Foster care offers gay men the opportunity to provide a home, either temporarily or permanently, to one of the more than 400,000 children in the nation's foster care system.
These children have been removed from the homes of their biological families after experiencing neglect or abuse. The process of becoming a foster dad can be overwhelming and emotional, but it’s also an incredibly important and rewarding way to form your family.
If you’re in research-mode for foster care, you’ve come to the right place! We encourage you to check out our resource guides as they help break down everything you need to know about gay foster care.
If you have specific questions, check out our Ask the Expert videos as it’s likely one of our foster-care family-building partners has already addressed your question.
When you’re ready to get serious about fostering, it’s time to enroll in GWK Academy. This 90-day program will provide you with the information, resources and connections you need to get started.
Foster care can be long, complicated, and emotional. With the right preparation, becoming a gay foster parent doesn't have to be overwhelming. Check out these guides, which help break down everything you need to know about becoming a foster dad as a gay, bi or trans man.
Below you'll learn all you need to know about the foster care system, the process of adopting, working with a foster care agency and getting the information you need to decide if it’s the right path for you.
There are many misperceptions surrounding the foster care system, also known as the child welfare system. The truth is that children in foster care are removed from their homes – at no fault of their own – due to abuse or neglect. There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the U.S., ranging in age from infants to young adults.
A foster family provides a safe, temporary home to a child (or children) who desperately need one and plays a crucial role in helping that child to heal. While the goal of foster care is successful reunification with the birth family, only about half of children removed from their homes end up returning.
Approximately 120,000 children are currently waiting to be adopted. And, about 20 percent of those children "age-out" of care each year without permanent families.
Foster families provide loving homes for a child (or children) for days, months, even a year or longer. If a child’s birth parents have had their parental rights terminated (voluntarily or by the court), foster families may also permanently adopt. This is sometimes referred to as foster-to-adopt.
Before getting too deep into the process of becoming a foster care parent, it's important for prospective foster dads to make sure they know the answer to the following critical questions:
It's important to understand how children in foster care think and feel. They have had their lives disrupted.
Many have experienced significant trauma — and entering into the foster care system, and being removed from their families, is a traumatic experience in itself. So, it’s natural that they may be suspicious of new adults entering their lives.
When heading to a foster home, a child may be thinking, "How long will I stay here?" or “Will I have to change schools?” Some may be wondering, “Will my birth parents think I don’t love them?” or “Will I be abused again?” or "Will I ever see my siblings again?" They may be understandably angry, sad and feel lonely and isolated.
A significant part of the process to become a foster dad is training and learning how best to support a child emotionally. This starts with listening. And no one is better equipped to talk about the impact of foster care on children than the children who have been there. Foster Club, an organization dedicated to helping young people to realize their personal potential, (both in and from foster care,) publishes a blog called Youth Perspective. Read about their experiences and their hopes for the future here.
- adoptive dad Erik Alexander“Take it one day at a time. Before you know it, that baby will be snuggled into your loving arms.”
Let’s first get this question out of the way: Can LGBTQ people legally become foster parents in the United States? Many people are surprised to learn that the answer in every state in the country is unequivocally: YES!
What's the law?
This is thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, on June 26, 2015, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriage in the country. This ruling, in turn, paved the way for gay foster care and adoption to become legal across the country. On March 31, 2016, a Mississippi federal judge ruled that the state's ban on same-sex couples was unconstitutional, making Mississippi the last state to have such a law overturned. Since then, gay foster care and adoption has been legal in all 50 states and Washington, DC.
It's not always that simple...
Still, many states have started passing bills that allow tax-funded child welfare agencies to legally discriminate against prospective LGBTQ parents on the basis of religious objections. (Some others have passed pro-LGBTQ bills forbidding this.) These laws also often target single people and have even been used to target people of different faiths. For this reason, it is important to know the foster care laws in your state.
