8 Steps to Adoption in Florida

I clicked here and I’m pretty sure I’m not going anywhere without my heart being whisked away by the end of this article. There are currently some precious profile photos and stories for children ages 2-17 who are ready for adoption in Florida.

Adoption stories are like fingerprints. Each story has unique furrows and loops that differentiate them one from another. You’d think you would be able to come up with a basic structure of the impact adoption has on an adoptee, birth mother, or adoptive family members, but yet another wave portrays a completely different picture. Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Trina Kraus and I’m an adoptee who was born in Florida. I was adopted via private inter-state adoption when I was four days old. You can read a snapshot of my adoption experience here. Some things about the process of adoption in Florida have changed since then. But, some things have not. 

If you’re even a little bit interested in pursuing adoption in Florida, please also consider adopting a sibling group, a child with special needs, and/or a child who is 8 years old or older who is already in a temporary home awaiting adoption. As of this publication, there are at least 500 children in need of a forever home in Florida.

Adoption in Florida Incentive

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families, there are a lot of long-term benefits to choosing to adopt from foster care. Private adoption can be extremely expensive while adopting from foster care could potentially cost you nothing out of pocket. Other financial benefits include college tuition subsidy from state universities, a tax credit in the maximum amount of $13,400, free health care for the child, and a high likelihood of monthly support until the child turns 18. 

More on the impact of Florida’s Adoption Incentive program can be learned here as this 2019 report shows that DeSantis’ strategy is having a positive impact on the number of successful adoptions in Florida and the time a child spends in foster care has seen a notable decline.

Foster First? 

You might be very excited to expand your family, but maybe your spouse and/or other children are hesitant. Maybe they have questions about what it would look like to open their home to another family member. Where would they stay? How would family vacations look? How would our financial picture change? Fostering can be a nice way to begin to understand the ways your family dynamic would be changed in the case of including another member. Keep in mind, though, that fostering requires a family with a heart and a passion to offer a loving home for a child who may need a home just for an interim or for forever. Fostering can’t just be viewed as a “test drive” for your family, but if your heart is in the right place, it can be a good way to gain insight about how adding to your family permanently would look. If you want to move to adopt a child that you have fostered, then you would begin the process for adoption in Florida. 

Basic Requirements to Foster:

  • In Florida, you must be 21 years of age.
  • You don’t have to be married, but if you are, both of you will be required to go through the foster care licensing process.
  • You must be willing to undergo federal, state, and local background checks. If you have a criminal history, certain types of crimes including violent offenses could stand in your way of fostering. Domestic or child abuse convictions would preclude you from obtaining foster parent licensure. 
  • You do not need to own your own home, but you do need to be able to meet the financial needs of your current family in addition to the needs of an additional family member. You’ll need to provide documentation to verify your financial picture.
  • Foster parents must have a valid driver’s license and a functioning vehicle.
  • Your home must have adequate space for an additional family member.
  • You must be a U.S. citizen.

Ready to Adopt?

Basic requirements to adopt in Florida: 

According to the Florida Department of Children and Families

“To be eligible to adopt one of Florida’s children, you may be married or single, already a parent or never a parent, in your 60s or in your 20s, an apartment renter or a homeowner, a person of modest means or wealth. The fact is that there is no one description of people who can be prospective adoptive parents. If you have the ability to love a child, to provide the basics for a child and to make a lifelong commitment, you can be an adoptive parent. A few things will prevent you from becoming an adoptive parent, such as certain felony criminal records.” 

Florida itself doesn’t have an age requirement, but some individual adoption agencies may have their own policies regarding age. 

Research: 

What kind of adoption suits your family? A private adoption? Adopting through an agency? If finances are an issue for your family, you’ll want to do some price shopping. A private adoption will likely cost more as opposed to adopting through a Florida agency which can cost little to nothing. 

Private Adoption

Private adoption can take place in Florida when a birth mother, birth father (if applicable), and a prospective adoptive parent agree and want to proceed with an adoption. Private adoption allows for the adoption to proceed with very little government or state oversight. A lawyer will personally see to it that all of the correct documentation is signed and filed. Florida adoption attorney Bryan McLachlan shares an open discussion about the pros and cons of private adoption versus going through an agency here.

Agency Adoption: 

You can start your journey by calling 1-800-96-ADOPT to connect with an adoption specialist in Florida. Otherwise, you have a plethora of agencies you can contact on your own. You can inquire about costs with different agencies and other important details. You may want to know what the mission statement is of the agency to be assured that it aligns with your own personal belief system. You should also research reviews for the agency you are considering. 

Complete Training Courses

Attend an Orientation: 

You’ll need to attend an orientation course which may last approximately two hours before starting the rest of the required coursework. This session will offer an overview of the child welfare system in general along with timelines and procedures you can expect throughout the process.

