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Do You Have to Foster Before You Adopt?

Adopting a child from foster care is one of the most rewarding experiences a hopeful parent can have. For many prospective parents, this is a chance to build their family while also giving the gift of a loving home to a child in need. However, becoming a foster parent first, or going through the long wait of a foster-to-adopt process, isn’t suited for everyone. If you’re only interested in adoption, you’re probably wondering, “Do you have to foster before you adopt?”

The good news is that adoption without fostering is more than possible. There are many children in foster care who are already eligible for and awaiting adoption and who would love to meet their forever family, and you could be just what they’re looking for. If you’re asking, “Do you have to be a foster parent to adopt?” here’s what you need to know.

Can You Adopt without Fostering First?

Yes — it is possible for a hopeful parent to adopt a child through foster care without first being that child’s foster parent. But, to understand exactly how this process works, it’s important to first have some background knowledge about how the foster system operates.

Foster care is intended to provide safe, temporary homes for children whose biological parents are working toward reunification. Most parents successfully meet the requirements for reunification, which allows most foster children to be returned to their biological families.

However, if and when the court determines that a child cannot be reunited with his or her family, the biological parents’ rights are terminated, and that child then becomes available for adoption. Often, the child will be placed with another biological relative or will be adopted by his or her foster parents (this is known as fostering to adopt). But there are also many cases where unrelated, non-foster-parent adoptive families can apply to adopt a child who is legally available and awaiting a permanent family.

The first thing we should clarify is that every state has its own requirements for parents who wish to adopt. Some states require their foster or adoptive parents to become “dual-licensed.” This means that they are certified to foster and adopt.

We know that having to become a foster parent in certain states sounds overwhelming, but being dual-licensed doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to agree to temporary foster placements if you are interested solely in adoption. Even if your state doesn’t require you to become a foster parent, there are actually many advantages of being licensed to foster that can make it something to consider. For one thing, if the state isn’t able to find a biological family member to adopt a child, foster families are usually given the first chance to adopt. Therefore, fostering to adopt may allow you to receive a placement sooner and increase your chances of adopting a younger child from foster care.

If you are dual-licensed and interested only in adoption situations, before a child is placed in your home, you should make sure to ask if the goal is reunification or permanency. Check with your local agency or a state directory to learn more about the requirements in your area and to ask, “Can you adopt a child without fostering them first?”

Who Are the Children Waiting for Adoption?

When a family wants to pursue adoption from foster care, not fostering, they can apply to adopt a child who is already legally available and awaiting adoption. This is sometimes called a “straight adoption from foster care.”

When a child enters foster care, the primary goal is reunification with their biological parents. But sometimes, that doesn’t happen. Once reunification is no longer an option, the biological parents’ rights are terminated, and a child is then eligible for adoption from the foster system without fostering.

So, if you’re wondering, “Do you have to foster to adopt?” the answer is no — but there is a reason to consider it. Foster families usually get the first opportunity to adopt their foster children, if no biological relative has been found to adopt. This means that families who are only interested in adoption may have more limited options when it comes to eligible children.

Most of the children who are waiting for adoption through the state’s foster care system tend to be older, part of a sibling group, or are considered to have “special needs.” While it’s possible to adopt an infant, it doesn’t happen often.

These children deserve the same love and care as any other child, but not every parent is prepared for the unique rewards and challenges of parenting an older child with a history of trauma. So, please don’t make this decision lightly. Make sure to do plenty of research about the types of children available for adoption through foster care to ensure that you can meet their needs.

If you have any questions about the types of children who are currently available and awaiting adoption, or if you are still wondering, “Can you adopt without fostering?” reach out to an adoption professional in your state to get started. If you’re ready to find a child looking for their forever home through the state, you can start by looking at your state’s photolisting.

Or, if you’re not interested in adopting through the foster care system, it is also entirely possible to adopt without fostering through another option: private domestic adoption.

Another Option: Private Adoption Without Fostering

Some hopeful parents who ask, “Do you have to be a foster parent to adopt?” are really asking whether it is possible to adopt outside of the foster care system. The answer is yes — there is more than one way to adopt. And, while foster care adoption is an amazing way to build a family, it is not the right option for everyone. If, after learning more about foster care adoption, you are interested in exploring some of your other options, you might want to look into private adoption.

Most private adoption agencies mainly work with infants and young children. In this type of adoption, prospective birth parents voluntarily place their baby with an adoptive family of their choosing. Private infant adoptions tend to be more expensive than adoption through foster care, but this is another option for parents who are interested in adoption without fostering. The process of adopting privately is very different from foster care adoption, so you should do thorough research on both of these options to determine which one is the best fit for your family.

What Do I Need to Adopt a Child?

You do not have to be a foster parent to adopt — but, to become an adoptive parent through the state foster care system, you’ll still have to go through foster care training and orientation. This is also known as “pre-service training.” Like other hopeful adoptive parents, you’ll also need to complete a home study. On top of this, remember that every state has its own requirements for hopeful parents who wish to adopt from foster care; contact your state foster care agency for details on how the process works in your state. Once everything is complete, you can then submit your application for adoption without fostering.

Once everything is completed, you’ll move onto waiting for a match. The wait is one of the hardest parts of adopting a waiting child from the foster system. So, try to be patient. Once you’ve been matched, you’ll need to spend more time together before the adoption officially takes place (often about six months, during which time a social worker will continue to make post-placement visits to ensure the adoption is in the best interest of the child). Once your adoption is finalized, your child will be a permanent, legal member of your family.

Adopting a child from foster care is a great way to build a family. If you’re interested in going down this path without fostering, make sure to ask your caseworker or adoption specialist plenty of questions before you get started. Adoption without fostering can be a complicated, lengthy process, but giving a child the gift of a loving home is always worth it in the end.