Why Does Foster-to-Adopt Take So Long?
Heather Irvin, Clement Care Director
If you ever have fostered or know someone who has fostered, you may know that foster care cases often take a lengthy period of time before children are able to achieve permanency. You may also know by now that each foster care case is different.
Here are just a few things you should know to explain why…
NOTE: The information below applies to the state of Georgia. Other states may vary.
The law dictates the length of time that “Reasonable Efforts” must be made to reunify the child to the parents. This allows the family time to work their case plan and resolve issues that prevent reunification.
The law also dictates that DFCS (the Department of Family and Children Services) complete a “Diligent Search” to locate and explore “Fit and Willing Relatives.” Relatives and Fictive Kin (non-relatives that have a meaningful bond with the child prior to the child coming into care) should be vetted before deciding their appropriateness of placement. However, state laws are always evolving in effort to better serve children and families.
CHANGES IN STATE LAW
In May 2019, Georgia Governor, Brian Kemp, signed a foster care legislation that states: “If the relative entitled to notice… fails, within six months from the date he or she receives the required notice, to demonstrate an interest in and willingness to provide a permanent home for a child, the court may excuse DFCS from considering such relative as a placement.”
“If the court finds that the child has been living in a stable home environment with his or her current caregivers for the past 12 months and that removal of the child from such caregivers would be detrimental to the child’s emotional well-being, the court may presume that continuation of the child’s placement with his or her current caregivers is in the child’s best interests and shall enter a finding that a change of placement is a failure by DFCS to make reasonable efforts to finalize the permanency plan which is in effect at the times of the hearing.”
This new legislation means that foster families may receive higher priority when the permanency of their care is deemed by the state to be in the child's best interest.
DFCS Policy... and Sometimes Hiccups!
Reasonable Efforts toward birth family reunification must be proven to the court. Based on the level of involvement of the parents, DFCS can petition the court for a change in permanency plan. Once changed, a permanency hearing will be set to determine the direction of the case. Although the direction of the case can change throughout the life of the case, DFCS must file a petition of Termination of Parental Rights within 15 out of 22 months if the biological parents or guardians fail to achieve their court-ordered case plan goals.
Once the wheels are set in motion to move forward with the Termination of Parental Rights, the foster parents will be notified by the case worker if they are being considered as a possible adoption resource. The foster parent signs forms stating their interest in adoption should the court grant termination of the parent’s parental rights. However, Court is never predictable, and attorneys are representing all parties. This unpredictability may slow down, halt, or in some cases completely change the direction of the case! So it is important to note that, until the parental rights of the legal parents are terminated, the child(ren) are not free for adoption. This stage is called “legal risk” adoption, meaning there is a risk of the court intervening in the possible adoption.
You see, sometimes parents show up to court and have been working their case plan (though not cooperating with DFCS), and they bring the facts to prove it. Or perhaps DFCS didn’t have enough evidence to prove they have worked with the family, therefore failing to present “Reasonable Efforts." Or some other unforeseen situation could occur. The list can go on and on because every case is different, although DFCS policy and the law’s standards remain the same.
But then, after a few more months (or years in some cases) it all leads in the direction of, you guessed it - adoption. Finally, the long-awaited process begins! Parental rights are terminated, and the child(ren) are free for adoption.
BUT wait... there’s more!
Adoption - the Light at the End of the Tunnel
Hold on tight and don’t stress! The process of completing all the tasks in order to finalize the adoption has just begun.
- If your home isn’t already approved as an adoptive home, you will need your home converted
- Child Life Histories need to be completed on each child
- If applicable, the adoption assistance request with all the child’s medical, mental, behavioral documentation needs to be submitted for approval
- You will need an attorney
- You will need to sign the 123,456 pages of adoption paper work (Just kidding on the number of pages, but really - it will be a lot!)
The day you have been waiting for - adoption! It was a long process, an emotionally draining process, a confusing process, a frustrating process, but the most rewarding process you will ever go through. You look back and see that you stood strong, you were there. You have done something for a child that no one else was able to do: you gave that child a FOREVER HOME!
Heather Irvin joined Clement Arts as the Clement Care Director in January 2019, bringing a decade of social service experience with DFCS and CASA. Heather is happily married to her husband, Richard, and is the mother of two sweet and adorable children, Aaron and Addison.
Clement Care is a partnership between Clement Arts, Live the Promise, and local churches who seek to establish foster care ministries within their congregations. Believing that the local church is the best answer to the foster care crisis, we facilitate a growing network of church foster care ministries in Muscogee, Harris, and Russell counties.