Choosing to adopt from foster care is a tremendous undertaking. I commend you if you are considering this. There are many benefits to foster care adoption, including greatly reduced cost of adoption. That being said, there is a long process that takes about 6-9 months or as long as a year. Here is what to expect:
First, search for a good, reputable foster adoption agency. In some cases, a private foster adoption agency guides you through the process. In other cases, the state is involved, as well as a privately contracted agency. Next, figure out what skills you have, and match them to the types of services the private agency provides. The many different types of services can range from regular to therapeutic to developmental disabilities. There are sectarian (religious) and non-sectarian agencies. Do your homework to see which agency works best for you. Find out if they have any rules or expectations that go above and beyond the state rules. Find out if there are any additional fees or application costs. Lastly, find out which agencies go above and beyond in terms of the support you receive as a foster/adoptive parent. Do they offer respite? Do they offer 24/7 support? Do they offer free activities for families? How long does the support continue after the adoption? These are very important questions.
- Home study
“The home study is the social services equivalent of a root canal.” Who said that? I did… after my third adoption. Then I became an adoption specialist, and I was on the other side, administering the “procedure.” Because of this, I gained a fresh perspective on home studies. I realized how valuable a home study is. Like a root canal, a home study can feel long, painful, and invasive. However, something good comes out the other side: a comprehensive, written document that is the result of dozens of hours of investigation and gives a snapshot of your eligibility for foster care and adoption. The home study usually includes interviews, background checks, physician statements, references, and a summary of the home inspection, among other things. A good foster adoption agency knows how to summarize all this information in order to present it to the state and/or county for approval.
- Licensing and certification
Once a home study is complete, the agency submits it to the appropriate authorities for licensing and certification. These are two different processes that may vary from state to state. In Arizona, for example, applicants become licensed by the state to become foster parents and then become certified to adopt by the county where they reside. Licensing and certification have expirations and limits on what type of children you may foster or adopt.
- Child match
Once an applicant is licensed and certified, the search for a child begins. Finding a good adoptive match is not like choosing the right gift from a bridal registry. There is no such thing as finding the wrong child; it’s just that the correct family for the child has not been found yet. The trend now is to find a family who can care for a child’s special needs. Keep in mind that the foster children available for adoption are in foster care through no fault of their own, but are there due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Therefore, they may have behaviors that are unfamiliar to you. A good adoption professional trains and prepares his or her clients to meet these challenges head-on so they won’t be caught off guard when behaviors such as food hoarding, head banging, and sexualized behaviors appear. Once a match is made, pre-placement visits begin. Then comes placement of the child, usually a minimum of six months before finalization.
- The legal process
Lawyers. Yuck! Attorneys get a bad rep sometimes, but having a good attorney makes a big difference when you are ready to adopt. At some point, attorneys have to become involved to direct the legal process. Documents such as the Petition for Adoption and the Order for Adoption are two such documents that are necessary to compete a legal adoption. Once these documents are in order, a final adoption date is chosen by the court, and the judge signs the Order of Adoption, making the child legally yours. In most states, the attorney’s fees are waived in foster adoption cases. Even if they are not, these fees may be recouped as a child tax credit with the IRS the following year.
Yes, the process to adopt can be long, uncomfortable, and laborious—sort of like pregnancy, ironically. Just like pregnancy, the results are beautiful. And, like pregnancy, it is well worth the effort.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children: 6 of which are adopted. His adoption children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.