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I would like to talk about State Adoption. While my discussion is generally true across the country I will be talking specifically about adoption through the Division of Child and Family Services in Washington State. Some of the requirements and procedures will be different in all other states.

I am sure that you have heard that there are children to adopt here so why adopt from another country. Well, both are choices and each of us needs to discover the choice that is right for our own situation. There are reasons why we might adopt from the state system and reasons not to. That is our topic here.

Before we begin discussing adoption lets take a few paragraphs to talk about how children come into the foster care system and what that means for the child, family, and the prospective adoptive parent.

Contrary to the sometimes popular belief, the state does not seek out children to raise. Raising children is expensive and when it is done by the state it is twice as expensive, at least. Children enter the child welfare system through two events. Both parents die and there are no relatives available to raise the child so the child is placed in a foster home to provide them a safe home where they will be well cared for and then possibly adopted. The second mechanism is through a referral to Child Protective Services (CPS). In this case, a concern has been raised by a member of the community or law enforcement that a child is in some way not being cared for properly. Remember that certain persons in the community like teachers, counselors, doctors, and nurses to name a few are mandated reporters, meaning that if they have any reason to believe that child abuse or neglect is happening they have to report it.

When CPS receives a call they gather information from the caller. Based on this information they will decide if they have sufficient information to begin an investigation and if so if it is emergent. Most calls (over 80%) are screened out at this point due to insufficient information to proceed. As a therapist this has been frustrating to me in the past when I have had to make calls and believed abuse was occurring and it was not investigated. Still CPS is very careful about what information is needed to begin.

If an investigation is started the child will be interviewed, the person who made the referral will be contacted, the subject (suspected abuser) will be interviewed, and any other collateral party that may have information will be interviewed. Only about 18% of the investigations go beyond this point before they are closed. If there is sufficient reason to believe that abuse or neglect is taking place the child may be removed from the home and placed in foster care. Alternatively, a safety plan is put in place in the home and the child stays in the home with services to help correct the situation. Remember that safety of the child is first and foremost in the CPS mandate and that CPS will do everything possible to keep the child in the home. If possible they will arrange services for the family to avoid taking the child from the home.

As a side note: In Washington State the CPS social worker never removes a child from the home. All they do is recommend removal to law enforcement. Law enforcement then reviews the situation and decides to remove the child. 72 hours later a judge makes a determination that the child remains in care or goes home. If law enforcement does not act and the CPS worker feels that the child must be removed they can go to the court and ask for a pick-up order. The 72 hour limit kicks in at that point as well. About 45 % of the Child Welfare System (CWS) cases in Washington are serviced in home. The same percentage is served through foster care and the remainder require some other kind of service.

The reason for removal from the home is based on the safety of the child—not being a bad parent. The decision about safety is specific about what needs to be done to correct the situation and have the child returned home. The parents can contest it but the ruling of the judge becomes the operating basis for a child being in foster care. Once in foster care the goal is to have the child back home or moving to an adoptive home in about a year. Planning is done for both contingencies from the start. About 70% of the children return home in less than 12 months.

Once a child is in the foster care system CPS completes it’s initial work and transfers the family to a Child and Family Welfare System worker—the proverbial social worker. This person coordinates services, makes referrals, and makes visits to check on the safety and well being of the child. Work is done with the rest of the family to takes steps in correcting the threat to safety or the neglect so the child can return home. The social worker also explores concurrent options like relative placement, guardianship, or adoption. At approximately one year into the placement the social worker will also make recommendations for return home or for the termination of parental rights.

So to summarize to this point: CPS responds to a small percentage of the calls received and finds that the allegation is founded in a small percentage of those investigated. If the finding is founded then the family will either receive services in the home or the child will be removed and placed in foster care. Planning and services are conducted to try to return the child home but if that does not work out the child will go to an adoptive placement or a guardianship. The termination of parental rights is done about one year after placement if the parent has not made significant progress on the safety plan and the decision of the team is to move to adoption. The termination is done by a judge. Note that there are exceptions to this but that complication is not relevant to the discussion of this blog.

