What is Involved in
Foster Care Adoption?
Basic steps that apply in all states.
- Disclaimer: This is meant to help overcome the fear of “What am I getting into?”. This is a summary of typical procedures. Not a promise. Don’t let it scare you off. Although this roadmap refers to a single child, frequently more than one child will be involved. We refer to social workers as feminine, because many are, but there are male social workers as well. Please do not hold us liable for errors or omissions, but we would like to hear about them.
- Timing: There are challenges with any child, but none of the steps of the adoption process is particularly difficult. Some of it is just common sense. A primary requirement is patience. The processes below typically take 3-6 months.
- Terminology: Be sure you understand the difference between adoption and foster care. Below, both are discussed together. Adoption and foster care are part of a counseling-related field called “social work”. Social workers are sometimes called just “workers”. Adoption-related social workers who work for state governments are sometimes called “case workers”, referring to child abuse cases. A nicer term is “a child’s social worker”. Social workers who write home studies are sometimes called family adoption workers; they may work for the state, for an adoption agency, or be employed by a family independently. Upon completion of the home study, you will awarded a license; sometimes you might end up being referred to as a “resource family”. Additional special needs certification classes might also be called “additional in-service training” (continuing education units, CEUs). Long term foster parents may be required to take periodic additional training.An unsuccessful adoption (a “disruption“) is a career disaster for a social worker. So social workers are on your side but fairly cautious. Moving a child from one foster-family to another is damaging to the child; “permanency” is the desired “outcome”. Employee turnover in child welfare social work is a big problem for many states.
- Foster or Adopt? Foster care can be a joy or somewhat difficult, depending on the placement and on circumstances outside your control. There are trade-offs; inexperienced or unsure parents may find fostering to be good training for adoption. On the other hand, if you become attached to foster kids and then children return to their birth family, there may be some heartbreak. But some foster children may never return home because their parents situation becomes systematically worse; in this case, foster parents may have the opportunity to adopt the children. Foster children are usually younger than adoptive placements. If you are younger and you want only young children, there may be more opportunity to find them in foster care. On the other hand, adoption offers you the opportunity to choose the child you would adopt with full disclosure, but in foster care, you are frequently called in-an- emergency and are pressured to take a child, suitable for your home, but perhaps not a child you would choose, on your own.
- Most Families (and many single people) Can Foster or Adopt. Inasmuch as the United States is a very diverse place, there is not one single profile of the ideal home for a child. Childrens workers seek to match the home to the children’s needs. Foster care and adoption is not for everybody, but is not impossibly difficult either. Your abilities to nurture, protect, be committed to, and teach a child how to cope, grow, and thrive will make both you and the child stronger and build lasting bonds between you.
- For either foster care or adoption, you need:
- Adoption Training Classes
- Child-welfare background check (submit fingerprints, FBI and local criminal record checks)
- A home study
- To find a child to adopt (or be placed with a foster child)
- Post-placement visits (or contact with a foster child’s social worker)
- To finalize the adoption (or surrender the foster children back to the birth family)
- State Law: Adoption and foster care are administered by states and counties with federal supervision and funding under state law. Each state has different laws regarding adoption processes and requirements. In some cases, there are county differences in unregulated procedure as well. In many locales, a home study for foster care differs from a home study for adoption. Ask questions! Every state is slightly different.
- Public Agencies and Private Agencies: The need for foster and adoptive parents is so great that both public and private agencies help parents go through the adoption process. Public agencies, in general, have a slower process (perhaps several months) and have more state-mandated procedures and limits; for example, a state (public) agency will help you through a home study, but you may not be permitted to use the home study to adopt a child from another state. Private adoption agencies may condense training into a weekend or two and private adoption agency home studies typically do not have such limitations. Private agencies also provide infant adoption, foreign adoption, counseling, and other child welfare services not available from state agencies.
- Why Adopt? Adoption is one of the few win-win-win propositions in life. A successful adoption builds a loving family for the parents, provides a much brighter future for the child, and saves the state and federal governments substantial amounts in child support supervision and otherwise “expected” criminal justice.
- Orientation and Support: Most states will provide background on their procedures and instructions for obtaining support services. An example, for the State of Oregon, can be found here. Be sure to ask similar questions during your orientation. There is a very valuable list of “Things to Consider” in this particular booklet.
- MAPP, PRIDE, and other training: Many states use MAPP (Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) or PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education) as their base curriculum and extend it with state-specific information.
- Curriculum: Information about the PRIDE curriculum (87 hours) can be found here: PRIDE.
Information about the MAPP curriculum can be found here: MAPP.
There are several variants of the training and philosophies, such as Pathways, TBRI®, (Trust Based Relational Intervention), TIPS (Trauma Informed Parenting for Safety), or state-specied curriculum. All adult parents should complete the curriculum recommended by your family adoption worker, but in some cases, other training is acceptable. Child care cannot be provided during training. Plan ahead.
