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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I adopt a child from foster care?

Most married couples and single adults can qualify to adopt, although this varies slightly by state. The first step is obtaining a license. This generally involves completing state-produced education and training, after which a social worker will complete a home study to make sure you are able to provide a safe, loving, and stable home for a child. Getting a license may be a lengthy process for some, but it is necessary to provide for the safety and well-being of children in foster care.  To find children waiting for you, visit AdoptUsKids, Children Awaiting Parents, the Adopt America Network, the Adoption Exchange , or consult with your state agency.


Once I am a licensed foster parent, am I also licensed to adopt?

Laws vary by state. Many states require foster parents and adoptive parents to be licensed separately. However, an increasing number of states offer dual licensing, allowing you to receive your license to foster parent and your license to adopt simultaneously through one training and education program.


How can I become a mentor?

According to the Mentor/National Mentoring Partnership, there are 15 million children and youth in America who need or want mentors. You could be the missing link in a young person’s life to help them realize their potential and achieve their goals. According to ChildTrends,  mentored youth miss fewer days in school, have a better chance of going on to college, and have a more positive outlook on school. Mentored youth place more trust in their parents and communicate better with them and mentoring appears to help prevent substance abuse and other negative behaviors.

To become a mentor in your state visit Mentor.


How can I become a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or Guardian ad litem?

A Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or Guardian ad litem is a trained community volunteer appointed by the court to speak for the best interests of abused and/or neglected children in court. Children who have a CASA volunteer spend less time in long-term foster care than those who do not have a CASA volunteer. No special education or background is required to be a CASA, but volunteers must first complete a background check and 30-hour training course. If you have a desire to help abused or neglected children find a safe and permanent home and are interested in becoming a CASA in your community, visit CASA for Children.


What is the difference between a legal guardian and adoptive parent?

A legal guardian is charged with the legal responsibility for the care and management of a child. The child’s birthparents are allowed certain rights, such as visitation, when the child’s safety is not at risk. Adoption is the legal transfer of all parental rights from one person or couple to another. Adoptive parents have the same rights and responsibilities as they would for their biological children.


How can I become a respite care provider?

Respite care providers volunteer their time to supervise children in foster care so that foster parents can take a break. If you want to make a difference in the lives of children in your community and support foster parents, or if you are considering foster parenting and are not sure yet if you can make a long-term commitment, becoming a respite care provider might be the next step for you. Respite care providers receive support from social workers and are given a stipend to defray expenses of caring for the child while in respite care. Every state or county has its own procedures for respite care providers. To learn how you can be a respite care provider, click here.


Am I too old to foster or adopt?

Not if you feel up to the job! Older adults can provide a safe and loving environment for children in foster care.  According to the National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey* from the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption, more than 23 percent of adopted children live with an adoptive parent who is 55 years old or older.


How can I help a teenager who is on the verge of aging out of the foster care system?

Youth who age out of foster care need a strong support system to help them transition into the adult world. If you know someone who is approaching his or her 18th birthday, there are several things you can do to help. You can become a mentor, offer an apprenticeship or job in your company, or start a scholarship fund. Youth in foster care also need to learn life skills like opening a checking account, interviewing for a job, and planning career goals. Casey Family Programs offers resources for youth transitioning out of foster care created by and for youth. You can obtain “It’s My Life” online, which covers education, employment, housing, physical and mental health, relationships, cultural identity, and life skills. If you want to help a teenager who is transitioning out of foster care but don’t know one specifically, contact the National Independent Living Association for more information on how you can connect with youth in your community.  The Orphan Foundation also offers a virtual mentoring program that matches screened volunteers with youth in foster care ages 16-23 according to their interests. All volunteers must complete initial training, submit personal and professional references, and pass a criminal record check. All communication is monitored to ensure safety of teens and volunteers.


How can I make a donation to an organization that can help children in foster care?

There are several organizations that are committed to helping children in foster care. The National Council For Adoption has been working on foster care and child welfare issues for more than 32 years, both in Washington, D.C. and in all 50 states through its partners. To donate to the National Council For Adoption, so that you can specifically help children in foster care find loving, permanent families, click here.


Can I find statistics on foster Care?

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Administration For Children and Family provides the latest statistics on adoption and foster care statistics. The Child Welfare Information Gateway also provides helpful information, including national and state statistics. The National Council For Adoption’s Adoption Factbook V contains further information and statistics about foster care, adoption, and child welfare issues.


How can I start a group home for foster children?

Requirements for opening a foster home vary from state to state. If you are interested in starting a group home, contact your State Foster Care Manager or Specialist.


Are foster parents compensated?

Foster parents are not compensated in exchange for providing care for abused and neglected children. However, they do receive monthly stipends for the expressed purpose of providing for a child’s needs: food, clothing, school supplies, etc


How can I find an adoption agency?

