Getting approved to foster or adopt
The processes of getting approved to foster and adopt are very similar. Many states require that families applying to adopt also become licensed to foster
States are increasingly moving toward what is referred to as a “dual licensing” process, meaning that parents are approved to both foster and adopt. There are several good reasons for this trend. Dual licensing acknowledges the need for foster parents, streamlines procedures, avoids delays, and recognizes that the majority of children adopted from child welfare are adopted by their foster parents. It also benefits parents and children in many ways. Parents gain experience parenting, especially parenting children who have experienced trauma, children make fewer moves, and the family begins to bond.
In general, there are four steps to getting approved:
- Locate an agency in your state. Find state foster care and adoption information on our website or contact us to be referred to your state agency: 888-200-4005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Complete an application with the agency you have chosen to work with. This may take place concurrent with the next step, pre-service training.
- Attend training. These sessions, usually lasting between four and ten weeks, provide an opportunity to learn about children in care, meet other families, and prepare to integrate a child or children into your family.
- Complete a home study. All adoptive families, and some foster families, must complete a home study.
Completing an application
This is where the official paperwork begins and where you will meet the caseworker who will help you through the application process.
In child welfare, generally there are two types of caseworkers—family workers who work with families and child workers who work with the children in care. To make the application process as smooth as possible:
- Be open and honest both on the application and in the personal interviews with your caseworker.
- Supply the necessary information completely, accurately, and timely.
- Ask for help if you don’t understand something.
- Agree to maintain confidentiality about children in care and their birth families.
- Cooperate with the home inspection and required criminal background and protective service checks (for more information on required checks, see Child Welfare Information Gateway’s summary of state laws on criminal background checks for prospective foster and adoptive parents).
If you have concerns about something specific that might disqualify you from fostering or adopting, talk with your caseworker about it. Some agencies may be able to work with your family, depending on the specifics of the incident and its resolution. If your caseworker finds you to be deceptive or dishonest, or if documents collected during the home study process expose inconsistencies, the agency may not approve your application.
As part of completing an application, you will need to be prepared to provide or consent to:
- Letters of reference from your employer and those who know you.
- A criminal record check at local, state, and federal levels.
- Proof of meeting the minimum age requirement in your state.
- Verification of income to meet your expenses. (Please note that you don’t have to be rich to foster or adopt and that most adoptions from foster care are free and any minimal fees associated with it are often reimbursable.
Participating in pre-service training and obtaining a home study
The process of training to become a foster parent or adopt from foster care is generally referred to as “pre-service training” or “pre-adoption training.”
While requirements vary from state to state—and in some cases, from county to county—pre-service training programs are almost always required and usually happen right before or at the same time you’re completing your application to adopt. These trainings help you understand what your new foster or adoptive child has been through and how to best integrate them into your family.
Read more about the training required to be a foster parent and adopt.
After you have completed your application and required training, you and your caseworker will need to complete a home study if you are adopting. In some states, a home study is also required to foster.
A home study is conducted to help you and your agency decide if adoption or foster care is right for you and identify the type of child or children who will be the best match for your family. The process—which includes interviews, home visits, documentation of key information, and reference checks with people who know you well and can speak to your capacity to adopt —concludes with a home study report written by your caseworker. This report will often include the age range and number of children recommended for your family. When adopting, the report will also include the conditions and characteristics of the children that you want and that the caseworker concurs you can successfully integrate into your family.
The home study report is often used to introduce your family to other agencies to help them match your family with a child. If you aren’t given a copy of your home study, ask to see it so you can look it over and correct any inaccuracies.
Find out more about completing a home study.