If you’re considering this potential path to parenthood, you may be feeling overwhelmed with everything there is to learn about the process. Fortunately, there are many people who have been through it before, and their fostering-for-adoption guidance is one of the most helpful resources you can use to get started. That’s why we’ve compiled these twenty tips for adopting from foster care from parents, professionals and former foster youth who have been where you’re at right now:
1. Read, research and listen
Explore statistics and guides, as well as stories from foster and adoptive parents, adoptees and former foster youth, birth parents, professionals and everyone in between. If you’re considering adopting a child outside of your own race, or a child with additional medical, mental, or emotional needs, then you’ll need to do some research on the relevant topics and find some tips for foster-to-adopt parents in those specific situations.
Being well-informed about the experiences of foster parents, children and their biological families, as well as the professionals you’ll be working with, will help you prepare and know what you think you can handle. Whatever your heart may be telling you, this ultimately needs to be an informed decision that you make with your eyes fully open.
2. Become a foster care and foster adoption expert
Know the technical processes inside and out. Understand why certain safety measures are in place, the steps you’ll need to complete as a hopeful foster adoptive parent, potential variables in the process, the ups and downs you may experience and more. Be sure to also learn about the foster care experience from different perspectives — read up on what the process is like for children as well as a child’s biological family.
There are plenty of online guides, including those that offer tips on adopting from foster care, but your foster care professional can always answer any additional questions you might have.
The more you know about the process itself, the better you can understand what’s happening in your own adoption journey and what your child’s journey has been like.
3. Know yourself and know your family
Only you can have an idea of how this monumental decision will affect you and your family. Adoption is always life-changing, for everyone involved. Are you prepared? What about your immediate and extended family members? Their opinions and feelings will absolutely play a role in this journey.
Nobody can know exactly how things will play out once your new child comes into your home, but more than anyone, you are the person who can attempt to predict the excitement and anxieties that different people in your life (including yourself) might experience. Use that knowledge to prepare yourself and your loved ones as best as you can before your new family member arrives, and to be sure that you’re making a decision that’s right for everyone.
4. Know what you can (and can’t) handle
There are many different types of children available for adoption through foster care, and they’ll have varying types of needs. Some will have experienced more trauma or neglect than others; some will have physical, mental or emotional needs that affect their day-to-day lives; and all will push you out of some of your comfort zones. It’s up to you to decide what you’re willing and able to take on as a parent.
No one can predict exactly what a child will be like when he or she is placed in a new home, just like no parent can predict what their biological child will grow up to be like when he or she is born. However, a child’s caseworker will have assessed some of the child’s needs and will be honest with you about any special care they may require from a parent.
It’s important that you know what you can (and can’t) handle. It can be incredibly difficult to turn down an adoption opportunity with a wonderful, loving child — but if you feel that you’re unable to provide him or her with the care that they need and deserve, then it’s in that child’s best interest to say “no” to the match so that they can find the right family. This reduces the risk of disrupted adoptions, which protects both you and vulnerable children.
Researching the potential needs of an individual child as an opportunity is presented to you is the best way to approach a new possible match.
5. Understand your motivations
Why do you want to adopt through foster care? Why are you interested in adopting this child?
Your motivations for adopting a child will one day be clear to that child, and he or she may have their own feelings about it. For example: Are you adopting because you want to “save” a child? This could make your child feel less-than, and that he or she must always feel indebted to you. Or are you adopting because you want to be a parent, and this child wants a parent?
Adoption is not right for everyone. Make sure you’re moving forward with the right intentions.
6. Learn that love isn’t enough
The love that you will have for your child will be extraordinary. It can heal so many hurts. But even the unconditional love of a parent can’t fix everything, or make some realities go away. That can be a hard pill for any parent to swallow, but doing so will allow you to help your child.
Love isn’t enough to conquer racism, for one. If you adopt transracially, you’ll need to provide more than just love in order for your child to have a positive racial and cultural identity. He or she will need diverse role models, peers and connections to their personal history.
