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Can I Adopt a Baby from Foster Care?

In May, we recognize National Foster Care Awareness Month. In the same breath, we advocate for children in foster care who wait for adoptive families. To many, this duality can be confusing. Foster care, to be clear, is intended to be a temporary solution to keep children safe until they can reunite with their families of origin. On the contrary, there’s nothing temporary about adoption.

So, which is it?

It’s both. We can hope and pray and work tirelessly in support of reunification for children in foster care. Child welfare professionals can recruit, train, assess, and support fostering families to care for children until such reunification can happen. We celebrate relationships built between fostering families and biological parents. We equip fostering families to maintain connections between children and their biological relatives. It’s temporary, yes. It’s complicated, yes. And it’s fantastic.

The most recent statistics from the Office of the Administration for Children and Families report that almost 60% of children leave foster care to reunite with relatives. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for a child to reunite with biological parents or other relatives.

Which brings us back to adoption, and we’ve all got some questions.

When we hear from families interested in adoption from foster care, we usually spend a great deal of time answering these questions. At least, we do our best. Interested applicants contact us after reading about the foster care crisis in the United States. They’ve heard about the 125,000 children in U.S Foster Care waiting to be adopted. They want to understand the process, timelines, costs, training, eligibility, and, of course, they want to know about the children who need families. All of these questions, of course, are wrapped up in each inquiring family’s own set of expectations, assumptions, and anecdotal knowledge from a friend of a friend of a friend. Which inevitably leads us to the following question:

Is it possible to adopt a baby from foster care? The answer in one word: no. No, it’s not. Not at all.

Understandably, this doesn’t make sense. There are 125,000 children waiting to be adopted in the United States alone. There aren’t enough families for these children! Thus begins the heavy-lifting work of explaining a child’s journey through placement, and examining the statistics in further detail.

Earlier, I mentioned that 60% of children leave foster care to reunite with relatives. It’s true. Around 25% of children leave foster care to join their adoptive families. That leaves another 15% who leave for some terrible reasons , which are best left for another blog post. Back to the 25%. Who are they, and who is adopting them?

Pie chart showing reasons for discharge for children exiting foster care

First, let’s talk about the children. They are all ages, from a few months old up to 20 years old. Just over 20% of children who wait to be adopted from foster care are less than three years old. Another 50% are between ages 3 and 10, and the remaining 30% are older than age ten. From a family’s perspective, this means that there are 25,000 infants and toddlers just waiting to be adopted! But I just said it wasn’t possible. Perhaps I should explain myself.

Infographic for children adopted through foster care

The answer is found when you begin to look at WHO is adopting children from foster care. Here’s the scoop: 36% of children adopted from foster care are adopted by an extended family member. 52% are adopted by their foster parents. Only 12% of children are adopted by an unrelated family who isn’t currently fostering them. When you realize that only half of the children who wait for adoption are actually adopted each year, the number of children adopted by unrelated families who are not currently fostering those children is a fairly small group. Turns out, the younger children are, most often, being adopted by extended family members or by their current foster parents.

Here's an important aspect to emphasize: I don’t share those statistics from an apologetic standpoint. This is fantastic! It’s great news, because it means that children are finding permanency in families with whom they already have a relationship. On one hand, this maintains a connection with their biological heritage, and on the other, it minimizes the number of times a child moves from one family to another, which is always traumatic.

So what, then, do we have to say to families who want to provide a permanent solution for children in foster care through adoption? We say that there are 125,000 youth in the United States who are waiting for adoption. Most of those children are waiting to be adopted by relatives and by their current foster families. HOWEVER, there are still children who need you.

They are, most often, eight years old or older. They often belong to a sibling group. These are children who are resilient, engaging, funny, opinionated, and they need permanency as much as the 7 month old who will soon be adopted by her foster mom.

So, let’s be transparent. Let’s be vulnerable. Let us pull back the curtain with inquiring families and let them know about the older youth and teenagers who desperately need adoption. The reality of foster care is that children need families who are wholeheartedly willing to set aside their own dreams and desires in order to focus on the needs of children, youth and teenagers. Let’s be honest about that from the very beginning! In our society, we urgently need fostering families willing to focus solely and completely on the needs of the child in front of them.

  • Do you need a family for 8 months? One who can keep you safe and secure until you can move home with your mom and/or dad? You got it!
  • Do you need a family for 8 weeks? No problem. We can’t wait!
  • Wow. You need a safe, stable family to love you while you finish your last year of high school? Interesting. We’ve got a spare bedroom and wifi. They’re yours, if you want.
  • Do you need a family who will take you and your brothers? We’ve got you - all three of you! How long do you need to stay? No one knows? Cool! It’s an adventure. We’ll do it together.
  • I imagined myself parenting a preschool child, but when I read about you I knew I’d like you. As a sixth grader, I’m ready to help you navigate junior high. Maybe you’ve heard it can be rough, but I think you’ve got what it takes. Plus, I’ve done it before. You’ve got this!

Foster Care and Adoption can, on occasion, seem to be at odds. But they’re not. All you need to do is be willing to say ‘yes’ to a child (or youth, or teenager) without knowing how everything is going to turn out. Every parent is called to do that, so welcome to the club. No, it won’t be what you once imagined it to be. No, it won’t be easy.

But, it will be so much better in so many ways. Plus, if it were easy, anyone could do it.


Man in black t-shirt, GregOur thanks to Greg Eubanks for contributing this post to our series honoring National Foster Care Month 2020. Greg currently serves as a Senior Vice-President at Holt International. He is passionate about empowering systems that create permanency for vulnerable children and has served in the field of adoption and social services for over 25 years.