*Editor’s Note: This is an opinion piece and reflects the opinion of the author, not Adoption.com itself.
With thousands of children in the foster care system awaiting adoption, the system is having to come up with new and creative ways to find these children forever homes. One great flaw in the foster care system has been that these children get little choice in their forever homes and often are not heard in regards to their desires for adoption. One charity out of Los Angeles County in California is trying to change all of that by instituting a new program where children get to have a say in who they are adopted by and the guidelines surrounding their adoption. This new program is featured in the reality television show, The Day I Picked My Parents on the A&E network.
Featuring five episodes in their first season, each episode follows multiple children within the foster care system as they are matched with prospective adoptive parents. The process is essentially comparative to speed dating. The charity holds events where children who are in foster care and prospective adoptive parents mingle, hoping to establish a connection on both sides. At the end of the event, each foster child chooses a parent or parents they would like to get to know more. This allows the agency to know where the children stand with the event and allows them to set time aside for the parents and the child to spend more time together in the future. The agency then arranges for future meetings through the foster care agencies, helping the relationship to grow.
The agency hosts several of these events per year and they follow a similar format. The events are set up to allow both parents and children to play together. Some of the events might include rock climbing, archery, drawing, a cookout, etc. Children and families will later get the chance to have more laid-back events such as dinners or individual outings. These events are formatted for children and parents alike to feel more comfortable and to act more like themselves. These events allow for a great icebreaker and introduction for the children to make things less formal and more light-hearted. What better way to get to know a child than through play?
It works diligently in the background to make sure that these events go smoothly, but really has a hands-off approach and lets the family and children have some time to get to know one another in an unstructured setting. Simply put, the agency just provides the fun, the people, and the safety. Typically, there is so much pressure put on children and families to be at their best during an initial meeting. It ends up being a meeting of trying to show their best side and put their best foot forward. These events allow both sides the opportunity to take this pressure off. It allows people to see, more truly, the character of one another.
This program, specifically these meet-and-greet events, reminded me a lot of the movie, Instant Family. In this movie, the main characters go to one of these events to meet with potential foster children but instead express their pick of children rather than the other way around. These types of meet-and-greet events are not new, but the revolutionary style of allowing children the power to choose makes it a brand new approach that could change the foster care system altogether.
Not all of these children will connect with someone at these events. This is why these events are held multiple times a year. The program allows for kids to be able to say if they do not feel a connection. In one episode, while one child did initially like the family with who she bonded during the event, she was not happy with their view on adoption. They very much felt in need of a closed adoption experience, and she wanted much more contact with her mother. While they tried to find a middle ground, the child did decline the adoption in hopes of finding something more open in the future.
People may have various opinions about children being allowed the opportunity to decline an adoptive home. However, one would have to put themselves in the shoes of the child. Regardless of the reason, they are in foster care, many of these older children have a very real and strong bond with their birth parents. Even if they have resigned to the fact that they will not be going home, this does not mean that they have given up hope of any connection. Imagine being a child who has hoped for open adoption and is told by their new adoptive family, who they did not choose, that they can never see their parents again. Imagine being a child who is placed in an adoptive family forever not wanting to be a part of that family.
Some children may be seeking a family that has other children as they have always dreamed of having siblings. For other children, they may have siblings within the foster care system that they hope their new family would be willing to also adopt. Other children may want a family who loves sports or a family with both a mom and a dad. Others may prefer a single-parent household, same-sex household, or a household where they will be the only child in the home. Some children may want to live in the state they are already in, while some may want a family who travels. There are many different characteristics that a child may look for. Some of these may be used to help them to fulfill their dream of what their future family would look like, but for some, this is simply a way for them to feel the most comfortable and safe in their new home.
What would it look like if this program went nationwide? Not only would this allow for a child to have more choice in this situation, but it would also allow for more families to get to know children within the system better and have more opportunities for connections. Programs provide allow for foster care to become less of something in the shadows. Programs like The Day I Picked My Parents can give the public a real view of what is happening and the statistics that come with the foster care system. By portraying not only the stories that end in adoption but portraying those that did not work out, this show can shine a light on the realities of adoption and foster care. I hope not only that they will have more seasons of the show but that there will be follow-ups to the stories portrayed in the first season. I would love to know how each child is doing if they so choose to participate in the show further.
It may be difficult to understand the importance of choice in the situation if you have not been in this situation. Many of these children have lived the majority of their life within their own families. Now, at this young and vulnerable age, they are being placed with a new family and told that this is now where they belong. That can be understandably terrifying. Programs like this allow children to take their time to transition into an adoptive family that they have taken a real role in choosing. This decision affects the child most and it only makes sense that their decision should be considered first.
As open adoption has become more popular, children know that this might be an option for them. They may hold onto hope that someone will allow them to have contact and visitation. In the end, programs have formed allow for this possibility. It is not just open adoption that they have an option, but children have the option, to be honest about being uncomfortable and to choose a family with which they feel a true connection.
When a child has chosen the family, this does not mean that they go home with them right away. There is a time very much like courtship where both the family and the child get to know one another better. They might go on little day trips to places like a trampoline park or an arcade. They will spend time together doing what each finds to be fun so they can get to know more about what life might look like together. Eventually, this may transition into overnight or weekend visits. The hope is that eventually the child will feel comfortable and will transition into the home of the new adoptive parents.
However, some of these stories have conclusions that do not end in adoption. As mentioned before, one episode features a young girl who decides to stay in foster care and hopes that she will be able to maintain a connection with her birth mother. In another story, one child moves into the adoptive home but ultimately leaves with little goodbye as soon as she reaches 18 years of age. This does not mean by any means that this program does not work, but I am thankful that this program showed the sometimes difficult and true reality of adoption, specifically, adoption from foster care. It would not be a true representation of this process if they did not also show the good with the bad.
Overall, The Day I Picked My Parents is a fantastic and realistic program. I loved the stories that are portrayed, and I hope that there are more seasons. I also hope that it provides more information on how to foster and adopt children. If it moves nationwide, this could revolutionize the foster care system.
Giving children the option to choose who to spend their life with and what family they join only makes sense. Of course, there will be situations where children need help with their decision or simply do not want to be adopted. However, having a program like this may allow these children to feel more comfortable in the adoption process and to take back the control that has been stripped from them. Most of these children come from situations that had nothing to do with them and everything to do with mistakes made by people in their family. They are simply innocent bystanders in a huge situation that affects their entire life. This program recognizes these children as humans with rights.
It can often be hard for children who are older to begin a whole new life in a new adoptive home. However, many of the stories featured show joyous children who felt heard by the program and were able to find homes in which they felt comfortable and loved. These were homes where they could see a future and felt like they had a real say in their own future.
For some children, this type of program gives them some of the control of their own lives back that had been taken from them so forcefully. While many of these children may have been taken from their homes by Child Protective Services for good reason, it is often the children who suffer the most. Many of these children have moved from home to home with no end to foster care insight.
As this program works mainly with older children, there were many interviewed throughout the show who state that they never thought that they would get adopted. Many simply stated as a matter of fact that older children do not get adopted. Some stated that people do not want older children. Unfortunately, the reality is that many older kids will age out of the system.
This is exactly what the program aims to address because every child deserves a family and a forever home. This program gives hope to a broken system and hopes to children who have not been given this right or chance before. The Day I Picked My Parents is a must-see and a great portrayal of a revolutionary program that is prime to help an overwhelmed foster care system.
Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.