There Has Gotta Be a Better Way (Adopting from Foster Care)

Dawn Davenport


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?

31/05/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 18 Comments

18 Responses to There Has Gotta Be a Better Way (Adopting from Foster Care)

  1. Avatar Dawn says:

    I also should have said in the original blog that the reality is that things are improving in adoptions from the foster care system. We still have barriers that need to be addressed, especially with interstate placements, but we also need to acknowledge that many great children are being adopted.

    Just to keep things in perspective, the latest government statistics (2009) show that adoptions from foster care set a record at 57,000, up from 37,000 in 1998; the number of children waiting for adoption fell to a record low of 115,000, down from 135,000 in 2006; and the average wait for adoption fell to a record low 35 months, down from 48 months in 1998.

  2. Avatar Paula says:

    I am currently enduring this same issue right now, my husband and I have never had a child of our own but taken care of nephews and nieces for years when our family needed us the most. 3 months ago my great nephew was taken away and put in to foster care and by court order will be placed for adoption, we filed for him in nevada right away a month ago we were approved with nevada and so was our ICPC to Utah, Nevada said because it may take up to 6 months to a year we need to go to our local state Department of family services and get started to make the process go smoother. I have been tossed around like a volley ball. I have paperwork completed , finger prints , everything. Finally we have a caseworker who is new and now I have to start over from the beginning , While my future child is getting passed from home to home right now. I just want to get started so we can get our foster care classes and licencing done so we can get him and yet we are the last on the list for us to want to help. Regardless because he is in another state, he is not with his family. So he is not a priority every child should be a priority. We are doing our part covering the costs for the most part to speed the process up but it still feels like forever. Something needs to be done.

  3. Avatar kelly says:

    We are currently fostering in MI, bc after months of ‘searching’ it became obvious that it might be YEARS before we were successfully matched with a child out of state.
    We’re fluent Spanish speakers who wanted a sibling group of Hispanic/Latino kids over the age of 5, even if they couldn’t speak English – a hard-to-place group.
    We inquired on dozens of kids – 90% out of state – and nearly never received a response. It would be easier to adopt from India than from Indiana.
    Frustrating, but only we can change it.

  4. Avatar David says:

    I was upset too.

    But for different reasons. One, I feel the article overstates the “problem” and two, over simplifies adoption from foster care as an “Us against the system”.

    We are the system. WE created the mess. And maybe two years isn’t such an unreasonable time frame for fully vetting prospective adoptive parents.

    Too much of adoption propaganda glosses over the true market economics of the way adoption is practiced in this country. Adoptive parents set the agenda. Give me a newborn, with no possible defects and no relatives to bug me in the future. Why is foreign adoption so popular? I just gave you the two main reasons.

    True the state has a surfeit of children on their hands. But the resources devoted to protecting those children are dwarfed by the amount we spend on California’s prison population and the conditions prisoners are kept under has just been upheld to be unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. For the money foster care dose a marginally better job.

    What about the adults in these children’s lives? Nothing is said about the time it takes for parental rights to be taken away or how many children are part of sibling groups.

    Yes everyone in the country should be calling every county social welfare office to find that one child to adopt. That would be a start. But I fear few are and few want to put up with the realities that goes along with adopting domestically.

    I my self am an international adoptee, a parent and a prospective adoptive parent working through the county where I live to adopt.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      David, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I share your concern about the us versus them nature of the original article, which is why I researched why some of the logistical hassles make sense from the bureaucratic standpoint. Most adoption professionals working with foster children desperately want to do the right thing by the children. I know of plenty of people who have adopted successfully and happily through foster care, so you are right that we shouldn’t focus solely on the problems.

      As to your other points, two years may not be too long from the perspective of adoptive parents, but what about the child that is waiting. Two years is a very very long time. And the unfortunate reality is that it is not just prospective adoptive parents that are waiting, but foster children as well. Interstate adoption delays cut both ways.

      Keep in mind that most people who are looking for a child to adopt through foster care are not looking for a newborn. As to the adults in the foster children’s lives, they are not eligible for adoption (versus foster to adopt) until their parental rights have already been terminated.

  5. Avatar Sandra says:

    Interestingly, our experience with adoption from foster care was different.

