Expert Advice on Foster Care for Military Families: How to Provide Support

Soldier with family

Even though military families may relocate every few years, they can still open their hearts and homes to a foster child. Social worker Casi Preheim, MSW, provides expert answers to the question: Can military families foster? Her advice sheds light on the process of foster care for military families.

About Casi Preheim, MSW

Preheim worked at The Adoption Exchange as the Colorado Military and Global Families Service Specialist for six years. She provided recruitment and retention services for potential foster and adoptive families living overseas, including military families. This included providing excellent customer service, useful information and referrals, and ongoing support to these families as they navigated the process of fostering or adopting a child living in the U.S. Casi now works as a social caseworker for the city and county of Denver.

Resource for Military Families Seeking to Foster & Adopt Children: AdoptUSKids

AdoptUSKids, a federally funded project operated through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Children's Bureau and the Adoption Exchange Association advises, "Military families stationed overseas and within the U.S. are not prohibited from adopting children from the U.S. foster care system. Further, AdoptUSKids is "working to help reduce barriers to adoption for military families. This includes providing free assistance to military families who are seeking to foster or adopt children from foster care."

How Military Families Can Provide Foster Care

Preheim explains, "People decide to be foster parents for a variety of reasons. Some families decide to foster because they have a personal relationship with a child who enters the child welfare system. Other families are introduced to the idea of foster care through their church, community events, or the media, and recognize that they would be able to provide a stable and loving home for these children. In some cases, individuals who make the decision to foster or adopt were once foster children themselves."

Preparing to Foster

If you or a loved one is considering fostering a child, there are some things that Preheim recommends doing to prepare. She advises, "Potential foster families must first determine if fostering is appropriate for their entire family." She suggests families do the following:

  • Families should talk with their support systems, including extended family and their personal communities, to make sure they will be emotionally supported.
  • Potential parents should also consider the needs of their current children and how they may be affected by the introduction of a new family member.
  • Because most foster placements are temporary unless it is explicitly a pre-adoptive placement, a family should be prepared for the emotional impact of becoming attached to a child who is then reunified with their birth family.
  • Once a family determines they are able to complete the certification process and are ready to become a foster family, they need to consider what types of special needs they are equipped to support. Because of the situations that brought them to the attention of the child welfare system, most children in foster care have one or more physical, emotional, medical, educational, behavioral or mental conditions that can range from mild to severe and often require ongoing treatment. Potential parents should identify the conditions and levels of involvement they can effectively respond to within their family and community.
Military counselor talks with veteran

Foster Preferences

If a family wants a foster child of a specific age, gender, or ethnicity, Preheim says, "Families can always discuss their preferences with the caseworker who is conducting their home study/certification." She also explains, "While certain parameters might be necessary for a successful placement, families should also know that these specifications might limit their potential for a placement," she cautions.

Fostering Timeline

The timeframe for a fostering process can vary greatly by state and agency. "The certification process might take longer based on the availability of training classes, or the number of families interested in fostering or adopting," Preheim states. Another factor is the number of children in the state needing a foster home. Preheim offers, "In general, however, the process can be expedited if the potential foster family has a pre-existing relationship with the child needing placement."

There should be no restrictions on a military family's ability to foster or adopt based solely on the fact that they are a military family. However, there might be restrictions based on factors that result from being a military family. Preheim gives the example of military families living overseas; they would not be able to foster children who are not legally free for adoption because those children would still be in the legal custody of the state.

Process of Becoming a Foster Family

AdoptUSKids provides a cost-free national gateway to the process of fostering or adopting a child. The organization provides general and state-specific information about fostering and adoption. The general process of fostering is:

  • Active-duty military families that live within the U.S. are first referred to a military-global specialist who will provide additional information.
  • Subsequently, staff will refer the family to the state where their permanent duty station is, since that is typically where they will be located.
  • The process is similar for military families living overseas, although, as mentioned above, they would not be able to foster children who are not legally free for adoption because those children would still be in the legal custody of the state.
  • If adoption training is not readily accessible where a family is currently living, they can find out from their agency or home state child welfare agency what equivalent training is necessary. Once the family knows the requirements, they might be able to access similar training near their installation.

Working Out Details

"Because of the time it takes to become certified and have children placed in the home, fostering works best with military families who will be stationed in one place for more than a year," says Preheim. Although families may become certified in one state, they must also become certified when they are transferred to a different state. However, many states are starting to recognize the unique circumstances of military families and will accept specific elements of the certification process, such as the training classes, to be transferred with the family when relocating.