But it bears repeating — though certain agencies may discriminate against LGBTQ people, it is still legal for queer people, in all 50 states, to serve as a foster parent and adopt. You will just need to make sure to find an LGBTQ-affirming adoption agency or professional. Every state should have at least one inclusive agency available for you to work with.
Why Is a Home Study Necessary?
A home study is a required step for any family wanting to adopt any child. It is used for foster care, and for private and public adoptions.
The name 'Home Study' is misleading — this process is about much more than your home. It generally lasts anywhere from 3 to 6 months, and will involve everything from background checks and interviews with the members of your household, to examinations of your physical and financial health, education and training where needed, and much more.
It is also a vital tool in preparing your growing family for the questions and realities ahead: race, identity, belonging, grief, curiosity about birth family, answering nosy questions from strangers and teaching your child how to respond to racial bias are some of the common themes addressed during this process.
It may sound overwhelming, but the process is meant to help build your capacity to be the best, and most prepared, adoptive parent you can possibly be.
1. Who will conduct my home study? You will need to work with a licensed social worker or case worker. The home study will reflect your social worker's assessment and approval of you as an adoptive family.
For LGBTQ people, it’s important to work with professionals who are affirming and inclusive, which can be a struggle in certain parts of the country. Sometimes families find themselves working with an agency or social worker who is overtly homophobic or simply ignorant of how to appropriately address the unique aspects of being same-sex parents or a single gay, bi or trans parent. When contacting an agency, ask for references and inquire if the organization has experience and success working with the LGBTQ community. The agencies listed on HRC’s “All Children, All Families” database is a good place to find inclusive professionals.
2. What is expected of me during the home study? Once you have identified your home study provider, be prepared to be an active participant! In addition to the documents you will collect, you will be asked to read articles and books, take parent preparation classes at your agency or online, revisit your expectations, and openly discuss your upbringing, relationships, medical, mental health or legal history, employment, hobbies, interests, experience with children at various developmental stages, and even your plans for disciplining your future child.
3. What happens after the home study visits? An experienced adoption professional will value the information you provide to inform their practice, guide you through any rough patches, and ultimately write a 10- to 12-page document outlining everything they have learned about your family.
The actual home study document must comply with local, state, federal, and in some cases, international document guidelines. This means your social worker may need to schedule additional visits, training hours, or include very detailed information about certain aspects of your life. It is common for families to feel this process is intrusive and takes too long, which is completely understandable. However, it can be helpful to remember that social workers are not in a position to bypass the legal requirements, nor would they want to, as these regulations are in place to protect the interests of children. Understanding these requirements can be a helpful tool. Most states have their adoption requirements posted for public access; agencies can provide these to families as well.
4. How much contact will I have with my home study provider? You will be communicating with your social worker frequently over the 3-to-5 month time span that it takes to complete most home studies. Through email, office meetings and home visits, you and your social worker will be creating a relationship that can carry you through this adoption. It can also be a post-adoption resource for you and your future child.
5. What are they looking for? While it's understandably anxiety-provoking to have a social worker in your home, it's important to keep in mind that adoption social workers should be approaching families from a "strength-based" perspective, meaning they look first for the strengths any family brings to the table, identify areas of growth, and provide education to make sure that your skills and expectations match what your child will need.
They are in your home to make sure your child will be in a safe space, to get an idea of what life in your family will be like, and to simply talk in the comfort of your home about anything on your mind as you move forward. They are not there to judge the cleanliness of your closets, your particular decorating style, or how well you vacuum under the bed!
6. What might disqualify me during a home study? Of course, families still want to know what would prevent them from being approved for a home study. These issues include a criminal history of abuse or violence, especially against children, an untreated and severe mental illness, financial resources that place families below the federal poverty line, active and untreated use of illegal drugs, or a medical diagnosis that severely impacts the applicants' ability to raise a child to adulthood. In some cases, there may be presenting issues that will not disqualify applicants but may require more discovery and assessment.
