We might jump into fostering for different reasons. Some of us are interested in the idea of being a temporary home to help as many kids as possible. Some of us are looking to the foster system as an avenue to adopt. And the rest of us are somewhere in between. Once we decide on our goals, we can take steps to choosing the right path to pursue. As we learned very early on, there are a plethora of options, all with their own pros and cons. How much weight you give to those pros and cons really depends on the outcome you’re seeking.
Let’s take a dive into some of your options. Before we get started, though, understand that the options available to you will vary greatly from county to county. I’m approaching this article from a very general perspective, but you’ll have to do some research on your own to see what applies in your area.
When deciding the right agency, there are three major decisions you’ll have to make first: 1) Adoption or Foster, 2) Private or Public, 3) State or Private Agency, and 4) Domestic or International. So let’s start at the beginning with the most obvious question…
Adoption or Foster?
As previously discussed, fostering is temporary and adoption is permanent. You’ll need to decide right up front if you’re looking for a child to be part of your family forever or if you’re interested in providing a temporary home. I’d venture a guess that most people who feel a tug to invite a non-biological child into their homes are looking for a permanent addition to their family. If that’s the case for you, don’t discount this entire All About Fostering series. Fostering can be an avenue to adoption, but in a less predictable way.
Private or Public?
Private adoptions, or Independent Voluntary Placement, is when a parent voluntarily places their child for adoption with a family of their choice. Going the public route means making yourself available as a foster family to house a child who has been removed from their birth parents. Here are the pros and cons of each.
Private adoptions are extremely predictable and are the best opportunity to get a newborn, if that’s what you’re interested in. Private adoptions are arranged with the involvement of the birth mother before birth. The adoption process can move along very quickly once the birth mom signs all the proper consent forms.
Con: Potentially Long Wait
There are more people interested in privately adopting newborns than there are newborns available. Because of this fact, it can take months or years or several years before a birth mom selects you to adopt her child.
Private adoptions are extremely expensive. Some resources place the total cost for private adoptions somewhere between $7,000 and $45,000 each. This is because in addition to paying for all the legal fees, the adoptive family also pays for all of the birth mother’s medical care and post-delivery care for up to three months. There are ways to offset these costs, including tax deductions or fundraising efforts.
Public Adoption and Foster Care
Pro: Significantly Cheaper
There are typically no costs associated with a foster care placement. Through reimbursements, vouchers and medical assistance, taking in a child through the foster system may not cost anything.
Pro: Privacy is protected
In a public adoption, it’s common for the birth mother to meet and have a relationship with the birth family, though there are options to have a closed adoption where that doesn’t happen. In the case of a foster placement, it’s very unusual for the birth family to meet or even know details about the foster family. Some exceptions exist, but generally speaking a foster placement gives you the most guarded protection from the birth family.
The foster system is swirling with uncertainty. Newborns entering the foster system are less common than older children. Even if you decide to adopt the child placed with you, that may not be an option. The goal of fostering is to give the birth family a chance to take corrective actions. If they do that, the child may go back to them after several months in foster care. Some publications say that newborns are especially likely to go back to their birth families.
State or Private Agency?
If you decide to become a foster parent, the next big decision is where to go to get licensed and get a home study. Most every county (with exceptions, of course) have a local child protective services agency that manages the foster care system on behalf of the state. Private agencies exist to supplement the workforce at state agencies. As resources get strained and individual case workers get more and more clients, they need recruiting agencies to help find foster and adoptive homes for the children in the system.
Pro: Less Challenging Placements
The county takes the first attempt at placing children in their custody. If none of the families licensed through them are available, or if they have a child that will be a more challenging case, they will refer the placement to a private agency. Generally speaking, this is why a placement directly from the county will be less challenging. Please don’t think that means the county gets all the “best” cases (because there would really be no way to know that for sure), just that these are the cases that require less effort to place.
