Adoption Through Foster Care
There are 427,910 children living in foster care. Do you have a few spare hours to spend as a mentor or volunteer? Are you interested in serving as a foster or adoptive parent? No matter your time, talents, and interests, everyone can do something to make a difference!
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The majority of youth in the foster care system enter it because they have suffered physical or emotional neglect or abuse. The foster care system exists to provide a temporary, stable, and home-like environment for these children who must be separated from their parents. Foster care is intended to be a short-term solution; the goal for children in care is permanency – a permanent placement through reunification, kinship care, or adoption. If parental reunification is not possible, most children become available for adoption.
NCFA advocates for permanency for every child in foster care, whether that permanency is achieved through reunification or adoption. We give special attention to finding families for the nearly 102,000 children currently eligible and waiting to be adopted. NCFA’s recommendations for foster care reform focus on studying and reassessing existing child welfare policies in order to establish clear policies and allocate resources to allow more children and youth in care to find permanency in a timely manner. NCFA prioritizes the crucial but often neglected strategy of parent recruitment and training, as well as the important post-adoption services that allow families to succeed and thrive. We believe that placing a child in an adoptive family is not the end of the process; support and services must be available for as long as needed for the sake of the child and his or her parents. At the heart of all our policy recommendations for foster care is the belief that every child deserves a safe, nurturing, permanent home – whether that is through reunification, kinship care, or adoption.
- Number of children in U.S. foster care as of June 2016: 427,910
- Number of children adopted from foster care last year: 53,549
- Number of children still waiting to be adopted: 111,820
- Percentage of children adopted through foster care who were adopted by their foster parents: 52%
- Average age of a child in foster care: 8.6 years old
- Average length of stay for a child in foster care: 19.0 months
- Average length of stay for a child in foster care waiting to be adopted: 31.7 months
- Percentage of children adopted through foster care who receive an adoption subsidy: 92%
- Percentage of children adopted through foster care who are adopted by single parents: 29%
- Number of youth who “aged out” of care without permanent family connections last year: 20,789
- Around 25% of youth who age out do so without a high school diploma or GED; only 6% finish a 2 or 4 year college degree
- Interviews with young adults who aged out reported nearly 40% have spent some time homeless; 33% did not have enough food at some point in the previous year; 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime; only 48% were employed, of those wages were less than half of their similarly aged peers; 75% of women and 33% of men received government benefits; and 50% had been involved in substance use.
- The AFCARS Report from the U.S. Children's Bureau
- Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth from ChapinHall at the University of Chicago
- Major Study Shows Young People Who Age Out of Foster Care Continue to Face Joblessness, Homelessness and Low Educational Attainment into Their Twenties from Partners for Our Children, ChapinHall at the University of Chicago, Jim Casey Youth Opportunities Initiative, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy
Foster/resource families provide essential care and support to youth that have experienced abuse and/or neglect and have been separated from their families. Children and youth in care often require specialized care in addition to a stable home environment. Child welfare systems are always in need of qualified foster parents to help care for children and youth in care. Both married and single adults can apply to become licensed foster/resource parents. Foster parents are required to complete a homestudy and attend training classes in order to be approved to care for children. This process varies from state to state, and usually takes several months to complete, depending on each state’s requirements. Once parents are approved, children can be placed in their care until the children are reunified with biological family, adopted, or moved to another placement.
Adoption through Foster Care
Those interested in adopting a child through foster care have several different options: some adopt an unrelated child available for adoption; some foster-to-adopt; some adopt a relative through foster care. Not every foster parent chooses to adopt, but foster parents are responsible for around 54% of adoptions through foster care.
Adoption through foster care is not an expensive process. The majority of families that adopt through foster care (93%) will receive some kind of adoption subsidy to help provide for the child. Families adopting through foster care are also eligible for the one-time adoption tax credit.* Finally, because state agencies generally facilitate adoptions through foster care, the legal process can be completed at no or little cost.
In order to adopt through foster care, parents must complete a homestudy and background check; in many cases they must also fulfill all state requirements for foster parents. A child will then be placed in their home with the intent that she or he will be adopted. The time it takes to legally finalize an adoption varies based on each child’s unique needs and experiences, as well as state law.
The finalization of an adoption is only one step on the path to permanency. It is essential that the adoptive family receive any and all necessary, ongoing support so the child can thrive in the new family. Support services might include individual and family counseling, respite care, support groups, or other services based on the unique needs of each family.
Find an Agency: If you're interested in fostering, adopting, or volunteering, NCFA's search tool will help you find an agency in your area.
AdoptUSKids: A program of the U.S. Children’s Bureau to raise public awareness about the need for foster and adoptive families, and to assist states, territories, and tribes in recruiting and retaining families to adopt or foster children.
CASA National: Learn about becoming a Court-Appointed Special Advocate or Guardian Ad Litem in your state.
Think Of Us: Babineaux Award winner Sixto Cancel's online web and mobile platform that supports youth during the transition into adulthood
Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption: The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption believes that every child deserves to live in a safe, loving, and permanent family, and that every child is adoptable. The Dave Thomas Foundation provides resources to educate the public on foster care and brings systemic change through Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a highly successful child-focused parent recruitment model for children and youth in foster care. Youth served by this program are up to three times more likely to be adopted.
