Friday, November 21, 2008

How to Become a Foster/Adoptive Parent

Like I promised in the beginning of the month, here are the steps to becoming a foster or adoptive parent. Keep in mind, this is how it works in my state of Connecticut, but I'm pretty sure it's similar in other states as well.

1.) Attend an open house at your local social services office. They usually hold them once or twice per month. My state has them twice a month and you can find a list on our state website. At the open house you should hear a presentation about the process, the kids, the system, etc. You should also be able to ask questions.

2.) In my state, the next step is to have a social worker come to your house for a short preliminary interview. This is to be sure you have an appropriate living arrangement for a child (i.e. no exposed wires, lead paint, construction projects, etc). Usually they will ask you a few questions about what your looking for and a tour of the house. Then they will perform extensive background checks to be sure you are able to be licensed. If all is clear...

3.) You will be invited to attend a class. In my state, it is 10 weeks of classes, once per week for 3 hours each. This is when you learn even more about working with the system, the legal process, the kids, the birthparents, etc. This is also an assessment period for the social worker to get to know your family and for you to decide if this is the right path for your family. The classes are tough and give you lots to talk and think about. During these classes you will also be completing a lot of "homework" and paperwork.

4.) After you complete the classes, the social worker will write what is called a homestudy. This is a compilation of a written summary and pictures of your family. The social worker will also do a series of interviews, usually once individually, then once all together. They do pry into your background and experiences a bit. They will ask about your upbringing and are pretty nosy, but it is in the best interest of the children in care.

5.) After the homestudy is completed, you are licensed! If you are just fostering you will probably get kids right away. They are usually matched to you by the office "matcher". There is one, or maybe more, social workers whose sole responsibility is to match the kids coming into care to a family that will take them.

If you are adopting, the process is different. After completing your homestudy, it goes into the central office of the state. When a child comes up that a social worker is looking for an adoptive or pre-adoptive home for, the placement team picks several homestudies that fit with the needs of the child. Then they have a meeting where all team members read the homestudies and the child's file, and then rate the families for the best match. Whichever family has the most points, wins! Well... basically.

Who Can Adopt?

~ over 21 years of age
~ rent or own a house with adequate space
~ able to pay your bills and support a child
~ single men and women
~ same sex couples
~ grandparents

Who Can Not Adopt?

~ anyone with a violent criminal history
~ anyone who's had a substantiated abuse or neglect conviction with social services
~ a registered sex offender
~ anyone who lives with someone with a criminal history, sex offender, or abuser

I have some blogger friends that have adopted internationally :) While I am so happy for them finding their child(ren) and are glad their are people willing to build their families that way, I am a huge advocate for adoption through foster care. So, of course I have to talk about what I think are the benefits of adopting this way versus a different route.

1. Shorter wait time. Licensing takes, on average, 4 months. After being licensed we got our son in 2 months. So, in total, it took 6 months to have our family. This does vary, however. If you are only willing to accept a white healthy infant, I can tell you right now you might as well go elsewhere. It just ain't gonna happen. The more open you are to disability, race, age, gender, the faster you will be placed. Of course, you have to do what you are comfortable with.

2. MUCH lower cost. Actually, in CT there is NO cost. Every part of the process is free. And actually, the state pays you to care for the child before the adoption, then most adoptions continue with a subsidy until the child is 18yrs. In our case, Mateo is considered medically complex (because of a peanut allergy) so we get twice as much per month as a typical child until he is an adult AND free health care and college tuition.

3. Did you hear me correctly? FREE COLLEGE TUITION! Well, in CT, but more states are offering that as well. And free health insurance. We don't have to pay a single co-pay.

4. Most of the time you know more information with state care kids than with kids adopted overseas. When you take a placement, you are given the child's file with every detail the social worker's know about that child.

5. Usually no language barrier.

6. Pre and post adoption support groups, family events, advocates, and support through the state agency and social workers. This is where my job kicks in! We do a Christmas party, beach day, family picnic, bowling, scrapbooking party, Harvest fair, amusement park day, and more every year for our foster/adopt families. Here is where we get support and encouragement from others in our similar situation.

There are plenty of pros and cons to every type of adoption. I would encourage anyone to research extensively and consider every option before making a decision. Either way you do it, adoption is a beautiful choice.

If you have any questions, I am happy to oblige if I can. And I hope everyone would consider how they can help a foster youth in their area. If you don't feel you can handle fostering or adopting, there is a need for respite providers (overnight babysitters) and youth mentors as well. I can promise you, you won't regret getting involved in the lives of foster children.

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