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Our Family: Pops, Me, The Teenager, The Boy, The Freckle Faced Ninja, Miss Priss, Miss Sassy Pants, Madi-Lou-Who, & Dora the Explorer

Adoption and Foster Care

WELCOME! If you clicked on the Adoption and Foster Care tab then you are either just curious or interested in more information.  These are HUGE topics and if you are interested, you are most likely struggling to find which way to go.  I hope to be able to give you some insight and some great resources for further research.  

I am certainly not an expert, as in no degrees to give what I say credibility. BUT I have "been there done that" so to speak.  My husband and I are in the midst of our 3rd adoption from foster care with a total of 7 children (2 were sibling sets of 3).  We have many friends who are foster parents as well as friends who've adopted both domestically and internationally.  As I get information from them, I will expand the information in those areas.  One thing to note, is that laws in different counties, states, and countries dictate the specifics of adoption and foster care.  I'm talking more in generalities that seem to be true across geographical areas.

Here's what is on this page:
  1. Adoption vs foster care in a nutshell
  2. What is a disruption, dissolution, or re-homing?
  3. I am a Christian.  What does the Church say about adoption?             aka: Do you believe EVERY Christian should adopt?
  4. I want to foster or adopt but my spouse does not (or vice versa).
  5. What are the different types of adoption?
  6. Domestic Infant Adoption
  7. International Adoption
  8. Adoption of a Waiting Child from Foster Care
  9. Legal Risk of a Foster Child
  10. Should I foster in hopes of adopting ("Foster-to-Adopt")
  11. How does Foster Care Work?
  12. I don't feel that God is calling my family to foster or adopt but what are some ways we can serve those families?
  13. Links to articles and websites with further information and actual research/credentials.  :)
So, let's get started!  

1. Foster Care vs. Adoption: 
Foster Care is simply a short-term (hopefully) placement of a child into another family while in state custody due to the home situation being unsafe. Some areas have programs that offer voluntary short-term placement of 3 - 6 months in times of distress (financial, medical, etc) in hopes of preventing a foster placement. One such program is Safe Families through Bethany Christian Services. Usually foster care placements are 12-18 months if successful and the child can be reunited with the birth family.

Adoption is a permanent placement of a child after a birth family has relinquished their rights to the child in court OR a court has terminated their parental rights due to their inability to provide a safe place for their child. After a period of time (depends on they type of adoption) you legally adopt the child in court. 

2. Disruption, Dissolution, and Re-homing:
These are very sad words but a reality in this broken world of ours.  Disruption is when a child has been placed for adoption but the family decides they are unable to parent the child for various reasons before the adoption finalizes. 

Dissolution is when an adoption is finalized and a family goes to court to dissolve the adoption, similar to divorce in court proceedings.  Often these situations come about due to the child having behaviors connected with trauma they suffered prior to coming to the home.  At times the family feels the child is a physical threat to other family members.  Others they may just feel they are not equipped to handle the child's needs (ex: a child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome).  There are cases where the adoption is disrupted or dissolved for much less valid reasons but despite the media attention these cases get, they are very rare.  

Re-homing or re-adoption is a way that a child who was previously adopted can be placed in a family that may be more fitting for that child's needs. There are agencies that specialize in both of these.  

While I mourn for yet another loss in a child's life who goes through this, we must be careful not to judge these families.  If we have never walked in that family's shoes, we do not know what they have experienced truly.  Here is an article with more information on this topic that asks the question, "Why are so many adoptions failing and how can we help prevent it?"  Creating a Family - Re-homing after adoption

3. So as a Christian, what does the Bible say?
If you are not a Christian, you can tune out the next few paragraphs and scroll down to the next section.  Or read this part just for your own information on what the Church (not the Roman Catholic church or the Baptist Church, but Church as in Body of Believers.  Us Christian folks). 

