Some news...and adoption and foster care FAQs

For the past few months, Dan and I have been delving deep into the adoption process.  From early on in our marriage, we have talked about adoption, and as we learn increasingly more about it, we feel even more so called.  We have kept the news pretty quiet, but many friends and family have expressed their support and curiosity about how everything works, so I decided to begin posting about it on the blog--both for myself, to help remember and document the process, and for others who are interested.  


Please know that some information we will not share.  The law forbids foster and adoptive parents from posting identifying details about particular children, and Dan and I, while open to talking about our experience, prefer to keep certain things private.  That said, we could not find much good information out there when we began, so I hope this is both informative and helpful, whether you or someone you know is thinking about fostering or adopting sometime in the future or you simply would like to understand better how social services work.


Here are some of the questions we have been asked most often so far.


So, what's the adoption process?

It totally depends.  Every process is different, depending on whether you are adopting internationally or domestically, through a private agency or through the state.   Domestic processes can vary widely from state to state--and Virginia allows every region to determine its own process, so even within Virginia it's not necessarily the same!


How long will it take?

Again, it totally depends.  Approval to be adoptive or foster parents takes from 4 months to  a year, but once approved, you may or may not be matched with children quickly.


Are you planning to foster or adopt?  Do you have to foster in order to adopt?

It depends (are you sensing a pattern here?).  Some regions within Virginia only consider people who are willing to foster.  After all, the majority of children brought into custody of the sate only require foster family placements and eventually reunite with their biological parents.  While the majority of the children adopted in Virginia were first in foster care, and the foster care parents typically adopt those children, there are also waiting children who are available for adoption.  The parental rights for these children's parents have been terminated.  The waiting children do not have a permanent home and most live in group homes or with a foster family unable to adopt them.


A third group of children are considered "legal risk."  These children are not likely to be reunited with their birth parents, and the juvenile district court has already deemed that the parents are unsuitable.  This ruling does not have legal standing in the circuit court, which is required for termination of parental rights.  Parents at this stage may contest the ruling, and there is the possibility that a judge from the circuit court may rule in the parents' favor.  The children most likely, however, will be placed with an adoptive family (or if not matched with an adoptive family, placed in a group home).


There is a tremendous need for foster families, which may be why some regions require those interested in adopting to foster.  The approval process is the same to serve as a foster parent or adoptive parent--which makes sense, given that the children needing foster care and adoption are the same children.


What do you and Dan plan to do?

Dan and I would like to adopt.  We are open to fostering in the future, but one has a very different mindset as a foster parent.  When one is fostering, the ultimate goal is still reunification of the children and parents.  While the children are in foster care, social services also is working with the biological parents to address their issues through classes, training, and rehabilitation, as necessary.  Although social services usually has both a Plan A (reunification of the family) and Plan B (alternative permanent arrangements for the child, usually meaning kinship care or adoption), the bias--understandably--always lies with the biological family.  


What is the approval process like?

Most social service departments will require completion of many, many, many forms (which include background checks, references, and financial records), several on-site home visits, a mutual family assessment, and training.  Training may be in person, online, required reading, or some combination of all three.  In our case, we have 22 hours of in person training, about 15-20 hours of online training, and additional required reading.


Will you adopt a baby?

Probably not.  Most children who come into the care of social services are not infants.  Many younger children are placed in foster care but are ultimately reunited with their birth parents.  Children who are available for adoption are often teenagers.   Unfortunately, the older the child, the less likely he or she is to find a permanent home.  This website has an up-to-date photo listing of the children available for adoption (termed "waiting children") in the United States.  


How has your experience with the Department of Social Services (DSS) been?

Dan and I have (so far) had an incredibly positive experience with DSS.  We are working with another DSS about forty-five minutes from where we live because they have greater need for foster parents than our local DSS and offered training at times that better suited our schedules.  


Dan and I did have a difficult time finding who we needed to contact to proceed along the adoption path.  Those who want to adopt through DSS rather than a private agency can receive misinformation and will likely need to be persistent.  It took Dan and me a couple of months to make the appropriate contacts, and it seemed that we either were playing phone tag or being passed from one caseworker or agency to another.  That said, once we were connected with the right people, the process has proved far smoother.


DSS caseworkers from around the state cooperate with one another, so although a family may train with one DSS, they may be matched with a child in custody of another DSS.  There is no way around it: there are many requirements and lengthy processes.  Some of the process could be streamlined--and my goodness, it would be helpful if agencies' requirements were consistent with each other--but there are good legal reasons for why fostering and adopting is complicated.

Dan and I have found that we have needed to make a lot of space in our lives going through this process--and I employ "space" here in a broad sense: time, for all of the training and driving to meetings; willingness to having all of our "private" information investigated; and openness to exploring possibilities of what we believe will or will not work for our family.


How much will you share?

I eluded to this in the beginning of the post, but every DSS has different rules about how much information can be shared about a child online.  We will always err on the side of being (publicly) quiet.  We value the support we have received from family, friends, and co-workers, and we appreciate how much everyone wants to know about what is happening in our lives, but we want to (1) remain on the right side of the law and (2) respect the stories that are not ours to share.

I imagine I will continue to share general information online because I know that I had many of these same questions as we began, but more personal details will remain private.  Dan and I need time to process the changes as they come our way, and this blog and social media are not the right places to do so.  


If you took the time to make it to the end of this post, thank you for being interested and bless you!