Why Some Parents Wait Longer
As a prospective foster or adoptive parent, you may feel frustrated waiting for a child placement, especially when you hear ads recruiting new foster or adoptive parents and you have been approved for a long time. One of the reasons why parents wait so long is they are waiting for different children than the ones who are in need of families.
You might ask:
- Why are children waiting for families when there are families who have been approved to adopt?
- Why aren’t the matches being made between the children and families?
One obstacle preventing matches between children and families is that many prospective adoptive parents are waiting for children who are not likely to be available. For example, many parents are waiting to adopt infants. Many parents are determined to adopt an infant or toddler, but that’s not who is waiting.
Most children who are available for adoption are:
- Between the ages of 6 and 18 years old
- Part of a sibling group who need to stay together
- From diverse ethnic backgrounds
- Children with emotional and behavioral difficulties
There are also many adults who, after becoming licensed as foster parents, wait indefinitely for foster children to be placed with their family. Again, if prospective foster parents have a narrow range for the type of children they will accept into their family, their waiting time will most likely be longer.
Another reason parents may wait longer is because their personal needs may be different than the needs of their community. For example, some parents may be waiting to adopt from their county, while currently their county might not have any children waiting to be adopted. At the same time, the county might have a pressing need for foster families. In another county a prospective foster family may wait indefinitely for a foster child if the county has an abundance of experienced foster families and a limited number of children in care. Other counties may have a more immediate need for resource families—families who first serve as foster families, then help children as they transition back into their birth families, or later adopt them if reunification is not possible.
Expanding Your View
If your desire to become a parent is greater than your need to get a specific child, you may want to look at how you can widen your comfort zone and open your heart to children you might not have considered before.
Taking a Closer Look
The reality is that all of the children from the foster care system will need a family to help them heal from their past. Most of these children live with pain from their early childhood, grief from their losses, anger, learning gaps, and social, emotional, and behavioral issues. Many will need help catching up in school and some may have more serious problems. Adoptive parent Therese says, “Adults who decide to care for a child from the foster care system need to realize they are signing up to be a therapeutic family 24-7.” Parents of these children will need to do whatever they can to try to help their child/children heal.
Analyzing the Kind of Child You Can Parent
When adoptive and foster parents consider children they would want to include in their families, they need to look at their strengths. Some may feel they are talented helping children with physical disabilities, while others know they are gifted helping children with social and emotional problems. Other parents may have already successfully raised children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and are willing to foster or adopt children with ADHD. Some diagnoses such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) might overwhelm certain parents, while others who are willing to parent a child with FASD know they must surround themselves with support services and take each day one step at a time.
Most agencies provide a checklist on which prospective parents check off the behaviors, diagnoses, and medical conditions they feel they will not be able to handle. Parker, who four years ago decided to adopt with his wife Meg, said recently, “There were a lot of things I checked off. Now, when I think back about that list, I realize we have handled most of the things I thought we couldn’t.”
There are a lot of parents who have adopted older children and sibling groups and have handled more than they ever thought possible. Think about where your individual talents or your strengths as a couple lie and look deeper at your capabilities and the children you might be able to help heal from their past.
Some prospective parents say they want a young child, and yet after they think about it, realize they have a special rapport with teenagers and decide maybe their place is to nurture teens, help them heal emotionally and physically, and prepare them to enter the adult world with skills and confidence. All children eventually become teenagers, and if you are skilled with teens, think about starting where the need is great.
Below are some questions to ask yourself:
- What does it mean to be a therapeutic parent and am I willing to do it?
- What qualities do I have that help me relate to older children or children with special needs?
- What are my talents?
- Who will support me?
- How can I expand my network of support?
- What am I willing to learn to help me parent children with special needs?
- What will I do to get more experience parenting older children or children with special needs?
|Waiting for the Son of Her Dreams|
Thinking back 23 years ago when she was waiting to adopt a child, Mary recalled a worker at Children’s Home Society who asked parents to go home and dream of their child. Eager and obedient, Mary went home and dreamed of her son. Over time she had vivid dreams of him, sometimes clearly picturing his face. When CHS finally called with a referral, Mary was surprised to be offered a little girl, but she didn’t let her dream son stop her from opening her heart to a different child. Over the years, more children—all from the foster care system—found their way into Mary’s heart and home and she adopted three more girls and three boys.
