Breaking down the stigma of foster care adoption
May is National Foster Care Month!
We’re hoping to raise awareness and have more families consider adoption from foster care.
There are many myths that parents believe about adopting from foster care that are simply not true! NCFA is here to dispel five common myths for you, because parents and the public deserve accurate information as they consider adopting through foster care.
There are 415,129 children in U.S. foster care, and 168,816 of those children are available for adoption.1 Approximately two in five kids in foster care are waiting to be adopted. Yet, in the last year, there were only 50,644 successful completed adoptions, which is just 29%.
The good news is that adoption through foster care is slowly increasing. The bad news is: slowly. So many kids are waiting in temporary homes for a family, put there because of factors beyond their control. So why do prospective parents not consider them?
This is the most common foster care myth! Kids aren't in foster care because of anything they've done wrong; they are victims of circumstance. Kids who come into foster care are often taken away from their homes to keep them safe from abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Bad things happen. They aren’t bad kids. Quite the contrary, children are often bewildered and confused about why their lives are changing so much, so rapidly. Their placement in foster care is situational. These are normal kids in difficult and abnormal situations.
Another commonly expressed hesitation to adopting a child in foster care is: this child already has a history. What if they don’t love me as much as their “old” family? Parents want to be (not unselfishly) the only parents this child has ever known. However, in any type of adoption openness is always a spectrum. Foster care can be just as flexible. In infant or intercountry adoptions there may be no contact at all with birth families, limited contact with only occasional letters or photos being exchanged, or regular, in-person contact with the birth family. Intercountry adoption may involve trips back to a child’s birth country. All adopted child have a history and their own experiences and opinions. Some children want to visit their birth families often; others may want to disconnect with their old lives -- and all these feelings may change over time. Foster care, like all types of adoption, requires flexibility, but what some perceive as “baggage” can also be a benefit. When children have questions about their background, answers and connections may be available.
Adoption through foster care can be scary because the children have already formed opinions and personalities. Adopting a child may feel like entering a new work environment; will the new person fit in with the rest of the group? Will we like him or her? Will he or she like living here? But deep down, adoptive families and adopted children share one very important question: will we love them, and will they love us?2
Bonding and attachment with any adopted child is always a new experience and sometimes a challenge. The security of having safety, housing, clothes, a room, a bed of their own, and also a reliable source of support in his or her struggles can begin the bonding process. It takes a different amount of time for everyone to bond – from parents, to adopted children, to siblings. Be patient and know that love means positive actions and interactions, not just warm, fuzzy feelings. It takes work, creativity, and willingness to commit to the child. Although the process is different, foster youth are definitely loveable!
Kids in foster care often come with a stack of papers detailing their hard experiences and personal limitations. There are IEPs for school, food preferences for home, and therapists for trauma. “That’s why we wanted an infant!” prospective adoptive parents may exclaim. “That’s why we adopted abroad,” nod others. However, many parents may not be aware that all adopted children will have some trauma, regardless of how they were adopted.3 Children adopted as infants may struggle with not knowing their birth family; internationally adopted children may struggle with having been raised in institutional care or leaving their culture and every familiar thing including food, smells, and language. Foster kids may struggle with trauma and loss.
Typically, though, there is more information on the background of a child adopted through foster care which helps ensure you can provide the right type of support to help your child thrive. There are also resources and support services available to children adopted from foster care. It is vital to understand the trauma and experiences of a child’s past. At the same time, the presence of trauma should not act as a deterrent for prospective parents. These are great kids who have survived hard experiences. Trauma will impact them, but with appropriate care and support they can thrive – especially in the permanent family environment that comes with adoption!
Foster care can seem daunting when parents realize that many children in foster care are older. All children, and for that matter, even adults, need a family. They need someone to care for them, advise them on life skills, visit on holidays, care when they’re having a hard day, and sit in the front row at their weddings. Family is forever. Infants, toddlers, children, teenagers, and even adults will always need parents. For parents who believe their children no longer need them, this is untrue; the emotional stability of having a parent – a confidante, a person to vent to, a person to call and come home to – is paramount. As parents, you are not competing for your child’s attachment against unseen “formers”; but rather you are creating a more stable, stronger, and lasting attachment for a kid who has faced hard things and needs your support forever.
To combat these myths and learn more about foster care check out our 5 facts about foster care adoption!
- From the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/afcarsreport22.pdf
- To see more on the subject, please read Daniel Nehrbass’ Adoption Advocate No. 68.
- To learn more about loss and trauma in adoption, see Nancy Randall and Kim Shepardson Watson’s Adoption Advocate No. 93.