There is sometimes confusion surrounding foster-to-adopt. In the United States, children in the foster care systems, managed through state and local departments of social services, are cared for in a variety of temporary settings including placement in homes of either family or non-family members, or in group homes. So what does foster-to-adopt really mean? How does it work? The answer is that adoption from the public child welfare system can happen in two different ways.
A child can be placed into a home as a foster child with the hope and expectation that he or she will eventually be legally able to be adopted by the foster parents
A child who is already legally free for adoption because the parental rights of the biological parents have already been terminated may be matched with adoptive parents. These children are usually living in a temporary home.
Children are adopted from foster care into good, loving homes everyday. However, foster-to-adopt experiences can vary greatly from family to family, ultimately stemming from the primary goal of foster care – successful reunification with the birth family. As such, there is a higher level of risk inherent in the process of fostering-to-adopt.
When fostering a child with the expectation that he or she will eventually become legally free to adopt, the process is long -2-5 years – and it possible that during this time, the child will be able to return home to his or her birth family. It’s also possible that other family members may come forward who are able and willing to provide a home.
Unlike private adoptions where infant adoption is most common, foster children are typically older, and this is especially true for those who are already legally free for adoption (these children are usually aged 8+). Foster children may require therapeutic parenting to address issues of loss, grief or trauma.
Public adoption through a child welfare agency is available to LGBTQ parents in every state. However, a few factors can sometimes make finding a welcoming agency more challenging. First, the foster care system is managed differently from state to state. Some states employ one centralized system, some are organized into smaller regional or countywide agencies and in some cases, the entire foster system is privatized. Particularly in privatized systems, state laws can cause complications for LGBTQ families. Some states have enacted legislation that allows private agencies to refuse to facilitate adoptions for LGBTQ families.
In some states, it might take longer to find a welcoming agency, but they do exist and more and more LGBTQ individuals and couples adopt children from the foster care system every day. In fact, recently, some states, such as Connecticut, have launched outreach campaigns to actively recruit LGBTQ people to become foster and adoptive parents.
The waiting period from fostering to adoption can take anywhere from 1-5 years. While it may be faster to foster a child who is already legally free for adoption (when the parental rights of the child’s biological parents have already been terminated), there is still a waiting period. It’s also important to note that waiting periods are sometimes extended due to a variety of factors, many of which are completely outside the control of the adoptive family. The foster-to-adopt process will likely involve several court hearings and possibly regular supervised visitations with the child’s birth parents. It is a process that requires a significant investment in time and energy. Many families report that the waiting process is the hardest part of the journey. But understanding the process and the timeline involved in adopting a child from the public child welfare system can alleviate some of the stress that waiting periods can cause.
Yes! One advantage is cost. While private adoptions can cause thousands of dollars, it is usually free, or at a very low expense, to adopt a child through a public child welfare agency. The high cost of private adoption can be prohibitive for many families who have room in their hearts and their homes for a child, but cannot afford the steep costs associated with private options, such as agencies and lawyers. There are other financial benefits to fostering-to-adopt as well, which may include tax credits, state-funded medical insurance and in some states, college tuition assistance.
Another clear advantage in fostering-to-adopt is the extensive training provided on how to parent a foster child. Training is usually provided (and required) as part of the process to become licensed to foster a child. Also, public agencies often hold orientation meetings that prospective foster parents can attend at no cost to learn more about the process and to have their questions answered.
But regardless of the type of adoption, the biggest advantage is in the joy of providing a loving home to a child.