    We began the process in October by meeting with a Social Worker (we did have to call several times and finally reach a superivor to get the inital meeting). After that, we seemed to sail through the process. We are definitely not a couple without flaws and we have some childhood baggage that could look bad in a home study. We were pretty open about the number and ages of children. However, we were matched with our children in May (7 months after our initial meeting) and started to live together in July. Adoption finalized in December.

    In fact, in some ways the process may have been too quick for us because once the state is out of the picture, so is the support and we were left to navigate the difficulties on our own. Some of the behaviors our children struggled with did not even surface until after the adoption!

    While our adoption took place in another state, I have actually worked as an Adoption Social Worker in California for a private agency that facilitates foster adoptions. I regularly saw adoptions go through the process. The process was often slow due to legal issues, (appeals of termination of parental rights leads to particularly long delays) but not due to county foot-dragging.

  6. Avatar S. says:

    The two years is one thing if two years worth of vetting going on. I have no problem placing requirements on foster or adoptive parents and taking the appropriate time to make sure those requirements are fulfilled. However, in this case, it sounds like it was more like two years of chasing down individuals within the county system. That’s the sad, frustrating part.

  7. Avatar Rachel says:

    It took more than 12 months for our state dhs office to mail the packet I requested. In that time, I called 3 times to follow up and then contacted agencies that dealt with international adoption. We just don’t have the patience necessary to deal with our state beurocracy that is not accountable in any immediate way to us, which I why I think a lot o people choose to adopt internationally. How sad is that?!?

  8. Avatar Wendy says:

    Hi Dawn (and James),

    I felt the need to comment on the article’s (and James’) claim that only 200 of California’s waiting kids are on the California Kids Connection website. That number refers to the PUBLIC area of the site. There are some very good privacy and security reasons for not making every child’s profile available to any and every member of the public who wants to see it.

    There is a password-protected part of the site where a certified/licensed foster family may view profiles during in-person meetings with their agency staff. I’m a foster parent, and our agency allows certified families to make an appointment to view this website. James’ agency should have been doing the same, and I’m curious about why they didn’t offer this to him.

    Here’s the link to the site’s info regarding their security and agency login:

  9. Avatar Brian says:

    I have to comment on this article and your blog. I don’t know about any other state’s foster care adoption program, here in GA the system just does NOT work!

    My family attempted to adopt via the foster care system in 2001. We did the MAPP training, we completed the background checks, we dug up our septic tank(don’t ask me, I don’t know), and other completely mindless things to get certified as foster/adopt parents. Then we waited. And waited some more. And waited some more.

    So I called as asked what is the hold up? They stated that they had lost our entire file, documentation of our MAPP training, home-study, etc and would not accept our copies of documentations (MAPP diploma, home-study, etc) GA DFCS told us, even after a state Inspector General investigation found we attended training/home-study/etc that we would have to do all this “red tape” again. So we sucked it up and did it again. They renamed the MAPP training to PATH training and 18 weeks later we have completed all the certification training again. Then we waited. And waited some more. And waited some more.

    So I called to inquire what was going on and they told me the local county got a new director due to the old director of DFCS killing too many kids in foster care and that they no longer allow folks to adopt directly out of the foster care system. They only want resource families. And if you are a resource family for five years (the length of time they need to get to know you), they may allow you to adopt. They also failed to mentioned that DFCS got fined by the US government 4.3 million dollars for failing to follow the 1997 Adoption and Safe Family Act. And to date have yet to pass a single audit, but as they say, “they are trying.”

    So now it’s 2011, ten years have passed. GA DFCS is now under Federal Court Supervision and still cannot figure out how to adopt children out of the foster care system or keep foster kids from dying.

    You cannot adopt out of the GA Foster care system. It just isn’t possible with all the system barriers in place.

    I also like to know how all this “red tape” helps all the kids in care. It might not bother an adult to wait two years, but for the kids in foster care it’s an eternity and they may not survive the experience.

  10. Avatar Tammy says:

    My perspective is twofold. First of all, I am in the process of adopting through foster care, after my first was adopted through a private adoption. Come June I will have been at this process a year. I have an appointment with my social worker June 27th and she tells me my home study will finally be done – nearly 13 months and many calls and emails after I first started. It is beyond frustrating.

    But I also have the other perspective, as I am a social worker in child welfare and these are the realities: Budget cuts as well as higher paperwork requirements can make even the best social worker look like a fool.

