Adopting from foster care.
As a licensed foster parent for the past 5 years, I’ve seen lots of information — and lots of mis-information — about the process. So I feel like it’s time to tell our story. How one little girl was loved by 2 families before coming to be with us — her forever family.
Before I get into the ooey-gooey parts of our story — a few statistics you should know.
According to AdoptUSKids, “each year more than 20,000 children age out of the foster care without being adopted. Today there are 104,000 children in foster care waiting to be adopted ranging in age from less than a year old to 21.”
And just how many children are in foster care, anyways?
“More than 250,000 children in the U.S. enter the foster care system every year. While more than half of these children will return to their parents, the remainder will stay in the system. Most of these children are living with foster families, but some also live in group facilities.”
Ok — just in case you didn’t really get that . . . I’m going to repeat it.
A quarter of a million children enter foster care every year. EVERY YEAR.
Got it? Quarter of a million.
Like — A. Lot. Of. Kids.
Half go to their original families. Half stay in the system until they age out or are adopted.
So that’s 125,000 children every year that will need a new family.
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page here . . . there are A LOT of kids that need a home.
You likely know some foster children and don’t even realize it. Most of us foster parents don’t go around actively saying, “Hi — this is so-and-so. She’s my foster child.” (Actually, in my state, it’s illegal to do so. For good reason. So really, there are more kids you run into who are in the system than you probably ever realized.)
Alright — so now that we’ve got some statistics out of the way, I’m going to ask you to do me a favor. Take a short little break here, and read THIS post on why I chose to adopt from foster care.
OK — are you back now? Fabulous.
So, for my family . . . we choose to adopt from foster care because we wanted to make a difference in a vulnerable child’s life. For US — it did involve some sort of “rescue mentality.” (Some people are critical of that — but that’s my heart, and I’m being true to my journey.) I will say at this point, that some people adopt from foster care not necessarily to rescue a child, but because they want to add to their family. There is no judgment from me either way on what your motivation is. Both, to me, are equally valid motivations.
Now that you know the why, I’m going to tell you our “how.”
When Maddy was almost 2, I felt strongly that we should start classes for foster care. Ryan was on board. I contacted the state, and they sent me a little package with very little information. Mostly just a case worker’s contact info, and the class schedule. They told me (over email, I believe) to sign up for a class. So I did.
We got babysitting the first night of class, and drove to the building the class was held. Only to find a sign that said that DSHS was closed that day for a state holiday.
“What?? How did a state employee tell me to register for a class that was supposed to be held in a closed building due to a holiday?” And just like that, I decided that if the state couldn’t get it together enough to actually get me to a class correctly, there was no heck of the way I was letting the state into my home. I contacted the social worker about my dismay — and didn’t even hear back again for about 6 months. And it was another email, kinda like, “Hey — we missed you at class half-a-year ago. Are you still interested in foster care?” I didn’t respond.
And that was that. At least for while.
At work, two friends started the process to adopt from foster care. They had gone through an agency called Youth For Christ. I was still skeptical — but after watching how different their experience was, I asked for more information.
While I was gone on vacation, I contacted Youth For Christ, and we ended up chatting for about an hour on what our family was looking for. When I got home, I had a very detailed package waiting for me with tons of information on foster care and adoption. I was impressed at the difference I saw right away between working with the state and an agency. (I’ll talk more about the perks of using an agency in a subsequent post.)
Ryan was again on board, and we started the paperwork right away. And there was A LOT of it. (And by a lot, I kinda mean like the whole 1/2 a million statistic. A LOT!!)
It took me several months to finish all the paperwork. We had a home inspection. We completed our state’s requirement of a 36-hour-class. (Which, by the way, is like taking on another full-time job in one week.) We became certified in CPR and first-aid. We got finger-printed and had background checks. We had several friends and family become references for us. We had a home inspection, and did a homestudy interview — where you basically allow a stranger access into all your private details.
I have a history of depression and anxiety. I was concerned that this would be an issue, but the licensor was OK with it, as long as I had a plan (medication and counseling) if I had a setback.
We disclosed all of our medical histories, as well as our family backgrounds. We bought a new crib as was required, even though Maddy’s crib was barely 2 years old and in fabulous condition. We locked up all our medicine, got a correctly sized fire extinguisher, and made sure we were current on all our immunizations. And made sure our home passed a checklist about 4-5 pages long of safety issues. Oh, and we got physicals to verify that we were physically fit to parent.