For another, love isn’t enough to overcome the grief and loss of losing an original family. Your child may also grieve the loss of other past caretakers. This doesn’t mean that he or she loves you any less. It simply means that you must always acknowledge those “first loves.”
As you raise your child through the years, you’ll encounter other moments when your love isn’t enough to protect your child from pain, which can be hard for you. However, your love will always be needed.
7. Allow yourself to say “Yes,” AND “No,” and know when you need to say which
Just as you’ll need to learn when to say “yes,” and “no,” to certain adoption opportunities or foster placements, you’ll also need to learn when to draw boundaries and when to be flexible in other situations.
For example, it’s ok to say “no,” if someone asks about your child’s story. As his or her parent, you’ll be responsible for protecting their privacy (and the privacy of his or her birth family) until your child is old enough to make their own decisions regarding their adoption story. Share whatever details you’re comfortable with (or don’t).
8. Let go of expectations, and be ready to adapt
People often have a vision of their “perfect” child. They have a vision of what they might be like as parents and how their experiences will play out. But as you know, life rarely follows any kind of plan. It’s best to just roll with the punches.
Like we said — know what you can and can’t handle. But also be open to considering opportunities within those boundaries. Consider adopting children of a wider range of ages, consider fostering before adopting, consider adopting a child with certain types of disabilities or other situations you may have previously been unsure about. Again: these adoption opportunities may not be right for you. But it never hurts to consider them.
And when you do find the right adoption opportunity? You can’t expect everything to play out exactly as you imagined then, either. For example, when your child comes home, he or she may only eat one type of food for a while, when you’d hoped you’d cook the most nutritious meals! That’s OK. All kids do that sometimes, especially when a child is adjusting to a new situation.
Whatever the circumstances, just be open to what may come.
9. Understand why you might need to foster first
Sometimes, becoming licensed as a foster parent is a requirement of the state. Sometimes, it’s just highly encouraged by a foster care professional because you’ll be far more likely to adopt as a licensed foster parent than as just a hopeful adoptive parent.
Most children who are adopted through foster care will be permanently placed with family members or their existing foster parents. Additionally, when you have some experience as a foster parent, many people find that they’re more prepared to take the plunge into adoption and parent a child who has experienced the traumas of involuntary removal.
One of the most important things you can learn to do well as a foster-adoptive parent is to communicate: with your caseworker, your family members, your child’s biological family, teachers, therapists, other foster parents, professionals and most importantly, your child.
Adopting from foster care is a team effort, and so is raising your child. Be ready to communicate freely and openly.
A key part of communication is listening. It’s important that you listen to expert and experienced fostering and adoption advice without defensiveness, as well as listen to the thoughts and feelings of those around you — again, your child’s most of all.
Communicate your needs, worries, hopes and feelings to the appropriate people as needed! It really does take a village.
11. Embrace biological connections
As you likely know, your child’s biological family will always be important to him or her. Your child may experience many different emotions toward their biological family throughout their life — that’s natural. However, the significance of genetic ties is still meaningful, and it is something to be respected.
This can be intimidating as a new parent. However, you’ll soon see that your parental bond with your child isn’t diminished by your child maintaining a connection to his or her biological heritage. So, whenever possible, and when it’s in the best interest of the child, support openness in your adoption and honor those biological roots.
12. Be ready for challenges
Parenthood always offers rewards and struggles. Becoming a parent through a foster care adoption poses its own unique benefits and challenges.
Learning about, and preparing for, the potential hurdles you may face in the adoption process and in raising your child is an important early step. You may already have an understanding of some of the difficulties you may encounter as your raise a child who has experienced loss and trauma, and who may have additional medical, emotional or mental needs.
But you should also consider the potential challenges you may face outside of your own family. Be prepared for ignorant comments and questions from strangers or even loved ones. Be ready to respond and educate.
Prepare a list of resources to help you and your child through potential challenges. Hopefully, you’ll never need to use them! But if you do, you’ll be ready, and you’ll work through it as a family.
