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ADOPTING FOSTER CHILDREN

A Desperate Need Fulfilled

About 130,000 children in U.S. foster care systems are waiting for permanent adoption at any given time. Despite the excess demand from potential parents wanting to adopt regular children, and despite laws making permanent adoption more accessible to long-term foster parents, the adoption needs of these children are not being met.

There are very few things more rewarding than fostering/adopting children. The challenges are definitely there, but the need is great. In 2012 about 23,000 children aged out of the foster system without being adopted. The children who age out of foster systems often face terrible difficulties in adulthood including limited academic achievement, drug/alcohol addictions and legal problems. About 25% of them never get their GEDs or high school diplomas. And, although studies have shown that more than 70% of these aged out children would like to go to college, only about 6% of them actually achieve a college education.

Most kids spend an average of three years in foster care before being adopted. New laws suspending parental right in certain cases after two to three years have made it easier for foster parents to adopt the children they have bonded with. While it is the least expensive route to adoption, there are a variety of things that you should consider if you are thinking about going through the foster system to adopt. 

The Fostering Adoption Pace

The first step to adopting through the foster system is to get trained and approved for fostering and adoption. This includes applications, paperwork, home assessments, and training just as is required in a regular adoption process. From there, the smoothest and most realistic way through to adoption in the foster system is to begin with respite fostering – keeping foster children for weekends (while the regular foster parents take a break) or for other defined periods of time…and work your way up from there.

This is certainly a good way to go, but you should still go slow and be circumspect about this profoundly important decision to adopt. Spending two or three weekends with a foster child and looking at the child on paper before adopting is not likely to offer a real indication of whether the match is a good one or not. The “honeymoon phase” of adoption is usually over in a few weeks, and then the real work of parenting begins. So, you need to get past that point before you can make a good decision for both you and your foster child. When foster children are eventually rejected because the adults made a hasty decision, they are damaged further because they have already experienced rejection in their lives.

Going slow does mean that there may be some heartbreaking moments. When you find a strong desire to adopt a child who is eventually reunited with his or her birth parents, it can be a very disappointing event. However, there is also something to be said for learning from these disappointments so that you can fully understand the complications of foster adoption. No matter how you adopt a child there will be important decisions to make about birth families and birth parents. You can learn best how to negotiate these while actually in a fostering role. 

Respecting the Birth Parents

No matter how you handle the adoption process, you will be taking on birth parents. The good news about adoption in America is that 99% of adopted children are told about their adoption by the age of five. This is a subject that will need to be revisited more than once. And, every time a conversation happens the child should hear good things about their birth families.

For foster kids there’s a good chance that they often fantasize about being reunited with their birth family. This can feel threatening to adoptive parents. If not handled properly, foster-adopted children can feel separated from positive grandparents or important extended family relationships. Remember, your adoption is permanent; you should feel secure enough to encourage these relationships and accept your adopted child’s feelings about them. Children cannot help their feeling of loss over these relationships. They are biologically connected to their families, and this connection should be honored by you and by them. 

A good way to look at the extended family is to consider that no matter how bad a person (or circumstance) seems to be, there is also some good in them. When your adopted child displays good qualities, you can say, “I bet your dad was a good fisherman, too,” or “You must have gotten your mother’s eyes, they are so pretty.” This is a way to help them see themselves as part of their birth family in positive biological ways. Never demonize the birth family…no matter what you know about them.

If you can create a secure environment for them, the child will eventually move past their feelings and fantasies about the past because you now provide a stable reality and home for them. Foster children will have loyalties to their birth families even if they know that they will not live with them again. Be confident enough not to feel threatened by this. After the years you put in, there will be room for their loyalties to you, as well. As they grow and mature, they will come to discover the limitations of their birth parents, and, at that point, will be doubly grateful for the stability you have afforded them. 

Rewarding, But Homework Is Required

If you are considering becoming a foster parent or following this route to an actual adoption, we would like to encourage you to do so. As stated earlier, this can not only be a life saving event for the child, but a life rewarding one for you and your spouse as well. However, you need to roll up your sleeves and do your homework so that you will fully understand the circumstances involved.

So, what does the average person, or couple, need to do in this regard? Start by getting on the internet and reading about the foster care system in the U.S., and, more specifically, how it functions in your state or city. Identify the agencies in your geographical area that are working in foster care and start contacting them for additional information. Most areas have several agencies trying to place kids both temporarily and permanently. Find out who they are. Call and talk with someone at each of them. Prepare a list of questions and go meet with them personally to discuss the process, the requirements and other things that might be involved. There are lots of choices ahead. Take your time and research the subject. You may just find a lot of happiness at “the end of the fostering rainbow.”

Written by Heidi Densmore
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At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents. Jane D. Hull