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Family Matters: Foster Parenting 101

Across California tonight, nearly 60,000 children are not sleeping in their family homes. Instead, foster parents—now called resource families—are providing these youngsters with shelter and care. Or, as Erin Brown, executive director at FosterHope Sacramento, calls them: angels. Child Protective Services places children with these “angels” if it’s determined the child’s home is unsafe. In the past, abuse was the main cause for removal. Now, says Laural Gamp, social worker/administrator at Sierra Child & Family Services, the greater cause is neglect from parents’ alcohol or drug use. In most cases, the stay away is temporary, with the goal to heal the families and return the children home.

ABOVE: Volunteers with SkySlope and First Service Residential building a play area and revamping the garden at FosterHope in 2019.

Finding enough foster families, especially for teens, is difficult. Babies are easy to place, and most find homes with relatives or close friends, but about two-thirds of foster children—primarily teenagers, multiple siblings, and LGBTQ youngsters—must depend on the generosity of strangers, aka angels, to take them in. “The need for folks to take adolescents is huge,” says Laynee Kuhn, executive director of Paradise Oaks Youth Services. “It takes a special family,” Gamp says. “It’s an insane commitment, but it can change kids’ lives.”

Children can remain in foster care until they’re 18, with the option of extending to age 21 if they’re in school or working at least part-time. A teen needs support and mentoring rather than parenting, says Brown. Without homes to place them in, these kids can end up homeless and not in school.

Prospective foster parents must undergo background checks and training. They are paid modest stipends, and the children are covered for medical and dental expenses. Foster parents must be at least 18, with no upper age limit. They can be single or married, gay, working full-time, and any religion or ethnicity. Ideally, the agencies will find homes of a familiar culture that allow the kids to continue in their same school. If possible, siblings are kept together, which means the foster parents must have enough bedrooms for them. The need for homes for LGBTQ youngsters is especially critical: about a quarter of them do not live with their families of origin.

“We’ve had wonderful results with our foster families,” says Kuhn. “This is definitely something people do because of their love for children and their capacity to have a lot of empathy.” If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, “don’t be intimidated,” urges Brown. Because of these angels, “thousands of beautiful, amazing stories occur every day.”

ABOVE: The Tapp Family, one of Lilliput Families' Success Stories—read their story at


Better Life Children’s Services, 916-641-0661,
Children’s Hope Foster Family Agency, 916-759-4333,
Families 4 Children, 916-789-8688,
FosterHope Sacramento, 916-737-1481,
Koinonia Family Services, 916-652-5814, 916-369-5585,
Lilliput Families, 855-912-2622, 916-238-3503,
Our Children’s Keeper, 916-486-1737,
Paradise Oaks Youth Services, 916-967-6253,
Sierra Child & Family Services, 530-626-3105,
Sierra Forever Families, 916-368-5114,

by Linda Holderness / Photos courtesy of their respective organizations