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Legal Status: Understanding legal risk, legally freed, and adoption from foster care

Legal Status: Understanding legal risk, legally freed, and adoption from foster care

In a legal risk adoptive placement, the rights of the child's birth parents have not yet been voluntarily or involuntarily terminated.

Children are considered legally freed when the parental rights of their birth parents have been legally terminated. While parental rights must be terminated for an adoption to be finalized, children are often placed into a pre-adoptive home prior to the conclusion of this legal process, a situation referred to as legal risk. Many children waiting for adoption, and particularly those younger in age, join their adoptive families as a foster-to-adopt placement and may remain at legal risk for an indeterminate period of time.

DCF’s main concern and priority with regards to children in its custody is safety and permanency. The Department permanency planning begins with the goal of safely maintaining a child with his/her family. If placement of the child outside his/her home becomes necessary to ensure safety, the child’s first goal is reunification with his/her family. If the risk posed to the child’s safety by his/her family remains high and the prognosis for reunification is poor, an alternative plan for permanency for the child is developed concurrently as the Department continues to work in the stabilization of the biological family.

This permanency plan can be adoption, guardianship, permanent care with kin, or an alternative planned permanent living arrangement. In some cases, a child’s birth parents have not agreed to surrender their legal parental rights and DCF may place a child with a stable and loving pre-adoptive family while DCF seeks a termination of parental rights in court. If the child is in this situation, DCF will inform the pre-adoptive family that there is a risk that they may not ultimately be able to adopt the child. However, DCF believes that it’s in the best interest of every child to be placed in a potentially permanent home as soon as possible. For this reason, MARE finds pre-adoptive families where legally risk children can be placed until family reunification is possible or the court terminates parental rights and the child becomes legally freed for adoption.