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30 FAQ about Adopting from Foster Care

If you’re considering growing your family through a foster care adoption, questions are probably buzzing through your head right now. You may have some fears about the unknowns ahead in adoption from foster care. FAQ like the ones below are common for hopeful parents, so the answers may clarify things and put some of your fears to rest.

Here are thirty of the most common foster adoptions FAQ and their answers:

1. What is the foster adoption process like?

The specifics will be dictated by your state’s laws, so it’s best to start there. Your state may require or strongly encourage you to become a foster parent before you adopt. But the general process to adopt a child from foster care usually looks more or less like this:

  • Research foster adoption to make sure you’re ready and that this path is right for you
  • Contact a foster agency in your state — check your eligibility, learn about their specific process and ask questions
  • Complete their applications
  • Submit to background checks, federal clearances and other safety measures
  • Complete training sessions and informational meetings over several weeks
  • Complete a home study
  • Wait for a match with a child
  • Receive placement
  • Complete post-placement home study follow-ups
  • Finalize the adoption

This, of course, is a simplified overview of a complex process that will vary based on your location, situation and provider. However, it’s all worth it in the end.

2. What is the difference between a foster care adoption and a private adoption?

When you’re just beginning to consider welcoming a child via adoption, you may be unsure of how certain types of adoption differ. It’s important to learn about all the different types of adoption so you can be sure you’re choosing a family-building path that’s right for you.

The key difference between foster and private adoptions is the element of a birth parent’s choice. In private adoptions, birth parents voluntarily place their newborn child with an approved family of their choosing. In foster adoptions, children are involuntarily removed from their birth parents’ homes due to abuse or neglect. 

There are other similarities and differences between these two common types of adoption, like cost, wait time, birth parent relationships, availability of certain types of children and more — but it’s up to you to decide which is best for your family.

3. Can I immediately adopt a waiting child, or do I need to become a foster parent first?

This often depends on the state you live in and the foster care agency with which you work. Your best bet will be to reach out to your agency and ask!

The answer is: yes, if you’ve met the necessary requirements, you may be able to apply to adopt a child who is currently waiting without becoming a foster parent first.

However, becoming “dual-licensed” never hurts when you’re hoping to be considered for permanent placement of a child. A foster care professional will generally give you greater priority when selecting a permanent placement option if you’re already a licensed foster parent, and especially if you’ve already been fostering the child you’d like to adopt.

4. Can I adopt a baby, or are there only older children available for adoption?

It’s possible to adopt a baby from foster care, yes. However, it’s less common.

There are a lot of reasons why there are greater numbers of older children available for adoption than infants, and it has nothing to do with the child. Children are in foster care through no fault of their own.

If you have your heart set on adopting an infant, you may want to consider a private adoption instead. If, however, you’re open to learning more about an older child adoption, you may be on the right path!

5. Can I adopt a child who I know that is in foster care?

Yes. Whether this child is a family member, the child of a friend, or just a child whom you already know and love, you may be given priority if it comes time to look for a permanent placement option because this child already knows you. 

Is this child legally eligible for adoption, though? Remember that the rights of his or her parents will need to be legally terminated before that child may be adopted. If this hasn’t happened, this child will only need a temporary home. In that case, you can still provide that short-term loving home while the parents try to improve their situation.

6. How much does it cost to adopt from foster care?

Adopting a child from foster care is one of the most cost-effective ways to build a family. It can cost little to nothing. Learn more about foster care adoption costs here

7. Do people get paid to adopt a foster child?

Raising a child into adulthood and beyond is always costly, and that cost will increase for children who have additional needs. That’s why some foster parents are given a stipend to help offset some of these costs.

But these stipends are modest. So, no — you aren’t really getting “paid” to foster or adopt a child. You should financially prepare accordingly, just like any new parent. 

Financial gain should never be anyone’s motivation for becoming a parent. 

8. What are the requirements to adopt through foster care?

The specific requirements you’ll need to meet as a hopeful parent will vary based on the state you live in and the provider you adopt through. Be sure to check with your foster agency and see if you’re eligible. However, some of the common requirements to adopt through foster care include:

  • Completion of required background checks, training sessions, home studies and more
  • An age minimum, typically about 21 
  • Adequate space for a child in your residence (he or she will need their own bedroom)
  • Financial stability, with income and tax reports to verify this 
  • Safe and stable housing for your family (own or rent)
  • Reliable transportation
  • Good physical and mental health
  • Readiness and ability to work in tandem with social workers, the child’s biological family and other relevant providers
  • Readiness and ability to include and respect the child’s biological family

9. Do I need to own my home?

No. You can own or rent your home, but there are often space and safety requirements regarding the child’s bedroom. Those can vary somewhat based on your state’s laws, and will usually be addressed during your home study. 

10. Do I need to be married?

No. Foster and adoptive parents can be single, married, or divorced. 

If you’re in a committed relationship and not married, your partner will need to be a part of the process — they will need to be included in background checks, the home study process and more, to ensure that they’re an equally safe influence for a child in the home.

11. What kind of training do I need to complete a foster adoption?

The type of training you’ll need to complete will depend on the needs of the child you hope to adopt, whether or not you’re also becoming licensed as a foster parent, the requirements of your state and foster agency and more.

There is usually a set number of hours or number of training sessions that hopeful parents will need to attend. These sessions can cover a range of important topics, like transracial adoption, the effects of trauma, helping children cope with grief and loss, relationships with biological family, special needs that children may have and more.

12. What is a home study?

All prospective foster and adoptive parents must complete a home study through their agency or an approved home study provider. This is an important way to assess your readiness and your ability to physically and emotionally provide for this child, as well as the safety of your home.

Home studies consist of the submission of documentation, interviews and in-home visits both before and after placement.

13. Who has first priority when selecting permanent placement for a child?

Every child’s situation is going to be unique, but in an ideal world, the typical order of priority when placing a child goes like this:

  1. The child’s biological parents
  2. Other biological family members, close family friends or people the child knows
  3. The child’s current foster parents
  4. Licensed foster parents who are hoping to adopt a child
  5. Families who are hoping to adopt a child without fostering

When one option is ruled out, the next priority placement on the list is considered. Again, this is on a case-by-case basis and is tailored to suit the needs of the individual child.

14. How many children are waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States?

There are approximately 400,000 children in foster care at any given time, and about 100,000 of those children are eligible for adoption.

About half of the children in state care will be reunited with their biological parents, but for many children, reunification will ultimately not be possible, and they will become legally available to adopt. Some have been waiting years for the right family.

Check your state’s informational page to learn more about the waiting children in your state.

15. Can I adopt a child from outside my state?

Yes. There will be additional requirements that you’ll need to meet, so you’ll have a longer-than-average adoption process. 

You’ll also need to adhere to the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) through both the sending and receiving states. Of course, you’ll be expected to travel for visits to meet the child, and you’ll need to remain in-state during ICPC clearance. 

However, adopting children from another state is often very possible. Speak to your foster care provider for more information.

16. Are all the children in foster care “special needs?” What does that term mean?

You may notice that many of the children who are waiting to be adopted are labeled as “special needs.” It’s important to understand what that broad term encompasses. In foster care, a child may be considered “special needs” because he or she:

  • Is older than the sought-after infants
  • Has a certain racial or ethnic background
  • Is part of a sibling group that needs to be placed together
  • Has some degree of medical conditions
  • Has physical, mental, or emotional disabilities to some degree

Special needs” children are simply any children who might have a harder time finding the right placement, or who might wait longer to be adopted than other children.

17. Are siblings always placed together?

This is strongly preferred, yes. You can likely understand why siblings want to stay together, especially if you have siblings of your own!

There is also research to support siblings being placed together — they experience a lower risk of failed placements, emotional benefits and more. These children have lost most of their biological family connections, and their siblings may be all they have left of that original family unit. So whenever possible, siblings are adopted together.

18. Why aren’t all the details about a child’s past or challenges listed in their online profiles?

Children are often old enough to check their own profile listing online. Their friends, parents of friends, teachers, or other acquaintances could also read their online profile and know about their issues and histories. You can understand why having this information spread would be embarrassing and isolating for a child.

For this reason, details about a child’s case should be kept private — caseworkers will share the child’s information with hopeful adoptive parents who have inquired about him or her, but won’t make it publicly available to avoid embarrassing a child.

19. What is the average demographic for a child in foster care?

The average age of a child in care is about 8 years old, and there are slightly more boys than girls. 42% of children in foster care are white, 24% are African American, 22% are Hispanic or mixed race and 2% are Native American.

These are statistics for the entire United States, so the averages in your state can vary somewhat. There are children of all different ages, races, backgrounds, level of need and personality type waiting for adoption.

20. In a foster care adoption, would I maintain contact with the child’s biological parents?

Ideally, yes. Maintaining some amount of connection with the child’s original family, when possible, is often very beneficial for the child. Some courts may mandate some amount of openness in a foster care adoption, while others will close the contact.

All children, even infants, will grieve the loss of that family. If your foster care professional agrees that it’s safe in your situation, openness in adoption is the preferred option, as it helps them stay connected to their personal history. Learning more about staying connected with your child’s birth family will often help ease any fears you may have.

21. What kind of post-adoption support can I expect?

There are many kinds of post-adoption support services available, especially for foster adoptions. When you adopt a child through foster care, you may be eligible for the Adoption Tax Credit. You may also be eligible for state adoption subsidy payments if you’re adopting a child with special needs.

Medical assistance may be available or subsidized until the child turns 18 in some situations, and most of your adoption expenses will likely be eligible for reimbursement through your state. 

Children who were adopted through foster care in some states may also be eligible for scholarships or even four-year college tuition waivers. 

There are also a number of adoption support groups for children, parents and families, in addition to being able to reach back out to your foster agency and caseworker should you ever need help finding support resources or advice. If you ever need help finding or affording medical, mental and emotional support for your child, reach out to your foster care provider. 