    I know budget cuts sounds trite, considering we are hearing about it all the time but what happens when there is no money is that either workers are laid off or they simply don’t rehire when someone leaves. Eventually it catches up to you. Do you return a phone call from a foster parent (where you know the child is safe) or do a home visit to a bio parent (where you don’t know for sure the child is safe). Do you e-mail someone back or write that court report that was due yesterday? Which person in crisis do you deal with first? These are choices we make every day. My county is not so bad and generally speaking I can keep up on my work. But the reality is that there is only so much one can do in an 8 hour day. We have less money for services which means we have to do more ourselves. It sounds like an excuse but it simply is reality. And if budget cuts continue to be made, it will continue to get worse.

    There is no excuse for not having casenotes from the last 6 months or never returning phone calls. I am not making excuses for shotty work. But at some point people have to realize that if you keep taking and taking from the system, it will be the kids who continue to get hurt. I don’t like paying taxes either (it seems to always get lost that we social workers pay taxes too) but at the same time, I believe the work I do is valuable and I should be compensated for the professional that I am.

    Yes there should be a better way to adopt from foster care. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. I am not from California but I can tell you in Wisconsin the kids who wait are usually the ones with the really high needs. Most of our kids never make it to the website because they are placed beforehand. I can’t speak to other states but that’s how it is here.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Tammy, I couldn’t agree more about the fact that government provides valuable services, including social services, and we as a society must be willing to pay for these services. I think this is going to become a greater issue for all of us in the coming years when just about every county and state is reporting budget deficits.

      I decided to not address the website issue in the blog and just stick to the interstate adoption barriers, but you said some of what I would have said. The children who usually appear in the online photolistings are usually waiting because of their age or their special need. The children who are “easy” to place usually don’t wait long and are placed in their county.

  11. Avatar James says:

    Well, as the father in the original article by Mr. Katz, and now a follow up one by Ms. Davenport I feel it is my duty to respond 🙂

    I have received NUMEROUS emails since this first came out last week, and been able to partake in a bit of back-forth with folks on the “blogging” circuit. One of the things that has troubled me thus far is that, in my humble opinion, folks are missing the point. Is waiting “only” two years much to us as adults? Not really, but it’s a lifetime to a child who is only 2 years old. Not to mention that we were/are exceptions to the rule, because a VAST majority of the families trying to adopt in California wait 2+years to just in PLACED, let alone finalized. But aside from all of that, I really think many are missing the true essence of what is going on with adoption in California, and by default, the nation.

    Of the 68,000 (although some have the number as high as 80,000) children in foster care in California, 50,000 are available for adoption TODAY! And that number is fluid as the same 50,000 from yesterday is different than the 50,000 today as “some” get adopted and others are coming into the system (many not for the first time). To me, that means as soon as you finish training, home study, etc… (that can easily take less than 6 months) there should be THOUSANDS of children presented to a family in hopes of making a successful match. But instead there are countess stories of families chasing down adoption workers to just get their home study completed, let alone getting matched. I really want people to know that It’s not about vetting or ensuring the child’s safety (which, yes, IS important), it’s about a broken system that needs to be changed. If a family is licensed via the state it shouldn’t matter what county they live in, they should have access to any child that meets their “criteria”. I’m talking about the families who have been vetted, background checked FOREVER, and cleared for adoption. There are at least 2 dozen families I know personally who started this process a good year or two before we did and they are STILL waiting to be matched. As Mr. Katz mentioned in his article, has anyone ever seen the California Waiting Child website!?!? What are you to do when you know that there is a child in the very next county that is probably the perfect match for your family? Sorry to be so blunt, but I believe in “first come/first serve”. Qualified, is qualified….PERIOD!

    In closing, PLEASE don’t think this is about my family, as it never was about “us” (as Mr. Katz said, I’m stubborn…VERY!), but rather the children who will continue to wallow in this system until it’s fixed. We have all the time in the world to pontificate and point fingers from our collective computers, but has anyone really sat down and thought what is best for these children? Especially the children who are post a .26 hearing (parental rights terminated) and are free and clear to be adopted, yet continue to wait while WE adults figure out the red tape. They are only getting older in this “system”, and I think there is one thing we ALL can agree on….families raise children, not the State and certainly not a “system”.


