I recently encouraged a colleague to adopt. The topic came up unexpectedly, and I found myself relating our fostering experience and suggesting that she adopt an older child or even siblings rather than fostering, which was her initial idea. I noticed myself repeating several times that “I hate to discourage anyone from becoming a foster parent, but…”

The truth is, our one-time fostering experience was less than stellar. The little girl we had was a handful, but that was not at all the problem. Her parents were teenagers and inexperienced, but that was not the problem, either. Well, not really. Actually, it is my belief that the Department of Social Services (and I use this general term on purpose, as it seems to relate to everyone associated with our case on their end) felt threatened by the rapport my husband and I developed with our former foster daughter’s parents.

When it became clear that her goal would be reunification with her mom, we took it upon ourselves to try to transition our little girl as best as we knew how. We spent additional time with her mom, had her to our house so she could see her daughter’s routines, and made sure that our little one spent time on her first birthday with both of her parents, even though this had to be arranged separately and in addition to the birthday party we had for her at our house.

To make a long and painful story short, it is my perception that our former foster daughter was initially removed from her home unnecessarily, and that in-home services could have been implemented instead. The person who “called it in” seems to have done so maliciously. Add to this a big cultural divide (both sides of our little girl’s family are Hispanic), and frankly, I think they just didn’t know certain ways of parenting were “not OK” according to the mainstream American view.

The judge assigned to the case seemed to see things our way. At an umpteenth court hearing where the social worker requested more time in foster care, or additional hoops for mom to jump through, the judge actually rolled his eyes. Yet he seemed to imply that his hands were tied. And that’s how we felt half the time, as well.

It wasn’t until after we were no longer caring for our little girl that I realized what it meant to have “physical custody” but not “legal custody.” I learned this difference the hard way.

And so, as I heard my colleague express doubts about being able to handle fostering, and knowing her sensitive temperament and the callousness with which foster parents can be treated, I couldn’t in good conscience recommend that she pursue this avenue. I did, however, think that adoption may be a better way for her to get involved in a child’s life.

She seemed particularly interested in elementary school-aged children, and even mentioned she had two spare bedrooms, so siblings would not be a problem. I told her that lots of kids are considered “special needs” simply due to their age and that while many people may be willing to foster older children, not many are prepared to take them on permanently through adoption. Therefore, I thought this would be a wonderful idea for her to look into further.

I told her about online adoption photolistings and showed her how to navigate them. I suggested she get started with a homestudy right away, since she can always discern during the process and make a final decision once she has more information. And in the end, I felt good about still being able to hopefully do my part in helping a child in need of adoption, even if it wasn’t by adopting a child myself.