The popularity of foster care adoption is growing throughout the United States. In fact, about 59% of the adoptions that happen in the United States that are not stepparent adoptions happen through foster care. In 2014, 50,644 children were adopted through foster care, and this number has remained roughly consistent for the past few years.

Of the 400,000 children in foster care at any time, over 100,000 of them are already available for adoption. More than half (54%) of the children in foster care are adopted by their foster parents, and nearly one-third of the families adopting through foster care are single men or women.

What Are the Benefits of Foster Care Adoption?

Families with children in foster care receive a monthly stipend to meet the daily basic needs of their children. This includes food, clothing and bedding, and transportation. The amount varies from state to state and could be anywhere from $400 to $800. It is not considered taxable income. Any reimbursements received from the government are nontaxable. Foster care parents may also be able to claim a dependent exemption on their tax returns.

After a foster care adoption, in many states, your child may still be eligible for a small monthly post-adoption subsidy. This is a provision of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which encouraged the adoption of children through foster care. About 90% of the children in foster care are eligible for adoption assistance.

There is also a specialized care increment available for children with special needs who may require extra doctor visits, specialists, and services. The definition of special needs varies from state to state.

Additionally, the majority of children in foster care are eligible for Medicaid. A foster child who is adopted can apply for Medicaid and be approved up to age 26. Furthermore, children who are in foster care or adopted from foster care after age 13 are considered independent on the free application for Federal Student Aid, which qualifies them for a full pell grant to college. In some states, children adopted younger are also eligible for college assistance.

If you adopt through foster care, you may be eligible for the adoption tax credit of up to $12,970 per child for adoption-related expenses. In some states, an adoption stipend is available to cover the legal fees associated with foster care adoption.

Who Is Available for Adoption?

Children who have the greatest need in foster care adoption are children between the ages of three and eight. The average age of waiting children (those already available for adoption) is 7.7 years old.

Most of the children adopted from foster care are under the age of three, and nearly half of all adoptions are of children who entered the foster care system before the age of one.

While physical neglect and failure to thrive are the biggest reasons why babies are placed in foster care, parental drug or alcohol exposure is present in over 61% of infants. Parents considering foster care adoption should be prepared to handle the unique developmental needs of children who have been exposed to substance abuse. These may manifest as physical, behavioral, or learning challenges. There are many resources available to parents who want to learn more about the needs of children who have been exposed to substance abuse. A positive attitude, patience, and a calm demeanor are critical to helping children minimize the effects of their pasts.

Children may also be in foster care because they have suffered neglect, physical abuse, or a lack of safety. In some cases, the “special need” that children have is that they are a part of a sibling group, and more than one child has to be fostered and/or adopted at the same time.

While about one-quarter of the children in foster care are already eligible for adoption, some states will identify a group of children as being more likely to become available for adoption than others. While this does not mean that they can guarantee that birth parent rights will be terminated, it does mean that prospective foster parents hoping to adopt may ask to foster children from this group.

How to Qualify to Adopt from Foster Care

The requirements to become a foster parent vary from state to state. In general, parents should be prepared to complete a home study, take orientation classes, and complete an orientation. This could take anywhere from nine to eighteen months.

For example, in the state of New York, prospective foster homes are checked for safety and resources. Foster children must have a separate room, and each child needs a separate bed. Prospective parents are interviewed to discuss their character, motivation, and willingness to cooperate with the adoption agency providing services.

They will also be asked about their experiences with raising children, approach to discipline, vocation, and outside work and interests. Prospective parents must be over the age of 21 and have suitable plans for the care and supervision of children at all times. They should be able to provide at least three character references who can attest to a prospective parent’s character, judgment, and ability to manage financial resources. Prospective parents should also be able to give sound reasons for why they want to foster and demonstrate an understanding of how it will impact their family life and relationships.

Prospective parents need to undergo child abuse and criminal history checks. They should also complete a home study and an orientation. MAPP training helps adults to understand their own strengths and needs as parents and learn what services are available to help foster children. Prospective parents learn about the stages of development and help children to manage their behavior.

In Florida, prospective foster parents need to participate in a home inspection, complete 20 to 30 hours of foster parent training, participate in an orientation, and complete a home study. In Texas, they will be asked to complete an application, provide references, undergo a background check, complete a home study, and attend a free training. While paperwork specifications vary from state to state, the process for becoming a foster parent is generally similar throughout the U.S.

In order to be a good foster parent, it is important to be a stable, mature, flexible individual. You should also demonstrate that you are a team player and willing to work with the state. Parenting children from hard places may be different from the kind of parenting most folks had growing up. Giving clear consequences in a kind, firm tone is a must when disciplining children who have been abused.

Foster parents should focus on meeting their children’s needs immediately, no matter what, as this will help to assure kids that they are on their side. Bonding activities like shopping, baking, and dancing around the house together will go a long way toward strengthening a parent/child relationship. You may develop interests together and discover that your child admires and wants to imitate traits they see in you. Giving kids lots of healthy snacks and outdoor play time will help them to learn to regulate emotions in a positive, productive way. Raising foster children can actually prove to be a very rewarding experience. You will need to take care of yourself to be sure you are up to the task of being strong for others. The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis, David R. Cross, and, Wendy Lyons Sunshine is a wonderful resource for those considering foster care adoption.

Once you are a foster parent, the adoption process can begin only after birth parent’s rights have been terminated. There are many children in the United States who are already free to become adopted. Parents will have to pay for legal fees to complete the adoption, which can be anywhere from $0-$5,000. In many cases, adoption assistance or a tax credit will cover these fees.

The amount of time it takes for a child who is in foster care to become available for adoption, if he or she is not already, varies from case to case. On average, it takes a parent about 18 months to adopt a child they are fostering once birth parent rights are terminated.

If you feel called to raise a child who is desperate for a warm, loving family, foster care adoption may be a wonderful option for you. As always, lots of careful consideration and a supportive community are important as you make this life-changing decision. You can be the caring adult that changes the direction of the life of a child.

Visit Adoption.com’s photolisting page for children who are ready and waiting to find their forever families. For adoptive parents, please visit our Parent Profiles page where you can create an incredible adoption profile and connect directly with potential birth parents.