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So You Want To Adopt A Foster Child? Here Are The Steps

It’ll be the best decision of your life.

Photo by Gianluca Carenza on Unsplash

H. was only six when he moved in with us as a foster child in July 2019. From the moment we met him, we knew we wanted to adopt him. It was the perfect match. He was desperate to leave his former foster home and find a permanent family, and we were desperate to have a son.

Adopting him was the best decision of our lives. It gave us a higher purpose. It made us less selfish and more compassionate. It showed us that a big part of our happiness is really about sharing moments with H., raising him, and helping to create a better future for him.

Having a son has changed everything. We now have a busier and more strict schedule. We plan everything in advance, especially vacations. We go to playdates and birthdays. We attend school meetings and are actively engaged in his education. We make career decisions based on our family stability.

The dynamics of our relationship have also changed. Everything in the house is planned and organized around H. Most of our time at home is spent with him. There is less romance for sure, but we’ve found ways around that.

So if you’re thinking about adopting a child from the foster care system, here are the steps you’ll need to follow. Although they are based on our experience in California, the basics are similar across the U.S.

Steps 1 to 5 are the same for foster parents and adoptive parents. You need to become a foster parent first before you can be an adoptive parent. Also, the steps are the same for individuals wanting to adopt and for couples.

1. Working with the county versus working with an agency

When you start the process, you can either work directly with your county, or you can find an agency that will act as an intermediary between you and the county. Neither the agencies, which are actually non-profit organizations, nor the county will charge you anything during the process.

We worked with an agency called A Better Way in Berkeley, California. We worked with them from the beginning until the adoption was completed. Regardless of your choice (agency vs. county), the process is the same.

2. Training

You’ll need to complete 27-hour training. Fifteen hours are classes in person and twelve are online. The online training is usually done through Foster Parent College, an online platform offering courses for current and potential foster parents. Their self-paced courses are available 24/7.

The training covers key topics related to being a foster parent including understanding challenging behaviors, recognizing their underlying causes, and exploring how to improve them. Both the in-person and online training include informative handouts and interactive exercises.

3. Application

After you finish your training, you’ll have to complete the application form. In addition to providing basic data about you (age, gender, place of birth, profession, health information, etc.), you will be fingerprinted, your criminal records will be checked, and you will need to complete training in pediatric first aid and CPR.

When we applied in California in 2019, the health information we provided didn’t have to be backed by a doctor’s letter or certificate. The social worker mentioned that they used to require a doctor’s certificate but it was no longer needed.

4. Home study

The home study is one of the most critical steps in the process. It usually consists of three to four visits to your home. You’ll be interviewed in detail about your motivations and skills to be a foster parent. Be prepared to disclose personal information about your life, including your consumption of alcohol, drugs, and pornography.

In addition, you’ll be asked about the age range you’re looking for in a child, gender, and ethnicity. They will also want to know how comfortable you feel about caring for a child with disabilities.

During the visits, the social worker will also inspect the house and will recommend adjustments to your home to make sure it meets basic space requirements and safety standards. These visits also serve as an opportunity to build your relationship with the social worker, who will be writing the report and making the final recommendations about your suitability to be a foster parent.

After the home study is completed and provided everything goes well, you will receive a license from the state. This means that you are now authorized to provide care for children in the foster care system. You have met the basic standards of safety and can provide a healthy and nurturing home environment.

5. Matching

During the matching process, you’ll be given different opportunities to meet prospective children for adoption. You’ll be shown a catalog with pictures and brief descriptions of the kids. You’ll attend picnics and family fairs where you can talk to kids who are ready for adoption.

If you only want to foster, you will also be called when there are emergency placements. These are placements for kids who have been recently removed from their homes and need a family right away.

In our case, we were shown a catalog a week or so after obtaining the license. H.’s picture was there. We loved his profile and requested more information. He was the first and only kid we met.

The website of Adopt US Kids, a national project aimed at ensuring that children and teens in foster care get permanent families, provides a listing with brief descriptions of children that are currently ready for adoption. Also, if you want to get a good idea of what the matching process is like, watch the 2018 film Instant Family by Sean Anders:

After the matching is done, you’ll have a disclosure meeting with the county in which they will give you additional details about the child’s life and circumstances. You’ll also be meeting the social workers who will be working with you during the foster phase of your adoption.

In general, there will be a transition period consisting of several meetings between you and the child. The purpose is to give you the opportunity to know each other better before moving in together.

6. Child moves in

The child moves in as a foster child. Chances are that there are still some court hearings pending with the biological parents. However, if the child has been in the foster care system for some time, these hearings will probably not make a difference in terms of his chances of being adopted by you.

It is important to note that the main purpose of the foster care system is to reunify children with their biological parents. So generally the longer a child has been in the system, the less likely it is that reunification will happen. Courts will not send children back to their biological families unless they are confident that biological parents can provide a safe and nurturing environment for the child.

Once the child is in your home, be ready to have regular meetings with social workers. H. moved in with us in July 2019 and he was adopted in March 2021. During that period, we had two home visits a month from the agency and one visit a month from the county.

You’ll also receive a monthly stipend for expenses related to the child. This stipend will continue, even after adoption, until the child is 18 years old. In California, the stipend is approximately $1,000 a month. Also, the child will receive free insurance (Medical in California) until she or he is 18 years old.

Until adoption is completed, the child will also have visits with their biological parents while they are living with you. These visits can be weekly, biweekly, or monthly depending on the case. The county organizes all the logistics of the visits.

When H. moved in, we acted as if we had already adopted him. We did everything we could so that he could have the best opportunities. We fought for a spot in a good school and got very involved in his development and education. We worked as a team with his social workers and doctors. But above all, we gave him all the love we could. H. thrived. He’s a very intelligent, balanced, and resilient kid with strong social skills and a big heart.

7. Adoption

Once parental rights of biological parents are terminated, the child is ready for adoption. Six months after that, the county will file the adoption documents with the court. Then you’ll get a date for finalization. It’ll be one of the happiest days of your life.

Adopting H. has been a true blessing; the best thing we’ve ever done. If you’re thinking about adopting, get in touch with an adoption agency or contact your county directly. They offer regular information sessions that explain the process in detail.

If you decide to do it, congratulations. Your son or daughter will not have your eyes, your hair, or your smile, but they will definitely have all your heart.



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