Thinking about fostering or even adopting?

Jenn Petion, director of administration and external affairs for FamiliesFirst Network, provided some insight into the process.

Q. How many children need adoptive families in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties?

A. We’ve got 406 children who are legally free for adoption in our circuit; 252 of those live in Santa Rosa, Okaloosa or Walton counties.

Q. How long does it typically take for an adoptive child to be placed in a home?

A. If you are a relative the process may move a bit faster. If you are seeking to adopt and don’t have an identified child yet, it may take longer. The process varies based on how restrictive the family is on what they want to be considered for a child. For example, if you are very open to any age child, chances are we are going to be able to match you quicker because there are more children who match that.

Q. What are the requirements for adoptive parents such as age and martial status?

A. To foster, you must be at least 21 years of age and have enough income to support yourself. The added piece that we look for in an adoptive home is that you will be able to support the child through maturity.

Q. What is the age range of children in FamiliesFirst Network?

A. Newborn to age 17. There is also an extended foster care program for special circumstances that runs to the age of 21.

Q. What is the process of becoming a foster or adoptive home?

A. First, you come in and talk to one of our recruiters and see what differences there are in adopting through foster care as opposed to a private adoption agency. Next we talk about what the many benefits are adopting through FamiliesFirst Network. At that point, if they agree that they want to move forward, they get signed up for adoption classes. The classes are really to help people understand what parenting children from a hard place looks like and how that differs from parenting a biological child. For more information visit www.elakeviewcenter.org/FamiliesFirstNetwork.

Q. How can I get matched with a child?

A. The easiest way to begin the process is to sign up on family-match.org. FamiliesFirst Network was invited to take part in a pilot project this year with the online match site. Family Match allows case workers to view an online gallery of prospective families instead of families looking at prospective children. The goal is to reduce the wait time for children waiting to find a family match and also to ensure that this is the best possible match for that child. Family Match was developed by the lead researcher for the dating website eHarmony. For more information, visit www.family-match.org.

Q. Do children in foster care have benefits such as medical and school tuition, and do those benefits continue once the child is adopted?

A. Children who have been adopted from foster care continue to receive comprehensive medical benefits (through Medicaid) until they turn 18. They also receive a tuition waiver for any Florida public college or university. In addition, the family often receives a Maintenance Adoption Subsidy until the child turns 18 to assist in covering additional needs the child may have.

Q. Are there other agencies that work with Florida's foster children to help to place them in homes?

A. FamiliesFirst Network is the only local agency to go through to adopt a child from foster care. There are other agencies like us that cover every region of the state. There are other nonprofit partners who provide various foster care-related services, such as a residential group home, and there are private adoption entities, but the public adoptions always route through us.