Before I discuss the primary ways of adoption through the state, I do want mention that it is possible to adopt from states where you do not live. In all cases involving a child from another state, whether it is a state adoption or a private adoption, you have to go through the Interstate Compact Commission of your state. Their job is to make sure that all the requirements for both states are met in full. If going this avenue you may run into a variety of different requirements from your state. Some states may require that the homestudy be completed by an agency, not by a private social worker. Some states want everything to be done by the DCFS in your state or they will want DCFS to do the post placement supervision and reports before finalizing. They may want to finalize in their state. They may contract with your social worker to provide post placement services. All this will depend on the state and what they require.

In Washington State there are two primary ways of adopting a child through the state. The first is the Foster to Adopt Program and the second is the Legally Free program. Regardless of the program you choose you should consult an attorney of your own to protect your interests, prevent mistakes that can destroy the best adoption plan, and generally be your advocate and negotiator throughout the process.

The Foster to Adopt program has been around for some time. In this program you become a foster parent, children are placed with you, eventually you may be able to adopt the child placed in your home.

The first step in this process is to attend an orientation and sign up. You then begin the licensing process that includes foster parent training (quite good by the way) and a foster license homestudy. This homestudy is extremely thorough and will require many things of your home environment. For example all medications need to be in a locked cabinet or container. Guns and ammunition need to be locked up. A certain amount of space needs to be allocated to the foster child in his/her room. The rules are extensive and your licensor will go over them with you in detail. This is frankly the hardest part of the process. Since the state is responsible for the child they are very careful about their safety in your home. There will be ongoing training as well.

After you are licensed as a foster parent you will wait for a call. Depending where you live that call may come the same day you get approved. You will be given information about a child and asked if you would consider providing a home for that child. You will also be asked if you are willing to be an adoptive placement if the situation goes in that direction. If you say yes the child will be placed in your home. You will receive support from the social worker in meeting the child’s needs, getting the child enrolled in school, getting medical care, etc. You will be part of a large team supporting this child and family.

The team will likely consist of you, the social worker, the guardian ad leitum (an officer of the court who only advocates for the child) or CASA (a volunteer gal), the child’s parents, possibly other relatives, the parents’ attorneys (they each get one), the child’s attorney (if over 12 years, the child not the attorney), the assistant attorney general, and other interested parties. The school, medical provider, mental health therapist, substance abuse therapist, probation officer, or others may also be part of the team. The team will meet regularly to decide the way to assist the family to get the child home. They will also decide if and when to terminate parental rights. The plans developed by the team are presented to the court and a court order is generated making it official. You as the foster parent are also allowed to attend court and offer comment, as is the child.

If the decision is made to terminate the rights of the parents or if they decide to relinquish their rights the plan focuses on adoption. At this point you need to have an adoptive homestudy. You will likely have no problem with this homestudy as it is not as picky about the home. The focus is on your willingness to be the parent of the child “forever”. Assuming you do pass it the court will be petitioned to permit you to adopt the child. After permission is granted you will go through another review cycle at which time you will again go to court to finalize the adoption. (This is a general summary of what happens and the reality may take longer and be more complicated or not)

The Foster to Adopt route allows you to have the child in your home for a period of time before you make the decision to adopt, allowing bonding, and allowing you to know a lot more about the child’s individual needs. During this process you have the support of the state and are receiving compensation for caring for the child. This support includes medical care, dental care, counseling, and social worker support. The costs of the adoption except finalization are borne by the state.

This route to adoption has some difficulties for some people. It is possible that the child will be returned home. The termination of parental rights may be contested, slowing things down greatly (by several years sometimes). The child may be moved to another home for some reason. You will be expected to support a return home plan as best as you are able.

There are also instances where the parents are not available or they have not met the requirement for the child to return home and the parental rights are terminated or relinquished (the parents sign giving up rights to be the parent of the child). These children are legally free and are already available for adoption. Often these children are a little older (over 6) and in the past were considered the “hard to place” kids. Often the state will contract with a private agency to find homes for these kids. The legally free child will have a team attached like any other child. The main difference is that the parents and their attorneys are no longer involved. The state does not like having children without parents (legally free).

When adopting the legally free child you will need to complete a homestudy for adoption. In Washington you can have an agency or a private social worker complete the homestudy. This determines your suitability to adopt. The homestudy should address your desire to adopt, your preparation, the age of the child you want to adopt, and any special needs that you would consider. If you are adopting a particular child then the homestudy may be tailored to that child as well. You do not need to be licensed as a foster home.

