Various Forms of Foster Care
The parents of children in foster care have lost temporary guardianship of their child to the state. Although permanent reunification or adoption must be the goal of foster care, children often go back and forth between foster homes and their families until they “age-out” of the system (turn eighteen and are considered adults). Children in foster care are not available for adoption until their parents' rights have been legally terminated and the child freed for adoption.
If you want to adopt through this system, you need to first understand the different categories of foster care and foster care adoption: temporary, long-term, foster/adopt care, and traditional adoption.
Temporary foster care refers to what most people think of as regular foster care. You provide a home for a child who has been removed from his parents. This could end up being a placement that lasts months or years, but the goal is always reunification. There are also foster homes that take emergency placements, which can be very temporary (a few days) until a more permanent foster home is located.
Long-term care involves special-needs children or sibling groups for whom adoptive homes just aren't available. These children remain permanently in a foster home or institutional home.
The foster/adopt category means the child is placed with a foster family that agrees to adopt the child if he becomes available for adoption. This is also called an at-risk placement, meaning the plan is for you to adopt, but that plan is at risk because the child may still be reunited with his parents. As a foster/adopt parent, you must enfold a child into your family, as if the placement were permanent, while you know it could be temporary. The child, however, must not feel temporary. This stability is most critical for infants and very young children. Older children also need reassurance that they are wanted and cherished.
A traditional adoption is also possible through the foster care system. You do not need to become a foster parent; you work with a state agency to find a child that is right for your family, and then you begin the adoption process. The child remains in his current foster home (although you do have contact) until the adoption is final.