portion of the North Dakota Human Services website).

No matter why a child comes into foster care, that child has been affected emotionally by the circumstance. Bringing a child into your home that is in this difficult state requires readiness on the part of your family. The following questions need to be addressed:

  • Does your family have the ability to love others unconditionally?

  • Will your family be distressed by the child's reference to his or her difficulty?

  • Is your family able to rally around someone in need and help them cope?

  • Will your children be able to share their home, food and belongings with a complete stranger?

  • Can you overlook the weaknesses of the child and help him to develop his strengths?

Foster care requires flexibility, good parenting skills, time and energy. There must be a genuine concern for the health and well-being of children and their families. Your family will be evaluated for financial stability, health and well-being (both mental and physical), parenting skills and the ability to assist the child with needed schooling, medical care, legal issues and planning for their future.

We were deeply humbled at the response of our family to the foster children that were brought into our home. Our children rallied around them in love, listened to their stories, were amazed by what they learned and helped them feel at home. They took these children by the hand and helped them to integrate into school, church and community settings. They were friends with them when others turned their backs.

We found that being foster parents helped us to appreciate what we had as a family. We were able to see the good in our own children and rally our family in behalf of returning these children to theirs. It brought us a great deal of satisfaction.

Is your heart ready?

The goal of foster parenting is to return the child to her original birth family. Because of this goal, a child may be removed from the foster home at a moment's notice. Foster parents need to be prepared for a roller-coaster ride of feelings, including a willingness to love the children in their care as one of their own, but the flexibility to let them go as circumstances in their own homes improve.

Foster parents spend a great deal of time with and in behalf of their foster children. They advocate at the school, meeting with school officials and teachers in an effort to help the child be successful. They spend time helping the child complete homework and prepare for daily school requirements.

They accompany foster children to medical and counseling appointments, see to it that the child takes his or her medication, follows instructions and learns those skills required for living a successful life. There may be times when a foster child is found to lie, cheat or steal from his foster parents. There are also times when love and gratitude are shown in unexpected ways.

Foster parenting is difficult. The children come into the system in all shapes and sizes, colors and flavors. There are moments of elation where a choice is made indicating that the foster child listened and learned from the things they were taught. These moments are interspersed with moments of disappointment, when old habits come back in spite of efforts made to correct or address them.

The compensation for foster parenting is not meant to be payment, rather to assist in providing for the needs of an extra child in the home. The rewards of seeing your own family come together in behalf of a child who needs a home is worth more than money can buy!

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