The National Council For Adoption has a national network of 67 adoption agency members with more than 384 offices around the country. The Child Welfare Information Gateway also provides state-specific listings of accredited adoption agencies.


How can I find an adoption attorney?

NCFA recently launched membership for adoption attorneys. NCFA Member Attorneys can help you understand the adoption process in your state. To contact an NCFA member attorney, click here.

Additionally, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys is a national association based in Washington, D.C. with members throughout the country. These adoption law experts can help you navigate through the process of adoption in your state.


I am an attorney who would like to help children in foster care with pro bono work. Where can I learn more?

Contact your state bar association for a list of organizations that coordinate pro bono work for children in foster care. If you are a member of the American Bar Association, you can also visit their website to learn more about their Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project.


As a foster parent, how can I provide health insurance for a child in foster care?

All health care needs for children in foster care are covered through state and federally-funded insurance programs such as Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). You can contact your local agency for more detailed information on these programs.


Is financial assistance available to adopt a child?

Because of federal and state subsidies, the cost of adopting out of foster care is low. Several avenues of assistance are also available to help you afford the cost of adopting a child. The following is not an exhaustive list, but a starting point for available resources:

Federal and State Subsidies
The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 provides federal subsidies to adopt children in foster care with special needs. Each state determines what constitutes “special needs,” which can include children who are older, have disabilities, must be placed with siblings or belong to a minority group. The Child Welfare Information Gateway provides more detailed information on special needs determination and eligibility requirements. State subsidies are also available. The North American Council on Adoptable Children’s Adoption Subsidy Resource Center gives state-specific information on adoption benefits and funding.

Adoption Tax Credit
The federal government allows families to claim a tax credit per any completed adoption. In 2012, the upper limit an adoptive family can claim is $12,650 for each adopted child with the annual income phase-out range for all adoptions set from $185,210- $225,210, indexed for inflation. This adoption tax credit will expire on December 31, 2012, reducing the tax credit to $6,000, which can only be claimed for special needs adoptions. However, new legislation has been introduced in the House of Representatives making the tax credit a permanent benefit to those adopting. Introduced by Representative Braley, H.R. 4373 would allow each family to claim $13,170, and would make this amount refundable. Additionally, families who adopt a special needs child will not be required by law to document their adoption-related expenses in order to qualify for the adoption tax credit, recognizing that many financial needs arise after the adoption  is finalized. For more information on the current tax credit, visit the IRS for more information or click here to access IRS Form 8839. For additional information on H.R. 4373, you can visit the Adoption Tax Credit Working Group’s website.

Employer Reimbursements
Many employers offer a range of adoption benefits for employees, including paid leave and reimbursement to help offset some of the adoption costs. The Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption lists businesses that provide adoption benefits and offers resources for employees to lobby employers who do not provide benefits.

Grants
Several non-profit foundations offer limited grants and loans to families for adoption costs. These include but are not limited to: The Gift of Adoption Foundation, Help Us Adopt, The National Adoption Foundation, The Orphan Foundation, and Shaohannah’s Hope. Eligibility requirements and funding amounts vary.

Loans
America’s Christian Credit Union offers adoption loans to qualified candidates. To find out more about their program, click here. Additionally, Chase Bank offers a discounted home-equity loan program to help defray adoption costs. Click here to learn more about New Additions.

Military Subsidies
An active duty member of the military services who incurs expenses for the adoption of a child under age 18 may be reimbursed up to $2,000 per child (with a maximum to one service member of $5,000 in any calendar year.) Click here for DD Form 2675, “Reimbursement Requests for Adoption Expenses.” For more information on adoption reimbursements for members of the military, click here for the AdoptUsKids publication “Answering the Call: Wherever My Family Is, That’s Home.”


Is there anything my community or faith-based organization can do to help?

You can offer a mentoring or tutoring club for children in foster care, recruit members of your organization to provide respite care for foster parents or become foster or adoptive parents. You can also contact the National Foster Parent Association or the National Independent Living Association to learn how you can help as a group.


What funds are available for youth currently or formerly in foster care to receive a college education?

The Education and Training Voucher Program (ETV) for Youths Aging out of Foster Care provides funds to both youth currently or formerly in foster care to enable them to attend colleges, universities, and vocational training institutions. Students may receive up to $5,000 per year for college or vocational training education and students receiving funds prior to their 21st birthday may continue to receive support until age 23. The funds may be used for tuition, books, or qualified living expenses. For more information on eligibility visit StateVoucher.org. Some states, such as Texas, have their own programs that provide financial assistance for youth who were in foster care. The National Child Welfare Resource Center for Youth Development, a service of the Department of Health & Human Services Children’s Bureau, has more detailed information on education and training vouchers. In addition, there are foundations and nonprofit organizations such as The Orphan Foundation that provide scholarships for college and post-secondary education.


