Foster Parent Adoption: Don't Get Short-Changed by the System

By Terri McCoy, LBSW

terri mccoyIt can be difficult to find adoptive families for older children, so social workers love it when foster parents chose to adopt a child in their care. The child does not have to move again and he/she has already adjusted to the family.

Unfortunately, with their high caseloads, social workers may not give (or be able to give) foster parents the attention and services that they need as they transition from temporary caregivers to permanent, legal parents.


If you are considering Foster-to-Adopt, your social worker may assume that you already know everything you need to know about this child, even though confidentiality has prevented him/her from sharing specific background information up to this point. As a potential adoptive parent, you should insist on full disclosure of . . .

  1. the child's complete social history
  2. placement record
  3. medical records
  4. psychological reports
  5. school records.

Has your social worker discussed with you the child's eligibility for adoption subsidy and what that will cover? Check with your own health insurance provider to see if the child's pre-existing conditions will be covered? Will the services the child is receiving now, such as counseling, physical therapy, day treatment, or respite care, still be paid for? In some cases, subsidy amounts and services are negotiable. It is important to know your rights and advocate for your child's needs.


Foster parents are rarely counseled about the impact adoption may have on them or the child. Again, it is assumed that since the child has lived with the family for some time, nothing really changes.

The reality is that it can be challenging for foster parents to make the shift from temporary parents to legal parents. In foster care, social workers and judges have the decision-making responsibilities for the child. For the foster parent(s), there is some security in knowing that the State is ultimately responsible for the child's welfare. However, when the child is adopted, that security buffer is gone. If Johnnie vandalizes the neighbor's property, you now will be liable. And you cannot call the social worker and give notice to have him removed. This is your child for better or worse.

The child being adopted may have mixed feelings that he/she does not understand. Although she wants the adoption, Callie feels guilty about this "final" severing of ties to her birth mother. She may get a case of "jitters" before the court hearing. She may not want to change her name, which is part of her identity. This may be an issue that needs to be negotiated. For older children, a hyphenated name is a possible compromise.

If the child is older, you may continue to interact with birth parents even though the adoption is final. Are you prepared to handle this without a social worker to mediate?

Should you continue to be foster parents? There is no right answer to this question. Keep in mind that you are adopting to give your child a permanent attachment and stability. Having other children come and go from your home means that the child's "family" continues to change. Your adopted child may experience anxiety when other foster siblings move on, not fully trusting their "permanent status." Foster children who are not adopted may have issues about favoritism or ask to be adopted too. Take some time to consider how this decision might affect each member of your family.

Everyone wants the best for you and your family, but it may be up to you to make sure the "system" doesn't let you down.

For more information, look on this web site for "Decisions About Adopting, A Handbook for Foster Parents.

About the author:
Terri McCoy has been an Adoption Specialist in Iowa for 27 years in the area of special needs adoption. She is a strong advocate for adoptive children and families. Ms. McCoy has authored several therapy books for children.