9 Surprising Facts About Adopting a Baby from Foster Care

Dawn Davenport


Adopting a baby from foster care happens more often than you might think and seems to be on the rise.  Check out these nine facts you probably didn’t know about adopting an infant from foster care.

Can you adopt an infant from foster care?


The goal of our foster care system is to help the birth family heal and reunify with their child. Foster parents, regardless of whether they enter fostering with the idea of adopting, need to accept that until the caseworker decides that reunification is not an option, their role is to help the family get their baby back. It’s also worth noting that the greatest need in adoptions from foster care is for school-aged children. Nevertheless, an increasing number of babies are entering foster care and more of them are being adopted by their foster parents. Here are some surprising facts about adopting a baby from foster care.

9 Surprising Facts About Adopting a Baby From Foster Care

  1. It is possible to adopt a baby from foster care. Infants (children under the age of one year) are a growing proportion of first-time admissions to the foster care system.
  2. Most children adopted from child welfare are under the age of 3. Nearly half of all adoptions are of children who entered care before age 1.
  3. The majority (60%) of babies in foster care are children of color (39% Black and 21% Hispanic), compared to 46% for older age groups.
  4. More than half (54%) of children adopted through the child welfare system are adopted by their foster parents.
  5. Physical neglect/failure to thrive is the reason almost half (46%) of babies enter the foster care system.
  6. Parental drug or alcohol abuse is present in 61% of infants in foster care. Parents contemplating adoption a baby from foster care should assume that the infant has had prenatal exposure to drugs and/or alcohol.
  7. Over half of the families whose babies are in foster care report having difficulty paying for necessities. (57%)
  8. Many babies available for adoption from foster care are part of a sibling group.
  9. Since the early 2000s, there has been a steady decline in the number of children in foster care, with a similar decline in the number of children waiting to be adopted. (Update: 2017, the numbers are on the rise again, most likely due to the opioid crisis.)

If you are considering adopting a baby from foster care, you will need to decide whether to use a private adoption agency or adopt through your local child welfare agency. There are pros and cons to each option. This tip sheet will help you parse through them to choose what is right for your family: Differences Between Public and Private Foster Care Agencies.

Source for the 9 facts: Domestic and International Adoption: Strategies to Improve Behavioral Health Outcomes for Youth and Their Families by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. January 2015.

First published in 2015; Updated 2017 and 2019.

Image credits: Baby with knit hat (Michael Glasgow); Sleeping baby (peasap); Baby with ball (Vinoth Chandar); Baby with lemon (Nadia Phaneuf); Baby on grass (Shutter Bunny); Baby in black background (Laura Dye); Baby in frame (Fayyaz Qasim); Baby with pink hairband (cheriejoyful)

24/07/2017 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog, Other Adoption Resources, Other Fostering Resources | 32 Comments

32 Responses to 9 Surprising Facts About Adopting a Baby from Foster Care

  1. Avatar Scarlet says:

    I’m very wary of these types of articles. We live in a nice, small community, we are very, very close with our social workers, and have been fostering for over 5 years. Every placement we have had, of any age, sibling group or substance abuse/emotional/neglect situation – (we have taken in numerous addicted newborns who all need morphine administered around the clock, every 3 hours, for months), every child we’ve taken into our care, from days, weeks, 12 months to 18 months have ALL have been reunified. I feel like articles like this make it seem like adoption from FC is an easy process. We are a couple who have so much to give. Prior to coming to foster care we had already suffered many, many years of heartbreak, spent a fortune on fertility treatments, and came to FC wanting nothing more than to give a child or children a loving, forever home. We have given our all to every child in our care, but 5 years later, and there is still no permanent placement – every child has been reunited or placed with a relative. I really want more people to be VERY aware, before they take this path, that there are actually very few guarantees. Please think long and hard before taking this step and cutting out all other options. – please continue looking at fertility and private adoption before putting all your eggs into the foster care system. It pains me to say that the reality is – it is very easy for these agencies to take advantage of people like us who have suffered so much heartache in our quest to grow our families. I wish you all the best. <3

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Hello Scarlet,

      Thanks for reading. I’m so sorry for the heartbreak that you’ve endured, but I also want to say thank you for being a soft, safe, and loving place for a child in need to land while he/she heals.

      Your cautions are well stated – yes, folks should think long and hard before coming to foster care if they are interested only in placements ending in finalization and adoption. We agree that the reality is that children placed in those age ranges are likely to be reunified and we applaud that – that is the goal of foster care. Many folks tend to think of foster care as a cheap way to adopt. Certainly, we don’t want folks to go into it with that faulty impression.

      If you are one who can handle both fostering without plans for adoption and staying in it for a placement that does become permanent, these 9 facts will be of comfort and cheer to you. But if you are not, there is NO shame in that either! It’s a hard path – we get that! You are in a place to make a permanent family and yes, that means fostering might not be the right path for you right now.

      Best to you – may your dreams for your family come true.

