Over the last eleven years, I have been involved with adoption, including six years of being a licensed foster parent. The road to adoption is not easy. The years of foster care were not easy. But just because they were not easy does not mean they were not worth it. Adoption and foster care are extremely rewarding and fulfilling. By opening our hearts, arms, and home to children, we learned and grew as individuals and as a family. We gained more empathy and compassion for others. With our first adoption, we used an adoption agency. We tried that route, and after two years, we were never chosen again by an expectant parent. After completing our license for foster care through our state, we had ten different children in our home and adopted two sons. Because we have gone through both kinds of adoptions, I cannot say that one is easier than the other. There are different benefits or hard parts for both adoption through an agency and with fostering.
Five Ways Fostering Makes Adoption Easier
The cost of adoption is an important part of the decision to adopt. There are different costs for agencies, home study fees, placement and post-placement fees, and legal fees. Not every family is prepared financially for the costs that come with adoption. With foster care, there is little or no cost to get licensed.
Our first experience with getting licensed was going to an introduction to foster care orientation. It was a basic overview of foster care. As a foster parent, you receive money to provide for the child or children, but it is not a significant amount of money. The person running the orientation told us that we should not get into foster care for the money. But they do not want money to be a deterrent for good families to want to be foster parents, so they provide to help subsidize the cost of having a child in the home. The same holds true for adoption. They do not want money to deter families from wanting to adopt. Most states will pay for the legal fees for the adoption to take place. This helped us adopt our sons with little to no cost.
More Available Children in Foster Care
There are more children available in the foster care system. This may mean that the time from getting licensed to having a child in the home might be quicker than if you were going through an agency. Some of these children are legally free to adopt. When a child is legally free to adopt, it means the state has terminated their birth parents’ parental rights. The child is a ward of the state with no legal parents. These children may or may not currently be in a home and family that is able to adopt. The state is seeking individuals or families who are willing to adopt these children. There are children in all fifty states with a legally free status. These children may be adopted across state lines. Over a third of the children are teenagers. Many of the children are siblings who are looking for a home.
There is a family I know who were hoping to adopt. They started their process by researching siblings who were legally free to adopt. This family was guided to a group of four siblings ages 5-13 years old. The children were in a different state, and after the paperwork, background checks, home study, and visits, they were able to bring the children home. After six months, they were able to adopt them.
Many children in foster care are not legally free but need loving families to care for them. These children may have just been put into foster care or have been in foster care for some time. They are of various ages from newborn to 18-years-old. The state’s goal is usually reunification with the birth parents. The case will turn to a permanent placement with adoption as the goal when this is not possible. There are times when there is a concurrent plan for either reunification and adoption. This means that the court will check in on the birth parents’ progress in making changes while also considering adoption if that cannot happen.
Some of the children placed in my home were short-term placements, some were permanent placements, and some were respite care for other foster parents. The day after my husband and I were licensed through the state for foster care, we were contacted numerous times about different children that needed a family and home. At the time, we were licensed for two children ages 0-2. The first call was about twins in another foster home and needed respite care for five days. We jumped right in. When I asked the caseworker what the benefit was for respite care since we were hoping to foster-to-adopt, he mentioned that if their case went to adoption and the current foster home was not available to adopt, the families who had them in their home would be considered to adopt. The next call was for a set of newborn triplets discharged from the hospital within days. We didn’t have a big enough car to accommodate four car seats, including our son’s car seat. We received a few more phone calls about children who needed homes, but the one that touched our hearts was an 11-month-old boy. He was in a different foster home, but that home was not a permanent placement. His next home needed to be a permanent home with the possibility of adoption and also be able to take in his baby brother, who would be born within a month.
Built-in Support System
There is a system that will provide support and guidance through foster care. There will be social workers assigned to the children. The social worker comes to see and check on the child monthly. They will write reports to the court to indicate how the child is doing in the foster home. In my experience, these caseworkers were very knowledgeable. They were willing to listen to concerns that I had about the children in my care. The caseworkers were able to suggest different resources for therapies, doctors, or educational support.
