All children have the right to a permanent home. Federal and state laws now require an end to foster care drift. In general, once a child is removed from the birth home, the state must work diligently for reunification. If reunification has not been accomplished within a reasonable time (six months), the focus shifts. Adoption becomes the other major option for permanence. Foster parents adopt approximately 70 percent of foster children who are adopted. Long considered merely temporary caretakers, foster parents now have become the next best choice for permanence.
When reunification does not work, the federal and state laws specify that a firm permanency plan be in place within one year. One year is already a long time in the life of a child. The law states that the child's rights are paramount and mandates that a permanent home must be found in child time (one year), rather than the indefinite system time (an average of three to four years.) As major players in the attempt to find permanent homes, more and more foster parents are interested in adoption. Here are some questions frequently asked by foster parents who wish to adopt.
Do I need a lawyer to adopt?
Yes. Adoption is an important and sometimes complicated contract. The child is being separated from the birth parents and from the child welfare system to become your child. Your interests are often different from those of the other parties. Long-term subsidies may be involved. You need your own lawyer.
What if the birth mother refuses to give up her child?
The state must make every attempt to reunify within the first six months of placement. After that, if the child has not been reunited and it appears unlikely that the biological parents can provide acceptable care within a reasonable time, then two possibilities exist.
First, the birth mother may agree voluntarily to a cooperative adoption. Many states allow post-adoption visitation if the adoptive parents are willing. Second, the court may decide, after listening to the evidence, that it is in the child's best interests to terminate parental rights.
Can I file to adopt if the parents's rights have not been terminated?
Yes and no. You can file but the adoption may not be granted. In some cases, an adoption petition may hasten the process. In any case, the rights of the biological parents must first be legally terminated before an adoption can take place.
Am I interfering with the rights of the birth parents by filing to adopt too soon?
Not really. That is a matter for the court to decide. By prodding the caseworker to develop a firm plan, you may hasten reunification. Having a practical plan available early is the best way for the birth mother to improve her situation and accomplish reunification.
The child has a right to early permanence, within one year at the most. The foster parent can help the caseworker and the birth parent initially as they move quickly to get the family back together.
Simply waiting for something to happen serves no one. Foster parent advocacy for adoption can and should get the caseworker and the birth parent busy. Foster parents, by expressing their own willingness to provide the child with a permanent home, can motivate the other parties. Delay and drift, which are abusive to the child, can be avoided by early action on everyone's part.
Who can file to terminate parental rights?
State law specifies who can file to terminate parental rights. In Indiana any one of four parties may file: the DFC attorney, the prosecuting attorney, the CASA (court-appointed special advocate), or the guardian-ad-litem. The law requires that a termination of parental rights be filed if the child has been an out-of-home ward for 12 consecutive months or 15 of the past 22 months.
What is a cooperative adoption?
The adopting parent may grant post-adoption contact to the biological parent at the time of the adoption. This works well for older children who know their birth parent. If the foster parent already knows the birth parent and can accept some continuing contact, cooperative adoption may be a good choice. If the adopting parent fails to follow the agreement, the adoption is still final, but the birth parent may file in court to force the promised contact.
What if the DFC removes the foster child we had hoped to adopt?
Ask for a case conference. Try to get the department or agency to include all interested parties: birth parents, foster/adopt parents, case manager, CASA or guardian-ad-litem, therapists, teachers. Emphasize your desire to give this child a permanent home.
If dissatisfied, go to the next level following a line of appeal. Contact a regional director in the county welfare system. Some states have a foster care advocate or ombudsman at the state level.
Hire an attorney. A lawyer familiar with adoptions from foster care and with child welfare policies in your state can advise you and if necessary represent you and get you into the justice system.
We have had our foster child for over one year. Now our caseworker has found an aunt that wants the child. We want to adopt. What can we do?
Kinship should take precedence at the time of an initial placement. However, once a relationship has been established for an extended period of time, generally six months, the child and foster parents are presumably bonded to each other. Once a bonded relationship exists, that relationship should take precedence.
The disruption of a bonded relationship is akin to social surgery and can do serious harm to a child's growth and development. Many adult disorders are related to foster home drift and multiple placements. You may want to obtain expert testimony on bonding to raise these issues at a permanency hearing.
We want to adopt our foster child but it's taking forever. How can we speed things up?
Federal law requires that a permanency plan be in place within one year from the time a child is removed from the birth home. Further, if a child has been a ward for 15 of the past 22 months, that alone is reason for filing for a termination of parental rights.
Consult the attorney you are using for the adoption. Your attorney should have several ways to get to court. He or she might use a regularly scheduled court review/hearing to request the right to intervene as a legal party on your behalf.
I need a home study to complete our adoption, but our caseworker says that she doesn't have time.
Updating your foster parent home study to an adoptive home study should not be that time-consuming. However, any licensed child-placing agency can provide an acceptable home study.
If the delay continues, request a case conference and argue for an amended case plan with a deadline for completion of the home study. Or request a court hearing to press for compliance with the state's own concerns and policies for early permanence.
Am I entitled to any post-adoption subsidies?
You are if your child is determined to be "special needs." Subsidies are available at both the federal and state levels; however, the terms, conditions and availability vary widely and change annually. Your attorney should be well versed in the intricacies of subsidies. The North American Council on Adoptable Children provides information on their website: www.nacac.org. Subsidies should be negotiated before the adoption is finalized and should be included in the adoption proceedings.
If your child is eligible for post-adoption subsidies, you are the child’s advocate and as such you must see that the child receives what is due to him. Do not feel guilty or let others make you feel guilty for securing the benefits which are due to your child.
Where can I find a good attorney?
In choosing your attorney, make sure he or she is knowledgeable about the federal and state laws concerning adoption from foster care. Make sure that the attorney is familiar with the concept of cooperative adoption. Make sure that he or she knows about federal and state subsidies and about policies of the child welfare department in your state. Consult with other foster parents who have used adoption attorneys and who have been satisfied with their services.