Thursday, May 19, 2011

Considerations for Foster and Adoptive Placements

A question every prospective adoptive parent or foster family should ask themselves is this:

“What are our personal preferences for the children who come into our home?" 
In other words, what do you feel comfortable with in terms of the gender, age, race, and medical conditions of the children who could join your family?  Just as important to consider is what aspects and conditions of a child's background you don't feel comfortable with.
If you're a single parent then the question can be revised to "What preferences and criteria are important to ME?" However, in healthy marriages such important family decisions will be joint decisions; therefore "us" and "our" overrides the "me" and "my".  For instance, perhaps a medical condition or the issue of race really isn't a big deal to one spouse, but if it is of concern to the other spouse, then by all means don't agree to something unless you both unanimously feel good about it!
Another vitally important consideration to take into account when adding more children into your family through foster care or adoption is “How will this child effect the other children in my family?”
For example, I happen to know a wonderful woman who has considered doing foster care and I’m confident she would make a wonderful foster mother. However, she has weighed that decision carefully against the fact that her young son has autism and requires special attention. It’s great to want to care for other people’s children, but ultimately (in my humble opinion) one’s own children should be your first responsibility and priority.  Otherwise your  children, who need you the most, can run the risk of becoming overlooked.
On a personal level, perhaps the biggest "criteria" for our family right now in considering which children to adopt or foster is AGE of the child.  Gender isn't a deciding factor for us because we would be thrilled with a boy or girl.  But at this point in time we’ve come to the agreement (there's that important word again!) that we would like to maintain the age order of the children already in our family.  In other words, we feel that a child (or children) who is younger than our daughter would be the best fit for our family.  Obviously other foster and adoptive families don’t feel the same and choose to adopt out of birth order- it’s a very personal decision for each family based on their individual dynamics. 
Herein lies our dilemma: Our daughter is only three and a half years old.  Couple that with the fact that HEALTH OF A CHILD is another paramount factor in considering which children to foster or adopt and that greatly reduces the number of children available for us to adopt domestically. 
Many if not all of the babies and toddlers available for adoption from foster care are medically fragile and require specialized life-long care.  In our relatively limited experiences fostering and adopting, my husband and I have cared for drug-exposed children, a premature baby, children with speech and developmental delays requiring therapy, a child with a moderate attachment disorder and even an infant with a heart murmur.  Although we're more capable than we initially thought we were, we both still have a lot of fears and concerns which keep us from saying "yes" to two specific conditions which are very common among babies available for adoption from the foster care system: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and brain injuries resulting from Shaken Baby Syndrome.  As a prospective caregiver and parent I find both conditions extremely intimidating.  But perhaps the most disturbing and tragic part about these conditions is that they are ENTIRELY preventable. 
I’m all too aware that people can be judgmental- especially when you choose to write about such personal decisions in a public forum.  Doubtless there are some individuals who look down on me for not adopting the first baby or toddler available for adoption.  In fact, sometimes I even ask myself, “Is it selfish of me not to adopt a child with severe special needs?”  I’ve come to two conclusions:
1)     My family will adopt the child that is right for us and that child may or may not end up having special needs.  In other words, we’re adopting a child not a checklist of criteria.  But by the same token, we need to carefully consider the amount of work and dedication involved in caring for possible placements, as well as what impact it would have on the other children in our home.

2)     Because people are judgmental you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t*.  In other words, adoptive couples may be judged for not considering children who have special needs but people may also question their motives for wanting to adopt a child with special needs in the first place (including any child older than a newborn).

*Similar judgments can be applied to adoptive parents regarding the race of their child.  If a prosepective adoptive couple chooses not to adopt a child of a different race they may be labeled "racist."  However, if a family does adopt a child of a different race they may be unjustly accused of  removing the child from his or her heritage or "people".

Consider the perspective expressed by Mary Hopkins-Best in her book Toddler Adoption.  Hopkins-Best spoke of an adoptive couple who adopted a toddler "because it made them feel self-righteous, not because they were committed to their children's needs."  Hopkins-Best spoke harshly of  adopted parents who are motivated to adopt by “pity or a sense of duty, neither which is healthy for the child or the parents."
Hopkins-Best went on to say:

“During my many years preparing teachers of children with special needs, I have had to redirect a number of prospective candidates who were motivated by a similar pity for children with disabilities.  Pity devalues the object of the pity and allows the perpetrator to maintain a sense of superiority and self-righteousness.”

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about that statement.  On the one hand, I agree that self-righteousness is a poor motive for any decision, but on the other hand, sometimes compassion and pity are exactly what are needed in order for us to step outside of ourselves and reach out to others. 

As far as adoptive or prospective adoptive couples seeking out a child with a specific medical condition or special needs is concerned, there are instances where it makes perfect sense to me.  For example, I know of one foster mother who requests to have diabetic children placed in her home because she is experienced in measuring glucose levels, giving insulin shots, and making sure that children follow a low-sugar diet.  I know of a prospective adoptive couple who are considering adopting a child with a cleft lip or palate since it runs in the husband’s family.  Such instances arise from a sense of practicality rather than self-righteous pity.  It's as if the family's life experiences and associations have prepared them to be the best fit for their child and I don't believe that is something that happens by accident.


Alicia said...

I nominated your blog for the Versatile Blogger Award. Check it out here:

Mary said...

Thank you William and Alicia!

Penelope said...

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Mom of 7 said...

you are very right in deciding which child that works for you. Every person is different, and every family is different.

My adoptive son has Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. He is almost 3, and I will say that raising him is difficult at times, but not nearly as scary as what you read. We have had him in our home since he was 6 weeks old though, and had bonded with him for over a year when he was diagnosed. At that point, we accepted it like we would have if one of our biological children were given a diagnosis. I look at FAS as making him the person that he is...and also the Lord's way of teaching me all sort of things! If I had read about FAS on paper, I would have never said I could do it, but I guess the Lord knew better. I feel like he was made for our family. I now think that maybe one day, as he is older, I would like to adopt another child with FAS...I feel like all the skills I am learning with him could help another child too.

We also fostered a child that was shaken baby, and his needs became too overwhelming for me, and I had to let him go to another home. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, and I still struggle with it. It did teach me so much, and at the facility he went to, he found his new adoptive mom there (she works there), that was skilled in caring for him....all in God's plan.

jendoop said...

"Pity devalues the object of the pity and allows the perpetrator to maintain a sense of superiority and self-righteousness."

I saw this in a fellow foster mom I got to know recently. She's fostered for over a decade and she's developed a sense of superiority over her foster children and their families that is disconcerting. It doesn't seem like compassion, it feels like ugly pride and superiority. Seeing it in her gave me a gut check, to watch out for that in myself, and to constantly analyze what I'm getting out of this.

Thanks for the honest discussion!