Ten tips for Adopting an Infant from the Foster Care System
Many people believe there are no infants available for adoption in the United States, or that you have to be willing to spend up to $40,000 to adopt one, but this is not true.
In 2009 my partner and I had the joy of bringing home a beautiful baby girl home from the hospital. We fostered her until her birth mom’s parental rights were terminated and then adopted her when she was 11 months old.
During our foster/adoption journey, I learned some things about how to increase your chances for adopting an infant from the foster care system.
1. Before you begin, you and your spouse should do research on foster care, adoption from the foster care system, the home study process, and special needs adoption.
Make sure that you both know about the process and are prepared for what lies ahead. When you both realize what lies ahead, and that your are prepared to go the distance, then and only then should you call your local Children’s Services/Department of Social Services to ask about taking classes for foster care and adoption.
Make sure that your relationship is very strong, your finances are stable, and you have absolutely nothing to hide. The home study process can be very stressful and I often tell people that the home study worker knows more about me than any other person on earth.
2. Call your Department of Social Services Department to inquire about foster care and adoption.
Be aware that if you say you are only interested in adoption, you will likely be told there are only older children with special needs available for adoption. Tell them you are aware of that but you would like to foster younger children and would be open to adoption should the children become available. We were approved for up to 3 children ages 0 to 10. We told them we were willing to consider sibling groups also.
When you start the foster care classes, be aware that the minute you walk in the door, the system is assessing your ability to foster/adopt. Be careful what you do and say, but be honest. I sat in classes with prospective parents who asked questions and made some statements that did not sound good to the home study assessors.
The first part of the classes will deal with rules and the home study process. It will seem overwhelming at first. It is meant to because it screens out people who aren’t really serious. If you hear something that makes no sense to you, don’t argue with the presenters. Just take it in, discuss it with your spouse at home, and come back the next week.
For instance, I sat in classes with people who argued about why they couldn’t leave their foster children with relatives who hadn’t been fingerprinted. It did not do any good to argue with the presenter and it made a bad impression.
3. Keep your options open.
You will be asked to fill out a Child Study Inventory. It will list pages of child characteristics of children that you are willing to foster/adopt. Keep an open mind but don’t say you are willing to foster/adopt a child with a certain characteristic if you are not able to do so. For instance, if you a comfortable fostering a child who has been exposed to drugs, don’t check that characteristic. On the other hand, the more open and willing you are to children who are non-Caucasian and have special needs, the more likely you are to get an infant placed in your home.
However, if the placement department calls you and asks you to take a child or sibling group that meets your criteria, you need to take them, because in my experience if you say no to a placement you will be less likely to be called the next time. Placement workers are very busy people. They are most likely to call foster parents who they think will say yes.
4. If you have any hesitation whatsoever about fostering/adopting a child of another race, I ask you not to do it.
You need to be prepared for the fact that by adding a child of color to your family, your entire family will be automatically identified as a family of color. If you don’t already have a racially and culturally integrated social circle and community, transracial adoption is probably not for you.
5. Before you fill out the child study inventory, do some research.
Make sure you understand what all the characteristics mean such as drug-exposed, drug addicted, fetal alcohol syndrome, mental retardation, Reactive attachment disorder, encopresis (soiling), and others. Find out what the implications are for fostering, and potentially adopting, a child with these characteristics.
6. If you can make it happen, set up your home for at least three children with 2 beds and a crib.
This will allow you to keep your options open. Oftentimes, I have found that foster parents who got potentially adoptable infants placed with them already had one or two foster placements in the home. You don’t want an infant to become available and you don’t have any room available in your home.
7. Accept foster placements that are not infants and do a really good job.
I believe this is the key that worked for us. We had a foster daughter for over a year and we treated her like our own child and the foster care workers noticed. They knew that we really cared about children and wanted to make a difference in their lives. We were nominated for “Foster Parents of the Year.”
8. Network – Make yourself visible in the foster care community.
Get to know trainers, caseworkers, other foster parents, and adoption workers. Go to foster care events. Join the foster care association if your agency has one. One foster parent I know volunteered at the Intake office.
We went to some Lifebook scrapbooking events, foster care events, foster care association meetings, and networked with other foster parents at our church.
9. Let people know you are ultimately looking to adopt an infant but you are willing to foster older children as well.
I think it’s o.k. to be honest about what you want. Honestly, after we took the classes we realized we were very willing to consider an older child and/or a sibling group, but deep down there was still that desire to bring a newborn home from the hospital.
10. When the placement call comes, listen to the worker and write everything down. Tell her you need to discuss the situation with your spouse and call her right back.
You will likely be told a series of characteristics of the placement. You want to be sure that both you and your spouse are willing and able to foster this infant/child. In your excitement to be a parent, you may say yes to any placement, particularly a newborn, but you need to ask the following questions:
1. Was there drug exposure?
2. Are there other children and where are they?
3. Have relatives been contacted about taking the infant?
4. How long is the placement likely to last?
5. Does the child have any health problems?
6. When does the child need to be picked up?
Lastly, realize that a foster care placement, even an infant, may not be permanent. When my first foster placement left our home, I was devastated. A person who had been a foster parent for a long time said the best parents get very attached to their children and their children to them. She told me that a child can learn to read anytime but if you don’t learn attachment early in life, you never will.