How to Adopt a Foster Child
Adoption through the foster care system is tough, because it is never a for sure thing, until the court issues the adoption papers. The objective of the foster care system is to rehabilitate the biological parents to a degree where it is safe for the children to go back home. The government feels that keeping biological families together is the best thing as long as the child can be safe; therefore, if biological family members step forward after a parent's rights are terminated, it is likely permanent placement could go to the family member. Another thing to keep in mind is that more than half of foster care children will go back to their biological parents. That being said, adoption through the foster care system is possible, as long as you are prepared for a long, sometimes painful wait.
First: Become a Licensed Foster Parent
Becoming a licensed foster parent is a very invasive, extensive process. To become a foster parent, you need to ask your county's Department of Human Services when their next foster care licensing class is, then sign up.
This class will begin with an orientation warning you of what you are getting yourself into. Half of your classmates will not continue after this first meeting. Some will not continue, because they were unaware of the true nature of foster parenting—it is harder than parenting; while others realize their past transgressions will inhibit them from becoming licensed foster parents. One red flag is that if you have ever had a domestic dispute, you most likely will not become licensed.
Training: After the orientation, you will continue with a certain amount of hours your state requires in training. There, you will fill out extensive paperwork, watch videos, and have a background check.
Paperwork: The paperwork will ask you everything from where you keep your medicine to how you handle stress. Many of the questions can become very personal such as, “What was the greatest loss you have ever experienced?” This question is important because it helps you gain perspective to the loss your foster child will experience. They lose their parents, sometimes siblings and other relatives, their house, most their toys, their clothes, their blanket, their pillow, their stuffed animals, and more. They usually come with one toy and three outfits, if they are lucky. One child came to me in the winter, without a coat or shoes, four diapers, the outfit she was wearing, and the two outfits that Department of Human Services provided. It was ten o’clock at night when they arrived.
Background Checks: The background check is equally invasive. They will request you to be fingerprinted, as well as provide three references. Some questions on the reference questionnaires include, "How big is their support system?" as well as, "What are their views on discipline?"
Home study: Once background checks are cleared, they will begin your home study. The worker will ask many of the same questions asked in the paperwork that you already filled out. They will also walk through your house looking to see if you fulfill certain requirements. They will want to know where you keep your cleansers, medicine, matches, guns, and ammunition. They want to make sure that all things that could harm children are out of reach, with special instructions for guns. The guns and ammunition are kept locked up separately. The guns each need to be trigger locked in addition to being locked in cases. Each state has different requirements, you also need to fulfill.
Continued Education: Once the background check and home study are completed, you become officially licensed and are ready for children to be placed with you. Each year, you are required to complete a certain number of hours of training. They will also do a much briefer home study.
Finding Children To Adopt Through the Foster Care System
There are two ways to find adoptable children. One is a passive approach, where you basically wait for a child to enter your life, and the other is a more active approach where you actively look into adoption profiles.
Waiting for an Adoptable Child--The Passive Approach: The passive approach would be waiting for a call from the Department of Human Services or other company, for a foster child to be placed with you. You may wait six months, you may wait six hours, before a foster child is placed with you from the completion of your license. The children you will be called about need homes now, and no one knows for sure whether they will be reunited with their biological family or need an adoptive home. When the children come into your home, you will be told very basic, sometimes inaccurate, information about the children. For example, when we were called for our second set of foster children, I was told they were one and two, and their names were James and Jessica. Well, their names were not James and Jessica, but actually names similar. They also were two and three.
Also, the likelihood of being able to adopt the children that are placed in your home is less than fifty percent, since the ultimate goal of foster parenting is not adoption, but reuniting the children with their rehabilitated parents. My friend who is no longer a foster parent took this route to find adoption. She was a foster parent to six different children at different times, whom came into her home. She was able to adopt three of them, and could not be happier. She also felt at peace with the ultimate outcome of the other three. I have given a home to five, and was able to adopt one.
How to Find Adoptable Children Through the Foster Care System: The Active Approach
There is a more active approach towards adopting through the foster care system, which gives you an opportunity to seek out children who are already seeking a forever home. Many of these children are either older children, younger children with severe disabilities, or a sibling group that does not want to be split up into separate adoptive families.
In order to find a listing of these children, you need to find the company website that deals with the adoptable foster children in your state; for instance, Michigan’s website is mare.org. If you google, "[your state] photo listing of adoptable children," you most likely will find it, or you can talk to your county's Department of Human Services. They can tell you the name of your state's adoption agency.
There you will be able to search children’s profiles based on disability levels from none, mild, moderate, to severe, as well as minimum and maximum ages, along with how many children you are willing to take at one time. Once you input this data, a list of adoptable children’s profiles will pop up, where you can read about them. Some states have limitations on what they are allowed to share. You then can submit an inquiry, if a child is an appropriate match for your home.
Why Haven't You Become A Foster Parent Yet?
What to Expect With the Active Approach: There are sites, where you can seek out children from all over the country, such as adoptuskids.org. This will work much the same way as the individual state sites, but these are children from all over. You will also need to have your home study through the foster care system completed before you can inquire about a child. Inquiring about a child allows the adoption worker to know that you are interested in adopting a child. Once you show interest in a child, they will review your home study and choose a family they feel is best suited.
If you are notified, they will introduce you to the child. From there you will have visitations until they feel an overnight visit is appropriate. The next time, the child may stay with you longer, until the social worker feels it is suitable for him or her to move in with you. Most states require the child to live with you for at least six months before you can request an adoption hearing. Through this six-month period and up to the point of the adoption, you will be met with both a foster care worker and adoption worker, usually at separate times, once a month until the adoption is finalized.
Having gone through this experience, and attempted adoption through both active and passive approaches, I understand the frustration and heartbreak you will experience. It is a long, tedious process. One that I continue to go through in hopes to adopt more children. Yet, I remain diligent, as it is very rewarding on adoption day. A day you will never forget. I wish you luck in your search to adopt a foster child.
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz