Skip to main content Skip to search

YU News

YU News

Emerging Adults as Foster Parents

by Daniel Pollack

Pollack_57297A-11-1-150x150In New Jersey, you can be a foster parent before you're able to buy a cigarette. The minimum age to buy cigarettes -- 19; the minimum age to be a foster parent -- 18.

In Alabama, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, and New Jersey, you can be a foster parent before being able to purchase alcohol.

Foster parents are the primary care providers for the vast majority of children in state custody. While acknowledging that available foster placements have not kept pace with demand, is there any hesitation in tapping young adults to be foster parents?

The status of “emerging adulthood,” identified as late teenage to mid-twenties, is described as follows: “Having left the dependency of childhood and adolescence, and having not yet entered the enduring responsibilities that are normative in adulthood, emerging adults often explore a variety of possible life directions in love, work, and worldviews. Emerging adulthood is a time of life when many different directions remain possible, when little about the future has been decided for certain, when the scope of independent exploration of life's possibilities is greater for most people than it will be at any other period of the life course (p. 469).”1 This characterization of emerging adults as self-focused and feeling ‘in-between’ is supported by data: “Often emerging adults are struggling with big identity questions about who they are and how they fit into the world. Their lives are in flux as they try to make their way toward building a foundation for adulthood. (p. 6)”2

As much training, support, and monitoring as an agency is willing and able to provide, are emerging adults generally able to supply the safety, educational, mental health, and attachment needs of a foster child? Like many yes/no questions this is one which cannot be answered by just one of two answers. In the final analysis, it depends on the particular applicant.

The above is abridged from the full article which originally appeared in Policy & Practice, 72(1), 26-27.


1 Arnett, J.J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of adulthood from the late teen through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55(5), 469-480.


2 Arnett, J.J. (2012). The Clark University poll of emerging adults. Available at: