SWAN – Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why are there children waiting for families?

    In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania there are Children and Youth (C & Y) agencies in each county.  These agencies are charged with protecting the welfare of children and youth by providing family support/family preservation services, foster care services, and, when needed, adoption services.  When they become aware of a child who is being abused and/or neglected they must investigate the situation and do everything they can to stabilize and support the family.  Sometimes this is possible while the child remains in the family.  In other instances, however, it is necessary for a child to enter foster care.  Initially, the C & Y agency works to reunite the children with their families.  However, after a child has been in foster care for 15 months, this may change to focusing on finding permanency for the child through other resources, such as kinship care or adoption.

    There are hundreds of children who are legally free for adoption in Pennsylvania and who are waiting for families.  These are older children (typically 10 years old and older) who have moderate to severe special needs.  Because of their physical, emotional, behavioral and/or cognitive special needs it can be difficult to find families for them.  These children may wait years before finding a family that is willing to welcome them into the family.

  • What are the ages of the children available for adoption?

    Typically, the children who are legally free for adoption are between the ages of 10 and 18 years.  These children have moderate to severe special needs.

  • What does legally free mean?

    This means that the child's birth parents no longer have their parental rights.  These can be terminated through a court process or the birth parents can voluntarily surrender their rights.  Children who are legally free are in the full care and custody of C & Y agencies.  In most but not all cases, this also means that they no longer have contact with their birth parents.

  • A friend of mine adopted a younger child who is relatively healthy and who was in foster care. Are you saying that this isn't possible?

    Although there are younger children, healthy children, and children with mild special needs in the foster care system, these children are typically not legally free for adoption.  Families hoping to adopt children under the age of 10 are encouraged to investigate agencies that have foster-to-adoption (also called fost-adopt) programs.  In these programs you begin as a foster family and when a child is placed with you they are considered a foster child.  Then, if the child becomes legally free for adoption, you will be given the option to adopt the child.  Madison Adoption Associates can give you names of agencies in your area providing fost-adopt services, if you€™d like.

    Madison Adoption Associates focuses on the needs of the older children who are legally free for adoption.  This means that we are focused on placing older children and children with more significant special needs.

  • What do you mean by moderate to severe special needs?

    This can mean a wide variety of things.  Moderate to severe physical special needs can include things like cerebral palsy, seizure disorders, genetic disorders requiring regular care, children who are fed through a gastric feeding tube (g-tube), etc.  Moderate to severe cognitive special needs frequently refers to learning disabilities (i.e. dyslexia, information processing disorders, etc.) or cognitive delays, also called mental retardation.  The final categories of special needs are emotional and behavioral special needs.  Children with these needs may have diagnoses including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and others.  These children may have a history of challenging behaviors including violence toward objects, animals, or other people, sexually inappropriate behavior, stealing, tantrums, fire-setting, and others.

  • Wow! These children sound really difficult to parent. Are there truly families that choose to adopt them?

    The single most important thing to remember about adopting a child through SWAN is that the whole being is more than just the €sum of his/her parts€ (i.e. their past experiences and diagnoses).  These are children who have experienced multiple losses and multiple hurts.  They have dealt with more in their lives than many adults have and have the wounds (physical or emotional) to show for it.  While they may have had or still have some challenging behaviors, they can also be amazingly resilient.  They can be warm, loving, friendly, intelligent, funny, energetic, artistic, athletic, and so many more things.

    YES!  There are families that choose to adopt older children from the foster care system and do so successfully.  The keys to a successful adoption are good pre-adoption preparation, flexibility, a strong support system, ability to identify and utilize services in your community, and the commitment to be that child€™s mother or father even when it may seem that they don€™t want you to be.

  • Are there more boys or girls waiting for families?

    There are typically more boys waiting for families.

  • What kind of information will I receive about a child?

    When a child€™s goal is changed to adoption, the C & Y agency will work on having a child profile completed for the child. The child profile is a long document that gathers all the available information about the child. It will include information about how the child came into foster care, the child€™s birth family, the child€™s medical, educational, and mental health histories, an explanation of their current functioning, and more.

    When you initially inquire about a child, you will likely get a short summary about the child based on a phone conversation between your Adoption Coordinator at Madison Adoption Associates and the child€™s social worker. If you are interested in learning more about that child, this request will be shared with the child€™s social worker. Some C & Y agencies will allow a child€™s profile to be released to almost anyone who inquires, others prefer to read your family profile first and then decide whether to forward the child profile, and still other counties will share the child profile with a family only after the family has been selected as a possible match for the child.

  • Who is eligible to adopt?

    In general, the eligibility requirements for SWAN are not very restrictive.

    • Married and single persons may adopt.
    • Must be at least 25 years of age. We recommend no more than 45 years age difference between parent and child but some exceptions may be made to this.
    • Families of any race, religion, or size.
    • Families who are generally physically and mentally healthy.
  • What do county workers look for in adoptive families?

