Overview

There are children and teens in the custody of local child welfare/social service agencies throughout the United States waiting for a permanent family. Adoption through foster care involves application to a local agency, completing parent training and having a favorable foster care/adoption home study. You may be placed on a waiting list. While waiting, you may also want to view profiles of waiting children throughout the US. Once a child is placed into your home, you may be eligible for a monthly stipend during the adjustment phase and a subsidy to provide for the child’s medical, emotional and academic needs, once the adoption is finalized.

Throughout the United States, children are cared for in a variety of foster care settings through the local Department of Social Services. Foster care includes in home placement with a family or non-family member, residential care and group homes. These foster placements are temporary, while a more permanent living arrangement is determined.

The goal of foster care is either reunification with Birth Parents or family members, long-term foster care with a significant community member or current foster family, guardianship, emancipation or adoption. Decisions are made in the best interest of the child(ren).

Social services works with birth and extended families in an attempt to reunify the child(ren) with the family or with a community member who has a relationship with the child. There will most likely be visits with birth family and/or siblings during the foster care placement.

Some children enter the public child welfare system through voluntary relinquishment by a Birth Parent or through court action to terminate parental rights due to abuse or neglect. These children are eligible for adoption by a relative or non-relative.

Foster care parent(s) can be single or married, working or a stay-at-home parent, have children already in the home, no children or grown children. They can be of a variety of ethnic, religious and financial backgrounds. To care for a foster care child, you must be certified, approved or licensed by your home state. Your approval, certification or license will indicate the number of, age and background, of children for which your home has been approved. Singles and couples living throughout the United States who have an approved Foster Care/Adoption Homestudy (requirements differ from state to state and dependent upon adoption subsidy requests) may apply to foster or adopt.

When a child or sibling group is identified as a good placement for you, a local caseworker will contact you to review the information known on the child and discuss the process for meeting the child and pursuing the placement. You will have the opportunity to ask questions and determine if the placement is right for you.

While a child is in your home, the placement will be supervised by local social services. They will monitor the child’s development and adjustment while in your care. They will also provide support and guidance to you. The frequency of visits varies from case to case. Monthly payments for the child’s care are also available.

Adopting an Infant from Foster Care

While it is possible to have a newborn or baby placed with you as a foster parent, the state’s priority is to have the baby safely return to their biological family. In the event that parental rights are severed, the process to adopt takes time.

Parental rights are only severed after the biological parents are given ample opportunity to regain custody. The majority of children in foster care come due to neglect, often stemming from drug use. Courts may mandate drug rehabilitation, parenting courses, and a proven ability to provide appropriately for the child before reunification can occur. In the event that the biological family is non-compliant, fails to attend assigned classes or therapies, or is unwilling or unable to show evidence of addiction recovery, parental rights may be severed by the state. Parents are typically given six months initially with extensions granted based upon improvement. As this process takes some time, infants are often available for placement, but not for adoption.

Legal surrender of an infant creates an exception. In cases of legal abandonment, such as the Safe Haven or Safe Surrender programs, rules vary by state. Once an infant has been legally surrendered, the biological parents are given a window of time in which to file to regain custody should they have a change of heart. This can be anywhere from two weeks to two months, depending on the state. A legally surrendered infant can be free and clear for adoption soon after the allotted time period has passed. These adoptions can be quick and because there are little costs involved, there are many more people waiting to adopt than there are infants available.

Keep in mind that most safe surrender facilities only accept infants within a few days of birth. Babies who are abused, neglected, or abandoned outside of legal surrender facilities become a part of the traditional foster care system. Other babies may be removed from parental custody within hours of birth if the mother or baby test positive for illegal drugs. There is a great need for people willing to care for these vulnerable infants, whether it be for a short time or as eventual Adoptive Parents.

In order to be considered as a foster placement for an infant, either from legal surrender facilities or in cases where the infant is in state custody, certification is required. Relatives of the baby are an exception. Relatives are not required to be certified, but some supports are only available to licensed foster homes. Relatives can complete the certification process after placement. The process to certify to become a foster parent varies by state, but generally includes training, a background check, and a home inspection. There are little to no costs involved. Foster and adoptive certifications are separate, but can typically be done at the same time.

