Foster parents provide care to children who cannot remain with their families by bringing these children into their homes. Although this care is meant to be short term and temporary, many children remain with their foster parents for several years and become important members of their foster families. Foster parents are recruited, trained, and supervised by public departments of social services or by private agencies that contract with departments of social services to provide foster care. The characteristics of foster parents in the United States tend to reflect the characteristics of parents throughout the United States. Fifty to sixty years ago, foster parents were primarily middle-income couples, with a mother who often did not work outside the home. Today, foster families are much more structurally and culturally diverse (McFadden, 1996). Although most foster parents today are married, many single women and some single men are foster parents. Foster families come from a wide range of cultural groups and incomes. Many have both birth children and foster children in their families, although others have become foster parents in order to have children in their home.
Adults interested in becoming foster parents usually get in contact with local agencies or may respond to recruiting drives. They often must receive legally mandated training, and their backgrounds, current living situations, and parenting practices are investigated. Agencies then decide whom to accept as foster parents, although, as subsequently described, the current shortage of foster homes encourages many agencies to accept all those who are qualified. Foster parents receive stipends to defray the costs of providing foster care, but these stipends often do not cover the costs of raising a child and many foster parents must subsidize the cost of providing care to the foster children in their home (Chamberlain, Moreland, and Reid, 1992).
Foster parenting is a unique and, even as we write, changing form of parenting. Foster parents provide parenting to very challenging children. They parent infants with drug addictions or AIDS and children and adolescents who have been severely abused or neglected. Many children and adolescents in foster care have experienced little parenting continuity, and some have been moved from home