Foster Care Adoption


Foster care adoption is the process of adopting a child who is in the custody of their State or county's Department of Child and Family Services.

There are over 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system, which means they are in the temporary custody of the State while their parents are given the opportunity to complete services that will allow the child to be returned to them if it is in the child’s best interest.

The children in foster care temporarily live with families who provide for their physical, emotional and social needs until they can be reunited with their biological family or be permanently adopted by another family. Slightly more than half of the children who go into foster care eventually return to their birth families.

There are over 100,000 children in foster care who are already able to be legally adopted since their biological parents have had their parental rights terminated.

Foster care adoptions are handled through local public agencies and/or by private agencies under contract with the State.

Though most children who have special needs* become available for adoption through the public foster care system, both public and private agencies can help anyone who wishes to adopt from foster care.

In general, the differences between public and private agencies are:

Public Agencies

  • Charge little or nothing if adopting from foster care
  • Could respond more slowly to inquiries than private agencies
  • Place mostly special needs* children
  • Usually have flexible eligibility requirements for adoptive parents

Private Agencies

  • Typically charge more than public agencies
  • Could respond more quickly to inquiries than public agencies
  • Have access to diverse populations of available children
  • May target specific groups of parents for adoption (based on factors such as age, race, religion, etc.)

Who can adopt from foster care?

While most adults will qualify when adopting from foster care, each State has its own laws for eligibility to become an adoptive parent (such as marital status, age, etc.).

Characteristics needed to be a good foster adoptive parent include:

  • Being mature, flexible, dependable, and stable
  • Having the ability to advocate for children
  • Being a team player with your family and your child welfare worker

While adopting infants from foster care is rare, about 40% of the children are six years old or younger and the average age for waiting children is between 7 and 8. has tips and resources as well as a database of children in the U.S. foster care system who are available to adopt.

*Every state sets its own definition of “Special Needs”. Determining factors can include: being part of a sibling group placed for adoption together, age, background, and emotional, mental, or physical challenges.

Additional information about foster care adoption can be found at: