An Adoption Option: Foster Care
Thousands of foster kids, from infants to teens, need homes.
About half become adopted.
With the economy in turmoil and the opportunities to adopt children from other countries tightening, National Adoption Month comes at a difficult time this year. If you are considering adoption, the foster care system could provide an attractive alternative.
International adoption costs the average American $11,325-$23,275, according to www.adoption.com, with secondary costs potentially adding thousands more. Adoption through the foster care system, on the other hand, actually pays the adoptive family a stipend.
“Foster care isn’t for everyone,” says Laura Fox, a Delaware Valley foster parent. “You really get a feel for just what so many of our nation’s children live through. Much of it is so sad, yet
Laura and her husband Joel finished foster parent training in April 2006. They were called two weeks later with their first placement, an unborn baby due in June. That baby has their last name today after a transition from foster care to adoption.
Nationally, more than 800,000 children go through the child welfare system each year, with more than 500,000 remaining in foster homes. Pennsylvania has more than 34,000 foster care cases in its database, New Jersey has surpassed 17,500 cases and Delaware has almost 2,000 children in its foster care system. According to an ABC News report, the average stay in U.S. foster care is 31 months. About half the children are adopted by their foster families.
Any child from birth to age 18 can be removed from the home and placed into protective custody if the home is deemed unable to safely provide the needs of the child. Some unfit homes have had their utilities shut off, some are roach-infested and some are only inhabited by an adult periodically.
Many children are left to fend for themselves at a very young age. Some are abused physically, emotionally and sexually. Some are addicted to drugs at birth and some have mental and emotional deficiencies due to poor prenatal care and/or genetic disorders.
All of the children are starving for someone to love them and to fulfill basic needs. Most of these kids will always love their birth parents and have an innate loyalty to them regardless of what their home life was like, which can make the transition into foster care a rocky one.
County agencies place foster children, and the process can vary. Often children come into foster care with only the clothes on their back. Each child is evaluated by a team of social workers before placement.
Foster parents are trained thoroughly and must become licensed. Training includes how to make the child’s transition smooth. The process also involves substantial paperwork, child abuse and criminal background checks and a home study. Families can specify which age group they prefer, from infants all the way to teenagers.
After placement, foster parents usually receive an initial sum for expenses such as clothing, school supplies and toiletries, and for infants, formula and diapers. The county then issues foster parents a monthly check based on a scale that includes medical and other factors. In a typical county, the stipend for a child who needs little to no medical or psychological attention may be $17 per day; a teen who needs extensive therapy or a newborn with medical issues may receive $30 per day.
If the foster parents decide to adopt the child, court costs and legal fees to finalize the adoption are covered. After adoption, smaller monthly payments continue until the child reaches age 18.
Regardless of the child’s age, most foster families experience an adjustment similar to bringing home a new baby. “Matt and I went from having a very independent lifestyle to someone else becoming a priority,” says Bobbi Gates, foster mom of a 7-month-old daughter. “We have had to learn to live with another person’s moods on a daily basis, and although that is not easy some days, we wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
A biological child can have issues with a stranger moving into her home. Says foster mom Lori Rohrbach, “We have all learned to be extra compassionate. My husband and I learned what big hearts our biological children have.”
County foster care coordinators assist with the transition and usually will come to the home and speak to the family if asked.
A frequent challenge in foster care is dealing with biological parents, who can feel threatened by the bond that their child develops with his foster family. Most children have supervised biological parent visits, which can vary from twice a week to once every two weeks.
Later, visits sometimes become unsupervised sessions in the child’s home. Reunification can occur if the biological parents complete their court-ordered counseling and random testing, parenting classes or therapy.
If the children returns home, it can be hard on the foster parents. “Giving them back can be very difficult sometimes,” says foster mom Wanda VanRaden.
“When they leave my home, they are usually too young to remember me. But I still know that I have made an impact on their lives.” Many foster families keep in touch with children who have passed through their lives.
Foster Care to Adoption
Almost 50 percent of foster care arrangements lead to adoption. The county will match a family considering adoption with a child whose case goals include adoption. In such cases, biological parent visits lessen over time.
The birth parents’ success at rehabilitation often determines whe-ther a child’s case goal becomes adoption. When such change is not achieved within a reasonable time — usually from six months to well over a year — parental rights are terminated (TPR).
If caseworkers decide that a child’s case is headed toward TPR and to a change of goal to adoption, the child could be moved to a family who wants to adopt so the bonding process can begin.
Once parental rights are terminated and a child’s case is turned over to a court, the birth parents’ right to know who is adopting the child becomes void, so confidentiality is possible.
However, many adoptive parents have a relationship with the birth parents by then and choose to keep in touch for the child’s benefit.
Michelle Kemper Brownlow is a local freelance writer and mom of three, one of whom was adopted through foster care.