First of all, there is a Biblical Mandate that we are to care for the fatherless. Scripture is very clear on that:
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress...  James 1:27

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.  Psalm 92:3

...learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow's cause.   Isaiah 1:17

God sets the lonely in families...     Psalm 68:6

I could go on but I'm sure you get the point.  As a Christian, I am called to be the hands and feet of Christ to the lost, the least, the lonely.  I am called to serve.  While most foster children are not literally "fatherless" or "orphaned" they are out from under a father's protection so I, as many, would include them.

So here's the sticking point.  If you are a professing Christian, you are no less under this mandate than I am.  BUT.  There's always a but isn't there.  What does that look like for you?  Do I believe EVERYONE should adopt or foster?  

Well a part of me does.  A part of me says, "Are you kidding?  Do you know how many orphaned or foster children there are waiting for loving homes? Homes where they will not be given up on?  Homes where they will be treated as one of our own?!"  

But I also know God has gifted us all differently.  Just as the mere thought of throwing a formal dinner for 50 people at my home exhausts me and gives me hives (shudder), the thought of adopting a hurting child is overwhelming for others.  No.  No, I do NOT believe everyone can or should adopt or foster. Adoption is hard stuff.  In a perfect situation, it's a healthy, non-traumatized baby who has this extra piece to their life to puzzle out that others don't have.  Another set of parents.  In the case of a child adopted from foster care or an orphanage half-way around the world, it's never easy.  It's messy, it's challenging, and it's absolutely worth it.  THEY are worth it.  But it's not for everyone.  

So those of you who are breathing a sigh of relief right that you don't have to disturb your peaceful life, hear me now: you are still called to be the Hands and Feet of Christ.  God did not call us to Him to live a life of comfort! He did not give me the gifts I have so I can be a superb carpool/soccer mom or the best baseball coachin' dad or top sales exec again this month.  That's called complacency and there's no room for it in this broken world.  

So, what are you doing?  

  • Did you know that gifts like the ones Operation Christmas Child sends, means the difference between hope and despair for some children?  They were remembered.  Loved enough to get a gift.  
  • Did you know that 26,000 kids aged out of foster care in the United State in 2011? With no family, no mentorship, NOTHING.  Many end up homeless, on drugs, or pregnant within a year of aging out.  Much of our prison population were former foster children.  
Just in these two situations alone there are SO many ways you can be the hands and feet of Christ to someone who is lost or lonely.  Fatherless.  

At the bottom of this page I have a list of "I don't want to foster or adopt but I want to serve" ideas that are great for families, small groups, singles, etc. You have no idea how one small act of yours can make all the difference to someone who is struggling!  

4. I want to adopt or foster.  My spouse?  Eh, not so much! (or vice versa) Are you desiring or feeling called to adopt or foster but your spouse is not? Been there!  I desperately wanted more children after our first adoption.  My husband was just not there yet.  For 10 years.  You cannot force someone to desire something.  My advice (that apparently worked for me because we've now adopted twice in 4 years adding 6 kiddos to our family) is to first pray. Secondly, ask your spouse to pray.  Then stop talking about it!  Do not nag or push.  That just breeds resentment.  Leave it it God's hands.  If it is truly from God it will happen in His timing.  

One hard thing to consider is that perhaps God isn't calling you to adopt or foster but your desire is making you think He is.  I have lots of desires that are very strong that are simply mine.  That's part of our humanity.  Again, I would urge you to both be on board before you embark on this journey!  

5. Types of Adoption (more details in another section):     
First let me say, there is no "better" way to go.  God is the one directing your steps, so there is His way.  :)  Many times I've heard someone say, "Why go to ____ country when there are so many here in your own backyard who need a family?"  First, that statement is usually made by someone who has never fostered or adopted.  Secondly, it's not for me or anyone else to say what God has designed for your family.  And it's not for me to judge you based on the journey He sends you on!   With that said, the types of adoption are:
  • Domestic Infant
  • Domestic Waiting Child Adoption of a child in foster care.
  • Domestic Legal Risk Adoption of a child in foster care.
  • International Adoption
*There is really not such thing as "foster to adopt".  That label was created to draw prospective adoptive parents into fostering.  You can foster but the children are not legally free to adopt and DFCS is planning to reunite them with their birth family if at all possible.  Some cases will result in adoption (this is what they are now calling "foster to adopt") but it's a pretty low percentage over all.  "Waiting Children" are already legally free to adopt.  More below in the "How does foster care work" section.

