When people tell me they are considering adoption as a way to grow their family, I encourage them to consider adopting from foster care. There are a lot of benefits to adopting from foster care. It is essentially free and there are many kids in need of loving families. You can have access to lots of information about their medical history, in many states you live with them for six months before your adoption can actually be made legal (so you know them pretty well), and there are options for both open adoptions or adoptions that are more closed (“open” and “closed” are terms that refer to how much information is shared between adoptive parents and biological parents).
There are two ways to adopt from foster care. You can either adopt a waiting child or you can invest yourself in fostering a child who is not legally free for adoption, but may become so over the course of the months or years you are involved (you need to be committed to the primary goal of reunification with the biological family until that is no longer the case goal). Neither of these options are as easy as I imagine people think they are. I sometimes get the impression people think you go to the foster child pound and pick out the one who looks cute to you, fill out some paperwork and Boom! You’re a family! The actual process is a lot more nuanced and unpredictable.
So if you’re thinking about adopting a child in foster care, let me clear up a few misconceptions:
You can adopt a baby from foster care. There are rarely ever babies that are legally free for adoption through foster care. The reasons a parent will lose parental rights of their child usually take time to present themselves. Even if a parent has had other children removed and adopted, they may get a fresh start with this child. If a parent is not able to care for their baby, those babies are usually adopted by the foster parents who were able to commit to them when adoption wasn’t a certainty.
You can’t adopt a baby from foster care. All three of my children adopted from foster care came to my home as infants (one at 10 days, one at 2 days, one at 5 months). They also all had visits with their biological parents and their future with us was uncertain for nearly a year. Minimum. If you want to have a child in your home from the earliest days, you’re going to have to be comfortable with a level of legal risk and be able to support reunification as the primary goal. If you’re okay with that, there is a chance that you could (eventually) adopt a baby through foster care.
Adopted older children will be grateful to be adopted. Older kids come with a history. They have often been caring for themselves for many years prior to becoming a foster child or becoming available for adoption. They may not be as grateful as you’d imagine to have a family. They may have learned that families are temporary, adults are unpredictable, and life is hard. If you can meet them where they’re at, you may have a shot at a beautiful relationship, but you can’t assume they are not going to struggle with the major change of becoming part of your family.
Adopted older children won’t ever bond. There are children out there who know they need a family. They want a family. Maybe they had a nurturing caregiver somewhere in their early years and they are ready to grieve the loss of that bond and create a new bond with you. Adopting a waiting child doesn’t mean they have too much baggage to ever fully integrate into their family.
Adopting from foster care means we won’t have to deal with biological family. Your child’s biological family will always play a role in their life even if you don’t have contact with them. The court system may have determined they can’t be the parents, but it doesn’t mean your child won’t care about them or be curious about their history. And in this age of technological connectedness, we are all pretty easy to find. Even people with major issues may be able to have a positive impact in your child’s life and you may need to have a role in cultivating that relationship for the sake of your child.
Adopting from foster care mans we’ll have access to biological family. Even if you live in the same town, know each other’s information and you desire contact, that doesn’t mean you will have biological family members who want to be part of a relationship with you or your child. It may be too painful for them, they may be in jail occasionally, they may be transient and hard to track down, they may not want anything to do with you, or they may not be safe. And they may cycle between all of those realities frequently. As much as you may want a relationship or your child may want access to their history, it may not be possible.
The legal process is unpredictable and never fully finalized. The court system is guided by laws and rules that have to be respected. Generally speaking, biological parents have about two years to get their act together or lose their parental rights. While some cases hit unusual bumps in the road (especially if relatives show up at the last minute), once parental rights are terminated or relinquished and an adoption happens, it is legally binding.
The legal process is predictable and quick. It takes time to determine if a child can be safely raised with their biological family. It takes time to search for other available relatives. Court hearings can get delayed when paperwork isn’t filed correctly or people don’t show up. As much as we want the court process to always be about what’s best for the child, it is often about everybody making sure all the bases are covered, which can drag out the process. Court often feels like riding a roller coaster blindfolded— you have no idea what’s around the next turn.
I would never want to discourage anyone from adopting from foster care. . . well, that’s not true. I want to discourage people who don’t yet understand what it really means and who aren’t ready to take on that reality. Adopting my three kids from foster care has been one of the most difficult experiences of my life, but it has changed who I am for the better and has given me a beautiful family I wouldn’t trade for the world. Just like giving birth, you don’t get the beauty without the pain. If you are thinking about adoption, do your research. Think about the worst case scenarios and realize God will be with you even in the hardest days as you struggle to work redemption in the life of a child.
If you are interested in more information about foster care in Nebraska, please contact Christian Heritage.