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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, on any given day, over 415,000 children are living in the U.S. foster care system. Nearly 108,000 of these children are eligible for adoption, and on an average, wait four years for an adoptive family. Despite the fact that foster care is frequently used, what foster care entails is often confused by the public.
For those not familiar with child welfare services and the adoption process, foster care, is often confused as being the final step in adoption or that a child in foster care must be adopted. Although the two can be easily confused, foster care and an adoptee’s permanent adopted home are steps in the process of adoption. There are significant differences between the two.
Adoption is best thought of as the final stage in the adoption process whereby an adoptee ends up with a family that formally takes on a child as their legal son or daughter. Whereas in foster care, a family or an individual volunteers to provide care for a child or children whose birth parent is unable to care for them. In this sense, foster care is best viewed as the middle step between the identification of a child in need of a stable home and the finalization of the adoption. Further, a child in foster care may be and often is returned to his or her birth family.
Foster care is best described as a temporary arrangement in which a child it is no longer able to live in his home due to conditions which endanger his health, safety, or welfare. A child who is no longer able to stay in his or her home will be placed temporarily in a foster home by a child welfare agency.
Foster care can be provided in either a family home setting or a congregated setting such as a group homes. In either case, efforts are made to normalize the experience for foster children to minimize problems with adjustment to change and to not exacerbate any existing problems the child may be experiencing.
Foster parents who accept children into their home must undergo a rigorous background checks and submit a home study to ensure that the foster home is suitable for children. Under either scenario, the goal for a child in the foster care system is reunification with their birth family, unless the child’s birth parent’s rights have been terminated. However, if the child is unable to be reunited with his or her birth parents, the foster family may petition to adopt the child or the child may be adopted by another family.
Prospective foster parents will be faced with a number of legal questions ranging from how to best position themselves to become licensed foster parents, receiving financial support while caring for a foster child, dealing with family courts in the capacity of foster parents or as prospective adopting parents. Under any of these circumstances, it is important to retain counsel experienced in the law of child welfare, foster care, and adoption.
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