Dr. John DeGarmo is a leading expert in foster care and adoption, and is director of The Foster Care Institute. Dr. DeGarmo travels the nation and globe working with child welfare and foster care agencies. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Parenting Manual, has fostered over 50 children in the state of Georgia, and has adopted three children from the foster care system. This column was published unedited by the author. The opinions of the column are those of the author and do not reflect those of AllOnGeorgia.
Adoption. For so many families in the state of Georgia, it is a dream that has never been fulfilled. Indeed, Georgia has struggled with the number of children waiting to be adopted. “In the nearly three decades that have passed since the last update of Georgia adoption law, Georgia has been left behind by most of the states in the nation,” according to Republican Rep. Bert Reeves of Marietta. “All types of adoptions … have been slowed by our antiquated and outdated processes.”
In the early part of 2018, the Georgia House of Representatives passed House Bill 159, one designed to make the adoption process easier in the state. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Reeves, believes the bill will modernize the state’s adoption code. Included in the bill are the following:
- A mother would only have 4 days to change their minds after giving up their child for adoption instead of what’s now 10.
- Adoptive parents can reimburse mothers for anything relating to the pregnancy if it is done through a lawyer or adoption agency.
- One would no longer have to be a resident in Georgia for 6 months in order to adopt a child.
“After nearly 30 years, Georgia has finally updated our out of date adoption procedure,” said Republican Rep Susan Holmes of Monticello. “Our foster care children, birth mothers and adoptive parents can rest more easily, knowing that our children will be able to find loving homes more quickly than years past. I am thrilled with the passage of this bill and I am grateful that the House and Senate could reach a compromise for the betterment of our adoption system.”
Indeed, it is the children in Georgia’s foster care system that can truly benefit from this program. The past two years have seen the number of children in the state’s struggling foster care system nearly double, much in part due to the opioid crisis.
To be sure, when a child is taken into custody and placed into a foster home, the intent is that the placement is to be temporary, with reunification the main objective. Yet, there are those instances when reunification is not possible, and the child is placed through the court system for adoption.
Recently, child welfare agencies have found that foster parents are the ideal people to adopt a foster child. After all, the foster family has been raising the child for an extended amount of time, meeting his needs, and nurturing him since he was removed from his birth parent’s home. If he has special needs, the foster parents are familiar with these, and have gained valuable insight and resources how to best meet these needs. Adoption by his foster parents will also allow him to remain in the same school system, benefitting from having the same teachers who are already familiar with him and his needs. The child is familiar with his foster parents, and has formed a strong and meaningful attachment to them during the course of his placement within their home. As the child has come to live, laugh, and love with the family, he has likely become a member of the family, and will be able to legally stay with a family he has come to know and trust.
Indeed, there are advantages to adopting a child through the foster care system, and as a foster parent considering the adoption of a foster child, you will find these advantages most helpful. As a foster parent, you will have had no legal rights with your foster child, as the child has been a ward of the state, and under the state’s custody. In fact, such simple tasks as having the child’s hair cut may have been a decision that was out of your hands. As an adoptive parent, you gain full legal rights to the child, the same legal and parental rights you would have if the he were a birth child of yours. Furthermore, all questions about medical, religious, educational, travel arrangements, and all other parental decisions will now become fully yours; no longer will you have to share decision making with the birth parents, caseworker, child welfare agency, and the state. All responsibilities of decision making will become yours with the adoption of your foster child.
In most states, both federal and state assistance programs are available to foster parents during the adopting process. Many states provide an attorney for the foster parents, thus making it even more financially beneficial. Even more helpful for adoptive foster parents is that most children under foster care supervision are already covered by the federal Medicaid assistance program, and may also become eligible for the same assistance from the state after the adoption process is complete.
Another advantage that adoptive foster parents have is that of time. They have had the time to become very familiar with their foster child. Any learning disabilities, emotional difficulties, and behavioral issues are known to the family, as well as his family background. Valuable insight and information may have been received from birth parents from previous meetings. Foster parents have had time to become aware of any concerns regarding the foster child, and respond to them accordingly. Along with this, the foster child has become familiar with the rules and expectations within his foster home, and has had time to better adjust to his new home and new family. If adopted by his foster parents, he will not have to face the emotional turmoil associated with moving to yet another home. His friends, foster siblings, school, and even pets remain the same. All that he has come to know while placed in a foster home will remain consistent, helping to ease the transition that comes with every adoption.
The adoption of a child is a long and complex process. Sadly, for some foster parents, it may end up as a heartbreaking experience, as not all adoptions reach the desired conclusion. For all involved, the length of time the process takes, as well as the emotional roller coaster that foster parents and children ride on can be emotionally overwhelming. House Bill 159 is designed to bring relief to the state’s troubled adoption process.