What is Foster Care Adoption?

There are some unique characteristics of foster care adoption compared to other types of adoption. From the costs to the requirements, here is exactly what you need to know.

If you’ve spent some time thinking about foster adoption, you probably have a lot of questions. There is a lot of information on adoption and foster care for you to process. When considering foster adoption, you’ll need to think about the length of time it takes to adopt, the pros and cons of foster care adoption, and whether this type of adoption suits your family before setting foot on this journey. To help you make the best decision for your family, below is a general overview of the main things you should know about foster care adoption.

What is Foster Care Adoption?

Let’s start with the foster care adoption definition. What is fostering and adoption, exactly? What is the foster-adoption meaning? Foster care adoption is the adoption of a child in foster care whose biological parents’ rights have been terminated by a court. The child may be adopted by either his or her foster parents or another adoptive family. Families who want to pursue a straight adoption from foster care don’t always have to become foster parents first; however, there are some states that list becoming an approved foster parent first as one of their eligibility requirements. Families who do become foster parents and then later end up adopting are also pursuing a form of foster parent adoption called foster-to-adopt. Of the different types of adoption, 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 are in foster care. In 2013, over 230,000 children left the foster care system; of these, 21% were adopted.

How Does Foster Care Adoption Work?

To understand U.S. foster adoption, you first need to have some background about the goals of the foster care system and how children enter foster care in the first place. 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. The primary goal for a child who enters foster care is to return them to their birth parents when it is safe to do so. A judge will present the biological parents with a reunification plan, which outlines steps a parent must take to make this reunification possible, 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 often have the next opportunity to adopt the child (known as “foster to adopt”). At this point, if the foster family is not interested or able to adopt, the child becomes a “waiting child” until a permanent home is found for them. This is when the state will look for 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:
  • Parents who have been fostering a child who cannot be reunited with his or her birth family (foster-to-adopt)
  • 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 for Adoption in Foster Care

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 adoption system. Prospective adoptive parents must prepare to help children with behaviors resulting from this trauma.

Adoption/Foster Parent Requirements

Anyone who is interested in adoption through foster care should check their state’s adoption laws to determine whether they are eligible. If a hopeful parent meets their state’s basic requirements, they must apply for foster care adoption or to become foster parents, and then they must complete a 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 parents to be of 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. Married couples often must adopt jointly.
  • Military/Overseas – Most military couples living domestically or internationally are eligible for a U.S. foster care adoption and will follow federal and state adoption laws and processes.
  • Sexual Orientation – Fortunately, your sexual orientation and gender identity does not affect your ability to become a foster parent or complete a foster system adoption. In fact, same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals are even more likely be foster and adoptive families than opposite-sex couples!
  • Residency – Some states require the parents to have resided in their state for a certain number of months or years prior to fostering or completing a child adoption from foster care.
Please read the following for more state-specific foster care adoption laws.

Foster Care Adoption Costs

Foster care adoption costs families significantly less money than any other type of adoption, typically ranging from $0 to about $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 oftentimes negligible.
Most foster and adoptive parents also receive a monthly stipend to help cover the costs of raising the child, and this adoption subsidy may increase depending on any special needs the child has.

Domestic Infant Adoption vs. Foster Care Adoption

A foster family adoption, 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 private domestic adoption, it also has differences that should be taken into consideration.


  • In both private 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 private domestic adoption; you are more likely to adopt an older child from foster care.
  • American foster care adoption is the most inexpensive path to adoption; domestic infant adoption can include agency fees, advertising and matching services, medical fees, and other expenses that are typically covered in an adoption from the U.S. foster care system.
  • In a foster care adoption, you will likely find yourself raising a child with a history of abuse, neglect, or attachment issues, which is typically 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. If you are considering this path for your family, there is a lot to learn about adoption from foster care. To get the information you need, please reach out to a foster care adoption program near you.
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