November is National Adoption Month and as an adoptive parent, it’s a great time to acknowledge the beauty and sweetness of adoption. But as someone who is also a foster parent, I can’t help but think about all the kids who aren’t adoptable and never will be. They need love and stability too, even if their stories are more complicated. Happy endings sometimes don’t look like we imagine.
When you are caring for a foster child it is common to have people ask about your longterm plans. You will often have people ask, “Are you going to adopt this child?” The problem is that you can’t make longterm plans about this child’s permanency. Judges make plans, lawyers make plans, caseworkers make plans, biological parents make plans, but foster parents just follow the plan. When someone asks if you are going to adopt your foster child, it can be a tough question to answer. . . and some days it can even be a tough question to hear.
It may be tough to hear because you know this child’s parents are truly doing the hard work of trying to get custody back. To imagine adopting this child means imagining that these parents are going to fail, which would be desperately sad for everyone involved. As much as it hurts to think about having this child leave your home, you know that’s best for them and for their family.
It may also be tough to hear that question because you see the progression of this case and it looks like reunification may happen even though it isn’t a good environment for the child to return to. Or maybe there’s a chance this child will be moved to a home with relatives if a longterm placement is needed. It is painful to have to explain that while you would like to adopt this child and you do think it would be better for him, that isn’t going to happen.
Many times it is a hard question to answer because the details are painful and private. Yes, you are going to adopt him, but only because the parents you loved and supported are no longer pursuing reunification. Maybe they are back in jail or homeless or involved in substance abuse or they’ve just disappeared. Whatever it is, it is sad for this child and to admit that you do plan to adopt him is to also admit that his parents aren’t going to come through.
There really isn’t an good, easy answer to the “are you going to adopt him” question. If you say “no” because reunification is the goal or there may be a relative placement in the works, it can feel like you are implying you don’t love this child or want him. Not being able to adopt a child isn’t the same as not being committed to the child. Or it could be that you really don’t feel like you are the best longterm placement for him. Your decision to not adopt may sound calloused or heartless. You may know that giving more information would help people understand why you can’t commit to being the forever family, but that information is part of this child’s story and doesn’t belong to you.
Having to answer the question may feel like putting your heart on display. You desperately hope to adopt this child, but until the parents’ rights are terminated or relinquished it feels unsafe to say it out loud. Many pregnant women wait until after the first trimester to announce their pregnancies for very similar reasons. We don’t want to get our hopes up, get everyone else’s hopes up, and begin making plans for the future when the future still feels so uncertain. Is that first trimester baby loved and celebrated by those who know? Of course! But it may not feel okay to let everyone in on that circle of information until things feel more settled. Foster parents who hope to adopt may feel the same way. They love this child as though it is legally their own, but until that outcome looks achievable, they may not want to tell you they hope to adopt.
Those outside of the fostering community may not know that adopting a foster child is usually a lengthy process. A child can start as your temporary child, but as the case develops it may become clear that you are going to be the child’s longterm placement. That legal closure takes time. A long time. In order to truly be able to say you are going to adopt, the child needs to be legally adoptable. This usually doesn’t happen until the end of the case when parental rights are terminated (in Nebraska this often takes at least 15 months).
Foster parents need support through those emotionally challenging uncertain months or even years. We need to know our community loves and supports this child even if there isn’t a guarantee of forever. We want to see you come around our family and the child’s biological family to support whatever outcome happens. We may know you believe this child would be best served as a permanent part of our family, but we also need to know you can love this child no matter what happens. Can you pray with us that their family would experience healing, even if that’s hard for all of us? Can you develop a relationship with this child even if it’s just for a season? We need you to partner with us when the answer to the question, “Are you going to adopt him?” isn’t simple or clear-cut.
For more information about foster parenting or adoption from foster care in Nebraska, please contact Christian Heritage.