The Basics of Foster Care Adoption

If you're considering fostering a child, start here and learn the basics and answers to common questions.

foster care adoption

There are half a million children in U.S. foster care. About 100,000 of them are already free for adoption, and 50,000 are adopted every year. Approximately a quarter are African-American, nearly half are Caucasian, 23 percent are Hispanic. The average age of children in foster care who are eligible for adoption is eight-and-a-half.

What’s the difference between adoption and foster care?

An adopted child belongs to his or her parents forever, just as if they had conceived, carried, and given birth. A foster child is a ward of the state, which can decide where he or she should live, go to school, and so on.

How can I adopt from foster care?

  • You can adopt directly from foster care. In this case, the children are likely to be older (they are rarely under two), and the birth parents’ rights have already been terminated.
  • You can foster a child, fall in love, and later apply to adopt. Your application will be considered along with those of other would-be parents.
  • You can apply to a fost-adopt program, in which you foster a child with intent to adopt. In this situation, the child has not been freed for adoption, but social workers believe that there is a good chance that the birth parents will lose their rights, and will pre-approve you to adopt should that happen.

How do children end up in foster care?

Half the children in foster care have been removed from their birth parents because of abuse or neglect; a quarter were relinquished by birth parents who are ill, incarcerated, or otherwise unable to care for a child. The rest are in foster care because of a handicap, delinquency, or because of a prior failed adoption.

Your first encounter with a foster child may be through a photo listing, on the Web or in an adoption agency album. You should be able to read a brief description of each child, but the information will be very limited to protect the child’s privacy. Experienced foster parents know how to look for clues: “Active” may suggest an attention disorder; recommendation for placement in a home without other children may suggest a history of severe abuse. If you plan to adopt from foster care, you must find out why a particular child is in the system. A child who was removed after parental abuse will need very different support from a child whose loving birth parent placed them for their own good.

Can I adopt a baby from foster care?

Before a child can be adopted from foster care, social workers must first try to reunite him or her with the birth family. After it’s decided that reunification isn’t possible, terminating the birth parents’ rights usually takes a little over a year. As a result, tiny babies are rarely adopted directly from foster care. If you want to adopt a baby from foster care, you should apply to a fost-adopt program, or become a foster parent with the hope of adopting later.

What are the advantages of adopting a foster child?

Adopting from foster care gets relatively little attention, yet it is by far the most common type of adoption in the U.S. It has one huge drawback: Until the adoption is finalized, your foster child can be removed to be reunited with birth family, or placed with another family. But there are also major advantages: You and the child get to know one another before the adoption; you can foster a newborn; there are lots of financial supports for foster parents, some of which continue after adoption.

Sarah Gerstenzang, associate director of The Collaboration to AdoptUsKids, a federally-funded initiative to promote and facilitate the adoption of children in foster care (and herself an adoptive parent), says: “Even if the child goes back to the birth family, you have made a difference in a human life, and that is very powerful.”

Everything you need to know about the adoption process, delivered monthly to your inbox.

Adoption Agencies with U.S. Foster Adoption Programs

No listings found.

See all adoption agencies with U.S. foster adoption programs >

Copyright © 1999-2024 Adoptive Families Magazine®. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

More articles like this