On Nov. 15, from 1-4:30 p.m., Olmsted County will offer an online informational session for people who are interested in adoption and/or becoming licensed foster parents.

The need is great. Statewide, more than 9,000 children are in foster care on any given day, and the demand for foster parents consistently exceeds the supply. That means the court system and social workers face a constant challenge to place abused, neglected or endangered children in safe environments.

Who can help? Just about anyone, actually. You don't have to be married to be a foster parent. You can have a full-time job. You don't have to own a home. You can be a semi-retired empty-nester or a young family with kids of your own.

But there is one big requirement to become a foster parent – you need to be doing it for the right reasons.

Do any kind of online search about foster care in Minnesota and the top “hit” will likely be something about how much foster parents are paid. This isn't by chance or coincidence. Internet search engines prioritize results based on mountains of data about what people look for online – which means that when someone considers becoming a foster parent, there's a good chance that the pay is a major consideration.

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Minnesota, it turns out, has one of the highest pay rates in the nation for foster parents – but that shouldn't be a major factor in the decision to open one's home to a child.

Foster parenthood isn't an occupation. It can't be seen as a second job, nor as an extra revenue stream or way of “renting” an empty bedroom. People who go into it for the money will do a lousy job and will quickly conclude that there are far easier ways to make a dollar.

Becoming a foster parent is a selfless act, and while it can be extremely rewarding, it also presents daunting challenges.

The typical children in need of foster homes have endured multiple forms of neglect and/or abuse at the hands of the very people who should have protected them. These kids are frightened. They are confused. Some are angry at their parents, at law enforcement and at the whole world – including the strangers who want to be their new, temporary “parents.”

Being a foster parent can mean lots of phone calls from school. It can mean trips to a therapist, slammed doors, holes in drywall and sleepless nights. It can be loud, chaotic and even frightening.

But being a foster parent can also bring hugs. It can mean ballgames in the back yard. It can mean seeing joy and wonderment on the faces of children who have never toasted a marshmallow, ridden a bike, had a dog lick their face or caught a fish. It can mean helping a 6-year-old learn the alphabet, then learn to read. It can mean shopping for a new prom dress for a 17-year-old girl who has grown up in secondhand clothes.

So, like “real” parenting, foster parenting is a mix of good times and bad.

Fortunately, Olmsted County goes to great lengths to ensure that potential foster parents are well-informed before they take the plunge. A member of the Post-Bulletin's editorial board has gone through the extensive training and licensing procedure, and the county provides a very clear, unvarnished picture of what life will be like as a foster parent.

Furthermore, foster parents aren't simply thrown into the deep end of the pool to sink or swim on their own. The state and county provide a variety of resources and assistance, and if a crisis occurs, help is just a phone call away.

So, if you've ever considered opening your home to a child in need, perhaps now is the time to take the first step. Sign up for the information session online at https://webapp.co.olmsted.mn.us/CFSRegistration.

You might soon decide that foster parenting is not for you, and that's OK. But you also might discover a new calling that will allow you to provide comfort, safety – and yes, even love – to a frightened, lonely child.