  2. Avatar Taylor Bishop says:

    Thanks for the interesting article for adopting a baby from foster care. It’s interesting to learn that more than half of the children that are adopted through the welfare system are actually adopted by their foster parents. I’m kind of interested to learn if if this process could take a lot of time or if the adoption can actually be pretty immediate.

  3. Avatar Rober Smith says:

    Me and my wife are planning to adopt a child and I’m definitely not aware of the expenses on the Adoption.Can you please briefly explain me this foster system. I’m not having any idea of foster system. Hope to be hearing from you soon on my query?

    • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

      Thank you for reaching out. We have some fantastic resources that should help you understand the foster system better, including foster care adoption. Here’s a good place to start: https://creatingafamily.org/adoption/resources/foster-care-adoption/

      Best wishes in building your family!

    • Avatar Donna Suarez says:

      I’m considering fostering a child. Is 63 years too old to foster a child?

      • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

        That is a question that is best answered by reaching out to your local foster agency. There are many considerations that go into how to and who to foster, beyond just age. YOu can start with the local county agency where you live, or searching for a private agency that works with the foster system. Good luck!

  4. Avatar Barb says:

    We adopted a son after 3 1/2 years in foster care. We fostered him and he came into the system at 3 months old. I know he was hungry and cold for those first 3 months, as I am a family friend. He also had broken bones which brought him into care. My question is on the effects of his trauma and his future. I have not had any luck finding any information on this topic with the trauma being for his first 3 months only while he was non-verbal and not able to talk about, or really remember.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      This is a great question. Psychologists believe that trauma does impact infants even before they are able to remember it. We are not mental health professionals here at Creating a Family, and you should consult with one, but from what I’ve heard, your approach to helping your son is the same regardless of whether he is able to remember his abuse. You treat him as a child who has experienced trauma. You work on attachment, you provide a structured environment so it is easier for him to predict what will happen, and you are on the lookout for things that might need early intervention, such as learning disabilities, behavioral issues, etc. We have lots of resources on this at Adoption A-Z Resource Guide (https://creatingafamily.org/adoption/resources/ ). Especially look at the resources on Attachment.

    • Avatar Orfalinda Camacho says:

      Have you taken infant to get therapy there also development programs because I know they can check on how infant is doing y also with his bones are healed also

  5. Avatar Alexis says:

    Does anyone know the percentage of infants in foster care that are or become adoptable and how many end up going back to their birth family?

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      I don’t have the data specific to infants, but about 50% of children who enter foster care reunify with birth parents and about 22% of kids who come into foster care are eventually adopted. In my experience, extended family is more likely to step forward to adopt infants, so I would assume that fewer infants become available for non-family adoptions.

  6. Avatar Lora says:

    I am on the other side of things. I am a maternal grandmother with a drug addicted daughter who just had a baby days old. She has been on methadone during the latter part of her pregnancy. Newborn baby is a Caucasian girl and has been placed on 72 hour hospital administrative hold. Her scores are low at birth so withdrawal was minimal. She also has a one year old son (same bio dad) and has a second safety meeting scheduled for Wed. They had their first safety meeting two months ago and are found non compliant with new concerns of father’s drug use, both parents failure to stay on track with treatment, and babies risks around failure to thrive. At the first meeting they were told that if they did not comply and had to come back they would be recommended to family court. It is likely they will lose custody. As the grandmother I would like to take custody of the one year old and I think it’s best if the newborn find a forever home with option to adopt. I believe my daughter is likely to fail. Would they try to keep siblings together or would I be able to keep the one letting the newborn be placed in a family? Would I be able to maintain some form of a relationship with the baby placed into foster care and eventual adoption? What are the chances she would only go to one family. I would love for her to be adopted by the first family who gets her without bouncing around. She deserves to be loved and with a strong loving family.

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Hi Lora. I’m sorry you and your family are having to face this. There isn’t a straight forward answer to your question. You daughter and the baby’s father may be able to make the decision to place the baby for adoption. This depends on the state and whether the baby officially is removed by the Dept. of Social Services. I suggest your daughter contact an attorney that specializes in adoption. Creating a Family has resources to help find an adoption attorney. If the baby is removed by foster care first, you and your daughter may have fewer options. There is usually a goal to keep siblings together, but this rule can be waived if, for example, you have a strong relationship with the one year old and they determine it is in his best interest to be separated from his sister to remain with you. If your daughter is able to make an independent adoption plan without DSS involvement, she will be able to pick the family that she wants to raise her daughter. She can specify that she would like the two children to remain in contact. This is called an open adoption and is very common nowadays. You need to make sure to find a family that also wants an open relationship.

    • Avatar Scott D says:


      Thats terrible. My wife and I are just about done with our 10 week class and our homestudy is next week. We are in our early 40s and live on Long Island, NY. If they are looking to give either child up for adoption I would love for them to consider my wife and I. Feel free to email me at scottanderin2003@gmail.com. I would love the opportunity to discuss.

