In this guest post, Heidi Pless of the Department of Children, Youth, & Families (DCYF) explains the benefits of licensing for potential adoptive families in Washington State.
The primary mission of DCYF is to "protect children and strengthen families so they flourish." When youth are unable to safely return to a birth parent, DCYF supports matching children and youth with a prospective adoptive family.
Prior to adopting a child through the state, all families are required to complete an adoption home study. The home study process involves several interviews, a variety of paperwork, and a home walkthrough. The end product is a document that represents your family, which DCYF uses to ensure the right families are paired with the right youth. You can choose to complete your home study through DCYF, a private Child Placing Agency (CPA), or with a licensed independent clinical social worker. You can find options in the state of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska here.
Many families also choose to obtain their foster care license as part of a unified process when completing their home study, even if their goal is to adopt.
In Washington, a foster care license is not required to adopt, but there are ample benefits if a family chooses to do both.
Some benefits of holding both a foster care license and having an adoption home study include:
Concurrent planning means the team has a primary plan and alternate plan for a youth in care. Possible concurrent plans include reunification, adoption, and guardianship, though the goal is to successfully reunify children with their family whenever possible. If an adoptive family does not have a prior relationship with a child (relative or family friend), the family must have a foster care license to be considered for placement if parental rights are still intact.
If you are seeking to adopt a child under the age of five, the likelihood of placement in a home with an "adopt only" home study is very small. Often a young child's foster or relative placement is open to adoption if they're unable to return home. DCYF also encourages becoming a licensed foster parent for a greater age range (up to ages 18), which opens the door to more placement opportunities.
All youth in care need to remain in their placement for at least six months prior to the finalization of an adoption. This helps ensure the needs of the child and family are met prior to finalization. If a family holds a foster care license prior to adoption, they'll be eligible for a monthly foster care reimbursement, which can be helpful in meeting the child's needs.
If a family is licensed, they'll complete the Caregiver Core Training during that process. This training is valuable in understanding a child's journey through dependency and the impact of trauma and will help alleviate misunderstandings. It also provides helpful tools to families in the process. The state finds adoptive families are more prepared after attending this training and see it as a strength when identifying a potential adoptive family for a child.
If you choose to complete your home study and license at the same time, the process is seamless as you'll complete all steps together. If you choose to only obtain your adoption home study, you may be required to repeat some paperwork and steps in the process to obtain your foster care license down the road. State licensing also offers an "adopt only" home study, but most private agencies will require a family to also obtain a foster care license if you choose that route.
As a family licensed for foster care, you'd also have the opportunity to provide respite for other foster families if interested. It's a great way to connect with other families, get to know some awesome kids, and gain experience providing care. DCYF often has an interview process as part of our selection committee to identify an adoptive family. Respite is also a great way to grow your skills and gives you something to speak to during the committee as several questions are geared toward parenting experience.
At Northwest Adoption Exchange, we want to ensure families understand the benefits of foster licensing, even if you're ultimately pursuing adoption. If you have questions, please reach out to us and we're happy to chat!