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.