The legal process is similar whether you adopt a child from foster care or from a private agency. Typically, the agency handles the termination of parental rights and maintains guardianship of the child until the adoption is finalized. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services or the Tennessee agency will also conduct the home study and post-placement supervision for the required six-month waiting period. If you adopt through an out-of-state agency, you’ll partner with a Tennessee licensed child-placing agency to conduct the home study and post-placement supervision.
Foster care adoptions are a beautiful gift to the child, adoptive family, and our community. Often a child has lived with their foster family for years before the family is able to finalize the adoption. When a child enters foster care, the Department of Children’s Services is required to attempt to reunify the child with their birth family. When reunification is successful, birth parents remedy the problems that brought the child into DCS custody through drug and alcohol treatment, mental health treatment, individual and/or family counseling, obtaining stable housing, etc.
As the parent makes progress toward their goals, visitation with the child is increased until the court grants a trial home visit. Ultimately, custody is returned to the parents. When efforts at reunification are not successful, DCS typically files the Petition to Terminate Parental Rights. The child is usually in a foster placement for over a year before DCS files a Petition to Terminate Parental Rights. Sometimes the birth parents agree to voluntarily terminate their parental rights, usually via surrender of parental rights. Once the child is in the full guardianship of the State, DCS can give consent for the foster parent(s) to adopt the child.
The State pays a stipend to compensate the attorney for legal fees and expenses through the Adoption Assistance program. The Adoption Law Center does not charge any additional fees for families adopting through foster care. If you are looking to adopt, there are many children waiting. You can find them at adoptuskids.org or harmonyfamilycenter.org.
When families use a private agency for placement, the agency is licensed by DCS or the comparable licensing agency in the state in which the child is born. The agency identifies the birth mother and provides her counseling and support throughout her pregnancy. They coordinate services, prenatal care, communication with the prospective adoptive parents, and identify any legal risks, such as an unidentified birth father. If the child is born out of the State of Tennessee, the agency prepares the packet to submit to the administrators of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Both the sending state and the receiving state must approve the packet before the family can travel home.
ICPC cases can be complex and usually require an attorney in both states. The attorneys will strategize to determine which state laws will apply and to ensure compliance with both ICPC offices. We frequently coordinate with out-of-state attorneys and ICPC offices to determine the quickest, most painless method of obtaining permission to travel. Some states have specific forms or other requirements that are unique to that state. Other states are relatively flexible, but may be particular about receiving certain medical records from the hospital or have specific requirements for submitting the application. Tennessee, for example, requires two copies of the packet and does not accept the application via electronic mail. We overnight the package to the Tennessee ICPC office and include another overnight envelope for Tennessee to forward to the receiving state once Tennessee approves.
We have excellent relationships with Tennessee agencies, and are happy to speak with families about which agency will be the best fit for you. But keep in mind that the laws and regulatory agencies in other states are not always consistent with Tennessee law. Please reach out to an attorney with significant experience with out-of-state agencies to review their contract with you prior to signing. We encourage our clients to be diligent on the front end to protect them from wasting precious time and resources working with an agency that may be sloppy or unethical.
Typically, finalization of the adoption occurs in the state where the family lives. Tennessee, unlike many states, has a provision that grants jurisdiction to the court that presides over the surrender hearing. So some families choose to return to Tennessee to finalize the adoption.