As an adoptive parent, and someone who works with adoptive and prospective adoptive parents every day, there are a few questions I answer frequently: why is adoption so expensive, why do I have to jump through so many hoops, and can I really adopt for free from foster care? Often times people mistakenly think that adoption from foster care was going to be (a) easy and (b) free. I wanted to respond to those misconceptions and provide a counterpoint from someone who has more experience with adoption and working with the foster care system.
First, the goal of the foster care system is NOT to provide low-cost or free adoptions to people looking to adopt. The goal of the foster care system is to keep children safe and help them form secure attachments while their families work towards reunification. If reunification is not possible, the secondary goal is to find a permanent home for that child, generally with a family who has demonstrated they have experience in parenting children who often have experienced severe trauma. I am contacted, often, by parents who want to adopt but don’t want to have to “deal with” all the requirements of the foster care system or the expenses associated with adoption through an agency or lawyer. “Why should good people have to jump through all these hoops?” they ask.
In any adoption, prospective parents must complete a home study. Many adoptive parents see this as an unnecessarily tedious and burdensome task. Each state has its own requirements and steps that must be completed to pass a home study, some more complicated than others. For foster care, parents do not pay for the home study itself but only for whatever updates to their home are required to pass.
For adoptive parents seeking to adopt through a lawyer or agency, not only do they have to pay for any required updates, but the home study itself, done through a private agency, costs thousands of dollars. This can be a hard pill to swallow initially for parents looking to adopt through any avenue: the thought of a stranger coming into their home, asking them very personal questions, and inspecting their home itself. Many prospective adoptive parents go into the home study with a defensive attitude. They think the home study worker’s goal is to find fault with them, to find some minute detail about them so they can disqualify them from proceeding with an adoption. Some people seem to be under this impression, and describes the home study as a process where people were out to get them, to make them pay for “unnecessary” updates to their home, to make the process more difficult for them.
However, this could not be further from the truth. Home study social workers, whether they are doing a home study for foster care or private adoption, are not out to get you. They do not take joy in telling people they are unqualified to adopt. In fact, many of these social workers have often worked in adoption or in the foster care system in some other position, and have seen the need, have seen how many children are waiting for a loving home, and are eager to find those families. Maybe they’ll tell you you have to buy a lock box for your meds, or install up-to-code windows, or clear everything from under those windows, like they did for the author of this article. If you find those tasks unreasonable and unduly burdensome, I’m not going to sugar coat this: you have no business parenting children who have experienced trauma. Even children adopted at birth experience the trauma of being separated from their first families. If you think buying a lockbox if too difficult, good luck parenting a teenager who thinks they are not worthy of love. The home study process is a walk in the park compared to the lifetime of challenges of parenting any child, let alone a child who has experienced severe trauma.
I would suggest that anyone considering fostering do one thing: talk to adults who were part of the foster care system as children. Listen to them when they tell you about the unfit homes they were shuttled to and from with a plastic bag full of what few possessions they have. Listen to them talk about how they chose to live on the street rather than stay in a system where they felt even more unsafe. Read about the innumerable children who have died at the hands of abusive foster parents, who have died on the street because they never found an adoptive family, who were poached by human traffickers because they were so desperate to belong somewhere that a pimp convinced them he was their family. All of the hoops of the home study exist to try to prevent these things. The homestudy exists to keep children out of homes that are dangerous for them, or homes where they would not be given the appropriate attention and therapeutic parenting. Even with these safeguards in process, there are still homes that get approved for foster care that should never have been approved in the first place, because they were not going into foster care for the right reason.
If you want to add to your family, that is understandable. Adoption is how I built my family. But know that your joy in adopting comes at the expense of your child’s first family and also your child. You are not a hero for adopting, even from foster care, even if you are “willing” to adopt an older child. This shouldn’t be about you or your ego or your desire to present yourself to the world as a “good person.” If you want to mentor a young person, there are innumerable ways to do that and you can go home and pat yourself on the back all you want. But do not use a child, a child who has undoubtedly experienced trauma you can’t even fathom, as a means to polish your own halo.