The Federal Adoption 2002 Initiative brought increased pressure on the U.S. child welfare system to move children from temporary care into permanent family situations more expeditiously, and– hopefully– without sacrificing the rights of any of the parties involved.
Many of these children are already placed with foster families interested in making the transition to the permanence of adoption.
What Are The Differences?
The basic difference, of course, is permanence. Your child will now have your lifetime commitment as a parent. Many foster families maintain lifetime relationships with children who have been in their care, but this is not permanently binding. Adoption is permanent. You and your child will now share family outcomes, whatever they may be.
Another major difference is in parenting responsibility for your child. Once the post-placement visits cease, you will not share parenting authority with an agency. Decisions about schools, medical care, and your child’s many other daily activities will be yours alone.
You will also bear financial responsibility for your child. Your family insurance can be expanded to include your child, and if the adoption falls within the scope of “special needs,” you will be responsible for applying for subsidies available in your state. Adoption tax credits may also be available.
The legal responsibility of permanence means that your child will inherit from you on the same basis as any biological children you may have, and you will be liable for her or his actions in any legal dispute until they are adults. In accordance with many state laws, your child will now carry your surname and will assume all the rights and responsibilities of every other family member.
Including The Past
Your child’s foster family experience, both with you and others, as well as birth family heritage, will now become part of your entire family history. Some parents create or add to lifebooks. Do choose something to encourage your child’s active participation in the positive move to permanency.
Many states are moving toward a single home study process for both prospective foster and adoptive parents, but these are not in place everywhere, and you may be required to have another, more detailed study performed.
Checking Your Resources
Making the move to permanence brings additional responsibilities along with the wonderful benefits of a new family member. In order to provide the best possible transition to a permanent family environment for your child, you may want to make sure the following resources are available:
- Financial resources: Are there adequate financial resources available to you, either privately or publicly, to enable you to continue to maintain a high level of care for your child?
- Post-adoption services: Will you have access to counseling and treatment if needed during the adoption process?
- Support groups: Do you know where local support groups can be located? These include groups of adoptive parents and groups of parents who have made the transition from foster to adoptive parenting.
Foster parents who want to be considered when a child in their care becomes available for adoption should take the same precautions as prospective adoptive parents:
- Consult an attorney who specializes in adoption and family law.
- Don’t rely on verbal guarantees and promises. Get it in writing!
- Be aware that all parties to an adoption have rights, and follow through on making sure– to your satisfaction– that the birth family is being considered at every step.
- If you suspect that your social worker isn’t being totally open about all the information, refer to your attorney for answers.
How Prepared Are You?
If you are seriously considering adopting your foster child, a self-assessment checklist has been developed by professionals as a tool to help you understand your strengths and needs:
- I have discussed the entire placement history of my child with at least one social worker and believe I have all the information that is available.
- I have identified several strengths and several potential problems with this adoption.
- I have discussed ways to solve the potential difficulties with those I consider to be family.
- I have all information that is available about this child’s birth family and have determined ways to help this child maintain positive connections with his or her roots.
- I have considered levels of “openness” in adoption and have planned for a level of openness that will meet the needs of this child and work for our family.
- I have discussed the difference between attachment and commitment with those I consider to be a family. Those close to me understand that I am making a lifetime commitment to a child who may later in life have challenges and difficulties as a result of early experiences.
- This child has a lifebook which I plan to use to help him or her understand the differences between foster care and adoption as well as to help with developmental grieving.
- I have considered the ways this child expressed loss earlier in life and have anticipated and planned for ways this child may grieve at the time of adoption and at other important milestones during life (developmental grieving).
- I have planned ways to help this child maintain a tie to his or her cultural, racial, or ethnic roots.
- I have planned ways to talk with other children in the family about this adoption, including ways to help the family understand the differences between foster care and adoption.
- I have planned for the future financial and medical needs of this child and have thoroughly discussed subsidy with at least two social workers.
- I have identified people who will support me if I become discouraged.
- I am pursuing adoption willingly and at this time do not feel coerced by a loved one or the agency.
- I have talked with at least one family who has adopted through the foster care program.
- I have considered this decision for several months and believe that adoption of this child is important for the well-being of this child, my family, and myself.
This checklist is adapted with permission from material developed by Healther L. Graig-Oldsen, MSW, and published by the Child Welfare Institute, 1365 Peachtree Street, N.E., Suite 700, Atlanta, GA 30309.