Adopting Through Foster Care: a Less Expensive Alternative

This adoption route has pros and cons, but it carries virtually no out-of-pocket costs.

US News and World Report

By Susan Johnston ~ February 24, 2015

A private domestic or international adoption can cost tens of thousands of dollars. But Americans wishing to expand their family have another option that costs next to nothing: adopting through foster care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Bureau reports that nearly 400,000 American children were in foster care in 2012, and about a quarter of those were waiting to be adopted.

Many potential adoptive parents don’t realize that “because these children are in the custody of the county or the state, that county or state covers all those court costs that an individual would pay for a private agency,” explains Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the nonprofit Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. Parents may need to pay upfront for a home study (when a social worker interviews the family in their home), she adds, but typically those costs can be reimbursed through workplace adoption benefits, military adoption benefits or adoption tax credits.

The majority of children adopted through foster care receive a financial or medical subsidy from their state until they reach the age of majority in that state, and many states offer college tuition waivers for adopted youth, which can further reduce a family’s costs, Soronen adds.

Karen Sauer, a mother of two 13-year olds in Indianapolis, has known since she was a teenager that she wanted to adopt through foster care and finally did it after turning 40. “A switch went on, and I said ‘I’m ready to do this,'” she says.

 The process took a few years from the time she decided to adopt, took classes, waited and had each child live with her for at least six months, but Sauer says it was worth the wait. “It’s probably a good thing it takes a little time,” she explains. On the drive home from her son’s adoption, he rolled down the car windows and announced his adoption to the world. She says her daughter grinned ear to ear on the day of her adoption.

A six-month waiting period is common in most states, according to Soronen, and adoptions through foster care typically take between 12 and 24 months. Kathy Ledesma, national project director for AdoptUSKids, a project of the U.S. Children’s Bureau that offers resources for families and child welfare professionals, says fostering is high risk for the family but low risk for the child. “If [families] are willing to first foster before they adopt, then they may get one or two or three placements of children who end up being returned home, which we think is a good thing when the family can be remediated,” she says.

The median age of a child in foster care is 8.5 years, and families looking to adopt an older child may spend less time waiting than those who want a younger one, Ledesma says. Age can be a sticking point for some, but Sauer stresses that “it’s important for people to know that these kids are not bad. They come from bad situations, but they’re not bad themselves.” Her mother had initially been skeptical of her adopting an older child, asking “What if you get a bad one?” But Sauer laughed it off, joking in her response: “You gave birth to my sister.”

Families adopting through foster care must pass a criminal background check, and “need to be flexible and understanding with a good personal and professional support system,” Ledesma says. They also need to demonstrate they can financially support other household members “without relying on any income that that child would bring into the household … [but] you don’t have to own your own home and don’t have to have a lot of money in the bank.”

Single parents of both genders and military families can adopt through foster care, as can same-sex couples in most states.

“You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent,” Ledesma says. “If families are waiting until they have their house exactly how they want it or have a brand new car, they don’t have to wait for those things. These children just need permanent, loving families.”

As for Sauer, it’s taken time for her teens to trust that she wouldn’t leave them as the other adults in their lives have, but adopting through foster care has been an overall positive experience. “They’re changing my life,” she says, “because there’s not a minute that goes by I don’t think about them.”

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