November is National Adoption Month in the United States. During this month we can reflect on adoption and honor adoptees, biological parents, and adoptive parents. This is also a time that we emphasize the plight of children in the United States and around the world who are in need of loving, permanent homes in need of adoption through foster care.
One huge area of need in the U.S. comes from the foster care system. According to some sites, approximately 100,000 children of all ages are in need of adoption. These children and youth are currently in the foster care system and have usually experienced some form of trauma. Sibling groups, single children, children with medical, behavioral, and emotional challenges comprise the majority of children and youth who need permanency through adoption. Helping others understand adoption through foster care is one avenue we can take as we celebrate National Adoption Month.
Adoption through foster care refers to the permanent adoption of a child or children into a family who is licensed and approved to adopt foster children. Adoption occurs after the legal termination of biological parents’ rights. However, children who enter foster care are not automatically eligible for adoption through termination of rights. This process is one that begins after the courts have applied the state and federal statutes for reunification with biological parents. In most cases (not all as every case is different), the federal law requires the courts to provide reasonable efforts for at least fifteen out of twenty-two months.
Adoption through foster care is common in the United States. According to the United States Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, in 2018 there were approximately 63,000 children and youth were adopted out of the foster care system. Often, relatives of foster children receive priority placement of these children and youth. If the case goal turns to adoption, these relatives are able to adopt them.
Children and youth are also adopted by non-relative families who are licensed for the purpose of foster care, adoption, or both. In a lot of these cases, foster families may receive preference over other families for adoption according to each state’s statute of preference for the longevity of care. This does not always apply if any family members are found during the duration of the case and are interested in the eventual adoption of the child. As stated previously, each case is different!
Before a family begins the process of approval as a foster or adoptive family for foster care, it is important to understand that most children and youth in foster care have experienced trauma. Yes, even newborns (trauma can occur in the womb). The impact of trauma on a child’s life can greatly interrupt developmental, emotional, and physical health. Removal of children out of their families of origin is, in itself, a trauma. The truth is despite worst-case scenario situations that children are pulled from, most still love their parents, are attached to them, and desire to be with them again.
Children enter into foster care usually due to a crisis within their families. Foster care was never intended to be a straight route to adoption or set up as an adoption agency as the goal of foster care is to restore the child to their family of origin. Foster families are required to be a part of this process, even if they desire to eventually adopt a child. This is the number one priority for foster families to remember!
It is crucial for prospective families to become trauma-informed. An avenue to this is through various pieces of training offered both online and in-person. Getting to know other foster/adoptive families, calling around to various agencies, and reading books are also ways to research how trauma affects a child’s developing brain. Also, the idea that adoption will solve trauma is outdated. While permanency and stability can be essential components of healing, it is important to understand just as how the impact of trauma typically does not disappear overnight, the healing from it does not as well.
Adoption through foster care requires patience, flexibility, and a heck of a lot of resilience. It is often said that the hard part of adoption begins after the gavel falls. As children age and become more aware of their loss history, adoptive families need to navigate the journey with their children and do so with authentic and honest concern. Essentially, families will become loss managers for their children; allowing kids to grieve while also maintaining an open, honest, and loving environment that accepts the child’s loss.
If you are interested in adoption through foster care, here are a few things to consider:
● There are various training and a home study that you will have to go through in order to be approved to adopt a child out of foster care. The home study may also be referred to as an assessment. In most instances, both the training and assessment are free for both relatives and prospective foster/adoptive families. Going through training and having a home study written is the first step in the approval process for adoption through foster care.
The home study is (essentially) a biography of your family. In it, the social worker explores your childhood history, family relationships, marital status (if applicable), finances, understanding of discipline and trauma, the physical standards of your home as well as multiple personal, employer, and medical references. It sounds like an intimidating process, especially when considering the amount of paperwork to fill out, but it is very important to remember that social workers are tasked with the responsibility of approving families to provide care for children who have already experienced hardship. The liability falls on social workers to make sure they inspect any concerns and address issues. Because of this, honesty is key.
● It is possible to adopt a child who does not live in your home state. This is called interstate adoption. Families who see profiles of children listed on varying national adoption registries can request their home study to be sent to the children’s case manager. This can be a time-consuming and lengthy process. Once received, the case manager will most likely need time to read the study and discuss options with the team involved in the child’s case. It is common for interviews to occur after the team has narrowed down the home studies.