22. How do I find a local foster adoption agency?

There are more foster adoption agencies than you might anticipate. Most will work very closely with your state’s Department of Child and Family Services. If you don’t plan on adopting directly through your state’s service, be sure to research your options for local foster agencies carefully.

You can find lists of local providers for each state here and here

23. How long does it take to adopt through foster care?

On average, the adoption process can take one to two years from start to finish. It can take a while to become certified as a foster parent (if you choose to or are required to do this) and to complete the necessary trainings and home study requirements. The more dedicated you are to completing everything on time, the sooner you’ll be able to begin looking for an adoption match.

Then, it can take a while longer to find the right match. However, most hopeful parents are able to receive a placement and legally finalize within one to two years through a foster care adoption.

24. What happens if the match doesn’t work out and I decide not to go forward with the adoption?

Of course, a disrupted match isn’t like returning a purchased item to a store. You would never consider that option lightly, and there are a lot of things that must happen before a pending adoption would be disrupted and the match ended.

While this unfortunately can happen, it’s rare. Adoptive parents understand the time, effort, consistency and patience required in fostering and adopting before they begin the process. 

Before considering disrupting a pending foster adoption, the family would work with trained social workers and counselors to try to resolve issues. 

Sometimes, families are not able to resolve issues and they ultimately won’t proceed with finalizing the adoption — this is hopefully in the best interest of the child. Disrupted matches are extremely difficult for everyone involved, so great lengths are taken to try to prevent them whenever possible.

25. What are the different kinds of foster care?

The definition that many people may have for “foster care” is when a child is temporarily placed into the home of certified foster parents while the child’s biological parents try to complete their reunification plan and improve their current situation. This is certainly one type of foster care, but there are other types, including:

  • Residential/group/institutional care: The child is placed in a residential facility with other children who are waiting for placement in either temporary or permanent homes. Approximately one-fifth of children will live in this type of care with staff members as their caregivers. These community homes may be specialized to a child’s needs.
  • Kinship care: The child is placed with a relative as his or her temporary caregiver. This is often preferable, because the child may already know and trust these family members.
  • Therapeutic foster care: The child is placed with a temporary foster family who has been specially trained to care for children with certain medical or behavioral needs and may be best-equipped to provide for that child.
  • Emergency care: The child is placed in a residential facility or with a foster parent who is certified as an emergency caregiver. This is needed when a child is suddenly removed from their biological family and needs a safe, short-term home while case workers can assess his or her needs to find the best placement for that child.

These are not the only types of foster care, but they’re some of the most common. As a prospective foster parent, you can become certified in these different types of roles, if that’s something that interests you or if you feel that you have skills to offer.

26. At what point does a child become available for adoption?

The number of children currently in foster care can seem overwhelming. But remember that most of those children will be reunited with their biological families, so they’re not actually available for adoption. It’s only if and when a child is unable to return to his or her biological family that a permanent placement will be considered. 

The court will give as many opportunities as possible for parents to regain custody of children, but if they’re ultimately unable to provide a safe and stable home environment, their parental rights will be legally terminated and the child will become eligible for adoption. However, remember that the child’s relatives or foster parents (people that he or she already knows) are typically given first priority when looking for a permanent placement.

27. What is respite care?

Short-term care of foster children may be available in your area for caregivers who need a quick break to physically, mentally and emotionally recharge. Parenting is tough — particularly if a child has additional needs. Sometimes everyone needs a short break to come back and be the best possible parent.

28. Would the child I adopt change their last name, Social Security number and insurance?

Many children choose to take their adoptive family’s last name, but it’s not a legal requirement. This is something that you and your child should discuss together.

Some adoptive families have been successful in changing a child’s Social Security number, while others have not been able to do so. Not all families feel that it’s necessary. Learn more about the process of potentially changing a child’s Social Security number here.

Foster children will be on Medicaid, but following a legal adoption, children should be able to join your own insurance policies with little issue. Your adoption attorney and human resources representative will likely be able to help you through those steps.

29. What are the benefits and challenges of adopting a child through foster care?

Foster adoption is not for everyone. It’s important to thoroughly research and carefully consider the potential benefits and challenges that you may encounter with this type of adoption, just as you would if you were considering any particular family-building path. It’s ok to say “no” to certain adoption opportunities or to foster adoption altogether if you feel that you aren’t able to provide for a child in the way he or she may need.

Remember that all children adopted through foster care have experienced some degree of loss and trauma, even infants. Some children will have additional physical, emotional or mental setbacks in their lives. However, all children in foster care have the same capacity to love and be loved by a permanent family! The benefit of a loving family, for both children and parents, can never be understated.

30. How do I request more information and start the process of becoming a foster/adoptive parent?

You can find local information that’s specific for your state, including contact information for your area’s foster care agencies, here and here. Reach out to one of those foster care providers to learn more about their requirements and ask how to begin!