13. Prepare for parenting a child who has experienced trauma
Removing a child from his or her familiar surroundings and caretakers, perhaps multiple times, is a deeply traumatic experience. He or she will grieve that loss, perhaps for a long time. Your child may have experienced additional traumas — abuse, neglect, sexual harm and more. On top of this, children may be facing physical, mental and emotional setbacks, sometimes as a result of their trauma or abuse. Regardless of a child’s age, these experiences will shape them, even if they experienced their trauma in infancy.
Experiencing and then trying to recover from this type of trauma would be a fight for an adult, let alone a child. All children adopted through foster care have experienced some degree of trauma. However, there are plenty of resources and professionals who can help you and your child.
Parenting a child who has experienced trauma is a unique experience. It takes more time, patience, consistency and training than other parents may be ready for, but it’s worth the effort!
14. Be patient
This is not only important for parenting a child who has experienced trauma; it’ll also help you through the complexities of adopting through foster care. The process itself can sometimes seem tedious and slow, but remember that every step is there for an important reason — for the safety of children.
The intricacies of the foster care system can also seem slow and frustrating from an eager and hopeful parent’s perspective. However, remember that everyone there is doing their best to ensure the best future for children, preserve families whenever they can and do all of this as quickly as possible so that children don’t have to wait around in care any longer than is necessary.
All of the paperwork, phone calls, home visits, waiting, questions and training can take a significant amount of time, energy and patience. Just remember the irreplaceable prize at the end — your child!
15. Remember that your family doesn’t live in a bubble
Even once your own immediate family is fully educated and prepared for the foster adoption journey ahead, you’ll still need to consider your extended family, your friends, your future child’s teachers, peers, strangers and more.
There will always be people who don’t understand foster care and adoption, and they may say or do inadvertently hurtful things around you, or worse, your child. Start thinking about how to respond and how you’ll teach your child to respond in these situations.
Make sure that your extended family is ready for their new family member and that they will welcome this child with open and loving arms. One of the best things you can do is to start educating the people in your life in advance.
16. Educate others
Shout information about foster care and adoption from the rooftops! There is still so much stigma surrounding foster youth and adoptees, their biological families and even the process itself. Help clear up the myths by sharing the facts.
Educating your own family, friends and everyone your family interacts with will help ensure that these people are ready to welcome your child and that they have a better understanding of foster care adoption. If they’re educated, they’ll be more likely to understand and embrace your child.
17. Be your child’s advocate
At the end of the day, everyone wants what is best for children. As a parent, you serve as your child’s representative to the world until they’re old enough to represent themselves.
Advocating for your child can take many forms: continuing to educate yourself to better provide for his or her needs, talking to others about your child’s needs or putting their physical and emotional well-being ahead of your comfort zone.
18. Take time for self-care
You won’t be able to fully care for your child if you are struggling yourself. Your physical, mental and emotional health is just as important as your child’s.
When you need support or a break — ask for help! Establish a support system early on so that you’re able to take moments to yourself and restore your energy. Try to keep up with your hobbies that relax and fulfill you, even when you feel too busy. Making time for yourself and your own needs will ensure that you’re able to be the best parent possible.
19. Take advantage of support and resources
At the beginning of the foster adoption process, take some time to explore all of the available resources, especially post-adoption resources. There are often community-led agencies that provide support for foster and adoptive families, you’ll likely be able to find plenty of support groups that can help you locate appropriate resources, and your foster care professionals will hopefully be able to provide you with references and information.
Getting comfortable asking for advice or just an extra hand is an important skill for any parent, but especially for those adopting through foster care. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who will be ready to help, and they can point you to any specific resources you may need at a certain point in time.
20. Reach out to others
The foster adoption community is supportive and ready to help. Your foster care professionals will be able to direct you to relevant resources. Sometimes parenthood, especially for those adopting through foster care, can feel a bit like you’re on your own. But you’re not alone.
From the beginning of your foster adoption journey to the years ahead with your child, you can always reach out to others through support groups, professionals within the foster community and more. Maybe you just need to talk, or maybe you’d like to get some insight from people who have shared similar experiences.
Someday, you may be able to be a guide and source of tips on fostering-to-adopt for a hopeful parent who is standing where you’re at right now.