Health Insurance

Children in the foster care system receive medical insurance coverage through the state or federal government. Children are covered by Medicaid and Title IV-E of the Social Security Act. If the child becomes eligible for adoption and the military family wishes to legally adopt, the child may still receive these benefits. "In fact, 80 percent of foster children who are adopted are eligible for ongoing funding (adoption assistance) through Title IV-E and/or the child's state of origin. Additionally, a child who is legally adopted by a military family would then be eligible for TRICARE benefits," Preheim explains.

Deployment or Permanent Change of Station

Today, most children who are in foster care have what are commonly referred to as "concurrent plans," that is, a primary plan to return the child home along with an alternate plan of adoption should the returning home plan not be successful, for whatever reason. Preheim elaborates, "Even if a child returns home, it is common for their foster family to remain involved in the child's life through such means as email, video or teleconferencing, letters, pictures, and even visits."

If a military family has a foster child placed in their home who is not legally free for adoption when the military family is relocated, the child will typically be transferred to another foster family within the state. In some cases, the family member in the military might be able to request from their Unit Commander an extended stay at the current location, especially in situations when the process to terminate the rights of biological parents to the child have commenced and the foster family has been identified as the prospective adoptive family. In addition, military families who are close to finalizing the adoption of a child may be able to request a deployment deferment as well.

If the family is in the process of adopting the child when they are transferred, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) in both the child's home state and the receiving state would work together to facilitate that placement. A deploying family member will need to grant a power of attorney to their spouse, or another family member in the case of single-parent adoption. Military One Source provides a guide on parenting through deployment.

Foster Family Support

Preheim offers the following information with regard to support available for foster families.

Even when foster children are physically placed in a family's home, the state still has legal custody of the child. For this reason, families receive regular supervision, and financial, medical, and social work support from the state. Services the family or child needs such as therapy, respite, or medical care are also provided by the state.

AdoptUSKids explains that military families may also utilize their Family Service Centers. These Centers are located on every major military installation to provide family support and advocacy. Social workers at these centers are available for family and/or child counseling and treatment as needed to strengthen family functioning, promote the prevention of child abuse, preserve and support families where abuse and neglect have occurred, and collaborate with state and local civilian social service agencies.

The different designations for Family Service Centers are:

  • Army - Army Community Service
  • Air Force - Family Support Center
  • Navy - Fleet and Family Support Center
  • Marine Corp - Marine Corp Community Services
  • Coast Guard - Work/Life Office

Moving From Foster Care to Adoption

Preheim elaborates on the process of moving from foster care to adoption by explaining the following.

When a family has the opportunity to legally adopt a child they are fostering, they would follow a process similar to that of becoming a foster parent. The family's caseworker should be able to provide relevant information about the specific state's process for adoption. In some cases, the certification process for adoption is the same as that for fostering; the majority of paperwork will be transferred by the caseworker from the fostering record to the adoption record.

Some states require an attorney to oversee the adoption legal proceedings. Families should find out as soon as possible if they need to make arrangements to involve an attorney. Although military families often have access to a Legal Assistance Office and the Judge Advocate General (JAG), the family cannot use these services as legal representation. Families who must secure an attorney might be able to offset some of the legal fees with the adoption reimbursement program offered by the Department of Defense or with the child's state-administered adoption assistance program.

Additionally, families are eligible for a federal adoption tax credit, and, in some states, an income tax credit, which is a state tax credit for qualifying adoption expenses at any stage in the adoption process.

Woman in uniform holding kid

Adoption While Overseas

Adoption is very much possible for U.S. military families living overseas. They can maintain their legal residence in the U.S. and use it for domestic adoption. These resources can help:

  • The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Convention) is an international treaty designed to promote the best interests of children, birth families, and adoptive families. Families stationed in countries that are part of the Convention can consult the country's central authority for details.
  • The U.S. Department of State also provides contact information of each country's adoption authority on its website.
  • For intercountry adoption, the U.S. Department of State coordinates policies and programs and provides direction to Foreign Service posts on intercountry adoption. Their website provides military families updates and alerts regarding the process.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) determines the suitability and eligibility of prospective adoptive parents and determines the eligibility of the child to immigrate to the U.S. Their website provides information on citizenship for military families.

Additional Resources

Additional resources for adoption information and guidance include:

Giving Hope

Opening your home and heart to a child in need gives the child profound hope. You can be a military family as well as foster or adopt a child in need of a home.

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Expert Advice on Foster Care for Military Families: How to Provide Support