- As an example, PRIDE Includes:
- Meeting the Developmental Needs of Children at Risk
- Using Discipline
- Issues Related to Sexuality
- Responding to Sexual Abuse
- Relationships between Children and Their Families
- Working Child-Care Team Member
- Children’s Personal and Cultural Identity
- The Fostering Experience
- The Effects of Chemical Dependency on Children
- Child Development
- Preteen and Teen Development
- Supporting Teen Attachment
- Children Who Have Experienced Domestic Violence
- Preparing Youth for Adulthood
- Improving the Educational Outcomes
- More information about states training and other topics can be found at the US Child Welfare Information Gateway.
Your home must be better than the one the child left.
- Legal: Willingness and ability to respect and the state-specific foster-care or adoption laws. No resident in household can have felony for child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against a child, or a crime involving violence, battery, rape, physical, sexual assault, homicide, drug or alcohol related offense. You must be lawfully present in the United States.
- Commitment: You can have parented before or be new to parenting. You must be willing and committed to being a parent. Families are sought on the basis of their ability to successfully parent the child.
- Race: While racial discrimination is completely illegal, if the child is of a different race or ethnic background, your adaptability, culture, income, age, marital status, partner, religion, appearance, and lifestyle will be considered.
- Housing: You must have adequate housing. You can own or rent your home or apartment with adequate space and facilities for the child. You must have a healthy, safe home with at least ?? (state specific) square feet of space per occupant in each bedroom. You must be able to provide children of opposite sexes with their own separate bedrooms if the kids are 4 years old or older.
- Marital Status: You can be single, married, widowed, or divorced. Any relationship, however, must be a committed relationship. If married, marriage must be stable and in some states more than ? (state-specific) years. If a married couple, usually one person must be a U.S. citizen.
- Age: Meet minimum age requirements (varies by state, between 18 and 25). Have no less than a 1?-year (state-specific) age difference between you and the child you wish to adopt. Have no more than a 4?-year (state-specific) age difference between you and the child you wish to adopt.
- Health: You must be healthy enough to meet a child’s needs. You cannot have a health condition or disability that would make it difficult to parent a child. All family members must complete physical examinations. The emotional requirements for adopting a child from foster care are the same as if you were adopting a baby through private domestic adoption.
- Income: You do not need to have a large income. You need to have sufficient resources to meet a child’s needs without relying solely on financial assistance from the government.
- Weapons: Keep any firearms locked away and stored separately from ammunition.
- Vice: Not smoke in front of children or permit others to do so. You must be able to protect the children from alcohol, marijuana, and other drug use.
- For every requirement, there are a few exceptions, sometimes because of the great need for safe homes. If you cannot meet the background requirements, there are other things you can do to help.
Home Study - You help the social workers understand the attributes of kids that would be appropriate in your home.
You help the social workers understand the attributes of kids that would be appropriate in your home.
- A home study, itself, is a written document describing your family. It is typically 10 or 20 pages long and helps the child’s social worker match the child to the home.
- The family adoption worker must confirm that the family is able to provide a stable, nurturing home to a child. An honest, positive assessment of the family home life is sought. A home study is compiled, by the family adoption worker, from the following information. Usually she asks:
- For a home inspection and investigatory visit
- For individual interviews with each adoptive parent
- For an individual interview all other members of the family. There are no right answers.
- For at least 3 family and non-family character references.
- For paperwork regarding finances, health, employment and more
- For important documentation such as birth certificates, marriage certificates and divorce decrees
- To verify that they able meet certain safety standards, like having working smoke detectors
- To verify that your house is generally safe and appropriate for a child.
- For information about your family background and childhood
- For information about your current family dynamics, values and traditions
- For information about your career, education and interests
- For information about your lifestyle and hobbies
- About your neighborhood and community
- About your experience with children and parenting style
- About your reasons for adopting
- About Your attitudes toward adoption and adopted children
- About Your knowledge about adoption issues
Find a child to adopt (or be placed with a foster child) - Foster parents are called when a child needs a home. Adoptive parents search for the children to complete their families.
Foster parents are called when a child needs a home. Adoptive parents search for the children to complete their families.
- All adopted children endure foster care before they can be permanently adopted. A foster child is placed with a foster family either after being removed from a birth home or another foster home. Foster kids frequently undergo trauma and may end up in several homes before stabilizing. In some states, kids change foster homes an average of every three months, which is difficult on everybody involved. You have the right to refuse any placement, but if you refuse too many without good cause, you will no longer be considered; there is desperate need for homes.
