Navigating Adoption in Military Families

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The decision to adopt is an exciting step for any family, but it can also be overwhelming, especially if yours is a military family. The Department of Defense shares a strong advocacy for family; in fact, they report that family plays an important part in overall career satisfaction and retention of their service men and women. The Department of Defense supports service members’ decisions to adopt children and also supports families during the adoption process.

While much of the adoption process is the same for military families as it is for other families, there may be some differences to be aware of.

Benefits to Children
As a military family, you have a lot to offer children in need of a forever family. Most military families have faced change and adversity, such as a risky work environment and separation from family and friends. Because of this, you are very likely to be well versed in resiliency, flexibility, and commitment. Some other strengths that are a benefit to children and youth include:

The ethnic diversity in the military exceeds that of the general population; in fact, more than one third of the active duty military identify themselves as a minority. Social workers are often looking for ways to recruit families of color that may be a good fit for children and youth in out-of-home care. Your family may be a great resource for those workers—as well as a good fit for the thousands of U.S. children waiting to be adopted. In addition, military experience often provides families with opportunities to travel and experience different cultures.

Family structure is also an important issue with children in the child welfare system. For this reason, military families can be a great benefit to kids who haven’t had much structure in their lives or who are in need of more.

Support for families and children are built in at most military bases, including: adoption reimbursement, exceptional family member programs, and the new parent support programs. The close-knit lifestyle of military communities means that families benefit from a support system, even if they are stationed in another county. These strong bonds with other military families can help children cope with separation and other hardships.

The Adoption Process
You can become an adoptive family whether your family is stationed in the U.S. or abroad. Like other families looking to adopt, you first need to determine which type of adoption is the best fit for your family: domestic infant adoption, international adoption, or adopting from foster care. You can learn more about different types of adoption by contacting the Coalition for Children, Youth and Families at (414) 475-1246. Your installation’s Family Service Center and online resources like this guide from AdoptUSKids can also be helpful places to find more information.

Time. The time it takes to finalize an adoption can vary greatly and depends on many factors. The home study process may take a year to complete, depending on agency requirements. Matching a family with a child can take several additional months or even a few years. This time can be used to fulfill training requirements and prepare for the addition of a new family member.

Training Requirements. Your training requirements will differ depending on the agency you are working with and the type of adoption you choose. Many agencies spread trainings out over a period of several weeks or months. If you are concerned about completing training prior to a move or deployment, consider asking your agency for flexibility. They may offer an intensive weekend training option or allow you to transfer training credits completed elsewhere. Other accommodations may include attending trainings at the military installment’s Family Service Center or engaging in self-study by reading and discussing materials about adoption.

Background Checks. All adoptions require background checks. Your agency may be able to help you obtain the paperwork, or you may be able to obtain a background check from the military law enforcement office. While background checks may seem cumbersome or invasive, they are done to help assure the safety and well-being of children being adopted.

Home Study. In order to become licensed for adoption, you first must complete the home study process. A home study is an assessment of you, your co-parent (if applicable), and anyone else living in your home. It includes information about your relationships and history, interactions with children, home environment, neighborhood, and more. The home study process will be generally the same for military families, but may differ in a few ways. These include:

  • More criminal background checks may be requested, because agencies often require background checks from every state you have lived in.
  • Overseas families need a home study completed by a social worker licensed in the United States to do adoption home studies.
  • Adoption of a child born in the United States requires checking with the state adoption specialist in the state where the child resides to verify that state’s requirements before completing the home study.
  • Adoption of a child outside of the United States requires families to comply with the laws of their state of record, United States immigration law, and the laws of the foreign country where the child resides.

Overcoming Challenges
Although adopting a child has become easier over the years for military families, there are still some challenges. Most challenges are due to the fact that military families are subject to frequent moves and/or deployment of the military parent.

Living Overseas. Some military families believe it would be too difficult to adopt while stationed overseas, but you can adopt if you live outside of the U.S. if you go through an agency.

Moving & Deployments. Depending on where you are in the adoption process, being transferred or deployed can delay the adoption process. If you are in the process of completing your home study, you may be able to transfer it and work with an agency closer to your new installation. Keep in mind that you may need to duplicate some requirements since regulations differ from state to state. When possible, complete all paperwork, such as the criminal background check, home study, and fingerprinting, before deployment, in order to obtain signatures from both adoptive parents.

If you are scheduled to deploy to a different state after a child is placed in your home but before the adoption process is completed, you may be able to request a Deployment Deferment or Extension of Assignment to remain in-state until the adoption can be finalized. It is typically the Unit Commander who makes decisions about assignments or deployment deferment. Sometimes other exceptions are made for military families, such as early adoption finalization or finalization without the presence of the military member at the hearing. Remember that exceptions are not guaranteed and occur on a case-by-case basis. You may want to consult an attorney with adoption experience to help you navigate this process. A move to another state prior to adoption finalization means involving the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). For more information on ICPC, please view our Navigating the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children. When multiple states work together, additional flexibility and patience are important.

Many military families will also face long distance moves after an adoption is finalized. While transitions like this can be difficult for children who were adopted or who experienced trauma, most military families are experienced with moving and can help make this transition easier for their child. Children are generally good at adapting to change, when they have a family and other supports to guide them.

Travel. If you’re adopting from another state or a foreign country, you may need to travel to meet and visit with the child, as well as to complete the adoption process. Adoption from some foreign countries requires both parents to travel, which maybe a problem for service members. Check the country’s travel requirements before selecting the country you wish to adopt from at Again, flexibility on behalf of agencies and families can be the key to success. Perhaps video conferencing would be accepted when face-to-face meetings are unattainable – it never hurts to ask! If travel outside the U.S. is anticipated following the adoption, it is a good idea to obtain a passport, visa, and other necessary documents for the child as soon as possible.

Adoption Benefits and Post-Adoption Services
Active duty military families may qualify for additional benefits on top of what is available to most civilians, such as: reimbursement for adoption expenses, health care coverage, educational services, and adoption leave to help parents bond with their new child. Since benefits can change, we encourage you to explore for the latest adoption benefit information.

Chaplains, social workers, and other military personnel can help provide post-adoption counseling and support. Another great resource for military families are Family Service Centers (which may go by a different name depending on the branch of military). Every major military installation has a Family Service Center, which provides family support and advocacy services. Family service centers are a great place to turn to for information regarding family benefits, including adoption reimbursement benefits.

Some additional benefits available to military families may include:

  • Child development programs, which have a variety of pre‐school, childcare, and after school programs
  • Recreational facilities, community activities and support groups help to reduce isolation for children and families alike
  • The Exceptional Family Member Program, which helps families get stationed in areas that can provide specific medical services that might night be available in more remote locations
  • Family advocacy programs, which provide individual and family counseling as well as crisis intervention services
  • New parent and adoptive parent support groups

Military families wishing to adopt may experience a few extra challenges during the adoption process, but they also have a large support group and benefits available to them. For more information on Wisconsin’s adoption requirements, please see our website or call us at 800‐762‐8063.

For specific questions about being a member of a military family and wishing to adopt in the state of Wisconsin or transferring to Wisconsin while in the process of completing a home study, please contact the Adoption Services Planner at 608‐266‐0690.



From Our Library

  • The Ultimate Insider's Guide to Adoption, by Elizabeth Swire Falker 
  • The Adoption Decision: 15 Things You Want to Know Before Adopting, by Laura Christianson
  • The Essential Adoption Handbook, by Colleen Alexander-Roberts 

More Resources

Wherever My Family Is: That’s Home!

Military Families Considering Adoption



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