Children are placed in foster homes for a lot of reasons — abuse, neglect, parents in prison — and nearly 17,000 Arizona kids are currently in foster care.
Most of them land there through no fault of their own. Their greatest hope is that some caring family will not only welcome them into their home, but into their fold.
Roughly 4,700 children in Arizona are waiting for adoption, according to the Arizona Department of Child Safety (DCS).
There’s always a need for more foster and adoptive families, he said.
The adoption process can take as little as six months after the child is “legally free” for adoption, which means the child’s birth parents have had their parental rights terminated.
“However, the adoption process can take longer in some instances,” said Darren DaRonco, spokesman for the DCS. “For some children, it is more difficult to locate adoptive parents because the children may be older, have some behavioral challenges or some other special needs.
“But regardless of the age of the child, these children still want to be adopted and be part of a forever family,” he said.
There’s a difference between foster care and adoption.
With foster care, a child is temporarily placed with relatives or foster parents who have been licensed by the DCS. They receive a monthly stipend from the state.
According to the DCS, Yavapai County had 150 children taken from their homes between October 2016 and March 2017 following investigations by the department, and 88 have been returned to their homes.
It’s necessary to provide a safe home for children during investigations of abuse or neglect. A child may be in foster care for a day, a week, a month or longer.
In the worst cases, children are never able to return home and live safely with their parents, said a worker for Court Appointed Special Advocates.
CASA volunteers go into homes to assess the situation. They identify key problems and submit summary reports to the court. They also sit in on court hearings and provide the judge with recommendations that would be in the “best interest of the child,” the CASA worker said.
Some children are put up for adoption by their mother, usually at birth, again for a number of reasons including financial instability, immaturity, and in the most unfortunate cases, rape.
Often, an adoptive parent or guardian, preferably someone in the family, steps forward. The court certifies the adoption, and the process is similar to foster care with an intensive background check.
Agencies such as AdoptionServices.org help place babies with families, and the mother can be as involved or uninvolved as she wants.
No specific level of “closed” or “open” child adoption is best for every birth parent, said Dr. Vincent Berger, founder of Adoption Services.
Berger said he founded the organization so mothers can feel safe about their adopted babies and make decisions based on what they want and what they feel is best for the baby.
“Closed and open adoptions both can be done in a healthy way so the birth parents and the child do not experience unnecessary emotional difficulties,” Berger said.
Though it’s possible to adopt a baby from foster care, children who are generally available for adoption range from toddler to 21, with a median age of 8 years old.
Parents who adopt from foster care usually work with a public agency or a private agency that has contracted with the state for foster services.
Roughly 20 percent of foster parents chose to become licensed foster parents with the goal of adopting children from the system, according to 2015 Foster Parent Satisfaction Survey from the Center for Applied Behavioral Health Policy at Arizona State University.
Many of those were unable to have their own biological children, had a desire to have siblings for their biological children, or wanted a larger family.
One survey respondent stated, “I am not able to have children. We went in to this with hopes of adoption.”
Another explained, “I had one child, and I did not want her to be raised as an only child, so I figure why not help other children and my daughter can have children to grow up with.”
It’s not uncommon for foster parents to exit the system once they have accomplished their goal, so it’s important to see adoption as a successful outcome to fostering, not a failure to retain a foster home.
Department of Child Safety officials make home visits, check references, review records and assist in the court process of bringing the child permanently into the family.
Here are some basic requirements to becoming a foster parent:
• Be a legal resident of Arizona and the United States, at least 21 years of age. You can be married single, divorced or widowed.
• Applicants and adults in the home must pass a fingerprint criminal history check.
• Must be physically, mentally and emotionally able to care for children. A current medical statement is required.
• Provide five references who can speak to your parenting abilities.
• Completion of pre-service education curriculum.
• Proof of economic stability.
• Provide a safe home environment for children. Home ownership is not required.
• Participation in the family and home study process.
Anyone interested in becoming a foster parent can call 877 KIDS-NEEDU or go to the Department of Child Safety website.
Reporter Scott Orr of The Daily Courier contributed to this story.