The whole process from the first phone call to receiving our license was a little over 3 months.
We chose to get licensed for a child ages 0-5. We wanted to keep the birth order in tact, so we would really only take a child in if they were 2 or under . . . but we needed to be licensed for longer in case the child would be with us for several years.
We also wanted to take a child that would likely be available for adoption. We knew that our goal as foster parents would first and foremost be to promote reunification with their biological parents. But in case that wasn’t what the state had decided would be in the best interest of the child, we wanted to have them be apart of our forever family.
To “minimize” some of the risk of heartbreak on our end, in case we grew very attached to a child and have to say “good-bye”, we asked that we only hear about children who would likely need a forever home. For our situation, this would include a mom who gave birth but the court had already deemed her an unfit mom and the child would immediately go into an adoptive situation. Or a child who had already been in the system for over a year, and the state was adding to the reunification plan an alternate plan to adopt the child out. Or a child that was already legally-free that met our other specifications. (I know this sounds like custom-ordering a car, or something. But I do believe you really need to be specific about what you and your family are up for or not.)
We also chose no significant health needs (as I didn’t feel capable of handling severe special needs).
Naturally, we hoped for a call right away. Because that sometimes happens. But that was NOT our journey.
About one month after getting licensed, we found out we were pregnant with Olivia. Once she died, I realized I really, really, really wanted another biological child. All my efforts from that point went to getting pregnant and trying to keep the baby. Several times after Olivia died, I questioned whether or not we even wanted to pursue fostering anymore.
I conveyed such questioning to our licensor (something that really had ramifications for us . . . but I’ll talk about that later).
We found out we had ANOTHER 36-hour class to attend, and I just wasn’t ready for the commitment. I was at a crossroads whether to continue to keep our license up, or just to let it all go.
In the end, we chose to continue and attend the class. But this time, my husband was able to do it by himself, so I could just watch Maddy and it all worked out.
A few times during this time we were asked to provide respite for another foster family.
In this case, respite basically means state-paid-for overnight babysitting. The first time we were asked, we readily agreed. The deal was we would pick up the one-year-old at her daycare and have her for the weekend. I was leery about the arrangement — what one-year-old would be OK going home with perfect strangers?? — but that was the plan and we stuck to it.
Ryan went to go pick up the girl, and she wasn’t there. Panicked, he called me. “Great,” we’re both thinking. “This is our first time fostering, even for a weekend, and we’ve already lost the child!” Turns out it was a miscommunication, and the parents decided to opt out of getting respite that weekend. They thought the caseworker told us. She thought they had called us.
So our first respite was a total flop.
The second time we were asked was for a little boy for Christmas Day. How strange, again, that someone wouldn’t want their foster child on Christmas Day? This time, for the sake of the child, we said no. He screamed a lot and didn’t handle transitions — and our Christmas Day is ALL about going back and forth from family to family from 7 am-midnight. We felt our Christmas plans would not be enjoyable or relaxing to him at all.
A full year after getting licensed with NO other call for a child (respite or otherwise), the director of the agency asked to come meet with us.
It turns out that since I had mentioned my hesitations to our licensor, our “file” was put on the shelf. Meaning, when a child needed a home — we weren’t ever put forward as a potential home. Which explained the pretty much full year of silence.
We were actually at the point where we DID want a foster child in our home, and conveyed that to her. And we were put back in the running.
And one month later, FINALLY — we got our first call for a placement! WOOO-HOOOO!!!
At this point, I was desperate (and yes, I do mean desperate) for a child to be in my arms. At this point, I had two children die while I was pregnant with them in the last year. And my 1-year-anniversary with Olivia was coming right up. And it was just a few days before Christmas. I felt that the timing was great. Plus, this was a perfectly healthy newborn girl, born just the day before, who would likely be adopted because the mother had already been deemed unfit to parent.
So, before our director could even get the question out of her mouth, I was already (practically) shouting, “YES! We want her!”
Sadly, the way the situation unfolded was something that left me heart-broken (even more), and I was totally unprepared for. While it was not a true loss, having the hope of this little girl then “losing her” to another family absolutely tore at my heart and left me broken.
When was enough enough???
And then came Leyla . . .