Today is Singles Awareness Day, an unofficial holiday apparently designed to counteract the emphasis this week on Valentine’s Day.   I’ve never been a big fan of the holiday, even as a single person, because it always seemed to me to have an artificial “make lemonade out of lemons” vibe.  But it’s a good time to revisit a common question I hear, which is whether and how single people can be foster parents.  I can say with no hesitation that it’s a challenging task, but raising other people’s children as a single person can be a wonderful and profound experience.

I have parented children both as a single and as a married person, and each experience required a different skill set.  Single people most definitely can have a positive impact as foster parents.  If you are or are thinking about being a single foster parent, there are some important principles to keep in mind to make your journey a successful one.

1.         Find Your People.

 The most important thing you can do as a single foster parent is to build your community.  The hardest part of being a single parent is being the only person available for school conferences, doctor visits, therapist appointments, meal planning, housekeeping, help with homework, etc., etc.  It is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with everything all by yourself.

Being a foster parent can also be a very lonely task.  It’s hard for people who haven’t been there to understand your challenges and why you are taking on this mission.  You will need a safe place to vent and experienced parents to learn from.  It is essential that you have a community of people to provide practical help, emotional support, and advice.

The most obvious place to start building your community is extended family.  I was fortunate in my days of single foster parenting to have a lot of support from my siblings and extended family. Unfortunately, they all lived too far away to provide practical help, but their emotional support was invaluable.

I also was fortunate to have a strong network of friends, which is another good place to build community.  None of my friends had any experience with fostering, but they were willing to help me with whatever wild scheme I had going.  They were willing to try to understand and help me and my kids.  You may have to explain a lot to your friends, because few people understand the challenges of parenting children who have suffered trauma.  For that matter, I didn’t understand the challenges until I faced them.  If your friends are willing to learn along with you, that support can become an essential resource for you.

One of the more positive trends in recent years is how faith communities are willing to support foster families.  Many religious groups have realized that, even if individual members can’t be foster parents, they can provide support for those who raise other people’s children.  Look for groups within your faith tradition that either have set up these support groups or are willing to learn how.  You may not have time to organize a new group, but if you can find people willing to support foster parents, you certainly can educate them about what help foster families, particularly single foster parents, need.

Another place you can find your people is with groups of foster families. Online groups can offer a wealth of experience and advice, while local groups can provide more practical and immediate help.  Most states have foster and adoptive parents’ organizations, and there are many nationwide faith organizations with local chapters.  Tap into both types of groups if you can, and access the emotional support and pragmatic suggestions that you will find there.

Finally, don’t overlook whatever help your placement agency can provide.  Private agencies usually have more resources, but even government agencies can provide some help.  Caseworkers are notoriously overworked and unresponsive, but if you can get their attention, they can often steer you to resources that you might not know are available.  Don’t depend on your agency, but don’t ignore the possibilities of what it can offer.

2.         Ask for Help

Once you have found your community or stitched together your network, then don’t be afraid to ask them for help.   Most of us are independent people, and single foster parents get used to handling everything alone.  Remember that you don’t have to do everything by yourself.  

Letting your network help you also can be important for them.  Not everyone can be a full-time foster parent.  By helping you, however, they can be an important part of helping a child find a safe and secure home.  Don’t be so independent that you deprive your friends and family of the opportunity to help.

Finally, you will need to learn from your network.  Parenting children with trauma poses unique challenges, and you will need to learn specific skills.  Your network will be able to direct you to helpful training and resources to help you learn the unique skills you will need for foster parenting.

3.         Be Willing to Set Boundaries

Another hard part about being a single foster parent is knowing when to recognize our limits.  We become foster parents because we care about kids.  We will hear many sad stories, and caseworkers may ask us to help with kids whose experiences tug at our heart strings.  But we have to know our resources and be willing to turn down placements that will be a bad match.  For example, I have always worked well with teenagers, but I have no skills with younger children.  I would have been a very bad match for infants or toddlers.  I’m much better handling teenage problems, even runaways or court charges, than teething or potty training.  We all need to know what placements will be workable for us, and which will require resources that we simply don’t have.

Also don’t be afraid to insist on resources that you need.  Respite care, for example, can be essential for your physical and mental health.  Similarly, your child probably will need some level of therapy, and it will be easier for you to get it before your placement starts than afterward.  Don’t be afraid to insist on the conditions you need in order to help your child.

If you are new to fostering, you may not have any idea what you need.  This is a good time to reach out to your support network and learn from experienced foster parents.  People who have been through the system will have some excellent suggestions and guidance for you.

4.         Be Careful about Romantic Relationships

One topic that no one ever wants to discuss is romantic relationships for single foster parents.  No one wants to tell adults how to live their lives, so we tend to avoid this very controversial topic.  We do our kids a disservice, however, by ignoring how our decisions can affect them.  Like single parents everywhere, single foster parents need to carefully balance their personal lives and how they care for their children.

The most helpful advice I have found is given to divorced parents, such as this article.  First, wait a while and then wait a while longer.  Don’t introduce your significant other to any of your children until the relationship has lasted at least 9-12 months.  Your kids don’t need to get attached to an adult who may not be in their lives long.  They have suffered enough of that type of trauma.  

They also don’t need to be confused about who is the adult in charge.  Don’t fall into the trap of letting your romantic partner set house rules or take on authority roles with your children.  I know that it can be very tempting to relax and let someone else deal with the kids. However it is our job to be in charge, and we can’t offload it to someone else, no matter how much we trust them.   Don’t let your romantic partner take on parental roles until you have married.  In my experience, even committed unmarried relationships leave children feeling unbalanced and unstable.

Finally, be very careful about letting your partner stay overnight or move in.  In fact, the safest course is to not have any romantic partners stay over when your children are at home. I have defended several lawsuits against social service organizations where a tragedy happened while a single foster parent was spending the night with a romantic partner or the partner had moved in.  In none of those cases could I see any link between the tragic event and the partner’s presence.  In all of them, however, the opposing side was able to claim that the foster parent was distracted by romance and wasn’t paying attention to his or her primary responsibility.  Being a foster parent is challenging enough; don’t fall into the trap of giving anyone a weapon to use against you.

5.         Take Care of Yourself

In the midst of caring for other people, be sure that you find ways to recharge your batteries.  Carve out time for yourself, particularly for important habits such as exercise.  This need is one of the reasons I encourage respite care. It allows single foster parents to have some downtime.  Foster kids need a lot from us.  In order to take care of them, we need to reserve some time for ourselves to renew our resources.  The truism that “you can’t pour out of an empty cup” applies to single foster parents just as much as, or more than, it does to married foster parents.

Another important part of taking care of yourself is don’t expect to be perfect.  You cannot do it all.  Your house may be messy, and you may be impatient with your kids more than you want.  You cannot be all things to all people.  Focus on your biggest tasks and let the others go.  Then, when you don’t live up to your own expectations even for the important tasks, forgive yourself.  You may never do everything as well as you want, but good enough parenting is good enough.


Everyone’s foster parenting journey is a bit different, but all of them are both challenging and rewarding.  If you are called to foster children, don’t let the challenges of being a single parent dissuade you.  These five principles can give you a good start toward meeting those challenges and experiencing the rewards.


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.