Tennessee foster care and adoption guidelines

Thank you for considering adoption or fostering as an option for your family!  Please remember that 1,000 Tennessee youth age out of foster care every year.

Call the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, 877-DCS-KIDS (877-327-5437), if you would like to learn more about becoming a foster parent.

Or, call 615-741-9858 to learn more about adopting an older child or sibling group from foster care. 

On this page:

Foster and adoption licensing requirements

Tennessee's foster parents are dually approved to adopt. This allows foster parents to adopt the child they are fostering in their home should the child become available for adoption. Our primary goal is reunification.

To be approved as a foster-adoptive parent in Tennessee you:

  • Can be married, single or divorced
  • May or may not have other children
  • Can own or rent where you live
  • May be employed or not employed, but must be able to meet your own financial needs (potential foster-adoptive parents should be able to financially support themselves and their family without the need for a board payment)
  • Must be at least 21 years of age
  • Must be a resident of the state of Tennessee

Should you decide to become a foster-adoptive parent through the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, you will need to complete a parent preparation process called PATH (Parents as Tender Healers). PATH is a 23-hour education and self-assessment process. It explores communication styles. It helps families to understand the feelings of grief and the loss that children can experience. It helps identify family strengths and in what situations you can most successfully parent.

While completing PATH, you will begin the home study process. The exact process will be outlined by the agency you choose. In general, the home study process is a combination of education for you about the realities of foster and adoption and information about yourself and your family, which you will share. The final written home study will include a description of your family, verifications, medical, and financial statements and references. You will also be asked to identify and describe the type of child you feel that you can successfully parent.

Are you interested only in adopting?

If so, please understand that about 80 percent of the children who are adopted from foster care in the state are adopted by the families who already are, and have been, their foster parents. State practice is to work with individuals who sign up to become foster parents, and then, if a child in DCS custody becomes available for adoption, the family caring for that child is the first option for adoption. This helps ensure the child already has a relationship with potential adoptive parents who have helped him or her navigate change, trauma and uncertainty, and already long offered comfort, safety and love.

To be selected to adopt a child who is in full guardianship of the Department of Children's Services without starting as the child’s temporary foster parent:

  • Obtain a formal home study for adoption from foster care written by a private licensed child placing agency.
  • Submit the home study to the case worker for a specific child on AdoptUSKids or other photolistings.

When you have been identified as an adoptive parent for a specific Tennessee child, and you have agreed to parent that child, you can then receive PATH training through Dept. of Children’s Services. To adopt a child from another state, please receive your PATH training through a private agency.

To learn more about adopting children from foster care, please read the FAQs and answers on the DCS website.

State of Tennessee’s toll free number for more information about foster care: 877-DCS-Kids (1-877-327-5437).

Visit the foster parent training information page to view an introduction to training, the PATH training calendars, training requirements and more.

Costs to foster and adopt

It is free to foster.

The legal fees at the very end of the process are the only fees that you will pay if you work with your local department office to complete the adoption process and if the child is waiting in Tennessee.

If you adopt a child from another state, there may be fees regardless of whether you work with your local department office or a nonprofit private agency.  The fee schedule for private agencies will likely be larger. Read more about agency fees here

It may be possible for the child’s state to purchase the services of your department office or private agency.  Also, when you adopt children who are in foster care and are eligible for subsidy, you may be eligible for reimbursement of some “nonrecurring adoption-related costs,” such as attorney’s fees and court fees, through the child’s state or federal options.

Please remember: Adopting does not have to be expensive!

Parent support groups

Please visit Tennessee Foster Adoptive Care Association or their information about local meetings to learn more about parent support groups in your area.

Agency contact and orientation information

To partner with the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) as a foster parent, please find a DCS office near you.  If you will focus on Tennessee children, but want to adopt only, you can still work with your local DCS office. They will explain how you can pay for a private adoption home study and come back to work with DCS.

If you wish to adopt only and search for children throughout the US, please select a private agency to work with. Read about choosing an adoption agency at the Department of Children’s Services website.

Information on children

Children enter foster care because their birth families cannot care for them safely.

On average, there are approximately 7,500 children in custody (foster care) and around 350 children in full guardianship (available for adoption) in Tennessee who don’t have an identified adoptive home.

To learn more about TN’s children, please visit The Heart Gallery of Tennessee, Parent a Child, and America’s Kids Belong