Sunday, May 19, 2013

Learning from Foster Adoptive Families

My husband and I have fostered and we have adopted, but up to this point we have never adopted from the foster care system.  So . . . What do you do when you would like to foster-adopt but have never done so?  RESEARCH!  And by research I don't just mean learning the requirements of how foster adoptions work in your state, exploring any potential behavioral or emotional issues that might arise in adopted children who have been living in foster care, learning what resources are available to your family for post-adoption support, but by reading about other's firsthand, candid experiences of foster adoption.  Which conveniently leads me to my next paragraph . . .  
Although I'm terribly behind on my blog reading, within the last couple of weeks I've been able to catch up on a couple of blogs of foster adoptive families.  A couple of observations or things that stood out to me from their experiences were:
1)  Even though there is celebration when a foster child becomes an "official" member of a family through adoption, there is also tremendous loss- not just on the part of the children who are losing their biological family (no matter how "dysfunctional" or unsafe a family may seem to be, family is family!)  but also on the part of parents whose rights have been terminated and who lose custody of their children.  
Think of it this way:  If birthparents who willingly place their children for adoption and get to choose their child's family suffer great loss and grief, just think of how hard it would be to have your children taken away from you because a court of law terminated your parental rights and deemed you unfit to be a parent and now perfect strangers will be raising your children as "their" children.  
2)  Even if you don't agree with your adopted child's bio family and their lifestyles, you can still show compassion for them- [or at least acknowledge their loss as a fellow human being.]
This is why I was so impressed with two foster mothers who both shared similar feelings of compassion for their children 's birthparents at recent termination trials. 
 One mother's words of this experience:

"If you find it impossible to have compassion for birth parents in a situation like this – if you just can’t connect with them and empathize – go to a termination trial.
They are just people.
Thrown into the pool of life in the deep end, head first.
Usually with no support system.
Usually having grown up without role models.
A life most of us cannot even relate to."

Another foster mother shared her feelings about attending the termination trial of her soon to be adopted children's birth mother:

"it was really hard to sit in the room and have the judge declare parental rights terminated.
the kids' birth mother was devastated... it was hard to watch her fall apart.
she is a kind woman that has lived a really hard life.
it was hard to sit through their entire life story and hear all the sad details over again."
When I first started fostering I saw things in a black and white way:  Foster parents were the "good guys" sent to rescue children from their broken homes and their "bad" parents who had messed up.  I've since been reminded- again and again- that nobody is perfect and that we all do the best we know how.  When you foster a child, you are not just helping the child but you are providing a service to their family as well by being a support or resource for them until they can get back together again. 
On a related note, the more I've learned about our foster children's parents and family backgrounds the more I realize how lucky I am to have the support system I have of family members, friends, and trusted neighbors who could, if necessary, step in and help out with my children if I ever needed their help.  Not everyone has that kind of support.  If you do, be grateful and don't take it for granted.
3)  Although open adoption with bio parents is not required, in some cases it seems helpful for all parties involved to keep the lines of communication between bio parents and siblings or relatives and adopted children somewhat open (if possible).  This, of course, is a very tricky matter and each situation is going to vary.  I'm still trying to learn from other families how to find the balance of "moving forward" with your new family and not discounting or ignoring the adopted child's family of origin.  It seems it would be preferable for many foster adoptive families to sever ties altogether with their child's bio family- especially when adopted children have already suffered greatly because of their bio parent's choices.

4)  This is a continuation of my first observation, but important enough in itself to be considered separately. . . Children who are adopted by their foster families will experience loss (which will vary depending on their age, developmental level, and how long they have been in foster care) and these children may have conflicting feelings of guilt or disloyalty for loving their foster family and having to say goodbye to their family of origin.  As with all loss, this loss needs to be acknowledged, as uncomfortable as that may be.

One mother who adopted her daughter from foster care when she was nine years old, was respectful of her daughter's feelings when she shared:

"She's glad she's with us now, but becoming part of our family was terrifying and stressful for her.   Big "gotcha day" fanfare just doesn't seem right.  We didn't acquire a new couch.  We added a traumatized child who had been through the ringer to our family.  A child.  With big feelings about what happened to her, most of which were not happy at the time."
5) Apparently Paperwork still doesn't end after an adoptive placement.  Dang-It!  There is still much to go through to get children applied for Medicaid, into different kinds of therapies, treatments, and even school programs.

FOSTER/ADOPTIVE FAMILIES:  Is there anything else you'd like others to know about what to expect when adopting from the foster care system?  Please share your experiences by leaving a comment!


Faith, Hope and Love said...

I would agree with your observations :) My husband and I fostered three children and have now adopted (finalizing in July!) a different group of three children (ages 3, 4, and 5). Somehow, there is just something different about fostering to adopt than fostering.

I recently read Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos (writer and actress of My Big Fat Greek Wedding). She adopted a three year old from foster care, and I thought her book was VERY honest about the challenges and blessings of foster adoption. I would encourage you to consider reading it.

Michelle said...

I would say expect the unexpected. Every foster child I have taken has remained and we are now completing our 3rd, 4th and 5th foster adoption. When we took our second foster baby girl as an infant we had no idea we would end up getting her older brother who we were told was initially being adopted by an aunt. Also the dept. has looked at us as being way too willing and open with these bio parents. They grieved the loss of the brother they (illegally) had in their care all that time, and wrote us a letter (very unexpected!). We had some compassion and met with them at the dept. to try and work out some sort of open adoption, and this proved to be a huge mistake! I think it is hard to know what their lives are like, but it is even harder to understand how unhealthy they actually are. Even though they were dying to see the son and we offered an oaa, they refused it...?? With our youngest foster son, we were open to allowing the relatives to have visits with him since his bio. brother lived there. Then, one day out of the blue they decided they never wanted to see our baby boy again...even though they are raising his brother. Thankfully he was too young to understand this, but what about his older brother, I wonder what they told him? I have learned that so many of these families are so unhealthy, and just to trust the sw's who are a bit hardened to the process, but I now can see why. All of our efforts to keep contacts with bio families have not panned out. We are just thankful all of our kiddos are here with us, and will answer questions honestly, but carefully as they get older.

Anonymous said...

It is very interesting to read about the foster/foster adoption experiences. But I struggle to find someone in my situation. My children are 22,19, & 14. We were young parents. Our oldest has graduated from college and the middle child will be starting her 3rd year this fall. We are applying for a foster to adopt program. Our families thinks we are crazy. After all, don't we want to travel now that our kids are grown? Why would we want to do this? Is there anyone that has any advice on how to deal with the negativity?