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Adoption and Foster Care

Find information on adoption and foster care.

Through foster care and adoption, kids can create new families. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Through foster care and adoption, kids can create new families.

Adoption and foster care can be a life-changing experience for both adoptive parents and children. Because laws vary by state and may change periodically, prospective adoptive and foster parents should research relevant laws.

Though adoptions are primarily regulated by state legislatures, according to the National Council for Adoption (NCFA), some federal laws also regulate adoption and foster care. It's important to understand the laws of adoption and foster care to make the transition as easy as possible for the child.

Adoption versus Foster Care

Parents who adopt a child become that child's legal guardian. In most jurisdictions, once a child is adopted, the natural parents' legal rights are terminated.

Adoptions may be open or closed. In an open adoption, the birth mother selects the child's parents. In a closed adoption, an agency selects the child's parents. Individuals wishing to adopt can do so through either a public or private adoption agency. States run public adoption agencies. These agencies take great care in determining whether a couple is suitable for adoption.

Those wishing to care for a child might also consider becoming a foster parent. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) reports that more than 500,000 children in the United States are in foster care. Foster parents provide a temporary home to children who have been removed from their permanent homes because they were neglected, abused or abandoned.

Some children in foster homes will return to their permanent homes once their parents remedy the crisis. Others may be adopted by their foster family, which is referred to as foster care adoption. For many children, however, foster homes serve as a temporary shelter in which they await adoption. Many children in foster homes are siblings, older children or teenagers. Many come from difficult backgrounds.

Legal Issues Regarding Adoption

Adoptive parents may face legal issues such as birth fathers who assert their rights and improper adoption agencies that have not followed proper procedures. Many prospective parents hire attorneys to help them navigate the legal maze.

Adoptive parents should be familiar with laws in their state regarding:

  • Consent 
  • Putative fathers
  • Safe havens


Adoptive parents should understand the meaning of consent. Consent is an agreement the birth parent or agency enters into in which they give up any legal rights to the child. Most states require consent to be in writing before witnesses or notaries and sometimes even before judges.

Most states require parental consent from both the birth father and mother unless their parental rights have been terminated, which can happen for various reasons, including abuse and abandonment. State laws regulate who can give consent in lieu of a parent, including a court or legal guardian. In some states, older children must also consent to adoption.

Putative Fathers

Adoptive parents may also have to deal with putative fathers, fathers whose paternity is alleged, but not proven. States regulate the timeframe during which unmarried birth fathers can interfere in the adoption process. Putative fathers may attempt to utilize parental rights, but the ultimate decision is made by the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court bases its decision on whether the putative father has a substantial relationship with the child -- defined as a biological link. Courts have not clarified what should happen in cases where a putative father's child was adopted in infancy. State laws vary on these types of cases. However, most states require that the putative fathers receive notice of parental termination or adoption proceedings.

Safe Haven Laws

Safe haven laws allow women to relinquish their babies to caregivers in legally designated locations. These laws are designed to reduce infant deaths and child abuse. Specific age limits do apply, but all states have safe haven laws.

Eligibility for Adoption

Any single adult, married couple or step-parent can adopt. The age at which a person can adopt varies by state, however. While some states allow people to adopt at the age of 18, other states allow only those who are over 21 to adopt. In some states, adoptive parents must be at least 10 years older than the adopted child.

A person must have residency in the state in which he or she wishes to adopt. While some states only allow adoption of children under the age of 18, some allow adult adoptions.

Adoptions Abroad

Many states recognize foreign adoption decrees, meaning they accept that a baby has been adopted in a foreign country. Other states require a re-adoption upon proof of the adoption abroad. Adoption attorneys frequently assist those who have adopted children abroad.

Regulation of Adoption Expenses

Fees and expenses that adoptive parents pay are regulated by individual states. Adoptive parents typically pay maternity costs, travel costs, counseling fees and temporary living agency costs. Individual states also regulate the fees that adoption agencies are allowed to charge prospective adoptive parents. Most require that the expenses be legally documented and reported to the court system.

Federal Laws

Those interested in adopting can find a list of federal adoption laws on the official Web site of the National Council for Adoption (NCFA).

Other Resources

Adoption.com lists state laws regarding adoptions. The Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland lists resources for international adoptions. Proud Parenting lists state adoption Web sites.

Becoming a Foster Parent

Requirements to become a foster parent vary by state, but typically foster parents must be at least 21 years old, apply for and receive a foster care license, have enough room in their house for a child, live in a home that meets basic safety requirements, be free of alcohol and drug problems, be mentally stable, pass a criminal background check, and make enough money to support the child without depending on foster care reimbursement.

Foster parents must also be able to deal with the child's parents, even though they are responsible for the crisis the child is in, as well as social workers who will offer support and guidance. Those wishing to learn more about becoming a foster parent should consult the National Foster Parent Association.

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