Why Are More Senior Citizens Becoming Foster Parents?
Many adults now choose to start families later in life. Infertility or other biological barriers may have prevented parenthood at an earlier age. Some senior citizens may have focused on establishing careers or traveling the world. Others may not have experienced the urge to care for children until their later years. Adult children may become unable to care for minors, leaving grandparents to step in. Some empty nesters miss having children in the home.
Senior citizens bring a wealth of knowledge and life experience to raising children. Some may assume that their age prevents them from fostering, but that’s an unfounded fear. There is no upper age limit to become a foster parent. In fact, senior citizens are often uniquely qualified to help guide children into adulthood.
Foster parenthood comes with many rewards. The chance to positively impact the life of a child in need is a big one. Providing a stable and caring home for a child can help you develop skills like adaptability, compassion, and patience. Fostering offers the chance to give back to your community, both on a smaller and larger scale.
People with traumatic childhoods often find it rewarding to provide the opposite experience for a foster child. Those who enjoyed happier childhoods may wish to pass that gift along to children who might not otherwise be so fortunate.
Motivations may vary, but the emotional rewards often remain the same. The chance to positively affect a child’s life is monumental. This is undoubtedly one reason that more senior citizens are becoming foster parents.
What Are Each State’s Foster Parent Age Requirements?
Many adoption groups have eliminated age limits that prevented senior citizens from becoming adoptive or foster parents. This is a growing trend. While all 50 states and most U.S. Territories require minimum ages for foster parents, none stipulate maximum limits. Legal adulthood is a requirement in all cases, although some states require an older age than others.
The state of Maryland requires that potential foster parents be at least 21 years of age, but it also stipulates that those who are 60 or older must demonstrate adequate strength to meet the needs of their foster children. The state of Washington requires foster parents to be at least 21 but may make exceptions for relatives who are at least 18.
Older adults pondering the question “Can senior citizens be foster parents” may be relieved that none of these states set an upper limit. If this is the only thing stopping them from acting as foster parents, that’s one fewer barrier to fear.
What Other Requirements Do Older Foster Parents Need to Meet?
Specific eligibility requirements vary depending upon the jurisdiction. In general, foster parents must be mature and stable individuals able to advocate for the children in their care. Most states require a licensing process involving multiple steps. These steps typically include an application, in-depth training, and a home study. Foster parents must also be able to prove sufficient income to meet their expenses. This does not mean one must be wealthy to foster.
What Advantages Can Older Foster Parents Offer?
Older foster parents can provide many advantages to children in their care. Senior citizens can offer greater stability due to increased life experience. This can especially come in handy when dealing with teenage foster children. One AARP article estimates that around 20,000 teens age out of foster care each year. The statistics for those who age out of the system with no sort of permanent family to anchor them are grim.
A National Council for Adoption assessment revealed that
- Approximately 40% of former foster children were at least temporarily homeless
- Around 60 percent of the male former foster children were convicted of a crime
- A staggering 52 percent remained unemployed
Advocates believe that the guidance of older foster parents could brighten this outlook. Having the love and support of a family is invaluable. Older foster parents can often offer other advantages compared to younger parents like:
- Increased financial stability
- Emotional maturity
- Previous parenting experience
- Greater time to devote to child-rearing if already retired
These advantages may be useful when dealing with teens, but that doesn't mean senior citizens can't effectively parent younger children. While few older adults adopt infants, they do often adopt and foster younger children.
What Are the Disadvantages to Fostering as a Senior Citizen?
Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that fostering children as a senior citizen wouldn’t also come with certain disadvantages. Perhaps the biggest potential downside is the sheer time and energy it requires. Older adults may simply find it difficult to keep up with much younger children. Those who are still working may also have trouble juggling the demands of both working and raising children.
It may be difficult to deal with the behavioral difficulties common among children in the foster care system. Then again, older parents often have greater confidence in navigating complicated situations. This could help them cope with those difficulties better than younger counterparts.
Speaking of younger counterparts, something else to consider is that senior citizen foster parents are typically much older than the parents of their children’s peers. This may seem minor at first glance but could become a bigger issue as time passes. It may be hard to relate to other parents who are in a different phase of life.
Another unexpected challenge may be that family members or friends could be unsupportive of your decision to foster parent. Some may feel you’re too old to foster children because you’re a senior citizen. That doesn’t mean you should let their preconceived notions deter you if you’ve decided you want to foster. But you likely should prepare yourself for this and other challenges.
How Can Seniors Prepare for Challenges as Foster Parents?
Taking proactive steps to address potential difficulties may make them seem less daunting. Education to prepare for challenging situations can be a solid first step for senior foster parents to take. Knowledge is, after all, power.
One experienced foster parent recommends learning each foster child’s story to prevent unintentionally triggering undesired behavior. This can be especially important when dealing with teens, particularly those who have been in the foster care system for a long period of time. It’s only logical that they often come with increased emotional baggage.
How can you learn a foster child’s full story, especially in cases where they’re not immediately open to discussing their own background? One adoption attorney advises that supporting documents like school records, report cards, physical and psychological evaluations, and court records can be invaluable. He actually discourages meeting with potential foster children in cases where those items are not provided.
If you don’t already possess them, developing skills that are useful for foster parents can be a lifesaver. Such crucial skills include:
- Honest self-assessment
- Good communication
- Positive discipline strategies
- Effective conflict resolution methods
- Compassion for your foster child
- Collaboration with your foster child’s support professionals
While it’s important to keep the challenges that come with foster parenting in mind, there are steps you can take to improve chances for success.
Tips for Foster Parenting Success at Any Age
Foster parenting is undoubtedly a challenge at any age. Here's a list of tips for success that apply to both younger and senior citizen parents:
- Reassure your foster child that you love them
- Stay positive when discussing or interacting with the child’s birth family
- Work with your child’s therapists and teachers to learn helpful techniques
- Attend all court hearings and meetings fully prepared
- Develop organized time management strategies
- Train in childhood trauma types (e.g. death, grief, loss, separation)
- Join a support group for local foster parents
- Prepare for saying goodbye to foster children reunited with birth families
That last one can be difficult for any foster parent to handle, but it’s important to remember that the primary goal of foster care is to reunite children with their birth families when possible. It’s natural to love and care for the children in your care. Just remember that an equally natural step in this process is wishing them well when family reunification occurs. That’s one final precious gift foster parents can offer.