My agency, a small nonprofit, works in the fields of youth education and foster parent recruitment. Out of our staff of 25, we have four employees who are foster or adoptive parents.
It happens naturally that we attract applicants who have fostered or adopted — or that someone would warm to the idea of foster parenting after working in the field. What you might not expect is the diversity in family structure and the many different ways that we all arrived at foster parenting.
My own family was motivated by both my past experience working in the field and a temporary infertility issue. We experienced an unexpected adoption and a surprise baby in the same calendar year, creating siblings who are 13 months apart.
Another co-worker shared two biological and two adopted children with her husband, then adopted her fifth child as a single mom.
A third co-worker and her wife have adopted eight children, who range in age from 3 to 18 years old.
Another fostered and adopted a teen girl she met while leading a church youth group. She and her husband already had two young sons when her daughter joined their family.
This variety in family types is not unusual. Foster parents in West Virginia share the same demographics as other families in our state. They span various races, incomes, education levels and family demographics.
Foster parents may be single, married, divorced, same-sex couples or unmarried cohabiting couples. They may own or rent their homes. The may have two working parents or a stay-at-home parent. They may or may not already have children in the home.
These demographics are something I pay attention to, because my agency is tasked with recruiting foster parents across the state. We pay attention to who the foster parents are and what motivates them to start foster parenting. When an interested family contacts us, we want to know why they call us and what their family looks like.
These are foster parents in West Virginia:
People who see a need. The opioid crisis and the increasing number of youth in foster care are prominently in the news. People of all demographics call because they have been made aware of a need and believe that they can help. Many families are motivated by their religious beliefs or a need to help their community.
Families experiencing infertility. Looking into foster care or adoption is a logical next step for families who may be unable to have biological children. Families experiencing infertility need to be aware of their ability to withstand the extra emotions that come with foster care. While foster care and adoption are not a cure for infertility, the desire to love and care for a child often surpasses the need for that child to be related by birth.
Parents who want to add to their family. Foster parents are just as likely to already have kids in their home. They may want a larger family or enjoy parenting so much that they feel they can handle additional kids.
Empty-nesters are another group that we tend to hear from, as they see their teens attending college or leaving home and dread the idea of having a house without children. These families are often a great fit for teens or older youth because they already have parenting experience and may be happy to skip the baby stage and parent an older youth.
Families with a previous relationship with a child. While the idea of an unknown foster youth may be intimidating, an actual child that the family already knows may cause a family to think differently about fostering. Many foster families begin by fostering a young relative or a child they had a pre-existing relationship with.
However, once a family becomes certified for that particular child, they may be willing to consider fostering other children. Once they are familiar with the system, kids in care and the certification process, fostering may not feel so intimidating, and they are likely more aware of the need.
When speaking with potential families we alleviate fears and clear up many misconceptions. At the same time we wonder how many calls we have missed, how many people wrongly determine that they wouldn’t qualify or wouldn’t make a good foster parent.
The basic requirements are: stable (though not necessarily lucrative) income; good physical/mental health; a home that is safe with adequate space for children, whether it’s owned or leased; the ability to pass background and reference checks; stable family relationships; and the ability to complete training and other certification steps.
Youth in foster care come from all kinds of backgrounds and circumstances. Families who fear not qualifying because they’re not “perfect” may find their family is the perfect fit for a specific child.
Families interested in pursuing foster care in West Virginia can contact Mission West Virginia by visiting missionwv.org/request-information, emailing email@example.com or calling 1-866-225-5698.