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Foster care: an adoption option

The Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network’s online foster child photo album at Adoptpakids.org

The Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network’s online foster child photo album at Adoptpakids.org

Online profiles

Government agencies frequently post photos of children waiting for foster homes on their websites. Much like dating websites, you can browse through their photos and profiles. Profiles often include first names, year of birth, and siblings (if applicable), and a description of what kind of student they are and what they like to do for fun.

When prospective foster parents hope to adopt, state agencies do their best to match them with the right child. John Bates, foster care program manager at the Delaware State Division of Family Services, says foster parents eventually adopt 50-60% of children placed in foster homes.

If natural parents fail to show they’re capable of regaining custody of their child, agencies move toward adoption. “Safety and permanency is the goal for our kids,” says Bates.

Conventional adoptions can cost $12,000-$25,000 or more, while foster families often receive a government stipend. But foster adoption comes with challenges.

Conflicting goal

A downside of foster adoption is that foster agencies have a conflicting obligation. “The goal is always to reunite children with their natural family whenever possible,” says Eileen Henderson, vice president of the Division of Children & Family Services at the Center for Family Services in Camden, NJ.

Parents expect to become attached to a foster child, yet know that they might face a heart-wrenching need to say goodbye. “Letting them go at the end is probably the most difficult thing,” says Bates. 

Kate Donovan of Chester Springs, PA, found it difficult to separate from two foster children who stayed with her several weeks. “You’re bringing a child into your home that you’re going to get attached to, but  you’re going to have to be prepared to separate from that child,” she says.

Parenting challenges

Foster adoption sites

DE NJ  |  PA

Center for Family Services
(South Jersey)

As a foster parent, “you don’t know the types of parenting challenges you’re going to face,” says Bates. He says many potential foster parents have unrealistically optimistic expectations. They often think that a loving and stable home will be enough to make the child’s troubles go away. But it’s not that simple for most kids who come from troubled homes, says Bates.

According to Carey Miller of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, “the majority of children in the foster care system are there because they are victims of child abuse and/or neglect.” In addition, approximately 18% of the children in the Pennsylvania foster care system have been diagnosed with a mental, physical or learning disability.

Foster parents receive extensive training and must become licensed. They often must adjust their parenting style, especially if the child has been hurt or traumatized in some way, advises Henderson.

Do your homework

Donovan says potential foster parents seeking to adopt should obtain as much information as possible before accepting a child into their home. Some agencies are so anxious to place kids, she says that “they may sugar-coat a child’s history so you’ll accept,” she warns. 

Rewards

Before adoption takes place, foster parenting has its own rewards. “It’s fulfilling to know that you’ve done something for society,” says Donovan.  She says her foster children were extremely grateful to have a safe and loving home.

“Foster parents often report that the child enriched their life,” says Henderson. They often positively impact the foster parents  as much as the parents change the child’s life, she reports. “It improves everyone,” she says.

Suzanne Koup-Larsen is a contributing writer to MetroKids.

Who Is In Foster Care?

By Race & Ethnicity
American Indian/Alaska Native 36 0.3%
Asian 86 0.6%
Black/African American 6,870 48.5%
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 12 0.1%
White 7,260 51.3%
Unable to determine race 226 1.6%
Hispanic Ethnicity 1,669 11.8%

By Sex
Male 7,308 51.6%
Female 6,853 48.4%

By Age
Age 0-1 1,727 12.2%
Age 2-5 2,862 20.2%
Age 6-9 1,799 12.7%
Age 10-12 1,242 8.8%
Age 16-17 2,339 16.5%
Age unknown 7 0%

Placement Setting
Pre-Adoptive Home 485 3.4%
Foster Home (relative) 3,230 22.8%
Foster Home (non-relative) 6,511 46.0%
Group Home 1,562 11.0%
Institution 1,619 11.4%
Supervised Independent Living 323 2.3%
Runaway 254 1.8%
Trial Home Visit 177 1.2%

Total Number of Children In Foster Care: 14,161
Source: Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare
Statistics from Oct. 1, 2010-Sept.30, 2011

 

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