The growing pool of childless, single, young professionals in the U.S. is an untapped demographic full of excellent potential foster parents. It’s widely reported that young professionals are getting married and having children later and later in life. I wish more child welfare professionals would see our value. Fortunately, I live in New York City where they do. In fact, for years they’ve been recruiting and advertising in the subway specifically for those who don’t fit the usual foster parent mold: single, childless, LGBT, and full-time workers.
One particular poster hooked me. It was of a single, working, black man as a foster parent. Not only was he accepted as a foster parent, he was desired. Since becoming a foster parent myself, I’ve shared my experiences on my blog and have tried to break down some of the barriers that prevent people from fostering. I find the greatest obstacle to be insecurity. Plain and simple, people fear being rejected in the process of becoming a licensed foster parent, particularly if they are childless, single, and working. But here’s why these circumstances actually make for fantastic foster parent potential:
1. There’s no competition
When you’re childless, there’s no competition between your “own” children and your foster children for your time, attention, and resources. Issues such as how your children will adjust to the addition (and possible departure) of a foster child and whether they will all get along is moot. Your foster child(ren) will soak up the opportunity to be the center of a childless adult’s universe.
2. Some children need a childless home
Many foster children specifically need to be placed in a home without any children. It’s true that this may mean the foster child(ren) had abusive behaviors in the past, but it also may mean that they themselves have been abused by siblings and have significant fear. When you join a foster agency, be prepared for word to spread fast that you don’t have children. Case workers will come rushing to you with a number of unique needs of their foster children that only a childless person can fill.
3. You can keep up with them
Let’s face it, young people have more energy. If I were to describe my foster parenting experience in one word it would be “hustle.” There’s a lot of running around to appointments. Scratch that, there’s a ton of running around to appointments. I would have done better at 25 than at 35 and I sure don’t plan on still being a foster parent at 45. My good friend Genevieve had two babies back-to-back in her late thirties and she once said, “Motherhood is a young women’s sport.” Now with two toddlers myself, I repeat it all the time.
4. You are more open to direction
Being young and without kids can make you much more open to being told how to parent. And let me tell ya, everyone is going to be telling you how to parent: case workers, supervisors, birth parents, teachers, early intervention clinicians, and many more. A foster parent has to be open, humble, and gracious — inexperience helps all of the those qualities. The comforting part is that the responsibility of raising foster children falls on everyone’s shoulders so you won’t be at it alone.
5. You probably have help
You’re likely to have a lot of single, childless friends who will be willing to help. If I’m stuck at work and my foster daughter needs picked up from daycare, my single, childless friends are the most available. This was counterintuitive to me at first. I expected to have more help from my friends with children but they are just as swamped as I am. Parents have their own kids to pick up from school and daycare and they have less flexibility.
6. Speaking of flexibility … you have it
Being single, childless, and living many states away from my parents and siblings, I have very few obligations. My Thanksgiving plans aren’t contingent upon my mother-in-law’s 45-year family tradition of celebrating at her cabin in Vermont. In fact, I could be available to receive a foster child on holidays and I’ve gotten several holiday calls to take foster children. It’s a good feeling to fill that need within the System.
7. You’re adaptable
You’re capable of being in the unique head space required to accept the ever-changing plan for the foster child(ren) to return home or to be available for adoption. I started fostering at age 32 and I couldn’t imagine adopting a child on my own. However, I also couldn’t imagine being 40 years old without being a mom. This in-between mental zone has allowed me to let go of foster children I deeply loved who were being returned to their biological families while remaining open to adopting. I’m 38 and am adopting my foster daughter November 20th. My other foster daughter’s permanency goal is also for me to adopt her.
8. You are a good role model
Most parents these days work outside of the home. For foster children in particular, this can be an excellent model for successful independence as an adult. It’s quite possible you would be the first adult in a foster child’s life to have a steady job. Many unspoken lessons can come from observing a foster parent going to work each day not to mention opportunities to discuss career and educational goals.
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