National Adoption Month: Why Foster-Adoption Is Right For You
November is National Adoption Month! America celebrates by spreading awareness about child adoption, and how important it can be for both the foster children and you. Foster care agencies around the United States also make a goal to finalize more adoptions on November 17th, in honor of National Adoption Day.
While only 2% of Americans have actually adopted, more than one-third have considered it. This is one of the reasons why awareness during National Adoption Awareness Month is so important! Hopefully, the occasion will inspire more individuals and families to consider adopting a child. If you are a part of the third of Americans who have considered adoption, specifically adoption from foster care, learning more about it is a great place to start! Continue reading to learn facts about foster care and adoption, as well as information about why foster-adoption may be right for you.
Foster Care Facts
According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently more than 400,000 children in foster care. While the children range in age from newborn to 18 years old (and even 21 in some states), the average age of a child in foster care is seven to eight years old.
Foster care is a temporary arrangement in which adults provide for the care of a child whose parent is unable to safely care for them, for a variety of reasons. Both children and teenagers enter foster care through no fault of their own. The Department of Children and Family Services initially becomes involved with a family due to an allegation of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. After an initial investigation, a referral can either be closed as unfounded or inconclusive, or the child may be removed from their home for their own safety and well-being. When children are removed from the care of their birth parents, they are placed with a resource family. While the primary goal of foster care is safe and timely reunification with their birth parents, it is sometimes unsafe to do so (even after months of reunification services). In these situations, parental rights are terminated, and the child is legally freed for adoption. While foster care is temporary, adoption is permanent.
Over half of the children who enter the foster care system are reunified with their birth families, but almost a quarter will be adopted. Of these, more than 60% spend two to five years in foster care before being adopted, and nearly 20% spend five or more years in foster care. On the other hand, a large number of children (approximately 20,000) are still aging out of the system each year without ever finding permanency. This is one of the reasons why adoption awareness and advocacy are so important.
Of the 400,000 children who are currently in America’s foster care system, more than 100,000 of them cannot be returned to their families and are “waiting” to be adopted. Waiting children are those whose parental rights have already been terminated and they are legally freed for adoption, but they have not yet been adopted. Among these children, males outnumber females, African American children are disproportionately represented, and over half are 6 years old or older. Overall, the average child in foster care waits for an adoptive family for more than three years.
Types of Adoption
If you are considering whether or not foster-adoption is right for you, it is important to know how it differs from other types of adoptions. Here are the most common types of adoption within the United States:
Currently in the United States, there are more families wanting to adopt infants than there are infants available to be adopted. The majority of people who want to adopt an infant will try to adopt through an “intermediary” such as physician, lawyer, or another facilitator, rather than through a licensed adoption agency. This is known as an independent adoption. Typically through independent adoptions, there is no counseling for birth parents, and the infants are not usually eligible for financial assistance during the adoption process or afterward. It is also possible to adopt an infant through a public or private agency, but there may be a long wait before a child is identified for you. Either way, domestic infant adoptions are typically an expensive and lengthy process.
Adoption From The Foster Care System
One form of Foster-Adoption is when a child is placed into a home as a foster child, with the expectation that the child will become legally free and be adopted by the foster parents. The other way that adoption from foster care can happen is when parents adopt a child who has already been legally freed for adoption. Families can search state and federal photo listings and heart galleries of “waiting children” in foster care (such as on adoptuskids.org).
One of the primary differences between private adoptions and adoption from foster care is that, in most states, adoption from foster care is FREE (or very, very low cost). Even more than that, the vast majority of children who are adopted from foster care are eligible for the Adoption Assistance Program (AAP). The Adoption Assistance Program (AAP) is an entitlement program to provide financial and medical coverage in order to facilitate the adoption of children who otherwise would remain in long-term foster care. The intent of AAP benefits is to assist adoptive parents with their child’s lifelong needs.
Furthermore, if an adopted child’s needs require a higher level of care and supervision, they may be eligible to receive a Special Care Increment (SCI) in addition to the AAP basic rate. A child who is developmentally delayed and eligible to receive California Regional Center services may receive the dual agency rate plus eligible supplemental rate. The benefits that an eligible child may receive through the Adoption Assistance Program include, but are not limited to: A monthly negotiated rate, state medical coverage, reimbursement of nonrecurring adoption expenses, payment for an eligible out of home placement if needed, and payment for eligible Wraparound services. These benefits continue regardless of the adoptive family’s state or country of residence, and until the child turns 18 years old. If eligible, AAP benefits may also continue to age 21.
