Path to Adoption
The Inquiry Process
Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) responds to phone or website inquiries from prospective adoptive parents. FAFS staff provide the caller with basic information about foster care and adoption and answers any questions they might have. A packet of information is sent to the prospective family which includes an application. The DYFS Local Office Resource Family Recruiter then contacts the prospective parent to arrange an engagement meeting, where more detailed information about foster care and adoption is provided. This information includes the eligibility criteria and the types of children needing foster or adoptive homes. The Resource Family Units must prioritize the assignments of adoption home studies based on the children who are available for adoption. Adoption home studies are completed only for families interested in the types of children placed for adoption by DYFS. Families who are interested in children who are not typically available for adoption by DYFS are asked to consider becoming a foster parent, the Fost-Adopt Program or contacting a licensed private adoption agency.
People who are interested in proceeding are encouraged to complete their application. The application is then reviewed by the Resource Family Supervisor and preliminary background checks are completed before accepting the application. A Resource Family Worker will then contact the prospective parent to assist them in beginning the home study process.
The Home Study
The home study refers to the process applicants and their Resource Family Worker go through to help them make a decision whether their home is appropriate for adoption and the type of youngster who would be most compatible with their family. There are several parts to this process:
- Preservice training: The Division provides 27 hours of training to the prospective adoptive parents, as a required part of the home study process. The training helps applicants and their families determine if adoption will be a satisfying experience, and prepares them for their particular responsibilities as adoptive parents. Among the topics discussed in this training are the experiences of children who are placed for adoption by the Division, the methods of responding to the specific needs of adopted children, sexual abuse and the identity issues that many adopted children face.
- Individual interviews/home visit: Pre-service training provides an opportunity for the agency to know the applicants and to assess them as prospective adoptive parents. To supplement information obtained in the training, applicants then are interviewed jointly and individually by their Resource Family Worker. This process allows the caseworker to obtain information needed for the adoption assessment and it allows the applicants to clarify any specific issues that they may have about adoption. The home visit is an opportunity for the agency to see the house in which the child will be living and to assess if it meets required safety standards. All family members who have not participated in the training groups must be interviewed at this time.
- References: References are obtained as part of the home study so that a thorough assessment can be made to determine the applicant's ability to adequately and appropriately care for a child. Among the references required are personal, employment, school, child care, employment and medical. A criminal history background check and a child abuse record information check must be completed on every individual over the age of 18 living in the home.
- Approval process: The home study process is an opportunity for the agency to learn about prospective adoptive families and for the families to learn about the role of DYFS and about adoption. If adoption does not seem to be an appropriate plan for a family, DYFS and the family usually come to realize this during the course of the home study and the home study process is discontinued. However, in most instances, the prospective adoptive family is approved to adopt following completion of the homestudy process.
- Licensing: Since July 2005, it is necessary for all Resource Families (including Adoptive Families) to be licensed by the Office of Licensing (OOL). Upon the successful completion of the home study, the Resource Family Worker forwards the home study to OOL. A licensing inspector will make an appointment to inspect the home to ensure that all of the licensing requirements have been met. Click HERE for more information about the licensing process.
- Waiting to hear about the availability of a child: This is the most exciting part of the adoption process, but can also be the most difficult for prospective adoptive parents. Unless a family has identified a “waiting child” it is difficult to predict how long the wait will be. (Click HERE to view waiting children – this photo listing does not include all of the children who are placed for adoption by DYFS).
The length of time that a family waits to be selected for the placement of a child in their home depends primarily on two things:
- The type of children being referred for placement.
- The flexibility of the family as to the child’s special needs and family background. The more accepting a prospective adoptive family can be, the sooner they will be considered for a child’s adoptive placement.
Selection and Preplacement
Approved home studies are kept on file in a statewide "match system." This system allows for the preliminary matching of adoptive children and their prospective parents.
When a family is selected for a child, DYFS staff meet with them, usually in their home, to present comprehensive information about the child. This includes the child's family background, developmental history, personality, hobbies, special interests, interpretation of medical and psychological findings and any problems that the child may have experienced in his or her foster home or school. The family also is advised of the child's legal status and eligibility for adoption subsidy.
After the pre-placement interview, if both the family and DYFS are comfortable with the match, the child, if old enough, is told of the prospective family and given an opportunity to express feelings and anxieties about living in the proposed home. If the caseworker and the child are willing and ready to proceed, arrangements are made for the family to meet and to begin visiting regularly with the child. These visits are scheduled according to the individual needs of the child and of the adoptive family, so that the experience is made as comfortable as possible for everyone involved.
Most adoptive children require a series of visits in familiar surroundings, to minimize any separation trauma that they may experience. Prior to and during the visits, the child's caseworker is responsible for helping the child understand the adoption plan. As soon as the agency, the family and the child feel comfortable about the placement, arrangements are made for the child to officially join the adoptive family in their home.
Placement and Supervision
Once the child is in the home, he or she becomes part of the adoptive family. Regardless of the age of the child, the new family member will have an impact on the adoptive family’s system. It is important for the family to understand that there may be some early fear and discomfort on both of their parts. A caseworker will visit the home within two weeks of the placement, and at least monthly, thereafter. The worker will discuss what adoptive parents can expect during the period of time preceding the adoption finalization, and will make every effort to offer support and to link the family with community resources that will facilitate the child's acceptance into his or her new family and community.
Because adopted children may require special emotional support at any given time in their lives, there will be an expectation that the school aged child and the family attend counseling with a professional therapist during the supervision period. The worker will make arrangements for that therapy. The worker also will be available to assist with issues that may arise for the child and the family at this transitional time.
DYFS must supervise the adoptive home for at least six months before the legal consent for adoption can be issued.
Unless there are specific issues which must be addressed prior to the finalization, the consent to adoption is usually issued by DYFS, six months after placement. The consent is forwarded to the adoptive parent's attorney, who files a legal petition to adopt and secures a date for the final hearing. The Division caseworker completes the court report and, in most cases, attends the final hearing, during which the judge makes the adoptive parents the legal parents of the child. Subsequent to this, the attorney obtains an amended birth certificate for the child, with the name as given by the adoptive parents. The original birth certificate is placed under seal by the Bureau of Vital Statistics.
As adopted children grow, they may have questions and concerns about their background and adoption. This is usually normal. In some cases, it might become necessary for the adoptive parents to obtain professional help to assist in resolving these issues. Although DYFS does not directly provide post adoption services, the child’s Adoption Worker can assist in locating a professional who will work with them.
The path to adoption has many steps and challenges along the way. However, when you’ve reached the end, the reward in opening your heart and your home to a child is enormous!