1. I live in Berks County. How do I start the process of adoption?
There are several different types of adoption. You can go to a licensed private agency to adopt infants and other children who are not in the public welfare system. You can adopt a child internationally. If you have a child placed with you through an attorney, a relative, a doctor, or a friend, you can go to an attorney who will arrange an independent adoption. In these cases, BCCYS will be involved in providing a Report to the Orphans’ Court relative to the child’s placement. You can adopt a child who is in the foster care system once the child is free for adoption by the Courts. BCCYS has many children from ages 0-18 who are in the system with goals of adoption. These children are adopted by foster parents, relatives, or other families who have been approved through a home study.
If you are interested in children in the custody of BCCYS, you should start by having a home study completed. You can contact a private agency such as Lutheran Home of Topton or Catholic Social Agency and get involved in the home study process. That study is used to provide information about your family to counties or agencies who have children for adoption.
You can contact the Statewide Adoption Network, 1-800-585-SWAN, for information about local adoption services in your area.
2. What exactly is a home study?
A licensed social work agency with expertise in adoption and family issues usually does the home study. It includes: interviews of the husband and wife and other family members; a review of your financial, medical, legal, and social history; a tour of your home; discussion of adoption issues; and legal checks for child abuse and police history. The home study is generally a pleasant experience for families and a time to ask many questions about adoption. The cost of the home study varies with agency fees. There are times when there is no cost to you for the study.
3. Can Berks County Children and Youth Services do an adoption home study for me?
BCCYS does not do home studies.
4. Can I adopt if I am single?
We are looking for all types of families for children in the system. It is acceptable to be a single applicant, both male and female. The only requirement for adoption is that you be over 21 years of age. We look for people who are mature, flexible, and adaptable with skills to parent a child with a variety of needs.
5. Will I find a healthy infant in the Child Welfare System?
We do have infants that are placed in foster care and eventually are adopted. However, it is important to realize that the first option for these children is to return to parents or other relatives and most are only in foster care for a limited time period. There are private agencies that specialize in infant adoptions. If a young child is in a foster home and becomes available for adoption, the foster parents will certainly be strongly considered as a permanent resource. It has become well known that multiple moves damage a child’s ability to succeed.
6. What is foster-to-adopt and legal risk?
These terms refer to situations where children are placed in foster care with the understanding that the foster parents will also be available to the child long term if that becomes necessary. The legal risk for the foster family is that there will be a strong effort to get the child back with the natural parents and until the court actually terminates parental rights, there is a risk the child will not stay in foster care. BCCYS is one of many agencies in the area that has a foster-to-adopt program. Others are CONCERN, Lutheran Home of Topton, Catholic Social Agency, COBYS. We will be glad to discuss this program with you.
7. How long does it take to adopt?
To do a home study, you should allow 3-6 months. To have a child placed in your home can take a week or can take several months to years. Once a child is placed in your home for adoption and parental rights have been terminated, an adoption should be finalized within 6 months.
8. What kinds of children are available in the BCCYS system?
Foster care may be needed for a child for many reasons. These children usually have never known or cannot remember a safe, happy, or secure family life. Many have been neglected and some have been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused. Many children have emotional or behavioral problems that will require extra patience and added attention from adoptive parents. Some children are developmentally disabled or behind in school work. There are many things about children that we cannot foresee and problems often develop as the child grows. We need homes for sibling groups to make sure these children are afforded the security and continuity of family relationships.
9. What is a "special needs" child?
This designation is specific to the needs of a child that makes it more difficult to find an adoptive family for that child. There are five specific things that qualify a child: over 5 years of age, a child of a minority heritage, a sibling group, a child with serious medical or emotional problems, and a child whose genetic background would make it vulnerable to future problems. Almost every child in our system qualifies for this designation.
10. If I adopt through BCCYS what will I know about the child’s background and problems?
We are committed to educating adoptive parents about their children. Every child that is adopted has a Child Profile written by a separate agency. This profile examines every document available in our files about the child or that can be obtained about the child. This profile goes with the child when he is adopted so that social, medical, educational, psychological information is readily available to the parents. We also give out copies of medical and psychological/psychiatric evaluations in our files to the adoptive family. When a child moves, recommendations for services needed by the child are given to the family and there are caseworkers assigned when the child is placed to help the family cope with any behaviors or difficulties.
11. What is an Open Adoption?
There is no such thing as "open adoption " legally in Pennsylvania. Many times positive situations develop between birth and adoptive families during the adoption process and there can be individually arranged plans for letters, pictures, and even visits after adoption. BCCYS can be the go-between for some of these arrangements. The adoptive family is always in control of these arrangements. Once an adoption is finalized, there is no risk that the child can be taken from the adoptive parents by birth family.
12. Are there supports after the child is adopted?
There are some support groups for adoptive families and parents in the general area, but Berks County Children and Youth Services does not sponsor such a group. Usually the agency doing your adoption will have ongoing groups or services you can turn to. All the services covered by the medical assistance program will continue to be available. You can look to the MH/MR system for help. You can always return to BCCYS for help in parenting and seeking other services.
13. What is adoption subsidy?
Children who are in the foster care system and qualify as "special needs" are eligible for the adoption subsidy program. This program is available to the child until he/she turns 18 years of age. It includes legal fees paid to finalize the adoption, a medical assistance card to cover medical and emotional needs, and a per diem payment (like foster care) that will continue at a set amount until the child is 18 years of age. These subsidies are meant to supplement the parents’ responsibilities for the child, not to completely support a child. There is a system in place to request an increase in subsidy if the child’s needs change substantially.
14. What are the costs for adoption?
If the county agency is involved in the adoption, most likely your adoption will have no cost to you. Legal fees, placement fees, and other court costs are paid for by the county agency. The adoption subsidy program will help with ongoing needs of the child.
15. What is SWAN?
SWAN is a Pennsylvania state agency that funds adoption programs and incentives to help counties find homes for the children who are identified by the Court as needing adoption. SWAN workers write Child Profiles, home studies, supervise adoption placements, and complete finalizations for Berks County. SWAN also provides information and educates the public about adoption.
Questions to Ask Yourself When Thinking About Becoming an Adoptive Parent to a Special Needs Child:
- Are you willing to complete the pre-service orientation and certification?
- Are your children willing to share your time and attention with other children?
- Is your whole family willing to share its time, space, and possession with the child who will be placed in your home?
- Can you provide positive and consistent discipline for a child without spanking or using any form of physical discipline?
- Do you have lots of time to spend encouraging children to grow and develop to their fullest potential despite the problems they have encountered or may be dealing with?
- Are you willing to advocate for children placed in your care so that they receive the services they deserve and the opportunities they need? Is your family happy?
- Are you free from serious financial or personal problems?