As a foster parent, you can specify which placements you are willing to take. You can state a preference for age, gender, race, health, and potential adoptability. Keep in mind that the more narrow your preferences are, the longer it can take to find a match. A case manager over placement may give an opinion on whether the case will go to adoption, but ultimately the decision is made in court. Bear in mind that it is not a contest to decide which family is better, but rather a determination if the biological family is fit to parent.

In the event that the biological parent’s rights are severed and there is no suitable relative willing to adopt, priority is given to the foster family. By agreeing to be a foster parent to an infant, you put yourself in a better position to adopt should the option become available. Because many babies are adopted by their foster families, if you do not foster first but would like to adopt through the state, the children available with parental rights already severed will typically be older.

Whether or not an infant placed in your care becomes adoptable, no effort to love a child is ever wasted. The care and love given an infant in his or her first year of life is critical to development. You can provide much needed support for a family in crisis. Where adoption is not possible, you can be a part of putting a family back together. Opening your heart and home to a child in foster care can be very rewarding, either because that child may become a part of your forever family or because you created a haven for them at a time when they were most vulnerable.

Foster Care vs Adopting

If you are considering adopting a child or becoming a foster parent, it may help to understand what the differences are between adoption and foster care. Here are some facts to help you choose which one is best for you:

Foster Care:

Foster care happens when a child welfare worker confirms that a child is living in a neglectful or abusive environment or their biological family or primary caregivers are unable to care for them and they need to be temporarily or permanently removed from their living situation and placed in a foster environment. This can happen sometimes if the biological parent or caregiver becomes ill, dies, or makes a sudden departure, such as incarceration.

The minor may be made a ward of the state, or court. The placement of the child is usually arranged through the government or a social service agency, and they will decide whether the child should be placed in an institution, group home, or private home.

Often someone in the child’s immediate environment, like a relative or a teacher, will step in to parent them, but many others are placed with foster families or in a facility or group home, either waiting for adoption, a reunion with their biological family, or until they reach the age of 18.

Foster parents are given monthly stipends by the government to cover the expenses of raising the children that are placed in their care.

Adoption:

Adoption happens when a person is granted legal and permanent parental custody of a child along with all rights, responsibilities, and filiation. The Adoptive Parents take on all responsibilities of raising the child.

Adoptions can occur between family members, or strangers. Adoption happens privately or through public adoption agencies, adoption attorneys, and/or through an adoption facilitator.

International and domestic adoptions are both common.

Today, most private domestic adoptions are usually deemed open, when the Birth Parent(s) want to maintain some degree of communication or get updates on the adopted child. In most international adoptions, there will be no contact with the birth family of the child.

According to an Adoptive Families Survey, adoption costs vary, from almost nothing if you adopt from US foster care, to more than $50,000 from several international countries, which may include home study fees, travel expenses, or living expenses and health care for the Birth Mother of the adopted child.

Fostering Challenges:

Foster care may not be a permanent solution. Foster parents have to prepare themselves to relinquish the foster child when the caseworker has finished making arrangements to reunite them with their primary caregivers or biological parents. Although in some cases, a foster parent will be awarded legal parental custody of a foster child, otherwise known as ‘foster to adoption.’

Child Welfare statistics tell us that on average, half the children placed in foster care are reunited with their parents or caregivers, and 45% of those were reunited in less than a year. This may be difficult emotionally for a foster parent, because of the bond that they’ve formed with the child.

Also many foster care children come with emotional, and sometimes physical evidence from abuse and neglect. According to Child Welfare statistics, in 2016, an estimated 676,000 children were victims of abuse and neglect nationwide. A foster parent has to be ready to love a child that may not know how to recognize love or who may test boundaries, disrupt the household harmony with tantrums, or demonstrate other stressful behaviors.

Adoption Challenges:

Adoption can be a lengthy process; anywhere from a few months to several years is the standard wait time for a domestic private adoption, but sometimes it can take longer.

There is a loss at the time of the adoption placement, and Adoptive Parents may share the grief of the Birth Mother.

