The rates of children in the foster care system or awaiting adoption are overwhelming. In the United States, over 391,000 children are living in the foster care system on any given day — and that number is rising. While these foster children require a home, there is also an adoption process outside foster care, often involving infants. This option is expensive and typically requires the support of a private agency and lawyer.
For those seeking adoption resources, it’s crucial to understand your options.
Statistics on Adoption and Foster Care in America
The available stats showcase how many children and youth need a loving home. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, hundreds of thousands of children are in foster care. Of these children, over 113,000 are eligible for adoption, yet they will wait an average of three years before integrating into an adoptive family.
Based on the latest Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data, here are the stats as of September 30, 2021:
- The average age of children in care was eight years old. However, the highest percentage of children are under four years of age.
- Most children (38%) are in care between one and eleven months. However, 18% are in care for three or more years.
- Over 19,000 children aged out of the American foster care system, often leaving without the necessary financial and emotional support needed to thrive.
- Approximately 53,000 children and youth were adopted. Of them, 55% were adopted by their foster parents and 34% by a relative.
Other research shows that:
- Although no more than 2% of Americans have adopted a child, more than 33% have considered it.
- Around 60% to 70% of domestic adoptions are open, meaning there is some degree of openness and disclosure of information between the birth and adoptive parents.
- Over 60% of children in foster care spend two to five years in the system before they’re adopted. Almost 20% spend five years or more before they are adopted — some are never adopted.
How to Adopt in America
With so many children needing loving homes, you’d think the process would be relatively straightforward. However, there’s much to consider for all parties involved. When you’re ready to adopt, there are three main paths. Your path will depend on legal, personal, and financial variables. There are plenty of adoption resources to help assist you with this decision.
The options include:
- International adoption is becoming less common and increasingly complex. However, there is support to navigate this process.
- Through the foster care system, which is free and comes with support — you must ensure you’re set up to help a foster child succeed.
- Working with a local adoption agency or private attorney will help you complete the process.
The steps involved in the adoption process
- Decide that adoption is the right choice for you. For example, if you and your partner have experienced a long infertility-related struggle, you may decide adoption is the best option. This decision will affect you and the child for the rest of your lives. Discuss this process with loved ones to gain perspective. However, the choice is ultimately yours.
- People looking to adopt commonly work with an adoption agency to navigate this long and complicated process — for example, American Adoptions or Holt International for those who would like to adopt internationally.
- Next is finding the perfect match to create the ideal future for all parties. For example, prospective birth parents will typically discuss what they want for their child and what type of family would be best based on their wishes. The adoptive parents then create a profile of photos, letters, and videos to showcase the kind of future they can provide the child. Depending on the circumstances, the prospective mother will look through profiles until she finds the right fit. Adoption specialists will take it from there.
- Discuss the possibility of pre-placement contact if both parties are interested in this step. Some meet over a video call, and others meet in person. Some have ongoing contact, and others meet for the first time at the hospital where the birth takes place.
- The last step is called finalization, which is a legal proceeding. This guide covers this process in detail.
Overview of America’s Foster Care System
Foster care differs from adoption in several ways, mainly because families take in children temporarily. In some cases, families end up adopting the foster children they have been caring for, which may interest you.
Sadly, most children in the foster care system have experienced neglect — often related to poverty. Current welfare policies make family separation an easier option than providing the level of family services these complex situations require. Despite that, the United States spends an average of $30 billion on foster care annually. These children desperately need love and support, as 50% of foster youth will not graduate from high school, and 33% of homeless young adults were previously in foster care.
How does the foster care system work?
The system is complex, involving federal, state, and local organizations that actively work together to ensure children are safe. So, the system is not one single entity but a collection of supportive groups and organizations. The ultimate goal is to reunify children with their families unless it is not in the child’s best interest. For those who decide fostering a child is right for them, it can take up to two years to go through the necessary orientation, training, and licensing process to finally be matched to a child in need.
Although circumstances vary, children in foster care generally enter the system after a report is filed with Child Protective Services (CPS). Following an investigation, a social worker will determine if the child is safe or if they should be removed from the home.
The average age of a child entering foster care is eight. However, children in the system range from infants to those who are 18 years of age. Once they transition to a foster home, the average stay is two years. Children go to school, receive medical care, and have access to social support during this time.
For those who wish to adopt a child from foster care, the process is similar to other forms of adoption concerning decision-making, paperwork, and legal processes. Children available for adoption generally range in age from toddler to 21. The other core difference is that this option costs little to no money.
Adoption vs. Foster Care: Which Is Right for You?
Before you adopt or take in foster children, you need to focus on your reasons for adopting. What are your motivations?
When comparing these two options, the primary difference is who holds the legal responsibility for that child. In adoption, adoptive parents hold the responsibility of a child. In contrast, the Children’s Aid Society is the legal guardian of children in foster care.
The other main difference is the financial component. Foster families are given funding to care for a child — all expenses are covered. An agency worker also supervises these families. While subsidies are available, adoptive parents are typically responsible for all costs related to the adopted child. However, they do receive a minimum six months of support.
To decide the best option for you, consider the following:
- Do you want to adopt a child into your family or provide a loving, temporary home to a child in need?
- Are you prepared for the costs associated with the private adoption process?
- What age do you seek? Is adopting an infant, a toddler, or a teen best for your current family dynamic?
Adoption Related Books
These adoption resources can help you gain perspective as you determine whether this process is right for you. Plenty of books are also available for parents who have begun this process and aim to increase their knowledge and understanding of their new parental role.
- Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today’s Parent — Deborah Gray wrote a comprehensive guide for prospective and actual adoptive parents. The goal of this book is to help encourage healthy attachment to enhance happiness based on varying developmental stages.
- Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain — Daniel Siegel wrote this New York Times bestselling book to help parents support their children during the most challenging development period of their lives. While this book is not solely related to adopted teens, it’s a must-read for those currently fostering or adopting an adolescent.
- Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience after Neglect and Trauma — Another book by Deborah Gray, this resource will help you better understand the developmental and emotional needs of children who have experienced trauma — and, more importantly, how that trauma influences their behavior. The goal is to help your child heal so that you can develop a strong bond.
There are dozens of credible adoption organizations across the country, providing a plethora of adoption resources, including:
- Adoption and Attachment Therapy Partners LLC
- A Child Waits Foundation
- Children Awaiting Parents (CAP)
- Child Welfare Information Gateway
- National Adoption Center
- Northwest Adoption Exchange
- The Adoption Exchange
- The National American Council on Adoptable Children
- Open Homes
- Voice for Adoption
Additional Adoption Resources
There are plenty of adoption resources for those ready to begin this life-changing process.
- Considering Adoption is an excellent resource for those who wish to place a baby for adoption or adopt a baby.
- Navigating Adoption Presented by AdoptUSKids — This podcast brings together real adoptive families and adoption experts to showcase the unexpected rewards of adopting a teen from foster care.