Mother and young girl

What is Foster Care Adoption?

Foster care adoption is the adoption of a child in foster care whose biological parents’ rights are terminated by a court. The child may be adopted by either foster parents or adoptive parents.

The state foster care system is currently the most popular way of growing one’s family, either through foster parenting or foster care adoption. Each year, more than 400,000 children live in foster care, about half of which live with foster parents. In 2013, over 230,000 children left the foster care system; of these, 21% were adopted.

How Does Foster Care Adoption Work?

A child may be removed from the home and placed into a foster home due to his or her parents’ neglect, physical abuse, substance abuse, etc. A judge will present the biological parents with a reunification plan, and a state case worker will help them follow this plan. If, over a period of time, the biological parents fail to complete the reunification plan, their parental rights will be terminated and the child will be eligible for adoption.

Meanwhile, a permanent family will be sought for the child, usually beginning with relatives. If no relative is found for adoption, the foster family will have the next opportunity to adopt the child (known as “foster to adopt”). And finally, the state will then look for adoptive families who are interested in adopting from their state foster care system.

People Who May Consider Adoption through Foster Care

  • Foster care adoption is a great option for the following types of families:
  • Foster parents of a child who cannot be reunited with his or her birth family
  • Families who want to adopt regardless of age, race, gender or special needs
  • Families who want to help a child in need of a home
  • People who would like to adopt but may not have the funds for other adoption methods

Children Available

The children available for adoption through the state foster care system vary greatly. Adopting an infant from foster care is uncommon because the birth parents are given time to correct their behavior, and the child has often grown past infancy once his or her parents’ rights are terminated. Most children in foster care are over the age of 2, and many are older than 8 years.

There are also variances in race, gender, and medical background among children in foster care. It is common for foster children to have attachment and developmental issues due to abuse and neglect from their biological parents, and from their experience in the state foster care system. Prospective adoptive parents must prepare to help children with behaviors resulting from this trauma.


Most anyone who is interested in adopting from foster care is allowed under their state’s adoption laws. First, they must apply for foster care adoption or to become foster parents, and then they must complete an adoption home study. If a family is determined to be fit to raise a child and provide a loving home, then they will be able to adopt a child. However, there are some requirements that can vary from state to state.

Some factors that may determine foster parent eligibility include:

  • Age – Some states require a minimum age, while other states require the adoptive or foster family to be a certain number of years older than the foster child.
  • Marital Status – Most states allow non-married persons to foster parent and foster adopt a child.
  • Military/Overseas – Most military couples living domestically or internationally are eligible to adopt through the state foster care system and will follow federal and state adoption laws and processes.
  • Same Sex – Most states legally allow same-sex couples to foster adopt and foster parent.
  • Residency – Some states require the parents to have resided in their state for a certain number of months or years prior to adopting or foster parenting a child.

Please read the following for more state-specific foster care adoption laws.

Foster Care Adoption Process

If you are interested in adopting a foster child, the following explains each step of the foster care adoption process:

1. Determine Your Goals

Once you have decided to pursue the foster care system to help grow your family, you then must determine whether you are interested in foster parenting, foster parenting to adopt, or adopting through foster care.

  • Foster Parenting – Providing a temporary home for a child until he or she is reintegrated back with his biological family or another permanent residence.
  • Foster to Adopt – Foster parenting children with the intention to adopt if they are unable to return to their biological family.
  • Foster Care Adoption – Adopting a child through the state foster care system without first foster parenting.

If you choose to foster parent, understand that the goal is always to reintegrate the child with his or her biological family. If you are interested in foster care adoption, know that many of the children available for adoption may be older, have medical conditions, developmental issues, attachment disorders, or other special needs.

Before committing to the foster care system, be sure to do your research to improve the chances of a good fit between you and a foster child.

2. Contact a Local Public Adoption Professional

All states have their own Department of Social Services, which oversees their state foster care systems. Due to the number of children needing foster homes, many state public agencies have “privatized” their foster care system and have partnered with local private agencies (sometimes referred to as state contractors) to help find homes for children.

Most private agencies offer similar services, so it is recommended to contact the agency that represents your county. You will then likely be invited to an orientation meeting to learn more about the agency and the steps required to adopt or foster parent.

3. Complete Pre-Adoption Parenting Classes

Once you choose an agency, you will be required to attend pre-adoption parenting classes, such as PS-MAPP (Permanence and Safety-Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) or PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education).

