Frequently asked questions about adopting from foster care

Our resource specialists field thousands of calls about foster care and adoption every month. This page provides answers to frequently asked questions about:

Many rules governing foster care and adoption vary by state. Find state-specific information about fostering and adopting on our website.

Costs of adoption

How much does it cost to adopt from foster care?

Most adoptions from US foster care are free. The minimal costs that can be associated with them are often reimbursable. Read more about the costs of adoption.

Is there financial assistance available to cover adoption fees?

Most children in foster care, and all children photolisted on AdoptUSKids, are eligible for the adoption tax credit.

This credit allows adoptive parents of children in foster care to claim adoption expenses from their federal taxes—such as necessary adoption fees, court costs, attorney fees, traveling expenses (including meals and lodging while away from home)—or receive a full credit (which varies by year) without itemizing when adopting a child who qualifies as having “special needs.”

Please note that the adoption tax credit is not a refundable credit. Taxpayers can only receive the credit if they have federal income tax liability. Find out more:

Is there financial assistance to help meet children’s needs after they are adopted?

After you adopt a child, there are medical assistance programs to help finance an adopted child’s medical and mental health needs. There may also be current educational benefits, college tuition assistance, child care vouchers, subsidies, and other assistance. Read more about resources available after adoption.

Who can adopt

Do I need to be married to adopt?

No, you do not need to be married! Many single people are successful foster and adoptive parents. You can read other families’ adoption stories on our blog.

Are there income or education requirements? Do I need to own my own home?

You don’t need to own your own home, be wealthy, have children already, have a college degree, or be a stay-at-home parent to adopt. However, you do need to demonstrate that you can support yourself without any additional income, such as adoption assistance.

Are there age restrictions on adopting from foster care?

In most states, adults of all ages can adopt. There are typically no upper age limits.

Are family members given priority in adopting a child?

Often they are. When children cannot be reunited with their parents, their caseworkers first look to extended family members and other people who have played a role in their life.

Can I adopt from US foster care if I am in the military or live overseas?

Yes. Families living outside of the United States can adopt from US foster care.

Military families stationed overseas and within the US are eligible to adopt children from the US foster care system. Learn more about adoption resources for military families.

Can I adopt a child if I have a Green Card?

As long as you are residing in the United States you may be able to adopt as a Green Card holder. Search for contact information for your state on our website, and call them to confirm.

Is it possible to adopt a Native American child if I do not have Native American heritage?

While it is possible, adopting Native American children can be more involved than adopting a child who does not have tribal citizenship or affiliation. Find more information about adopting Native American children.

Can I adopt a child who I know through my church or neighborhood?

Yes. Children’s caseworkers first look to extended family members and other people who have played a role in their life.

What are the important qualities for foster and adoptive parents to possess?

Qualities of successful foster and adoptive parents are similar to all parents. Helpful qualities include being willing to seek out and use support services, learn new parenting techniques, and advocate for your child. Flexibility and humor go a long way as well! Critical to being a successful foster and adoptive parent is understanding the challenges these children have faced and not taking their behavior personally.

In this guest post on our blog, “What I Learned from My Mother About Adopting a Teen,” a young woman who was adopted shares tips for parents.

About the children

Why are children in foster care?

Children and youth enter foster care through no fault of their own, because they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by the people who were supposed to care for them.

While the majority of children come into care due to neglect, all children in foster care have experienced loss and trauma. Read more about the effects of trauma and how to support children who have experienced trauma.

How many children are in foster care and awaiting adoption in the United States?

Approximately 400,000 children are in foster care at any given time. Approximately 117,000 of them are available to be adopted.

I have heard that many children in foster care have “special needs.” What does that mean?

The term “special needs” simply refers to children who qualify for adoption assistance due to specific factors or conditions such as:

  • Being an older child
  • Having a particular racial or ethnic background
  • Being part of a sibling group needing to be placed together as one unit
  • Medical conditions
  • Physical, mental, or emotional disabilities

A child with special needs should not be confused with a child who requires special education. 

What is the average age and background of a child in foster care?

According to the most recent report published by the US Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Their average age is approximately 8 years old.
  • There are slightly more boys than girls.
  • The majority are white (42 percent), followed by black/African American (24 percent), Hispanic, of any race (22 percent), and Native American (2 percent).

I see a lot of older children in photolistings like the one on AdoptUSKids. Why would I want to adopt an older child?

Imagine being a teenager grappling with the transition into adolescence and independence all alone. That is the situation facing thousands of young people who face aging out of foster care alone every year. These teens need support, guidance, and family now and for the rest of their lives.

Learn more about how adopting an older child can bring a lifetime of rewards.

Are brothers and sisters always adopted together?

