I received a special email from one of my readers a few weeks ago. I had featured a waiting child that she has has some strong feelings about. In her effort to learn more on how to adopt she asked a series of questions. Some of the questions I could answer and some I couldn't. So I went to the expert...Kathy Searle from the Utah Adoption Exchange. With permission I decided to share these questions and answers with you in case you have wondered the same things.
Questions about adopting an older child through foster care
1. Do we need to become licensed foster parents in order to adopt her?
Technically with a legally free child you do not have to become licensed because the child is legally free and ready for adoption. The case would have to be screened for an upfront subsidy and the adoption agreement signed. Many caseworkers are not aware of this because most of their case load is foster care and they tend to not be as familiar with policy and law relating to adoption. It can also be a help to the family because the foster care payment is usually larger than the adoption subsidy and so you can put some extra money away for future expenses.
2. Do we need to attend the hours of foster classes?
Yes and you will be glad you did. Parenting a child who has experienced trauma is very different from normal parenting. The pre-service training helps you to better understand how children cope with trauma, grief and loss and other things associated with being removed from their home and experiencing neglect and abuse. I believe that training and knowledge is a gift we give to our children. The more we understand the better parent we become.
3. What kind of financial commitment are we looking at? Besides the cost of raising a teenager?
It is pretty much the same as for any child except that these children usually require at least some mental health treatment which is covered by Medicaid.
4. What kind of government financial assistance is available?
Most children adopted from foster care come with an adoption subsidy, which includes three parts the Medicaid card, monthly maintenance payment to help cover special needs and the one time non-recurring payment that covers reasonable and customary costs associated with adoption, for example home study fees, attorney fees and travel. The Federal Government allows these costs to be reimbursed up to $2,000.00 but because they are state fund each state determines what amount they will reimburse. Utah does $2,000.00. These expenses must be reimbursed prior to finalization.
5. Would she be considered "special needs" simply due to her age?
Each state has their own definition of special needs. Utah’s is as follows:
CHILD WITH SPECIAL NEEDS: A child who cannot or should not be returned to the home of the parents (as determined by the state), with one of the following:
A. Child 0-17 years of age with a documented physical, emotional, or mental disability, or may be at risk to develop such a condition due to the birth parents health and social history.
B. Child five years of age or older.C. Member of a sibling group placed together for adoption.
6. What kind of time frame is involved in adopting an older child?
Time frames vary based on the child’s and case workers current situation. Utah DCFS policy says that three families should be brought to the placement committee to be considered but that if only one family can be identified they can be screened by the placement committee. If the family is selected they would then be able to read the child’s file. After reviewing the file if the family is willing to move forward they would talk to the child’s current placement providers as well as therapist and others who know the child well. If the family is still willing to move forward the Child and Family team would convene and discuss a transition plan. Usually this involves visits at the child’s current placement, then to a neutral location and then at the families home. This can happen over several weeks to several months depending upon the needs of the child and family.
7. Is there anything else you think I should know?
Adopting an older child is very different than adopting a baby, it’s almost more like marriage in that customs, and ways of doing things are already set. It takes time and both the family and the child need to be willing to do things differently than before. This can be hard when a child doesn’t want to participate in traditions and activities that are important to the family. Flexibility is a key ingredient to adopting an older child. Also trying to view things from the child’s point of view is essential. Children who grow up in a family don’t question many time why things are done in a certain way because they just grow up knowing that is the way we do things. It can be frustrating answering questions about why you do things the way you do or even better that another way should be considered. This sound trivial I know but it is something that is like a slow water drip and really can put you at your wits end.
Adopting an older child is really merging two already set lives into one.
8. What would be our first step? Getting a home study?
If you have a current home study you can inquire on children but before you could be consider for a specific child you would need to take the pre-service training and an update would need to be done to your home study. If your home study isn’t current then you would need to begin that process. There is no cost if you follow the states procedure beginning with The Utah Foster Care Foundation.
9. Would we be able to meet her before?
As explained in the above process you do get to meet a child before they are placed in your home but because they have already experienced so much loss and rejection the division will give you all of the information they have as well as allowing you contact with the current providers so that before you meet the child you are pretty sure that you will be moving forward with the placement. That said the best plans can have twists and turns and that is part of the function of transition to make sure the placement will work before the child moves in. It is easier on both sides if that is determined during the transition.