Guide to Adopting from Foster Care

Foster care is importantly different from adoption.  Whereas adoption is intended to be permanent, foster care is a temporary arrangement for children whose parents—voluntarily or involuntarily—do not have custody of them for the present, often following some form of abuse or neglect.  The children are then placed in the temporary custody of a relative, a foster care family, or a group home.  Slightly over half of foster children eventually return to the custody of their birth parents.

How foster care can lead to adoption

If children have been in foster care for a certain period of time, and the state deems the birth parents still unable to parent responsibly and safely, the state files in the court system to have the parents’ rights terminated.  This means that the children can now be put up for adoption.  In the majority of such cases, the children are adopted by the relative or foster family that has been caring for them during their time in the foster care system.  When this is not possible, however, the state must seek other adoptive parents.

How to adopt a child from foster care

The process for adopting a child from foster care differs from state to state, but some general points can be stated:

* Basic requirements

The requirements to even be eligible to start the process of becoming adoptive parents typically include a minimum age, a criminal background check with no record of child abuse or neglect, sufficient financial resources and income to raise a child (not necessarily wealthy), good enough health to be able to raise a child (not necessarily perfect health, nor lacking all disabilities), and letters of reference.

* The homestudy

After an orientation, prospective adoptive parents are typically required to attend preparation classes for several weeks.  At the end of the classes, a “homestudy” is prepared.

A homestudy is a document written by a case worker assigned to the prospective adoptive parents that includes information about their preferences that is relevant to matching them with the right child from the foster care system, and an assessment of whether they would be fit parents able to provide a good home to a child.  This can take several months to complete, as the parents must be interviewed multiple times and the conditions under which the adoptive child would be living must be thoroughly investigated.

The classes, the interviews, the time spent with the case worker, are crucial, because people looking to adopt a child must be sufficiently informed, screened, and counseled to ensure that adopting a foster child is what’s right for them and for any child they might adopt.  Children coming out of foster care frequently struggle with behaviors due to past neglect and abuse; they can be very difficult to deal with.

In addition to helping the prospective adoptive parents better understand if adopting a child from the foster care system is in general the right thing for them, the process also helps them to understand what specific type of child—age, gender, disabilities, one child or multiple siblings, etc.—would best fit in their family.

* Matching adoptive parents with a child

Once approved to adopt, the adoptive parents in consultation with their case worker review the profiles of foster children to look for someone who fits their preferences.  Meanwhile case workers for the children are looking over the profiles of the adoptive parents.  When a tentative match is made, both parties are given a chance to learn more about each other.  If all goes well, pre-placement visits are set up, and then the child is moved in with the adoptive parents.

* Additional considerations

There are usually minimal or no fees involved in adopting a child from the foster care system.  It is allowed for the child to be of a different race or ethnicity, or to be from a different state.  It is almost always advisable to hire an attorney when going through the adoption process.

The whole process from the initial contact with the adoption agency to when the child from the foster care system is placed with the new adoptive parents usually takes a year or a little longer, with it then taking about another six months until the adoption is finalized in court.  It can be significantly longer or shorter of course, depending on the circumstances in a specific case.

Sources:

Carrie Craft, “Complete a Foster Care Adoption.” About.com.

“About Adoption.” Adopt Us Kids.

“Adopting a Child From the Foster Care System.” Adoption.com.