How Hard is it to Adopt a Foster Child?

With more than 100,000 waiting children in foster care, and a lack of safe, healthy homes to place them in, many hopeful parents begin to wonder, “How easy is it to adopt from foster care?” and “Is it hard to adopt a child in foster care?”

Many hopeful parents who are unfamiliar with foster care assume it will be a simple process. After all, there are thousands of children who enter foster care who are waiting for a loving home every year. But the truth is that every adoption has its share of difficulties, and foster care is no exception. Bringing a child into your home to care for, cherish and provide with the tools they need to thrive is a weighty responsibility. It is by no means a quick and easy process.

If you’re asking yourself, “Is it hard to adopt from foster care?” here are some challenges to be aware of before you get started.

Why is it So Hard to Adopt From Foster Care?

Logistically, foster care is similar in many ways to other types of adoption. There’s the home study, adoption paperwork, and making sure that you meet the eligibility requirements for your state and the foster care agency you plan on adopting from. Adoptive parents will also need to check in with themselves to make sure they meet the emotional, mental, and financial requirements to adopt.

But there are also some additional challenges hopeful parents need to be aware of.

The Foster System Can be Frustrating

First, the child welfare system, like every organization, is complex. There are many rules and regulations to learn, and trying to get in touch with someone who can answer your questions can sometimes be a slow process. In most cases, it’s not that your agency means to be unresponsive — it’s just that foster care caseworkers are notoriously overworked. In fact, the entire foster care system is stressed, and that can lead to many challenges that may affect your process. How easy it is to adopt from foster care will strongly depend on your personal experience with the foster care system.

Your Personal Goals will Impact Your Experience

Second, you’ll need to think about your goals for adoption. For example, if are interested only in adopting a newborn, you will likely find that it is hard to adopt a foster child that meets your preferences. Although it’s sometimes possible to adopt a baby or an infant from foster care, the average foster child is about 8 years old. This means that hopeful parents whose goal is to raise a child from infancy could be in for a long wait. However, there are thousands of amazing kids who are eligible for adoption, if you are open to a wider variety of adoption opportunities.

Similarly, you need to decide whether you want to apply to adopt a waiting child (a child who is already available for adoption) or foster to adopt (become a foster parent with the goal of adopting, if your foster child becomes available). If your ultimate goal is to add to your family permanently, and not to provide a temporary home to a child in need, you will likely find that foster-to-adopt is hard for you.

Children in foster care are in temporary custody of the state. This means that the main goal will always be reunification with a child’s biological family members, unless reunification becomes impossible, parental rights are terminated and the child becomes eligible for adoption. Not every foster placement is forever, and this is usually the biggest deterrent from fostering to adopt for hopeful parents whose primary goal is adoption. For these parents who have waited so long to add a child to their home and experience the joys of parenting, watching a foster child leave after so much time spent together can be too much to bear. Foster parents, like all potential parents, need to be 100 percent ready for every possible scenario before bringing a child into their home.

Other Challenges of Adoption from Foster Care

There are a few other reasons foster adoption can be challenging and leave hopeful parents wondering, “How hard is it to adopt a foster child?” Below are a few situations that you could potentially face.

  • Emotional Challenges: If you’re already a foster parent and you hope to one day adopt your foster child, you may be in for a long wait — or disappointment, if your child is ultimately reunited with his or her biological family. Foster-to-adopt is hard usually because of the emotional risks involved. Even families who apply to adopt a waiting child are not immune from the emotional challenges of waiting; every case is different, but some hopeful parents have waited for years for the chance to grow their family.
  • Financial Challenges: Financially, foster care is the most affordable out of all types of adoption. It costs little to nothing, and many foster parents are able to receive assistance through adoption subsidies and insurance benefits. However, hopeful foster parents should be financially stable already without the need for financial assistance. Adoption assistance can only go so far.
  • Parenting Challenges: Life after adoption can be just as hard as the process itself. Every foster child’s situation is as unique as they are. Remember that every child who has been placed in foster care has experienced trauma in some form; through no fault of their own, they’ve been placed into state care due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. They’re likely to have a hard time trusting the adults in their life as they cope with grief and loss, their mental health, and any special needs. You need to be prepared to help them as they learn to heal from their situation.

Is Foster Care Right for You?

Adoption is a very personal decision. We understand that there are many factors that will make you ask, “Is it hard to adopt a foster child?” and all of them are valid. You are the only one who can decide if adopting from foster care is right for you.

But, just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. Becoming a parent is one of the most emotionally rewarding and fulfilling roles that you can take on, and the chance to watch a child grow and succeed makes it all worth it. While we hope that you’ll consider it as one of your options for building a family through adoption, we also understand that it’s not for every family. If you’re unsure about adopting from foster care, but you know that you still want to make a difference, there are many ways that you can make a difference in the life of a foster child today.