Many families looking to add to their family through adoption investigate foster to adopt as an option. Foster to adopt is a process where, as a licensed foster family, you take children into your home with your end goal being the adoption of one or more children. In many states, since there are so many children who are free for adoption and need homes, foster to adopt is a great option for families who are open to adopting an older child or adopting a sibling set. In some states, however, you must be open not only to foster to adopt as an option, but also be open to being a foster family for children with the understanding that reunification with their biological family is the end goal.
Every state has different requirements for families seeking to foster to adopt, and each family’s process will be unique. There are some common requirements though, that any family seeking to become a foster family, or seeking to foster to adopt, will have to pass. The first step in the process of becoming licensed as a foster family is a home study. The home study is a process that for many families can seem daunting, and feel invasive, but it is important to understand that it is designed not only to ensure the safety of any children who enter your home, but also to help your social worker get a better understanding of what kinds of children would be best suited to join your family—either permanently through foster to adopt or temporarily while their family works through the steps of their reunification plan.
Every state has different specific requirements for what your social worker will be looking for during your home study, but the basic structure of all studies is that it is designed to help your social worker get to know you, understand your family dynamic, and ensure any children would be safe in your home. Your home itself will need to be inspected, which causes many families a lot of worry at the beginning of the process. They are not looking for perfection and won’t be going through your home with a white glove looking for dust, but they will be looking at your home to see how many bedrooms you have, and therefore how many children you could foster or foster to adopt, that there are no safety hazards and that any children currently in your care are not being neglected or abused. You and anyone who resides in your home will need to pass a background check to ensure you have no criminal violations in your past that would disqualify you from being a safe foster parent to a child. Many people are concerned that things such as misdemeanors, or mistakes in their youth, will disqualify them from passing a home study. However, much like with the inspection of your home, the social worker is not looking for perfection. They are mainly looking for any crimes committed that involve abuse or violence.
You will also need to pass a medical clearance where you will have to provide records from your primary care physician and any specialists that confirm that you are well enough to parent and do not have any significant conditions that could drastically shorten your lifespan. Many foster parents who foster to adopt have minor medical issues, or even disabilities. Again, they are not looking for perfection; they just want to ensure you are physically capable of parenting. Mental health issues, so long as they are well managed, will also not prevent you from being a foster parent or pursuing foster to adopt.
You will also have your finances examined. This does not mean they will go through every receipt from the past year or that you need to be wealthy. It just means you will need to be able to prove that you are capable of financially supporting the needs of a child. In many states, foster parents receive a stipend that helps provide for the child’s basic needs and also most states provide free medical care for foster children. However, if you are pursuing foster to adopt, once the child is legally adopted they become your responsibility, and you will need to demonstrate that you are financially capable of the cost of raising a child and that you have a financial plan to help provide for his or her needs such as food, clothing, childcare, and other basics. There is a longstanding myth that becoming a foster parent means you will somehow profit from bringing the child into your home and that there are foster parents who take in children solely to reap the financial benefits provided. However, whatever aid is provided when you foster a child is generally very basic and will not cover everything the child needs.
Finances are one reason many families pursue foster to adopt rather than other adoption options such as international adoption or domestic infant adoption. While there are some costs involved, it is true that pursuing foster to adopt is generally far less costly than pursuing infant adoption or international adoption. The average cost of both international and domestic adoptions can often exceed $40,000, so foster to adopt can be a good option for many families who could not easily acquire that large a sum of money for one adoption. However, with foster to adopt, there are things you will need to consider that would not be factors if you were adopting an infant or even adopting internationally. The first factor is the age of the child you could potentially adopt. If you are looking to foster to adopt, you need to be open to adopting older children. If you are looking to hear the pitter patter of tiny feet or have the full “newborn experience,” foster to adopt may not be the right path for your family. You will also need to consider if you are open to adopting more than one child. Many of the children in foster care who are free for adoption are members of sibling groups. If you can see yourself being willing to expand your family by more than just one child, foster to adopt could be a good choice for you. You will also need to be open to maintaining relationships with other biological relatives or even the child’s biological parents. While in some cases, for the child’s safety, it would not be prudent to maintain those ties, for many children in foster care they have other family members with whom they have a safe, loving relationship, but who are simply not capable of being that child’s parents. Your family may expand by more than just this child: aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents often continue to play a role in a child’s life even after they have been adopted by a nonfamily member, and research shows that maintaining a relationship with a child’s biological family is best long-term for their self-image and identity as an adoptee.
The other consideration you will have to carefully make, perhaps the most important one if you are considering fostering to adopt, is that most likely you would have to understand how to parent a child who has experienced abuse, neglect, or other significant trauma. Parenting adopted children, even if you adopted them from birth, requires different skills than parenting biological children and is a different experience for both the parent and the child. Parenting a child who has experienced the kind of trauma that caused them to have to be forcefully separated from their parents by the state is a whole other consideration. Most states have a lengthy and detailed educational process for foster parents. However, those classes rarely fully prepare you for the specifics of parenting each unique child. Deciding to build your family through the foster to adopt process requires that you understand you will need to be continuously open to and actively pursuing education in therapeutic parenting techniques long after you bring this child into your home. You will also have to be open to the reality that you will need to actively pursue future support services for your child. Many children from foster care have extreme social/emotional developmental issues that need support, educational challenges, and even medical challenges. While your social worker can provide you with a link to community resources, it will be up to you to be this child’s advocate for the rest of his life if you pursue foster to adopt.
While there are certainly challenges to consider if you are thinking about pursuing foster to adopt to grow your family, the benefits and rewards of parenting any child far outweigh the difficulties. If you already have children, you understand that all of the sleepless nights and worry are nothing compared to the honor of loving and being loved by a child and being the person who shepherds that child through her life. Choosing to pursue adoption through foster to adopt will require tenacity, dedication, and a willingness to be open to asking for help when you need it. However, often in life, from hard places comes the most beauty. Bringing a child into your home through foster to adopt is, for many families, a tremendously rewarding experience that not just completes their family, but also fills their heart. Many adoptive families feel strongly that the children they have adopted were always destined to be theirs. If you feel the pull towards adoption in any form, specifically foster to adopt, no matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs may be, you may find that what first began just as a thought or a desire brings a child into your life whom you couldn’t fathom living without.