Why We Didn’t Adopt from Foster Care

As I’ve said a few times recently, private adoption costs a lot. Foster adoption – adoption through the foster care system – is usually monetarily free, or at least very low cost. Adoptive parents in the domestic infant adoption (DIA) pool are often attacked for not adopting from foster care. We were asked a few times if we had considered adopting from foster care. One of my uncles said we should do foster care first to “see if we could love someone else’s kids.” A store clerk told me we should foster/adopt a “drug baby.” One person who did not ask us was our friend who was a social worker for California’s Child Protective Services (CPS), which I think is rather telling.

I plan on talking a bit about the “free”-ness of foster care, but first, I wanted to address the question: Why didn’t we adopt from foster care?

The first book I read about adoption was Is Adoption for You? by Christine Adamec. I recommend it to every prospective adoptive parent who asks, “What should I read?” In it, Adamec states that one should not become a foster parent if one wants to be a parent. One should become a foster parent if one wants to be a foster parent.

To put it simply, we didn’t adopt from foster care because we wanted our children to be ours from the earliest moment possible.

In foster care, the goal is reunification with the biological parents, or, if that’s not possible, then at least a biological family member. Placement with strangers is a last resort. (Even if those “strangers” have raised the children for one year or more while the biological family can barely get its act together.) Here in California, the goal of foster care is reunification at all costs. Children in Los Angeles County have died because they were reunited with biological parents. A foster parent’s role is to take care of the children while the biological parents work their plan and/or the state looks for other biological family members to take the child.

So, let’s say that one wants to adopt a baby. That baby would have to be taken by the state for abuse or neglect, and that could include drug exposure in utero. The baby would be placed with foster parents until the bio mother and/or father could work their plan and prove themselves to be fit parents. The foster parents are essentially “carers.” The state must make all of the decisions. The foster parents can’t make any medical decisions. Unless the bio parents disagree, the baby must be vaccinated according to the CDC schedule. The foster parents can’t hire a baby-sitter; anyone who cares for the baby must be approved by the state. Where I live, you can’t take the baby for a hair cut without permission. The baby doesn’t belong to the foster parents. The baby belongs to the state.

That was not OK with me. I cannot in good conscience take a baby to the doctor and load him or her up with toxic shots. Can’t do it. Asking permission is not my strong suit. I had a manager who had a favorite saying, “It is better to beg for forgiveness than to ask for permission.”

When we took custody of Jackson and Cassie, we didn’t have to answer to anyone for their day to day care. We did have post-placement visits, the point of which were to prove that we were meeting their needs, bonding as a family, and, of course, not abusing them.

Furthermore, there was no question that they would remain ours. Sure, it was more certain much earlier with Jackson, because both of his birth parents signed TPR right away, but even with Cassie, when Harris chose not to contest, we knew we were going to be a “forever family.” Too many foster families have had the experience of seeing babies and children who have been theirs for months, even years, return to biological families. Those families may or may not be able to actually care for the children, and the children may return to foster care (sometimes over and over again).

There are waiting children in foster care – children who are free for adoption because their parents’ rights have already been terminated. Currently, there are about 104,000 of them. Their average age is nine. Half have chronic medical problems. About 80% have serious emotional problems. Half of children under age five in foster care have developmental delays. Most have been there for more than two years, and 10% have been there for more than five years. (Data from Children’s Rights Now.)

Max and I wanted babies. Not because babies are blank slates – so many people throw that phrase around, lobbing it at adoptive parents who want to raise children “as our own” as if that were a terrible, horrible fate. (But that’s another post.) We wanted the experiences. The newborn experience, the toddler experience, and so on. We wanted to be the ones to make the decisions. We wanted to be our children’s parents as soon as we could. And no, we didn’t want to deal with the problems being in foster care often causes. Children in foster care have experienced abuse and neglect. Some have experienced real trauma.* We are (were?) two totally inexperienced parents. We don’t think we could handle that. We’re not open to most special needs, and many of the children available for adoption outright have special needs that we don’t believe we could handle.

When it came to adopting Cassie, we wanted to have an open adoption with her birth family, as we do with Jackson’s. While open adoptions are happening more frequently in foster care, they’re not yet the norm. Also, when it came to adopting Cassie, it wasn’t just Max and I who could have had our hearts broken – Jackson mattered most. I really can’t imagine how he would process babies coming and going.

Foster adoption can be a great way to build a family. I read a lot of foster care and foster adoption blogs. Many of their authors have successfully adopted from foster care. All but one have experienced significant heartbreak due to the way “the system” works. All of them have convinced me that we made the right choice.


