Tennessee foster care and adoption guidelines

Thank you for considering foster care or adoption as an option for your family.  Below you will find more information about foster care and adoption requirements in Tennessee.

On this page:

State contact information

To learn more about becoming a foster parent, please call the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) at 877-DCS-KIDS (877-327-5437) or submit an inquiry form online.

If you’re interested in adoption only, please call 931-265-8369.

Foster and adoption licensing requirements

Tennessee's foster parents are dually approved to foster and adopt. This allows foster parents to adopt the child they are fostering should the child become available for adoption.

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
  • Can work full-time
  • Must be at least 21 years of age
  • Must be a resident of the state of Tennessee
  • Must be fingerprinted and pass a background check

  • Must be able to meet the financial needs of your family

To prepare for your role as foster parent, you will learn effective tools and parenting methods to work with and guide the children who are welcomed into your family and gain an understanding of the different challenges faced by children who come into state custody.

Through the pre-approval training TN KEY (Knowledge Empowers You), you will learn how foster parents work with DCS to improve the lives of children, information about current DCS policies on caring for children in custody, and ultimately if foster parenting is right for you. Whether you want to provide a temporary home for children in need or have the ultimate goal of adoption, TN KEY training will help prepare you for the unique challenges and rewards of becoming a foster parent.

Visit the foster parent training information page for more information.

Are you interested only in adopting?

If so, please understand that the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services does not recruit adopt-only homes.  Approximately 80 percent of the children who are adopted from foster care in Tennessee are adopted by their foster parents. DCS 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 foster family caring for that child is the first option for adoption. This helps ensure the child already has a relationship with adoptive parents who have helped him or her navigate change, trauma and uncertainty and already offered the child 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 your inquiry to the case worker for a specific child.

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 TN KEY training through Dept. of Children’s Services. To adopt a child from another state, please receive your TN KEY training through a private agency.

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

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 adoption-assistance subsidy, you may be eligible for reimbursement of some nonrecurring adoption costs, such as attorney and court fees.

Agency contact and orientation information

To contact a DCS office near you, please call 877-DCS-KIDS (877-327-5437).

For contact information for licensed private adoption agencies, please call 931-265-8369.

Post-adoption support services

See a comprehensive list of post-adoption and guardianship support services and support groups available to families who live in Tennessee.

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 foster care and around 350 children in full guardianship (available for adoption) in Tennessee who don’t have an identified adoptive home. Approximately 1,000 children age out of care in Tennessee every year.

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