For hopeful parents, getting started is one of the hardest parts of any adoption. If you’re new to foster care, you probably have a lot of questions — starting with how to foster to adopt
Whether you’re a current foster parent interested in adopting one of your foster children, or you’re thinking about adopting from foster care, you’re probably wondering, “How do foster parents adopt?” Generally, the foster-to-adopt process is similar to becoming a foster parent or adopting a waiting child from foster care. However, it does have some important differences. If you’re already a foster parent, or if you’re thinking about becoming one, here are some important facts you need to know about this process.
What does “Foster to Adopt” Mean?
Before we get into how to foster-to-adopt a child, it’s important to understand what fostering to adopt is.
In this type of foster care adoption, a child is removed from their home due to issues like abuse or neglect and placed into the home of a foster family. When a child is placed in a foster family’s home, they are legally still in the custody of the state. The primary goal when a child enters foster care is to eventually reunite them with their biological family; however, if the biological parents are unable to successfully complete a reunification plan, their parental rights may be terminated by the court.
If and when a child’s biological parents’ rights have been terminated, that child is eligible for adoption. Ideally, they would be adopted by another biological relative or their foster family, although that isn’t always the case.
Because the goal of foster care is to preserve families, most foster children will eventually be returned to their biological relatives and will never be eligible for adoption by their foster parents. If your primary goal is to add to your family permanently, this can make fostering to adopt an emotionally risky choice. Even if the plan is to one day adopt your foster child, you should always try to support reunification, even when the foster-to-adopt process is hard.
How to Become a Foster-to-Adopt Parent
If, after learning more about fostering to adopt and the risks that come with it, you decide that this path is right for you, you are ready to move forward. At this point, you may be wondering, “How does foster-to-adopt work?”
Of course, not just anyone can adopt. Each state has its own requirements for parents who wish to adopt from foster care. These usually involve certain age, marriage length and financial requirements, just to name a few specifics. Before you get started, we recommend talking to a foster care agency or an adoption professional in your area. You can also learn more about the requirements for your state here.
While the steps can vary depending on your state’s requirements, here is a general outline of the foster-to-adopt process.
Step 1: Apply to become a foster parent
After you’ve contacted your chosen agency and gotten familiar with the requirements for your state, you’ll move onto the first step of your foster-to-adopt journey. Before you can officially foster to adopt, you’ll need to fill out your application and paperwork. You’ll also need to become dual licensed for both fostering and adoption.
Step 2: Attend foster parent training and orientation
These classes are also known as “pre-service training.” These training sessions will give you an opportunity to learn more about the lives of children in foster care and to get to know other potential foster families. Every hopeful foster family is required to participate in training and orientation, so make sure to mark it on your calendar so you don’t forget! This is also a good time to get answers to any last-minute questions you have about how to foster to adopt.
Step 3: Complete your home study
Your home study is one of the most important steps of the process. During this step, a caseworker will assess if fostering to adopt is the right fit for you and your family. As a part of the foster-to-adopt process, it includes interviews, an in-home visit and paperwork. We know that it can be nerve-wracking, but remember that your caseworker is here to help you. If you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask them. Once you have completed the process to become a foster-adoptive parent, you will officially be ready to begin receiving foster placements!
Step 4: Receive a foster placement
You’re probably wondering what happens after you’ve been approved to foster to adopt. When you become a foster parent, a caseworker will reach out to you if and when there is a need for a safe home and, if you accept the match, you’ll receive the placement. If your goal is adoption, as is the case of a foster to adoption, you’ll have to wait until you’re matched with a specific child that is eligible for adoption. You can also continue to foster the child until their biological parent’s rights are terminated (more on that below) and they become available for adoption. You may receive several temporary foster care placements before you receive a placement that could eventually lead to adoption. We can’t say how long this step will take, so it’s important to be patient while you’re waiting on a match that could lead to adoption. If you’re planning on adopting a child that you’re fostering, that leads us to our next point.
Adopting a Child You’re Fostering
Once a child is placed with you, you may wonder, “How can foster parents adopt a child they’re fostering?” The answer to this has a lot of variables.
The first thing that you’ll have to think about when wondering how foster-to-adopt works is the termination of the biological parents’ rights. This step must happen before your case can move closer to adoption. (And, remember: the first goal of foster care is reunification, which foster parents are expected to support in whatever way they can. This means that it’s not a matter of when a foster child’s parents’ rights will be terminated, but if).
The court will usually give the birth parents a set timeframe to meet the reunification requirements, but they are able to request an extension before the plan runs out. While we can’t give you an exact timeframe for how long this step can take, you might end up waiting up to two years or more for their rights to be terminated. Even then, the termination of parental rights can be appealed. Only if and when the parental rights are officially terminated will the case move on to the next phase: finding a permanent home.
Once the child’s biological parents’ rights have been terminated, a new search will begin for the best match or fit to raise the child. The foster family should be one of the first contenders; however, other biological family members will also need to be considered. After you’ve been matched, you’ll need to wait about six months for your court date for finalization. At this point, a judge will assess your case to ensure it meets all state requirements and adoption laws. At your hearing, you’ll be joined by your caseworker and attorney for a brief, 30-60-minute proceeding. If everything looks great, the judge will sign the final decree of adoption. After that, it’s time to finally celebrate the newest, permanent member of your family.
We know that there a lot of questions you have when it comes to how to foster-to-adopt a child. This method of adoption can be extremely rewarding, but it does come with many challenges. If you are looking for more information on the foster-to-adopt process, contact a foster care agency near you to learn more.