Is Foster Care to Adoption More Difficult?

The stigma surrounding foster care and adoption is well played in the news and media. There is a spoken and sometimes unspoken bias regarding children who reside in the foster care system. There are so many questions regarding the process, the children, and how to integrate a child from foster care into one’s home and life. One major question, Is Foster Care to Adoption More Difficult? My simple answer or relative question is compared to what? I know many friends and family members’ paths to having biological children are just as messy as adoption. We also often hear horror stories of overseas adoptions that are not working out or delayed, especially in COVID times. I’m sure we could discuss all the horror stories related to domestic adoptions outside of the foster care system for hours. There are never simple answers when planning to grow your family. 

Stigma and Myths 

Let’s take a quick minute to think about what society and the media have portrayed foster care as concerning adoption. I can think of a few movies where a wanting couple takes in a child only to later find out there is another sinister plan. Having worked in child protection for 11 years and adopted from the foster care system, I can assure you these are fabricated. 

Yes, children who are placed in foster care do experience trauma. They may have before they entered, or the removal itself can have an impact. The day-to-day moving from a foster home or having to adjust to the unknown also impacts them. They may have delays in development or need more treatment for emotional needs. It may seem overwhelming to think of a child going through any of this, but remember, it was not their fault. 

Children did not ask to be a part of a government system that oftentimes is not funded efficiently. In my experience, caseloads are high for social workers, and they often have more than a fair amount of children under their care. Social workers try desperately to place children appropriately with the least amount of trauma involved. 

My children resided in foster care for about three years before each one was placed in an adoptive home. I’ll be honest, having had to stay in foster care for so long has caused trauma. It has taken many therapeutic interventions to assist us. Nevertheless, they are able to love and show love. They have attached to us. There are often concerns around whether children in the foster care system can attach. 

In rare cases, some children experience attachment concerns. It is important to establish an attachment therapist at the beginning as it can help with learning from each other. One must remember the child has had no power in any situation related to foster care. It is important to

help your child adjust at their pace and with an unconditional experience. I know that sounds so easy, but it does take time and patience. Love may come naturally for some and hard for others. Regardless, consistently giving examples of unconditional love will work. 

Once the child feels more stable in the home, they will become more attached. Although attachment often adds to the question, Is Foster Care to Adoption More Difficult? The stigma and myths around attachment are there to scare and are often established by misinformed individuals with an alternative agenda. Raising children always comes with challenges. 

The System 

The consistent thing throughout any adoption is the amount of paperwork. Adoption starts with an initial application, then a home study, and ends with court documentation. Oh wait, don’t forget the monthly visits by the social worker, therapeutic agencies, and any medical providers. SO MUCH PAPERWORK! It may seem overwhelming at times, you may even hear it referenced as the rollercoaster of adoption, but it is worth it. The paperwork may be one of the significant differences when choosing adoption. 

Each document requires multiple people to sign off on them. This can cause the process to feel like it is taking forever. The amount of time it takes from placement to adoption varies from state to state. It also depends on how complex the case is. A child can have the goal of adoption, but biological parents may have the right in many states to request additional time. This can add additional stress to an already stressful process. It is important to ask when you have your initial disclosure if the child is free for adoption or where they are related to their goal. Free for adoption means that the protective agency and court have found the parents’ rights need to be terminated or they have entered into an open adoption agreement. There may be different wording in the state you’re in, so it is important to ask the child’s attorney or the adoption social worker. 

There will be requirements from the protective agency or adoption agency regarding the child and finalizing the adoption. This process often looks like the initial home study. When you get to this point, you are often asked important questions regarding future planning. This may be around wills and who will take the children in if something happens to you. In some states, you may be able to get a monthly stipend for continued care. This is common when adopting sibling groups or children considered to be special needs. You may hear this referred to as the adoption packet. Once completed, it is given to the courts. 

Once the packet is put into the court, there should be an adoption date set. Courts can also cause delays. This has happened more and more related to the COVID 19 pandemic. There can be delays in adoptions due to trial dates being extended. In some states, you may need legal representation, but most are completed by the attorney for the protective agency and child. 

Easier? 