Some prospective Adoptive Parents may not meet the eligibility requirements for domestic or international adoption.

Countries may close their adoption programs, eliminating options, and there is no one factor that will guarantee being selected by a Birth Mother.

Adoptive Parents take an emotional chance when deciding to adopt. There is no guarantee that the Birth Mother won’t change her mind about adoption during the pregnancy or within the time frame determined by the state to relinquish parental rights.

Parents of adopted children often face parenting challenges, mixed reactions from their family and friends, and have to prepare for other inevitable difficult discussions.

The joys of parenthood, whether biological, adoptive, or foster, always outweigh the risks and challenges. The rewards of raising and loving a child are apparent in every parenting victory, every smile, every laugh, and every precious moment.

How Long Does it Take to Adopt a Child Through Foster Care?

There are several factors that contribute to the amount of time it takes to adopt a child through foster care. The time it takes to adopt can be divided into three main parts: certification, placement and transition, and severance to adoption.

Certification

This portion of the journey to adoption is perhaps the most definitive. Each state varies in their requirements, but all have mandatory trainings to attend, paperwork (statements on finances, health, and a background check), and a home study. It can take several weeks to a few months depending on how quickly paperwork is submitted and processed.

Placement and Transition

Prospective foster and Adoptive Parents can specify the type of child they would like to have placed with them. They can request a specific age, gender, race, and level of care (such as willingness to take a child with physical or mental disabilities). Keep in mind that the more restrictions there are, the longer it may take to get a placement. Those willing to take a child of any race or gender, children over age six, or a sibling group are more likely to get a placement quickly.

For foster placements, keep in mind that the placement is always considered temporary until such time as parental rights are severed. Many foster parents do adopt the children placed with them, but there are many children who return to their biological parents or who are adopted by biological family members. There is a great need for foster parents, and caring for these children can be very rewarding, whether they stay or not. See Is Foster Adoption Right For Me?

Once a potential placement is identified, you will receive a phone call in which you can discuss the child or children with your case manager and decide if this is a placement you would like to accept. If the child is new to foster, they can be placed immediately. If the child is transitioning from another foster home or a state facility, you would first meet with the child in a public setting, then gradually increase the amount of time they spend with you and in your home.

If a child is initially a foster placement, the state will set the requirements the biological parent(s) must fulfill in order to have the child return home. Sometimes all that is required is a safety monitor (another accepted adult) in the home, in which case a child may go home quickly. Typically a case is set for review at six months. If the biological parents are non-compliant, the case plan may then be changed from reunification to severance and adoption. If the biological parents are actively participating in the plan, but not yet ready to regain custody, the judge may grant an extension to the case. Ideally a child under 18 months old should not be in care for more than a year, and though the state may have policies to that affect, there are many cases that take longer. Children older than 18 months are considered more bonded to their parents and vice versa, and the parents are generally given more time. There are many factors and so many variations that it is hard to establish a typical time frame. A child may be in foster care without being adoptable for six months to several years depending upon the biological parents’ participation and the court’s decisions.

For those who prefer not to foster prior to adoption, it is possible to adopt through the state without fostering first. There are children whose parental rights have been severed that can be transitioned into an adoptive home.

Severance to Adoption

Once parental rights are severed, the case turns to adoption. There are instances in which biological family members, such as grandparents, who chose not to foster do come forward to adopt and are given priority if the placement is considered appropriate by the state. If there is no potential biological placement, the foster parents are approached. Some foster parents choose strictly to foster, and an adoptable child would be transitioned from that foster home to an adoptive placement. There is typically a six month period of transition. If a child has been in care for over six months and the foster parents choose to adopt, the adoption can often be expedited without the need to wait an additional six months.

The adoption process includes licensing (which can often be done at the same time as foster licensing as the majority of the requirements are similar), selecting an attorney (many, but not all, states cover this cost), filing, and then the actual adoption date. Depending on how busy the courts are, an adoption date can be set within a couple months or longer once all appropriate documents are submitted and processed.

Adopting a child through the foster care system is a journey more than an event. There is a great need for committed, caring individuals willing to devote their time to care for these vulnerable children.