How Do I Adopt a Foster Child?

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Are you considering becoming a foster to adopt resource for your area? Would you like to adopt a foster child? How exactly do you go about adopting through the foster care system?

The first step to adopting a foster child would be to become a licensed foster parent. Getting your license to foster takes a bit of time but isn’t as difficult as you might think.

If you contact your local human services department, they will be able to help you with the process. It will include paperwork, background checks, home visits, and probably a certain amount of education hours. The county typically will offer classes for licensing of foster parents, and you will want to enroll and be sure to attend. There will be a mandatory amount of time you are expected to attend for education hours. There will also be an expectation of continuing education on relevant topics after you are licensed in order to keep the license current.

The home visit will help social workers determine the number of children you can legally foster, as well as go over basic safety requirements. You must keep medication and cleaning products in areas where children cannot access them. You must also have electrical outlets covered when not in use and other basic safety standards. There is a requirement for smoke detectors in the home as well. A social worker will access the space in the home to determine the number of children you are able to foster at a time.

If you are interested in adopting, you will want to have a home study completed so you can be considered for pre-adoptive or legal risk placements. A home study is required to pursue adoption and having one on file will help speed up your process. Your county social workers can likely help you find a social worker who can complete the home study process with you. A home study will have a fee, but it is fairly in-depth and is good for several years. I felt like it was similar to the foster licensing process, but a bit more intense. There were a few added requirements for the home study as well, including fingerprinting.

Once you are licensed as a foster parent and have a current home study completed, you can be a pre-adoptive resource home. This means that children who are determined to be legal risk placements, as well as children who are free for adoption, can be placed in your home.

A legal risk placement is a child who is not yet legally free to adopt, but their case has changed from solely reunification to include a concurrent plan of adoption. The case is recognized as a long-term one with little progress made toward the reunification goal. The biological family still has a chance to regain placement of the child/children but must show progress.

Typically, if you are interested in adopting, a child must reside with you for a minimum of six months before you are able to pursue adoption. This helps both the family and the child to adjust to each other and get past the “honeymoon” phase of the relationship.

The “honeymoon” is a common term to describe the early stages of the relationship in which everyone is on their best behavior and still treating each other as guests, rather than family. Once that phase has passed, true behavior and feelings are shown and you will be able to determine if the placement is a good fit for all involved.

When looking to adopt a child from foster care, you may be asked to take in older children. While it is possible to adopt infants from foster care, the majority of children available for adoption are past the infant and toddler stage.

When you fill out your home study and foster licensing paperwork, you are able to specify the ages of children you are willing to care for and/or potentially adopt.

There are many children waiting in foster care that are legally free to be adopted. As I stated, most are older, from sibling groups, or with special needs. It is important to educate yourself on any needs your future child may have to best prepare yourself, and your home, for your future. Having a good support system is imperative to having a successful family when adopting an older child or a special needs child from foster care.

Once you are licensed and have your home study completed, then you can go on a website for each state that will feature small profiles of foster children who are awaiting permanent homes and families. If you are waiting to adopt, you can look at these profiles to see if there are any that may be a good fit for you and your home. Often, sibling groups wait longer to be adopted together. If you are able to open your home to more than one child, considering a sibling group might be for you.

One benefit of being able to foster a child prior to adopting them is to begin forming bonds with them and to determine if permanency is a good option for the family. You are able to assess the needs of the child, and determine whether your family can adequately meet these needs. All children who are in foster care have experienced some childhood trauma. Each case is individual, and the trauma-based behavior and needs will vary with each child. While some children have extreme trauma and need a lot of support and interventions, others may not suffer noticeable effects from their childhood trauma.

Many choose to adopt from foster care because there is little to no expense when pursuing a foster care adoption. Many of the costs for the required classes and the cost of the home study can be reimbursed. Not all areas reimburse these costs, so you will want to check with your local department of human services to determine if your costs can be recovered. Even if they are not refunded, the costs involved with foster care adoption are significantly less than the costs of adoption through an adoption agency. A foster care adoption usually costs just a few thousand dollars, if anything. Meanwhile, adopting with a private agency can cost tens of thousands of dollars. If you are unable to pay the agency fees, looking into adopting through foster care is a good option.

If a child is placed with your family and is legally free for adoption, the placement can be finalized legally typically in under a year. However, legal risk placements can take a much longer time to finalize, and in some cases, the child does not become adoptable and is reunited with their family.

