Foster care seems to be a lesson in contradictions in our country. It is lauded as the most noble choice that a couple can make. It’s suggested as an alternative to those who don’t want to spend thousands of dollars on an international adoption or fertility clinic. Foster parents open their homes to children who need a place to stay, kids who are suffering from neglect or abuse. They’re saviors for children who have no where to turn.

And yet, there’s a second perception of foster care that clouds this altruistic endeavor. We talk about kids going into “the system” as if its a death sentence. We hear stories of the foster homes who are only involved to earn government support checks. Media coverage highlights the horror stories and omits the thousands of families who do the best they can to help. Groups come together to fight against the government program who supports and monitors foster families, Child Protective Services.

Foster care has two very different public personas. So I decided to sit down with some people who knew the program best. I spoke with two sets of foster parents, as well as a social worker and CPS employee. They provided me with insight into this often stigmatized and overlooked system. Even better, they talked about the rewards of helping children and why that makes it all worth it.

Here are their tips for becoming successful foster parents: what it takes and why you need to have a plan.