Adopting Through The Foster Care System

Adoption is introduced into people’s lives in unique ways. Adopting through the foster care system is one avenue that foster parents consider in building a forever family. These facts, experiences, and purposes of adopting through the foster care system shine a light on how people have come together to form bonds of family, friends, and community.

The Facts of Adopting Through the Foster Care System

There are over 400,000 children in foster care. Out of those 400,000, a little over 100,000 are available and waiting for a forever home: a permanent adoptive family. Though it is possible to adopt a newborn or infant through the state’s foster care system, most of the children awaiting a permanent home are between the ages of three and twenty-one. Many who are seeking information regarding the adoption process find themselves both skeptical and overwhelmed when inquiring about the state’s foster care program. There are many questions amongst those furthering interest in this particular adoption route.

Who is eligible to adopt a child from the state’s foster care system?

There is a variation of qualifications depending on which state that you reside, so be sure to check with your state guidelines. For most states, with the exception of six (Washington, Tennessee, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, and Montana), a person must be 21 years old to be able to adopt through foster care. The six states mentioned have a lower age requirement of 18 years old. There is no age limit in regards to becoming an adoptive parent through foster care. 

Does marital status matter?

You can be either married or single to become an adoptive parent. There are many solo parents who decide to venture into becoming an adoptive parent, myself included.

How much does it cost to adopt a child in foster care?

There is typically no fee when adopting a child through the state’s foster care program. If using a private agency that has contracted with the state, any court fees will and should be reimbursed postadoption. There are also a few grants and state assistant benefits available depending on family qualifications and special need adoptions. 

Do I have to be wealthy to be considered an ideal adoptive parent?

The state does not expect or require you to have a certain amount of funds in your bank account or in your wallet to prove your ability to parent. They will require proof that you are capable of supporting yourself financially and that taking on a child would not add any substantial financial hardship. Steady income and a safe environment make for an eligible adoptive parent.

Why is it that most children available for adoption via foster care are considered special needs?

The term “special needs” in foster care refers to children who qualify for adoption assistance due to varying factors. Examples of those would be older children; children part of a sibling group or bonded; children with minor to moderate medical conditions; those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities; and those at risk for developing challenges later on in life. The term is used broadly and may vary state to state. It is not to be confused with a disability. 

Is it necessary to become a foster parent if wanting to adopt from the foster care system?

In short, no. There are no requirements and no obligation that states you must become a foster parent in order to adopt a child in the system. Here is why most, including myself, would recommend fostering before adoption.

The Experience

Adopting a child through the foster care system is not for the faint of heart. It is truly an unpredictable roller coaster ride that is more often than not filled with unexpected turns, bumps, and redirections. You truly have to find a way to be comfortable living in the unknown. From the start, there are many questions and, usually, very few answers. You cannot be timid, shy, or afraid to speak up. The social workers, through no fault of their own, are very rarely getting fed the same information. So what is said to you in one meeting or visit can quickly be mute or voided in the very next conversation. From the start, it is made abundantly clear that not everyone is always on the same page. Again, it isn’t anyone’s fault for this, just too many opinions and hands in the cookie jar for everyone to keep up. In my opinion, it is most beneficial to take everything said with a grain of salt. It’s important to not let yourself become too excited or too discouraged because nothing is ever final until the judge signs off. 

My sons’ case was one of the simple ones. They knew from early on that his case was heading in the direction of adoption. Being a foster parent, it was continuously instilled that reunification is always on the table and that the state would prefer reuniting families instead of seeing them disassembled. Unfortunately, in some circumstances, the best interest of the child is to be placed in a safe and loving adoptive home. There is a timeline that states are expected to abide by and yet never quite seems to follow. Even for a case like my sons where there was significant trauma, no stability, remorse, or improvement, the case still had to run its course. At times, it felt as though it was a never-ending marathon. Every time the finish line was in sight, something seemed to push it further from our path. 

My son was placed in my arms at birth; his adoption was not finalized until almost four years later. Again, this was a simple case. His eligibility for adoption was secured when he turned 6 months old. Had I forgone adoption, this would be a rare circumstance where an infant was available and those on the state’s adoption waitlist, would be contacted. Because I was his foster mother, I had the option to have him as my forever baby.  Again, having a dual license is very desirable and comes in handy for moments like this. After filling out the proper paperwork to move forward as his pre-adoptive home and no longer a foster parent only, things didn’t seem to change or move any faster. Required visits with birth parents were still taking place, reviews were still being organized, and court dates were constantly being scheduled and then bumped for other cases and then scheduled again. 

I grew very familiar with disappointment. The emotions are hard to pinpoint since they come and go trying to keep up with the back and forth of the case. For every valuable piece of news shared by a social worker, lawyer, or case manager, two more discouraging setbacks would follow. It was like we were dancing a very complex tango and every time the state pushed, I pulled. I had to get very comfortable with stumbling and very comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

I also had to get used to keeping my life relatively private from friends and family. Most family members are just as invested in the potential adoption as your own household is. They are always anticipating positive news and feedback and with the way this process goes, things are never set in stone. Things can change at the drop of the hat. Sitting quietly with even positive news was best for us. Remember, things can shift quickly and, unless the judge signs off on it, it’s not always worth sharing or getting others’ hopes up.