This can be particularly hard to deal with if you have had a child in your home for the long term and had hoped to adopt. The first goal in foster care is to reunite children with their biological family whenever possible. As a foster home, you also agree to try to help facilitate reunification. You are agreeing that you will help to care for children with no expectation that you will become their permanent home.

As you foster and bond with children, it can be incredibly difficult to bear the emotions of having them reunite with their family. In my opinion, it is the hardest part of foster care. However, it may be an expected outcome and one you need to be prepared to endure.

If the child you are fostering does become legally free for adoption, you (as the foster parent) are usually the first resource considered. At that point, you will want to determine if adoption is right for you and your family. If you feel like this child will be a good permanent addition, paperwork for adoption can begin. Once the adoption petition is submitted, you are able to schedule a court date for your adoption. As long as all requirements are met, adoption usually takes place within a few months of the official petition to adopt being filed.

Every state and county will have their own standards and rules for filing adoption paperwork. In my area, a lawyer was not required, and we could obtain the paperwork ourselves. This meant the costs were limited to the filing of the petition, and the cost of the document copies and birth certificates at the end of the adoption. Our social worker was not legally able to fill out the paperwork for us, however, she was able to walk us through the process without giving any advice that would be considered “legal” advice. You will want to see what the law in your area allows for adoption petitions, and whether you can file on your own, or if you are required to be represented by an attorney.

When adopting through foster care, it is unusual to be able to legally adopt a child during their first year of life. While you may be placed with an infant, and be able to adopt them, the time needed to pursue the reunification plan, and change to termination of parental rights and adoption will typically mean the child is a toddler by the time the adoption occurs. Personally, I was placed with a newborn, and his adoption was not finalized until he was nearly 2 years old. The uncertainty and waiting time to get to the adoption is exhausting. The final outcome of adding an amazing child to our family is worth that emotional roller coaster that is foster care adoption.

If you have adopted a child with special needs from foster care you may be eligible to receive an adoption subsidy. This subsidy works much the same way as the monthly stipend you receive as a foster parent. The subsidy is based on the child’s need and is adjustable. If a child does not qualify for a subsidy as a young child but needs services as they age, you can request a subsidy at that time. Since foster care adoption tends to involve older children, their needs are typically known and a subsidy is offered from the start.

The subsidy agreement is a part of the foster care adoption paperwork. You must sign that you agree with the amount offered (including nothing if no subsidy is necessary for the child’s well-being) in order to complete your adoption paperwork. However, as I said, there is an option to petition for a subsidy change at a later date if necessary.

What should you expect at your adoption hearing?

Truthfully, the adoption hearing may feel a bit anticlimactic. You and your family have been working so hard toward this day, with much time and effort into paperwork, interviews, meetings, and caring for the child you seek to make your own, and the hearing is typically very short. You may have a packed courtroom of family and friends, and the hearing lasts just a few minutes, and you are left feeling a bit underwhelmed.

Be prepared that the hearing itself may not be the true highlight of the adoption. While it is exciting to be able to finalize your adoption and feel a sense of relief with finishing all that work that brought your dreams to fruition, the hearing is so fast that it may not reflect all that you thought it would. Paperwork must still be filed in court, birth certificates reissued, and social security cards changed. While the big day has come and gone, there is still some more work to do.

In my own experience, I really felt the relief of finalizing after all my child’s new documents were in order.

The adoption of a foster child is a bit different. You have likely been parenting this child for a period of time already. You probably feel as though you have been their family for months or years. Finalizing the adoption will not change your day-to-day routine. I often say it is a court document that means nothing but everything all at once. The order signed by the judge makes everything official. Your family is now legally recognized as a family. However, you have likely felt like a family for such a long time that this moment of legalization feels underwhelming. The court is confirming what you have known for some time, that you are this child’s parent.

I bring this up simply because the build-up to this adoption day is so grand, and I don’t want anyone to feel disappointed in the short court hearing that is what makes things official.

By all means, if it is your families desire to make it an event, hold a party after the hearing. Or if a party isn’t your style, celebrate in a way that makes the day special to your family.

 

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Jennifer is a mother to 3 children (one biological, two adopted). She is also a mom to numerous pets. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s classroom, reading, and crafting in her spare time. She has been married for almost 15 years.


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