PS-MAPP classes are usually held one night over 10 weeks in 3-hour intervals, while other states offer classes that only require 6 to 12 hours of training.

These classes help educate prospective parents on the symptoms of a neglected child, sexually abused child, a child with an attachment order, and how to deal with each of those situations. Oftentimes the class will role play to help prospective parents learn how to react to each of these situations, how to discipline a foster child who isn’t yet a member of their family, and how to talk about the child’s biological family to them.

4. Complete Application

Before or during your pre-adoption parenting classes, you will complete an application, or parent profile, including information about yourselves, your home, your experience with children, your interest in adopting or foster parenting, and much more. You will also be required to allow criminal and child abuse background checks to be conducted on the local, state and federal levels.

In your application, you will have to disclose information such as:

  • Your goals of foster parenting or adoption
  • The number of children you are willing to foster parent or adopt
  • The race of children you are willing to foster parent or adopt
  • The age range of children you are willing to foster parent or adopt
  • The types of special needs or medical conditions you are willing to accept
5. Complete a Home Study

All adoptions require a completed home study, and foster parenting or foster care adoption is no different.

Once you are assigned a caseworker, you will schedule a date for her to visit your home and conduct your home study. All home studies are comprised of individual interviews, a couples’ interview, and interviews with other family members or foster children living in the household. You will also be asked to provide many documents, such as a health statement from your doctor, completed criminal background checks, current financial statements, autobiographical statements, personal references, and supporting documents such as marriage licenses and birth certificates.

Finally, your caseworker will conduct a walkthrough of your home to ensure it’s a viable environment to raise a child.

6. Wait for Placement

If you decide to foster parent, you likely won’t have to wait long to be placed with a foster child because of the sheer number of children needing foster homes. Each state allows varying numbers of foster children in each foster home.

If you are only interested in foster care adoption, it may take several months to be placed with a child who matches your requirements in race, age, and possible special needs.

7. Final Steps

As a foster parent, once you receive placement of a child, it is important to remember that child could be with you for one year or for one day. While attaching and bonding with a child is inevitable, you must remember the end goal of foster care and your role as a foster parent: reintegration into his or her biological family.

Foster Care Adoption Costs

Foster care adoption costs families significantly less money than any other type of adoption, ranging from $0 to $2,500. Foster care adoption costs may include:

  • Home Study – Every adoptive family requires a home study, which proves to the state that your family is ready to adopt a child. Some states cover the home study costs for families.
  • Home Preparations – The home visit portion of the home study may indicate some troublesome areas in your home that need to be addressed, such as locks on cabinets or padding on sharp corners and edges.
  • Minimal Legal Costs – In many states, the adoptive families’ legal fees will be paid for by the state. If the adoptive family is required to pay legal fees, they are often times negligible.

Most foster parents and some adoptive couples receive a monthly stipend to help cover the costs of raising the child, and may increase depending on any special needs the child may have.

Domestic Infant Adoption vs. Foster Care Adoption

Adopting a child from foster care, like all forms of adoption, comes with its own challenges and factors to keep in mind. While foster care adoption has many of the same benefits as domestic adoption, it also has differences that should be taken into consideration.

  • In both domestic and foster care adoption, you will provide a home for a child who needs one.
  • You will have full parental rights of your child, and the birth parents’ rights will be terminated.
  • You will be able to indicate what kinds of adoption situations you are open to or equipped to handle.
  • You will need to complete a home study before you are eligible to adopt any child.
  • If you are hoping to adopt an infant, than you may consider domestic adoption; you are more likely to adopt an older child from foster care.
  • Foster care adoption is the most inexpensive path to adoption; domestic adoption can include agency fees, advertising and matching services, medical fees, and other expenses.
  • Most domestic adoptions involve some kind of relationship with the birth parents; in foster care adoption, the situations of the birth parents can vary.
  • In a foster care adoption, you may find yourself raising a child with a history of abuse, neglect, or attachment issues, which is not the case in domestic infant adoption.

Final Thoughts

Foster care adoption can be both a rewarding and challenging experience for adoptive couples. As with all types of adoption, it is essential for hopeful parents to research all of the pros and cons to make sure foster care adoption is right for their family. However, when you adopt a child from foster care, you are opening your heart to a child in need of love, care, and a family.