Where Are The Adoptable Young Children in Foster Care?
Carol Edelstein, AdoptionWorks Program Director
If you don’t want to adopt an infant (or you are over the preferred maximum age), are not willing or able to pursue an international adoption, and don’t feel prepared to jump into parenthood with an adolescent in foster care, what options are left? Where are all of the children in U.S. foster care between the ages of one and nine who are available for adoption? This is a common question that we find ourselves answering on an almost daily basis.
There are numerous reasons why it is very difficult to adopt children under the age of ten through the foster care system. Some of these reasons are:
- When children come into foster care, the initial goal and resulting plan is typically focused on reunifying them with their birthparent(s). Services are put into place to help the birthparent(s) improve their challenging situation so that they can have their children returned to them. This plan can remain in effect for quite a long time, especially if the birthparent cooperate and participate in the services that have been provided for them, with a goal of their child or children being returned to their care. Often children do go back to their birthparent(s) for a period of time, and then the situation begins to deteriorate again, and the child is once again removed and placed back into foster care. This cycle can continue for years, possibly also including stays with relatives that can’t be maintained, before the child’s plan is finally changed from reunification to adoption.
- Children don’t always come into foster care at a young age, so by the time efforts are made toward reunification with birth parent(s) or placement with a family member, and this does not work out, the child is getting older as they remain in the system.
- Younger children in foster care who do become available for adoption, and whose challenges are on the milder side, are often adopted by their foster parents.
Children under the age of 10 who are sometimes available for adoption include:
- Children who have medical/physical challenges that are considered to be on the more severe end of the spectrum.
- Young children who have behaviors that would be considered to be on the more severe end of the spectrum.
- Children with diagnoses such as mental retardation, Downs’ Syndrome, significant pervasive developmental delays, etc.
As the vast majority of families who wish to adopt a young child from foster care are typically not open to these more severe challenges, it becomes extremely difficult for them to have the opportunity to be placed with a young child in foster care, who is legally free, and whose challenges are manageable for the average family.
On occasion, a family will identify a younger child that they have seen on one of the photo listing websites, who does not appear to have severe challenges. When the situation is further explored, it is often learned that either they do have significant challenges, which are just not obvious by looking at the child’s picture and reading their brief description, or the child already has an identified adoptive resource, but his or her photo listing has not yet been removed from the website. To explore a website which features children with a plan of adoption throughout the U.S., you can visit www.adoptuskids.org.
Many people who consider adopting a child start out with the intention of adopting either a baby or a young child. Sometimes, as their process unfolds, and they begin to learn more, they start to feel more open to the idea of adopting an older child. However, that is not the case for all potential adoptive parents. For those families who want to adopt, but cannot get comfortable with the idea of adopting an older child, a good option is to become a foster parent with their local department of social services. When providing foster care for a younger child, if efforts toward reunification are unsuccessful over a period of time, and there is no relative who is identified as a resource for the child, and the child’s plan has changed from reunification to adoption,the foster parent could be given the opportunity to adopt the child. By the time this occurs, the child has usually been in the home for an extended period of time, and the foster parent(s) knows the child well enough to be able to decide whether or not they feel they can commit to adopting the child.
More information on adopting an older child in foster care can be found on our website, www.adoptionstogether.org, by clicking on both the AdoptionWorks Older Child Placement Program and the Family Find Step Down Program .