At age 16, after 12 years in foster care and with her 18th birthday nearing, Amanda was asked by a judge, “What do you want?” Never having been asked that question before, through all the court hearings and meetings that had occurred on her behalf, Amanda looked at the judge and said “I want what everyone wants. I want a family. I want to be a normal teenager, although I am beginning to think that may be impossible because of my age.” The judge looked at those assembled in court and told them to find a family for Amanda.
Amanda was adopted at age 17, and went on to graduate from college with honors and then receive her law degree. She is now a practicing attorney helping children in the foster care system. Adoption can be a reality for each of the 129,000 children in America’s foster care system, who, like Amanda, simply want a permanent family and a home to call their own.
When thinking about adopting from foster care, though, navigating the unknowns about the public child welfare system can seem daunting. Add to that the misperceptions and myths that still circulate about the children and the process, and unfortunately the task may seem too large for many potential adoptive parents. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption provides free resources to help families navigate the foster care adoption process while working diligently to address the misinformation and myths.
A Child is Waiting: A Step By Step Guide to Adoption, a free handbook provided by the Foundation, helps to clarify the terminology, respond to frequently asked questions, address the misperceptions and guide potential adoptive parents through ten steps to adopt. These ten steps include:
1. Decide what type of adoption to pursue; do some self-research and understand your drive to adopt and your willingness to accept, love and commit unconditionally and permanently to a child.
2. Learn about the cost to adopt and the resources available to assist with the expenses, including adoption subsidies, tax credits and employer benefits; understand that to adopt from foster care costs very little, and the return is priceless.
3. Investigate and select an adoption agency; research public and private agencies and understand their processes, policies, staffing and practices.
4. Work with the adoption agency to complete an application and any required paperwork; attend meetings and orientation sessions, network with other adoptive parents who have worked with the agency and ask questions.
5. Complete a home study and any required adoption preparation classes; learn as much as you can about the dynamics of adoption, childhood development and the special issues and experiences of children in foster care.
6. Begin the matching process with a child or sibling group of children; determine what age child you are looking for and how flexible you are in growing your family; learn as much as you can about the child and background of the children with whom you are matched.
7. Prepare for the child’s arrival; amending health insurance policies, obtaining original birth certificates, securing new social security numbers, finalizing school enrollment, negotiating adoption subsidies, making your home child-friendly, and supporting children already in the home are all part of the joyful activities important to getting ready for your child’s permanent move home.
8. Bring the child home and petition the court to adopt; understand the legal process and work with the adoption agency to make this a smooth and fulfilling transition.
9. Finalize the adoption in court; adoption is a legal process and the beginning of your new family—celebrate!
10. Take advantage of post-adoption services and resources; from parent support groups and professional services to employer-based benefits, there are many diverse resources available to adoptive families.
Additionally, misperceptions or misinformation about foster care adoption may cause some to pause when they are thinking about adopting. Some common misperceptions and the reality about foster care adoption include:
1. It is too expensive to adopt. In reality foster care adoption is not expensive, typically averaging $0 to $1,500, and financial support is available to families who adopt from foster care. Subsidies follow most of the children in foster care until they are 18 years old, many employers provide adoption benefits, federal and state tax credits are available, and assistance for college expenses of older youth is increasingly available.
2. Children in foster care are juvenile delinquents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Children enter the foster care system through no fault of their own, and as a result of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment. More than half of the children waiting in foster care for adoptive homes are age 7 or older, and nearly 30% are age 12 or older. Unfortunately, each year about 20% pf the children waiting to be adopted turn 18 and leave the system without a family. These are the children who may fall back in to the system without the supports needed to grow and thrive.
3. The biological parents can try to have the children returned. Once a child has been made legally free for adoption, birth parents cannot claim a child or petition for their return. Foster care adoption is permanent. The adoptive parents may decide to maintain contact with the child’s extended biological family, based on what is best for the child, but that is a choice of the adoptive family.
4. Single individuals cannot adopt. Unmarried individuals are legally able to adopt in all 50 states. Nearly 30% of the children adopted from foster care last year were adopted by single parents.
After her adoption was finalized, Amanda noted, “Adoption is not just about now; it is about the rest of my life.” Foster care adoption makes a brighter future possible for so many children. For more information or to request a free copy of A Child Is Waiting: A Step By Step Guide to Adoption, contact the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption at 1-800-ASK-DTFA (1-800-275-3832) or http://www.DaveThomasFoundationforAdoption.org.