Foster adoption is a beautiful thing. Providing a forever family for a child who has experienced trauma and loss is a noble calling, but in many ways, it is different from private domestic or international adoption. If you’re considering adopting from foster care but aren’t yet acquainted with the process, here are some things that might surprise you, but are important to know.

One disclaimer, though – there are exceptions to every rule. What follows are guidelines and general principles, but they are never true all the time.

Adoption is a byproduct of foster care, not the goal. 

For most children who come into foster care, the goal is to eventually reunify them with their biological parents. Kids are placed in a safe, loving, and temporary home while their parents address the issues that led to the child’s removal from their care. Aside from a few specific situations, the state has to demonstrate reasonable efforts to work toward reunification before the plan for a child can change. Even then, options for placement with a relative will often take precedence over adoption by a non-relative foster parent. This process, and exhausting these options, can take quite a long time. Not every child who enters your home as a foster child will eventually be available for adoption.

If adoption is your primary goal, consider carefully whether you are prepared to work towards and support reunification. You might also consider adopting one of the many waiting children who have already been through this process and are available for adoption.

Foster adoption takes a long time

This is not a quick process, and the time it takes for the court to decide to terminate biological parents’ rights and finalize adoption can easily take years. Some of this is due to the enormous amount of work biological parents need to do in order to be able to safely care for their children. Recovery from addiction, securing safe housing and stable employment, counseling and parenting classes all take time to complete, even in the best of circumstances, and that means that it can take some time to be certain those things will not be completed and the child cannot ever return to their parents’ care. It also takes time to step through the different hearings and parts of a court process.

Even for children who are legally free for adoption (that is, their biological parents’ rights have already been surrendered or terminated), many regions require a child live in the home for a certain number of months before the adoption hearing can take place.

The term “special needs” is broader than you may think. 

Many children who are legally free for adoption can be labeled “special needs” or “hard to place.” These terms can mean quite a lot of things, so if you’re interested in adopting one (or more) of these children, it’s important to keep an open mind and find out the details of their story before making assumption. Some children do have medical, intellectual, or behavioral special needs, yes, but they also might be harder to place because they’re older or because they’re part of a sibling group.

Most foster adoptions are open adoptions. 

The nature of foster care and the reunification efforts that occur before adoption mean that most foster adoptions are open adoptions. The specifics of contact information echange and communication can vary widely, but most adoptive parents know their child’s biological parents, and vice versa. In the best cases, biological and adoptive parents have forged a relationship that allows them to remain in contact even after the adoption, and when done right, this can be wonderful for the adopted child.

If you have adopted from foster care, what would you add? What surprised you about foster adoption, and what do you wish more people knew?