Then, the next morning, there was a post in an adoption group about a family seeking advice on how to go about adopting. He made a point of saying that foster care adoption is not an option. One person politely asked why not and a few people jumped on her for it and said things like it's his choice and how painful it is to foster a child, only to have to say goodbye. The lady who commented said she meant no harm, was in the foster care field and was just curious. My protective instinct (and a little bit of my soapbox tendency) kicked in and I backed her up by saying that it was a fair question and that there are kids in foster care that are immediately available to adopt, no fostering necessary. I made sure to wish him luck with everything no matter what he did and said nothing else. After all, I was just looking to educate not insult. No one responded after that so I'm thinking that I didn't change any lives there. ;)
And, before all of that, I was at the doctor with my younger three. It was a new doctor (for us) so she was asking me questions. She did well with terminology but when she was checking William out, she started to make casual conversation which ended up starting with "So, do you have any children...of your own?" I quickly and politely answered with "I have these and my teenager. They are my own." It might have seemed like a reasonable question but to an adoptive parent (and more importantly, to the children who were adopted), it is a dismissal of the deep connection they have to their children. I know that she didn't mean anything by it. Even though adoption is really quite common, it still throws people off.
Anyway, all of that inspired me to make one of those "Ten things that you don't know about foster care adoption" lists! Some of it is factual, some of it is emotional, some of it about terminology, and some of it is probably me just running my mouth...but all of it is educational, kind of! And, education is pretty awesome, right? ;)
Disclaimer. I am not an expert (but I did borrow my first statistics from the AdoptUSkids website and they are experts!) and this is my information based on foster care adoption in Florida. So, there might be some differences. But, in general, this is the gist... ;)
Here we go.
1. Did you know that there are about 104,000 kids in foster care who are currently available for adoption? These are the kids whose biological parents' rights have already been terminated. They officially need a family. So, if you are worried that you will bond with a child who will then be returned to their biological family, that is not the reality. Yes, in general, a major goal is biological reunification. But, if that is already off the table, if the parental rights have already been terminated...there is no going back. Then you have children who are simply living a foster care life until if and when someone decides to adopt them or until they age out of the system. I have heard horror stories of people waiting for years to be matched and I have no idea why. I just know that in our case, we were matched with our younger boys on January 21st, 2008. They were placed in our home on February 15th, 2008 and we finalized on May 29th, 2008. The case worker did come out once a month until we finalized, but, as my husband always told me, they were not looking for a reason to say no. So, once we were matched, it was really easy-peasy.
2.. You don't have to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to adopt. Not counting the toys that we rushed out to buy for our initial visits and the McDonald's lunch that we took them to for our first unsupervised visit, I think that we spent $55 for a background check. The home study was free, the court costs were free, the lawyer was free, whatever other random expenses that I can't think of right now were free. See, that's the thing with adoption from foster care, it's non-profit. They are not looking to make money. They are trying to get these kids out of the system. I mean, if you want to be practical about it, it probably costs the states less to cover the court costs, etc, than to continue to completely financially support a child. So, yes, you should make enough money to take care of a child. But, no, you don't have to hand over that arm and leg to be given the opportunity to do so.
3. Free college. Let me say that again, free college. Kids from foster care are eligible for free college tuition in many states. This is definitely true in Florida, but other states have programs, as well. We found this out after the boys were already with us and, man, was it awesome news. Knowing that their college is covered is a major relief. Now we can focus on making sure that they go. And, believe me, the kids have already heard their fair share of "why college is so important" lectures. :)
4. In many cases, you will even get some financial help. I don't know if other people know this, but we sure didn't. Many kids come with monthly assistance until the age of 18, especially sibling groups and kids with special needs (this includes disabilities and those that have a harder time getting adopted, i.e. minorities). This saved us, particularly when it was clear that I couldn't keep up with my job and my parenting duties. When our daughter entered the picture, I was able to stay home with the kids and we were able to stay afloat.
5. Adoption Tax Credit. Another little benefit that we learned about as we were signing some of our final paperwork. In Florida, for five years per eligible child, you get a tax credit. That's good stuff.
6. While it may not cost you money to adopt, you do need to pay up in commitment because it will not always be easy. Much like it would not always be easy with a biological child. It can be difficult and frustrating to deal with issues that someone else caused. I would give anything to have been able to have all four of my kids from day one so they (and, who are we kidding, I) would have been spared all that angst. But, life is not that way and you can't rewrite history. So, yes, it is challenging sometimes, but a lot of the times, it's random life with no angst involved. It's family dinners, begging them for the millionth time to put their stuff away, playing with toys, arguing over school work, cuddling in the recliner....it's life.
7. If you have heard that it's hard to get a baby through foster care, you have heard right. If you are determined to start with a baby, then you might consider fostering first and waiting to see if the parental rights are terminated. That is an option. But, you will find yourself risking having to say good-bye if the biological parents work the case plan and get their lives together which is a good thing, of course. If you are a stronger person than me and can handle the potential loss to get the eventual gain, then it could work out. After all, babies need loving homes, too.
8. This is your real child and you are the real parent. Don't let anyone tell you different. And, if you are not adopting, but know people who are or did; please, please do not ask about the kids' real mom or dad. Please understand that, yes, the biological connection matters, but in our reality, there are things that matter more. Love and commitment. If you do ask, please use the terms birth mother, biological father, etc.
9. This is your own child. Again, don't let anyone tell you different. And, again, if you are not adopting, but know people who are or did, please, please do not ask if they have kids of their own. It may seem like nothing and I may sound overly sensitive. That's because I am overly sensitive. ;) But, children who have already suffered so much rejection should not be given the message that they are less than in any way. When you asked if I had children of my own, what my children heard was "Do you have any children that are really yours or is it just these adopted children?" That's what they hear because that's basically what you are saying, even though, I totally understand that you probably don't mean it like that.
10. Finally, one that is close to my heart. Race. Statistically, there are more African American children in the foster care system. I don't know the number and I don't know exactly why. We can talk about socio-economic levels, educational levels, etc. But, the point is that minorities, especially African Americans are not the minority in the foster care system. But, all the time, there are more and more transracial families being created through adoption. Some people think that it's a big deal, some think it's not, and some don't know what to think. But, if you consider adopting from foster care, you have to consider whether you are ok with adopting outside of your race if you are, in fact, white. For us, we knew that we didn't care. But, we did worry about whether others would care. And, one of the first things that we worried about was hair care. We went right to the practical issues. :) And, when we got the call from the case worker, asking if we would like to be considered for our boys and she stated that they were African American; we knew one thing for sure. We didn't care. Not a bit. Yes, there will be issues involved and it does add another layer of "stuff" to deal with. But, there is stuff to deal with no matter what your parenting situation. We have had awkward and complicated conversations about race. We have worried about them and obsessed about whether we are exposing them to enough of their culture. I don't know whether we have or not. I just know that when you're home, doing your thing, it won't matter. When you are watching a movie, playing a board game, or yelling at them to brush their teeth; the color of their skin won't be a blip on the radar. Believe me, it won't.
Life during and after foster care adoption is not always simple and, sometimes, will drive you crazy. Like when you are biting your tongue in a Doctor's office. But, it is without a doubt, the best decision that we ever made. Ever. It brought these kids into our lives. I wouldn't have it any other way.