For many people who have dreamed of being a parent, it can be a harsh awakening when life doesn’t work out that way. Infertility, singleness, and other life circumstances can thwart our expectations.
And because for most of us those dreams started with the idea of bringing a baby home from the hospital, it can be our natural inclination to pursue infant, or even specifically newborn, adoption. On the other hand, most photos and stories you see about foster care adoption do not include tiny little babies. So is it possible to adopt a newborn from foster care?
The answer is yes, it is possible to bring home a newborn from the hospital through foster care, be the only parent (or parents) she knows from that point forward, and eventually, finalize her adoption. But if this is your desire, there are a few things that you need to know first.
1. Adoption is not the goal of foster care; it is a byproduct.
Children are placed in foster care when their parents are unable to care and provide for them. And almost always, the initial goal is that the child be reunified with a biological parent. Foster care provides a safe and loving home for the child while every attempt is made to give birth parents the help and guidance they need to take care of their children. If a birth parent is unable to take the necessary steps to do this, the court will look for a relative or someone known to the child and their family to be a permanent caregiver. Only when these options are exhausted does the plan change to adoption by a non-relative. This process can take many months and even years.
2. Even if you bring the baby home from the hospital and reunification is never part of the plan, the legal process to adoption still takes time.
There are a few rare circumstances where reunification is not part of the plan for a child, or when the plan is changed to adoption relatively quickly. Many states have laws (often called Safe Haven laws) that allow parents of newborns to relinquish them in a safe location (usually a hospital or police station) without liability. Sometimes a newborn may be placed in foster care and the biological parents refuse to participate in any attempts at a plan toward reunification. Occasionally, depending on the laws in your state and a parent’s history with children previously removed from their care, the courts and local agencies might not make as much of an effort toward reunification. Even in these cases, there is a series of legal steps to adoption that takes time to complete. And there may still be the risk that the birth family will change their mind, or that another relative will step forward. Most of the time, even infants who came home from the hospital to their adoptive parents are no longer newborns by the time the adoption is finalized.
3. There may be older children, or sibling groups, or children labeled as special needs but without any diagnoses that require significant intervention, who need you.
If your heart is set on adoption and you want to do this through the foster care system, there are children who are legally free for adoption. These children may be elementary aged or older, or part of a sibling group that wants be adopted together. They may have special needs ranging from medical to developmental to intellectual needs. Or they may have behavioral needs related to the trauma of their life experiences, and consistency and permanency can go a long way towards helping them overcome those challenges. Every child deserves a safe and loving family, and you may be able to provide that for one of these children.
Above all, remember this: it is hard, hard work to be a foster parent. It is not without reward, to be sure, but it is not for the faint of heart. If your primary goal is to adopt a newborn, there may be other, easier paths to achieving that goal.