    In the SWAN program, the social workers at the county C & Y agencies select families to interview as possible matches for a child. Depending on the child, they may receive only a handful of family profiles or as many as 70 100 family profiles from families interested in learning more about the child. They are also the ones that make the final decision regarding which family will be matched with the child. Here are some things that they look for when evaluating adoptive families.

    • Families who are realistic. Foster children have experienced abuse and/or neglect and the loss of their birth family (and maybe other significant adults in their lives). It is not unusual for these children to exhibit challenging behaviors, both as they are adjusting to their families and as they grow. Realistic families understand:
      • It will take a long time for the children€™s hearts to heal so it may be years before the child€™s behavior meets the standards that the adoptive parents would like.
      • Not every child will be able to go to college. For some children success is defined as a high school diploma and a consistent job.
      • It may be months or years until the child is able to receive AND give love. In the meantime, it€™s the adoptive parents€™ job to provide the child with love, structure, and stability.
      • Some special needs may become evident as the child grows.
    • Families who are familiar with the needs of foster children. If your family profile has been completed and you are in the matching process, the best thing that you can do is to continue to learn about the needs of the children in the foster care system. Attend trainings, read books about adoption and about specific special needs, attend support groups and meet other adoptive families, volunteer in a group home, research the support services that are in your area (learning supports, therapy, medical resources, etc.).
    • Families who are flexible. Caring for a child with special needs often means attending appointments for therapy, evaluations, school meetings, doctors€™ visits, and more. Families need to have the flexibility in their family lives to accommodate these visits. If there are children already in your home, this may mean that they can€™t participate in quite as many activities as they have in the past. The time now needs to be shared among all the children and your family may need to make changes to adjust to the new child.

    To be matched with a child you do NOT need to be:

    • Perfect We know that real families aren€™t perfect. Real families have arguments and make mistakes. Real families can be realistic, flexible, and familiar with the needs of children in the foster care system AND still mess up from time to time. The important thing for an adoptive family is that you can recognize your imperfections, apologize for your mistakes, and figure out a way to do it better next time! In fact, imperfect families often are the most successful as adoptive families because they can recognize and forgive the imperfections in the children they adopt.
    • Rich There are many state- and federally-funded services that can be helpful to families that adopt children from foster care. Before the adoption is finalized you will work with your child€™s county Children and Youth agency to determine the amount of the adoption subsidy you receive. The subsidy is determined based on the level of your child€™s need and is designed to help you care for your child until he or she is an adult. You and your child may be eligible for subsidized mental and behavioral health, physical health, and educational services.
    • Married Did you know that some children do better in a family with a single mom or a single dad?
    • Straight Madison Adoption Associates will place children with same sex couples of both genders. As long as you can meet the needs of the child, you are eligible to adopt. Although some private agencies (particularly faith-based ones) may hesitate to work with same-sex families, the public children and youth agencies often don€™t hesitate to place children in gay or lesbian families.
    • A college graduate Parenting a child who has been in foster care is not about having a college degree! It is about love, commitment, determination, resourcefulness, and learning to advocate for your child.
  • How long does it take to adopt a child through SWAN?

    This varies according to the child or children you are hoping to adopt. Families open to older teens, sibling groups of more than 2, or children with more special needs are likely to be matched more quickly. In general, realistic families seeking to adopt a child who is 10 and older will likely be matched within 6 to 24 months, with most families being matched within 6 to 12 months.

  • What paperwork is required for the application?

    The application is the beginning of the adoption process. Madison Adoption Associates will give you all the documents and/or step-by-step directions on how to obtain the necessary documents.

  • Once my family profile has been completed, then what happens?

    This is when the matching phase begins. In our experience, most social workers for the C & Y agencies prefer to be contacted by the family€™s social worker rather than by the family directly. As a result, when you learn about a child that you might be interested in you will send the child€™s information to your Adoption Coordinator, who will then contact the child€™s social worker to get additional information. You can learn about children by visiting the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange at www.adoptpakids.org. This is an online photolisting of children who are waiting for families. You are also welcome to visit our offices and review the Pennsylvania Adoption Exchange Photolisting book.

    While you are doing this, Madison Adoption Associates staff and your Adoption Coordinator will be working to find information about children that might be a good match for your family. This will include things like talking with social workers at other agencies with whom we have relationships, sending a summary about your family to county C & Y agencies, taking flyers about your family to SWAN meetings and networking sessions, and such.

  • How am I matched with a child?

    The child€™s social worker will be reviewing all child profiles submitted for consideration for match. Typically he or she will select 2 or 3 families to invite in for interviews. The interview is a way for the child€™s social worker to get to know you in more depth than they can by reading your family profile. This is also a time for you to ask questions about the child(ren) and to gather more information. Madison Adoption Associates staff will accompany you to the interview if it is held close to our offices in Perkasie. Otherwise, we will join you by phone during the interview. The interview typically consists of the family, the child€™s social worker, and may include 2 or 3 other staff people from the county C & Y agency.

    After the interview the county will decide which of the families they interviewed would be the best match for the child. If you are selected you will have the opportunity to decline the match if you feel that the child is not a good match for your family. If the county selects you and you want to be matched with the child, the next step will be the pre-placement visits.

