Capacity refers to both what your home is physically capable of accommodating and whom you are mentally and emotionally capable of parenting. Although requirements for the physical home may vary from state to state, I would say a good rule of thumb is three children to a room, and only children of the same sex in a room together. There are many different considerations to make like age, temperament, and the type of beds you have available. I would strongly encourage that each child have their own bed, and only siblings of the same sex share a full bed if there are absolutely no other options.
There are a few circumstances in which I typically do allow male and female children to share rooms–usually in circumstances where we can keep siblings together in the same home, close to or within their county of origin, and where there is no evidence of sexual abuse. Children who have been sexually abused can engage in sexualized behaviors and sometimes role play past abuse, and so it is important to not only supervise these children carefully, but to keep them in separate bedrooms. However, children of the opposite sex over the age of 8 should not share rooms I think in any case, as girls can start puberty as early as age 8.
When thinking about the number of children you can accommodate, some of the most important considerations are car space and the number of biological children you have. How many children can you transport in one car? If only one caregiver is available, how many additional children can you transport? If the answer is 1, you will probably want to set your home capacity at 1, or consider buying a bigger car. If you are a couple with no children, and you don’t have car seat friendly cars, that is another important consideration. Some sedans can fit 3 car seats (infant, toddler or booster) in the back seat, while others cannot. You may want to measure first to see what you can manage.
As far as the biological children you have, this is an important consideration because you need to think about how much of your time and attention is currently taken up. Do you have all school aged children who can dress themselves, feed themselves, and play with each other? Or do you have more than one child under the age of 5 and in need of moment by moment assistance? You may have only one child, but due to that child’s special needs you may only have extra time space or energy for one other child. In addition, I would highly encourage keeping the birth order in your home. Birth order is one way we as children determine our role in our family and therefore later our role in the world (do any research on this and you will clearly see the common themes). Your own children will cope better with the changes in the family if their identity and role within the family is not challenged. (Hear me, this does not mean foster/adoptive placements can never be successful when you disrupt birth order. I have actually witnessed several successes. It just means there will be extra work and intentionality on your part to work through the issues and feelings each child will experience.)
This leads us into the topic of mental and emotional capacity. If you are a single foster/adoptive parent, this is an especially important consideration. Being a single parent usually means that not only are you working full time, but you are also the full time caregiver. Because of this many of my single foster/adoptive parents set their capacity to 1 child. I would recommend this, unless you have successfully parented children into adulthood before, or are in a position where you do not have to work full time. Another exception would be taking placement of a sibling group very close in age (like twins) which usually means you will be scheduling very similar recreational activities, doctors appointments, and school activities.
If you are a couple with no children of our own, you probably have freedom in this department, unless you have serious problems in your marriage or in other facets of life which deplete your energy and attention. If you have had positive caregiving experiences in the past, and have an adequate number of rooms, I usually encourage couples to set their home capacity for 3 children in the hopes that they could keep a sibling group of 3 together. If you have no caregiving experience, starting with 1 or 2 children would be more optimal. It is important to remember that unlike natural birth, with foster care and adoption you will not have 9 months to prepare. It can happen suddenly, and so you don’t want to find that you have bitten off more than you can chew. Start with what your comfortable with and build from there.
If you are a couple that already has children, it all depends on the factors mentioned above and the special needs your own children may or may not have. Do your children do well with change? Have they learned to share their space and their things? Are there any disorders, medical conditions or developmental delays that require your special attention? This is important because foster/adoptive children will always be dealing with their own setbacks as a result of abuse and neglect. Have you already adopted? Is that adopted child’s identity solidified within the family? Will they feel threatened by the presence of another child? I think many parents in this evaluative stage find that they can cope with one more child in their home, or find that they need to wait until their own children are older and a little more self sufficient before pursuing the process further.
I hope these considerations assist you in decision making! Ultimately again, self awareness is your best friend!
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