The child welfare system is not managed by the federal government, but rather by each individual state. So, it can look very different from one state to another.
Some states use a centralized, state-wide system, some use regional or county-based agencies and some states have privatized all or part of their child welfare system. The reason this is important to know is that depending on state law, some state-licensed, private agencies are permitted to refuse services to children and families on religious grounds and this includes LGBTQ individuals.
To better understand the laws in your state, the Movement Advancement Project provides independent research, including maintaining equality maps specific to foster care.
Another thing to understand is that you can foster a child directly from a public child welfare agency, or you can choose a Foster Family Agency (FFA). FFAs approve foster families, work with public agencies to place children in loving homes, and provide trauma-informed training programs and services to families and children. Although the child is always the client, many FFAs will also provide a social worker for the foster parents as well and will advocate for you with the public child welfare agency.
#1. Check the The Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC). This will be the best place to start. HRC’s All Children-All Families project “promotes LGBTQ inclusive policies and affirming practices among child welfare agencies.” Find a map of agencies that meet the All Children – All Families benchmarks here. There are more than 70 agencies on the list from across the country. You can also check the LGBTQ+ Bar Association's Family Law Institute or the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Professionals.
#2. Talk to other parents about their experiences and recommendations. Ask prospective agencies what percentage of their clientele is LGBTQ, and ask for
a reference from a recent LGBTQ client to speak with them first hand.
#3. Research agencies in your state. You can do this by reading reviews on greatnonprofits.org, reading annual reports, or simply by visiting the agencies websites. What kind of stories do they tell? What kind of images do they use?
#4. Interview agencies. Find out If they will provide references from parents. What kinds of resources and training they provide before, during and after fostering/adoption? If they work with single parent families. Can you talk to another single dad and find out what his experience was like?
#5. Join online or in-person queer parenting groups. This is a great way to meet other foster care families — check out our social media pages or your local LGBTQ center to get started.
Remember, no matter where you live there is a foster agency that will help you open your heart and home to a child who needs you.
Step One: Choose an agency: For everyone, finding an agency “fit” is important. But for queer men, this step is particularly important. That’s because the child welfare system is managed at the state level and state laws regarding discrimination vary widely. For tips on how to find the right agency for you, see the section below.
Step Two: Attend orientation: Orientation and information sessions are held frequently at most agencies. Here, you will learn more about the children in foster care, the specific roles and responsibilities of foster parents, the process of becoming a foster parent and what the next steps will be.
Hearing about the challenges of being a foster parent (and adopting a child from the child welfare system) may be emotional. You may leave the orientation committed to continuing the journey, or you may leave wondering if this is the best path for you. You don’t have to make any decisions yet. The point of the orientation is to answer your questions and give you the facts you need to explore this path to fatherhood.
Step Three: Complete an application: When you’ve decided you want to foster a child, you will need to complete an application. It’s a very detailed process that involves a gathering lot of documents. Warning – it can be time consuming. You will be asked to verify your income, provide letters of reference, undergo a criminal background check and much more. It’s during this stage of the process when you meet your case worker and begin to establish a relationship.
Step Four: Attend training: The amount and type of training you will receive varies from state to state and agency to agency, but you can expect it to last somewhere between 4-10 weeks and include a mix of in-person and online courses. Training to be a foster parent is not only required, but also important. You will get a better understanding of what children in foster care have been through, learn how best to care for them, integrate them into your family, and understand, respect and support children from a culture that may be different from your own. CPR, first aid and bloodborne pathogen training are also included.
Step Five: Complete a home study: Once you’ve completed your application and attended training, a home study will be conducted. All states require a homestudy for parents who wish to foster or adopt a child. Basically, a homestudy is a biography of your family and an inspection of your home.
During the process, you will meet with a social worker for a series of interviews. Additionally, anyone over 18 who lives in your home or who spends a significant amount of time in your home will be interviewed. The process can take 3-6 months and in addition to ensuring that your home is safe, for example has required smoke detectors and fire extinguishers and that any alcohol or firearms are properly locked up, the home study will involve an in-depth look at your personal life. From how you were raised to details about your social life and relationships, nothing is left unturned.
Your social worker wants to get to know you, to find out how you plan to parent a child who brings different experiences than your own and to assess your readiness to foster a child. It’s natural to have some trepidation about divulging personal information but being open and honest is critical. If you are asked something that you fear could put your eligibility at risk, don’t lie. If you’ve come this far in the process, there are very few issues that can’t be addressed. Dishonesty, though, could make you ineligible to become a foster parent.
Step Six: Receive approval and wait for a child: The timeline from submitting an application to being approved to be a foster parent can take 6-9 months. By now, you know what type of child you are most suited to care for and your social worker has the information necessary to make a good match.
Step Seven: Welcome a child into your home. Congratulations you’re a foster dad! Whether you care for a child for one day or one year, and whether that child returns to his birth family or becomes available for adoption, you are making a positive difference in his/her life.
Whether you provide care for a child for a few hours or a year or longer, the process to become approved (sometimes called “licensed”) and the ongoing training requirements are the same.
That said, there are several different types of ways to be a foster parent:
Emergency Care; Some foster families provide short-term, emergency shelter for children until a relative or other foster placement can be found. Because children can be removed from their homes at any time and on any day, sometimes emergency care is needed while the child welfare professional seeks out a suitable option. Typically, foster families that provide emergency care may have a child for just a few days. It’s a short-term, finite commitment.
Respite Care; Respite caregivers provide short-term care for a child living with another foster family. It could be evening or weekend care for a family who needs time to relax and recharge from providing ongoing care, or it could be for a week or longer when a foster family may need to travel out of state for a funeral or family emergency. Respite care and emergency care are great ways to see if becoming a foster parent is the right choice for you.
Kinship Care; When a family member or other non-related familiar caregiver, for example, a teacher or coach or scout leader, provides a safe home for a child until he/she can safely return home to another more permanent option, it is known as kinship care. Someone the child knows and trusts is preferred.
Traditional Foster Care; Traditional foster parents provide care and support for a child until a permanent solution is implemented. This could mean that the child returns to his/her family of origin or it could mean becoming available for adoption. Foster parents are committed to the wellbeing of the child and to partnering with child welfare professionals and the child’s birth family for the best possible outcome.
Thanks to TV shows, movies and rare but shocking stories that find their way to mainstream media, there are several common myths about foster parents and the children in their care. Most of the preconceived notions and stereotypes about the foster care system are quite simply not true.
Myth #1: Children in foster care are juvenile delinquents or have severe behavioral issues. Nothing could be further from the truth! The children in foster care have been placed there because of unsafe living conditions. The reasons are varied. There may have been violence in the home, or substance abuse. Perhaps a parent’s child is incarcerated and there are no family or friends available to care for the child. Sometimes the death of a parent leaves a child without a home, and sometimes a child is abandoned. Often, the child’s family is trying to do their best but doesn’t have the tools or the support they need to adequately care for their children.
Myth #2: Only heterosexual, married couples can adopt from foster care. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption addresses this one best. “Families who adopt are as unique and diverse as the children in their care, and children in foster care do not need to wait for some specific notion of family.” There are all kinds of loving families. In fact, same-sex couples are four times more likely to adopt a child than opposite-sex couples. And nearly a third of adoptive children live in single-parent homes. The bottom line is that children in foster care need adults who will commit to caring for them, to understanding the trauma they have experienced and to supporting them.
Myth #3: Some states prevent same-sex couples from adopting. This one does have roots in reality. It is true that each state creates its own laws regarding foster care and adoption, and it’s also true that some states continue to permit discrimination by child welfare agencies that do not receive federal funding. However, today same-sex couples can become foster parents and can adopt children in every state. It may be more challenging to find a welcoming agency in certain areas, but it is possible.