There are volunteers called court-appointed special advocates (CASA). They are community members who have been specially trained to advocate for the best interests of a child who has been abused or neglected. After being assigned to a child by the juvenile court, a CASA volunteer will research the child’s circumstances, interview people who are significant in the child’s life and review relevant facts of the case. The CASA volunteer facilitates case resolutions by identifying resources for the child and helping ensure that the child obtains needed services. The CASA volunteer acts as the child’s voice in court and monitors and supports the child as the court case progresses. The volunteer that was appointed to my children’s case was a prominent member of the community. She came to visit or called me regularly. There were times when she helped me get an additional car seat through a community partnered organization and explained the court procedures and what was expected from me. She was a great resource to help me understand the ins and outs of the foster care system and how to manage the issues that frequently came up.
Guaranteed Access to Resources
The state knows there is a high need for these children to have services such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, family therapy, counseling, and educational resources. The state will have a list of recommended therapists and counselors to help accommodate these needs. The children in foster care and after adoption will likely have the insurance coverage to cover all of these physical, mental, emotional, and educational needs. This is also a way to help families so that more families are able to foster and adopt.
Help to the Community
There is a great need for good foster homes and families in all states. There are children in each community who need someone to love and care for them. This is an important way to help them as they are vulnerable and need extra support. By helping these children in foster care, foster parents and families help strengthen the community. Foster parents can make a difference in the life of a child, if only for a short time, but they will also make a difference in their communities.
Three Ways Fostering Does Not Make Adoption Easier
An individual or family may go into foster care with the hope of adopting, but it is not always a straight road. There are ups and downs even in the right situation. There is so much out of the foster family’s control. Foster families are at the discretion of the state. They do not have control of a timeline. It is difficult to know how and when things are going to happen. There are support members around, but they do not always have the answers to the questions that may come up. For us, there was a long wait from the moment our boys were placed in our home until we were able to adopt them, over three years. This was difficult because we knew it would happen but did not know when. We had many frustrations with the process.
Foster Care is not for the Faint of Heart
When I tell people that I am a foster parent, many respond that they could never do that because they would get too attached to the children placed in their homes. I usually respond that yes, it is hard, but maybe we should think about the difference we can make in a child’s life instead of how difficult it would be for us to let go. As a foster parent, you can love and support a child, if only for a short time. There will be many ups and downs. There will be moments of joy, exhaustion, pain, heartbreak, overwhelm, and unconditional love.
Under Extreme Scrutiny
As a foster parent, many people come into your home checking on the children, and I felt judged many times on my home’s cleanliness, safety, and parenting. I had to document every little bruise on toddlers that were learning to walk, run, and play. The children that I fostered went to visitations with their birth parents. At these visits, I became the enemy. One time Child Protective Services came to my door because the children had contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease, but it had come from the visitation center. Another time CPS showed up because of a very normal baby diaper rash. Obviously, I understand the need for the state to check on the wellbeing of the children, but I felt like I was constantly under a microscope. We needed to ask for permission to go on vacation. It was overwhelming and exhausting.
Some people feel called to be foster parents. I know of a family who decided to get licensed for foster care. They were placed with many newborns before they returned home or placed with a permanent family. One of the babies was heading towards adoption, and when the caseworker asked them if they were willing to adopt this baby, they decided to say yes. It has changed their family. Fostering can make adoption easier in many ways. The little or no cost helps more families have the opportunity to adopt. There are more available children to foster and adopt. There is a great built-in system to help lead and guide along the way. Foster families and adoptive families will be given resources to help with the process and beyond adoption. Foster and adoptive families will strengthen the community greatly. Researching and talking to others who have done so can be a great help in making the decision.Considering adoption? Let us help you on your journey to creating your forever family. Visit Adoption.org or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.
Alicia Nelson is a wife and a mother to three rambunctious boys. She is an online teacher and teaches English to Chinese children. Adoption has become her passion. She loves connecting with others on infertility, adoption, and foster care. She enjoys woodworking, being outdoors, listening to podcasts, and reading good books. She lives in Washington state with her family.