Should you foster if you really want to adopt?

Some areas have thriving foster-to-adopt programs where you go through foster care training and become licensed foster parents. You are only called with placements of children who are likely to be in need of an adoptive home. Either their parents’ rights have already been terminated, or the social workers expect this to happen shortly. Perhaps this route to adoption is ideal for those who don’t have substantial criteria limiting what children they’d like to adopt, and/or whose adoption budget is quite low.

However, not every locality has a thriving foster-to-adopt program. My area, for instance, only took prospective foster parents willing to do “straight fostering,” without any promise of adoption. If that’s the case in your area, should you risk it?

To be a good foster parent, you need to have a desire to care for a child with the same level of attention, love, and interest as you would your own child. (Meaning a child that is staying with you permanently.) Yet the paradox is that you must also be willing to share your parenting with social workers and birth families, to some degree. You must be able to go against your own parental instincts when challenged by the child’s social worker, since you do not have legal custody of the child. Only physical custody. You must be ready to part with a child who lived in your home and was a part of your family (sometimes for years) without so much as a promise of ever being able to see the child again.

For my husband and I, this proved to be impossible. The contradictory nature of foster parenting forced us to choose whether we’d invest everything into our little girl and risk being hurt for the sake of providing her with the sort of close attachment she needed at a critical time in her life, or whether we’d opt to protect ourselves by keeping our distance and only providing for her basic needs without embracing her as “our own.” We chose her needs over ours and hoped we would end up adopting her. We gambled and we lost.

The suddenness with which she was removed from our home and our lives was a shock to my system. I found it difficult to readjust to life as a non-mother again. Fostering is not the same as adopting. To be a truly good foster parent, you must be willing to follow orders even when you disagree. You must be willing to accept that you could be emotionally hurt every time you welcome a new child into your home. I tip my metaphorical hat to anyone who can do this time and time again, and not fall into the pattern of turning foster care into a mere babysitting job.

Sadly, our foster daughter spent time with this kind of family before and after leaving our home. At least she spent most of her time in a family who loved and adored her and envisioned a life with her. She was very young while with us. Even if she doesn’t consciously remember us, it was imperative for her to learn how to form proper attachments to loving adults during this impressionable time. I take solace in knowing we provided her that. I could not bring myself to go through it again with another child.

So, should you foster if what you really want to do is adopt? Only if you refrain from setting up unreasonable expectations for each child you are placed with. Only if you are willing to risk getting hurt. Only if you are stronger than me. And for the sake of the children who need foster parents, and for your sake if you are wishing to adopt through foster care, I truly do hope that you are stronger than me.

Godspeed on your journey.