Adoption is an AWESOME way to grow your family and to be a blessing to a child who is in need of a permanent loving family. There’s a lot of information on the internet about the adoption process, but from what I can tell the information provided implies that adoption is an expensive process which requires a lot of waiting. Waiting to be chosen by a birth family, waiting for a child to become available for adoption, waiting to save money for the fees, waiting, waiting, waiting.
One of the many things that’s awesome about domestic adoption through foster care in the United States, is that there’s less waiting and more doing. Patience is not one of my best qualities, so I love the “fast track” that a U.S. adoption can provide.
Here are 5 Steps to adopting a baby fast through a foster-to-adopt program.
Step 1. Find a Local Agency
Most local counties or parishes in the United States have a Child Welfare Agency. The agency may be called “So and So” County Children’s Services Bureau, Children Services Agency, or something similar. Smaller counties sometimes combine Job and Family Services agencies with their Child Welfare service, so you may want to start at your local Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS).
There are other local agencies that offer foster to adopt programs. Many of them specialize in specific types of adoption. You may want to look into these programs also, but I recommend starting with your local DJFS, especially if you are wanting to adopt an infant.
Step 2. Take Pre-Service Training
Once you’ve found an agency that you would like to work with, you will need to attend pre-service training. Depending on the size of the agency you select, they may offer pre-service training on-site. If not, they will be able to refer you to a local training center.
Pre-Service training varies depending on your location. Typically you will need about 40 hours worth of training. Training will include classes like CPR, First-Aid, and of course, adoption and caring for the needs of a child who has “come into care”. The first go round of pre-service training is pretty amazing. You learn what type of adoptive parent you are or will be. You also get to glean from the experience of former foster parents, and build relationships with new foster parents like yourself.
Forty hours might seem like a lot, but if you’re impatient (like me) you can sometimes find a “lightning round” which allows you to do all 40 hours in about 3 weeks. (You’re welcome.)
Step 3. Complete a Home-Study
People get so intimidated about the home study because it seems so invasive. And it is. When you decide to birth a child no one shows up at your house and asks you about every intimated detail of your life, conducts a walk-through of your house, and then asks you to prove on paper that you can afford this new baby. But that’s the way adoption is. The child that will come to your home is initially ward to the state, so if something were to go wrong, the state is liable. The agency wants to make sure you are who you say you are.
With that being said, all you really have to do is tell them what they want to know and get your house nice and safe so you can pass the inspection. You will need to pass a background check, but you don’t need to be an angel to pass it. The agency understands that you are human, so they probably wont count you out as a prospective parent because of that “little situation” that happened on your college campus back in 2004.
You may need to lock up your medications, throw some safety locks on the cabinets, and make sure your smoke alarms work. Your case-worker will will give you a list of things that you need to do to complete the inspection.
The main thing you want to remember with this step is that the agency WANTS to place a child with you. They WANT your home to be a good fit, because they have so many children that need good homes. So they are not coming to you to weed you out, but in hopes that you are “the one”. They will help you with the details so that you meet their criteria for a “placement”.
Step 4. Decide who you want to adopt.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard “What if they (the adoption agency) just gives me a kid that has a disability or something I can’t handle?”.
That doesn’t happen. The agency cannot and will not force children into your home. When you choose to foster-to-adopt, YOU get to decide what you want to do, and who you want to do it with. (In regard to placement, anyway.) You can decide whether or not you want to ONLY adopt or if you want to foster-to-adopt. You can also choose to only foster and not adopt. You can choose gender, race, religion, age, a range of “special needs” or “disabilities” ranging from perfect vision, to glasses, to blindness. In my county you decide all of this on a 2-3 page checklist.
The agency does NOT want to place a child with you that you don’t want because they want the “placement” to be a good fit for you and the child. However, it is important to note that these are children. Real human beings. You are not placing your regular order for a #2 at your favorite fast food drive-thru. There are some traits, especially in young children, that just cannot be detected at early ages. For example, you may mark on your checklist that you do not want a child with any vision problems. However, that 2 year old that you were placed with may need glasses at age 5 when he starts kindergarten. While you want to be TOTALLY honest about what you want, this child isn’t a happy meal.
Step 5. Wait for the phone call.
This is my favorite part! The excitement of that new little face coming into your home! A DJFS case worker told me recently that sometimes the ink doesn’t even dry on a potential parents license before they are calling them with their first “placement”. In the foster-to-adopt world “placement” is the “social-worky” term they use for a child being placed in your home. Depending on the specificity of the child you are waiting for, you may wait longer than others.
If you are a speedy person, like me, here’s my advice for a quick placement. Be less specific about what you want, and when the case-worker calls, ask her to explain in detail. If you are waiting for a newborn African-American child, with blond hair, grey eyes, no moles, no allergies, no asthma, and no medical history of any heart condition on his maternal side…then you might be waiting a LONG time for a phone call. In fact, you may as well adopt a unicorn and ride it off into the sunset.
Instead, do this. Ask for an African-American child and accept some allergies, and say okay to mild asthma. When the case-worker calls, she will tell you everything she knows about the child. If you still have questions, just ask. You need to get as much information as you can. It may turn out that the child has a history of asthma, but hasn’t had complications with it in over a year. And maybe the child’s allergy is seasonal and is easily treated with over-the counter medication. Or, it could be that he is hospitalized weekly because of his asthma or allergy. YOU can then CHOOSE to say yes or no to the placement. Do not feel bad about rejecting a placement because of race, gender, disability whatever. You aren’t doing a child any favors by pretending you can deal with something you can’t, or don’t want to. I always hate saying “No” to a placement because I wonder what will happen to the child. But, the agency is always able to find another placement more suitable for that child.
The legal case of the child placed in your home will determine if and when you are able to adopt the child. This is something that you will need to discuss with your caseworker prior to placement of the child. On occasion, the agency has an idea of this time frame.
So, the adoption process doesn’t have to be a sad, lonely, lengthy waiting period. With foster-to-adopt programs you are able to help move things along. And, all of this that I have explained will cost you nothing more than some child locks, a CPR class, a crib, and maybe some new batteries for those smoke alarms.