    • Avatar Dawn says:

      James, well said. However, sometimes families are waiting because they are quite restrictive of the age of the child child they feel is best or the early life experiences or potential prenatal exposures. How much of a factor does this play?

  12. Avatar Karen says:

    I am currently going through the foster adoption program in FL and it took a year to sign up for a MAPP Class. We are very early in this process and in reading a lot of your posts it is preparing me for a long and difficult process. Our counties work independently and with different system types. Our system is privatized so DCF is basically a separate entity from the groups who place the children. My husband and I are prepared to wait for a child younger than our bio son who is 3. I appreciate everyones honesty on this site and I go to it frequently to search for advice. Please keep up the discussion on foster adoption in the US, it is an important discussion!

  13. Avatar Waiting Mother says:

    My husband and I are in the process of adopting across state lines. We just completed our inspection and interviews and now the licensor is working on the home study report in WA. We had to agree we were willing to consider children from the county office, which we are agreeble. We do have our eyes on a legally free young lady in NC because I have found WA does not have many children legally free under age 12. The foster-adopt process for in-state adoptions here is 3-9 years. We are also in year 2 of an international adoption which has at least another 2 years to go.

    I understand states wanting to place their own children, but the best family for a child may not be local.

    I have already gotten my representative to the state legislature involved in our process because our original licensor retired with 20 days notice and the local DSHS office did not know when they would re-assign us a licensor. This was after the scanning process did not like my fingerprints, had to repeat them then the DSHS office misplaced them for a week. After getting the representative involved and my many phone calls, the local office gave me the contact information for a new licensor. Now that we have direct contact with the licensor, things are moving quicker, but once we get the two states trying to work together, we will probably have more delays and road blocks, but I am very persistant.

  14. Avatar James says:


    Good question, but unfortunately those numbers aren’t available. So let me answer your question this way…

    Of the 2 dozen or so families I know personally, and those whom I have met via the various articles, etc…. my family was the MOST restrictive. All the other families I know were open to race, siblings, age, most medical conditions, drugs/alcohol, etc… so I know there have to be many others out there as well. Go figure, we had the most “criteria” and we were placed way before anyone else. Doesn’t make sense does it? By looking at the foster care numbers in California there were at least 2,000-3,000 children that would have been our “ideal” match, and from my time being employed at CASA program in my city I knew for a FACT there were children in my county yet we went ALL the way to NoCal to adopt. And to make matters worse, we were in competition with 3 other families for the same child! Again, doesn’t make sense does it?

    And while I hate to disagree with you on your site 🙂 I’m sorry, the California Waiting Child website is a JOKE! There is absolutely NO way that the powers that be in our state can convince me that only 200 or so of the 50,000 children eligible for adoption are “special needs” and need to be placed on the website. I’m not buying it! Do you want the children adopted or not? And in reference to the budget crisis in our state, it MAY help if we didn’t have WAY too many people involved in the adoption of one child, for example, my baby girl. While we were going through the process she had no less than 2 attorneys, 4-5 therapists, and EIGHT social workers assigned to her “case”. It was bad enough to repeat the same info over and over again when a new person would call, email or show up at our door, but this type of nonsense is one of the reasons the state has money problems. And like I have said before, we were supposed to be an “easy” adoption. If you are losing, misplacing info for a “simple” adoption like ours, what do you think was/is happening for the “harder” cases?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑

Content created by Creating a Family. And remember, there are no guarantees in adoption or infertility treatment. The information provided or referenced on this website should be used only as part of an overall plan to help educate you about the joys and challenges of adopting a child or dealing with infertility. Although the following seems obvious, our attorney insists that we tell you specifically that the information provided on this site may not be appropriate or applicable to you, and despite our best efforts, it may contain errors or important omissions. You should rely only upon the professionals you employ to assist you directly with your individual circumstances. CREATING A FAMILY DOES NOT WARRANT THE INFORMATION OR MATERIALS contained or referenced on this website. CREATING A FAMILY EXPRESSLY DISCLAIMS LIABILITY FOR ERRORS or omissions in this information and materials and PROVIDES NO WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, implied, express or statutory. IN NO EVENT WILL CREATING A FAMILY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES, including without limitation direct or indirect, special, incidental, or consequential damages, losses or expenses arising out of or in connection with the use of the information or materials, EVEN IF CREATING A FAMILY OR ITS AGENTS ARE NEGLIGENT AND/OR ARE ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.