In an ideal world, the answer would be yes. Research suggests that siblings placed together experience lower risk of failed placements, fewer moves, and many emotional benefits. Even when siblings have been separated in foster care, the goal is to find them a safe, permanent home where they can grow up together.

Read more about the benefits of adopting siblings.

Support and training for families

Where can I find information and training about being an adoptive parent?

Meeting many of the day-to-day emotional needs of a child you’ve adopted will be similar to meeting the needs of any child by providing unconditional love, reassurance, and support. However, there are additional things you’ll need to know to help a child you’ve adopted work through past traumas and loss. 

Read more about  the effects of trauma and how to support children who have experienced trauma.

Child Welfare Information Gateway has a great list of resources for adoptive parents on:

Are there support groups for parents who adopt? How can I connect with other adoptive parents?

Parent support groups provide the opportunity to network, share, and learn from other adoptive parents who are experiencing or have experienced the same things as you. You can search for parent support groups and other post-adoption support services in your area on our website.

Also check out our Facebook page, where thousands of families are sharing their questions and experiences.

Is help with respite care available for adopted children?

There may be a program to provide respite care—the short-term care of a child in order to give the regular caregiver a break—in your area. Search for respite care where you live using the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center’s national respite locator service.

Is there financial support available for adoptive families?

Yes! See the “costs of adoption” section of this FAQ.

Process of fostering and adopting: rules and best practices

How can I find a local adoption agency?

Find state-specific information, including a list of adoption agencies, on our website, call our foster care and adoption resource specialists at 888-200-4005, or request to be contacted by an adoption professional in your state.

How long does it usually take to become licensed to adopt?

That is a difficult question! Unfortunately there is not a specific timeframe. On average, the process can take from four to twelve months from your first contact with your selected agency.

What are the benefits of fostering-to-adopt?

The majority of children in care are ultimately adopted by their foster parents. Most states give top priority to relatives and current foster parents when a child becomes legally freed for adoption, and a growing number of states are requiring that families be willing to foster if they want to adopt from foster care.

Fostering first has the advantage of reducing the number of moves the child who may be placed in your home and allowing the child to live with the family before an adoption is finalized. It also enables a potential adoptive family to make connections with birth parents or other relatives that can be maintained in the future.

According to recent data from the Children’s Bureau, 88 percent of children adopted from foster care are adopted by relatives or foster parents.

What is a home study?

A home study (also known as a family assessment) is a process that results in a document about you, your family, and your strengths, characteristics, and challenges.

A home study begins with an interview of you and your family at your home. It can include a home safety inspection, a background check, and pre-adoption training classes. After getting to know your family, your caseworker will make recommendations about the characteristics and number of children who would succeed in your home.

How frequently are children in foster care reunited with their parents?

Approximately half of children taken into state care are reunited with their birth parents.

As a foster parent, you may have to arrange and attend meetings with a child’s birth family, attend court hearings, and participate in other activities that support reunification with the child’s birth parents.

Are there requirements governing house size of foster parents? Do children I am fostering need to have their own room?

Requirements about house size vary by state. Each child needs a bed of their own. In most cases, children of the opposite sex may share a room if they are under an age specified by the state (usually around 6 years old). These are general guidelines. Rules vary by state. Talk with your caseworker about an individual child’s needs.

Do I have to get approved to adopt in every state?

No, you only need to be approved in the state where you currently reside. If you are a military family and are currently stationed in a state that is different from your permanent address, please use the state where you currently reside.

Can I adopt a child from another state? What does that process look like?

Absolutely. While there are additional requirements that can slow the adoption process, families do successfully adopt children from other states every day.

Adoptions across state lines are governed by the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). These adoptions require additional paperwork and more communication between court and child welfare systems.

Prospective parents usually travel to meet the children in their current location for at least the first visit. Following the early introductions, the child welfare agency will work with your family to determine what pre-placement planning best meets the needs of the child.

Is there a limit to the number of children I can adopt?

Yes, and this number varies by state.

Do I need to maintain contact with a child’s birth family?

Some degree of openness is almost always better for the child and may be mandated by the courts during the adoption process.

Most children in adoption, even younger ones, are able to understand that they have birth parents they no longer live with. Children are not going to forget their parents, whether or not they are in their life. Our advice is to follow whatever level of openness the adoption paperwork calls for and to be as open as possible in including birth family members in your child’s life.

Does a child being adopted need to change their last name? Can they change their Social Security number?

A child can choose to take on the last name of their adoptive family, but it is not legally required. That should be a decision you and the child discuss and make together.

Adoptive families have shared varying degrees of success in changing their adoptive children’s Social Security numbers. Go to the Social Security website to learn more about the process and find contact information for your local Social Security office.