Up until recently, I didn’t know anything about the adoption process or the fostering system in America, nor did I understand how I would navigate this system myself as a Muslim, but I knew that I was interested in learning and getting involved.

Even though adoption is not rare in the United States, it does seem to be quite rare amongst Muslims. Even more rare than that are Muslims who have decided to foster children. Naturally, I turned to the internet for answers. Based on my research and from what I can understand, there are several ways to adopt a child in America.

One way is through expectant mothers who have already decided that they want to give the baby up for adoption. This is an excellent option for parents who are looking to adopt a newborn or very young baby. This type of adoption service will mostly be provided by an adoption agency, but can also be done through the state or through an expectant mother that you may know personally. An adoption without the use of an agency is known as a private adoption and is handled by an adoption attorney. The state usually does not need to be involved unless the child is directly relinquished to them. Otherwise, the baby’s care can be transferred directly from the birth parents to the adoptive parents. The state is absolved of that child’s care when the adoptive parents take over.

Another way is through international adoption agencies that want to help people who are looking to adopt from foreign countries. Since the state is only involved in domestic fostering and adoption affairs, only an agency would be able to provide international adoption services. To make things clear, any agency that is not run by the state is considered “private” or “independent.” The state runs the only “public” branch of the adoption and foster care systems.

And then of course there are domestic adoption agencies for the people and the families that are looking to adopt children from within the United States. Domestic adoptions can be approached through the private sector in the form of an adoption agency and they can be approached through the public sector by seeking adoption through the state.

There is only one way to seek adoption through the state and that is through the foster care system. Anyone who wants to foster or adopt through the state must first become a licensed foster parent. The goal of the state run foster care system is always to reunite children with their original families or to have them be adopted by relatives if at all possible. Only when reunification is deemed impossible by a court does the state then look to getting the child adopted by non-relatives. This is how children who were being fostered suddenly become available for adoption. If the foster parents then choose to adopt that child, they may do so, but they do not have to.

Many private adoption agencies do work in partnership with the state. This partnership is in hopes of getting as many children adopted as possible and alleviating some of the burden the state faces in trying to find homes for all of these children. Where the state cannot be everywhere at once, adoption agencies can be set up virtually anywhere and can provide easier access for people living in more suburban parts of a state. Some adoption agencies have their own affiliations and target certain groups of people in their communities with specific qualifications that certain children may need or will highly benefit from. These qualifications may be ethnic, religious, ect. For example, it makes sense that a child who only speaks Spanish should be adopted by a Spanish-speaking family or individual.

Licensed adoption/foster agencies also provide resources to current foster parents such as informative websites, hotlines, individual testimonials and connections to other foster parents through event organizations. Although an agency may charge some fees, whereas fostering and adopting through the state is COMPLETELY FREE, an agency may be able to pair you with a child faster and more in tune with what you are looking for. The state also requires the individual, or the couple, if you are married, to obtain a fostering license before they can foster any children. Lastly, there is always the risk that the child you are fostering through the state will never become available for adoption if they are indeed reunited with their family or adopted by willing relatives. This is one of the many challenges of fostering for people who are seeking adoption.

My personal interest lies with the foster care system. Whereas adoption is a binding financial and emotional commitment, fostering seems like an easier place to start for people who want to help displaced children, but are not ready to assume full responsibility of a child.

Becoming a licensed foster parent takes about three to six months. Each state’s licensing protocol will be different. In Illinois, where I currently reside, you need to get into contact with the Department of Child and Family Services. They will collect preliminary information from you, then do background checks on you and any other adults living in your home, pay visits to your home to ensure that it is safe enough to bring a child into it, and require you to attend 27 hours worth of fostering classes. They will also inquire as to your preferences for the age, sex, religion, ect of the kind of child or children that you would like to foster.

The biggest advantage of fostering is that the foster parents can decide how long they are able to foster for. If at any point in time while fostering you become unable to continue to do so, the child can be returned to the care of the state. The child can then be placed in a different foster home. Another advantage of fostering is the financial assistance foster parents receive from the state which includes a monthly stipend. In some states, the stipend is continued until the child turns 18 even after adoption. The state also pays for the child’s medical insurance and school fees. Some states even allow fostered or adopted children to attend college for free and other states provide additional financial assistance to parents who are fostering children with known mental health or medical conditions.

The foster system includes both public and private (or independent) branches. The public portion of this system is run by the state and each state will have their own policies and regulations. For example, in the state of Illinois, you have to be at least 21 years of age. You can be single, married, divorced, or widowed. You do not need to own a home in order to foster. There is also no minimum income requirement as long as you are able to pay your own bills and you have a steady income. The only health factor that can disqualify you from being a foster or adoptive parent is if you are significantly disabled. A criminal background check will be done on everyone. You do not even have to be a citizen of the United States as long as you are residing in the country legally.

The state is responsible for not only licensing potential foster parents, but also licensing the independent foster/adoption agencies as well. Most of these establishments are working with the same pool of children who need to be put into homes whether they be temporary or permanent. However, the state has the additional goal of trying to reunify children with their families first. The state also has the ability to remove children from their homes and from their parents or families that they deem unsafe or abusive. Only the state can do this.

I know that Muslims in America are under-educated about how fostering and adoption works because I too was one of those Muslims. But I want to change that because I sincerely believe that the Muslim community has failed to uphold the value of guardianship over orphans in our deen and it has instead become culturally frowned upon to raise other people’s children instead of your own. It has always been clear to me that raising orphaned Muslim children should be a priority, a first thought instead of an afterthought. We are failing the children of our ummah who are seeking safe homes and loving families and too often Muslim children end up in homes that have no concept of Islamic ideals or practices.

This is the very reason that my husband and I are pursuing knowledge with respect to fostering and adopting children in the United States. At the same time, we are educating ourselves on the Islamic laws regarding orphans and guardianship over them in order to maintain our religious integrity throughout this journey. It is absolutely possible to participate in fostering and adopting in a completely halal way as outlined by our religion. We feel a calling to not only foster and adopt as many children as we can over the course of our lifetime, just as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did, but to also raise awareness in our communities on these matters. I encourage you to do your own research especially as it pertains to Islamic concepts of guardianship and get involved in any way that you can. The demand is there, we only have to open our eyes.

Esma Arslan