Learn With Me: Foster Care and Public Adoption in the US

Yesterday I posted about the three options readily available to potential adopters in the US (click here to open that post in a new window). My current journey is with public adoption, or adoption through the state system. This post is a more detailed account of the basics on how that system works in general, and what it means for me.

NOTE: I use “I” and “me” pronouns almost exclusively when talking about family stuff. In reality, these pronouns are often more “us” and “we” type stories. I use the first-person pronoun simply for ease of writing (and reading).

Public adoption is the adoption of orphans who are citizens of the US. In the US, children are only orphaned after all family connections are severed – usually via unfit parenting/guardianship. To be a ward of the state (that’s the politically accurate term for orphan in the US) a child goes through years of disruption. In the US, the goal of the state system is to keep a child as close as possible to their first parent(s) so it takes many years for first parents’ rights to be completely terminated.

First, children are removed from parents for a probationary period (Child Protective Services generally tries to find extended family to take kids in) while parents work on getting themselves together. This can mean taking anger management classes, getting off drugs, becoming educated on neglect and malnourishment, etc… If a parent gets themselves together, their children are returned to them. Only when no extended family is available is a child placed in foster care. Eighteen months is the absolute minimum amount of time parents have to get right. So nothing beyond temporary foster care even begins to happen until after a child has been in temporary care for well over a year.

As a child’s state-decided “plan” moves from temporary (foster) care to permanent placement (adoption), a lot of things have to happen. First, there has to be clear, legally compelling proof that first parents can’t ever be parents to that child. There has to be a lot of investigation, many court dates, and usually depends on zero effort (over an extended period of time) from first parents. The vast majority of what I’ve read, from both state organizations and from personal accounts, indicates that if a first parent is trying the state will continue to hold a child in temporary (foster) care. The state really wants kids to end up with their first parents.

So for parental rights to be terminated (the first legal step in adoption from the state system) the first parents have to be done. If that’s the case, state systems then move on to recruiting immediate and extended family of first parents to take over as permanent guardians. This is how aunts and uncles, older siblings, and grandparents end up becoming legal guardians of kids. This is called kinship care/adoption and it’s relatively common in state systems. Again, the goal is for children to end up with first parents; if that’s not an option the state wants those kids as close as possible.

If no extended family members are available, the process of legally separating the child from their first parents begins. This separation takes months to years. After that process is complete, the child is then a ward of the state and available for adoption. The process of adopting a child then takes (again) months to years. The average age for a kid in the state system who is able to be adopted is around eight years old.

Two ways to participate in the system, as parents. First is foster care only, where the home is open to house kids who are in temporary conditions or who are legally free but have not been adopted. The second, the one I’m working on, is foster-to-adopt, where foster parents are approved to adopt kids who are legally free for adoption. In Texas, every parent goes through foster certification. The ones who also want to adopt have additional requirements to be allowed to adopt.

Like yesterday, there’s so much more I could say about this. Trying to distill the information I’ve been gathering for a year into a few hundred words has been an effort, and has generated some deep conversations at my house. I suspect there will be more about how I feel (personally) about this adoption option in future posts.

Please drop a note of encouragement or feel free to ask questions. This is hard. It’s hard in unexpected ways and right now it feels like it will always be hard.

Thanks for reading!


FROM ADOPTUSKIDS.ORG: For children in foster care available for adoption, and for whom no adoptive family has been identified, the AdoptUSKids national photolisting website serves as a tool for connecting their caseworkers with prospective adoptive families. Over the last decade, 20,000 children previously photolisted on AdoptUSKids have been placed with adoptive families. AdoptUSKids is a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Administration for Children and Families. See the full-size infographic

Infographic for AdoptUSKids Celebrating 20,000 Children Placed With Adoptive Families

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