Foster Facts: How Long Can You Foster a Child?

Children are undoubtedly the keys to the future.

And according to a 2018 report, nearly half a half-million of those children live within the foster care system.

Becoming a foster parent can be a rewarding experience. Providing a child with a quality home and loving support can positively impact their life and transform their future.

One of the biggest concerns is often the length of time you’ll be able to spend together after you choose to foster a child.

Below we’ve outlined the options available in the fostering process, so you can decide which is best for your family.

What Is Foster Care?

Foster care is the act of providing a temporary living situation for children and teens whose circumstances prevent them from living with their biological parents. The decision to place a child into foster care can be a personal decision made by the parents or a decision deemed necessary by a child welfare agency through a court of law.

A foster caregiver’s role is to take on the responsibilities of the parent. That is, to provide a safe and supportive home for the child during this time of transition.

Options for placement settings for foster care include the home of a relative, a non-relative foster home, or a group facility. Children may shift between these settings throughout the process to find a suitable placement.

Foster care supports children and their families. A temporary placement allows biological parents the time they need to make necessary changes before they can be reunited with their children.

In any case, the goal is to find a permanent placement for the child in a caring home.

Foster Care Facts

There are various reasons children are placed into the foster care system.

These reasons involve the biological parents going through a crisis in which they are unable or unfit to care for their child. Common reasons include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Illness
  • Neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Homelessness
  • Death of a primary caregiver

Children of all ages can be removed from their families if the home is deemed unfit. A caseworker then works with the state to place the child in a foster home while preparing them for permanent placement.

How Long Can You Foster a Child?

The amount of time you can foster a child varies, depending on several factors. Each case is individual, as is each child and family. There is no set length of time, as conditions may change due to the parent’s situation.

In some cases, the child may get to return home sooner than initially expected. In others, they will need to stay with a foster family for an unforeseen time.

The main goal of foster care is ultimately to reunite the child with their family once it is safe to do. However, there are options when it comes to the duration of foster care placement.

Short-Term Placement

Short-term placement can mean fostering a child for a single night up to a period lasting weeks or several months. Two years is the maximum length for a short-term placement.

Emergency placement is a form of short-term placement where a child needs an immediate place to stay. It often takes place when the need for foster care arises outside of office hours or on weekends.

If the child is going into kinship care, they may also need temporary placement until a relative can pick them up. If the relative lives out of state, they may need time to make arrangements for traveling long distances.

Short-term placement depends on the reason the child was placed into the foster care system. Sometimes the child’s parents have things they need to get in order before they can regain custody.

These tasks can include the parent seeking out counseling or therapy, taking parenting courses, getting sober, or finding stable employment and housing.

Other times a child may need a temporary foster home until a long-term placement can be found. Statistics show that the average length of stay in the US foster care system is 15.5 months.

When you decide to become a foster parent, it’s important to understand that placement ultimately depends on the child’s needs and wellbeing.

Long-Term Placement

Long-term placement involves placing a child with a foster family for a prolonged period. This period can range anywhere from two years and upward until the child legally reaches the age of adulthood.

This type of placement is based on the length of time and also the style of care provided. In a long-term plan, the child is placed in the care of a foster parent with whom they will remain for the foreseeable future.

Keeping a child long-term offers stability and security to the child’s world, allowing them to form well-established familial bonds they can carry with them into adulthood.

Long-term foster parents benefit from offering support regarding the continuing role of the child’s biological parents in the child’s life.

Foster a Child to Adoption

In some instances, foster carers can adopt or gain legal guardianship of a child who has remained in their long-term care.

When parental custody becomes terminated, the child can legally be available for adoption. But, if the child is of older age, it becomes their choice whether they would like to be adopted.

The process for adoption through foster care can be slow, taking up to several years to complete. To proceed, both the foster parent and child must wish to continue with the adoption process.

If either member changes their mind, the child will remain in foster care until 18 to 21. This range is what they consider “aging out of the system.” After that, any long-term familial relationship is up to them.

Make a Difference Today

The world of foster parenting can be tricky to navigate, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you would like to foster a child, resources are available to help guide you through the process.

Whether you’re ready to take the next step on your journey or still considering your options, contact us today for more information.