Preparing Children for Adoption
0200-501.25 | Revision Date: 7/1/2014


This policy guide provides information on preparing children for adoption, including guidance for discussing adoption with children in unattached cases, when parental rights are terminated, at the time of adoptive placement, and during post-placement supervision.

Table of Contents

Version Summary

This policy guide was updated from the 08/09/10 version, as part of the Policy Redesign, in accordance with the DCFS Strategic Plan.


Preparing Children for Adoption

Preparing a child for adoption is important for a successful placement. Unresolved losses, uncompleted grief work, feelings of misplaced guilt, and conflicted loyalties can interfere with the child's ability to develop new attachments. Preparing the child for impending changes prevents distress and anxiety that may build as the child undergoes the transition.

The Adoptions Division CSW has the primary responsibility to prepare a child for adoption. However, there are some situations in which steps will be carried out by a case-carrying CSW; for example, when an Adoptions CSW is not yet assigned to the case or as part of the case-carrying CSW's involvement in the case. 


The goals of preparation are to:

  • Help the child understand how they got where they are.
  • Understand the child's beliefs about their current situation and correct any misconceptions.
  • Help the child mourn the loss of parents and previous caregivers, deal with fantasies, resolve past attachments, and accept that they cannot live with those previous caregivers.
  • Help the child deal with feelings of anger, loss, and grief and grieving.
  • Help important attachment figure(s) give the child "permission" to love someone else.
  • Help the child learn that they can love more than one set of parents and that in learning to love the adoptive parent(s), they don't have to reject the birth parents.
  • Give the child a sense of where they are going.

Factors for Consideration

The following factors must be considered when preparing a child for adoption:



Child's Age

The importance of the tasks will differ with children based on their age and cognitive ability.

  • With the pre-verbal child, preparation is done through pre-placement steps, with the transfer of attachment and care giving routines.
  • After replacement, grief work begins and needs to be facilitated in age appropriate methods.

Child's Anxiety Level

Change causes anxiety. Each child's ability to cope must be assessed so that preparatory steps can be tailored to their needs.

  • Children who tend to become very anxious may not benefit from preparatory tasks until plans are more definite.

Level of Caregiver's Cooperation

The current caregivers play a large role in supporting and facilitating the process.

  • Children often take their cues from the adults in their life, especially if a strong attachment has developed.
  • Caregivers must be prepared for the child's reactions to the issues being discussed.

Therapist's Assessment of the Child's Readiness

The child's therapist can provide additional insight into the child's beliefs, including those which may hinder the child's ability to participate in adoption planning.

  • The child might benefit from further therapeutic services.
  • The therapist may also be able to assist in preparing the child, as well as providing support.
  • If necessary, refer the child to the Adoption Promotion and Support Services (APSS) at (213) 663-0588.

As children's cognitive abilities increase and allow them to review and understand their life circumstances in different ways, issues must be revisited. The best way to help the child deal with significant changes is to talk about what is happening as soon as the loss, separation, or change seems definite. As a child's case moves towards legal permanency, specific events necessitate preparatory work with the child, including:

  • Activation of the permanence track
  • A referral for the child to attend a recruitment event (unattached children)
  • Meeting a prospective adoptive family (unattached children)
  • Decision to replace the child to the prospective adoptive family's home (unattached children)
  • Pre-placement visits (unattached children)
  • Adoptive placement (all children)
  • Post-placement supervision (all children)

Activating the Alternative Permanent Plan

Adoptions/Case-Carrying CSW Responsibilities

  1. Revisit with the child the reason(s) they are not currently living with their birth parent(s), including the tasks the birth parent(s) needed to complete in order for the family to reunify.
  2. Explain to the child who is involved in deciding whether or not family reunification will occur.
  3. Discuss with the child possible outcomes that would result if family reunification services were terminated.
  4. Allow the child to express their feelings about not being able to return home.
  5. Introduce the idea of adoption.
    1. Explain the difference between foster and adoptive families.
    2. Ensure that the child understands why adoption is a plan.
    3. Discuss the reasons why the child cannot live with other relatives, especially siblings (if appropriate).
    4. Discuss the availability of the Postadoption Contact Agreement (if appropriate).
  6. If the child is unattached, explain who will be responsible for finding them a "forever family" and how that process works.
  7. Determine the child's level of understanding and acceptance of their situation.
    1. Allow for and acknowledge any ambivalence.
    2. Discuss the child's ambivalence, recognizing that this is normal in any change.
    3. Explore the child's feelings to determine the underlying causes.
    4. If needed, refer the child to a therapist and/or other appropriate resources.
      • For example, the Adoption Promotion and Support Services (APSS) by calling (213) 663-0588.
  8. Gather as much information and as many photographs from the birth family as possible.

