Adopting from foster care may take longer than you’d like, but it’s worth every moment in the end.
Of all the questions foster care organizations like ours are asked on a regular basis, the one that comes up the most is why adopting from foster care takes so long.
It’s easy to understand their frustration, especially if the foster parents feel that the bio parents are unwilling or unable to regain custody of their children. But it’s important to note that the process is shorter than it was in the past, and that the wait exists for everyone’s protection.
ASFA and Concurrent Planning
ASFA (The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997) was put into practice so that children would spend less time in foster care. A key aspect of ASFA is concurrent planning for foster children’s futures.
Concurrent planning means that, when a child enters foster care, child welfare agencies plan for one of two outcomes. The first is reunification with the birth parents; the second is termination of parental rights and adoption.
These plans are put into place and moved forward at the same time. In other words, while the child’s birth parent attends parenting classes or rehab, the agency also plans for termination of parental rights in the event that the birth parents do not successfully complete what is required to regain custody of their children. If the birth parents do not succeed in getting their children back, the case switches to adoption and, in many cases, a family that is already selected (usually the children’s foster parents) is given the opportunity to adopt.
Before ASFA, child welfare divisions did things differently. They planned solely for children to be returned home and never looked into other options until the children’s biological parents were unable to regain custody. Once termination of parental rights happened, then the search for adoptive parents would begin. This resulted in children lingering even longer in foster care.
This process of adopting from foster care is not always explained clearly, if at all, to prospective families, so many foster parents mistakenly believe that the countdown to adoption begins the day a child is placed in their home. Even though concurrent planning keeps children’s cases moving forward, the countdown to adoption does not begin until the biological parents’ rights are terminated. But many foster parents say that, even after parental rights have been terminated, it takes far too long for them to finalize their adoptions.
Why Do Bio Parents Get So Many Chances To Get Their Kids Back?
Many foster parents feel that biological parents get too many chances before termination of parental rights. It’s important for foster parents to remember that, since foster care is meant to keep children safe until they can return home, reunification is always the first goal. Unfortunately, families adopting from foster care often believe that the courts are making decisions based on the best interests of the biological parents, rather than the best interests of the children.
While, on the surface, this may be how it seems, there are sometimes good reasons why judges don’t grant termination of parental rights sooner. Sometimes the biological parents are cooperating and making positive changes in their lives that may not be enough to regain custody at the time but signal a chance that they may be able to in the future. Other times the child welfare division has not lived up to its responsibilities to the biological parents, by failing to provide proper counseling, filing paperwork with errors, or not at all, or any number of infractions. When this happens, due to workers’ caseloads being too heavy or for other reasons, the judge cannot rule in the division’s favor.
This lengthy process is ultimately a safeguard for all families. It protects the rights of the children to be returned to their parents if it is safe for them do so. It protects biological parents from losing their children permanently on an error or a technicality. Finally, it protects adoptive parents and their children from having their adoption overturned on appeal.
Overturned adoptions are one of the worst things that can happen to a family. The loss and grief caused by overturned adoptions scars already hurt children even deeper and destroys the dreams of loving adoptive moms and dads. This is the main reason why parents adopting from foster care must struggle to be patient with the process: so that, on adoption day, when they tell their foster children that they have found their forever family, they can say it with certainty.