The Foster-Adoption Process: Why You should adopt?
If you want to adopt a child from foster care in the United States, the following steps can guide you throughout the adoption process:
Learn about Adoption
Besides learning about foster care and adoption through statistics, it is important to take your knowledge a step further. Talking to foster or adoptive parents about their experiences, reading books or journals, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, or searching the internet can provide a wealth of knowledge and first-hand accounts of adoption and the process. It is important to go into this process with not only an open heart, but an open mind, as well!
Select an Agency
For starters, you must work with an agency licensed in the state where you live. However, each foster care and adoption agency is different. Each agency has a type or age range of children that they place, varying application lengths and requirements, and differences in how they assess and prepare families, as well as the level of support and training that is offered. You can look at their websites, go to an orientation, or request to speak with other parents who have used the agency that you are considering. On the other hand, in most states you can choose to foster and adopt through your county’s department of child services directly.
Complete a Home Study
A home study is conducted after you have completed your training classes and application to adopt or foster. All states require that families applying to adopt complete a home study. Overall, the home study process concludes with a written report about your family. Generally, the report includes information regarding your family background, finances, relationships, social life, daily routines, education, employment, parenting and childhood experiences, information about your home and neighborhood, motivation and readiness to adopt, background checks, and references. The home study process, which can take between three and six months to complete, may seem invasive or lengthy. However, you can think of it as an ongoing conversation which is part of the adoption process and prepares you for parenting. Your assigned approval social worker can also answer questions for you, and offer direction as to further resources to support you during your foster-adoption journey.
Open Your Home
Once your home study is complete, you are approved for placements. You can then open your home for a child, teenager, or sibling group. Your agency will have foster children in its care that can be placed with you, or your social worker can help you search for a “waiting child” by networking with other child placing agencies. You can also be active in the search by exploring federal and state photo listings of waiting children.
Exchange Information with a Child’s Agency
If you are looking to adopt a child who has been legally freed for adoption, who seems like the right match to all parties involved, your social worker and the child’s social worker will exchange information. You may then receive the child’s profile. This step of the process may take some time and calls for both patience and persistence. Additionally, you and several other families may be considered at the same time for a waiting child. Ultimately, the child’s social worker makes the final decision on which family is the best fit, and is most suitable to meet the child’s needs. If you are selected, more confidential information is shared so that you can be more confident that the placement will be a good fit.
Receive a Placement
Whether you accept placement of a child in foster care whose goal is no longer reunification, or one who has already been legally freed for adoption, your agency will visit and work with you for several months in post-placement supervision. During this time, you may have the chance to file a legal intent to adopt petition, as well as negotiate the child’s Adoption Assistance Program (AAP) benefits. However, the amount of time between the initial placement date and adoption finalization varies greatly, on a case-by-case basis.
Finalize Your Adoption
Your child or teenager becomes an official, legal part of your family on adoption day! You will also receive an amended birth certificate that names you as the child’s parents, as well as a certificate of adoption. Be sure to take lots of pictures – this is a day that you will want to remember forever.
Live As An Adoptive Family
Adoption is truly a lifelong process and doesn’t end after finalization. It is important to commit to lifelong learning about adoptive parenting. Be sure to talk often with your child, family members, and friends about adoption, know how to locate and obtain support and services for your child’s needs, and connect with other foster and adoptive parents. When you’re ready, you may even consider adopting again.
Celebrating national adoption month
Whether you are looking to adopt now, in the future, or not at all, you can still join the efforts of National Adoption Month to raise awareness and support adoptive families. Get involved in local events, reach out to foster or adoptive families, sign up for online adoption newsletters, check out books or magazines from your local library, post on social media, or donate to a local adoption agency or nonprofit that offers support to adoptive families. There are hundreds of ways to get involved and each act, no matter how small, truly makes a difference. No child in foster care should have to enter adulthood without finding permanency. Let’s all join together this November, in helping children and youth find their forever families through adoption!