You probably have a lot of questions about how to start the process of becoming an adoptive parent for children in the foster care system. What are the requirements? What types of children are in foster care? What is the time frame for getting licensed? There are probably many more questions in your mind and we are here to help provide those answers for you.
Who are the Children Available for Adoption?
The children in Wisconsin’s foster care system who are available for adoption are usually school age (6-17), although sometimes there are also babies and toddlers. There are often sibling groups who need to be kept together. Children are placed in foster care for different reasons. Some examples include: a child who has been abandoned, a child who is not safe, a child who is a victim of abuse or neglect, a child whose parent is incarcerated or hospitalized, a child who has significant medical or mental heath needs or a child who has committed a delinquent act. A child adopted from the foster care system may have a different culture than you. They bring the culture of their birth family, any foster families they may have lived with and the culture of adoption. Since children in this program are usually older, there is the opportunity to have open connections with members of the birth family, siblings or perhaps prior foster families. They are a part of your adopted child’s history and can be a support to both your child and your family.
The requirements for special needs adoption include:
- Age: You must be at least 21 years old to adopt in the state of Wisconsin.
- Finances: You must be financially able to provide for your family.
- Marital status: Most adoption agencies require that married couples have been married for at least one to three years before adopting. You can also adopt if you are single or an unmarried couple.
- Home study: All adoptive parents need to complete a home study. The home study is done by an adoption agency. The home study allows the agency to get to know a potential adoptive family and make sure the family is ready to adopt.
- Training: All adoptive parents need to complete 18 hours of pre-placement training.
- Health: You must be in good physical and mental health without any serious medical conditions.
The time frame to adopt from foster care varies based on how specific you are about the type of child you wish to adopt and how devoted you are to completing your requirements in a timely manner. Time frame can also vary based on the children currently in the foster care system who are available for adoption.
Adopting a child from foster care is commonly called special needs adoption. This occurs when a child in the foster care system cannot return to the care of his or her birth parents for a variety of reasons. Your first step in becoming an adoptive family is to go to a Wisconsin Department of Children and Families’ informational meeting. Once you’ve attended an informational meeting and have filled out an application, you will be assigned a worker from one of the Department of Children and Families’ subcontracted private agencies.
The cost of a special needs adoption is usually very minimal; there will be some legal fees, however such can be reimbursed once the adoption is finalized (up to $2,000).
During the home study process, you and your family will need to complete an application and participate in a series of personal interviews in your home. Your licensing worker will:
- Complete a thorough criminal background check on every family member living in the home.
- Complete reference checks on your family.
- Inspect your home to ensure that it satisfies the State’s requirements to meet the needs of the children in foster care.
- Gather information about your parenting skills and abilities.
- Discuss with you the reasons you are interested in adopting and assess how adopting may impact you and your family members. The home study also gives you and your family a chance to ask any questions or concerns you may have.
This process takes about two to three months to complete. During the home study process, or shortly after it is completed, you will need to complete the pre-placement trainings before obtaining your license.
The State of Wisconsin requires all families who are adopting to complete 18 hours of pre-placement training. Your first two hours of training will be the orientation with your agency. This will include information on the purpose and function of the agency through which the child is being adopted, a description of the support and services available to the adopting family and other post-adoption services available. The remainder of your training will include 16 hours of core competencies covering the following areas:
- Adoption and its Impact on Parenting and Family Dynamics
- The Issues for a Child in Adoptive Placement
- Loss and Grief for the Adoptive Child and the Adoptive Family
- Attachment Issues in Adoptive Placements
- Support and Resources for Adopted Children and Adoptive Families
- Cultural Sensitivity in Adoption
- Effects of Abuse and Neglect In Adoption
- Legal Issues Relating to Adoption
- Issues of Children Being Adopted from an Institutional Care Setting
- Educational Issues in Adoption
The private agencies who work with the Department of Children and Families special needs adoption program provide this training, which fulfills all of the mandatory 10 competencies. Your assigned adoption worker will give you information about this training.
Many families that adopt from foster care receive Adoption Assistance until their child reaches the age of 18 or until 19 if the child is enrolled as a full-time high school student. Adoption Assistance can be a monetary monthly payment and/or Medical Assistance through Wisconsin’s Medicaid Program. Adoption Assistance is based solely on the needs of the child. If the child is eligible for adoption assistance then the adoption worker will negotiate the adoption assistance with the adoptive family and submit the Adoption Assistance Agreement to the state for approval.
Most adoptive parents need to take some time to slow down, absorb this information, and reflect on what they’ve read before they decide if this is the right path for them and their family. The concerns they cite as key questions include:
- Do I meet the requirements to be an adoptive family?
- Does this particular type of adoption meet my expectations to grow my family?
- Do the children available meet my hope for age, needs and background?
- Are my partner and I in agreement of adoption and this particular type of adoption?
- Can I make the time to complete the home study process and the training required?
- Am I comfortable having someone new added to my family?
- Will my current family and friends be supportive of my adoption plans and adoptive child?
- Is this particular type of adoption right for me and my family?