Adoptions from foster care happen when a trained and approved foster family adopts a child that's been living with them in foster care. Sometimes the child was moved to their home through a "matched placement" - this happens when a child has been in foster care for a long time, reunification with their family is unlikely, and the previous foster home wouldn’t commit to adopt the child. Other children are adopted by their longtime foster parents.
Some are adopted through extended family or NREFM (say nerf-em) placements, which stands for "non-related extended family member" – in these cases, someone knows a specific child in foster care and gets trained and approved as a foster parent for the express purpose of adopting that child. Adoptions are completed by grandparents, sports coaches, teachers, Sunday School leaders, family friends, and parents of the child’s friends.
Most foster care adoptions happen within the state of the child’s residence, but adoptions across state lines are possible. In some cases, foster-adoptive placements are even made internationally.
If you’re interested in adopting an older foster child, a sibling set in foster care, or a child in foster care with special needs, your best first step is to contact a foster care agency or a child welfare agency and ask to be certified. There is a great need for families open to adopting these kids. The agency will require that your family complete a thorough process of training and assessment called a home study.
The term “home study” is a bit of a misnomer. Although it sounds like a house inspection, it is really more like a series of biographical interviews of you and your family. Training is offered to bring you “up to speed” on the experiences of the children in foster care as well as general and specialized parenting skills. Your house is inspected, and you are coached on how to bring it into compliance with foster care regulations. Home studies can take several months to complete, and once it’s completed you will be certified as a foster and adoptive parent.
Once you're certified, you’ll need to choose between the two main ways in which kids might come to your home. One is through traditional foster care. There are many children in foster care in the US, and many of their families are able to reunify fairly quickly. Many counties practice concurrent planning - they work on helping families reunify, but also find a foster family willing to adopt the child, in case reunification cannot happen. Foster/adopt parents who succeed in this situation understand that the main goal is for the child to reunify with their family, but who are also willing to adopt the child if reunification cannot happen. The most successful parents in this role are those who love children and are willing to adopt, but are not desperate to adopt.
A second route, “matched placement” has a more active pursuit of adoption. Children's court cases are generally confidential, but there are many kids for whom a judge has waived confidentiality in order to help find an adoptive family. This usually happens in situations where a child will not be able to reunify and has been in foster care for a long time. These children are often older, parts of sibling sets, or have medical or other special needs. Websites like Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Heart Gallery, AdoptUSKids.org, CaKidsConnection.org, and others provide some basic information about the children in an effort to help match the children with approved adoptive families. A family interested in adopting these children can have the social worker at their agency contact the kids' social worker through the website.
The kids’ social worker will use the information in your home study and their knowledge of the children to figure out how well your family would be able to meet the children’s needs. If the kids’ social worker believes it may be a good match you may get invited to a meeting with the social worker, who will provide you with all available information on the kids, and ask you follow-up questions about your family.
If everyone feels comfortable, the next step is to meet the children. After a few meetings, if all goes well, the children will be placed with you. This placement is officially a foster placement, but the full intention of all involved is that an adoption will occur. The children will be in placement with you for at least six months before an adoption can be finalized. During that time your social worker will visit regularly to make sure the kids are OK, make sure you’re OK, and answer questions that come up.
Remember that adoption is really about finding a home for a child – not finding a child for a home. If you have a heart in line with this – make a call today.
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