* There are some people who say that even newborns experience trauma when they are separated from their birthmothers. That is also another post.

28 thoughts on “Why We Didn’t Adopt from Foster Care

  1. This is a well-thought out, honest response to that spoken and unspoken question many have for APs. It amazes me how free and easy people can be with how other people should live their lives, especially something that affects your life as much as who are your children are.

  2. I’m glad you posted this – my wife and I were just having a heavy discussion about this over the weekend. As pre-adoptive parents a little over a month into waiting for a match (a period we know we could experience for a long, long time), we’ve encountered this question. I’m the one who has been struggling with answering – for myself, not for other people. My wife is a counselor who works with adolescents – she works with kids on a daily basis that have behavioral issues. We will be first-time parents. Delving into coping with an 8-year-old child’s developmental and behavioral struggles is not something I have had any preparation for. But I still feel that pit of my stomach kind of guilt (guilt? sadness?)- not necessarily from other peoples’ comments that we should adopt from foster care, but because I feel so awful for kids stuck in the system – they deserve better. And while I know they need love and I could give them that, I don’t feel equipped to handle all of their needs, and not being able to do so and continuing to move forward with being a foster parent, is not going to help anyone.

    What you say here makes sense, and I’m glad to see many of my own thoughts reflected. Maybe it’s just the fear of a (seemingly) endless wait to adopt an infant that keeps this discussion going in my mind.

    Maybe it really does boil down to that very simply stated quote from Is Adoption for You?: “One should not become a foster parent if one wants to be a parent. One should become a foster parent if one wants to be a foster parent.”

  3. Pingback: Why We Didn't Adopt from Foster Care | The Chittister Family | Child Adoption Process

  4. Great piece and so dead on. I don’t think you have to justify your reasons for choosing domestic infant adoption over Foster Care but everything you’ve said are the reasons my wife and I will pursue it instead of Foster Care if we do.

  5. Interesting pov, and I agree, no one should have to ‘defend’ their reasons, and I do appreciate your explanation.
    However, as a parent of a mid 20s child and in the process of adopting from the (Canadian) foster care system, I have a very different experience, and naturally, feel a bit protective. I think you mean well in your explanation, yet, some of what you say comes across as facts, rather than how you feel. I am sure you did not mean that. Foster children might appear damaged to some, but not to all of us. They do have their own unique issues and concerns, and I agree it does take a certain skill set for them, but, please, be careful. These children may not be for you, but they are worthy little people in their own rights. AGAIN, I know you did not mean to come across like that at all. No doubt you have faced so much judgement and pressure that your focus is on how you feel, as, it is natural. Just my humble addition to your well worded blog entry. I have the highest respect for you for your honesty.

    • Some of what I say are my opinions. Some of what I say are facts, or at least, they’re statistics about foster kids in the US. “Half have chronic medical problems. About 80% have serious emotional problems. Half of children under age five in foster care have developmental delays.”
      Now, a chronic medical problem could be as simple as asthma. A developmental delay could be due to going to 5 different families in 3 years, and the child could catch up. I certainly didn’t mean to paint a dire picture.
      I also agree that the children in foster care are people who deserve their own forever families. As I said, foster adoption can be a great way to build a family. It’s just not for everyone, so I outlined the reasons that it wasn’t for us.
      I think the way foster adoption is painted, and the way people outside the adoption community think of it, is that there are all these kids just waiting to be adopted, and it’s so easy… well, it’s not. These waiting kids do need and deserve homes, and they deserve homes with people who love them for who they are, not because this form of adoption was cheaper. Does that make sense?
      Thank you so much for commenting!

  6. I too had a heartbreaking experience with foster care. I keep getting told to foster and not a direct adoption. We’ve contacted our local DCS and was flat out told that we would never get a baby nor could we adopt. If we wanted to be foster parents we HAD to accept teens and family groups. My husband and I have chosen to wait for our forever family.

  7. I adopted through both private and foster. I will focus on the foster adoption. We brought our little boy home when he was 4 days old. We were told there was about a 99% chance we were going to be able to adopt him. Overall it took about 15 months to finalize. If someone tells you that you cannot adopt a baby out of foster care then you need to question them and speak to someone else.

    Robyn – you did come across negative in your blog. You also “stated” the facts but as you finally admitted in a response below there are many simple answers to some of your facts. Once a child finds a forever home they will be more comfortable and will most likely get over their developmental delays…some won’t but who is to say the other children you are adopting or giving birth to won’t have delays of their own.

