6 Skills You Need to Master Before Becoming a Foster Parent

Thousands of kids out there are in need of a safe home. Sadly, there are not nearly enough foster families available for all these children. You can help by stepping up to become a foster parent. Opening your home and your heart to a child is exactly what these kids need. But before you decide to take in a foster child, be sure you're up for the challenges (and joys) ahead.

To help you prepare, we've compiled a checklist of key considerations and skills needed to be a successful foster parent. While there is much more to fostering a child and knowing for sure that you're ready, this list is a great place to start.

Honest Self-Evaluation

Before jumping into foster care, most families spend two or three years just thinking about it. Here are a few points to consider before making the final decision on whether or not to take on foster care.

  • If you have children, it's important to prepare them for life as a foster family. All members of your immediate family need to be on board with this decision as adding to the family, even if just temporarily, will shift the natural flow of your home.
  • Know that not all of your family and friends will be supportive of your decision to become a foster family.
  • Perhaps you want to foster, but feel that this is just not the right time. Work on any lacking skills or other impediments now to prepare yourself and your family for becoming foster parents in the future.
  • There are a few restrictions on who can become a foster parent, and each state has its own guidelines to follow. Research the rules in your locality to make sure your family and home are eligible.
  • There are many skills that successful foster parents need to master, such as patience and the ability to say goodbye.
  • Understand that fostering can and will have an impact on your marriage, but a healthy dose of humor can ease stressful situations.
  • Understand that providing foster care will have an effect on your children, but that careful preparation and being selective about the children you foster will help.

If after some research you decide that foster care is not for you, there are other ways to support foster children and other foster parents.

Effective Communication

You will be communicating with many different people as a foster parent and need to be able to listen, share your point of view, and advocate for your foster child, yourself, and the rest of your family. The list of people you will likely need to be comfortable communicating with may include:

  • Doctors
  • Judges and other court personnel (like a GAL or a CASA worker)
  • Most importantly, the child
  • Other foster parents
  • Social workers and other agency staff
  • Teachers and other school officials
  • The birth family
  • Therapists
  • Your family and friends, who may not understand your role as a foster parent

Ability to Embrace the Challenge

Children in foster care have often endured extreme abuse and neglect. A child who has lived through trauma may use challenging behaviors as a way of communicating and coping. To top it off, the foster care system may be unfamiliar, and it can be a very frustrating and confusing system to navigate as both a foster child and foster parent.

  • Consider how the first day with your foster child in your home will go and how you will establish your new role as a foster parent. Know that it will take time for your foster child to adjust and feel safe and comfortable with your family.
  • Consider the ages, genders, and behavioral issues your home and family will best be suited for.
  • Know that one of the biggest challenges of working with a foster child can be the frustrations of working with a system that is unlikely to provide all of the support your foster child (or your family) would benefit from. The foster care system is also notorious for being mired in red tape.

Positive Discipline and Conflict Resolution

You'll want to have a fully stocked toolkit of positive discipline skills. Know that kids are doing their best. Your foster child will need your love and support as well as your guidance as they may test your limits and challenge your rules. Being prepared for how to handle conflict is key to foster parenting success.

Understand that due to past abuse and neglect, corporal punishment is never allowed with children in foster care. If a discipline method causes physical discomfort—such as spanking, going without a meal, withholding bathroom breaks, doing push-ups, or standing in the corner on tip-toes—it is not OK.

  • It's also vital to maintain your cool as a foster parent. Like all children, foster children may push limits, especially during times of stress like when they are first entering your home.
  • Remember that your job as a foster parent is to build an attachment with the foster child. Physical discipline undermines the bond that you are trying to create. Even more importantly, your foster child needs to feel safe and supported, physically and emotionally.
  • Understand that to manage the foster child's behavior, it may be important to learn about why child abuse occurs and the risk factors that play a part in trauma.


Many times, a child's grief and loss (grieving the loss of their home and family as well as the past abuse) can result in challenging behavior. Always be kind—to your foster child and to yourself. Understand that a child's grief or negative behaviors may trigger negative feelings for you. Now that the child is in the safe environment of your home, many difficult emotions may come up for the child that they can finally express. Know that any challenging behavior is likely not about you and have compassion for the struggles your foster child has faced.

  • Grief is very personal and each child will go through grief at their own pace. It's important to understand the grief and loss process in children so that you may be better able to meet their needs.
  • Know that you may not be able to complete a foster care adoption of the child you are fostering. Most states will focus on placing a child with relatives first if the child is unable to return home to their birth parents. However, there are thousands of children who are legally-free and ready for adoption from foster care.
  • Part of being a foster parent is helping a child grieve their losses in a healthy way and to teach and model effective coping strategies.
  • There are several factors that may influence a foster child's grief. The length or depth of the grief may be contributed to the type of trauma and the child's developmental age.

Honor your foster child's bravery and aim to partner with them as they cope and thrive in your home.


As a foster parent, you will be working with many different professionals to help support your foster child. This collaboration goes hand in hand with effective communication, but there is more to being a good team member.

  • As a foster parent, you may be asked to attend meetings with a group of people. If so, it's important to be prepared to participate. You have valuable insight into the child's needs and the group needs to hear what you have to say.
  • Many new foster parents are nervous about meeting the child's birth family, but in time, you may find that you are fostering or mentoring the whole family. This is important because foster parents are often a big part of the family reunification process.
  • On the flip side, you may also find yourself out of the loop on what's happening with your foster child's case. In these situations, it's important to reach out to your child's caseworker to find out what you can, contribute what you know, and advocate for your foster child's needs.

A Word From Verywell

Just about everyone feels for the plight of foster kids and wishes they could help—but few people actually take the leap to become a foster parent. Doing so can truly impact lives and change the world for the better. The job takes commitment, compassion, generosity, and love. Making sure you're fully prepared to welcome a child into your home will help you, your family, and your foster child thrive in the adventure ahead.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Conference of State Legislatures. Foster care bill of rights. October 2019.

  2. Dorsey S, Burns BJ, Southerland DG, Cox JR, Wagner HR, Farmer EM. Prior trauma exposure for youth in treatment foster care. J Child Fam Stud. 2012;21(5):816-824. doi:10.1007/s10826-011-9542-4

  3. US Department of Health and Human Services. Definitions of child abuse and neglect. 2019.

  4. National Conference of State Legislatures. Family first prevention services act. January 2020.

  5. US Department of Health and Human Services. Home study requirements for prospective foster parents. 2018.

By Carrie Craft
Carrie Craft been an educator in the field of adoption and foster care since 1996. She has a wealth of relevant personal and professional experience.