  • What does the pre-placement process entail?

    This process varies widely because it is tailored to the needs of the child and the family. The general overview is that the family and the child meet several times before the child is actually placed in the home. The visits gradually increase in length and change in location until the child is ready to move in the home. The initial visit may occur in the child€™s current foster home, group home, or residential treatment facility and it may only be an hour or two long. Gradually, the length of visit will increase to a half day, then a full day, and then overnight until the child is staying with you for the full weekend. Visits may start in the child€™s current home and then slowly transition to a public place (i.e. McDonald€™s or a park) and then to your home. Some children can make this transition very quickly with only 2 or 3 visits. However, most children need to visit over the course of 1 to 3 months before moving. The pre-placement visits for some children may take as long as 6 to 12 months.

    The goal of the pre-placement visits is to help the child get to know your family and to feel comfortable in your family. In addition, it is important that you have a chance to get to know the child more before moving him/her/them into your home. If, at any time, you feel that it is not a good match the pre-placement visits can be ended. This will be difficult for both the family and the child but it is better that it happen before the child move rather than after.

  • Will I be required to travel as part of this process?

    Yes, it€™s likely that you will. You will need to travel to the county C & Y agency for the interview and then you will need to travel to the child for the pre-placement visits. This is true whether you are matched with a child who is currently in your county or who is from the other end of the state. Some counties will reimburse travel expenses for official meetings such as the interview while others will not.

  • What happens after the child is placed in my home?

    For the first month after your child(ren) comes home, your Adoption Coordinator will be meeting with you weekly. This weekly visitation may be extended if your family continues to need the support. Otherwise, visits will be reduced to every other week for the second and third months that the child is in your home. Following the third month, visits will be once a month until the adoption is finalized. Of course, you are always welcome to request additional visits if you feel that they would be helpful.

    The purpose of post-placement visits is to support you and the child during the adjustment process. Your Adoption Coordinator will discuss with you the challenges you are having and brainstorm ways to handle them. She€™ll also be there to celebrate the successes with you! Your Adoption Coordinator will also help you connect to the resources and support that will help make your adoption successful.

    The child€™s social worker may also be making periodic visits to your home to ensure that the placement is going well.

  • What do I do if the child(ren) in my care need medical care, therapy, etc?

    According to HIPPA, once a child is placed with you for the purpose of adoption he/she may be added to your private health insurance. In addition, all children in the foster care system are eligible for Medicaid. This can assist with expenses that may not be covered by your private health insurance.

  • What if the child is placed in my home and I feel that the placement is not going well?

    In any adoption, it is normal to feel this from time to time. This is particularly true on days or weeks when your child is particularly challenging. The first thing to do is to talk with your Adoption Coordinator about it. She may be able to give you some tools or connect you with some resources that will help ease you through this difficult time. Remember that these challenges cannot be fixed overnight but they can be eased over time. The second thing to do is to reach out to other friends and family you trust for help. These people can be a lifeline in difficult situations.

    If you have gotten all the support you can possibly get and have tried all the things you can possibly try, the decision of last resort is disruption. This is when you ask that the child be removed from your home. The child, then, will be returned to a foster home, group home, or residential treatment facility. As much as possible, we will try to support you and your child so that this doesn€™t happen because it is one more traumatic transition for the child. However, in some cases it is the best choice for everyone involved. Disruption is truly the decision of last resort.

  • Will I have contact with my child's birth family?

    By the time a child is legally free for adoption they are no longer having regular visits with their birth parents. However, they may have some connections to members of their birth family that are important to them. This may include siblings who have been adopted by another family or who are in foster care, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other family members. These connections might also include former foster parents. Remember, older children may have connections with people from before they met you. So often these children lose these connections and, with it, part of their history. It is important for you to think ahead of time about what level of openness and contact you are comfortable with. While not every child has contact with their birth family, some of the children do. You are not required by law to maintain those connections after the adoption is finalized but it may be in the child€™s best interest to do so.

  • When is the adoption final?

    Madison Adoption Associates requires that you have the child in your home for at least 6 months before we will issue our consent to the adoption. Because they have legal custody of the child, the county C & Y agency must also issue their consent. Both Madison Adoption Associates and the county C & Y agency may choose to wait longer than 6 months to give consent just to ensure that the placement is stable and remains that way. If this happens, it is not an indictment of you as parents. We just want to be sure that the placement is going well so as to prevent further moves for a child who has already experienced too many.

    Once both Madison Adoption Associates and the county C & Y agency have given their consent, you will have an adoption hearing before a judge in the county of the C & Y agency holding custody, or in the county where you reside.

  • Does Madison Adoption Associates provide post adoption support?

    Yes. SWAN also funds a group of services call Post-Permanency Services (a.k.a. Post-Perm). The Post-Perm program can provide state-funded respite services and therapeutic post adoption case management. We can also connect you to support groups in your area. These services are available to you at any time after your adoption is finalized. You may utilize them right away or you may choose to wait until the child has been in your home for years.