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Children and youth enter foster care at no fault of their own.
The number one goal of all foster parents should be reunification, but there are always children and teens who cannot return to their birth family. In fact, according to NACAC, 24 percent of child and youth, who leave foster care are adopted.
Of all adoptions, 51 percent were by foster parents (concurrent adoption), 35 percent by relatives, and 14 percent by individuals or couples who were neither kin nor foster parents (foster adoption). Most adoptive parents were coupled, though 25 percent were single women and 3 percent were single men. These numbers remain relatively static year to year.
The number one goal of all foster parents should be reunification, but there are always some children and teens who cannot return to their birth family.
I was one of the 25 percent of single women who adopted.
My road to motherhood was a winding one. In the midst of my single-hood, I questioned whether or not I would ever be called Mamma. The ache of not knowing was unbearable at times.
I became a foster mom when I turned 30. The sound of these much-loved children calling me Mamma physically hurt my heart, as I knew each child would call me that only for a season – short or long, it would end.
After two years, I let the county know that I would like to open and willing to adoption if a child needed it. My hope was always is that children are in a safe, loving home, with their birth parents whenever possible, but if that safe, loving, wonderful home is to with me, I was ready to be a Mamma for the long haul.
I would provide foster care, and also be open to adopting them if they were not able to be placed with family.
About a year after I spoke with my social worker, she called me on a Friday and a baby moved in on Monday. She stayed. And this one, this one, is my girl. Through and through.
She has the uncanny ability to drive me batty and have me rolling on the floor in laughter within minutes. I think she’s hilarious (and she does to).
The thrill I get in hearing her call me Mamma is only second to the joy I see on her face when I retrieve her after being away for a time.
When she was little, a teenage nursery worker asked, “What is it you do to make her want you like that?” Honestly, I am not sure, but I do know that it’s mutual. I so enjoy this little one, she’s my favorite person (big or small) and am so glad I am her forever Mamma.
She also has first momma that we are lucky to have visits with, one of my favorite thing about her is that she calls our child, ours. But that is a post for another day.
Often people think that adopting from foster care is complicated. It is complex, but it is also a road that many, many people have walked before you. There are two main ways to adopt from foster care:
Concurrent Adoption (our story)
Foster Adoption (adopting a child that is freed for adoption before meeting you)
Steps to Adopt from Foster Care
Think, “Hey this might be the way I/we want to build my/our family.”
Ask questions – of everyone, friends, family, bloggers, adoptive parents, adoptees – make sure this is the best decision for you. Adoption isn’t for everyone and that’s okay.
Attend into sessions, more than one.
Apply to an agency or county Foster to Adopt program that fits you.
Do the paperwork. It’s hard, it’s tedious, it’s repetitive. Do it anyway. The quicker you move, the quicker your social worker can do what they need to do.
Visit with your social worker in their office & then in your home.
Do some more paperwork & whatever the worker asks to you do.
Give the worker some time, she/he has to write it, have it proofread for accuracy & compliance to the laws of the state you live and the state/county you plan to adopt from by another worker (and possibly your family), print, notarize if necessary, sign.
Get approved & have an approved home-study.
Decide if you want to foster to provide temporary care and be open to adoption (concurrent adoption) or only consider kids whose birth family’s rights have already been terminated.
In concurrent adoption, wait for your social worker to call with a referral of kiddo who needs a place to stay for the night or maybe forever.
Ask more questions – get as much info about kiddo as possible.
In foster adoption (kids whose parental rights have been terminated) talk to your worker about kids and youth who need a home at that time. Most are not on photo listings.
Ask more questions. See a theme here?
Once you are matched with a child or the child you are fostering becomes available for adoption, let you worker know just how interested you are (we as workers offer aren’t sure of a family’s commitment until we hear the words, “We are in this 100%. We want this child to be a part of our family.” The words matter!
Do what your social worker tells you.
Go to court & finalize the adoption.
A very, very simplified overview of how to #adopt from foster care.
