When people find out we foster, they always ask the same question: How can you let them go? And that is really what we all wonder in the foster-to-adopt world, isn’t it? What if we say yes to a placement that we hope will be permanent and then have to let go?
If only there were a FAQ for this frequently asked question. You could look it up and it would give you reassuring steps to follow. Or better yet, it would say: What are you worried about? This will never happen to you.
I don’t have the answers but I can tell you that in my experience, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Any kind of adoption can fall through. Our first attempt was traditional adoption and we entered into a low-risk adoption plan. 24 hours after the baby was in our arms, he went back to his birth mother. We had two more adoptions fall through before the fourth one “took.” It turned out that our oldest daughter (now 15) was truly “meant” to be ours. Any adoption can fall through. I’d say in some ways, foster care to adopt is actually lower risk.
When our three youngest ones first came to us, I thought there was a less than 50% chance that they would be legally free for adoption one day. We did not tell anyone we had them on legal risk. We were even evasive with our older children. We didn’t want anyone to start thinking they were ours. They came to us in at the end of February with a jury trial for removal set for April. That trial was postponed to May, then June, and finally in July the judge ordered mediation. We went to mediation without a shred of hope. By then I put our chances at about 20%. Birth mom was doing everything she had been asked to do — she’d never looked better. When we entered mediation they said, “Having you here is a formality. We do not expect anything to come out of it.” Yet shockingly, by late afternoon, Mom voluntarily relinquished the children, and then the birth fathers did too. I was in shock. I had so much adrenalin running through my system, I could have sprinted the 50 miles home.
Later, I came to a realization of why foster care may actually be less risky than traditional adoption. In traditional, you are dealing with a birth mother who likely has no idea how she will actually feel once that baby is in her arms. She cannot plan ahead for those emotions. No matter how good-faith her adoption plan is, there is much unknown. There is also a birth father in the works who cannot be counted on until he voluntarily terminates.
In foster-to-adopt, you have a case management team. This team has been working with these kids from the beginning. Before they start looking for a legal risk home, they have identified “adoption” as the permanency plan for these children. They have exhausted the possibility of all relatives who could care for the children. They have reasons– some of which you may never know– for believing the family can never be reunited. The “unknown” is how the actual involuntary termination trial will go. If it goes before a jury, there is a risk there. If it is decided by a judge, the risk is very low. These cases do not get to the termination stage without a lot of leg work.
So yes, there is a risk, and it is a tangible one that should be considered. But in truth, there is always risk when you put your heart out there . . and you have to decide for yourself– is it worth it? I hope you say yes.
Photo credit: Lily Parish