Pro: More Complete Information
Since the county is responsible for the removal of the child, they typically have a lot of information on the child and the family. They also are the ones who work with the families on a regular basis, so they know everyone involved personally. If you get a placement through a private agency, you’ll notice that it can be difficult to get complete information. That’s because they have to contact the county to answer everything beyond what’s included in the child’s profile. Working through the county means you won’t have to deal with the game of telephone everytime you need more information.
Con: Less Responsive
Nationwide, county agencies are understaffed and overworked. Each caseworker is thinly spread and juggling multiple cases at a time. They may be less responsive, and therefore, offer less support than their private agency counterparts simply because they’re too busy.
Pro: More Support
Private agencies typically offer a higher daily reimbursement rate and have adequate staffing to give a higher level of support than any state agency. It is worth noting that while the daily reimbursements are higher, there may be more logistical challenges involved with a potential placement. Private agencies can get cases from practically anywhere in the state. More detail below.
Con: Process Can Take Longer
As county agencies work through their foster families first, it may take longer for a private agency to get a call about a placement. That’s why the waiting period for families in private agencies may be longer. Families licensed through the county may get their first call for placement the day after receiving their license, where placements through private agencies may take several weeks. Not only that, but the licensing process itself can take longer. Licensure through a private agency happens through the county, so the extra step can cause delays.
Con: More Challenging Placements
Private agencies typically get cases that are harder to place. While sometimes it’s a matter of the county not having enough families available, other times it can be because the case presents more challenges, so they need to cast a wider net to find the appropriate placement. Private agencies may get placement requests from any county, so the “challenge” might be finding a family that would be willing to travel an hour or two each week for the child’s visits with his/her birth family. And of course, other challenges might be related to drug exposure, behavior problems or multiple sibling groups.
Domestic or International?
In the realm of adoption, you also have the opportunity to choose whether to pursue a child from the United States or a child from another country. There’s not much value in going over pros and cons related to this decision because they should be rather obvious. People who adopt internationally do so because they feel led in that particular direction. There are special international adoption agencies that will help facilitate the process.
According to the National Council for Adoption, domestic adoptions are steadily on the rise and are most common. The number of annual domestic adoptions has nearly doubled in the past 30 years. International adoptions are declining, significantly more so these past few years as the number of children adopted from China, Ethiopia and Russia are decreasing. I assume this trend will continue, especially as the need for foster and adoptive families continues to grow in the U.S. each year.
Even with this decline, international adoptions still fill a significant void in saving children all over the world. In some countries, the life of an orphan is full of hardship and abject poverty. (For example, in Columbia in 1977, children who weren’t adopted by age 9 were sent to the street: girls became prostitutes and boys joined the guerrilla armies. In contrast, orphans in America were guaranteed food, shelter and education until they turned 18.)
If this international route interests you, know that depending on the country of origin, it will take a significant amount of time to complete the process. I know people who spent years going through the process. It can also be very expensive, although not much more expensive (on average) than a private adoption here in the U.S. Also, know that it’s extremely uncommon to adopt a newborn internationally. Most children adopted from other countries are toddlers or older.
My Best Advice
Seek others who have gone through the process. You’ll learn much more from hearing their personal accounts than reading anything you find online. When you share this article, you’ll be amazed by how many people will tell you their stories. Our personal network gave us the information we needed to make decisions, and so far, our experience has been everything we expected.
The advice shared here in this article is based on general information, based on my own experiences and the references listed below. Your individual experience may be different. If you’re interested in adopting or becoming a foster parent, make sure you speak to your local agencies to get more details.
Catch up on the previous entries in the “All About Fostering” series:
- Part 1: Why I Became A Foster Parent
- Part 2: Questions About Fostering You Were Afraid To Ask
- Part 3: Myths About Fostering You Probably Believe
What’s next in the “All About Fostering” series:
- June 18 – “Part 5: Getting Ready for a Foster Placement”
For more information on adoption, visit adoptuskids.org.
For more information on fostering, visit childwelfare.gov.
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