This year marks the 23rd annual observance of November as National Adoption Month, an opportunity to raise awareness and understanding among those who recognize that adoption can be a viable option for an estimated 118,000 children in foster care who are awaiting permanent placement with a forever family. The first statewide initiative along these lines traces its roots to 1976 when Massachusetts designated an Adoption Week to draw attention to issues that impact foster children and parents who are looking to navigate the adoption system.
The adoption system is both confusing and complex, partly due to the stakes involved, and partly due to long-time commonly-held beliefs that date back decades to a different time and a very different cultural milieu. Whereas there was once a social stigma associated with women giving birth out-of-wedlock, today it’s a relatively common situation involving some 40 percent of births. A process that was once fulfilled on a largely local scale now involves open communication and is fulfilled across state lines and even international boundaries.
While today’s adoptions take place in a dynamic and fast-changing world, there are some issues that remain the same. For example, the range of emotions experienced by families and children — guilt, uncertainty or doubt — have not changed over time. Also, children who are placed in foster care homes carry with them the stated intent of ultimately returning to their birth families, assuming that option is in their best interests. Finally, children are categorized as being in foster care up until the very moment an adoption is finalized. There really isn’t any middle ground.
As you can imagine, there are substantive differences between being a foster parent and being an adoptive parent. Some of these differences are obvious, while others are nuanced. For foster parents, it’s understood that the full responsibility for legal, financial and decision-making ultimately rests with the birth parents and/or the coordinating agency. Once an adoption takes place, however, the adoptive parents absorb those responsibilities.
Given the seriousness associated with these differences, placement agencies and the court system put considerable emphasis on ensuring that there’s a smooth transition between foster care and adoption. That’s why nearly all agencies follow a detailed four-step process that focuses on a home study analysis plus in-depth orientation, preparation and training designed to help families adapt to a new scenario. The common objective is to minimize disruption and surprises.
Debunking common myths and misconceptions around adults who want to adopt
But no amount of planning can account for every contingency that might arise in the adoption of a foster child (or children), and there are multiple myths and misperceptions about the adoption process that deter families from considering it as an option. Here are seven common myths associated with adoption that have been identified by the Children’s Bureau of the United States Department of Health and Human Services:
- You don’t need to be affluent. Placements are made with families at all levels of the economic spectrum. In fact, more than 90 percent of adopting families qualify for a subsidy of approximately $800 per month to adopt a child with “special needs,” a term that each state defines differently but typically refers to a child’s age, situation, development, race or mental/physical health. The principal requirement is that adoptive parents can provide a safe environment for the health of the child, and to meet their social and emotional needs.
- You don’t need to own your home. Plenty of placements are made with families who rent their living accommodations.
- You don’t need to be married. While some states do require a couple to be married, approximately 30 percent of adoptive parents nationwide are single.
- You don’t need to be young. While some adoptive parents are of child-bearing age and facing fertility issues, others are empty nesters. It depends on the parties involved. Each case is unique.
- You don’t need to engage an attorney. While each adoption does involve a legal requirement called the “termination of parental rights” (or TPR) as it’s applied to the family of origin, that process can be achieved in a variety of ways.
- You don’t need to be living in a traditional heterosexual relationship. There’s a large umbrella that encourages parents of all gender preferences to adopt. The material question is whether or not the permanent home can provide a place where love, respect, dignity and support prevail.
- You don’t need to be perfect to be a perfect parent. A compassionate heart and an empathetic perspective or worldview may make you an excellent candidate to become an adoptive parent.
If you are considering fostering or fostering to adopt, here are some commonly asked questions to consider.
Charting a path from foster parent to adoptive parent
There are many reasons why the path from foster parent to adoptive parent is easier or less complicated than if the process does not first involve foster care. First, there may be more realistic expectations for all parties involved, simply because the coordinating agency has a better background on the adoptive parents who, in turn, have a better understanding of what’s involved in becoming a permanent parent. Second, there’s probably less fear for those who see improved continuity in terms of the neighborhood, schools, pets and other details of the new home’s environment. Third, the entire system is likely to give current foster parents preference or priority over those seeking to become adoptive parents. It’s only natural for this to be true. This fact alone will shorten and streamline the adoption process.
It is through this prism that prudent, forward-looking organizations like SAFY — a provider of adoption and foster care services which helps 15,000 people each year — are working to make sure that we’re part of the solution that encourages adoptions from foster care to take place more frequently and more consistently. We are committed to preserving families and securing futures. The approach we’re taking at SAFY is simple and straight-forward — focus our energy on demystifying how people think about adoptions and foster care. By providing more communications and access to resources, we can help deliver improved outcomes for families and foster children.
Learn more about becoming a foster parent.