How to become a foster parent: What you need to know

What it takes to become a foster parent from a mother of five children who has been fostering for 13 years.
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/ Source: TODAY Contributor

Sonya Sarmiento wishes more people realized that foster parents want birth parents to succeed.

“We don't want them to fail,” the Honolulu-based mother of five told TODAY Parents. “As foster parents, we want to help them and we don't want their kids forever. When you foster, you go into it with reunification as your goal.”

Sarmiento, alongside her husband Michael, has been a foster parent in the state of Hawaii for 13 years.

“You don’t need to be perfect to be a foster parent, just the love and desire to want to do it,” she said.

Considering foster care? Here’s what to know about becoming foster parents:

How to become foster parents

There are multiple avenues to pursue foster parenting and it varies by state with both private and public agencies. The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides resources by state, including full national foster care directories, as a first step for prospective foster families.

Accordinging to the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA), potential foster parents must be able to: provide 24-hour care and supervision on a daily basis, have the ability to care for yourself financially without the child’s stipend, be flexible, have a home free of fire and safety hazards, and complete a criminal/protective services background check.

How long does it take to become foster parents

Once an agency is established, potential foster parents must become licensed, or certified with the help of an agency’s social or case worker. The process varies by state, but includes a family assessment, home safety study, background checks, and training, like first aid and CPR.

Sarmiento, who fosters through a religious-based social service organization, said she feels potential foster parents could become licensed within six months to a year.

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“It really depends on how fast you can get your house ready and safe,” she said. “Make sure your background checks are clear, driving records are clear, as well as CPR, first aid. You would need to go through their foster training classes. If you have children, they will interview your children just to make sure. Foster care should always be a family decision.”

How much do foster parents make

Foster parents are reimbursed on a monthly basis and the national average ranges from $450 - $700 per child, but exact numbers vary by state.

“People have a misconception about foster parents about doing it for the money,” Sarmiento said. “There is no money in foster care. Yes, we do get money. . . it equals out to $2 an hour. It depends on the age of your child, but it doesn’t increase dramatically (with age).”

Respite foster care for foster parents

Sarmiento acknowledges that life as a parent can be exhausting and foster parenting is no exception, which might be a little intimidating for first-time foster parents.

“Maybe it’s a little too scary, we have this thing called respite care,” she explained. “You can sign up to be a respite provider. If I go on vacation, you can watch my foster babies. It really helps to have people available to do that. It would be a good experience for (prospective parents) to get their feet wet to see if it’s something their family (is interested in) and to see how the family does with children leaving. It’s a good way to help out without totally committing yourself.”

Adopting from foster care

While reunification is always the goal for foster parents, foster-to-adoption scenarios are not uncommon either.

“Our first baby was placed with us thirteen years ago and she’s now my daughter,” Sarmiento shared. “We adopted her after her parents lost their rights, (but) they’re very clear with you that this is not an adoption agency — when you foster, you go into it with reunification as your goal. I think foster parents get themselves in trouble when they forget that goal.”

According to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated 423,997 children under the age of 18 were in foster care in 2019.