Adopting from foster care is a funny thing, there are a million steps and they ALL feel momentous and historic. If you take one step at a time, most people do end up adopting. If that’s you, please do the work along the way to no only have your home ready, but also your heart.
Strengthen your marriage if you have one, build your circle of support, get ready to love no matter what and hold on.
Once you finalize, the US government will issue an amended birth certificate stating your child’s adopted name & list the adoptive parents as the ONLY parents. The amended birth certificate will take the place of the original and in some states is inaccessible for life or until the child reaches adulthood.
This can cause problems later on if the adoptee then wants to enroll in a native American tribe, get a passport or have a fuller picture of their story pre-adoption. So, do what you can to get an original birth certificate and keep it along with the amended one you are sent after finalization.
Consider Your Mortality
Parenthood makes you consider your own mortality in a new way.
Before I adopted, as a single person, I had no reason for a will, appointing a guardian or life insurance, as I had no real material wealth and no dependents.
But, after the finalization, I was sure to get the all in place, because as a single mom, I knew I needed a plan for who would take care of her and financial support in place for my daughter, should the worst happen.
This child is now fully your responsibility and you want them to be taken care of well, even if you can’t be there in the case of your death.
Also, think about who you’d like to raise your child in case of your death and put that in your will. If you don’t have one, be sure to get or update your will and make sure your life insurance will cover your funeral expenses and some to help the new caretakers of your child.
Attempt to get a new Social Security NUMBER and card for your child. The office is sometimes hesitant to give a new number, but it can come back to haunt you later.
Think about the many, many pieces of paper on which your child’s social security # might be on, papers at the county, the adoption agency, past foster parents, birth family, temporary caretakers (if a child is with someone over 6 months, they can be claimed on their taxes).
If you don’t get a new social security number, you may find that your child’s number has been used to claim children on taxes, open credit cards, false applications for loans, credit cards or bank accounts, used as proof of identity with law enforcement, used for medical care, used on utilities such as phone, water, gas, and cable.
When your child reaches adulthood, they might find that they have a poor credit history due to non-payment on those accounts opened fraudulently, or they might even have flags for criminal conduct that has nothing to do with them.
The easiest way to avoid all of that is to get a new number. They are sometimes hesitant to give a new number, be persistent. But, if they refuse to give you a new # you can request a flag be put on their file moving forward and then check to make sure their credit hasn’t already been tampered with by writing a letter to the credit bureaus.
This won’t prevent someone from claiming them on their taxes but might help sort out credit problems that might arise.
Add your child to your medical insurance plan. Or if they are receiving insurance through medical assistance (part of adoption assistance for some kids), update name and contact information.
When you adopt, update child’s information with the all professional’s the child has worked with, whether or not you plan to work with them again in the future.
That way, if you do need to see them again, the paperwork will all be current. Also ask them to remove all other contact persons off of the accounts (social workers, birth family, etc) and update all contact information to you alone.
If you adopted internationally, make sure your child’s adoption is final IN THE US and that they are a US Citizen. Do the work now to make sure they are – so that they don’t have to deal with it when they want to go on that first international trip and find they can’t get a passport because they aren’t officially US citizens. This happens all the time folks – MAKE sure.
Consider sending an announcement of the adoption to your friends and family. Be sure to discuss this with your child and use your best judgement if your child would like this done. Many adoption stories are full of grief and mixed feelings and finalization. Be sensitive to the way you mark this day with and for your child.
If you do create announcement cards, or if you just do a few, be sure to send one off to the White House and Disney World as well, they will send you back an official congrats – which is one extra fun thing for the adoption scrapbook.
There are many factors that go into an adoptive placement decision, but most social workers follow a general placement preference for a child in need of a permanent family, always based on the willingness of the adults to parent and their suitability to do so. Which is why there are generally not infants, toddlers or young children on waiting children lists.
This is the list a worker will go down when deciding who is best to adopt a child in foster care. She will decide at every step if this family is an option for a permanent family for this child.
