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Adopting a Toddler from Foster Care

What to Know About Adopting a Younger Child through Foster Care

Some hopeful parents may believe that adopting a toddler or younger child from foster care is similar to adopting an infant through a private domestic adoption. However, all children adopted through foster care have experienced some loss and trauma, regardless of age — even infants and toddlers.

Despite the difficult start that a child may have faced, all children can share equally strong bonds with permanent families given some time, love and consistency. You may have missed out on a few of the “firsts” if you decide to adopt a toddler from foster care, but there are still so many amazing milestones and love-filled moments ahead.

It’s understandable if you have some questions about adopting toddlers in foster care. While talking directly to your foster care provider will always be the best resource, this guide may be helpful if you’re considering bringing a new child into your family:

Can You Adopt a Toddler from Foster Care?

If you meet the requirements and complete the screening processes of your state’s foster care organization, you can welcome a toddler or young child into your family. It’s a difficult but wonderful and life-changing experience for the child and for the new parents.

Note that it’s often easier to foster-to-adopt toddlers, as priority is usually given to a child’s existing foster parents if it comes time to choose a permanent placement. However, because the goal for most children in foster care is reunification with biological family, not all families are prepared for the emotional toll that the foster-to-adopt process can have. Ask your foster care professional about which path might be right for you.

You should also keep in mind that the average age of the children in foster care is about 8 years old, so there may not be very many toddler-aged children waiting to be adopted. Adopting a slightly older child isn’t for everyone, but with the right education and preparation it could be an option for you to consider.

What are the Rewards and Challenges of Adopting a Young Child from Foster Care?

Although adopting a toddler through foster care is absolutely rewarding, there are also a number of challenges that you and a child may face. Remember that all of these children have experienced some degree of loss and trauma, regardless of their age.

Understand that unlike in a private domestic adoption, where a child is voluntary placed by his or her biological parents into a permanent chosen family, foster care adoptions involve the involuntary removal of a child due to neglect or abuse.

It can be easy to think that toddlers and young children are too young to understand what’s happening, or to remember their biological families, but they often do. Even if their memories are hazy, or if they’re too young to verbally articulate their emotions and experiences, being placed in foster care is still a traumatic event for a child, in addition to any struggles they may have previously faced. As a result, some children will have physical, mental or emotional setbacks.

However, there are certainly many potential benefits for a child and his or her new parents, too.

For the Child

  • They’ll have stability and consistency during an important developmental phase
  • They’re in a period of rapid growth and learning, and they’ll have the support of permanent parents during that time
  • With time and patience, they can form strong and healthy bonds to their new family members
  • Because they’re younger, they may have stability and guidance from older siblings as they adjust to a new home and family
  • They’ll have a new family to love and to receive love from for life

For the New Parents

  • Toddlers and young children often already have some basic autonomous skills, unlike infants
  • They can begin talking to their child about the adoption, which lays the groundwork for conversations as their child grows
  • Baby supplies, which are quickly outgrown, won’t be necessary
  • They’ll be able to help their child transition from early childhood to their school years
  • They’ll have a new family member to love and to receive love from for life

Like all types of adoption, you should always carefully research this path to parenthood first. Be certain that you proceed with your eyes open to the realities of adopting a toddler from foster care: what the process is like, what parenting may be like and more.

In addition to foster care professionals, other adoptive parents can be an especially helpful resource for you. The adoption process is never easy, no matter the age of the child or the type of adoption you pursue, but fortunately, there will be people to turn to for support and parenting resources if you decide you’re ready to move forward.

What Can You Expect When Adopting Young Children from Foster Care?

If you think you’re ready to learn how to adopt a toddler from foster care, you’ll need to begin to prepare.  The process of adopting from foster care is similar regardless of the age of the child you’re adopting. While every journey may be different depending on the state where you live and your specific circumstances, you can expect to follow these general steps:

  • Step 1: Continue to educate yourself about this specific type of adoption and about meeting the unique needs of a younger child adopted through foster care to determine if it’s right for you and your family
  • Step 2: Meet your state’s requirements for adopting a toddler from foster care, and complete their screening processes
  • Step 3: If applicable, talk to your older children and other family about a potential new family member
  • Step 4: Equip your home to meet the needs of a young child or toddler, choose a pediatrician, etc.
  • Step 5: Complete the home study and training
  • Step 6: Placement, home study follow-ups and finalization

Meet the Younger Kids Who Are Available for Adoption

Contact your state’s foster care organization to learn more about the process of adopting young children from foster care and the requirements you’d need to meet. They’ll also be able to talk to you about any children who are waiting to be adopted who might not have a profile listed online at this point in time. In their online listings, you can typically filter waiting children by age.

In the meantime, you can view some of the profiles of waiting toddlers and young children here and here if you’re interested in learning more about them.