      Best of Luck,

    • Avatar Christina Wyman says:

      I wish we was open. . we are joping for ababy girl

    • Avatar Katie says:

      Lora, if your family decides adoption is best for both children I would love for you to consider my family for them–both of them! We just began the foster care and adoption licensing process in our state, but we would be happy to work with a private agency as well if that was your family’s wish (or if that is an option) for a permanent commitment to both kids. Our family has a lot to offer, please reach out to us if you feel led to! kwess003@odu.edu

    • Avatar Brenna says:

      I am in the beginning stages of this process and I am looking to get into fostering and hopefully adopting the child that I foster if possible. I would love more than anything to have a little girl who I can call my own and raise her with my two boys who are so excited to have another sibling. We live in PA. I would love to be considered for your granddaughter if we are close enough to your family let me know my email is Brennachetoka@gmail.com

  7. Avatar KELLY WILLIAMS says:


  8. Avatar Kenia Faria says:

    I see families mentioning that they got their adopted child (from foster care) when s/he was just days old. I would like to understand, in this case, how did that happen – the mom was still pregnant when the child was ‘located’. Was it because she already had children in foster care, and then, the child, still to be born was supposed to be under the care of the state because she was unable to take care of them?

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Kenia, there are many reasons why a newborn would be removed from parental custody. The most common reason is that the mom or baby tested positive for drugs. Not every time will the baby be removed, but often the baby will be. Keep in mind, however, that just because the baby is removed and place with a foster family does not mean that he will become available for adoption. The goal of foster care is family reunification and so they should try to help the birth parents regain custody.

      • Avatar Karma says:

        hey, i think CFS is B.S.!!! you sold my baby to some Foster parents n refuse to give her back! She was born healthy and happy, there was no drug use, i ate all my food groups every meal, and you took her days after birth, Maternally Deprived her of my motherly affection!! Im not aloud to know who has her in Foster Care. I struggle with arguing with the case worker everyday to try and see my baby more, to no prevail. I am just sitting in my apartment for 2, waiting for her to come home and sleep in her room. My fridge is always full and they find reason to hate me. Like telling me i dont have enough people coming to “support meetings”, well im sorry if no one wants to talk to the people who steal children. Continually sitting there, judging every interaction with my baby, as if im some criminal for having a child. But strangers get to watch her unsupervised! I will be fighting to have a reform of your messed up system, Karma will get you people back for stealing my baby!

        • Tracy Whitney Tracy Whitney says:

          We are so very sorry for the removal of your child from your home. We cannot speak to your specific case as we are not CFS or any other child welfare agent. You are right in saying that the system needs reforms. However, we are a learning and support organization that provides resources for families touched by adoption, foster care, kinship care or infertility. We hope that you find the right help for your case – to have your story heard and a plan crafted that you all can follow to make sure your child gets the best possible start to life that she can get.

          Best wishes to you!

  9. Avatar Nash Rich says:

    I can believe that most children adopted are babies under the age of one. That’s what I would want to do if I were adopting, because it would be easier for the child. Older kids need to be adopted more than them though, which is hard. I’ll be interested to see how adoption changes within the next 20 years.

    • Avatar Kristin says:

      This is only if the parents give up legal rights to the infant. The parents have about 12 -18 months to go through legal channels to get their child back in their cusody. If they fail to do so, the child can be placed for adoption, but the child is usually about 2 1/2 before they can be “legally adopted.” But the foster family who has been Cari g for the child usually gets asked first if they want to adopt. If they say no, then the child is broadcasted to all adoptive families.

      • Avatar Kenia Faria says:

        Hi Kristin, do you know how common (parents giving up the legal rights on their babies) that is? My husband and I would like to adopt a child younger than our son who is now 2.5. I’ve been reading a lot, some say it’s “impossible” to adopt a healthy infant from foster care.

  10. Avatar Meegan says:

    We are a family blessed with 1 forever son from foster care to adoption. We are Caucasian and he is Hispanic. He was exposed to drugs prenatally, and we are blessed that 4-years later we see little long-term difference from a non-exposed child. We have been blessed to have 6 other children in our home 3 and under over the past 5 years. We would have loved to have them all as forever members of our family. We are currently looking forward to a meidically-fragile, drug exposed newborn. Thank you for sharing information and support.

  11. Avatar DoloresB says:

    I would have to agree with Douglas that it’s surprising how many infants come from parents with alcohol problems. These are nice tips to know about adoption through foster care. It’s good to know what you need or what you are getting into when looking to adopt.

  12. Avatar Douglas Brown says:

    I did not know that the number of infants who’s parents had a drug or alcohol problem was as high as 61%. Having never thought too much about it before, it didn’t cross my mid, but I suppose it does make sense. The best thing anyone can do is just try their best to give these young infants a chance at better lives. Should my wife and I ever consider adopting from foster care, we will consult your guide more thoroughly.

  13. Avatar Connie says:

    We adopted a 10 month old from foster care.

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