How does Eckerd Connects help families adopt foster children in the Tampa Bay area?

As the Lead Child Welfare Agency in the Tampa Bay area, Eckerd Connects helps place available children in the Florida foster care system into loving adoptive homes. We currently serve foster children and perspective adoptive families living in Hillsborough, Pasco, and Pinellas counties.

Why are children in foster care?

Children and youth enter foster care through no fault of their own because they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by the people who were supposed to care for them. If a child in foster care is eligible for adoption that means reunification with their biological family is not possible and an adoptive family must be found.

How many children are in foster care and waiting adoption?

In the region that Eckerd Connects serves, there are hundreds of children available for adoption.

Who can adopt a child?

In Florida you must be 21 or older to be eligible to adopt a child from foster care. There are no restrictions based on age, race, marital status or sexual orientation. You may live in a home or apartment that you own or rent.

As an adoptive parent, you must have a stable income sufficient to support yourself and your family. However, potential adoptive parents are never disqualified based on income alone.

Can I adopt a child if I have a Permanent Residency Card (Green Card)?

As long as you are residing in the United States you may be able to adopt as a Green Card holder.

What are the basic steps to adopt a child in the Florida foster care system?

  1. Let us know you are interested in adopting by completing our Adoption Interest Form or by calling 866-233-0790.
  2. Attend a free orientation session put on by Eckerd Connects or one of its partner agencies.
  3. Complete a professional parenting course to learn more about the children in foster care, the abuse they might have endured, grief and loss issues they might have, and professional training to be a successful adoptive parent.
  4. Complete a Home Study to ensure that you, your family and your home are prepared and safe for adoption. The home study includes background checks for all household members – all at no cost to you. If everything is favorable, your home study will be approved and you’ll be ready to explore the next step in the process.
  5. Get matched. At last, you and your adoption worker have identified a child who seems to be a perfect match. Now is the time to learn as much as you can about the child. You may talk to the child’s foster parents or social worker to gain valuable insight into the child’s personality and background. At the same time you are learning about the child, the adoption worker is sharing information about you and your family with the child. Some families prepare a photo album with pictures of their home, family members, family pets and the general neighborhood as a good way to introduce themselves to the child prior to an initial visit. When the child is comfortable, an initial short visit occurs. This initial visit is followed by longer and longer visits until the adoption worker, child and family agree that an overnight or extended visit can occur. There is no set timeframe for getting to know each other. The official placement in your home will occur when you, the child and the adoption worker determine that the child is ready.
  6. Finalize the adoption in a court of law, at which time the child becomes a permanent and legal member your family, affording you all the rights and responsibilities that come with parenting a biological child.

Is adopting a foster child expensive?

No. When you adopt a child from foster care, you will not be charged for the pre-adoptive training, home studies, background screenings or placement. There may be expenses related to attorney fees and court costs, but these will be reimbursed up to $1,000 by the state. Additionally, other one-time-only expenses such as birth certificate fees and travel expenses for visiting the child may be reimbursed.

Is There a Tax Credit for People Who Adopt?

Federal legislation was enacted in 2002 that increases tax credits and exclusions for all adoptive families. It provides an adoption tax credit of $10,000 for all adoptions and a tax exclusion of up to $10,000 for employer-provided adoption benefits. You can learn more about these tax credits by visiting the IRS website.

How old are children available for adoption?

Although it varies greatly, children from foster care who are available for adoption are typically eight years old or older.

I have heard that many children in foster care have “special needs.” What does that mean?

“Special needs” is a federal legal definition that applies to most children in foster care. It means the child qualifies for an adoption subsidy, but it does not necessarily mean the child has a disability.

In Florida, any of the following criteria qualifies a child for special needs assistance:

  • Eight years old or older
  • Member of a sibling group being placed for adoption together
  • African American or racially mixed
  • Significant emotional ties with foster parents or a relative caregiver
  • Mental, physical or emotional handicap

A child with special needs should not be confused with a child who requires special education.

Can I adopt a child of another race?

Yes. In October 1995, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) came into effect. This act and subsequent revisions bar any federally funded agency from discriminating because of race when considering adoption opportunities for children. Another law affecting transracial adoption is the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which establishes provisions for the placement of Native American children.

What type of support, including financial support, is available?

Pre- and post-adoption support is available, including counseling, training and support groups. Additionally, families that adopt a child in foster care will likely qualify for a monthly adoption subsidy to help offset ongoing costs, as well as health care through the Medicaid program for the child until age 18. Children adopted from the Florida foster care system are also eligible for free tuition at any Florida state college, university or vocational school.

What does a caseworker do?

Each child has his or her own caseworker. The caseworker is a key player in the process, charged with ensuring that the child’s needs and rights to safety, permanency, and well-being are met. The child’s caseworker is rarely the sole decider as to who will adopt the child, but is likely to be the person with whom the family will communicate, either directly or through their adoption social worker, until the adoption is finalized.

What is a home study?

A home study is a process that results in a document about you, your family, and your strengths, characteristics, and challenges. A home study begins with an interview of you and your family at your home. It can include a home safety inspection, a background check, and pre-adoption training classes. After getting to know your family, your caseworker will make recommendations about the characteristics and number of children who would succeed in your home.

36 hours of pre-adoption training and a home study are required to adopt a child from Florida’s foster care system.

Is it necessary to involve an attorney in the process?

In the state of Florida, families are required to have an adoption attorney. However, the state does reimburse any attorney fees up to $1,000.

How long does the entire adoption process take?

If a child has already been identified for the family, the adoption process, from training to finalization, typically takes about nine to 12 months.

Will I receive a complete case history when I consider a child for adoption?

Yes. One of the benefits of adopting from Florida is having access to a comprehensive case history and full disclosure. You will be given information on the child’s medical background, foster placements and developmental level. You will also be given insight into the child’s personality, habits, hobbies, aspirations, likes and dislikes. This information helps determine how the child will fit into your family.

What happens once the adoption is finalized?

Once an adoption is finalized in a court of law, the child becomes a permanent and legal member of the adopting family, affording the adoptive parents all rights and responsibilities that come with parenting a biological child.

Can the biological parents take the child back?

Not in Florida. Florida’s children are not made available for adoption until a court has terminated the parental rights of their birth parents. This form of adoption is very secure.

Are adoptions from foster care generally successful?

Adoptions appear to be more stable when parents have flexible and realistic hopes and expectations for their children and when they make use of any post-adoption supports that are available to help with learning, medical, behavioral, or emotional challenges. Ask about our adoption and post-adoption support services.

Where can I get more information?

Visit our Foster & Adoption section for more information.