If you are hoping to adopt an unrelated child that you have no current connections to, you are at least 6th on this list. For any child to be on a “waiting child” list, placement options #1-5 have either been inappropriate or they have said no to the placement of this child. And of course, each step of this process takes months and sometimes years, and all the while the child is getting older and most likely is experiencing further moves, trauma, and stress in their little lives.
General Placement Preference:
Birth Mom or Birth Dad
Birth Relatives the child has a relationship with
Birth Relatives the child does not have a relationship with
Current Foster Parents
Kin – people in the community or in the child’s past that have/had a relationship with the child (past foster parents, school teachers, neighbors, sports coaches, etc)
Unrelated foster or adoptive family in the child’s community
Unrelated foster or adoptive family in the child’s state
Unrelated foster/adopt family outside of the child’s state
A 6.5-year-old child comes into foster care.
When the child is 8.6 years old, birth parents’ rights are terminated because birth mom & birth date has been deemed unsuitable to parent the children and extended birth family begins to be looked at an option.
After this, the extended birth family has all been contacted and either haven’t shown interest, said no to placement or have been deemed unsuitable (due to past CPS involvement, drug/alcohol issues, felony charges).
When the child was 9 years old their current foster family said no to adoption
At 9.5 years old, a search for other adults in the child’s life is undertaken, but with high caseloads and new kids coming into care every day, it’s difficult to do the exhaustive search for people who may have been in this child’s life 5,6, 7 years ago…
If no extended family member, if not one current or foster parent, if no teacher or coach or friend parent said yes… The child is posted on a WAITING CHILD listing.
The reality of this is heartbreaking.
Consider becoming a concurrent foster placement for a child and be willing to take that child on the day they come into foster care and be COMMITTED to adopting them if they can’t return to their birth family.
So when that 6.5-year-old (or infant, or teen) is placed in your home, YOU are there, hugging, tucking in at night, dropping off at school, being there for the child, through every day of the 15 months of possible reunification and painful termination of parental rights. YOU are there for the birth relative search. YOU are there when the county gets to step 4 and YOU can say YES! The steps stop here, with me, THIS child is home.
That helps. That heals. That is hope.
Yes, it’s risky for your heart. Oh so risky. I understand, I do. I’ve done it. I’ve lived it. I’ve cried over kids returned to birth parents, I’ve ached. But, I also know that it is worth it. It is so worth it.
So if you find yourself wanting to adopt a younger child from foster care – that’s okay, the simple answer is that there ARE infants & toddlers who need a home from foster care, but they need a special kind of family. They need a family who can ride the roller coaster with them. To support the birth family as long as possible and to be in it for the long haul, for the child’s good – no matter where they grow up.
When a family is committed to providing foster care for a child and AT THE SAME time being open to adopting the child if they need an adoptive family, this is called concurrent adoption.
Concurrent adoption was put into place nationwide in 1997, with the passage of the Safe Families Act, which gave the option for social workers to plan for an adoption option for kids while their families were working on reunification. It also requires States to file for termination of parental rights once children have been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months and give preference to adult relatives over non relative caregivers.
Remember that the #1 goal of foster care is reunification, so while you are OPEN to adoption, be supportive of first families. Concurrent foster care is not a FASTER way to adopt.
Today we will talk about how to make a foster child feel at home, the first day with a foster child, the first day with an adopted child, the first night with a foster child, the first night with an adopted child and how to be prepared for your first foster care placement.
Picture this, a school-age child is dropped off at your home by a social worker. They have just been removed from their parents. They are scared and confused. The worker leaves and you are face to face, alone with this child. Now what?
First of all, say hello to the child, introduce yourself briefly, show them in.
Talk to the police officer or social worker, briefly, briefly – tell them to email or call later with any sensitive or graphic information. Then most of the time, they leave rather quickly.
Give the child the tour of your house, make sure to show the child the bathroom and where they will be sleeping right away. Let them open whatever cupboards they like and play with any and all toys (within reason).
