As of Oct. 15, 2012, there were 7,847 children living in foster care in Washington, and 1,623 of those have legally lost their parents forever.
As of August 31, 2011, there were 9,861 children living in out-of-home care including licensed foster homes and relative placements. (Source: FamLink, Department of Social and Health Services, Children's Administration)
In state fiscal year 2011, 1,676 children were adopted from foster care through DSHS Children's Administration. Since fiscal year 2009 DSHS has averaged more than 1,500 finalized adoptions per year. (Source: FamLink)
As of August 2011, there were 1,574 Washington children in out-of-home care who had legally lost their parents - meaning parental rights had been terminated by the courts or relinquished by parents - and were waiting to be adopted. (Source: FamLink)
By DSHS region, these are the numbers of legally-free children: (DSHS consolidated from six regions to three regions in 2011)
Region 1 - 466
Region 2 - 529
Region 3 - 579
While potential families have been identified for many Washington foster children, hundreds of children have no parents or families waiting to adopt them. (DSHS)
The average stay in foster care for Washington children is approximately 17 months (512 days) (Source: FamLink) while the average length of stay for children in out-of-home care nationally is about 25 months (Source: Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System ((AFCARS), federal fiscal year 2010 data - October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010).
In federal fiscal year 2010, there were approximately 408,425 foster children in the U.S. and about 107,011 available for adoption. (Source: AFCARS)
In federal fiscal year 2010, nearly 28,000 youth in foster care "aged out" of the foster care system (reached age 18) without ever having found a permanent family. (Source: AFCARS)
Nationally, the average age of a foster child waiting to be adopted is eight years old. In federal fiscal year 2010, approximately 11 percent of foster children nationally spent five years or more waiting to be adopted. (Source: AFCARS)
While the majority of adoptive parents are married couples (61%), a growing number of single adults provide loving homes for foster children and represent 31% of foster child adoptions nationally. (Source: AFCARS)
State and national foster adoption information resources include:
Families for Kids
An adoption recruitment service contracted by DSHS to provide information and training to potential adoptive parents www.lcsnw.org/ffk/index.html
Northwest Adoption Exchange
Information and services for adoption of special needs children (this includes older children, children of color and children with siblings) in the Northwest. Their website includes a photo listing and biographies of children waiting to be adopted. www.nwae.org
Foster Parent Association of Washington www.fpaws.org
Casey Family Programs
A Seattle-based international foundation providing services for foster children, and working to improve and eliminate the need for foster care. www.casey.org
(206) 270-4907 or (206) 378-3389
Contact the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS):
Prospective parents can call Families for Kids, a recruitment service contracted by DSHS, at (800) 760-5340. They provide training, information, brochures and contact information for local DSHS offices.
Adoptive Home Study:
A home study evaluates whether parents are qualified to be foster or adoptive parents. The process includes an application, preparation classes (30 hours of required training in safety, adoption and foster issues, after which parents are assigned a social worker), criminal background check, collection of confidential medical statements, financial statements and references, social worker home visits, documentation of marriages and divorces, and approval of the home study.
Parents can receive information from their social worker about a specific child or children, or parents can contact their social worker about a child they heard about or found on a website. The Northwest Adoption Exchange maintains a website, www.nwae.org, with pictures and information on foster children available for adoption. Parents may begin working with a second social worker - the child's - from whom they will learn about the child.
Visitation and Placement:
Visitation usually begins at neutral locations such as a McDonalds for short times, then visits gradually lengthen, leading to overnight stays, until the child moves into her or his new home.
The new family's social worker continues to work with them until adoption finalization, helping with such things as medical care, any counseling needed, schooling, etc.
Parents contact an attorney, complete an Adoption Support application, the social worker completes a post-placement report for the court, DSHS provides a Consent to Adopt document, the parents' attorney prepares documents for the court and arranges a court date. Parents go to court - many bring family and friends and videotape the special event.
Time and cost - Length of the process can vary a great deal depending on the child and the family, but plan on the better part of a year. DSHS's goal is to have home studies, a large part of the process, completed 90 days after they begin. Cost is limited to attorney fees and if adoptive parents so choose, cost of a home study conducted by a private agency (rather than DSHS).
For more details on each step, parents can visit www.dshs.wa.gov click on Adoption, then How to Adopt.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is qualified to adopt foster children?
Anyone who is 18 years of age or older, is legally competent, and who has an approved home study. Adoptive parents do not need to be “wealthy” or young or own a home or be of certain races or creeds. Adoptive parents can be single, can be working parents, can be older, among many diverse characteristics.
How much does foster adoption cost?
While private adoption costs can range from $4,000 to $40,000, the cost of adopting a foster child is generally limited to attorney fees, unless parents select a private company to complete their home study. Occasionally there are small fees for adoption agencies that handle foster children, though there are often federal tax credits for qualifying adoption expenses, and there may be reimbursement available for adoption expenses involving special needs children.
What can you tell me about foster children who are eligible for adoption?
Most are ages 6 to 18, though younger children are also looking for new families. Nationally the average age of foster children is 8. A child is eligible for adoption only when her or his biological parents or guardian have relinquished custody or the state has terminated parental rights in court (called “TPR” hearings). Children ages 14 and older can give their own consent to be adopted. Grounds for termination of parental rights include abuse, neglect, abandonment, alcohol- or drug-induced incapacity of parents, and incarceration. Many foster children are children of color, particularly African American and Hispanic. Many have siblings that they can be placed with or need to keep in contact with.
Aren’t all foster children “special needs” children?
The term “special needs” can be misleading. When it comes to adoption, special needs children can be those with siblings, children of color, older children, as well as children with certain physical and emotional health needs. A foster child is no different than any other without parents — a child in need of a nurturing, permanent family.
What if my adopted child needs medical help or other services?
DSHS has an Adoption Support service for families adopting children with special needs. The support can include Medicaid medical coverage for the child, as well as services and/or monthly cash payments to help with ongoing therapy or treatment.
Is there a lot of red tape involved in adopting a foster child?
Congress streamlined foster care adoption in 1997 with the Adoption & Safe Families Act. It ensures that children who cannot be reunited with their birth parents will be freed for adoption as quickly as possible. Timelines vary greatly based on the needs of the parents and child, but in most cases, a child can be placed in an approved adoptive home in about one year.
Is Washington State doing anything to find these children homes more quickly?
In addition to DSHS’s intensive “Kids Come First” initiative, Washington is one of few states in the U.S. that is working to improve legal representation of parents in TPR hearings. Lack of representation is listed in a national study as a major barrier to freeing children for permanent homes. In addition, the Washington Supreme Court Commission on Children in Foster Care was established in 2005 to study barriers and improve connections between child welfare services and the courts, with a goal of reducing the time that children spend in foster care.