Qualifying to Adopt a Foster Child
Approximately 7 percent of American children are adopted. The face of adoption in the U.S. has changed dramatically in the past few years as more and more adoptive parents seek to welcome older children whom they’ve fostered into their families. If you’re interested in adopting a child from the Garden State foster care system, a New Jersey adoption attorney can prove to be an invaluable resource.
The New Jersey Foster Care Program
Foster care provides a temporary living situation for children who’ve been so neglected or abused that the state has stepped in to suspend parental rights. In 2015, more than 8,000 New Jersey children found themselves living in these types of out-of-home arrangements. Foster children range in age from infants to adolescents nearing legal majority, but the average age of a child in the New Jersey foster care system is 8 years old.
Abuse and neglect have an impact on a child’s behavior, and it can be frightening to be a new kid in a household with strangers and different rules. While three out of every five foster children return to live with their parents or biological parents, two of those five children will see their mother’s and father’s parental rights terminated. Furthermore, they will remain in the custody of New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families until they reach adulthood—unless they are adopted.
New Jersey Guidelines for Fostering and Adopting
In New Jersey, foster parents are identified as “resource families,” and they hold dual licenses that authorize them to provide both foster and adoptive care. What that means in practical terms is that the licensing process is the same whether that family is welcoming a child into its home on a temporary or permanent basis. If it’s appropriate to work toward the reunification of a child with his or her birth parents, foster parents are expected to facilitate that process in any way they can. If reunification is not possible, however, foster parents have the first consideration when it comes to adopting that child.
The Department of Children and Families typically imposes four conditions when they evaluate prospective foster and adoptive parents. They are as follows:
- Basic safety and living standards: Foster parents must be able to provide a child with a safe and secure home. Each child must have a sleeping area of 50 square feet, and children who are more than 5 years old can only share sleeping spaces with children of the same gender. While there are no income requirements per se, applicants must have a monthly income that’s sufficient to meet the needs of their family members.
- Criminal background checks: Prospective foster parents and all adults living in the home must be willing to submit to criminal background checks, including finger-print checks of the national crime databases. Depending upon how long ago they took place, minor transgressions may not disqualify a person from becoming a foster parent. However, evidence of violent crimes or crimes that targeted children will terminate the foster application.
- Home study: A representative of the county or agency through whom you will be fostering will pay a visit to assess the safety of your home and to evaluate whether you and the people with whom you share your home will make suitable foster or adoptive parents. If any changes need to be made, a resource family support worker will advise you. Once your home study has been completed, you will be asked to attend a pre-service training through Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education (PRIDE).
- Additional training: An additional 24 to 36 hours’ worth of classes, staggered over 4 to 10 weeks, may also be offered. These classes are intended to help you learn more about the needs of children in foster care.
For more information about the ways a New Jersey adoption attorney can help you determine whether adoption through foster care is the right choice for your family, contact Cofsky & Zeidman in Haddonfield, New Jersey, at (856) 429-5005.