6. Domestic Infant Adoption:
This is adopting an infant that a birth family chooses to relinquish their rights to parent for a variety of reasons.  I have never gone through this process personally but I strongly recommend you hooking up with other parents in your local area to get an idea of reputable agencies to use and get a support system going because it is an emotional journey.  The cost can be prohibitive but there are many grants you can apply for as well as fundraising opportunities!

In addition to many other decisions, one key decision is how open of an adoption you are comfortable with.  From a healthy standpoint for the adoptee, the more open the better.  There are many reasons why but you have to decide what is best for your family.  I know several adoptive families that looked at their open relationship with the birth family as a chance to minister to them.  As a result they have a wonderful relationship and have had a very positive impact on each other.  They are also setting the stage for a future healthy relationship devoid of secrecy for their child.  Here is a list of articles on the topic:  http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/openadoption.php

We don't often think of infant adoption as an outreach opportunity but if as a Christian community we are hoping all mothers will choose life for their children, as a community we should be willing to step up to parent those children when the birth mother does not feel she is able to.  I know of a family who has adopted 4 infants at birth with severe medical challenges or chromosomal abnormalities such as Down Syndrome.  What a beautiful testimony to how sacred they see life to be.  

7. International Adoption:
This is the mother of all adoption processes because you have to be approved in TWO countries, have passports, court proceedings in TWO countries, different laws in different countries...over whelming to be sure!  If you are feeling led down this path, please seek out others who have gone before.  Get their opinions on the agency they used, tips on what to do when, etc. Research countries very thoroughly on wait times, their laws, etc.  And pray. :)

Also, maintain that community to walk with you ask you journey through the paperwork, approval, waiting, and more waiting, and finally bringing your child home.  You will need emotional support throughout and physical support once your child is home.  Bringing a child home who has been traumatized, speaks a different language, and has never seen the foods you eat will keep you busy in more ways than you can count.  A community to help you through is vital to developing into a strong family!  

Prices for international adoptions ranges greatly from country to country but again, there are many fundraising and grant opportunities out there!  

8. Adopting a Waiting Child from Foster Care:  
This is obviously, given the make up of our family, the type of adoption I am the most knowledgeable about.  Like international adoption, adopting from foster care is hard.  Not the process (although it can be tough), but life with a child who is coming from a hard place.  If you are feeling a pull to adopt a foster child, I'd suggest that you read this article, Love is the Point.  Love alone is not enough to walk the journey of life with a wounded, traumatized child.  Here are two of my blog posts that will give you an idea of the journey, it's hard places and it's victories:  Two Steps Forward    This Wounded Heart

So what is a "waiting child"?  A waiting child is one who is legally free to adopt and currently in foster care.  They were either abandoned or, more likely, removed from their biological family's care due to neglect, abuse, or some combination there of.  All too frequently drug or alcohol abuse plays a factor.  There are lists that you can view, such as: Adopt US Kids.  These are not the only children available, just the harder to place.  That does not mean these are "bad" kids! They may have a medical condition, be a part of a large sibling group they are hoping to place together, or be a teenager.  Most states have their own listing site with information on the adoption process in the state.  It is easier to adopt from your own state but definitely possible across state lines.  

Sadly teenagers are hard to place because on top of the normal teenage angst, they have piles of days where they were maybe not fed.  Maybe they were called names and hit by someone who outweighed them by over 100 pounds.  Maybe they spent nights watching a parent abuse drugs.  Maybe they, at the tender age of 3, were waking up to no one around and had to find food for a younger sibling.  Perhaps they experienced unimaginable abuse at the hands of a caregiver.  How does one begin to process much less calmly express those types of experiences when their peers are busy worrying about the dance on Friday.  A 16 year old needs and deserves a family where they can behave badly and still be loved, just like a 6 year old does.  

