Before telling you about my foster-to-adoption experience of a healthy, newborn baby from foster care, I first want to encourage you to adopt a teenager. Teens are so much cooler than babies! When I’m a little older, I hope to adopt a high schooler. For inspiration, check out You Gotta Believe! and Foster Club.
Oh, and just another plug- the most common type of foster children waiting for homes are ones in larger, bonded sibling groups and those with special needs. If you think you’re not equipped for a foster child categorized with special needs- think again while taking the lists of diagnoses with a grain of salt. With foster children, clinicians prefer to pile on the concerns in assessments in order to get the full spectrum of services and therapies. It’s better to err on the side of caution than to risk a foster child falling through the cracks, right? Also, like it or not, there’s a financial incentive to keep a diagnostic code on foster children which tilts the scales different than children already in permanent homes. It’s not a negative, but just something to keep in mind.
Now, on with my anecdotal surprises while adopting Clementine, my 5 month-old daughter, from foster care:
1. Children aren’t handed out on a first come, first serve basis. In fact, I don’t think my foster agency keeps an adoptive parent wait list. Adoption is an accidental side effect of foster care, not the main goal. As such, it’s not very organized- or concerned about fairness on the prospective adoptive parent. The focus is on the kids.
2. There is no point in requesting a younger child that was “legally free”, “pre-adoptive”, or whose parents rights have been “terminated”. Children under these circumstances are already in foster homes and are bonded with foster parents who usually (of course) want to adopt them. I understood this better after reading that judges don’t like to create legal orphans.
3. Birth parents typically have the right to visit their children in foster care up to the day they are adopted. Foster-to-adopt parents must “produce the child” for these visits which vary from twice a week to twice a month.
4. Newborns were available. Toddlers and preschoolers were not. I also assumed that newborns were most requested. As a working, single mom-to-be, I preferred a child at least 2-years-old that I could enroll in school during the day. Apparently, a lot of other foster parents have the same idea.
5. Even if birth parents choose adoption, they still have to show up in court several times. I had assumed that all the birth parents had to do was sign papers or maybe go to court just once. However, the circumstances that lead children into foster care can cause birth parents to be more vulnerable to manipulation, so extra measures are in place. As you can imagine, those same vulnerabilities and challenges (e.g. illness, prison, substance abuse) can also make it difficult to get to court. I’m incredibly grateful that my daughter’s birth parents were able to push through their obstacles and come to court so many times (once as early as 8 AM).
6. Other foster parents were one of the best resources for knowing if any foster children in my agency were in need of an adoptive parent. One of my biggest mistakes was not connecting with them earlier.
7. I needed to be on the foster staff’s radar. The idea of putting myself out there was daunting, but as previously mentioned, I don’t think there’s a prospective adoptive parent wait list. Case workers are incredibly busy and deal with one crisis after another—how will they know I exist? After a couple of years and a couple of foster kids who reunited with their families, I made a little index sized flyer that said, “Rebecca is ready to adopt!” I put my photo on it, a few brief facts, and asked the receptionist to pass them out. I think it played a part in getting matched with my daughter.
8. My reputation mattered. Again, back to the cold, mythical wait list. If someone at the foster agency hadn’t thought, “that Rebecca girl would be a good parent for this baby,” I wouldn’t have Clementine.
9. There were a lot of Jewish babies. This IS New York, but it still surprised me for no other reason than perhaps I have some stereotypes that I haven’t thought through. My first foster baby was Jewish, Clementine is Jewish (mom’s side) and I was called and asked to take several Jewish babies in between. I’m not Jewish, but because I am white, I think I was granted, “Close enough!”
10. I’m choosing to build and maintain post-adoption relationships with extended birth families. I never considered the aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-aunts, and great-uncles that would come with my foster-to-adopt daughter. Turns out, she has some really amazing extended family that I would like to keep in her life and they would like to be in hers. I’m going to have to start this year’s holiday cards early!
11. There are many reasons why sibling sets are broken up. Sibling sets are a lot harder to keep together than I thought. I assumed they were kept together no matter what these days, but I wasn’t aware of the complexities, such as half-brothers and sisters with different fathers and mothers. A family member might be willing to foster kin, but what about the child’s father’s newborn with another mother? Yeah, complicated.
Also, siblings might be adopted and then the same birth mom becomes pregnant again. I’ve already asked myself, would I adopt Clementine’s birth mother’s next baby if asked? And then what if she had another?
12. It is hard to get that family and medical history. I don’t know why I thought I was so special, but I was convinced that with some good communication skills and a dash of charm, I could obtain my daughter’s file. That is, the file of medical and family history information that I have a legal right to. I actually didn’t even try to ask for any information, written or verbal, until after Clementine’s birth parents surrendered their rights conditional to me (legal terms meaning only I can adopt her), but still no dice.
13. Have I mentioned that I have two kids now? Never in a million years did I think I’d take two
kids b.a.b.i.e.s. on my own. That’s a long story that started with Hurricane Sandy. Add a second baby to my surprise list!
14. I have to do the homestudy twice. No biggie, the city pays for it, but I didn’t realize that the Homestudy that was done to become licensed as a foster parent wouldn’t count when adopting through the same agency.
[A Homestudy is a report a social worker writes up after meeting with a prospective foster or adoptive parent in their home.]
15. That is was actually possible to adopt from foster care. Even though I went for it, I couldn’t imagine that I would be lucky enough to adopt from foster care. I’m so happy!