Foster care adoptions are a very common kind of adoption, especially if the child is older. Children enter the foster care system for many reasons, with some of the primary risks being poverty, neglect, parental drug use, abuse, or incarceration. Until the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) was signed into law in 1997, federal policy related to foster care had a primary goal of reunifying minors in the child welfare system with their biological parents. Under AFSA, which aimed to reduce the amount of time children spend in foster care and prioritize the safety and well-being of children in the foster care system, while reunification is still a priority, there is a greater focus on placing children in homes that can potentially become permanent if needed.
People who want to adopt from foster care are subject to many of the same safeguards that other kinds of adoptions have. For example, there are home studies, background checks, and other interviews to make sure that the adoptive parent(s) will provide a safe and loving home for a child.
In the U.S., the right to parent your biological child is seen as a fundamental right that can only be disturbed in relatively extreme circumstances. However, if there are allegations of abuse or neglect that are proven to be well-founded, the state is able to remove children from their parents. If there is no safe place for removed children to go, such as a relative’s house, the children will generally be placed in foster care. Once their children are in foster care, birth parent(s) will usually need to comply with specific case plans, such as parenting classes, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and other requirements, in order to regain custody.
Termination of Parental Rights
If the court continues to believe that the child would not be safe with the birth parents, their parental rights can be involuntarily terminated. One of the main changes that the AFSA made is that, subject to certain exceptions, a petition for termination of parental rights must be filed when a child has spent 15 of the last 22 months in foster care. Often, birth parent(s) are encouraged to voluntarily terminate their parental rights. States will sometimes allow biological parents to have visitation if they voluntarily terminate their rights instead of forcing the state to petition for their rights to be terminated.
Choosing Foster Care Adoptions
Generally birth parent(s) do not choose to be involved in the foster care process, but are forced into it due to abuse and neglect allegations, incarceration, or other causes.
Many adoptive parent(s) choose foster care adoption because some of the children involved may not have a stable home without adoptive parents making themselves available. Unlike with the adoption of healthy infants, there are more children in foster care who need permanent homes than there are people waiting to adopt them. This is especially true with older or disabled children. Therefore, there is generally not as long of a waiting period involved in foster care adoptions compared to other kinds of adoption. Adopting from foster care is also usually much less expensive than other kinds of adoptions, and there are sometimes state benefits and stipends available, especially while the child is still in foster care.
Potential Difficulties With Foster Care Adoptions
Usually when someone is formally adopted from foster care, they have been living with their foster family for a period of time before the adoption is complete. This time period can be stressful for all parties, especially when it is uncertain whether the child will be free for adoption at any point. Of course, foster parents are likely aware in situations where reunification with the biological family is the goal that the child may not be staying permanently, but it can be painful having to say goodbye to a foster child who has been living with you.
Some birth parents also feel like they were pressured to give up their parental rights. Once parental rights have been severed, it is extremely difficult to reverse. Children who had relationships with their birth parent(s) may have devastating feelings of loss and trauma when this relationship ends.