Understanding Foster Care Adoption
November is my favorite month of the year! Not because it is my anniversary; not because I love turkey and pumpkin pie; not because I can officially start listening to Christmas music in public without judgmental looks. November is my favorite month of the year because of the light we are able to shed on the beautiful miracle of adoption.
However, foster care adoption can be scary at best for those who have not yet walked this journey. Floods of questions, emotions, and doubts can fill the minds of those who have decided to step out in faith and explore this whole new world. In honor of National Adoption Month, I would like to take this time to answer the top 5 questions that I have been asked about adoption. Hopefully my unique perspective as an adoptive mother, as a former caseworker, and as a former adoption coordinator will help some of you be able to lay a few of the thousands of questions you have to rest.
- What are the costs involved in adopting a child from foster care? Adopting from foster care is entirely free. In fact, until the adoption is finalized (and sometimes after it is finalized) you will receive a monthly room and board payment to assist with the costs of caring for the child. The training, the home study, the paperwork processing, and the legal fees are all covered by the state.
- Can I love a foster/adopted child as much as my biological child? In short, the answer is yes. From personal experience, you can absolutely love children equally – whether they are adopted or biological. However, the bonding process is different. Physiologically we are wired to connect with biological children even from the womb. Our bodies literally create hormones, pheromones (scents), and nerve responses that instantly bond us with our biological babies. With children that come into our home as strangers with already developed personalities, likes, dislikes, and trauma based experiences, we have to really put in work to develop our bond. Creating meaningful connections to these children can be difficult, especially for those who suffer from attachment disorders and may never be able to fully connect with a caregiver. However, there are a lot of tools, resources, activities, and even therapeutic techniques that can nurture a bond that will rival even the closest of biological bonds. The process is slow. The process is hard. The process is doable. The process is worth it.
- Can I only adopt children whose parental rights have been terminated? Yes. The goal with any child that enters foster care, unless there are extreme circumstances, is reunification with the biological parents or another biological family member. If it is in the best interest of the child, the court will approve a move towards the termination of parental rights. This means that all family ties will be legally severed, making the child “legally free” for adoption. During the process of terminating parental rights, a child’s legal status will be “legal risk”. This means that the child’s case is headed towards adoption but the final termination of parental rights has not yet been finalized by the court. During this time, a child can be placed with a potential adoptive family but the family must understand that there is a chance that the termination of parent rights may not be approved by the courts. Additionally, even if the termination of parental rights is granted by the court, biological parents are allowed a window of time to appeal the decision and try to prove to the court that the decision should be reversed. This can be a very stressful time for any pre-adoptive family and a risk that some families may not be willing to take. Make sure to take time to ask your licensing worker any questions that you may have about this process and what risks your family is willing take in terms of having a child in your home as a “legal risk” placement.
- Do I have any say in the age, gender, race, needs, or behaviors of the child placed in my home. Absolutely! When you open your home as either a foster family or an adoptive family, your licensing worker will ask your preferences on the kinds of kids for whom you would be willing to care. This is a time to be completely honest and ask yourself what you and your family are capable of handling. Often our “good hearts” initially cloud our common sense and put us, our families, and the kiddos in care in tough situations. Personally, I struggle with this. I hear about a child in care who needs a home and I always want to bring them home with me and give them permanency. However, when I take time to stop and think about what my family currently looks like, what our needs are, what our strengths/weaknesses are, and what our realistic capacity is for creating a healing environment, I find that it would not be a good fit for us, nor would it be a good fit for the child. Be sure to think hard about any family or community biases that may make a child of a different race/ethnicity feel uncomfortable. Really evaluate what your schedule and family routine look like…is your schedule packed or do you have a more flexible schedule that would allow you to devote time to a child with a higher level of needs? What do your daily/weekly activities look like and would they best fit with a younger or older child? These are just a few of the many questions that need to be answered before determining the demographic of children for which you are able to provide quality care.
- Can I adopt a child even though I am single/divorced/widowed? Yes. As long as you meet your state’s eligibility requirements, you can adopt as an individual. Eligibility requirements vary slightly from state to state but will include a minimum age (usually 21 years old), a clean background check, sufficient finances to care for a child(ren) in your home, and adequate room in your home/apartment/townhouse for a child (this usually includes his/her own bed, own drawer space, and some closet space).
This month, there are over 100,000 children who are legally free for adoption and are waiting for a forever family. As we head into National Adoption Month, I urge you to prayerfully consider if God is calling you to wrap your arms around a child and say, “welcome home”.