Unattached Cases

Adoptions CSW Responsibilities

  1. Prior to taking a child to a recruitment event:
    1. If needed, consult with the Matching Coordination Unit (MCU) Recruiter regarding the event.
      1. Discuss how to prepare the child for the event.
      2. Ensure that proper notice has been provided by MCU to the child's attorney.
    2. Discuss the purpose of the event and revisit with the child how an adoptive family is located.
    3. Discuss the child's expectations and clarify any misconceptions.
    4. Discuss specific details with the child, including who will take them to the event and how long it will last.
  2. After the event, discuss with the child their feelings and reactions.
  3. If appropriate, communicate what occurred with the child's case-carrying CSW and/or therapist.
  4. Prior to proceeding with adoptive planning and introducing the child to a prospective adoptive family:
    1. Identify attachment figures in the child's life.
    2. Decide who are the most powerful of these figures in influencing the child's perception of themselves and others.
    3. Gain the cooperation of the most significant attachment figure that is available.
    4. Discuss with this individual the importance of imparting "permission" for the child to move on.
    5. Have this attachment figure give the child "permission" to become a member of another family.
    6. Remind the child that their feelings and comments about the potential adoptive family and placement will be discussed.
      • A child age twelve (12) or older must provide informed consent to the adoption.
  5. During pre-placement visits:
    1. Enlist the aid of a significant attachment figure (if available), to reinforce the positives the child has gained and to give the child "permission" to move on.
    2. Confirm the decision to proceed by both the child and the family.
    3. Discuss the schedule for future visits and the plan for the replacement.
      • If appropriate, give the child a calendar, and indicate the dates of day visits, overnight visits, and the replacement.
    4. For non-verbal children, enlist the caregiver's help with:
      • Sharing the child's routine and preferences with the prospective adoptive family.
      • Reading books on adoption with the child.
      • Providing transition objects.
  6. If the current caregiver demonstrates behaviors that sabotage the proposed adoptive placement:
    1. Consult with the MCU Recruiter, the Adoptions CSW, and case-carrying CSW (if appropriate).
    2. Develop a plan to meet with the caregiver to discuss areas of concern.
    3. Inform the SCSW of the plan and areas of concern.
    4. Proceed according to the result of the collaboration with the MCU Recruiter, the Adoptions CSW, and the case-carrying CSW, and as directed by the SCSW.
  7. Meet with the caregiver and discuss the concerning behaviors.
    1. Explore the caregiver's feelings to determine any underlying causes.
    2. Allow the caregiver to process their feelings.
    3. Emphasize the child's permanency plan, the importance of having a permanent family, and the need for collaboration in order to support the child.
    4. Negotiate an agreement regarding what the foster caregiver will do to support the child's permanency plan.
      • If no agreement is reached, consult with the SCSW.
  8. Document all consultations and contacts in the Contact Notebook.
    • Take into account confidentiality regulations pertaining to prospective adoptive parents and ensure that no identifying information about any prospective adoptive parent is entered into the child's Contact in CWS.
  9. Monitor the foster caregiver's level of cooperation and provide support as needed.

Parental Rights are Terminated

Adoptions CSW Responsibilities

  1. If the life book has not been created, begin work on a life book with the child.
  2. Review the meaning of termination of parental rights with the child.
  3. If appropriate and possible, arrange for a goodbye visit between the birth parent(s) and the child.
  4. If the child will be adopted by their foster parents, review the following:
    • What does adoption mean to the child?
    • How do they expect to change in their relationships?
    • How do they expect the fost-adopt parents' behaviors or attitudes to change?

At the Time of the Adoptive Placement

Adoptions CSW Responsibilities

  1. If the child is being replaced:
    1. Ensure that the move to the adoptive placement has been planned so that the child has the opportunity to say goodbye to significant individuals in their life.
    2. Assist the child in identifying and expressing their emotions regarding the replacement.
    3. Encourage the child to assist in the change of placement.
  2. Allow for and acknowledge any ambivalence.
  3. If the child is being adopted by their foster parents, help the child understand the significance of the change in status.

Post-Placement Supervision

Adoptions CSW Responsibilities

  1. Allow the child to continue grieving and provide support to the child and his/her caregiver(s).
  2. Share bonding activities with the caregiver to address the child's grief.
    • For example: being available and supportive after the child expresses their emotions, reviewing the life book with the child, visiting previous neighborhoods, etc.
  3. Arrange for post-placement contacts with the previous caregiver (if appropriate).
    • This shows the child that the previous caregiver still exists and allows the child to value their history and pre-existing relationships.
  4. Prepare the child for the finalization hearing, explaining the following:
    • Who will decide when it is time to finalize the adoption?
    • Who will finalize the adoption?
    • Where the adoption will be finalized.
    • What will happen during the finalization hearing?
    • What adoption finalization means.
  5. If there is a Postadoption Contact Agreement, discuss the terms of the Agreement with the child.
    • Children age twelve (12) and older must agree to the Post adoption Contact Agreement.

0070-548.01, Child and Family Teams

0080-507.20, Concurrent Planning and the Concurrent Planning Assessment (CPA)

0200-507.10, Identifying a Prospective Adoptive Family for a Child through the Matching Coordination Unit (MCU)

0200-510.00, Postadoption Contact Agreements


Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 – Emphasizes child safety and the importance of moving children through the child welfare system quickly to establish a permanent home.

Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles Juvenile Court Special Blanket Order Re: Pre-Adoptive Publicity for Adoptive Placement of Dependent Children