I know the last few paragraphs can feel overwhelming to read. I have done three adoptions from the foster care system. Each had its unique hiccup but was absolutely worth every minute. One thing that resonates with me about the process was that I never felt alone. There was a team for my child, and I was able to bounce my concerns off more than one support. It really embraced the concept that it takes a village to raise a child, especially a child of trauma.

When I first decided to adopt, so many people began telling me their war stories of the system. I was prepared for it to be overwhelming. That wasn’t my experience. There were times I didn’t like the time frame, but once I realized it was out of my hands, I accepted the process. I enjoyed the firsts with my children and prayed that the finalization would happen in a timely manner. I had made a decision from the beginning to adopt children who were considered free. This allowed my timeline to not be as long. In my first adoption, we waited a little bit so we could be part of National Adoption Day. On National Adoption Day, the courts are encouraged to only honor adoptions from foster-to-adopt. They have vendors, and the judge can take their time to make it more special. My third adoption happened on a regular court day. Each had its special moments. 

Child Placement 

A private adoption may take just as long or longer, depending on the adoption agency, state laws, and wait time to be matched. If you have decided newborn or infant adoption best suits your family, private may be the way to go. An expectant mother will have the opportunity to search through the agency’s family book/website to find a match. There will be legal fees associated with private adoption, either domestic or international. If you are adopting internationally, you may have to provide additional supplies to the country of origin. 

Fostering to adopt can take less time if you are taking in a child already free for adoption. Younger children tend not to be legally free, so there may be more court involvement. That said, I saw many families grow from infant placements as biological parents made choices to seek adoption or courts ordered the goal to change. Most times, the adoption is free or with a small fee. Many times all court proceedings are covered by the state, and there is no need for additional court/lawyer fees. My three adoptions were free, and I was able to get monthly subsidies for them until their 18th birthday with the possibility of extensions if they enroll in college. In many states, the child is covered by state health insurance in order to maintain necessary therapeutic services. 

Both private and foster-to-adopt have waiting times to match. This is important in order for the adoption or state agencies to consider all strengths and needs of each family member, including the child. That is why answering the home study questions honestly and accurately is very important. The pull to want a child will be intense but should never block the practicality of what you can handle as a parent. You may not know what you can or can’t handle if this will be your first child. That’s okay, but just be mindful there are no perfect parents, and all children struggle at times regardless if they were biological or adopted. There are no perfect parents, just ones willing to learn and teach. 

To Answer the Question… 

Is Foster Care to Adoption More Difficult? When we decide to grow our family through adoption, the choice of how is the first question. There are so many misrepresentations of the foster-to-adopt world that puts the process in a negative light. We explored a few of these concerns, such as trauma, dealing with agencies, and longer placements. Most of these are myths and don’t reflect the child’s need for permanency. A child has not asked to be part of the foster care system and has little to no choice of the journey. When the time comes that a biological family is no longer a viable option, they will have their goal changed to adoption. Let’s be honest, a child hearing that this is their goal is difficult. I have experienced some children wanting and wishing for their biological family. Most often, the child just wants a home where they can stay, learn, make friends, and have a connection to adults. There are about 400,000 children in the United States foster care system. A large percentage have the goal of adoption. There are always children in need of families to call their own. 

You may have to dig deep to be mindful of your own bias regarding children from the foster care system. Children from foster care will need additional support at times, and one must be open to providing it. Also, can you provide a loving, stable environment for this child to grow and learn? If you can answer yes to this question, you are already on the right path. There is an expectation that foster care children are too damaged to join a family. I can’t stress enough this is a misguided and hurtful representation of the children I have adopted and worked with for over 11 years. My grandmother used to say good things come to those who wait. I can attest to that because I’m finding joy in raising my children from adoption. My children are often described as old souls, but really they have learned the privilege of not taking people for granted. My oldest graduated high school this year. I watched in tears as he confidently walked and accepted his diploma. I thought of our journey that began when he was six years old until today. I’m so glad I didn’t fear the unknown around the foster care system because what I gained is priceless. Whether it is easier or not, it is necessary to consider as every child deserves a loving and stable home.

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.