PRIDE or MAPP Training: 

Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) training is a ten-week course (27 hours) required for prospective parents to successfully complete before the finalization of adoption in Florida. The Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting (MAPP) is another state-recognized course to fulfill the coursework requirement. MAPP is a 30-hour course designed to educate prospective adoptive parents. Florida is currently one of 26 states that formally require one or the other before adoption. If you’re adopting through an agency, your agency might have a preference for which course you complete. This discussion thread on adoption.com may help you access current information in regards to MAPP and PRIDE courses.

MAPP focuses on 12 “Key Skills.” According to the MAPP home page, 

“MAPP is a comprehensive program designed to extend the idea of building positive relationships and alliances beyond birth parents. Within the MAPP practice framework, child welfare staff, foster parents, and adoptive parents work as a team. The goal is to preserve or rebuild the family around the long-term welfare of the child. This requires that the team members form a partnership or positive alliance with the birth parents. A MAPP partnership seeks to keep the parents in their parental roles and status, focused on the welfare of the child” (Gomapp.com).

PRIDE focuses on 5 Competencies which, according to the Child Welfare League of America, are “protecting and nurturing children; meeting children’s developmental needs and addressing their delays; supporting relationships with birth families; connecting children to safe, nurturing relationships intended to last a lifetime (permanency); and working as a member of a professional team.” The CWLA web page also boasts a new online version of some of the coursework that would be combined with in-person work.

Home Study: 

The pre-placement home study may seem like the most daunting portion of your adoption journey, but it doesn’t have to be. If you actually start compiling as much of your documentation as early as possible, you may be able to have a lot of it finished before you even get to the interview portion of the process. If you’re going through an agency, it’s likely that a licensed professional will be assigned to you. 

If you’re not going through an agency or prefer to choose your own home study professional, you do have some options. Connecting Hearts specializes in home studies in Florida and has a great reputation. According to a testimonial written by Cheryl Payne, Esq., Quarles & Brady, LLP, “Whenever a prospective adopting family informs me that Connecting Hearts conducted their home study, I am confident that not only will the home study meet all requirements of the law, but the family is in the best of hands, both personally and professionally.”

You can prepare for your pre-placement home study by gathering documentation of the following:

      • Financial statements (tax returns, bank statements, etc.)
      • Health screenings for all adults in your home
      • Apply for federal, state, and local background checks including child abuse checks for all household members 12 and older. See Adoptionnetwork.com to find more details on exactly how Florida code is worded in regards to criminal background checks for adoption.
      • Take some time to write out your own personal biography including your education experiences, community affiliations, reasons for your interest in adoption, expectations, and your thoughts about your prospective parenting strategies, your perceived strengths as a parent, and past experiences in parenting if applicable. It will help you to have your thoughts together for the interview process.
      • Start asking friends, family, and colleagues for recommendation letters. You’ll need at least five. These should be a mix of people with varying connections to you, but they should all be people who know you fairly well. More about what your friends and family can include in a reference letter is available here.
Tour of your home: 

You can prepare your home just by making sure things are up to code and in functioning condition. Your home study professional will be hoping to help you realize your dream to become a parent and will therefore not be looking to “dock” you for infractions on your home tour. Quite likely your home study professional will enjoy assisting you to make sure that your home will be a safe place for a new child to live and grow. Things you should check:

      • Fire extinguishers
      • Weapons are safely locked and stored
      • Pools are gated securely
      • Toxic chemicals are stored safely and securely
      • Child-proof drawers, cabinets, etc. and dressers are secure to walls
      • Emergency plans exist for the family in case of fire/weather event, etc.
      • Electrical outlet covers
      • Window screens are installed and secure
      • Home Study Interviews: If you’ve written up some notes about your background, this portion should run smoothly. Your home study professional will ask a lot of questions about adoption, parenting, your experience, and your expectations. 

Approval and Match: 

Once your pre-placement home study is approved, you’re ready to open your home to a new arrival. 

Post-Placement Supervision: 

Once a child is placed in your home, the state of Florida requires that your licensed adoption professional returns once per month for three months to observe the child in your home which is the average number of post-placement visits in most states. The adoption professional will make sure that the child is in a safe and reasonable environment and that all of the safety guidelines noted in the pre-placement home study are still in place. You can prepare by looking back to your pre-placement home study to ensure that things are relatively in the same condition. You can also be ready to respond to some questions about your experience. At that point, you can use the time to ask any lingering questions you may have.

Finalization: 

This will be a cause for celebration in your family. An adoption finalization hearing will be scheduled several months after your child legally joins you in your home. At the hearing, your judge will examine all of the documentation collected from your journey including your completion of the adoption coursework and all documentation from your home studies. The judge may ask you several questions about your experience and your thoughts about the child’s connection to your family, but once the judge is satisfied, then you’ll receive the final decree of adoption. Once you get to this step, allow me to wish you congratulations on your new family. You have chosen to permanently create a new “fingerprint” adoption story for you and your child. Enjoy your unique story and all the furrows and loops that make it one in a million.