State agencies primarily place foster children for adoption when their biological parents' rights are terminated (or willingly given up). The children may have been physically or sexually abused, neglected, or abandoned. Their biological parents may have had problems with drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness.
As with private agencies, advantages and disadvantages exist to adopting through a government (public) agency. Here are some key advantages:
- The adoption should be free of charge or nearly free because it is supported by tax dollars.
- The biological parental rights are clearly terminated.
- The child may be able to retain public medical insurance, even after adoption (Medicaid).
- The child may be eligible for a monthly subsidy. (Don't factor that out. It might help a lot.)
- With many foster child adoptions, you will be eligible for a $10,160 income tax credit, even though the adoption is free. This is because the federal government wants to encourage people to adopt foster children. (Read more about the adoption tax credit in Government Funding for Adoption.)
Studies have documented that many foster children receive abysmal medical care or no medical care at all. This may be because they get moved around a lot or because their medical records don't follow them.
Thus, the medical information on a child may be outdated or nonexistent. Find out when the child's last complete medical examination was and have the child checked before you adopt.
Confidentiality is not an excuse to prevent you from seeing state case files. Insist on seeing the child's records. Names of or other identifying data can be blanked out. Ask about any discrepancies, omissions, or problems that you see.
The primary disadvantages are as follows:
- The wait might be very long.
- Extensive parental classes might be required. These classes can actually provide very helpful information, but they take extra time in your schedule.
- The child might need therapy someday to deal with the aftereffects of abuse.
- The child might need treatment for a medical condition.
- It might be difficult to obtain the adoption subsidy.
- You might need to deal with a lot of bureaucratic hassles and be very persistent. Government social workers are overburdened with details and paperwork. They need to know that you are very eager to adopt.
What You Need to Know
When a social worker is considering you for a particular child, she should give you general information about the child's background and problems. Most social workers are very forthcoming with this information, although it is illegal for them to violate the confidentiality of the biological family.
If you are considering adopting a child through the state or county agency, you should carefully weigh the pros and cons of this important decision that will affect not only you but also your partner, any other children you already have, and, of course, the child or children you adopt. This is a major life decision, after all. Remember, children who are in foster care have experienced at least one family disruption, therefore, they have some wounds. They are also in great need of a strong, committed, and loving family. Each child's personality and experience will be different, so it is important for you to consider all aspects and decide which child fits with your family and its strengths and weaknesses.
The federal government is actively recruiting adoptive parents nationwide in its Collaboration to AdoptUSKids program, managed by the Adoption Exchange Association in Baltimore, Maryland. Their website has photos and biographies of nearly 7,000 foster children in the United States needing families and will direct families to the state agency that can help them. For more information, go to www.AdoptUSKids.org or call 1-888-200-4005.
On the plus side …
- Foster children often have an intense desire for a family of their own. Possibly yours!
- Many foster children are very resilient, despite past adverse experiences.
- You can turn a child's life around. And change your own life, too.
- Many foster children have received poor (or no) medical or dental care.
- Abuse isn't always documented. Some past incidents may not be in the child's record.
- It'll take time for the child to adjust to a newfamily—the older the child, the more time needed.
- The child might begin to act up when he or she starts to feel comfortable with you. (It's a test, only a test.)
While for some children the past traumas and other problems they have faced can be difficult to work with, most of the cons I've listed are “correctable” with patience, common sense, love, professional support, time, financial resources, and commitment.