- Legal Risk or Legally Free: In most cases, the birth parents’ rights to their child have been abrogated with a “Termination of Parental Rights” (TPR) before a child is listed for adoption in a heart gallery or adoption exchange. However, the need may be so urgent, (perhaps a child is in a foster home where he/she may not want to be in), that sometimes a child will be put up for adoption before the TPR winds its way through the slow legal machinery. There can also be a legal dispute with one or more birth parents. An adoptive placement, in this circumstance is called a “legal risk” adoption. A child who has suffered a TPR is called “legally free” for adoption.
- Permanent Foster Care: A child is placed in permanent foster care when adoption is not legally possible or the child does not want a family.
- Age Out: About 20,000 American children, leave foster care each year, as adults, without a family, because no family is ever found for them. Many children who “age out” look for a family even after foster care has ended. Unfortunately, some find criminal families.
- Guardianship:Courts may appoint kin as guardians of a mature child until their birth parents again become available to them.
- ICPC and NEICE:In-state adoption is usually preferred over out-of-state unless out-of-state kin foster or adopt the child. A child is setback by school curriculum changes during interstate adoption so in-state adoption is usually recommended first. Exceptional families for exceptional children are exceptions. Interstate adoption is controlled by the federal Interstate Compact for Placement of Children (ICPC). The National Electronic Interstate Compact Enterprise (NEICE) clearinghouse provides communication for the contract between states that is necessary to place a child out-of-state.
- Families First: The recent (2018) Family First federal child welfare laws requires that states make a pro-active attempt to avoid foster care before separating a child from his/her birth family. Other parts of the law provide common foster care and home study requirements.
- ICWA: The federal Indian Child Welfare Act, which provides cultural support for the native American Indian tribes. The ICWA sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of, or eligible for membership in, a federally recognized tribe. The ICWA involves the child’s tribe as well as parents and kin in the casework decisions.
- Open Adoption: Some foster parents work with the birth parents to rear children. After such foster care, if the foster parents and birth parents agree, adoption can be arranged with state involvement. This kind of arrangement is called “open adoption”. Informal agreements for rehoming of children are completely illegal.
- Adoptive parents use state adoption exchanges, heart galleries, adoption agencies, AdoptUsKids, Adopt America Network, A Family For Every Child, or any other service which will honor their home study to locate the best child for their home.
- The home study must be transmitted to the child’s social worker so the child’s social worker can determine if a family is a good fit. Childrens workers may need to look for a fairly special family (but be legally unable to state that they are doing so). Sometimes more than 100 homestudies are accepted prior to making a placement decision. The family usually “inquires” about whether a child is still available for adoption through email. Sometimes the family is given a copy of their home study to “submit” it themselves, during child search, but that is not universal practice. In some states, the family must direct their adoption worker to “inquire” with the child’s social worker to determine whether a placement can be arranged (this is called a worker-to-worker requirement). Adoptive families, in those states, are not permitted to contact a child’s social worker directly until after a placement decision has been made.
- Searching for an adoptable child can be an emotional roller coaster and quite frustrating. Social workers, who are under intense career pressure to engineer successful adoptions, have to be very picky… we live in a very diverse country… and, for privacy reasons, cannot put the “whole story” about any child on the internet. Parents usually need to inquire or “submit” their home study for more than a dozen children before a placement is found.
- Over half of adoptive parents “give up” and let their home study expire without a placement. This is a disaster for everyone involved. Unless you realize you cannot provide a stable, loving home for a child, we encourage you to try to find the right child.
- After a child is placed in your home for the purpose of adoption, you will undergo at least six months of post-placement supervision before the final adoption decree is granted. These visits include interviews and your social worker will ensure you and the child are adjusting well to the placement and will offer any additional post-placement services or support you may need.
- Foster care rules require that you have regular contact with the social worker and clear medical procedures, travel, and other things through her.
- Sometimes the the family adoption worker assumes responsibility for post placement visits. In other circumstances, the adoption post-placement will be “supervised” by a different worker.
- If the child has difficulty adjusting, post placement visits may be more frequent or visits may continue longer than required.
Adoption Finalization and Cost - Unlike infant or foreign adoption, the important parts of foster care adoption are usually low cost, but there are incidental fees.
- After post placement visits are completed, the parents can finalize the adoption through the court system.
- There are other various incidental fees, such as for fingerprints, a legal bill for the adoption finalization attorney, or for a home study medical exam. Having some financial reserves or credit will help, even though the costs are nothing like the costs of infant or foreign adoption.
- In many states, the home study and training, above, are nearly free if you use the state agency, but will cost some money if you go through a private agency. Many private agencies are non-profit and supply services at cost.
- Incidental fees vary considerably by state. Your orientation should include a discussion of local fees “along the way”.
- For a private agency home study, for example, there is typically a fee. Some states or donors may help with this fee and some of that cost can be recovered through tax write-offs.
- There is a state stipend for foster parents to help cover the cost of providing for the child. Any reasonable child will cost more than the stipend and limiting your costs to the stipend may be considered child abuse. There is no profit in foster care; there are emotional rewards.