From Foster Child to Adopted Child: How Does It Work?

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There are many troubling reasons why children must enter the foster care system, and although some children are able to return to improved conditions with their families, many children are placed with foster parents. More than half of these children will be placed at least three times, but this count can reach alarming levels. Many of these kids also change schools at least five times. This is why when foster parents and foster kids really hit it off to the point where they both want to seek adoption, it is very special indeed. Here is some information for these lucky foster families as well as important things to beware of throughout this process.

REQUIREMENTS

Each state is different, so be sure that you are aware of what the laws are in the state that you live in. It is recommended that you find a family law attorney to help you navigate this complex procedure from the beginning because it is common to come across various snags.

Keep in mind that the main goal of the foster care system is to work towards reunification with the parents or other relatives of their family. In order to adopt, the parent must terminate their parental rights. It may be necessary for a TPR (termination of parental rights) hearing to take place. If adoption is in the best interest of the child, then you only have to meet the following conditions:  

 

  • Must be at least 21
  • Must be financially stable and responsible
  • Must have satisfactory sleeping quarters for the child
  • Must not exceed the limit of 6 children in the home (bio+adopted)
  • Must agree not use physical discipline on the child (or emotionally abusive language)
  • Must pass background check

 

Parents may be married or single (In fact, single women make up over 30% of adoptions).

PROCESS STEPS

It is recommended that you talk to your caseworker about what you are permitted to do in these adoption legalization proceedings. Also, if you know other families who have adopted, they could be helpful as well. With that said, it is important to understand that no one will be able to help you with in-depth legal advice except for your lawyer, so bear this in mind. Always make the effort to stay informed about every step so you can be sure that you are heard as you advocate for the child. Here’s what you can expect to encounter during the adoption process:

  1. It is recommended (and in some states, it is required) that you be a foster parent first, especially if their previously abusive/negligent biological parent/family wants them back).  Different states have different requirements and timelines regarding how long the child was being cared for by the foster parent, but it is likely that the parent will be given more leverage for adoption after having the child for a certain amount of time. It is worth noting that many foster parents also work out a dual contract or opt to maintain contact with the child’s biological family even after adoption. Each case is different based on circumstances.
  2. Fill out the application with your state’s fostering agency.
  3. There will be a fee. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the average cost can be within the $0 to $2,500 range. It is actually possible that the state will foot part of this bill, so exploring this option is wise.
  4. Find a qualified adoption lawyer. Some states will not legalize an adoption without one.
  5. Your background and lifestyle will be analyzed
  6. References (non-relative) will be required.
  7. You will need to show proof of marriage/divorce (if applicable).
  8. A home study will be conducted. Every member of the household must be present.
  9. Each member of the household must get a background check.
  10. The home must be inspected for fire, health, and general safety.
  11. All pets must be vaccinated.
  12. All household members must pass a TB test.
  13. Current CPR/First Aid Certification must be obtained.
  14. Attend mandatory free training about care for abused/neglected children (20 hours will be required each year, too).

There is no official way that adoption is finalized, and some states hold a celebration that is similar to a birthday party. If your state doesn’t finalize this way and simply offers a decree of adoption, it’s still recommended to go ahead and celebrate this special occasion with loved ones!

REMEMBER:

  • Organization is key. Know dates, times, and other vital information. Consider keeping your notes together in a single pocket file or notebook. Review it often and protect it.
  • Bring all of your records with you and understand that the court may request and copy some of these items.
  • Make sure that you have a clear understanding of what each hearing is. Don’t just blindly go along with things. The internet is very helpful, and you can also get clarity from your social worker. Your lawyer can help you understand the best way you can exercise your rights in the role you are allowed to have in the case.
  • NEVER arrive late for a court hearing. Aim to be at least 20 minutes early, and if there is a potential for a lot of traffic, then it might be a good idea to head to court 40 minutes early just in case. As far as the courts are often concerned, being late negatively reflects on your ability to responsibly care for the foster child.
  • Dress conservatively and professionally. It’s not a fashion show and it’s not a trip to the grocery store. Dress nicer than casual and steer away from being too trendy. The goal is to send a message of dependability and family values. Many people disregard this and don’t realize the negative impression they have just made in court.
  • Only bring your foster child with you and not your other children. You must arrange for your other children to be supervised by someone else outside of court because you need to make a solid good impression and you must be able to focus on only the foster child. Your attention should not be split between catering to needs of your other kids and trying to convince the court that you should be able to adopt an additional child. The occasion is simply that important. Furthermore, bringing the others with you doesn’t show that you are able to give the foster child the individual attention they truly need and deserve.
  • Conduct yourself professionally. Speak clearly, slowly, and avoid slang and just nodding or shaking your head. Remember to call the judge “Your Honor.” Your input could be vital, so be sure that you are as concise and complete as possible.
  • Don’t attack the birth family physically or verbally. Don’t even let your tone show any disdain or anger that you might hold toward them. This could harm your chances for adoption.

PERKS OF ADOPTING A FOSTER CHILD

  • Adoption fee is far less than adoption through any other formal program, and the state might even cover it (this is a good thing to ask your lawyer about).
  • Families could receive monthly financial assistance
  • The child could be eligible for significant help with financial aid for college

POSSIBLE CHALLENGES

When a biological parent suddenly demands to get their child back after you and the child have developed a meaningful connection, it can be devastating, especially, if the parent or relative has a history of violence and/or severely poor and damaging decision-making. Thankfully, it is actually somewhat rare for a birth relative to challenge an adoption in court. Only 2% of foster families are unable to remain together.

While foster parents are entitled to know about and participate in Review Hearings, Permanency Hearings, and post-TPR review Hearings, they are not entitled to know about Termination of Parental Rights Hearings (TPR). In fact, there could be restrictions against foster parents’ participation. This depends a lot on what the circumstances are, as well as what state you are in.

A good number of states have a foster care system that has taken the time to create a Foster Parent’s Bill of Rights as well as a Foster Child’s Bill of Rights. These rights are typically treated as laws by the state legislatures. Regardless, many states desire to reunify these children with their parents if possible. This is why it is even more important for the foster parent to do whatever it takes to prove why they are more fit to parent the child.

GET HELP

Some people may have some internal struggles with hiring a lawyer in such a delicate situation that interferes with the child and their biological family, but sometimes legal action is absolutely necessary for the well-being of the child. Find a qualified adoption attorney near you. Many offer free consultations, which can be very helpful for understanding your options. It would be wise to consult with a lawyer familiar with the foster care system.

https://fosteringperspectives.org/fpv13n2/court.htm

 

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