Find something for them to do – age-appropriate toys, tv shows, etc. If they have a backpack or jacket, let them keep it with them or put it in their room, it is 100% up to them. I had a girl keep her jacket and winter hat on for the first hour she was here once. She got to choose when she took it off, I let her know she could take it off but didn’t try to help or worse, make her. There is very, very, very little they are in control of at this point, let them control their stuff.
LET them be for a minute with you in the same room but not talking to them – they need to BE in the space before they can process you as another adult.
Get them a snack with something to drink. It’s OK if they don’t eat it, provide it. Let them be again.
Once they start to look at you, look curious, etc. I ask, “Okay, so what did the officer/social worker tell you about me and this place?” Generally, I get a shrug.
“Well, my name is Alisa (I don’t assume they remember) and I live here with Sweetie. We are the only ones who live here, I am not married and right now there are no other kids. It’s my job to keep kids safe while the other grownups are figuring out what the plan is for you and your family”.
If I know what’s next (court, weekend, visits, no visits, etc), I tell them. Kids need to know what is going on and they deserve to. “What questions do you have?” Most likely other shrug but I assure you, it’s all going in.
Tell them why your house is awesome (“I have a Wii and lots of board games and I love to do art.”), and the try to get to know them. Ask about school, what subjects they like, what they like to do, etc. Be interested and remember they had a whole life before coming to you and its okay to be curious. In that same breath, be sensitive and if they clam up about something or if you know a certain area or person is sensitive, be quick to jump to an easy subject – favorite TV show, etc.
Find something they like for dinner/snacks and make it for them.
While they are eating dinner:
Ask what types of food they like and make it a point to get those foods the next day.
I say, “I was wondering what types of foods you like because we are just getting to know each other and everyone likes different things. Since you’ll be staying here for a while, at least for the night, I want to get food that you like too, so let’s make a list. What is one thing that you like to eat?” Then I write it down. Whatever it is.
Even if the entire list is chips and ice cream I write it down, commenting whenever it’s true that I like that food. I really do like chips and ice cream. However, since I also like real food, I am sure to ask what fruits and veggies they like.
If they are really stuck, I ask what they like to eat for dinner with their Mom or Dad. If they say they eat Mac and Cheese, then I’ll say, “Great, that’s yummy. When you have Mac and Cheese, what else is on your plate?” Gets the juices flowing.
The important thing to remember here is NOTHING they like or don’t like is wrong. THERE are no good foods or bad foods in this conversation It is all a window into their world. And then – GO buy it.
Not all of it, you are still the one in charge, but make a real effort to make foods the kids like for at least the first few weeks. Mac and Cheese for a month won’t injure them – feeling like they aren’t part of the family and have no say, that might. Explain how bedtime and waking up works well before bedtime and then review as your tucking in.
Also during dinner and then again at bedtime, I say, “Tonight, we’ll get you all comfy in bed, with a nightlight, blankets, pillows, everything and then it’ll be bedtime. I will go into my room and dink around on my computer, but I’ll come back and check on you in a few minutes and see if you need anything. In the morning, you can play quietly in your room, but stay in your room until I get up and get you.” Then ask what they understood and correct anything they got wrong if it’s an important detail. Bedtime is hard no matter what that first night, but take away as much mystery as you can.
Find something to do together, Wii, board game or just checking out the house. Show them how to work the TV remote.
Hang out in their new room, help them make it feel like it is “theirs,” even if its short term, move stuff around, put in the things they like (books, small toys), take out things that are too young or too old for them. Have them make their bed so it looks “just right” to them, get the books ready to read before bed, etc.
Have THEM put on their PJ’s. If they are physically able, have them do it themselves, behind a closed bedroom door or in the bathroom – privacy IS SO SO SO important, especially when you are a total stranger and you have no idea what they have been through. Most kids don’t seem to care about the privacy thing, but you need to.
