The Idea

States can increase the number of military families who are approved to adopt and make that approval process easier for them. Additionally, state agencies responsible for foster care and adoption can adapt more military-family friendly attitudes.

The Issue

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) “Adopt Us Kids” initiative reports that about 115,000 children in the foster care system are “waiting children,” meaning they are available for adoption.

On average, these children may wait as long as three years to find permanent homes, and children who languish in the foster care system are more likely than other children to succumb to crime, poverty, substance abuse, or homelessness as adults. 

Yet in many states and communities, child welfare agencies overlook a potential family resource: military families. The military culture values stability and structure; it welcomes newcomers; and offers strong social support systems and many resources and benefits for families. In addition, more than one-third of military families are racial minorities, and 60 percent of adoptable children are children of color. The military community could offer them a welcoming and diverse environment.

Two sets of barriers work against military adoptions. The first are attitudinal. Some social workers harbor prejudices against the military because they perceive that the military culture is rigid — or even violent; some go so far as to label these potential parents “warmongers.”

The second set of barriers is logistical. Military families seeking to adopt often move before they have completed home studies. Some agencies impose residency requirements or require prospective adoptive families to own homes. And some agencies are simply unwilling to work with the families through a process that can be complicated by military rules and regulations. Finally, military families are often excluded from consideration as foster families because of their mobility; this practice can work against them because so many waiting children are adopted by their foster families.

According to military.adoption.com, examples of good solutions for states or agencies include: training military personnel, including chaplains and social workers, to recruit families, complete home studies, or follow up with families who have adopted and move overseas; helping civilian social workers understand and appreciate the culture and communication styles of military families; offering flexible timing for prospective parent training and the home-study processes; and providing the final court hearing remotely (by telephone) after completing post-placement services, if necessary.

What States are Doing

Oklahoma’s Department of Human Services is considered a leader in resolving barriers to military adoption. Through a proactive effort to train and connect social workers with military families, the state has completed 26 military adoptions since the agency started reaching out to military families.

Linda Foster, a department official who has worked with many military families, says the agency crossed the attitudinal barrier by having some very successful placements, which redefined people’s understanding of who military families are. And Foster says it wasn’t difficult to counter the argument that military families aren’t good adoptive families because they move a lot. As she notes, “So do foster children. And it’s better for a child to move with a loving and stable family than without one.”

Foster also believes it’s possible to place children in homes with service members who have experienced trauma.  It’s more important to examine reactions to trauma than it is to automatically disqualify a family because of a traumatic event, Foster believes. “You have to be realistic,” she says. While some military families are well-suited for adoption, others aren’t. But those distinctions are universal.

Foster and her team conduct outreach on military bases and work with Family Readiness Groups (FRGs), which provide support, outreach and information for service members and their families. Once a year, Oklahoma works with local FRGs to host adoptive military family appreciation days. The agency invites families to come and learn more about adoption and helps showcase successful adoptive families.

A military family subcommittee — composed of representatives from public and private child welfare organizations, other nonprofits, and the military — was essential to organizing outreach events.

As of October 2011, Foster noted no difference in removal rates among civilian and military families.

Contact

What the Federal Government Is Doing

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Children’s Bureau runs the Adopt Us Kids initiative: “Wherever My Family Is: That’s Home!” The initiative’s goal is to “recruit and connect foster and adoptive families with waiting children through the United States.”  The initiative includes military families.

The HHS Children’s Bureau has also published a military families guide to promote “efficient, down-to-earth practices” to speed up and support better services for military families seeking to adopt. On behalf of the initiative, Dixie Davis and Suzanne Dosh of the Adoption Exchange have worked with state and local agencies to help identify best practices for working with military families; Davis and Dosh have created tip sheets to agencies looking to become more military friendly.

Contacts

In 2006, Congress passed the “Military Adoption Act,” allowing 21 days paid leave for military families when they adopt a child. The military services also provide a military adoption subsidy where families can receive up to $5,000 per year ($2,000 per child) to help cover adoption expenses. They can apply the subsidy to adoptions completed through nonprofit or qualifying adoption agencies.

Resources