So how do I go about adopting a waiting child?  There are a few routes:
  • There are private agencies that specialize in adoptions for "special needs" children.  Here in Georgia that is any child who was in foster care for 20 or more consecutive months, any child in foster care over age 1, any child with any special medical, learning, emotional, etc needs, or a sibling set of 2 or more.  Every state is different.  I'd suggest you research agencies in your state.  Often going through an agency gives you an advocate to speak for you during the process of making sure a placement is right for you and transitioning a child into your home.  We have gone through the home-study process 4 times, twice with different counties in two states, and twice with a private agency.  I would highly recommend an agency if you can access one.  
  • Contact your county or state Department of Family and Children's Services.  They will typically send you to an orientation class then start you on the process.  The county we live in (here in GA) outsources adoptions so we had no choice but to go through an agency.  
What is the cost, the process, etc?  There is generally no cost when adopting a child in foster care.  The state subsidizes the home studies and will often reimburse an amount for legal fees.  You will have costs such as taking CPR classes, putting locks on cabinets containing medicines, or bringing pools and trampolines up to DFCS safety codes.
9. Legal Risk Adoption
Our most recent adoption began as a "legal risk placement", meaning the intent of the social workers, CASA worker, etc is to terminate the parental rights of the biological family.  They are placed with a prospective adoptive family, knowing it is not a "done deal" so to speak.  

9. Should I foster with hopes of adopting or "Foster-to-Adopt"?  This is a difficult topic.  Many counties require you to foster in order to adopt a foster child.  I do not agree with this at all! Our family is specifically built and called to adoption.  Others are definitely called and gifted to be amazing foster parents.  Some of those get the privilege of becoming a forever family for their foster child.  BUT that is not the norm.  Fostering requires a willingness to care for, even if it's at a distance, the well being of the birth family. It requires that you be looking forward to that family being able to be reunited despite your sadness in missing this little person who was part of your family for a season.  You cannot be an effective foster parent if your focus is on if you get to "keep" them or not!  That is a fast way to heart break (we did this so we experienced it first hand!).  

10. How does foster care work?  I am not an expert on the foster care system per se, but I can give you some basic facts that may help you if you are feeling a tug to be a foster parent.  Also realize much is different from state to state.  This one of the toughest, messiest paths you could ever walk full of joy, beauty, and pain. One foster parent described her household as "one glorious hot mess"!  That is just the reality when you are parenting hurting children.  

It is also one of the biggest needs!  There are more than 250,000 kids entering the foster care system through no fault of their own EVERY YEAR!! If you are interested you begin the process by contacting your local county OR a private agency.  You'll want to just google foster care in your area and see what comes up.  Large cities tend to have several private agencies you can go through.  I'd urge you to talk with both county and agency families to get a feel of the best way to go.  

Once you decide which way to go, you'll have to go through training classes, have a home study that will involve several home visits, and complete more paperwork than you ever thought possible!  Once you are licensed, you'll have to complete continuing ed hours every year to keep your license current. 

When you have a placement you'll sometimes go to court hearings, you'll take the child to visits with the birth family, therapy, dr appts, etc.  You'll be their school advocate.  They will often have a CASA, a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate, that will spend one-on-one time with them and give input in court about how they think the child is doing.  They will also have a CASA or Guardian Ad Litem Attorney that is their court advocate.  They will also have a case worker or social worker who works at the local DFCS office.  Their reality is having 25-50 cases on their case load! 

Most states now give birth families 12 months to show progress on their case plan.  The reality is that we don't always agree that progress has been made when the courts or social worker think it has.  Foster parents have no rights to that child so they have to abide by what the courts decide.  The case plan can be regular drug testing, completing a drug rehab program, consistent housing, a job, parenting classes, or the like.  

If parents make adequate progress, and it's awesome when you see them really get it together, then visits will increase and become overnights. Gradually they will transition back home.  Ideally you will remain a source of mentorship for the birth family.  I've seen this happen and it's wonderful!  