    Most people who don’t go through either experience are ignorant to the process and the facts. You cannot listen to ignorant people. I just feel the need to defend foster adoption. It was fantastic for us and now have a beautiful, smart little boy because of foster adoption.

    • It’s great that it was fantastic for you! However, from all of my reading, at best, it can go either way. And while there may be simple answers to some of the statistics I put forth, there are also kids with RAD, kids who have serious emotional and medical problems, and kids who will always be developmentally delayed.
      In some places, you cannot adopt a baby out of foster care. It just doesn’t happen.
      You’re right that you don’t know if a bio, privately adopted, or internationally adopted child won’t have issues as well.
      For us, the biggest issue was that we wanted to know our kids were our kids. I don’t believe that someone who only wants to adopt should go through foster care. The goal of foster care is reunification. Foster parents need to support that goal, and love the child while being ready to let him or her go. Not everyone can do that.

      • I agree with the last paragraph above. No one should be saying there’s a 99% chance that a child will be free for adoption in foster care. I’ve worked in foster care for 8 years and have seen it end differently than initially predicted MANY times.

  8. I think the only way to really be there for your kids is to know what your limits are.

    Foster care is very hard. Adopting through foster care is even harder. I did adopt an 18 month old through foster care, but I wouldn’t do it again. Thank you for a very honest post.

    If you want to make money raising somebody else’s kids, choose to parent an exchange student. Foster Care is NOT a money making option.

    • I, personally, don’t know of anyone who adopted through foster care, or fostered kids, for the money, though apparently it does happen. Everyone I’ve ever heard from says that the stipend barely covers the cost of feeding the child, nevermind clothes, supplies, or extracurriculars.

      • I’ve met some… it’s usually folks who take in several kids at once, or who foster kids with a lot of medical needs who bring in a higher stipend. If they provide only the basic 3 hots and a cot, and insist the child’s caseworker take them to appointments instead of doing it themselves, they can come out ahead financially.

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  11. Very honest blog, and I commend you. My husband and I were not considering adopting through foster care at all when we started our journey. Money was not the only factor that lead us to choose foster care in the end. When we finally agreed between the two of us that we would just go and meet with the agency about foster to adopt, for us it was finally a door open where every other agency just led us to closed doors. Our agency was absolutely phenomenal from the start, and VERY open and honest with us about the entire process. Nothing was sugar-coated. They provided us with training, and then additional training opportunities, support groups, fabulous case workers who we still consider friends today (two years after our adoptions were finalized). But it was by no means easy. Our process took longer than most, and our son was almost reunited with bio family (not parents) after having been removed prior. It was heartbreaking, emotionally, and I can only equate it to a roller coaster ride – halfway between heaven and hell. Our family still feels the effects and we’re still recovering and working through trauma today. And again, this is two years after the finalization of the adoptions. It’s absolutely not for everyone, and absolutely not for the faint of heart (is ANY adoption???) All types of adoption take strength, courage, hope and faith. No one should dive in without being whole-heartedly ready to do so. I wish more people understood that you don’t “just” adopt through foster care. It’s not the easy way to adopt, and not the right path for everyone. Anyway, thank you for your fantastic blog!

  12. Pingback: The Right Reason to Adopt? | Holding to the Ground

  13. I realize this post is several years old, but I wanted to say “thank you” for writing it! I was searching for support after defending our decision for domestic infant adoption through (gasp) a private agency. Why do people (usually other women) assume that my husband and I have “not considered” adopting from DSS or foster care? I have fielded that question many times, as if the decision we painstakingly arrived at after more than a year of research and soul-searching was somehow plucked from a fortune cookie one day. “Have you considered adopting from the DSS?” I want to reply”What? No! We never thought about anything at all before! We just flipped a coin and decided to burden you with our colossal ignorance!” In our state you do not “adopt a baby from the DSS.” So no, it is not “just that easy!” You foster parent. Then you wait and see. Repeat, repeat. Thank you for pointing out the fact some people like to gloss over so they can pass judgement on my apparent lack of social awareness. I think some people feel better about themselves as long as they either A) can appear more aware or B) can appear more charitable than their peers. Our desire for a growing family is not in any way our version of the “moral high ground” or some elitist slight against foster parenting and the government agencies that care for children. It is simply the best choice for our family. Period. Thanks again for a great post that just summed up everything we’ve been dealing with.

    • I’m so glad it resonates with you. So many people just have no idea how much thought goes into making adoption decisions. And everyone has his or her own opinion of how you’re doing it wrong. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

  14. Pingback: We’re Back to “Adopt From Foster Care – It’s Free” | Holding to the Ground

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