“I wish we could do away with the term foster-t0-adopt,” my friend said, as we chatted briefly during a conference a few days ago. “It communicates the wrong message to people who are entering the process. We should call it, foster-to-reunify.” She was referring to the underlying intention some have in entering the journey, to build a family by fostering. Not specifically the program of fostering-to-adopt. I nodded as I listened. She was completely right. Foster to adopt IS misleading at times!!
Harsh, right? I even used two exclamation points at the end. But I need to drive home a strong point here: You don’t enter the foster care journey to build your family. You don’t enter to adopt. You enter to care for children in need. The point is reunification….always…unless it absolutely becomes an adoption case. If you’re doing foster care for anything else than caring for vulnerable children or reunification, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. Double harsh!
Last year I was talking with a couple during a break from speaking during a live event. Tears streamed down their face as they shared their story. Two years earlier, when they began the journey, they had been told by their agency that their first placement, a 2-year old boy, was probably going to turn into an adoption situation. This moved their hearts as they had always dreamed of adopting a little boy or girl. But the conversation with the case manager was casual and there was never a follow up after. A few weeks before I met them, visitations with birth mom had been re-instated. She had turned a corner and began showing signs of progress. This prompted a judge to order visitations, even though it had been more than a year and half since her son was removed from her care. All signs were pointing toward reunification (at least from the foster parent’s perspective).
I listened, I empathized, I hurt for them. What a devastating thing to be told this by their agency, allow your heart to go there, and then have the carpet yanked out from beneath you, I thought. But I realized they had been lead astray from the beginning. The case manager should have never mentioned adoption until it was absolutely a certainty. For the well-being of this precious couple, and their heart, as well as the child they were caring for, it should not have been a topic of conversation.
You don’t enter foster care to build a family, or to adopt. Could it turn into this? Sure. Six children who came to us through foster care did. Can you sign up through an agency to be a foster-to-adopt couple? Yep. Those are both possibilities and there are designed programs for each. But, to set out on the foster care journey with an expectation of adoption in a general case is dangerous for your heart and the heart of the child you’re caring for. Make your focus reunification as a foster parent, but be open to adoption if it leads to this. Here are a few other things to focus on while you care for children through foster care…
- Advocacy. Be an advocate for the child and the child’s family (if are able to do this). They need a cheerleader through this process.
- Leadership. Make your focus to genuinely and authentically lead the child you’re caring for (and also the family). You have this amazing, distinct opportunity to be a positive influence and guide along this journey.
- Healing. Chances are, the child in your care has come from some pretty traumatic stuff. They may even be behaving out of this trauma. Or they’re afraid. They need time and space to heal. You can give them this space. You also have the opportunity to be a catalyst for hope and restoration in their story.
Make your focus reunification as a foster parent, but be open to adoption if it leads to this.
Listen, I get it. Can I just tell you that? I get the struggle you are having if you have fallen in love with the child in your care, or been told something pre-maturally by your foster care agency. I understand how your heart and mind can jump to adoption or permanency. In many situations during our time as foster parents, our hearts went there too. But we had to keep the right perspective in place. We had to keep reunification in focus, until it was absolutely certain a child was never leaving. We allowed our hearts to love children deeply while they were with us, and then we grieved and celebrated openly when they reunified with their family. It’s the painful, tragic, reality of the foster care journey.
You are setting yourself up for potential heart break if you foster with the expectation of adoption. Can I give you some parting advice that will spare you pain and agony? If adoption is your expectation, you should adopt, not foster. No harm, no foul in choosing this path.
Have you walked this road as a foster parent? Share your story with us in the comment section below.