Adopting From Foster Care Is A Financial Nightmare

We Weren’t Prepared For The Cost Of Adopting a Child From Foster Care

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All we want is a son.

We’re asking for a teenage boy between the ages of 15 and 16. I’ve long wanted to adopt an older child from foster care, and my husband, a high school teacher, says that’s his favorite age. We also understand that teens are in danger of aging out of the system without a family. As of September 2015, the latest time from which data was available, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System Report showed 111,820 kids in the US waiting to be adopted —  19% of them between ages 13-18.

We are asking for a teenage boy, race unimportant (we have committed ourselves to learning about, and potentially continuing to learn about, parenting children of other races), who will not hurt our three biological children or kill the dogs. You’d think the state would be eager to let us adopt, especially considering that my state has a particularly high number of children for adoption.

Nope.

The process of getting together our homestudy, or the proof that our house is fit for an adoptive child, has been much more expensive than we were anticipating. It’s only been possible because in addition to being a stay-at-home mom, I have a decent-paying side job. Obviously, the state needs proof that people will be fit parents to these children; as Lifting the Veil details, the abuse many children suffer in the supposed safe haven of foster care is horrific.

However, I fail to see how many of the policies and procedures we’ve been forced to adhere to further the goal of making loving families for children. Instead, they drag everyone down in a mire of bureaucracy.

Take, for instance, windows. Obviously, a child’s room needs windows. We live in a one-story home. Our state social services has decreed that every bedroom — not just the child’s — must have windows that open to 5 square feet of space because, you know, fire hazards. Five square feet is enormous. Ours open to perhaps 4 square feet, enough for any grown person to shimmy through. Because we don’t meet the state window requirements, we have two choices: replace the windows at a staggering cost, or get interconnected wireless smoke alarms, at a less staggering cost.

The state fire marshal talked me through it. We need eight fire alarms at about $30 a pop. With tax, around $250 later, we had our smoke alarms. Which blare migraine-inducing sirens through the house when I so much as cook hot dogs.

Those windows also need to be clear to the floor. That means you can’t have anything in front of them: no toys, no shoes, no desks, no low bookshelves. It cost us another several hundred in redoing the master bedroom to make that happen, because apparently, in the event of a fire, I can’t be trusted to clamber over an Ikea cube storage shelf.

Then there are the pet vaccines. We keep our dogs mostly up-to-date, but there are three of them, and sometimes things that are not rabies slide for a few months. Not now. Our department of health demands full vaccination records on every pet in the house, which means every vaccination your vet recommends, and you know if you’ve been to the vet, that they recommend you vaccinate your dog against everything this side of the fleas. Vet visits, which we’ve had to do twice now because they demand them yearly, cost us $125-150 per dog. That’s a whopping $450. You’d think a rabies tag would suffice.

And then we needed physicals. Social services lost my physical form, so I had to do it once and I’ll have to do it again. That’s three kid physicals, with whatever that copay cost us, plus three adult physicals and labs, because they demand a current TB test. Then I needed to make a special appointment with my psychiatrist to snag a letter saying that I was compliant with my psych meds. She’s reeeeeeeeeallly pricey. I’d understand if she had to evaluate my ability to parent another kid, but no — the state just wants to know that I down my pills as directed.

Which, by the way, must be locked up. I don’t mean babyproofed. We have to actually lock up all the meds: all prescription meds, all over-the-counter meds, everything down to the last Advil. I take 7-8 prescription meds a day. My husband is asthmatic and gets bad seasonal allergies. I have three kids. So, yeah, we have a lot of over-the-counter meds. I needed two giant Lowes toolboxes to fit everything. Which cost me a ton of money — but that was the cheap option. Real medication lockboxes run around $160 bucks each, and we’d have needed two. Now, if you want an Advil in my house, you have to  find the padlock key and go diving under my bed for a toolbox.

But that isn’t all social services wants locked up. I’d joke that it might be the Tide Pod craze, but social services isn’t that savvy — they just impose the same rules on everyone, logic be damned. So despite the fact that the child we’re adopting is too old to accidentally chug a bleach smoothie, we have to secure all cleaning supplies and dangerous chemicals behind baby-proof locks. Which a teen could open anyway. Which he will, because damn if he won’t be learning how to wash laundry or throw in a load of dishes.

And just in case he gets a mind to stick a fork in a socket, social services requires a cover on every electrical outlet. Even in the ones behind the couch. Even in the ones on the extension cord behind the couch. So we were in hock for all the babyproofing supplies — the cost of which has skyrocketed since we last bought them in 1999.

Basically, if we weren’t financially fortunate, we’d have given up this dream, this kid, long ago. Because none of this includes the basic costs of getting ready for another kid: the mattress, the bedclothes for a bed, the phone charger for his bedroom, a desk, a dresser, lamps. The cost to redo your other kids’ room so they all share one space, instead of being spread out over two. The time off work to meet with social workers. The time your friends spend babysitting your kids so you can meet the social workers. The gas to drive back and forth to social services to hand over your documents in person, because you want to make sure that they actually get turned over to a human being and not lost in some bureaucratic graveyard of stacked paper.

It’s enough to make you cry (I have, especially when they lost that physical form). It’s enough to make you rage (I have, especially when I realized we’d have to redo the master bedroom). It’s enough to make you feel that this will never, ever happen, that you’re tilting at windmills, that you’ll never be able to gather all these papers in your arms at once and dump them in some social worker’s lap and say, here. Can we talk about actual kids now?

But I have to believe. I have to believe that somewhere, my son is waiting. I am terrified that, like 14% of kids in foster care, he’s languishing in a group home. I am terrified he goes to sleep thinking no one wants him. I just want to bring him home, whoever he is. I am a mother who does not yet know her child. And all these rules, all this financial outlay — it just adds to the vast span of time that he feels unwanted. That he has no home. That he has no one.

If we were poorer, we would have dropped out as soon as we needed interconnected wireless smoke alarms. And then our son would age out, would never have a home. I know adoptive parents drop out when they find out the requirements. I know loving homes remain closed because they can’t cope with the draconian requirements, with the byzantine bureaucracy. Kids need homes. And we have to make it easier to get them there.

For more information about adopting from foster care, please visit www.adoptuskids.com