Using a Public Agency
You can find an appropriate agency listed in your telephone book in the government section under a name such as "Department of Social Services" or "Department of Public Welfare." Each state organizes its agencies somewhat differently. They may be organized regionally or by county. To begin, call your county office and ask to speak to the adoption specialist. If the county office cannot help you, ask to be referred to the regional or state office.
In general, public agencies will accept adoption applications from families wanting to adopt older children, sibling groups or children with special physical or psychological needs. Many of the children awaiting placement from public agencies are children of color.
Adoption services through a public agency are usually free or available for a modest fee, since the services are funded through state and federal taxes. As mentioned earlier, federal or state subsidies are sometimes available to assist families adopting a child with special needs. If a child has no special needs, adoptive parents may be asked only to pay legal fees, which are often quite reasonable. In some cases, subsidies may even be available for the legal fees, too.
Children in the custody of a public agency were either abused, neglected or abandoned by their birth parents. Abuse and neglect can leave physical and emotional scars. It is important to discuss all aspects of a child's history with the agency social workers and to discuss the availability of counseling or other services, just in case they might be needed, before deciding to adopt a child with a traumatic history.
Another parenting option available through public agencies is foster parenting. Children are placed with foster parents to give birth parents a chance to improve their situations. Birth Parents are offered counseling and services during this time. Foster parents receive a monthly stipend for a child's living expenses. In general, the goal of the foster care program is to reunite the child with his or her birth parents if at all possible. However, there is a growing trend toward freeing children for adoption (that is, terminating the parental rights of the birth parents) as quickly as possible to prevent years of drifting in foster care. Recent federal legislation (Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 - P.L. 105-89) has mandated courts to seek termination of parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 of the past 22 months unless there are extenuating circumstances.
More and more foster parents are adopting their foster children. This is particularly true for foster children of color or those with special needs. In almost all states, the vast majority of children adopted from the public foster care system were adopted by their foster parents or by their relatives.
Recently some states have changed the way they perceive their parenting programs. They consider foster parenting and adoption to be a continuum of service rather than two discrete functions. As a result, agency personnel may ask you at the time of application if you want to be only foster parents, only adoptive parents or foster/adoptive parents. Foster/adoptive parents are willing to be foster parents while the child needs that and understand that the agency will make all efforts to reunite the child with the birth parents. However, if the child is freed for adoption, the foster/adoptive parents may be given priority consideration as the potential adoptive parents.
It will take some soul searching on your part to decide whether foster parenting is an appropriate option for you. If you can stand some uncertainty, it is a viable option, especially if you have your heart set on a young child and do not have the funds for a private agency or independent adoption. You must be able to face maturely the prospect of a child being reunited with birth parents, feel sincerely that reunification is indeed in the best interest of the child at that time, and be prepared to handle the grief that would accompany such a loss.
If you are considering this option, discuss becoming a foster/adoptive parent with the agency social workers and other parents who have adopted their former foster children.