Brush teeth, wash face, go to the bathroom, etc. It establishes that this is what we do here before bed, don’t worry if they actually get clean teeth or hands or face that first night, and don’t fight it if its not happening.
Read some books with the grown-ups on the floor and the kids in a chair. Preferably in the room they’ll be sleeping in so they can get used to it, but use wisdom if there is known abuse. I always sit on the floor with the kids on something for a good long time, so there is a little distance, just in case.
Read Maybe Days… at least I always do and answer any and all questions the kid can come up with as honestly and openly as you can. It’s a hard, emotional read that first night, but it always brings up a lot of, “I miss my Mom and Dad,” “I’m sad,” etc. Let it. Them saying those things is so, so good and healthy. Let them. Let them cry. Let them know that you understand they miss their family and that it’s okay to be sad. They are feeling all of it anyway, I assure you – so good to get it out.
Get kids in bed, tell them the bedtime and waking up plan again. Then do it. I say, “Alright kiddo, now that you are in bed safe and sound, I am going to go into my room and work on the computer. I will come back and check on you in 5 minutes to see how your doing. Remember you can get out of bed if you need to go to the bathroom, but otherwise, I want you to try to stay in bed and wait for me okay?”
Answer questions about monsters, spiders, boogie men, what happens if they get thirsty, etc., quickly and let them know that your house is 100% monster, spider, boogie men free and that there is a special cup in the bathroom just for them if they get thirsty.
CHECK on them in 5 minutes. And in 10. And in 10. And in 10. Until they fall asleep let them know when you’ll be back to check and then COME BACK TO CHECK. The worst thing you can do at this point is to fail them. Check on them.
Prepare to not sleep a lot. Taking forever to go to sleep, sleep terrors, crying and waking up multiple times, or really early in the morning is normal and expected. (And really, I am always super alert the first few nights as well, its new for me too.)
Wake up earlier than normal the next day yourself to see how the kids is doing – sleeping, great, let them sleep, awake and playing quietly in room (our rule) great, invite him/her out for an early cartoon session or breakfast, awake and helping themselves to the TV or fridge, remind them of the rules and escort them back to their room for 5 minutes… then invite for early breakfast or cartoons.
Tips from the trenches
No way around it, the first night in foster care is hard. Remember its okay to have rules, but be flexible and above all – be KIND. It is worth its weight in gold to start your relationship off on a good note.
Every question they ask is a good one. I like to let them know if another kid I have had, had the same question. It lets them know that other kids have lived here and moved on, it also lets them know they are not alone and not crazy for wondering about that thing.
Give choices whenever possible, ask if they want to see the upstairs or downstairs first, let them choose between two snacks or two pajamas, or should we watch some TV first or play this came first? Kids catch on quick and ask for the choices.
Use your own name and the names of those who live in your house a lot at first. They have met a lot of new faces today, you can’t assume they remember your names. Also, let them call you what they like.
Most of my foster kids have called me Alisa, some have called me Mom from day one. I remind them we’re not sure what the plan is (if I will be their Mom, most of the time that isn’t the plan), but if that’s what they want to do, that’s okay.
When getting to know a new foster kiddo say, “What questions do you have,” way more than you think necessary. Cause they have a billion of questions, but it’ll take a while to get up the courage to ask you.
On food, always have peanut butter, bread & fruit in the house. If a child doesn’t like what you made or how you made it, let them know they can always make a sandwich for themselves or have fruit. That way the alternative is a not very exciting, yet a viable, nutritious option, without you becoming a short-order cook.
Let them know about any security features on the house, motion detectors, door alarms, etc. It would be SO scary for them to find out about those on accident when they got up to get a snack.
A few of you asked about bedbugs and lice and how to deal with them… I might do a separate post about this… but my short answer is, know at some point you might have to deal with both, but..
PLEASE DO NOT have foster kids undress in a garage or store their things outside because they are “dirty”. Put yourselves back into the shoes of the child and take a step back.