Myth #4: I’m too old to foster or adopt a child. There are millions of children being raised by grandparents across the U.S. There’s also no perfect age to become a parent. According to the Dave Thomas Foundation, nearly 25% of adopted children live with a parent aged 55 or older! It bears repeating that “there is no specific notion of family.” Children of all ages are being raised by dads of all ages. What’s important is your willingness and commitment to providing care for a child who needs it.
Myth #5: Medical issues prevent me from fostering or adopting a child. Neither illness nor past addiction necessarily disqualifies prospective dads from fostering or adopting a child. This includes HIV and cancer. What is important is that your illness is being managed appropriately and that you can provide resources and a stable home for a child. Some agencies may require a substantial period of sobriety when there is a history of substance abuse, or that life-threatening illnesses such as cancer have been in remission for a certain period of time. The intention is not discriminatory, but rather a way to ensure that you will be prepared to parent a child who may require a significant amount of your energy and attention. The best interest of the child always comes before that of the foster parent. But many people successfully foster and adopt children despite chronic health conditions.
Myth #6: It’s expensive to foster a child. Actually, the opposite is true. Compared to other paths to fatherhood including private adoption and surrogacy, foster care is very inexpensive. The average cost to become a foster parent ranges from $0 - $1,500. Financial support is usually available to help care for a foster child and in fact can continue post-adoption by way of federal and state tax credits, employer benefits, assistance with college expenses for older youth and more. You do not need to be wealthy to foster or adopt a child. You don’t even need to own your own home!
Myth #7: Biological parents can later “reclaim” their children. This is actually a pretty common misconception. But it’s just not true. Once a child’s birth parents have had their rights terminated, they cannot regain custody. Period. Adoption is permanent and adoptive parents enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as parents whose children are born to them. Open adoptions of children in foster care are becoming more common. This means that the adopted child maintains some level of contact with his/her birth parents. There is a wide range of how open adoptions are interpreted. It could be a birthday card and annual photo, or it could be regular visits and Sunday dinners. What it looks like is a negotiation between the adoptive parents and the birth parents. But regardless, biological parents cannot “reclaim” their children once they have been adopted.
Each year 20,000 children age out of foster care when they turn 18-21 (depending on the state) with no permanent family. This puts them at a higher risk for adverse outcomes such as homelessness, unemployment and substance abuse.
Many families are hesitant to foster/ adopt older children because they fear they are “damaged.” But the truth is there will always be challenges involved in fostering, regardless of the child’s age. Fostering an older child can be very rewarding and can have an enormous impact on the child’s life.
Parenting children of any age is difficult and certainly, older children adopted from foster care will come with unique challenges. But the rewards of adopting an older child and supporting their transition from youth to adulthood usually outweigh any struggles.
#1. An older child is more self-sufficient: Not only can older children get themselves ready for bed and dressed for school, but they are also able to speak up for themselves and tell you how they are feeling and what their preferences are. There is a good chance that you will quickly be able to find things that your whole family will enjoy doing together, whether that’s funny movies, making pizzas at home or outdoor activities. Also, a self-sufficient older child has had time to form opinions on current topics and can fully participate in interesting conversations.
#2. It’s easier to understand their needs: Older children are more likely to understand why they are in foster care and why it may not be safe to reunite with their birth family. They can tell you about their life, which can help you to better understand their needs and guide you in how to parent them. They can also participate more fully in counseling. Teenagers, especially, will be thinking about their futures and know the effect a safe, stable home can have on what comes next for them.
#3. Experiencing milestones: Fostering/adopting an older child gives you a front-row seat to many exciting milestones. Think about school dances and first dates, learning to drive, landing a first job or high school graduation. With an older child, your support and guidance can have an immediate impact and you will get to share in some very special experiences.
