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A Child to Love



You probably celebrate adoption every day in your house, but each November the rest of the country joins in for National Adoption Month. It is a month-long campaign to create awareness of adoption issues, including a festive National Adoption Day, when more than 300 events are held at courtrooms throughout the country to finalize adoptions.

While adoption of all kinds is celebrated this month, the national focus is on foster care and the 510,000 kids currently in the system -- 129,000 of whom are waiting for forever families. More children become available for adoption each year than are adopted. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2006, 79,000 children had parental rights terminated by the courts, yet only 51,000 were adopted. And each year, more than 26,000 kids age out of the system at 18.

That’s why Adoptive Families is bringing you this special feature on foster care adoption—to dispel the myths and rumors, and help you decide if adopting from foster care is the right way to expand your family.

Planning to Adopt
Things are different now in the child welfare system—and that’s good news for both kids and parents. “It used to be that you had to be a foster parent first in order to adopt, but that’s changed,” says Rita Soronen, executive director for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. “People can now state upfront that they want to be considered for adoption only.” That makes for a quicker process, with fewer broken hearts along the way.

Unlike foster care, in which the ultimate goal is reunification of the birth family, in adoption-only situations, the birthparents’ parental rights have been terminated before the child is placed with the pre-adoptive parents. “Once the termination of parental rights occurs, that family can’t come back and legally claim the child,” says Soronen.

But that doesn’t mean there is no contact with the birth family. Because many children in the foster system are older (the average age is eight), they often have ties to their families. Perhaps there is a grandparent who loves the child but was unable to care for her, or a sibling who was adopted by another family. Though the adoptive parent is not legally obligated to retain ties to the birthparents, keeping in touch with siblings and other relatives is often encouraged.

There’s no need to fear contact with the birth family, says Michelle Roberts, of Charleston, Illinois, who has adopted six girls from foster care. All of her children keep in touch with birth siblings. “It’s better for kids not to lose people they care about,” she says.

Roberts has also chosen to have some contact with the birthmothers, which has been positive for her girls. “They could see for themselves that their birth families weren’t able to take care of them.”

Fostering First
Because it takes three to six months at least to terminate parental rights, newborns are generally not available for adoption. Prospective parents who want an infant often go the foster care route first, with the hope of adopting later.

While the system’s first goal is to return the child to his birth family, about 30 percent of the children who enter foster care do not return home (and parents who express an interest in adoption receive foster children who are less likely to return home). “In many cases, the state will determine whether it is in the child’s best interest to stay with the foster parent,” says Kathy Ledesma, interim project director for the Collaboration to AdoptUSKids (adoptuskids.org).

That was the case with Sarah Gerstenzang, of Brooklyn, New York. She and her husband originally set out to foster-parent the five-week-old baby who came to live with them. After nearly two years of attempted rehabilitation of the birthmother, parental rights were terminated. It was clear that the best place for the baby was with Gerstenzang and her family, and they adopted her.

A foster parent’s duties often include helping the child reunite with her birthmother—an experience that can be awkward for those starting to bond with the child. In her memoir, Another Mother (Vanderbilt University Press), Gerstenzang writes about her daughter’s visits with the birthmother: “I noticed that she was upset when I picked her up after the visits…Cecilia would quiet as soon as I took her in my arms. This was disturbing to me.”

Dealing with Disappointment
While transitioning from fostering to adoption has its benefits—you’re bonding with the child early on, for instance—it can have heartbreaking consequences as well. “There is the risk that the child may return home, which can be emotionally trying on a family,” says Ledesma.

Michelle Bawek, of Bloomington, Minnesota, and her husband discovered that the hard way. Their first foster-care placement was a newborn straight from the hospital—and just a day later, they received a 15-month-old. “We became parents of two in two days!” recalls Bawek. Eight months later, they adopted the older child, and were hoping to adopt the younger one, as well.

Over the course of a year, Bawek and her husband had visited one of the baby’s relatives, who was deciding whether she could care for the baby. When it seemed unlikely that this would happen, the Baweks signed an intent to adopt—then the relative changed her mind at the last minute. “We were feeling really positive, and then we received a call out of the blue saying that she would be removed in two weeks,” says Bawek. “She was our heartbreak. My greatest concern was, what is this little girl thinking? I’m the mommy who took her home from the hospital, now I’m handing her over to this strange woman. Was she wondering, where is my mommy?”

Though it took Michelle and her husband more than a year of healing, they did become foster parents again—they have adopted three children from foster care and have one biological child. The experience has taught a powerful parenting lesson. “The most important thing, as a parent, is flexibility, and our life is a roller-coaster ride,” Bawek says.

