Adoption from foster care can be a big undertaking. If you’re embarking on this journey, you’ve probably spent some considerable time wondering about the steps to adopting a foster child.
Whether you plan to adopt a waiting child or you hope to one day make your foster child a permanent member of your family through a foster-to-adopt process, the steps to adopt a foster child are very similar. Although the process can vary depending on your specific circumstances and your state’s requirements, here are the general steps you’ll follow if you’re wondering how to adopt from foster care.
How to Adopt a Foster Child: 7 Steps You’ll Take
If you are looking to grow your family and provide a loving home to a child in need, foster care adoption could be a great fit for you. But exactly how does foster care adoption work? What is the process of adopting a foster child really like? And when you’re ready to get started, how do you adopt a child from foster care in your state?
If you are feeling overwhelmed by questions like these, don’t worry — this guide is here to provide the answers you need to get started. Like we mentioned earlier, every U.S. foster-adoption process is unique but, in general, here’s how to adopt a child from foster care:
Step 1: Decide if Foster Care Adoption is Right for You
The first step in the foster care adoption process is determining that it is actually a good fit for your family. The road to adoption isn’t always easy, and building your family through foster care is no exception. You and your partner (if applicable) need to be on the same page to ensure that adopting from foster care is the right type of adoption for you. It will take careful planning and research to determine if this is the best option for your family. If you’re just starting your foster care adoption journey, start by asking yourself:
- How do you feel about adopting an older child or a sibling group?
- Are you ready to parent a child with special needs?
- Do you have a strong support system you can rely on?
- If you’re becoming a foster parent with the ultimate goal of adopting, are you prepared for disappointment if a placement doesn’t work out?
Answering these questions will help you decide if foster care or becoming a foster parent is right for you. Remember that every foster child’s situation is unique, so try to be prepared for any situation during your foster child adoption process.
Step 2: Choose a Foster Care Agency
One of the first steps to adopt a child from foster care is to contact a local public adoption agency or a private agency that provides foster care services in your state. Your agency will connect you with an adoption specialist or caseworker who will be by your side and explain everything you need to get started. Usually, you will need to start by submitting an application to ensure you meet the basic requirements of the adoption process through foster care.
At this stage of the adopting-from-foster-care process, you’ll usually speak to your caseworker about your goals for an adoption. This includes deciding if you plan to foster-to-adopt or adopt a child who is already available and awaiting adoption. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask them! Learning how to adopt through the foster care system can feel overwhelming, but always remember that your caseworker is here to help
Step 3: Attend Foster Parent Training and Orientation
Before a hopeful parent can adopt, they’ll need to attend foster parent training and orientation, also known as “pre‐service” training. As one of the most important foster care adoption steps, this mandatory process helps prepare hopeful parents for fostering or adopting a child. You’ll learn plenty of helpful information on what is expected of a hopeful parent, connect with other hopeful parents during their journeys, and get answers to any additional questions you have about how to adopt a kid in foster care.
Step 4: Complete a Home Study
The home study can be one of the most overwhelming steps of the foster care adoption process. It requires collecting and submitting important documents, completing background checks, scheduling interviews and home visits with a social worker, and more. Naturally, with so much involved, it can quickly become one of the most stressful times for most hopeful parents who are going through the process of adopting from foster care. But, remember that your social worker is here to help. If you have any lingering questions about how to adopt through foster care during your home study, don’t be afraid to ask them.
Step 5: Wait for an Adoption Opportunity and Prepare for Placement
Once your home study is complete, you are ready to be matched with an adoption opportunity!
Depending on what your goals are, your wait to be matched could vary significantly. For example, the need for temporary homes continues to outweigh the number of available adoptive parents ready to welcome their home to a child in foster care. This means that, if you’re participating in a foster-to-adopt process, you could receive a placement almost immediately.
However, there is one note we’d like to mention about this method of adopting from foster care. In the instance of fostering to adopt, your waiting period will kick in after you receive your placement — while you’re waiting for the child’s parental rights to be terminated and the legal process to play out. This wait can vary significantly from one case to the next, and there some cases where a child’s biological parents’ rights may never be terminated at all. When that happens, you may have to look for other opportunities if you’re hoping to build a permanent family.
If you are pursuing a straight adoption from foster care, your wait will depend on how open you are to different adoption opportunities. The more open you are, the quicker you’ll be matched! Your caseworker will send you potential adoption opportunities that could be a good fit for your family, or you can browse photolisting services to inquire about children available for adoption.
When you inquire about a potential adoption opportunity, the child’s caseworker will review your family and either a partial or full copy of your home study to determine whether you meet the needs and wishes of the child or sibling group. At this time, you will also receive more information about the child or sibling group and can ask questions to further determine whether the match is a good fit for your family.
After your home study has been fully reviewed and you have confirmed your interest in adopting the child or children, a few more people, sometimes including the child or the sibling group, will be involved to determine if you (or any other families who have inquired about the adoption opportunity) are the best match. If your family is selected, then you’ve officially been matched!
If you know in your heart that the match is in the best interested of you and the child(ren), then you’ll begin the process of visiting and getting to know the child(ren). This means that you’re one step closer building your family through foster care adoption.
Waiting to be matched with a child can sometimes be hard, but try not get discouraged, no matter how long it takes. Take some time during this period to reach out to other hopeful parents nearby, or read tips on how to cope with the wait. Remember, your caseworker and local foster care and adoption support groups can be great resources to lean on during this time.
Step 6: Submit a Petition to Adopt
Once your child is placed into your care, you will have some time to transition before you can officially adopt. Remember, your child’s biological parents’ rights must be terminated by the court before you can legally adopt them, so, if you are fostering to adopt, the length of time you will wait will depend on when (and whether) the child’s parents’ rights are terminated.
When you are adopting a child who is eligible for and awaiting adoption, you’ll have to complete a mandatory waiting period following placement in your home. This process will usually last about six months, but it can be longer depending on your state’s laws and your individual circumstances. During this timeframe, a social worker will perform post‐placement supervision visits to evaluate how well everyone is adjusting to the newest member of your family.
Once the waiting period is over, you can petition to adopt. If your petition to adopt is approved, you’ll be ready for the final step of the process for adopting from foster care: finalization.
Step 7: Finalize Your Adoption
Once all previous steps have been completed, you’re on your way to finalization. This step marks the official completion of the process for adopting a foster child and is an important milestone for every adoptive parent.
A finalization hearing typically lasts about 30 to 60 minutes, as the judge will have already reviewed your adoption ahead of time to ensure it complies with your states laws. Most of the time, your finalization will be attended by your family, your caseworker, and your attorney. During some finalizations, families choose to invite other close friends and family members to celebrate this exciting occasion. Once the judge has signed the final adoption decree, your foster child is officially a permanent, legal member of your family. Don’t forget to bring a camera to take a picture of this special moment!
The Next Steps
While the foster care adoption process can be overwhelming, staying on top of everything can help simplify your adoption experience. There are many steps to go through, but we promise that it will all be worth it. If you have any questions, please reach out to a foster adoption professional for more information on how to start the foster-to-adopt process.