When we decided to adopt a child from foster care, we did not want to foster first, so we signed on as an “adoption only” family. We did our home study, took 27 hours of classes, and looked at online waiting-child galleries with pen and paper in hand. There were hundreds, maybe thousands, of children waiting to be adopted. It should’ve been a quick process, especially since we had pretty generous parameters. Imagine our shock when six months went by without a single placement opportunity.

There are many reasons why adoption from foster care might take longer than you think, but that’s a topic for another day. In our case, we already had a large family and we just weren’t a good fit for the children available at that time. That’s when our social worker asked if we would be willing to consider a poor prognosis placement.

A poor prognosis placement occurs when a child is not legally free for adoption yet, but the state believes that he or she will be eventually. Other common terms for this situation are concurrent planning, legal risk placement, or at-risk placement. Basically, the state will continue to offer reunification services to the parents, but they place the child with a family that commits to adopt the child if reunification fails.

Common reasons for a child to be classified as poor prognosis are severe abuse or neglect, previous history of parental rights being terminated, multiple interventions by state agencies, drug use with no attempts to get help, dangerous living conditions with no change over a period of time, or mental incapacity.

By accepting a poor prognosis placement, you are taking a risk. There is a chance the parents could make changes and regain custody. There is a chance other family members could step up and want to raise the child. Your social worker should have an idea of how likely either of those scenarios is, but you can never be completely certain.

The timeline between placement and adoption can vary widely depending on the situation. If you bring home a newborn from the hospital, for instance, you might be in for a long wait while reunification attempts are going on. If you bring home an older child who has already been through an unsuccessful reunification period, your wait could be much shorter.

When our social worker asked us if we would consider a poor prognosis placement, we agreed to view situations on a case-by-case basis. She made a note in our file but we still didn’t hear anything right away. Then one day, about a month or so later, she called. She had a three-year-old boy who needed a home immediately and she wanted to know if we were interested. She still had a few loose ends to tie up before he was legally free for adoption, and there was a chance he wouldn’t be, but either way, it would be resolved in the next few weeks.

We agreed to take him knowing that he could be with us for a few weeks or forever, but there was no in-between. We could handle that. His case was resolved two weeks later, leaving him legally free for adoption. We were submitted as his prospective adoptive parents, and now we are nearing the end of our state’s six month waiting period so that we can go to court and make him ours forever.

Not every case isn’t as straightforward and easy as ours has been, but accepting a poor prognosis placement might still be a great fit for your family. I’m so grateful that we were willing to step out into the unknown, and I have a hazel-eyed beauty as a daily reminder that sometimes rewards outweigh the risk.

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Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.