Once a family is selected, the pre-placement process begins. Pre-placement meetings will look different for interstate adoption than the pre-placement meetings for those adopted within their home states. Since each situation varies, it is important to ask the child’s foster care team what the expectations will be for this process.
● Adoption through foster care (typically) does not have a cost to it. In most cases, federal adoption subsidies offset the cost of the adoption for the adoptive parents. After adoption, children may be eligible to receive subsidy money until the age of eighteen for medical care and other supportive resources.
While this varies from state-to-state, there is a federal adoption tax credit that does apply to nearly all children adopted through foster care. It is highly recommended for families to accept adoption subsidies. Although some families may not feel they want to accept the money it can often be used to provide therapy and/or other resources for children that medical insurance may not cover.
● Let’s talk about special needs. Prospective families who choose adoption through foster care will hear this phrase a lot. Often, when one hears special needs, it is in reference to medical issues. While there are many children in care with medical concerns, most foster care children’s needs tend to be more developmental, emotional, and behavioral. Each state classifies the level of care needed for children.
For example in the state of Missouri, the levels are traditional, elevated needs A, elevated needs B, and therapeutic. The Traditional level refers to children who are functioning at a level considered age-appropriate given their life experiences. Elevated needs level A refers to kids who need added supervision, often require therapy, or special considerations both in the home and classroom. Elevated needs level B and therapeutic both require high levels of supervision, behavior management plans, therapy, medication management, and many additional resources. Again, this is what the state of Missouri does, make sure to check with your state in order to find the correct information.
It is important for prospective adoptive families to understand what level a child is placed at when considering adoption. If interested in a particular child or sibling group, learn as much as you can, ask questions, read the histories, and try to look at the child and info from a trauma-informed lens. Special needs does not mean damaged or broken. It means that these children need parenting with intentionality.
● Sibling groups and older youth tend to represent the largest categories of need for adoption in the U.S. foster care system. Why is this? For the most part, finding placements for sibling groups of three or more children can prove to be difficult not just adoptive placements, but foster placements, as well. If sibling groups are separated into different
foster families, the goal should always be to get them into one home as quickly and safely as possible. If the case goal changes to adoption and the current foster family does not want to adopt, a search will be performed for a permanent adoptive home.
Larger sibling groups without a current potentially permanent option often linger in care for longer periods once the goal is changed. The last thing any child welfare team wants is to separate sibling groups for the purpose of adoption but this does happen. Older youth are also at high risk for aging out of care without a permanent adoptive family. If this occurs, these youth can face tragic risks as they enter into adulthood. If you are interested in adoption through foster care, please consider sibling groups and older youth.
● To be able to adopt from foster care, you do not have to be married. Across the United States, many foster and adoptive parents are single. Single adoptive parents are just as needed as married couples. Many children and youth who have experienced trauma do better in single-parent homes. One main thing to consider when adopting as a single parent is having a back-up for emergencies. Who are your go-to people? Will they be ready and willing to help you, give you a break from time-to-time, and provide support? Find other single foster and adoptive parents. Seek them out. Ask them lots of questions! They can be some of your greatest allies in this journey.
● Each state has its own requirements to be approved as an adoptive parent for foster children. When doing research, make sure to check with your local community child welfare agencies as they can direct you to resources and local entities that will help with the process.
If you are considering adoption through foster care, contact your local child welfare agencies and ask questions. Ask anything on your heart and mind! It is so important to be fully prepared and social workers are pretty used to getting all types of questions on the subject. Don’t be shy to ask!
Once you’ve decided on an agency (private or with the state you reside in), sign up for classes! Going through the training will help you assess where you stand on various issues stated in this article. It can also be a good way to connect with others sharing in the same experience.
Adoption through foster care can be a hard, difficult journey, but it can also lead one down a path that teaches about love, humility, and resilience. Having a willing heart is often the first step. Soaking in trauma-informed care and applying it to parenting is crucial if one wants to be a successful adoptive home.
One last thing to consider with adoption through foster care, and this one can be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s not about you. It can’t be. Your desire to adopt children out of the foster care system has to be about the children. As much as it feels like your journey, it really is more about their life story; one that you have the power to change. Remember that.