Then one day Mary was sitting in a room filled with social workers and child protection advocates who were all trying to find the best family for two brothers who had been abused by their birth parents and foster parents. When the boys were escorted into the room, Mary gasped in recognition of the older boy. “There he is!” she cried. Everyone was confused until she told them about her dream.
More than anything, she says her life changed long ago when she allowed herself to dream and believe she could have a child. “I don’t mean dreaming of the perfect child, but dreaming of the possibility of a child; sending your good feelings and longing out into the universe so that it can return to you.” Mary came from a family of nine children and now Lamar and his younger brother, Danté are her eighth and ninth children. She waited a long time to meet Lamar in person and while she waited, her life was full, rich, and filled with love for all her children.
Thinking About Different Parenting Options
If you have been waiting too long, you might want to think about other parenting options. For example, even when you know the need for permanent families is greater for older children, but you still want the experience of parenting younger children, you might want to consider becoming a foster parent, treatment foster parent, resource parent, or respite care provider. It is more likely that you will have the opportunity to parent younger children in one of these roles. Your role as a parent can be significant and meaningful to you and the children in your care, even if it is not permanent.
Descriptions of those roles are:
- Foster families commit to loving and caring for children for various lengths of time. Typically, you work to help the child reunify with their birth family members. If reunification is not possible with birth parents or relatives, foster parents would be encouraged to adopt.
- Treatment foster families provide temporary care to children who may have more serious challenges. They receive extensive training to help them provide integrated treatment services to children who have severe problems.
- Resource families provide immediate foster care to children, many of whom are eight or younger. At the same time they are also part of a team who actively works toward reunifying children with their birth families. In addition, resource parents commit to the possibility of adoption if reunification cannot take place. A resource parent’s primary role is to care for the children while their parents get their lives in order and prepare to resume their role as parents. They mentor the birth parents to help them reunify with their children. Only if it becomes clear that reunification is not possible with birth parents or relatives and parental rights are terminated, do resource parents begin the adoption process. Resource parents need to develop additional supports and resources to help them maintain that keen balance between their roles of fostering, mentoring and adopting.
- Respite care providers take care of other birth, foster, and adoptive parents’ children to allow the parents to take a short break or have extended time away from their children. Respite care providers care for children at regularly scheduled times on an hourly basis, for a weekend, or even a week. They get a chance to see what it is like to provide 24-hour care to children and have the added luxury of taking time to reflect upon the successes and the challenges of the visit. Respite care providers offer a needed service to birth, foster, and adoptive families, but also receive great training for future full-time parenting.
Note that you shouldn’t become a foster parent simply in the hopes of adopting. Reunification with the birth family is the primary goal and adoption is only recommended after all resources for uniting the children to their extended birth families are exhausted.
Whatever you decide to do needs to fit with who you are and what your goals are. If you have been waiting for a long time you might want to ask yourself if you are being too particular, if your needs match with your county’s or agency’s needs, or if the child you want to parent will be realistically available within a reasonable amount of time. You may want to look beyond an unattainable ideal child and explore becoming a parent to the children who have been waiting a long time for a family to nurture and love them.
The Power of a Loving Bond
When Therese adopted Anthony, he left a therapeutic foster family who had cared for him for more than three years. They had many services already in place for him, helped him transition to his new family, coached Therese through her early months as a parent, and continue a loving relationship even now.
Therese knew Anthony had significant problems. Congenital deafness ran in Anthony’s family and although he was not deaf, he didn’t learn to talk until he was four and placed in his foster family. She also knew he had prenatal exposure to alcohol. Therese admits that when she attended the training to become an adoptive parent, she had her sights set on a younger child and most of what she heard or read about FASD frightened her. When she met Anthony, she fell in love with him. Not in a day or all at once, but Therese says, “When parents fall in love with their child, they make things work out. They learn what they have to do to make it work.”
Early on Anthony taught Therese how to play a special game. He lay on a blanket, asked her to roll him up like a burrito, pull the blanket away from his face, and then read the pretend note in his hair from his birth mother asking Therese to take good care of him. Interestingly, the game provided Anthony with something his body requires: deep pressure sensory stimulation that is therapeutically helpful to children with FASD. It also gave him a chance to give himself as a gift to his mother and allowed her to receive him with joy over and over again.