As a supervisor for a program that licenses foster and adoptive families for children in state custody, I have had the privilege of working with many wonderful and caring families who desire to make a difference in the lives of children and youth. One part of the responsibilities that my staff and I carry is the assessment of prospective foster families. There are many tools and resources that we use to help us with this task, as well as one-on-one and group interaction with individuals.
During our assessment process, we often look for several characteristics that lean towards the success of prospective foster and/or adoptive families in their journeys. These qualities are important to consider when determining if one is ready for foster parenting, and adoption:
Openness to agency involvement and desires to have a strong and appropriate relationship with agency staff.
Openness and transparency during the approval process and after the placement of a child is very important. Foster and adoptive families are a vital part of the team and provide essential information on how a child is functioning in the home.
The ability and willingness to learn about the special needs of children in foster care and adoption.
Advocacy is an important aspect of the role of foster and adoptive parents. Prospective families should consider the needs of children in foster care and decide if they are ready to parent a child who may require specialized services.
A strong social support system.
Families who are in the process of becoming foster and adoptive parents will need words of encouragement, a listening ear, prayerful thoughts, and a “go to” person when times get rough. It is vital that families are able to rely on others who can provide essential support and understanding.
Tenderness and genuine concern for children who are in need of foster care and adoptive services.
Families who are able to recognize that “it’s not about me” tend to feel more of a calling to help children in need. Although they are fulfilling their desires to be parents, prospective families should consider the needs of children first before their own.
Tolerance to deal with ambivalent feelings from others.
Most children who find themselves in need of living outside of their family of origin are not able to appreciate those who have worked diligently for their safety. Others may not understand why one has chosen to foster or adopt and may even show negativity about it. Foster and adoptive parents need to be aware of this.
The ability to let go and not be in control.
Boy, this one is a biggie! Families who are able to set aside their own agendas, work within the confines of the system (whether it is foster care or adoption services), and understand that there are many aspects beyond their control will find their experience to be more tolerable and easier.
Flexibility of expectations about the process and others.
It is important for families to consider what their expectations are before entering into the world of foster care and adoption. Planning is also sometimes difficult because of system issues, legal challenges, and human nature. However, families are able to set aside their own expectations and are flexible tend to be more successful in their roles.
Ability to meet own needs, tolerate rejection, and accept a delay in gratification as a parent.
Sometimes, families come into foster care and adoption with the sense that “everything is going to be all right” and “this will make our lives more whole.” While this may eventually be the truth, there can be many hurdles that pop up. It is important for those considering foster care and adoption to meet their own needs of self-assurance, self-appreciation, and knowing when to take time for themselves. It is also important for families to be willing to delay the gratifying feelings of parenting. Families who are able to embrace the long-term goals, as opposed to short-term ones, tend to find more satisfaction with their experience.
Flexibility in the family roles and using resources.
Children who have been exposed to abuse and neglect may not trust a male or female figure, depending on their experience. For example, some children tend to do better in homes where the father is the primary care-giver, while the mother is not. Families need to understand that their roles may need to be reversed depending on a child’s history. Along the same lines, families should also seek out and use resources that will help children placed in their homes.
A sense of humor.
Some of the most successful families involved in foster care and adoption are ones who are able to laugh-off situations that, “to the outside world,” seem concerning. A sense of humor is vital in maintaining emotional health and, in many ways, can be very grounding and healing when dealing with behavioral issues.
Foster care and adoption are some of the most incredible experiences families can have. It is humbling, refining, challenging, and completely worth it. The characteristics listed above are just a few to think about when considering foster parenting and adoption.
Above all, though, families who choose to walk in love towards children in need are a much-needed resource in our world. Has foster care and/or adoption been on your mind lately? If so, I encourage you to take the leap of faith and open up your hearts to children. In doing so, they will open up your world.