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It seems so simple, and in a very basic way, it is: There are children out there who need a warm and loving home, and there are families yearning to provide all that and more. But making it all come together -- well, that part can get complex. Here's how five families found their way along that unforgettable journey, and how one woman made the wrenching decision to give up her child -- plus, everything you'll need to know if you decide to make adoption a part of your family story.

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Courtesy of Lydia and Mike Kirkham/Photo illustration by Clifford Alejandro

Foster-care adoption

More than half a million children were in foster care in 2005. Of those, 52,000 were adopted, and 115,000 were waiting to be. Many of the remaining children were awaiting possible reunification with their families. Adopting from foster care usually means working with your state's department of child and family services, but there are also private foster agencies, such as Casey Family Services (caseyfamilyservices.org), an East Coast nonprofit.

PROS: Adopting from foster care can be much less costly than either domestic or international adoption — in some cases, free. State agencies usually don't charge fees for adoption from foster care, although some private agencies do. And all states have adoption-assistance programs designed to help parents recoup costs (such as legal fees) involved with adopting from foster care. Find out more from the fact sheet "Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted from Foster Care," available online (go to childwelfare.gov and type the publication's title in the search box).

CONS: Dealing with state foster-care bureaucracies can be frustrating, and many children in foster care have special medical or physical needs. You can learn more about foster adoption at adoptuskids.org.

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