Adoption, Family Law, Foster Care, Child Welfare and Social Worker FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is adoption?

A: An adoption permanently creates new parents for somebody, usually a child. The adoptive parents become parents just as if the child had been born to them and the parental rights of the existing biological parents (birth parents) are severed forever if this has not already happened.

It is possible, under certain circumstances, that an adoption does not terminate the parental rights of the biological parent. For example, in what is known as a step parent adoption, the step mother or step father will adopt and his or her spouse will keep their parental rights. If the other biological parent is still alive, then their parental rights would be terminated.

Q: Can I adopt my husband’s child by his former wife? She is still alive.

A: The answer is yes, you can adopt. The former wife, the biological mother, has to be formally notified of the intended adoption. Even if she cannot be found or refuses to consent it is possible for a court to grant the adoption. If she is notified of the adoption will have an opportunity to object. If she does not object, the adoption can be granted. If she does object, then the outcome will depend on the facts of the particular case.

Q: Can adults be adopted?

A: Yes, in both the District of Columbia and Maryland, adults can be adopted.

Q: Can gay people adopt?

A: Yes, in both the District of Columbia and Maryland gay people, both single gay people and gay couples can adopt.

Q: I am a foster parent. The agency has told me that I can not adopt the child in my care until the parents have had a chance to “reunify” with the child. Is this correct?

A: In most cases the agency must make good faith attempts to return children to the biological home and if that is not possible to seek out relatives who would be willing to give the children a permanent home. However, there are just as many situations in which foster parents can and are asked to adopt. Sometimes there is conflict between the desires of the foster parents who want to adopt, and the agency, who may want the children to be adopted by relatives or returned home. Sometimes these cases can be resolved and sometimes they must be decided by the legal process.

Q: I have found out that somebody has reported me to the local child services agency and accused me of mistreating my child. What is going to happen next?

A: Unless the information received by the intake staff is frivolous, there will be an investigation. The outcome of the investigation is going to depend on what is uncovered (by the investigating team from that agency). Sometimes the cases are closed with no further action and the allegation is “ruled out”. If this is the case than nothing will happen and there are no consequences except that the finding (of the allegation) ruled out will remain in the record for a brief period of time.

However, in other circumstances the agency might find that there is some reason to believe that a child has been mistreated. In this case, many different things can happen, including your name being placed on a “Register” of people who have neglected or abused children.

Both the District of Columbia and Maryland have created procedures to challenge inclusion on the Register. If you do run the risk of being included on the Register, you may wish to seek legal counsel. The consequences of being on the Register can sometimes be quite severe depending on your occupation and other circumstances.
You should get formal written notice of the outcome of the investigation, whether you are being placed on the register and your appeal rights.

Q: Can somebody give up care of their children temporarily? For example, if they are going into the hospital or will need some time to recuperate from an injury?

A: Yes. Both the District of Columbia and Maryland have created several different options for people who wish their children to be cared for by other people temporarily. Sometimes these temporary arrangements can last for months or even years. These arrangements should be in writing and properly documented. Sometimes, but not always, it is necessary to obtain a court order to carry out the wishes of those involved. Usually court involvement is not necessary so long as the proper documents are signed by the right people. For example, there are all sorts of different arrangements including power of attorney, medical authorization, physical and legal custody and different kinds of guardianships.

Q: I am interested in being a foster parent and possibly adopting. However, a number of years ago I was convicted of a crime. Is it still possible for me to adopt?

A: Whether or not you will be able to foster a child or adopt even though you have been convicted of a crime depends on the jurisdiction in which you live, the crime committed, and usually how long ago the event occurred. In some situations, the agency is going to have a considerable amount of discretion in deciding if and how the conviction affects your suitability to foster or adopt. In other situations, the conviction is one that will prohibit you from being a foster or an adoptive parent.