The first step in a foster care adoption is to choose a foster care agency and become a certified foster parent. To become certified you must take the MAPP course, undergo a home study, and obtain criminal and child abuse/neglect clearances. You will then be able to accept foster children into your home. As part of the home study process you will discuss the ages and number of children you’re comfortable fostering.
Generally, when a child is placed with you, the official goal that the agency is working towards is “return to parent.” In most cases, one or both of the birth parents will have regular visits with the children and may also attend meetings at school and doctor’s appointments. The birth parents will have various goals that they need to achieve in order to have their children returned to them. If they do not achieve those goals, the county Department of Social Services will eventually file a petition to terminate their parental rights. There will be a hearing on that petition and, if the birth parents’ rights are terminated, the child will be freed for adoption. During this process, you do not need an attorney, but some foster parents do like to occasionally consult with their attorney throughout this process to ask questions about why things are unfolding the way they are and to ask about what to expect in the future.
At any time, one or both of the birth parents may decide to surrender their rights to their child. As part of the surrender process, they can be given rights to future contact with the child. That contact can range from pictures and updates to visits several times per year. If a birth parent is considering surrendering their child and is looking for future contact, this is a good time to get your attorney involved (although the adoption subsidy will not cover attorneys’ fees until after the child is freed for adoption). Some counties have standard contact they offer birth parents, but other counties are much more flexible about what is offered. The foster parents are required to sign off on these provisions and are the ones who will need to comply with these provisions after the adoption, so it is important that they are a part of the discussion before a surrender is signed.
Once the birth parents’ rights are either terminated or surrendered, the goal will be changed to adoption. If you have not hired an attorney yet, you will need to do that. Your adoption petition will be filed with the Court by your attorney and the foster care agency will also file various documents with the Court. The Court will then schedule the adoption to finalize.
While the documents are being processed and before finalization, you will be working with the foster care agency on finalizing your subsidy agreement. Most children adopted from foster care are eligible for an adoption subsidy. The subsidy provides for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees up to $2,000 per child being adopted, which almost always covers all of your attorneys’ fees. The subsidy also provides for continuing payments (like foster care payments) and medical assistance until the child reaches the age of 21. For more information on subsidies in New York, visit https://ocfs.ny.gov/adopt/subsidy.asp. Subsidies vary by state.
Certified foster parents are also eligible to adopt waiting children (children who are freed for adoption already but are not in a pre-adoptive home). A list of waiting children in New York can be found at https://ocfs.ny.gov/adopt/disclaimer.asp.
Sometimes foster parents face false allegations of child abuse or neglect from the birth parents of their foster children. Please read our page on Fair Hearings for more information on options about how to handle such a situation if it arises.