There is one of those terms in adoption that is scarier than the most well-written thriller: “Legal Risk.” (Okay, I know I gave it away in the title!) And it can be a wild ride but it can also be a piece of cake. “Legal Risk” means taking custody of a child before said child is legally free for adoption. It is not available in every state. Technically you are fostering the child in the interim. Legal risk is a very common practice in both infant adoption (both agency and private) and foster-to-adopt programs. In the case of infant adoption, the period of legal risk can be as short as 24 hours. In foster-to-adopt situations, it can span many months. In foster care, there is a lot of pressure on the state to create permanency for children. In the case of our three “Littles,” although no one could predict the outcome of their birth mother’s impending jury trial, the state’s plan for the children was adoption. Therefore, they sought a legal-risk situation for the kids in which all three could be together. At the time, however, there was certainly no guarantee that the kids would ever be legally free for adoption. If you are in a state that allows legal risk adoption, it is likely that at some point you will be offered a legal-risk situation. So how do you cope with such an uncertain outcome? Here are a few tips:
- Be honest with yourself. Realistically assess your (and your family’s) ability to withstand disappointment at this point in your lives. Certain stresses can make loss harder to bear, like serious illnesses, financial worries, a stressful work situation, or an impending move. Talk it over with others. Are you a person or family who can weather a little heartbreak?
- Be clear on the facts. Ask questions of the caseworker, CASA worker and the children’s lawyer. Assess the risk in the situation for yourself. What are the chances this child or sibling group will actually be free for adoption at some point? It is a calculated risk but you need to do the calculation yourself.
- Consider the benefits. The worst case scenario is you get to love this child or family for some weeks or months and then have to say good-bye. The best case scenario is that you get to love them forever. That’s a pretty amazing “best case.” It does take some selflessness to take the risk, but the payoff is huge for both you the child(ren).
- Act on faith. It is important to look at it from a logical perspective so that you are prepared for the possible outcomes, but in essence, it requires a leap of faith–faith that you can handle the outcome, faith that you have something to offer that this child needs, faith that in the end, all of your dreams will come true.