While adopting a child from foster care isn’t for everyone, it can be a deeply rewarding way to form or expand a family. “Ultimately, what it comes down to, for a potential adoptive parent, is to be aware of both the system and the needs of its children,” says Soronen. “You have to move from a selfish sense of needing love from a child to an altruistic sense of wanting to give to a child.” Bawek adds, “If you’re feeling compelled to do it, just do it—jump in with both feet!”

How to Become a Foster or Adoptive Parent
Whether you’re ready to create a home for a waiting child—or you want more information about the process—the seven steps below will put you on the right path.

1 Call an adoption agency or the Department of Children and Families in your area. Go to adoptuskids.org, then click on “Resource Center” and “State Specific Guidelines” to find an agency near you.

2 Attend an orientation meeting. You will learn who the children are who need care, the responsibilities of foster/adoptive parents, and the process you will go through.

3 Participate in training. The training program is usually four to 10 sessions. It will prepare you for fostering/adopting, teach you how to work with the agency, and help you decide whether fostering/adopting is right for you.

4 Complete the application. You will need to provide reference letters from employers and friends, personal information about your family, and criminal background checks.

5 Have a homestudy. The agency’s licensing worker determines whether your home is safe and has sufficient space for a child.

6 Wait for approval. You may have to wait for the background checks, homestudy, and other approval paperwork to be reviewed. Use the time for reading and networking with other foster and adoptive parents.

7 Congratulations! You’ve been approved and are ready for placement. This is where the agency and you work together to find the right match.

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©2014 Adoptive Families. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited.

Comments

I have heard lot of people talk about Foster Care and Foster Parents. Some positive and some negative. Well I just wanted to share my thoughts on Foster Parenting. I think that the people who truly are foster parents are angels sent from God. My daughter's foster mom and dad are the most wonderful people. They cared and loved her from the first 3 days of her life until she joined our family at 4 months old and as told by my daughter's foster mom, those 4 months were not easy! She was a difficult baby. She had screaming fits, she had reflux, and she didn't sleep well, but through all that her foster mom could see the special little girl that lye in my daughter's eyes. She knew that through that feisty little baby would stem a feisty little miracle. That miracle is our daughter, and without the love, devotion, and nurturing foster-mother and foster-father God blessed my daughter with I would not have the secure stable child that I do today. My daughter knew she was loved. She knew in her Foster Mother's arms things would be ok and she was safe. I remember talking to her foster mom asking her "how could she do it?" "How can you give this precious little baby to another family?", I asked. and she answered me an answer that I will never forget. She said, "because that is not my role," I am not meant to be her mother, or her permanent family. I am only here to care for her until her mother and family is joined with her." So for anyone out there skeptical of foster parents. I just wanted to share my thoughts on what angels they are. They are the people who are so selfless that they give of themselves weeks, days, or months of taking care of a child and those times may not be easy but they do it. They are that loving and that amazing that they give of themselves so much that these precious little miracles can be in a secure safe haven until they are united with their family. So I can't imagine a more greater deed of another human being than to give of themselves for the good of an innocent child.

Posted by: Holly Keller at 2:32pm Nov 20

My husband and I decided 5 years ago to adopt a child from foster care. As we both worked full time, we did not want to go thru being foster parents for a while. We had two biological children, ages 12 and 13 at the time. Our kids were excited about bringing someone into our home. We ended up having 2 children that we were chosen for. The youngest, 10 at the time had been placed in a residential facility due to severe behaviors after being placed in an adoptive home that failed. (See, he had been in the same foster home for 3 years, which he considered family and then was told he was going to be placed with another family, so he went off the deep end and became very angry) This ten year old and his older sister had been in 8-9 different placements since being removed from their bio parents at ages 2 and 5. the sister(at age 13) was placed with us first. She definitely "broke us in". We went through many long evening tantrums wondering if we could or would keep going. There were few real resources of help for us. social workers just come over, talk to you, watch how your kids are acting..if they are tantruming, they just watch and tell you to keep up the good work. The lack of support was overwhelming. We brought the younger one home 9 months later at age 11. Parenting children from this type of setting has to be the hardest work that there is. However, we have learned so much and have personally grown immensely thru this process. The kids are doing much better, tho there is still pretty steady drama...they are teens...my bio kids have grown to be much more caring and much better to handle difficult situations and people thru all this. They love our adopted children. We love our adopted children. Adopting older kids can be tough. the bonding takes a lot longer. There are times you think you will never like this child. But after a period of time, the tantrums temper off just a bit, the impossible situations start to be something you learn to handle as the norm and they get better in a stable home. the biggest reason we were able to persevere was God. God has been there to help us thru so many situations in which we had no idea what to do. We also had some families in our church that have been of some help. If I had the decision to make all over again, I would do it.

Posted by: jan at 4:49pm Nov 3

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