Adoptive children come from many sources. Some come from within a family, some from foreign countries on the other side of the world and others come from state protective agencies such as the Department of Children and Families in Florida, or the Department of Human Resources in Alabama. Children are placed in foster care due to some set of circumstances that usually stems from the parents’ inability or unwillingness to provide adequate for the child. Foster parents open their homes, and their hearts, to children who otherwise have nowhere else to go.
Thousands of children are in foster care around the country, including Florida and Alabama, and they are awaiting one of two results. The first option is for their parents to get it together and regain custody. The law of every state prefers this option due to the fundamental rights parents enjoy with respect to their children. The second option is for the court to determine that reunification with a parent is not possible and to terminate the parents’ rights, and set the stage for an adoption by a foster parent.
Not every foster parent is seeking to adopt a child. Many people become foster parents simply to help children in need. Others become foster parents for the specific purpose of adopting a child that is placed in their home. The state will provide financial assistance to support the foster home while the child is placed with a foster parent. The foster parent maintains physical custody but the state retains legal custody and ultimate authority of where the child is placed.
Any person who considers adopting a child from foster care should understand that parents enjoy a strong legal preference for custody. This preference can be very frustrating for a foster parent who wants to adopt quickly. There is not only a possibility, but a preference, to return custody to the parents. Many foster parents who accept a child into their home wrongly assume that the adoption process will begin immediately. Nothing could be further from the truth, since various services will be offered to the parents who may be attempting to rehabilitate themselves, and a substantial amount of time will usually pass before the court can even consider a termination of parental rights. In Florida, termination of parental rights is a necessary precondition of adoption in all adoption cases even if the child is not in foster care. That is not the case in Alabama, but if the child is in foster care then an Alabama juvenile court must terminate parental rights before the child can be removed from the state’s legal custody. The process of terminating parental rights can take up to two years, or longer, to complete. If an appeal is filed, the process can take considerably longer. In any event, foster parents should be prepared for the child to be returned to the parents if rehabilitation is successful. Even if it is not successful, a foster parent should be prepared to wait quite a while before an adoption can be sought.
Whether that process is right for you will depend on your level of patience. The emotional attachment that foster parents form with their foster children will not be mitigated by legal procedures or an understanding of the constitutional rights afforded to biological parents. However, If you are willing to be very patient, and are willing to help a child in their time of need while accepting that an adoption may not be the end result, then this process may be right for you.