However, if at the 12 month mark no progress has been made, the social worker will request a TPR or Termination of Parental Rights.  This can be appealed but it is rarely overturned.  Most states allow 30 days for the appeal so the children's permanency plan can move along.  Once TPR happens, they will want the children placed permanently ASAP. The permanency plan will start by looking for a relative or close friend who would adopt the child.  They usually already know about his because they look for this for the long-term foster placement in the beginning. The next step, if there is no one, would be for the foster family to adopt or have legal guardianship of the child.  If the foster family does not desire to adopt them then a family is looked for that would be a good fit for them.  

Sadly the permanent plan for many ends up being a group home after group home after foster home until they age out.  They age out at 18 unless they are taking college or some sort of schooling.  In that case they age out at 21.  

11. List of ways you can serve other than fostering or adopting:

  • Cook a monthly or weekly meal for a local foster family.  Our family has 7 kids adopted from foster care.  We homeschool and we have 2 therapists (right now, may increase soon!) that come to our house for between 4-6 hours weekly.  Most foster children have weekly visits with birth parents that may involve a long drive.  What a blessing it is to have someone call and say, "I'm bringing dinner tomorrow night!" and they show up with a pot of soup or pizza!  
  • Mentor a teenage foster child.  STICK WITH THEM when they age out at 18 or 21.  That is so key to their survival!  And we want them to not just survive but thrive!!  
  • Tutor or minister to men or women in jail.  Many are still hurting just as much as they were when they were an abused child.  
  • Come along side a struggling family or single mom.  Don't just drop off Christmas.  Invest in their lives!  A friend of mine met a woman who is single, has a toddler, and was in an abusive relationship.  Now my friend is a busy homeschool mom with 3 kids.  But she also knew in her heart God was telling her to get involved.  She asked if she could help with childcare so mom could work.  She helped mom get a safe place to live away from the abusive person and helped get furniture donated.  She got her hands dirty but she's investing and changing two lives!
  • Find an elderly widow and do yard work for her twice a month.  This is great to do with the whole family!  Really teaches service and while she's not an orphan she is lonely!  Bring cookies and hot chocolate and stick around to chat with her!  
  • Volunteer to babysit for a large foster or adoptive family.  You'll probably need to get background checked, just ask.  When you have hurting kids, you love them but you give a lot emotionally.  A night out with your spouse is a HUGE gift!  
  • "Adopt" a child through an organization like Compassion International.  We have learned so much about the country of Ethiopia and what it means to be truly poor by learning about the life of our compassion child.  It gives our very entitled children :) a sense of reality!  Link: Compassion International
  • Help your kids have a sale of some sort to raise funds specifically to donate.  We did a lemonade sale and they used the money to buy a water filter that will last the lifetime of a child and their family to give them clean water!  Another family uses Christmas money to each pick out a gift for a family in a 3rd World Country (a goat, a sewing machine, seeds for planting) instead of receiving gifts themselves.  Talk about a lesson for the kids!
  • Volunteer as a family at a shelter.  We have taken our kids as young as 4 to a long-term shelter for women and children to serve dinner.  It was in a very safe area (important if taking kiddos) and the kids played together, helped serve dinner, and got to see the 2 large rooms the 200 or so residence all shared.  It was a quiet ride home before my 8 year old began to cry and asked if we could give our Christmas gifts to someone who wouldn't get any.  We had a bare tree and 4 very content kids that Christmas.  :)  
  • Hold a yearly Operation Christmas Child Party.  Encourage friends to shop year round for gifts.  This provides hope for a needy child in another country!  I have a friend that does that and she sent over 100 boxes this year with the help of her friends!  LINK: Operation Christmas Child

Articles/Websites with more information:

Focus on the Family...Adoption Article

Facts about Children Aging Out of Foster Care

This site focuses on Infertility challenges and Adoption.  A Wealth of information!  http://www.creatingafamily.org/

Myths about Domestic Infant Adoption:  http://www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=522

Lots of info about adopting Waiting Kids:  Adopt US Kids