Ask AF: How to Explain Fostering and Concurrent Planning to Our Children?

A parent wonders how to explain the painful possibility that a foster child might return to her birth family to the young child she's already parenting.

Q: We have a six-year-old (biological) son and are working to adopt from foster care. One of our concerns is how it might impact our son if we get fairly far along in the adoption process and the foster child has to return to his or her birth family. Has anyone had any experience with this?

Members of respond:

“We were pursuing foster-to-adopt three years ago, and it was looking likely that we would be able to adopt our foster daughter. Ultimately, however, she was placed with a distant relative. Our son was only two at the time, and it was extremely difficult for him (and for all of us); he kept asking ‘where’s sister’ for six months. Your son is older and most likely better able to understand, and maybe you can do a better job of explaining the situation than we did. However, I think you’re being very responsible for considering that aspect.”

“At that age, it is difficult to think except in black and white. Ambiguity is difficult. So it might be best to just say, ‘We are the foster family, which means the child needs a family for awhile. Maybe things will get better and he/she can go home. You are staying no matter what.’ Then, if you’re able to adopt, at that time you could announce that the child is staying until he/she is all grown up. If child leaves, you might want to do a ritual, such as lighting a candle, framing a family photo that includes the foster child, making an ornament for the Christmas tree, planting a memory tree or flowers—whatever suits your culture.”

“Please understand that, if there is chance the child is going to be returned to the birth family, then you are not ‘in the adoption process’—that only comes once the child is legally free. For both your own sake as well as your son’s sake, you have to cease this line of thinking and. I’d say you have to approach foster care with the mindset of ‘We are a safe home for a child who needs somewhere to go for a little while. This is temporary, but I will love him and care for him as if he were mine and will stay forever, even though it will hurt like hell if he leaves, because any child would deserve nothing less than that.”

“My oldest (adopted privately) was seven when we brought home a six-month-old through foster adoption. I had your exact same fears. Although there are obviously no guarantees, I stressed to our social worker that we really really wanted the lowest risk situations. I told my oldest that we would be our little one’s family while she lived with us, but that she wouldn’t officially be our daughter/sister until the judge said so. (My daughter knew about adoption finalizations from her own.) I won’t lie…I was a basket case until we finalized. But you have to go in recognizing that anything cand happen and preparing your oldest as best you can.”



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