It’s very hard when you are trying your best at home to raise a child and provide for them not exactly knowing what the future will hold for them: them as your child and you as their parent. You want to trust the process and you want to enjoy parenting your child without focusing on the logistics of it all. I didn’t want to look back on my son’s younger years and remember the emails, phone calls, and exchanges between me and the department. I wanted to look back and remember my son’s first steps, his first words, his milestones, that smile, and the sound of his hearty laugh. For me, I had to, in a way, separate the two things: create two lives in a sense. 

I balanced the world where I was a pre-adoptive parent working with the state and awaiting the final steps to legalize this arrangement and the world where I was a full-time mom to the most loving, inspiring, and motivating child. When he was in my arms, I would enjoy him. I would kiss him and snuggle with him, dance around and share memories. I would feel content knowing he was with me and that in those moments he was safe, protected, cared for, and a priority. I couldn’t worry about what the tomorrows would bring. I had to shut down all of the thoughts on trials and court and judicial decisions. I couldn’t think that our fate and our family dynamic were in the hands of someone I had never met, and someone who never met me. 

When I got the call from my son’s case manager that we were officially awaiting an adoption date, everything else was approved and set to move forward, you would have thought shrieks would have sounded. I would have expected fireworks to light up the sky or a mob of dancers to flood the streets. Instead, silence. I had thought about this call for so long. I had envisioned this very moment and all the possible ways I would react. Never once did I think silence and guilt would flood my way. 

Guilt. Where was this coming from? Where had guilt been hiding? This moment I thought would be filled with complete happiness and excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I was overjoyed (in a sense). I would soon be able to breathe a sigh of relief and live a normal life with my son. I would not have to worry about his future or fear for his safety. Glancing his way as I hung up the phone, I couldn’t help feeling sad for the other life that he was leaving behind. I was sad for a life that he was permanently losing. Though I could rationalize that his previous life wasn’t in his best interest because he wouldn’t be safe with his birth parents, I also acknowledged that I was the only mother he had come to know. There was a looming sadness that came with that realization. He was unaware of the loss he was experiencing, and what he was leaving in his past. Something I had yearned for and anticipated to come was now bittersweet. 

My love for my child made me mourn his loss. My love for my child made this special moment, this significant moment, this pivotal moment, also a grieving moment. I grieved for his birth parents. I grieved the lives that they in a sense unwillingly destroyed by falling victim to the world’s pollutions, I grieved their youth which they wasted living incomplete, and I grieved the parents that they had become only to lose their child and be forced to live with the scars of their decisions forever. No one wants to experience losing their child. No one dreams of this being their future. It was heartbreaking. It was tragic. It was an ending for them, and in the same beat, it was also a beginning for my own tiny family.

When you choose to adopt through the foster care system you aren’t prepared for the journey that will befall you. You can’t be sure of anything really, possibly with the exception of knowing it will be life changing. My experience shaped me in so many ways, made me stronger, made me resilient, made me patient, and made me more empathetic. Above all, this journey made me a parent, and made me find one of the greatest joys my heart would ever hold.

The Why 

So, after reading the facts and the experience you may wonder, “Why?” Why should someone consider adopting through the foster care system? Well, why not? There are so many children right in your own community in need of a place to call home. There are so many children in your state who crave to have someone to call “Mommy” and “Daddy.” Most of us have the desire to help our community in need. These littles are in your community and are in need. Every day another child is available to be adopted, every day another tiny human ends up in foster care. You could be the solution to one human finding their happiness. 

Despite the roller coaster ride and the great unknown, there is nothing more rewarding than when the judge finally signs off on the adoption paperwork and everything is legal. You reflect back on the journey with astonishment. You are amazed in your own abilities that you broke through all of the barriers, overcame the hurdles, and fought for your adoptive child. The love that these children have in their hearts and their strong desire to be loved is something that cannot be articulated. The resilience that these little ones embody is unlike anything you have seen before. 

The road to adoption through foster care might not be as easy or as fast as other avenues, but it is extremely rewarding. I like to inform everyone considering it that it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but in the end, it is—without a doubt— the most beautiful experience your family will ever have endured. The bond for your adoptive children grows even stronger when you take strides forward in this journey with them by your side. Walking hand and hand with them, you become their advocate and fight together for their safety. A great sense of appreciation befalls you and you admire that little child more than any other human being. 

The road to adoption through foster care is not easy and is not simple, but it is worth every step. I am very thankful that I was strong enough to embrace this experience. I look back and I remember the fight, I remember the worry, and I remember the uncertainty. But I also remember the endurance, the gain, the passion, and the love. I hold my child every night before he goes to bed and I am incredibly thankful that we made it to the finish line, we crossed it together and became a forever family. It was the greatest race I will ever have the privilege to run. Who knows, it is very likely I sign up for a similar race shortly. . . who else is in?

Are you and your partner ready to start the adoption process? Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98 to begin your adoption journey. We have 130+ years of adoption experience and would love to help you.