#4. Guiding the transition to adulthood: By fostering/adopting an older child, you will be able to provide the guidance he/she needs to become an independent successful young adult. The transition to adulthood can be challenging for anyone, but for a child who has spent significant time in foster care, it can be extremely stressful. Your support and mentorship could be what helps a child overcome a difficult childhood and achieve his/her full potential.
#5. Older child adoptions through foster care can happen more quickly: If you are looking to adopt a child from foster care, your waiting time could be much shorter if you choose to adopt an older child. Older children are more likely to have been in foster care for a longer time and the parental rights of their birth parents are more likely to have already been terminated. The adoption process can happen more quickly with an older child when reunification with the birth family is no longer an option.
#6. Education benefits: Children who are adopted from foster care after age 13 have access to many educational benefits. They are more likely to qualify for financial aid because older adoptees do not have to count their foster family’s income when applying for financial assistance for post-secondary education. There are also programs in most states that include tuition waivers, scholarships and grants that are specifically for children adopted through foster care. Many parents are concerned about helping their children pay for their education, so the benefits offered to older adoptees are usually welcomed.
You may hear the term “foster-to-adopt” as it relates to building a permanent family by adopting a child from the child welfare system. What it really means is adopting the child currently in your care as a foster parent. This can happen in two ways;
1) If a child you are caring for becomes available for adoption (when the birth parents legally lose their parental rights), you may have the opportunity to adopt him/her. Because foster care is intended to be a temporary arrangement with the ultimate goal of reunification of the child with his/her birth parents, there is no way to know if this will happen or in what time frame.
2) You could foster a child who is already available for adoption. In this case, the time frame from home study to adoption typically takes 12-18 months. Children who are legally free for adoption are typically older, usually over age 8, are siblings who wish to be adopted together, or have a disability that requires specialized care.
Foster-to-adopt is similar to other types of adoption in terms of paperwork, legal issues and decision making. What is different is that you must be approved (licensed) by the state to become a foster parent, and in some states, you must also be approved separately to become an adoptive parent. This is known as dual licensing.
Due to issues mentioned above, adopting an older child is more likely possible through fostering-to-adopt. Adopting an older child can be rewarding, but also challenging. Older children are more likely to have experienced some form of trauma and because of this, they may have a more difficult time learning to trust. Parents who adopt from foster care are given specific training to help them understand the effects of trauma and how to best help a child recover and heal.
Unlike most paths to parenthood for queer men, the costs of becoming a foster parent in the United States is practically free — and comes with resources the other paths lack.
One huge advantage to adopting through the foster care system is that it is affordable for anyone. Fostering is low to no costs — just requiring time, love, and patience.
There are no out-of-pocket costs, no costs to engage with the agency, no cost to get the necessary training or required classes, and no cost to have your home study done.
Additionally, foster parents are provided a stipend to cover medical expenses, transportation, food, and other necessities — the total amount of your stipend will depend on your state. If you are financially challenged and think no agency will have you, think again. They want you for what you bring to the table as a caregiver, as a stable and loving adult.
Though no money is required, particularly for those hoping to adopt permanently, fostering is not without emotional risks. When children are first placed with your family, efforts are focused on reunification with the family of origin, which is usually about a year-and-a-half’s worth of time. Those 18 months can be harrowing for foster parents who are forming attachments to the children in their care.
Let’s face it. Children are expensive. One advantage of adopting a child through the child welfare system is the low cost. While private adoption can cost up to $50,000, and surrogacy $200,000 or more, the cost to adopt a child in foster care ranges from free to about $1,500.
Additionally, foster parents do receive financial assistance to help with the expenses of caring for a child. These include:
What are the most common questions gay, bi and trans men have about foster care?
In our Learning Center you'll find video responses to the most common questions answered by our foster care experts, as well as access to pre-recorded webinars, previously published feature stories, and an-ever growing list of additional resources to help you become a dad through adoption.