Considering fostering or adoption in Illinois? Here’s what to know about the process

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Thousands of Illinois foster families care for children placed with the state’s Department of Children and Family Services system each year. The agency has also carried out adoptions for more than 15,000 children in the state over the last decade.

Fostering, adoption and guardianship all have differing requirements and legal processes. Here’s some information from Illinois DCFS about initiating the process to foster a child, what a prospective foster family needs to do for licensure and what to know about adoption in the state.

How to become a foster parent in Illinois

Reunification is the goal of fostering, according to DCFS. Nearly half of all children in foster care are reunited with their families within 12 months, the department says.

A foster parent must be at least 21 years old and can be single, married, in a civil union, separated or divorced. Prospective families are required to participate in a home inspection and social assessment, complete a criminal background check on all household members and be financially stable.

Additionally, prospective foster parents/families must complete a health screening verifying immunizations are current and complete 27 hours of training focusing on foster care and the needs of children who are in foster care.

You must have enough space to accommodate the child or children in your home, and you can go to work, school or stay at home while fostering. There are required activities and meetings for foster families.

The first step in becoming a foster family is filling out an online form. You will be asked to give demographic information about yourself, when the best days/times are for DCFS to reach you and whether you’re interested in traditional foster care, relative foster care or adoption.

The form will ask whether you’re interested in fostering adolescents, Black, Spanish-speaking, LGBTQ+, French African or Arab American youth.

According to its website, DCFS is always in need of foster families to meet the needs of:

  • Babies born with HIV virus or with cocaine in their system

  • Latino children

  • Children with “special medical needs”

  • Siblings who need to stay together

  • Teenage mothers and their babies

  • Adolescents

  • LGBTQ+ and questioning youth

  • African American infants

After completing the form, your information will be shared with a local recruitment office, and you should receive a follow-up response in three business days.

The process for relative foster families differs. Relative foster parents can be unlicensed when it’s in the child’s best interest, as licensure can take several months. DCFS “strongly encourages” the families to seek licensure, however.

During a period of unlicensed relative foster care, the family receives lower reimbursements for fostering costs.

What to know about adoption in Illinois

Adoption is a permanent decision that involves termination of the birth parents’ rights, either voluntarily or through court order.

Illinois adoption law requires the following factors to be considered when selecting an adoptive family for an eligible child:

  1. Child’s wishes

  2. Child’s interaction and relationship with the person/family wanting to adopt

  3. Child’s need for stability and continuity of relationship with parental figures

  4. The written wishes of the child’s parent/s, expressed prior to the parent/s’ consent or surrender for adoption

  5. Child’s adjustment to present home, school and community

  6. The mental and physical health of all individuals involved

  7. Family ties between the child and the person/family wanting to adopt the child and the value of preserving family ties between the child and their relatives, including siblings

  8. Background, age and living arrangements of the person/family wanting to adopt the child

  9. Criminal background check report presented to the court as part of the investigation required under Section 6 of the Adoption Act

Guardianship is an alternative considered to be less permanent than adoption. Guardianship does not require the termination of birth parents’ rights, and it legally ends when a child turns 18.

A child’s consent, best interest and familial relationships are important considerations in guardianship as well. Any child 14 years or older must consent to their own adoption or guardianship, and a child 13 or older can petition for a change in guardianship.

If you are interested in adopting an eligible child you’re fostering, you can contact the child’s caseworker to discuss options. To discuss the adoption process for an eligible child not in your care, you can contact the Adoption Information Center of Illinois at 800-572-2390.