Recently, I was talking with a friend who has been trying to grow her family for years. Her journey has been frustrating, discouraging and heartbreaking at times. The option of looking into the foster care system to find a child or children who are ready to be adopted came up. She expressed concern over looking into this option because of “horror stories” she had heard, and that she would always be afraid the biological parents would come back to take away the child.
I have never adopted a child through the state, but I have a dear friend who has recently finalized the adoption of her beautiful son, Matthew, who was adopted through the foster care system. Her insight is informative and moving. My questions have been answered, and I know now that this is a wonderful option to adopt.
1. What led you down the road of foster care?
My husband and I had a conversation earlier in our marriage about our “life plan” (my husband is very logical and likes to plan out our lives). He mentioned that we’d space out our children every 2 ½ -3 years. Me, being the more realistic of the two said, “What if life doesn’t happen that way? What if we can’t have children?” He responded, “Well, then we’ll adopt.” I didn’t think I was open to that answer, but after many years of unexplained infertility we started to look more into adoption. We both had reservations about international adoption, and he wasn’t open to infant adoption. What else was there? One day a friend posted a picture of four foster-children who were looking for their “forever family.” I casually showed the post to my husband, and the next day we started our journey down the foster care road.
2. Did you plan to adopt going into it?
Yes, our intention was to adopt children since we weren’t able to have our own. We became foster-adoptive parents, meaning that our intention was to adopt any children that we fostered.
3. What was it like the first time you met Matthew?
Honestly, it was very different than I had expected. We met him at our adoption support meeting. Our original desire was to adopt a sibling set of 3-4 children between the ages of birth and 9 years old. He was 19 months when we met him, and didn’t really register among what we were looking for. After a month of mulling it over in our minds and talking with other friends who had adopted, we changed our minds and the following month asked if we could have more information about him. I realized that you love those you serve and I hadn’t had nine months of attachment in utero with this little boy, so how did I know if I loved him as a son or not? I am so grateful that we reconsidered. He is every bit as much our son as if I had given birth to him.
4. What in your opinion is the biggest misconception about foster care?
A. A lot of people hear “horror stories” about foster care. I can’t tell you the number of times that a well-meaning friend or family member shared a horror story that they had heard. I’m not trying to discount those stories because they are out there, but there are also so many amazing success stories as well.
B. The children in the foster system come with baggage of some sort, but who in this world doesn’t? They have been through trauma. But, they are also resilient. When we met our son, we were told he had severe delays. He was in every type of therapy possible (speech, behavioral, occupational, physical, infant stimulation, etc.). He has overcome many of those delays and is a thriving and happy child. We have been to many free events for foster parents that offer support to parents with children who have experienced trauma. I highly recommend these classes/seminars.
C. It costs a lot of money to adopt these children. Totally wrong! We were compensated for most of the costs associated with our home study. When we finalized our adoption we were assigned to an attorney to help us with the legal issues of adoption (all without cost to us). And, we are given a certain allotment of money each month for his care. This is a lot different than the thousands of dollars required for infant, international, and private adoption.
5. What advice would you give to someone considering getting foster care approved?
A. Go in open-minded. It’s the joke in our adoption support community that what you expected (age, ethnicity, gender, and number of children) is totally different from how it works out in the end. Not that you leave disappointed, but that when the right kids come along for you, you’ll know.
B. You don’t need to say yes to every child that comes available. And don’t be afraid or feel guilty to turn down a potential match if, after learning more information, you feel it isn’t best for your family.
C. Hang in there. The process is long and tiring, but you can do it! It’s all worth it in the end.
D. Don’t be afraid to ask for support.
6. What has been the hardest part of your family’s journey?
For us, it was waiting. Our story is a little different than the typical “match and placement.” Because we met our son through his foster parents who were county certified, while we were foster family agency certified (private agency), the process took longer. We spent a good 8-9 months interacting with him through his foster family, attending doctor’s visits, and therapy (with permission of his foster family). As a result we were able to petition the county to consider us NREFM (non-related extended family members). We really had to advocate for him to be placed with us. We enlisted the help of our son’s therapists and doctors who wrote letters of recommendation that were sent to his county social worker. He wasn’t placed with us until almost 9 months to the day after we met him. We joke that he was our little “pregnancy” but that our bonding took place outside the uterus.
Another challenge for us was the additional paperwork, documentation, and many people that the children come with (social workers—one for the child and one for the parents who each visit 1-2x/month, therapists, regional center workers, etc.). It just required extra time and mental organization.
Challenges for other foster-adoptive parents include: visitation with the birth family (this wasn’t an issue for us because his parents weren’t really involved in his life since the beginning), behavioral challenges, legal system issues (parental rights were terminated soon after our son’s placement, so we didn’t personally have to deal with this as most families do), etc.
7. Have your families and friends been supportive?
Our family took a while to get used to the idea. My husband’s family was a little more reserved. They were pretty vocal about their reservations and many times asked us to reconsider. I believe it was a lack of information, understanding, and they also didn’t have a face to connect the idea with. They had heard the horror stories, and my mother-in-law even grew up with several foster-siblings. However, not every experience has the same outcomes. Once they met our son, they became more open to our decision. My family, on the other hand, were mostly very supportive. My mom and several uncles have been divorced and remarried, so inviting non-biological family members (who have been through the trauma of loss) into the family was no big deal for them. Our friends have been very supportive, and in many ways have shown greater support than our family…partially because both of our families live far away from us.
8. Will you adopt through the foster care system again in the future?
Yes, definitely. In fact, we are in the process of resubmitting our application to start the process over.