There are 100,000 thousand children waiting to be adopted from foster care, so why is it so difficult to do?
There are 100,000 thousand children waiting to be adopted from foster care, so why is it so difficult to do?

This article about adopting from foster care ticked me off. And not just because James is a member of our Creating a Family community.  And not because reading his posts about his kids make me smile each and every time because he’s obviously so in love with them.  And not because I know he is an avid listener to the Creating a Family show and has used many of the resources we provide.  Nope, not for any of those reasons.  The reason that this story gets under my skin so much is that it absolutely should not happen.  It shouldn’t necessarily be a walk in the park to adopt from foster care, but it shouldn’t be a marathon either.

James and Stephanie Higgins sound like exactly the type of family ALL foster care systems should be looking for.  The California couple is married, financially and emotionally stable, and already successfully parenting an adopted child.  One of them, James, is a full time parent.  Heck, James is even a former trainer for advocates appointed by courts to protect the interests of foster children.   It doesn’t get much better than that.  Oh, but wait, it does.  James and Stephanie are both African American and wanted to adopt an African American child.  I’m a huge supporter of transracial adoptions when necessary because kids need parents more than they need same-race parents, but all other things being equal, I believe it’s best for black kids to be raised by black parents.  And about a quarter of children in California foster care are African American.

It took the Higgins almost two years to adopt their beautiful toddler daughter from foster care. Perhaps not an inordinately long period of time, but it took them over a year of bureaucratic red tape  and single minded advocacy to even become eligible to adopt.  I don’t know how open the Higgins were to age and special needs, but I don’t think they were unrealistically restrictive.  The hang-ups were many, but the one I want to focus on is the barriers to adopting across jurisdictional line.

What causes hold-ups in foster care adoption?

In the Higgins case, they ran into trouble trying to adopt a child outside of their county.  California is one of ten states that have county, versus state, controlled foster care systems.  Similar, but more common, are difficulties many families experience when adopting a foster child from another state.  The US has 50 different child welfare systems, each with its own process for recruitment, approval, training, and its own criteria for adoption eligibility.

From a state’s standpoint, after they have paid to recruit and train a family, there is no incentive for them to encourage that family to adopt a child from another state.  They are “judged” on how many of their kids are placed.  Further, states that “receive” out of state kids into adoptive families in their state are burdened because receiving States are responsible for home study and supervision costs.  Perhaps understandably, case workers in the receiving state do not place a high priority on completing the out of state homestudies.  To further complicate the matter, if a sending State has more stringent requirements for approving prospective adoptive families than the receiving State, the sending State may ask the receiving State to conduct additional work before approving placement of the child.  I don’t need to tell you how well this request is likely to be received.  So, while a state’s reticence to encourage interstate (or in some states such as California and North Carolina, intercounty) adoptions may be logical from a bureaucratic standpoint, it is NOT good for kids who have the misfortune of being under state care.

We must focus on making foster care adoption more streamlined.

We must find a way to help families adopt foster care children with a minimum of red tape regardless where the child resides.  I strongly encourage families considering adoption to think through what is best for them, and what type of child they can best parent.  That type of child may not currently be waiting in their state, but may be waiting in a neighboring state.  Every child, regardless where they live, needs a real forever family.  They shouldn’t be kept waiting until such a family happens to apply in the state where they are living.  Each additional month living in limbo causes damage, as is reflected in the bleak statistics for children who age-out of the foster care system without ever being adopted—by their mid-20s only half are employed, almost 60% of the young men have been convicted of a crime, and two-thirds of the young women are receiving food stamps.  There has got to be a better way.  If you’ve adopted  a child from foster care in another state, please share your experience.

We talked about how to adopt a child from foster care from another state on the May 11, 2011 Creating a Family show .  We are going to do a Creating a Family show identifying some of the barriers to interstate adoptions and suggesting ways adoptive families can overcome them on Aug. 3, 2011.  Sign up for our weekly newsletter on the top left of this blog to receive notice of this show, as well as all our shows.

What barriers did you run into when adopting a toddler or child from US foster care?