Can my foster child live with me after he or she turns 18?

When a child in foster care turns 18, he or she is no longer a ward of the state and is therefore considered “emancipated.” If he or she wants to continue to live with their foster parent, they may do so but at this point, monthly maintenance stipends for the child’s expenses end.


What is Congress doing to help children in foster care?

Several members of Congress have introduced legislation to help children in foster care:

  • The Adoption Equality Act (S.1462/H.R. 4091) introduced respectively by Sen. Jay D. Rockefeller and Rep. Jim Cooper, removes the income eligibility requirements for children with special needs so that such children are eligible to receive federal adoption assistance payments.  Removing such income eligibility requirements greatly helps children with special needs find the loving, permanent families they deserve.
  • The Partnership for Children and Families Act (H.R. 4207) introduced by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) strengthens the federal/state partnership for both adoption assistance and foster care maintenance by eliminating the outdated income eligibility requirements that prevent all abused and neglected children from being eligible for federal foster care support.  The bill also makes improvements to ensure that all children with special needs in foster care are eligible for adoption assistance, and allows states to reinvest savings related to safely reducing the days children spend in foster care in other child welfare services, such as those that help children and families prevent the need for foster care in the first place. 
    The Invest in Kids Act (H.R. 5466) introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), makes positive reforms to the child welfare system to provide federal funding for services designed to safely reduce the number of children in foster care and safely reduce the length of stay for children in foster care.  The bill also eliminates the financial eligibility requirements for children in foster care so that all children receive the necessary services regardless of their family’s income.  Furthermore, the bill provides more permanency options for children in foster care; strengthens adoption incentives for all children in foster care, including children with special needs; and provides for subsidized guardianship when adoption or safe reunification are not possible. 
  • Adoption Tax Credit (S. 561/H.R. 273/H.R. 471) Several bills have been introduced in Congress to make the adoption tax credit permanent.  These are:  S. 561 (introduced by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) that exempts the current adoption provisions expanding the adoption tax credit and adoption assistance programs enacted by the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 from the general terminating (sunset) provisions of that act; H.R. 273, introduced by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), that repeals sunset of the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act with respect to the adoption tax credit and adoption assistance programs; and H.R. 471, introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), that does the same.
    The Kinship Caregiver Support Act (S. 661/H.R. 2188) introduced respectively by Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL), allows states the option of using their federal foster care funding to support relatives who become legal guardians of children they’ve cared for as foster parents.  The bill also establishes the Kinship Navigator Program to help relative caregivers learn about and access existing programs and services.
  • The Tribal Foster Care and Adoption Access Act of 2007 (S. 1956/H.R. 4688) introduced respectively by Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) and Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND), provides Native American Tribes direct access to federal foster care and adoption assistance funding.  Currently, only those Indian Tribes that have developed a special contract with a state can receive federal reimbursement for providing child welfare support and services.
  • The Birthparent Assistance Act of 2008 (H.R. 5640) introduced by Representatives Jean Schmidt (R-OH) and James Oberstar (D-MN), authorizes a $30 million grant program to enhance counseling and other support services for birthparents after they have placed a child with an adoptive family.  Funding may also be used for a national hotline and the training of hospital and birthing facility staff as it relates to staff interaction with the birthparents and adoptive families.  The legislation also requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to report to Congress on all of the services available to birthparents and how such services might be improved.

What can I do to encourage my Senator or Representative to help children in foster care?

Congressional offices track and pay attention to every call and letter they receive, so contacting your member of Congress is very important. Write or call your Senator and Representative and ask them to reform foster care. If you are in a foster home or you are foster parents, write your Senator and Representative and tell them your story. If your Senator or Representative is a leader in adoption promotion and foster care reform, call or write them to thank them.

You can encourage your state house representatives to support HR 4737. If passed, this bill would renew and permanently extend the adoption tax credit, making it refundable, inclusive, and a flat rate for families who adopt children with special needs. You can click here for more information about the adoption tax credit.


What can I do to raise awareness about foster care issues in my community?

You can host a drive in your neighborhood and collect items such as suitcases, games, books, computer equipment or sports equipment for youth in foster care. You can also visit My Stuff Bags Foundation to learn how you can provide items for abused and neglected youth who are entering the foster care system. Making a presentation to your school PTA, church group, rotary club, or social group can also be effective in educating your community members about children in foster care. Ask local business leaders to offer jobs or apprenticeships at their company or ask them to include a foster care organization in their corporate charitable giving program.


How can I receive regular updates on adoption and foster care?

National Council For Adoption provides news and updated to anyone who joins our mailing list and releases a monthly publication, Adoption Advocate, which contains new research, information, and updates about foster care. NCFA’s blog is another great way to stay connected with a broad range of adoption issues, including foster care adoption. Finally, we invite you to join NCFA as a member and get involved in your local community