CASA Deep Dive: Adopting a Child from Foster Care

In the state of Texas, there are currently over 7,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted. In this CASA Deep Dive, we will be diving into the foster care adoption process: how it works, how to complete the process, potential challenges and what advocates can do to help a child find the best adoptive family possible if reunification or kinship adoption are not options for permanency.

How does the foster care adoption process work?

Ultimately, the goal of foster care is to safely reunite a child with their family of origin, but sometimes that is not an option and the parents’ rights are terminated. If a child cannot be reunited with their family, it is best for them to be placed with a family member or someone who the child has a relationship with (kinship care). If there are no family members or other adults who know the child and are able to take permanent custody, the next best option is for the child to be adopted by a non-relative.

There are two license types for potential adoptive families to consider when pursuing non-relative adoption through the foster care system in Texas. One option is to become licensed as a foster-to-adopt parent. In this situation, you act as a foster parent to children and support their reunification with their family. If, in the end, reunification is not an option for a particular child or sibling group that you are fostering, you have the option to adopt them. Alternatively, you can become licensed solely as an adoptive parent. In this situation, you would only be eligible to adopt children whose parents’ rights have already been terminated.

Many families who are looking to adopt from foster care choose to pursue a foster-to-adopt license. One reason for this might be due to a law that requires a child to live with a prospective adoptive parent for at least six months before the parent can file for adoption. The foster-to-adopt process can sometimes allow for a smoother transition from foster care to adoption, in cases where parental rights are terminated, because the child has already established a relationship with their foster parents and the child has often already been in their home for more than a year.

What are the steps for adopting a child?

To adopt a child from foster care in Texas you must work with a child placing agency (CPA), sometimes known as an adoption agency. Each agency may differ in their policies, but generally, the major steps and requirements for adoption are the same between them. These differences in policies can include such things as requiring additional training on trauma, not licensing to LGBTQ or single-parent adopters and being faith-based.

Licensing Process

To begin the adoption process, many individuals and couples will attend an informational meeting run by a CPA. These meeting are great opportunities to answer any questions you may have about the adoption process. After this first initial meeting, you can submit an application to become licensed – staff at an adoption agency can assist you with this paperwork. In order to be eligible to be an adoptive parent you must first meet specific parameters set forth by the state of Texas.

A prospective adoptive parent or couple in Texas must:

  • Be over the age of 21, financially stable and responsible,
  • Provide relative and non-relative references,
  • Show proof of marriage or divorce (if applicable),
  • Agree to a home study, which includes visits with all household members,
  • Pass a criminal history background check and an abuse/neglect check along with all other adults in the household, and
  • Attend free training to learn about the issues experienced by children in the foster care system.

There is no formal standard for home studies. General parameters include things such as, but not limited to, adequate bed space, locked up medication and firearms, and fire safety standards. Each home study will vary among agencies, but all are conducted with the purpose of ensuring the child will be in a safe environment.

The next step in the licensing process is the completion of the various state-required trainings. Prospective adoptive parents must complete a minimum of 35 hours of training. Part of the 35 hours must cover topics like CPR, first aid, trauma-informed care and understanding psychotropic medication. After the training is completed and all other requirements have been met, an individual or couple will be licensed. The process of applying to be licensed and approved can take anywhere from three months to a year, depending on circumstances of the applicant(s) and the outcome of the home study.

Adoption Process

Foster parents can set certain parameters for the type of child(ren) they would feel most comfortable parenting. These factors can include things like age, gender, sibling group size and types of behaviors. The narrower the scope of children foster parents are willing to adopt, the more time it will likely take to find a child fit for placement in their home.

Remember, the only way a child in foster care can be adopted is if parental rights are terminated. Before foster parents can be considered as an adoption option for a child they are fostering, Child Protective Services (CPS) will pursue placing said child with a relative. If no relative is suitable or willing, and parental rights have been terminated, then the child is considered available for adoption. Once a child is eligible, the current foster-to-adopt parents can petition to adopt the child, if the child has been living with them for at least six months and a judge decides that it is in the best interest of the child.

The adoptive parents must find a lawyer to assist with the final adoption proceedings and paperwork. After all the paperwork is completed, a court hearing takes place, finalizing the adoption, giving legal custody of the child to the adoptive parents and closing the child’s foster care case.

Is there assistance provided to families who adopt a child from foster care?

The Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) has certain adoption assistance programs in place to help with the costs associated with adoption. DFPS offers reimbursement for certain one-time expenses relating to the completion of the adoption process. The reimbursement provides up to $1,200 per adoption for reasonable expenses such as court costs, attorney fees and other fees directly related to the legal completion of the adoption. Reimbursements will not be made until the adoption is consummated.

Another assistance provided for the adoptive family is Medicaid healthcare coverage for the child being adopted. This benefit covers medical, dental, eye, medical supplies, psychiatric health care and medical transportation until the child’s 18th birthday.

Monthly financial assistance is also provided depending upon the child’s special needs and the adoptive family’s circumstances. These special needs can include exceptional initial placement expenses, special maintenance, child care, supportive educational needs, maintaining sibling or other family contact and routine maintenance when needed.

To qualify for any of these assistance programs, the child in question must meet one of the following criteria at the time the adoptive placement agreement is signed:

  1. The child is at least six years old.
  2. The child is at least two years old and a member of a racial or ethnic group that exits foster care at a slower pace than other racial or ethnic groups.
  3. The child is being adopted with a sibling or to join a sibling.
  4. The child has a verifiable physical, mental, or emotional disabling condition, as established by an appropriately qualified professional through a diagnosis that addresses: (a) what the condition is; and (b) that the condition is disabling.

It should be noted that caseworkers will try to locate an adoptive placement that does not require adoptive assistance before placing a child with a family who requires adoptive assistance.

Children who are adopted from foster care are also eligible to receive a waiver for tuition and fees at Texas’ public colleges or universities.

Beyond financial assistance, case management assistance is also provided by DFPS. This service is provided to help the child and adoptive family adjust to the adoption, cope with any traumatic history of the child and avoid permanent or long-term removal of the child from the adoptive placement.

Additional assistance may be available from your CPA or from the federal government through tax credits and social security benefits.

Are there barriers to foster care adoption?

While many of the financial barriers are removed when adopting from foster care, compared to private adoption which can total over $15,000, there are still some issues that may affect a family’s ability to adopt, especially if the family is low-income.

The home study presents the possibility of creating a barrier to adoption if something in the home does not meet state standards. Depending on the problem found, improvements to the home may require financial investment on the part of the prospective adoptive family. While costs associated with adoption from foster care are typically minimal, the reimbursement for these costs come post-adoption, potentially putting more financial strain on a family adopting a child.

In addition, background checks can be a barrier if there is someone in the home with a criminal history.

How can advocates help a child going through the adoption process?

CASA volunteers ultimately advocate for a child to return home to their family of origin. In cases such as these, where this is not an option, volunteers must be diligent and make space for the child’s voice to be heard.

CASA volunteers work closely with the children they serve, giving unique insight into a child’s wants, needs, fears, hopes, history and personality. This insight is essential. Volunteers should actively participate in the adoption process by assisting DFPS with reviewing home studies and meeting prospective adoptive families; and by communicating their insight during the adoption process.

This kind of active engagement is the first step to securing a loving and well-matched forever family for a child in foster care.

Check out our other CASA Deep Dives!