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Adopting a Family Member from Foster Care

If you’ve recently learned that a young family member has entered foster care, one of your first thoughts is likely: How can I help?

Not everyone is in a position to care for a family member’s child — financially, physically, or time-wise. But if you’re willing and able to provide for this child, you could be a life-changing source of stability, familiarity and love for him or her during a traumatic time. Here’s what you should know if you are considering fostering a relative or adopting a family member in foster care.

How to Adopt a Family Member from Foster Care

If you’ve decided that you’re ready to adopt a family member from foster care, you’ll need to start preparing with these steps:

  • Step 1: Educating yourself about meeting the needs of children who have been in foster care, and about raising a child after a kinship adoption
  • Step 2: Meeting your state’s requirements and completing the necessary screening processes
  • Step 3: Talking to your older children (if applicable) and to your immediate and extended family members about your new roles, the boundaries you’d like them to respect in the changing family dynamics and more
  • Step 4: Equipping your home to accommodate your new child, choosing a school, finding a pediatrician, etc.
  • Step 5: Complete the home study and training
  • Step 6: Placement, home study follow-ups and finalization

Your foster care provider will be able to help you get organized, but families who have previously completed kinship adoptions through foster care will always be a great resource for advice and most are happy to share their experience.

Can You Adopt Kinship without Fostering?

This is a common question. Some people want to permanently adopt their relative’s child from foster care without having to go through the lengthier foster-to-adopt process.

The answer will probably depend on where you live and on your specific situation, but a child is only legally available for adoption when his or her parents have their rights permanently terminated. If the parental rights are already legally severed and the child is eligible for adoption, yes — you may be able to adopt without fostering in some situations. (Of course, you’ll also need to meet certain requirements first to be approved to adopt).

If the parents haven’t had their rights terminated, you’ll be the state’s first choice (along with any other biological family members) when looking for a temporary home for your younger relative. Alternatives to permanent placement (i.e. a legal kinship adoption) could include:

  • Kinship guardianship
  • Kinship fostering

Those types of temporary placements allow the child’s biological parents to work on improving their situation and potentially regain custody later, while the child stays with a relative they know and trust. This is similar to any foster care placement. The biggest difference is that staying with a relative is usually less scary for the child, which is why kinship placements (even temporary ones) are given priority.

If, while the child is living with you for a temporary placement, the parents’ rights are terminated, he or she will become eligible for adoption, and you will have top priority if you’d like to permanently adopt him or her.

The foster and adoption requirements for relative placements are generally a simplified version of what non-relative foster parents would complete, so this process is often fairly straightforward.

What If I’m Not Biologically Related to the Child in Foster Care?

Maybe a child you care about has entered foster care — but you’re not technically a relative of theirs. It’s not uncommon for close family friends, concerned teachers or other “chosen family” to want to provide a home to a child they have an important relationship with.

Most states will consider certain people who are close to the family to be “fictive kin,” and if they’re willing and able to provide a safe and loving home for the child in foster care, they’ll likely be considered as a high-priority placement option. Again, it depends on the state and on your individual situation, but fictive kin can be a person who is “not related to the child by blood, marriage, or adoption but who is known to the family, has a substantial and positive relationship with the child, and is willing and able to provide a suitable home for the child.” This could include:

  • The adoptive parents of the child’s sibling
  • A godparent
  • Close family friends
  • Neighbors
  • A teacher
  • Someone who attends the same church
  • Other adults who have a close and caring relationship with the child

Also remember that you don’t have to be a close “blood relative” of the child to be considered family. Extended family members can also be great resources for a child in need of a home. For example, if you’re interested in adopting a cousin’s baby from foster care, you can absolutely be considered as a high-priority placement option. Step-family, family members by marriage, distant cousins — any related adult who completes the necessary requirements and screening processes could be eligible for a kinship adoption from foster care.

The Benefits and Challenges of Adopting a Family Member in Foster Care

Parenting a child is never easy. Adoption brings its own additional challenges and benefits. But when you adopt a child that you’re related to, there are rewards and struggles that are completely specific to your situation, and it’s important that you take this into consideration.

Some benefits include:

  • A pre-existing relationship, with some foundation of love and trust
  • The potential for more post-adoption contact with the child’s biological parents (if it is safe and in the child’s best interest to have this contact)
  • Receiving preference for placement over unrelated foster and adoptive parents
  • The opportunity to have a more parental role and influence in this child’s life

Some challenges you may face include:

  • Potential conflict within your family
  • A permanently changed relationship with the child’s parents, and as a result, changing relationships with other family members
  • Parenting disagreements with the child’s biological parents, which can be heightened by proximity
  • Role confusion as you transition to a more parental role in the child’s life, and you’re no longer his or her aunt/cousin/grandfather, etc.

While placing a child with a family member, either temporarily or permanently, can help make a child feel more at home and at ease, it can also create tensions within your family. Some people find kinship adoptions to be difficult because of the proximity of the child’s biological parents and of the changing roles within the family.

Like all foster care adoptions, the cost of adopting a relative in foster care is not something to worry about. It costs little to nothing, and adoptive parents sometimes receive a small stipend to help with the costs of raising the child. However, it’s always costly to raise a child to adulthood, and not everyone is financially able to take on a child. It may be good to talk to a financial advisor at this point to help budget for education and living expenses.

You’ll need to carefully consider and prepare for the challenges and rewards of a kinship adoption, so talk to your foster care professional. There are many lifelong rewards to adopting a relative foster child, but there are always going to be some struggles, as well.

How to Begin the Adoption Process

You may have already received a call from your relative’s caseworker saying that you’re the preferred placement for a child who is eligible for adoption. Or, you may have recently heard that a child has been removed from a relative’s care and you’re ready to help.

Reach out to that area’s foster care department and identify yourself as a relative who is willing to serve as a kinship placement — they should be able to give you more information on next steps when adopting a family member from foster care.