Receiving an adoptive placement

Steps include scheduling pre-placement visits, identifying resources, preparing for the transition, and welcoming your child home

Receiving an adoptive placement happens after the process of being matched with a child.  The length of time between being notified that you have been selected as the adoptive family for a child or sibling group and receiving the physical placement of them in your home is dependent on many factors.  Just as you will need time to prepare both physically and emotionally for the placement, so too does the child with the help of their caseworker, foster family, and others.

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Preparing children for placement

In preparing children to move into their adoptive families, it is helpful to understand the importance of certain activities, like goodbye visits with the child’s birth family. This will not only help you to be patient for placement to occur, but will also help you to respond to the child’s mixed feelings when placement does occur.

There are also factors that may help children transition more smoothly from their current placement to your family. One such factor is timing the placement to happen during summer vacation, holiday break, or at the end of a school semester.

Scheduling pre-placement visits with children

Scheduling pre-placement visits with the child in your home, the child’s foster home, or a neutral location is important. When and where the visits happen, and how many will occur, are customized for each adoption and take into account the child’s age and developmental stage, child and family calendars, distance, and other factors.

It’s important for you to actively participate, either directly or indirectly through your caseworker, in planning for pre-placement visits and to be as flexible as possible. Be sure to ask your caseworker about who will cover costs such as travel, meals, and overnight accommodations. If you are expected to pay these costs out of pocket, be sure to ask if they can be reimbursed through the non-recurring part of adoption assistance. If they can be reimbursed, make sure to keep the receipts and a good record of the out-of-pocket expenditures.

Pre-placement visits may provide a good opportunity to interact with members of the child’s current foster family and to learn valuable information such as the child’s routines and the family dynamics to which the child has become accustomed. If the child has formed a secure attachment to their foster parents, seeing positive interactions between them and your family may communicate to the child that they can trust you because their foster parents trust you.

It’s natural for you to want you and the child to get to know each other as quickly as possible. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you’ll need to keep a good balance between warm welcoming of the child and respect for their feelings and personal space. Remember that all relationships, even the relationship between a parent and child, take time to take root.

With the child and caseworkers’ permission, recording at least the first pre-placement visit with some photos of you and the child together communicates the importance of the occasion. These pictures make great additions to the child’s life story book and the family’s photo story book.

Identifying post-placement resources

Find out about what post-adoption resources are available for the child, such as adoption assistance and medical assistance.

Adoption assistance agreement

Be sure to work closely with your own caseworker and the child’s caseworker to make sure you understand the process for negotiating the terms of an adoption assistance agreement. Even if the child is not eligible for an ongoing monthly subsidy or you decline it, you will want to consider signing an adoption assistance agreement with the public agency that has legal custody of the child. This is a legally binding agreement that will leave the door open for you to renegotiate conditions and amounts under certain circumstances up until the child reaches the standard age (determined by the child’s state of origin) that which adoption assistance benefits end. 

In addition, even if the child is not eligible for an ongoing monthly subsidy or you decline it, reimbursement may be available for certain adoption-related expenditures up to a maximum determined by the child’s state of origin. Even though reimbursement will not be made until legalization of the adoption, find out as soon as possible after being notified that you have been selected as the child’s adoptive family what you need to do to apply for this benefit.

Medical assistance

Medical assistance is another public benefit for which most children adopted from foster care qualify. The process for accessing this benefit differs from state to state, as well as when the child is adopted by a family from a different state. Find out more about post-adoption resources that might be available to your child.  

Tax credits and employer benefits

As adoptive parents, you may be eligible for other public benefits, such as a federal or state tax credit.  Ask your caseworker whether your state offers an adoption tax credit; if so, find out how and when to apply. 

Some employers offer benefits to employees who adopt. These can include paid or unpaid new parent leave, and in some cases, financial assistance to help you pay for some of your adoption costs. Read about what the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces provide, and then talk with your employer’s human resources department to see what they might offer you.

Preparing for the transition

Preparing your home

By this time, you have doubtlessly given a great deal of thought to, and likely have even begun to prepare, the space in your home where your new child will sleep. While having a space prepared and move-in ready can communicate a message of warm welcome to them, depending on the age of the child, you might want to include them in the selection of some items, or at least find out about things like their favorite colors and incorporate them into the space. 

This is also the time to make any necessary modifications to your home so it’s accessible to your child if they have mobility or sensory challenges. 

Arranging for medical needs and treatment

If you live in the same community as the child you are adopting, you will need to consider if it’s in their best interest to continue with their current physician, dentist, and other medical and treatment providers or move them to providers with whom your family has established relationships. This will be an important thing to discuss with your child’s caseworker. Of course, if your home is geographically distant from the child’s current placement, you will want to identify providers close to you and have the child’s caseworker arrange for transfer of the appropriate records.

Making plans for school and extra curricular activities

Be sure that you know about and have access to the child’s most recent Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) if they have one, and make sure their caseworker arranges for transfer of school records. If your child is moving from one community to another, you will also need to work with their caseworker and yours in identifying and arranging for placement into a school and educational program that will meet the child’s needs. 

Don’t forget about talking with the child and their caseworker about any special interests they might have and activities such as scouting, sports, or music they are already involved in or would like to be involved in. Helping the child make social connections early on in the adoptive placement will help them begin to feel like a member of your family and the larger community. If written information about the child’s activities and interests was not fully provided in their profile, pre-placement visits might be a good time to explore their interests with them, their caseworker, and their foster parents.

Welcome your child home

Homecoming day

At long last, homecoming day has arrived. It’s both an ending and a beginning, and as with any important transitions, there is no cookie-cutter, one-right-way approach to this event. This is an important day that you will want to commemorate in future years, so customizing the ways you capture and memorialize it to your family and new child is something to which you should give much thought. The time you have spent during pre-placement visits getting to know more about the child you are adopting will provide excellent clues to what will be a meaningful and positive homecoming experience for them.

If you have been journaling throughout the adoption process (or even if you haven’t), writing a letter to your new child describing the day and your feelings about it, and then saving that letter to share with them on anniversaries of this day or other special occasions might be meaningful for both you and your adopted child.  Video or still photos are another way to capture this event. If you have other children, whether already grown or still living at home, including them in the planning is important, just as it is important to include your new child in the planning, taking into account their age and developmental level.

The “honeymoon” period

The first few weeks or months following placement are commonly called the “honeymoon” period of adoption. Typically, but not always, this is a time characterized by best behavior by everyone in the family. Sometimes, among other children already in the family, there may be expressions of resentment, when you think there should be nothing but happiness and goodwill. It’s important to pay close attention, talk about, and attend to the feelings of every family member. Remember that the introduction of a new person into the family constellation means that all existing family relationships will undergo changes. The more involved in the decision to adopt and the better prepared all your family members are, the easier this will be to deal with as a natural part of the family life cycle.

One thing that often comes as a surprise to adoptive families is the child’s sudden timidity, withdrawal, or skepticism when placement finally occurs. Especially for older children who have experienced multiple moves in foster care, they have every reason to doubt that this move is really the last one and that this will be their permanent family and home. It’s important to not take this reaction personally. Making sure that your new child has a neutral third party, such as their caseworker, or a counselor, to share their feelings with is something you should plan for.

Whether it lasts for months or just a few short weeks, the honeymoon phase predictably comes to an end, sometimes when you least expect it. Part of your adopted child’s development task is to test limits, as if asking, “Where is the limit of what I can do before ‘they’ come and move me again?” This is not about you but rather about the impact your child’s life experiences have had on them. Children who are in foster care often have had to move for reasons that have nothing to do with them. Nonetheless, they may think it was their fault.  Understanding this will help you to respond with patience and compassion when your adopted child acts out or begins to test the limits. Hopefully, by this time, you have developed relationships with other adoptive parents who are ahead of you in the process; now is the time to seek their counsel and support.

Read more about helping a child form healthy attachments and building relationships among family members.

Post-placement supervision period

Between the time that your bring your adopted child home and the time that the adoption is legalized by the court, the child’s caseworker or their proxy is required to see and talk with you and your child at least one time each 30 days. This is commonly described as the post-placement supervision period. It’s important for you to make room in your schedule for and actively participate in the caseworker visits. This is because, until the legalization of the adoption, the child’s agency is responsible to assure that the child’s needs for safety, permanency, and well-being are met. The reports that the child’s caseworker prepares for the court include an assessment of readiness to legalize the adoption. Although your caseworker and your child’s caseworker will continue to be available to you by phone during this placement period, the 30-day visits are an excellent opportunity for you to discuss any issues that have arisen and to ask questions about the remaining steps in the adoption process.

It’s natural for you to be cautious and even experience moments of doubt during the post-adoption supervision phase. Using the adoption support system you have built during this journey as a sounding board for any pre-legalization concerns you might have will help you to distinguish natural feelings that people have at this stage from ones that are indicators that legalization should be delayed. Nearly all adoptive placements of children from foster care result in legalized adoptions because you, your caseworker, your child’s caseworker and agency, and the court with jurisdiction of the child have been thoughtful and professional, and have shared information openly throughout the entire process.

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