adopting from foster care: adopt-only

I would be remiss if I did not blog about adopting from foster care. While international adoption is the best choice for our family right now, adoption from foster care is the best choice for many others. Prior to grad school, and really even before working in the area of foster care, I knew very little about adoption from foster care. I’ll be writing a few posts on this, for those interested. 


While many foster kids are adopted by their foster parents, some are not. I recently had the opportunity to recruit families for several kids on my case load. While not a huge aspect of my job, I very much enjoy recruiting*.

When the parental rights of kids’ parents are terminated (or even before) and their case goal is adoption but they have no adoptive resource identified, I begin recruiting potential adoptive families. I gather information about the child, and write a short, punchy profile to email to foster family workers who then pass it on to the families with whom they work. If it appears that a more specialized family will be needed for the child, I post their profiles on websites like Adopt US Kids and The Adoption Exchange.

If families are interested in the child, I email them a longer profile, detailing many, many aspects of the child’s likes, dislikes, background, history, strengths, and challenges. If they believe their family is a good match for the child, they submit their home studies for me to review. 

After a certain time, I review the home studies and narrow them down to three to four based on the family’s appropriateness for the child. Much goes into this, and there’s really no exact science to it besides continually assessing the competencies the state has prioritized.

It’s a challenge to assess people based only on a four to ten page document. And so much of it is fairly boring, required information such as criminal history, health insurance, and plans for guardianship. If you’re having a home study written to be used in future staffings, I very much recommend you push the home study writer to include information about your personality, hobbies, attitudes toward parenting, and experiences with children. It’s hard to believe, but some don’t include this, making it very difficult to get a good feel for your family.

Once I’ve narrowed it down, the child’s team (foster parents, therapist, case worker, juvenile officer, etc.) is asked to interview and assess the chosen families. When I’ve done this in the past, it generally becomes very obvious which family is the best fit for the child. It feels horrible to bring in nervous families to interview them in front of several people, but it really does seem to be the best way to make the best decision for the child.

After a family is chosen, a visit plan is set up. The visit plan looks different based on the age and needs of the child, as well as if the child and family live in different places. In my experience, most visit plans include a supervised first meeting in a place comfortable for the child, then several meetings in a neutral place, then several visit in the family’s home, then several overnight visits, and then the permanent move. This usually happens over the course of four to eight weeks.

In Missouri, there is a six-month waiting period after placement before adoption can occur. This can be waived, in some cases, though.

Some agencies I’ve come across do not let families become licensed adopt-only foster families. The need for foster parents in so great and many agencies are under-staffed, so it’s likely that they just don’t have  the time to take adopt-only families through the process.

Adopt-only is a good option for people who do not believe they would be able to effectively support birth parents’ rights and reunification by doing foster-to-adopt. (It’s okay to admit it, if this is you!) I can see lots of other reasons someone would choose this, too, such as a desire to be more informed about the child before placement and a fear of the grief that comes in a foster child is reunited with birth parents or moved elsewhere. There are definitely more reasons, and I believe it’s a personal decision that should be thoroughly thought through. 

Read about the foster-to-adopt option. 

*This is how my agency does it. I don’t doubt this could vary pretty widely depending on the agency with which you are licensed. 

Do you have questions about adopting from foster care (or adoption, in general)? Please feel free to comment here or email me at! It’s one of my favorite topics to talk about

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  • Thank you for posting this. Often times “Adopt Only” is looked at as taboo in the fostercare arena. I remember getting pushed into fostering and then once in being pressured to denounce my goal of adoption.

  • Jen

    We have adopted 2 from foster care, and are completing our 3rd! 🙂 Our first son (2nd in order of children) whom we adopted was adopted from foster care as an “adopt-only” situation 🙂 We knew he was with us forever, and we went though the entire committee process with him. With our little ladies, we fostered them first they were both return to parent for different lengths of time, and then came back to us to both be adopted by our family eventually. It did take a couple of year for the first and over 3 for the 2nd. The thing we have learned is that foster care is not just about the children. We have VERY open adoptions with each of our adopted children’s cases, and in some are the only family that our children’s birth family (Mothers mainly) have! We are thankful to be able to be used as the hands and feet of Jesus. To witness and help these Mommas recover from past abuses, addictions, and prison terms. Though it’s not the easiest to have an open adoption especially from foster care. If it’s safe, I cannot encourage it enough. We have been blessed with 4 wonderful and beautiful children!

  • Shannon

    Thank you for this. There are so few resources to this topic, and it’s very confusing. My husband and I are starting the process, and it was helpful to have it spelled out. And reassurance was nice too.

    • natalie

      I’m glad this was helpful, Shannon! let me know if you have any questions.

  • Hazel

    Thank you for this! I’m so glad the adopt-only option was available to our family (Arizona) because we are military and felt that having our foster kids move just because we were moving was a poor choice for them (and us). We are so grateful for our adopted and soon to be adopted kiddos from foster care–we are such lucky parents!

    • natalie

      Yes, Hazel! really good option for a lot of families.

  • LMTade

    Both of my babies (maternal siblings) are from foster-adopt backgrounds. My little one came to us at 2 days old and my oldest at 18 months when their mother gave up her parental “rights”. From day one we took the stance that this is about the girls and not us. We reached out to my oldest’s foster mother while still in the fostering stage because we believed that it was our responsibility to make sure that these girls knew of each other, regardless of their mothers behavior and the courts decision. That was one of the best actions we ever took. The court came to us asking us to take the older one and gave us a surprise dual adoption day when we sat in front of the judge to accept the littlest one “forever”. My life is so amazingly blessed with these two precious children – 9 and 10 now. Even though I was absolutely terrified of the foster-adopt process when we went through the screening process, hours of classes, and the possibility of losing a child that we became attached to back to their parent, I would do it over again. In a heartbeat!

  • lorilyn w

    what do you mean by” a more specialized family will be needed for the child?”- if I don’t meant that criteria, it would not make sense to even turn a home study to unless i had specialized experience which i do not. also-we are interested in a child on that site who is almost 14 and gets to choose for herself, i understand. Does she only partly get to choose (as she will need some help as an adult according to the site). Does the child get to choose from all the interested families-or only the last family chosen as a yes or no? Thanks.

  • Dani Carroll

    I’ve had this liked on my Pinterest for ages, and it’s finally time to read up on foster adoption! We’re considering a “large”-ish sibling group out of state from us, all school aged, and we’re completely clueless what this process looks like, having only ever looked at (and done) international adoption before. Thank you for sharing this! We’re currently about two months out from finishing our home study due to training dates but praying that all goes smoothly to be considered for these kids and that we’re a good fit. I feel much more prepared for what the matching process will look like having read this!