Your homestudy and information will be submitted to the team making the decision regarding adoption. Your family may be considered along with others who are interested in a child. The adoption social worker will have talked with your social worker to get a better picture of your family. The team then decides on a family, hopefully yours.

The child’s social worker will work with you to do visits and then a transition to your home. After a period of time (usually at least 6 months) a post placement report will be done. This includes all the information about how you and the child are doing and a recommendation that the adoption be finalized. This is pretty much the same as for the Foster to Adopt program.

The next step is to go to court and have the court finalize the adoption.

Like the Foster to Adopt program, the Legally Free program has its own pros and cons. The children are often a little older, but not always. You get less support through the process and are responsible for more, although you will get medical and other services until the adoption is finalized. You have less bonding time before the adoptive placement, often only one or two visits. On the other hand this process is often quicker because the legalities of termination are already completed. The child will not be moved unless the placement totally blows up (possible if you have unrealistic expectations). You don’t have to get a foster license. You don’t get the same level of training or support as from the Foster to Adopt program.

There are some features that are the same for both programs. You get post placement support until the adoption is finalized. The child may be eligible for adoption support services that may include counseling, medical care, or monetary support to provide for the needs above and beyond what might be expected for a child not in foster care. You will have a right to full disclosure of the situation that the child came from, the needs of the child, any medical, social, or emotional issues of the child, etc. For any adoption you need to be prepared. You can do this with your social worker, as part of the homestudy, on line, and through books and trainings.

Remember that the children that you can adopt through the state are children first. They have all the normal issues that any child can have. Unfortunately, some of the kids in state care have been treated very badly and have reacted to this by exhibiting some behaviors that are difficult. If the child that you are interested in falls into this category you will receive full information about what the behavior is and how it is being addressed. Behaviors that fall in this may result from fetal alcohol or drug exposure, ADHD, or emotional issues. They may be destructive, aggressive, or sexually acting out. If you are willing to consider a child with these behaviors let your social worker know and discuss with them exactly what it means for each one, and how to parent a child with these special needs. You will also discuss it with the child’s social worker at length because this may place you at risk in some way and nobody wants that. Be hones about what you can and cannot deal with. This is very important because most state placements fail when people have unrealistic expectations.

I have often heard people say that these children just need love and that will fix it. I need to be clear right now—love is not enough and you will get into trouble if you don’t heed my warning. BE HONEST ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO AND CAN’T DO. The results depend on it and have tremendous implications for the child, your marriage, and your family.

Now, having gone off on my little rant, adoption through the state can be very successful. Many foster parents adopt the children placed in their home. There is a family for every child in care and if you are going this route there will be a child for you as well. Everything that I have written is to help you decide if this is the route that is right for you and your family situation. If not be honest and look at other options. If it is right for you get more information from your local adoption unit at DCFS and they will help you move forward with either option.

Remember that your focus is becoming a parent. The social worker’s focus is the best needs of the child. Often you can meet in the middle and provide a safe loving family for a child that does not have one.

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Greetings

My name is Brian Combs and I am a licensed therapist in Washington State.  I am launching this blog as part of updating my web site and practice.  This is a place for me to present ideas, opinions, thoughts, dreams, rants, and maybe some useful information about adoption and therapy.

I am the father of two wonderful daughters that my wife of 33 years and I adopted from China.  We adopted through Faith International Adoptions.  Shortly after adopting Ellie, John Meske, the founder and director of Faith, asked if I would start doing home studies.  That was the beginning of providing the service to families in Washington State and many families living around the world.

As a therapist I have worked with individuals, families and children.  I am certified in Children’s Mental Health and in Clinical Hypnotherapy.  Although I am licensed in Washington I am available for online therapy sessions via email and Skype (IM, voice and video).

I love riding horses, woodworking, scuba diving, skiing, and walking in the woods with my family.  My current horse, Bear, is a 10 year old Shire Thoroughbred cross that is the most willing of any horse that I have ever ridden.  We are doing well in dressage and eventing.

I look forward to meeting with you again soon.