What We Learned From Foster-to-Adopt

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Perhaps you’ve talked about fostering for a long time but always find a reason why you shouldn’t, such as not enough time, two working parents, impact on biological children, or feeling your house is too small. Perhaps you are becoming a foster parent with the hopes of adopting in the future. As Foster Care Awareness Month comes to a close, we interviewed five women who adopted through the U.S. foster care system. Lean in as these incredible women share their thoughts and recommendations with those interested in the foster-to-adopt process.

It’s important to keep in mind that reunification with one or both parents or other family members is the goal. In fact, the journey to termination of parental rights is filled with many different emotions. While being notified that you can pursue adoption may bring joy, there is also an incredible sadness that underscores the process. The balance of fostering and hoping to adopt is a delicate one to be sure. It requires knowing your needs and your desires are not the priority and accepting that things change all the time. Practically speaking, the path of foster-to-adopt begins as a foster parent. Learning how to care for your foster child will become your new mission. There is a time commitment outside the home in the form of medical appointments, court appearances, visits with biological family, therapies, and other interventions that will be made available to your foster child. Inside the home, you are parenting differently and more intentionally so the child can understand and process their emotions and the challenges they face mentally and physically because of past experiences.

This day-to-day part of the foster journey is one some foster parents don’t expect and find harder than expected. As thoughts turn to adoption, it can be easy to dismiss birth parents and assume they must not love their children and that’s why the child is in the foster system. That’s simply not true. In fact, some parents were also in the system and, while working through their own trauma, struggle to provide stability and meet their child’s needs. It’s possible that, if a parent’s needs are met, it will enable them to better meet their child’s needs. Children continue to love their parents even when things are going horribly wrong. We need homes ready to care for the child knowing he or she is still very much a member of a family in distress. The advice given by our foster moms is to commit to love through good and bad days and be the safe place the child needs. Prospective foster parents, especially those interested in adoption, often say they could not foster and give the children back. Our foster moms feel that mindset needs to be challenged. One in particular shared she was very closed, maybe even selfish and hyper-focused on the needs and wants of her own family. The foster and adoption journey challenged their entire family to see beyond themselves, grow, and mature. Her biological children have flourished and surprised her with their understanding on the hardest and most difficult days.

Final recommendations if you are hoping your foster journey will lead to adoption:

1. Work with your state agency to be matched with a child who is awaiting adoption and a good fit for your family. Different regulations and guidelines can mean different experiences by state and even by county.

2. Don’t minimize the trauma that your child has been through. Learn about therapeutic-based parenting strategies. Foster children may be lacking basic skills in regulation, communication, education and manners. Be willing to adjust your parenting style to accommodate the needs of your child as traditional parenting techniques may not work well. 

3. You must have a good support system. Make sure your marriage is strong, have a plan for respite, watch for signs of secondary trauma and connect with other foster/adoptive families in your area.

4. Never stop learning. Seek new ways to connect with your foster or adopted child through all his or her developmental stages.

5. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Take each day individually and be present. Ultimately, your foster-to-adopt journey may start out one way and end another. Most of all, be prepared to help a child, however the future may unfold.

Our thanks to five foster and adoptive mothers who are making an incredible difference in the lives of children in different states across this country; Marie Moe, Carrie Tucker, Mara Schack, Beth Gallegos, and Ashley Powell. Their combined voices made this post about the foster-to-adopt journey possible.  

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Michelle Vernon


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