Not every foster parent intends to adopt the children they foster, but there are many foster parents who hope to adopt one or more foster children at some point in their journey. Even if they did not originally plan on adoption, foster parents may find themselves attached to their children and suddenly not wanting to say goodbye. Therefore, it is very common to wonder, “When can I adopt my foster child?”
Unfortunately, this is a question that your family, friends, neighbors, and even complete strangers will most likely ask you more frequently than you care to hear or want to answer.
There really is no quick and easy answer. There are no hard and fast rules since every case is as different and unpredictable as the next. Until you are in the court room signing the adoption papers, nothing is one hundred percent guaranteed and there is always the chance that something could happen and circumstances change. Even if everyone involved in the case is telling you that things are “for sure headed to adoption,” it’s best to keep in mind that anything could still happen.
Not All Foster Children Will Need To Be Adopted
The first part of the answer to the question “When can I adopt my foster child?” that you probably do not want to hear is that you might not be able to adopt your foster child. Not every foster child will need to be adopted. Some children will go to a relative’s home or kinship placement if a suitable family member can be located. Some children will go back to their parents when the courts decide it is safe and they have completed their case plan. In fact, the majority of time, when a child is first placed into foster care the original goal is reunification. That does not mean that the goal will be met, but you will not know that right away. You will have to wait, sometimes up to 2 years or more. During that time, foster parents should be supportive of the goal and not do anything to hinder the child’s relationships with their parents or sabotage their reunification efforts.
When Will I Know If Our Case Is Headed To Adoption?
Typically, the courts give the birth parents at least one full year to work their case plan. Once they complete their case plan, the children should be reunified with their birth parents. This transition can be quick or slow, where the frequency and length of visits are gradually increased until the children are reunified with their parents full-time.
If the parents have not completed their case plan by the specified time, the court most likely will grant them an extension (possibly 6 months to a year). If an extension is not granted then most likely their parental rights will be terminated and the county will obtain permanent custody of the children until they can be adopted. The birth parents have a certain number of days with which they can object or appeal the decision. Usually they can appeal twice which could delay the case up to another year or longer.
Can I Adopt My Foster Child Once The Parental Rights Are Terminated?
Once the parental rights are terminated and the appeal time lapses or the appeals are finished, a match meeting will be held to determine who is a best fit or match to adopt the child. Ideally, the foster family caring for the child should be considered first.
After you have been matched with a child there are still some things that need to be completed to get to the final adoption date, but the major hurdles are behind you. This process could take approximately 2-6 months or longer. It just takes time to complete each step such as subsidy negotiations, meetings with the adoption worker and the adoption attorney, waiting on medical records, birth certificates, etc., and completing all the necessary paperwork.
Once all the paperwork is completed and filed with the court, you are now just waiting for an available court date to finalize the adoption. The adoption date must be at least six months after the child was placed in your home. That is not usually an issue since by now it has probably been at least one to two years or longer that you have been fostering the child. On adoption day, breathe a sigh of relief because finally, the day has arrived that you can adopt your foster child!
Are Any Foster Children Waiting To Be Adopted Now?
There are foster children waiting to be adopted which means their birth parents’ rights have already been terminated and they are legally free for adoption. Of the approximately 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, more than 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. Approximately 20,000 youth will reach the age of 18 and age out of the foster care system each year without ever being adopted. You can find a listing of the waiting children here.
If you know that you want to adopt a foster child and do not necessarily want to wait the possible two plus years and face the unknown outcomes of foster care, then adopting a waiting child might be a great option for you.
In this case where the children are already available for adoption, the process could be much quicker. You would first submit an inquiry and your home study to see if you are chosen as a match to adopt the child. Once you are matched, the child would be adoptively placed in your home. Sometimes this transition is gradual and should be based on the needs of the child. The child would then need to be in your home for at least six months before the adoption could be finalized. The timeline for this type of foster care and adoption is a little more predictable since the county already has permanent custody of the child.
In summary, if your foster child is already legally free for adoption, you could finalize the adoption in as little as six months from the time the child was placed in your home.
If the child is not already legally free for adoption, you really won’t know when or if the adoption will occur. The absolute earliest the adoption could happen would be at least six months from the time they were placed in your home, but more realistically it would be approximately one to two years or even longer.
Terminating parental rights is a serious matter that most courts do not take lightly. There are, of course, always different circumstances that can affect the outcome of a case and the timeline. Some factors that may speed up the adoption would be if the birth parents surrender their rights voluntarily or request that you adopt the child, if the birth parents have already lost custody and rights of previous children, or if the birth parents will be incarcerated for the foreseeable future, etc.
Whether you will be able to adopt the children in your care or not, should not affect how you love them or treat them daily. These children need to feel safe and loved for as long as they are in your home whether that is for a day, month, year, or forever.
For more information on how to adopt a child in the foster care system, visit adoption.com/photolisting.
Sherri Eppley is a wife and mother to two amazing children. As a foster and adoptive parent, she strives to raise awareness of all issues related to foster care and adoption. Her passions include her family, church, MOPS, and helping people in any ways she can.