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Adopting a Foster Child: Two Paths to Building a Family

Becoming a parent, no matter how you choose to do so, is one of life’s greatest gifts. When you choose to become a parent by adopting a foster child, you’re not just building your family. You’re building a new life for a child who needs your love and care.

Right now, there are over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted into a safe, secure environment where they can learn the tools they need to succeed. If you feel the calling to adopt an older child, then you’re in the right place. In our other articles, we’ve talked about what foster care adoption is, but now it’s time to think about some of the different ways to adopt a foster child in the U.S.: fostering to adopt or applying to adopt a waiting child.

Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to adopt. You should always choose the type of adoption that feels right for you and your family. However you choose to get there, adopting a child from the foster care system will take a lot of work, but the end result is always worth it.

Your Options for Adopting a Child from Foster Care

In general, there are two ways that hopeful parents can adopt a child in foster care. Which one is right for you will depend on a number of factors. Here is a bit of information about both to help you make an informed decision:

  • Adopting a Waiting Child from Foster Care:

    Some families hope to adopt from the U.S. foster care system without fostering first. Sometimes called a “straight adoption,” this process usually involves applying to adopt a waiting child who is eligible for adoption and is waiting for a loving family they can count on. Many of the children who are waiting are older, part of a sibling group, or have special needs. You’ll need to do plenty of research beforehand to make sure this type of adoption is the best fit. If you’ve always dreamed of adopting, and you’re uncertain about fostering, then adopting a waiting child from foster care could be the right choice for you.

  • Fostering to Adopt:

    If you’d like to become a foster parent first with hopes of adopting later, then fostering to adopt could be right for you. The goal behind foster care is to provide a temporary home to a child while their biological parents work towards a reunification plan. However, some parents aren’t able to complete this step. If the rights of the child’s biological parents are terminated, and no other relative is able to provide a permanent home, a foster child will become eligible for adoption. Most children in foster care are eventually reunited with birth family, which means there are no guarantees that foster parents who choose this path will end up adopting out of foster care. But, while there are some emotional risks involved in fostering to adopt, it’s worth considering if your primary goal is to provide a safe, loving, home to a child who needs one — even if only temporarily.

Keep in mind that there are specific requirements when it comes to adopting a child through foster care. For example, some states require that hopeful parents who plan to adopt also become certified foster parents. Learn more about your state’s requirements and local resources here to determine whether your state will allow you to adopt a child from foster care without first becoming a foster parent.

Who Method is Right for Me?

You are the only one who can decide which type of foster care adoption is right for you. When looking into all of your options for adopting through the foster care system, take into account the kind of life you hope to give to a child. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What are your primary goals for adopting from the U.S. foster care system? Do you want to help children who need a safe place to stay, even if it’s only temporary? Or is your primary goal to grow your family permanently by adopting kids from foster care?
  • Can you offer a child the safety of a permanent adoption? Or are you more comfortable to committing to a shorter-term placement as a foster parent?
  • Do you want to help support biological parents during their goals for reunification? Are you interested in adopting from the foster system only if and when a parent isn’t able to complete their reunification plan?
  • Are you prepared to experience the happiness that comes with parenting and the disappointment when a child has to move on to their new home? (If you are not emotionally prepared to handle saying goodbye, adopting through the foster system may be a better choice for you than fostering to adopt).
  • How quickly are you hoping to adopt from foster care? Parents who foster-to-adopt may receive a placement more quickly, but that placement may not be permanent — or it can take several months or years for biological parents’ rights to be terminated. Parents who adopt a waiting child may wait longer for a placement, but the legal process often goes faster.
  • Are you prepared to help a child through their healing process? Whether or not you are a foster parent first, adopting from the foster care system is a lifelong journey. You will need to help your child process trauma and move forward in life in a healthy way.

These are just a few of the questions you’ll need to ask yourself before adopting out of the foster care system.

Remember to do plenty of research to make sure the type of foster care adoption you choose is the best fit for you. You can also reach out to other hopeful parents who plan to or have adopted a child in the U.S. from foster care to learn about their experiences.

What’s Next?

Whichever path you choose, adopting a child from foster care is an exciting opportunity — but it’s up to you to decide if it’s right for your family. If you have any questions, don’t forget that you can always reach out to an adoption professional near you about your state’s requirements for adopting from foster care.

If you’re unsure about adoption at this point in your journey, there other ways that you can get involved and advocate for adopting out of foster care. Depending on your goals, you might consider becoming a foster parent, a respite care giver, or a mentor. Reach out to a local foster care agency to learn more about what they’re looking for.