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s Foster Youth Internship Program: Offers young adults who spent time in foster care the opportunity to complete a congressional internship and share their experiences and opinions on how to improve the foster care system.
NCFA’s monthly policy publication, the Adoption Advocate, covers a wide range of topics in adoption and foster care. Recent Adoption Advocate articles focusing on issues in foster care include:
- No. 95: Adoption Agencies Serving Children in Foster Care
- No. 83: The Human, Social, and Economic Cost of Aging Out of Foster Care
- No. 77: The Joys and Challenges of Parenting Older Adopted Children
- No. 71: The Importance of Maintaining Sibling Connections in Foster Care
- No. 59: Paths to Permanence: Kin Guardianship and Adoption
- No. 51: The Unique Educational Challenges Facing Youth in Foster Care
- No. 48: Supporting Maltreated Children: Countering the Effects of Neglect and Abuse
- No. 47: Advocating for America's Youth in Foster Care: Perspectives and Recommendations from Former Foster Youth
- No. 39: Engaging the Private Sector to Increase Positive Permanency Outcomes for Children in Foster Care
- No. 38: Race and Identity in Transracial Adoption: Suggestions for Adoptive Parents
- No. 35: Better Prospects, Lower Cost: The Case for Increasing Foster Care Adoption
- No. 24: What's Working in Foster Parent Recruitment: Stories from the Field
- No. 17: Finding Permanence for Kids: NCFA Recommendations for Immediate Improvement to the Foster Care System
- No. 12: A Statement on the Nation’s Foster Care System
- No. 1: Performance Measures for Courts: The Next Step in Foster Care Reform
Financial Resources: NCFA maintains a list of adoption grants, loans, and fundraising tools that might help facilitate your adoption.
Julia Charles knows exactly what 397,122 children and youth across America are going through. She entered foster care at an early age and watched her family ties sever, as her brothers and sisters were placed in different foster homes. She never understood why they couldn't stay together. Julia was moved 16 times, had more social workers than she could count and finally left the foster care system at age 21 and was adopted at 23.
Julia has overcome her previously destructive behaviors and is leading a healthy lifestyle. As a 25 year-old graduate of Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, Julia found caring adults and discovered an inner resilience. Her experiences have shaped her into a dynamic force committed to improving the foster care system and spreading the message of hope to young people in foster care.
Her first book, Surviving the Storm: The Life of a Child in Foster Care, was released in July 2008. Julia's story will help professionals and potential foster and adoptive parents find support and suggestions for how they choose to make a difference for young people in care. She hopes that youth in foster care will find companionship in her story, ways to embrace their challenges, and hope for their future.
Edward and Carol Longman
Knowing our son persevered through many challenges in foster care and who he is today is testament to the power of human resilience, love, and family. He's knows he's safe, accepted, and secure with every opportunity given to him to discover his full potential. It hasn't always been easy, but he's a blessing to us, and we can't imagine our life without him – or his without us.
Life has taught me that family comes in all shapes, sizes, and stages of life. When I was 14, I was invited to join a family I'd known my whole childhood. Now, I can't imagine growing up anywhere else. I really believe that having somewhere and someone to call home – forever - made all the difference for me.
Since our founding in 1980, we have been a leader in advancing adoption and child welfare policies that promote adoption of children out of foster care.
For years, we have been promoting awareness of the need for judicial accountability and the establishment of performance measures for juvenile and family courts to ensure that children do not languish in foster care. Our educational activities helped inform Congress' decision (in P.L. 109-171) to fund case tracking, so courts can better monitor and improve their permanency planning, and training for judges and court administrators.
In 2008, we were instrumental in securing passage of the Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act, which extends and improves the Adoption Incentives program, makes all children with special needs eligible for federal adoption assistance by 2018, and allows states the option of extending adoption assistance payments to youths aged 19, 20, or 21. This was the most comprehensive child welfare reform bill since the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.
In 2006, we promoted the Safe and Timely Interstate Placement of Foster Children Act, which expedites the process for placing foster and adopted children into homes across state lines.
In 2005, we supported the passage of the Fair Access to Foster Care Act, which allowed foster care maintenance payments for private, for-profit agencies.
In 2001, we promoted the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, which increased the tax credit that parents of all adopted children could claim to $10,000, to be adjusted for inflation.
In 1997, we supported the Adoption and Safe Families Act, which created substantial incentives for providing permanent families for children and is widely credited with increasing the number of adoptions from foster care in subsequent years. We also educated policymakers on the need to pass the Immigration and Nationality Act, which provided automatic American citizenship for many children adopted abroad.
In 1994, our educational efforts were instrumental in the passage of the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) which, as amended by the Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEAP) of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996, stipulates that states may not deny or delay any adoptive or foster placement on the basis of the race or ethnic background of either the child or the prospective parents.
In 1992, we educated policymakers on the need to pass the Uniform Adoption Act, which facilitated adoption placements and protected confidentiality in adoption.
In 1988, we assisted in the promotion of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which improved adoption assistance and strengthened support for abandoned infants.
In 1986, we successfully promoted an increase from $1,500 to $6,000 in the tax credit that adoptive parents of children with special needs could claim.
In 1981, our educational efforts assisted in the passage of the Adolescent Family Life Act which promoted adoption as an alternative for adolescent parents, and resulted in a $1,500 tax credit to adoptive parents for expenses associated with adopted special needs children.