Foster care: an adoption option
The Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption and Permanency Network’s online foster child photo album at Adoptpakids.org
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.
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.
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.
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.