Considering Adoption: A Factsheet for Families
|This factsheet is written for
foster parents who are considering adopting one or more of the
children in their care. While this factsheet does not address the
specifics of how to adopt,1
it provides information on the differences between foster care and
adoption, and it explores some of the things for foster parents to
consider when making the decision about whether to adopt a child in
their care. Specifically, the following topics are addressed:2
Differences Between Foster Parenting and Adopting
There are a number of significant differences between foster care and adoption for the foster/adoptive family involved, even when a child remains in the same household. Compared to foster care, adoption brings the following changes for the parents (Craig-Oldsen, 1988):
Trends in Foster Parent Adoption
Prior to 1975, agencies discouraged foster parents from adopting the children in their care, and parents who asked about or chose to adopt were not always welcomed. Agencies discouraged adoption by foster parents for the following reasons: fear of losing good foster families when they were no longer available to take other foster children; concerns about how other foster children in the home who were not being adopted might be negatively affected; or fears about the impact of openness between the foster family and the birth family (Meezan & Shireman, 1985b). There was also a common assumption, even within the adoption community, that older children were not adoptable.
In the intervening decades, this practice has turned around as child welfare professionals and agencies increasingly recognize the benefits of foster parents adopting the children in their care if the children cannot be returned safely to their birth parents or relatives in a timely manner. The adoption field has come to acknowledge the benefits of this type of adoption for children, and shortened legal timeframes4 have made it easier for foster parents to approach their workers about adopting the children in their care. If foster parents do not suggest the possibility, their social worker may sometimes work with them to consider adopting children in their care who cannot return to the birth family. Some States now train foster parents as “resource families” for children, along with kinship and nonrelative prospective adoptive families (Grimm, 2003). The foster family’s role now includes not only acting as a support and mentor to the birth family to help the birth parents successfully reunify with their child if possible, but also to love a child and be open to having a permanent role in the child’s life (Lutz & Greenblatt, 2000).
National adoption and foster care statistics show that foster parent adoptions accounted for over half of the adoptions of children adopted from foster care each year from Fiscal Year (FY) 1998 through the end of FY 2002. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS),5 in FY 2002, 27,567 (or 52 percent) of the 53,000 children adopted from foster care that year were adopted by their foster parents (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005).
Benefits of Foster Parent Adoption
Adoption by the foster family has the potential to benefit not only the child being adopted, but also the foster family and the child welfare agency. There are a number of reasons that a child’s foster parents may be the best adoptive parents for that child:
Benefits for the Child
The biggest benefit of foster parent adoption for a child is the fact that the child does not have to move to a new family. Even very young infants may grieve the loss of the familiar sights, sounds, smells, and touch of a family when they must move. Staying in the same placement means the child will not leave familiar people and things, such as:
Benefits for Others
Foster parent adoption also benefits the birth parents in many cases by allowing them to know who is permanently caring for their children. For foster parents, receiving the agency’s approval to adopt affirms the family’s love and commitment to the child. Agencies benefit from this practice as it enables them to move children into permanency more quickly (since finalization of adoption requires that a child be in a placement at least 6 months, and this requirement has already been fulfilled in foster parent adoptions) (Rycus & Hughes, 1998; Fein, Maluccio, & Kluger, 1990).
Characteristics of Foster Families Who Adopt Successfully
Child welfare experts have identified characteristics of foster families who adopt the children in their care. The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning (NRCFCPPP; n.d.) provides characteristics of successful “permanency planning resource families”:
Foster Families Whose Adoptions Fail
Child welfare experts identified characteristics of resource families who did not adopt successfully (adapted from NRCFCPPP, n.d.):
The decision by a foster family to adopt a child in their care will be based on the unique factors associated with the child, family, and circumstances. To help with such decision-making, many States use mutual, informed decision-making in their training for foster/adoptive parents. Examples of training programs include the Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) (Pasztor, 1986) and Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) (Child Welfare League of America, n.d.).
Foster families who decide to pursue adoption should inform themselves as much as possible (see Resources) and work with their agency to ensure a smooth transition for the child and themselves.8 Successful foster parent adoptions are the result of a mutual decision by the foster parents and the agency about what is best for a specific child.
Lists of foster and adoptive support groups in each State can be found in the National Adoption Directory at http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/general/nad/index.cfm.
Information on adoption assistance by State can be found on the NAIC website at http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/parents/prospective/funding/adopt_assistance/.
A resource list of national organizations that support adoptive parents is available at http://naic.acf.hhs.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?svcID=135&rate_chno=AR-0011A.
Child Welfare League of America. (n.d.). The PRIDE program. Retrieved March 18, 2005, from http://www.cwla.org/programs/trieschman/pride.htm
Craig-Oldsen, H. L. (1988). From foster parent to adoptive parent: A resource guide for workers [training materials]. Atlanta: Child Welfare Institute.
Fahlberg, V. (1991). A child’s journey through placement. Indianapolis: Perspective’s Press.
Fein, E., Maluccio, A. H., & Kluger, M. P. (1990). No more partings: An examination of long-term foster family care. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America, Inc.
Grimm, B. (2003). Foster parent training: What the CFS reviews do and don’t tell us. Youth Law News. Retrieved February 23, 2005, from http://www.youthlaw.org/downloads/BillGrimm_Reprint2.pdf
Littner, N. (1975). The importance of the natural parents to the child in placement. Child Welfare, 44(3), 175-181.
Lutz, L. L., & Greenblatt, S. B. (2000). Dual licensure of foster and adoptive families: Evolving best practices. Washington, DC: Casey Family Programs Resource Center for Resource Family Support. Retrieved February 23, 2005, from http://casey.org/NR/rdonlyres/5F5620F6-743E-4FC0-BE36-0DB04BE81157/128/casey_dual_licensure.pdf
Meezan, W., & Shireman, J. F. (1985a). Antecedents to foster parent adoption decisions. Children and Youth Services Review 7(2), 207-224.
Meezan, W., & Shireman, J. F. (Eds.) (1985b). Care and commitment: Foster parent adoption decisions. Albany: State University of New York Press.
National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning [formerly, the National Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning] (n.d.). Concurrent planning curriculum, Handout 4.10, Full disclosure. Retrieved February 23, 2005, from http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/socwork/nrcfcpp/downloads/cpp/module4-handouts.pdf
Pasztor, E. M. (1986) Criteria for mutual selection: Model approach to partnerships in parenting. Atlanta: Child Welfare Institute.
Rycus, J. S., & Hughes, R. C. (1998). Field guide to child welfare: Placement and permanence. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America Press.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). AFCARS Report (9). Preliminary FY 2002 Estimates as of August 2004 from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System. Retrieved February 16, 2005, from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/publications/afcars/report9.pdf
For general information on getting started in the adoption process,
read the NAIC publication
Where Do I Start. For specifics on how to adopt a foster
child living in your home, talk with someone in the adoption unit of
the public agency that has legal custody of your foster child.