Foster Care to Adoption
Of the 428,000 children in foster care in the U.S., over 30% cannot be returned to their families and are waiting to be adopted. 135,000 children are adopted each year and there are currently 1.5 million adopted children in the United States. 59% are from the child welfare (or foster) system. Children enter foster care through no fault of their own because they have been abused, neglected or abandoned. These children are in the temporary custody of the state while their birth parents are given the opportunity to complete services that will allow the children to be returned to them if it is in the children’s best interest. Unfortunately, 30% of them never make it.
"Try to imagine the anxiety and insecurity that envelopes a child who is removed from his or her birth family and deposited into a well-meaning but impersonal foster care system to live among strangers. Many of these children are destined to bounce around foster care for three to five years before being adopted," one CPS social worker told us. "Though it is possible to adopt a baby from foster care, the children who are available for adoption generally range from toddler to 21. The median age is eight years old. Adopting an infant is one thing but adopting an 8-year-old child or a teenager is quite another. These adoptions pose psychic and emotional challenges to both the child and the adopting parents. Often, the worst happens, and the child is sent back to the foster system to await a second adoption."
Come Get This Child
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 6,750 children are returned each year to Foster Care after having been finally adopted. Children who end up in need of adoption a second time suffer deep and often irreversible trauma, leaving them with lifelong doubts about their worth.
"They are suspicious and trust no one, often withdrawing into themselves for a fleeting feeling of safety," our child welfare worker said. "We have been working on a solution to this problem for quite some time. The only solution that has any real impact is to do everything possible to prepare adopting parents and children for the unexpected emotional challenges they will face.
"We begin preparing parents with this question: There will be an adjustment time after a child is placed in your family. What, if anything, would make you call your worker and say, 'Come get this child?' The answer to this question guides our development of an appropriate preparation program.
Proper Preparation Prevents Pain
Social Workers have intensified pre-adoption training in an effort to stem the rate of rejection and facilitate stable adoptions. Before completing an adoption, potential parents are now encouraged to:
- Talk with their social worker about their expectations and motivations to be sure that they are reasonable.
- Understand that their family will go through changes and each member’s role will shift when they bring a child into their home. Are they ready to adapt and change to meet a child’s needs?
- Remember that for their new family to form, another family had to be broken apart. Grief and loss are part of the adoption process. Think about their own past losses and how they will relate to a child who is dealing with the loss of their family of origin.
- Children’s loyalty to their birth family will not end when they are adopted. While adopting parents are excited to build their new family, the child is probably conflicted between bonding with their family and feeling connected to their birth family. Forming attachments may take time.
- When envisioning their new family, be open to a wide variety of ages and consider siblings, if possible.
- While they wait to adopt, get involved in other ways. Participate in trainings, read books, and attend lectures about trauma and other topics related to parenting children in foster care.
- Seek services from the start. Engaging a family therapist early on can support a child’s transition into your home and help new family dynamics form.
- Take advantage of specialized trainings that will help you prepare to parent the children you may be a match for.
- If you don’t already have a strong support system, develop one, including other families who have fostered and adopted. They have great wisdom to share and can be a source of support in the future.
- Stay connected to the foster care system—including by training others, speaking at PRIDE trainings, and providing respite care.
Not Like the Old Days
In the past, if a stable couple with a good reputation was eager to adopt that was all the preparation they needed. There were too many orphans with no place to go, and the primary mission of child services was to "find them good homes". The child welfare community has evolved beyond that simple mission to an even more compassionate approach that seeks to "find them loving environments in which everyone thrives."
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