The transition from foster care to adoption is often full of conflicting emotions for children as well as for their caretakers. For children who can no longer return to their biological families, receiving a permanent placement is certainly a positive development. However, the transition from foster care to adoptive home is one that may take some time, patience and emotional sensitivity.
Whether a foster child is about to be adopted by someone they already know, adoptive parents they haven’t met yet, a foster-to-adopt family or their foster parents, that mental and emotional shift from foster care to adoption can still take some time and preparation.
Many children have been living in temporary placements and have been moved from place to place since their removal from their original home. Now, they have to readjust to the idea of permanency and consistent caregivers. They may have been waiting for reunification or for permanent placement for a long time, and now they’ll have to wrap their heads around the idea that their time in foster care is over.
Here’s how to help a child begin that transition from fostering to adoption in different situations, and how to break the news:
How to Tell a Foster Child They Are Being Adopted
Learning that your foster child is being adopted by another family is often bittersweet news for both the foster parents and the child. A permanent placement was the goal, of course. But it’s still sad for everyone in your family to part ways.
When you talk to your foster child about an adoption opportunity that has been presented, keep those mixed emotions in mind. Follow the lead of your child’s caseworker — he or she will often handle this conversation, or be there with you through it. However, here are a few tips for talking about this:
- Explain what will happen next, step by step.
- Don’t worry if he or she doesn’t feel positively about the adoption at first — it may take some time to adjust to the idea and to grieve leaving your family.
- Answer their questions, and let them know that whatever they are feeling is valid.
- Talk to your foster child about the adoptive family with excitement and positivity, and share details so that things feel more “real.”
- Reassure your foster child that, although their forever family will love them, you will also always love them, and this doesn’t have to be “goodbye” forever even though you aren’t “mom” or “dad.”
If you’re not sure how to talk to your foster child about moving from foster care to adoption, reach out to your child’s caseworker for support and guidance before you initiate that conversation.
Preparing a Foster Child for Adoption
The foster care transition to adoption can be a major one for a child of any age, even infants. Approach this transition in an age-appropriate way, but always remain honest, optimistic and attentive.
Listen to the advice of your child’s caseworker, and remember that the stages of preparing a child from foster care for adoption will look different for each individual child. However, here are a few general tips to help your foster child start mentally preparing for the upcoming change:
- If possible, work with your child’s caseworker to arrange pre-adoptive visits with the adoptive family so your foster child can get to know them while having you as a familiar face and source of comfort.
- Communicate with the adoptive family about your foster child’s history, routines, likes and dislikes and more. Anything you can give them will help ease the transition.
- If possible, pack familiar and comforting items for your foster child to take with them, like stuffed animals you purchased for them, photos of your time together, etc.
- Listen to your foster child’s thoughts and feelings. Start by asking questions like, “In what ways do you think adoption will be different from being in foster care? How do you feel about those differences? What are you excited about? What are you sad or nervous about?”
- Contribute to or create a memory book of your time together to give to the adoptive family — especially if your foster children may be too young to remember much of your time together as they grow. It’s helpful for children to have details of their placement histories as they age.
- Be ready for your child to have questions or complex feelings about the changes ahead. Remind them that it’s alright to feel these things — questions and feelings aren’t bad, and you’ll be there to support them as they transition to their forever home.
Keeping in touch with the adoptive family so you can all work together alongside your foster child’s caseworker will be the most important way you help ease the adoption transition from foster care.
Announcing to Your Foster Kids You Are Adopting Them
This can be an exciting, but nerve-wracking, moment for you as a foster parent. How will your foster child react? How can you present this opportunity to permanently join your family with sensitivity? Here are a few tips:
- Despite the many viral videos of children being told by their foster parents that they’re being adopted, it’s best to talk to your foster child in private so they don’t feel forced into a reaction.
- Don’t be disappointed if your foster child seems reserved or expresses mixed emotions at first. Again, it can take some time for them to adjust to the idea, and to let go of any dreams of reunification they may have had.
- Acknowledge that even though you’d like to be their “new” mom or dad forever, you know that their first family will always hold a special place in their hearts and that you aren’t trying to replace them. Your child is gaining more people in their life permanently, not losing anyone.
- Explain what will change and what won’t change in terms of relationships, expectations and more.
- Answer any questions they may have, and let them know that whatever they are feeling is valid.
- Explain, step-by-step, what happens next.
Your foster child will hopefully be just as excited as you are about the transition from foster to adoption, but they may also worry about their biological parents or past caregivers. Reassure them that adoption doesn’t mean they have to let those people go or forget them.
Helping Your Foster Child Transition to Your Adopted Child
Whether through an intentional foster-to-adopt path or a temporary-placement-turned-permanent, it’s very common for a child to ultimately be adopted by his or her foster family. However, even if your foster child has been with your family for years, transitioning from fostering to adoption can sometimes feel strange for everyone in the family.
Transitioning a child from foster care to adoption takes time, above all. Transitioning an infant from foster care to adoption will typically be an easier adjustment than it is for an older child or teen, but children of every age will adjust to permanency at their own pace.
Here are some general tips for helping your child transition from foster care to adoption:
- Show new and tangible examples of permanency. Consider decorating their room together, taking family photos and displaying them at home, or establishing a new family routine like gathering together at bedtime to read a chapter of a book.
- Acknowledge their previous homes and caregivers, and remind your child you aren’t replacing anyone. Ask if your child would like to make a drawing or write a letter to send to a biological family member or a previous foster parent — whoever is important in their life.
- Let them know what to expect. Be clear about what will and won’t change in your child’s life. Walk them through the adoption process itself and how things will (or won’t) affect them.
- Try to maintain stability and normalcy. If your child has adjusted to a routine in your home, make a point not to deviate too far from that routine as you prepare for adoption, so they know that this routine won’t change in the future.
- Go through their lifebook together. If your child has photos or memories collected from past placements and their first family, review those memories together. Print out some photos of you and your child and ask your child which ones they’d like to include in their lifebook.
- Don’t make too many changes at once. You may be excited to enroll your child in swimming classes, or new playgroups, but take things slowly even if your child has been with you for a while. Give them time to adjust to new changes before you implement more.
- Keep talking with your child. Your child may experience different emotions about their adoption at different times. This is normal — all children process feelings in different ways and at different paces, and they may experience their adoption differently as they age. Keep the adoption and personal history as an ongoing conversation rather than a one-time talk.
- Check in with feelings. Unless an adult initiates the conversation, children will rarely bring up what they’re thinking about when it comes to tough or complex feelings. They’ll often assume it’s taboo unless you talk about it openly and honestly. Remind your child that anything they feel is alright. Ask them how they’re feeling about the adoption, “Is there anything you’re worried about? What are you most excited about?”
There is sometimes a “honeymoon phase” shortly after the adoption of a foster child. After that honeymoon phase has ended, some children will withdraw, act out to test boundaries, or will display issues previously not seen. This catches families by surprise, especially if their child had seemed comfortable and positive with everything before the adoption. But this transition can be a major one to children, and they need your continued support as they move through this new phase of life.
With time, patience, support and love, all children can transition into permanency. If you’re unsure how to help your child transition from foster care to adoption, reach out to your child’s caseworker for support and advice.