The Big Problem Facing Foster-to-Adopt Families

The Big Problem Facing Foster-to-Adopt Families

In honor of November being National Adoption Month, Portrait of an Adoption is running a special series called 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days.  Designed to give a voice to the many different perspectives of adoption, this series will feature guest posts by adoptees, birthparents, adoptive parents, waiting adoptive parents, and foster parents-turned-adoptive parents.  Painful and beautiful, these stories will bring you a deeper understanding of what adoption looks like, allowing you to appreciate the many brushstrokes that comprise a family portrait.

The Big Problem Facing Foster-to-Adopt Families

By Betsy White

I don’t recall many of the conversations my husband and I had leading up to our decision to adopt.  I had always known that I would.  Well, maybe not always, but definitely since I was around 20.  *Which was around 20 years ago now*.

I was director of my family’s preschool, and one day I remember thinking that if any of the children in my care needed a family, I wouldn’t think twice about having them as my own. Fast forward… past years of not getting pregnant, having “testing” done to appease our families, and countless wait and see moments.

There must have been one major conversation between Hubby and me that led us to the web looking up foreign and domestic adoption. We knew people who had done one or the other.  Of course, depending on who you are speaking with, they will tell you domestic is the way to go.  No, foreign is the way. No… domestic.  Wait.

We ruled aside (aside — not totally out — because when you start delving into adoption, nothing is truly “out” for most of us) foreign adoption.  We had neither the money nor time available to wholeheartedly pursue it.  During those deliberations, my mother called to tell me that she had discussed our situation with the cable guy.

Okay, anyone in this process surely has an equal family member that chats up every stranger, spilling your deepest trials and tribulations.  Well, said cable guy told her that he and his wife had adopted a baby from the foster system and that it had been wonderful.

At this point, after chiding myself for letting my mother in on anything happening in my life, an alarm went off.  Did she just say “foster system”?  Well my friends, THAT = Social Services.  Why on EARTH would I want to throw myself into that?  I quickly hung up the phone, only to pick it up and make an appointment with a high-priced adoption attorney.

High-priced wasn’t even the half of it.  The meeting with the attorney left us reeling.  The $, the family book, the ads, the $, the…. When we got home, I cried.  Nothing, it seemed, was “right” for “us”.  So, I went to our county’s social services website and looked up adoption.

A week later we were sitting in a meeting with the head of their foster-to-adopt program.  There is something really depressing about older government buildings.  I felt the wind sucked out of me as we walked in.  However, our meeting was a HUGE eye-opener.  We left feeling like this could really be IT!

Could mom’s cable guy be right?

A week later, we signed the papers to start the process.  The process included hours and hours of classes, the home study, background checks and other various sized hoops to lob ourselves through.  I believe it took us seven months to become official.  Official = officially able to wait.  We were foster-to-adopt parents.  We were waiting for a girl, birth-to-two years old, with or without (there are about 100 different boxes you get to check or leave blank at this point).

“They” said it could take up to two years for a placement.  Plus, with this system, once you have a placement your life remains in limbo for an unforeseen amount of time while the biological parents do battle to regain custody of the child.  So the seasons came and went.  I bought fabulous clothes for an infant and a toddler, not knowing who would be joining us.  I sat in “her” room, just to feel closer to the child that may eventually inhabit it.

Six months later, as I sat at the breakfast table one snowy morning… THE call came.  There was a little girl, just a few days old waiting at the hospital.  The caseworker gave me what background she had on the baby and the biological family… and the “case”.  Then they asked, “Do you want her?”

What kind of question is that?  She told me I should call my husband at work and get his input.  I have a husband?  I already had one foot out the door!  Anyways… Hubby said of course, I ran to get a car seat and met the caseworker at the hospital.  That is where I met my daughter.  I knew it from the moment I saw her.

Now is when the happily ever after should come in.  And it does, but not without a whole host of insanity, smiles and tears.  We were the luckiest people on earth, only we didn’t really feel that way. Biological mom and dad ran off and got married, showed up for some visitations and our caseworker and guardian ad litem kept cheering them on.

We would get calls or visits saying how great the bio-parents were doing and how wonderful it would be if they continued to get it together so that they could have their child back. (Even after losing custody of multiple other children.)


Let’s stop right there. This is the BIG problem facing foster-to-adopt parents.  The “system” wants this child to go back to their bio-family.  Meanwhile, the secret guilty truth is that you are gnashing your teeth praying that they do something to screw it up because you have bonded with this wonderful little person and they belong to YOUR FAMILY!  It is a terrible conflict, and you want what is best for the child you love.

Well, our daughter’s bio-family in the end could not get it together.  After failing to show up for visits, failing to start drug treatment, trips to prison, paternity tests, etc. they dropped off the face of the earth and stopped showing up for court hearings.

Under the best of circumstances in this process for adoptive parents, the court determines at six months whether the status of the case should change from reunification with birth family to adoption non-relative.  Our judge decided adoption.  At eight months, the court terminated the bio-parents’ rights.

Sometime after that, bio-mom called the caseworker and asked if her child was being permanently placed with the “foster” family she had been with.  When our caseworker said “yes”, she replied that she was happy with that.

Finally, at thirteen months old, our little girl became our daughter forever.  It by no means was an easy experience.  But it was worth every smile and tear.

By Betsy White


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    I loved reading your story! You have hit it on the head. As a foster care worker I, too, get incredibly impatient with the system. Court dates get rescheduled 2, 3, even 4 times before we can even SEE the judge, then he gives the birth parents (yet another!) chance. I hate to say it but I have read court reports with both fingers crossed in hopes the drug tests will come back positive. Some cases have dragged on for 2 years or more, as crimminal charges often have to be resolved before the custody issues can be dealt with. But when I go to court to finalize on an adoption it makes it ALL worth it!!!! Not everybody can hang in there like you did. Props & sprinkles to your wonderful family!!!!!!! You inspire me!

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    Great column, Betsy. I adopted my son through foster care. He came to me as a newborn and it took 17 months to get him officially adopted but he was always mine. We, too, went though the back and forth of his parents trying to get their acts together and exhausting visits with them. But it all worked out.
    People should not be so intimidated by the "system." It can and does work. And best of all, the whole adoption process was FREE for me. No legal fees, no ads, no expensive photos.
    Best wishes to you and your family and thanks for sharing.

  • "Finally, after 13 months of being our daughter, our little girl was reunified with her birth mother forever." Other than that ending, our stories have a lot of parallels.

    Rooting for our foster daughter's birth mom, helping her through her ups and downs, then helping her learn how to mother Nina again after her long stint at rehab, all while dying, each day, just a little more on the inside as the time to say goodbye to our closely bonded child drew closer, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I had to ignore my aching mother's heart that yearned to keep the only child I had ever had, the longed-for first child who finally graced our home, our beautiful, intelligent, loving daughter Nina, and prepare another mother to take over that role. All while continuing to love Nina and holding it together around her.

    Devastating to my heart, but that experience made me strong and, I believe, a better, more caring, more compassionate person. If I could think of the one person throughout our foster care experience who has contributed the most to my emotional growth as an adult, it would be Rayna, Nina's mother. She taught me how to set aside egos and come together in the best interests of a child, how to be two mothers loving a child together. I am grateful to have her and Nina in our lives to this day, 3 years later.

    Thanks for writing about foster-to-adopt. Whether or not it results in adoption, when foster care is provided in the way it is meant to be, it is a wonderful thing for a child to receive at a time when he/she needs it most.

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