Adoption is a difficult topic to tackle, as there are many ways that it happens and many different types of adoption: international and domestic adoption, adoption through a private agency, and adoption through foster care. It can be tricky to navigate conversations about adoption because it is odd to talk about bringing someone into a family for a certain “price” as private domestic and international adoptions can be costly. International and domestic adoptions through private agencies, according to Child Welfare Information Gateway can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $50,000. With international and domestic adoptions through private agencies, you may also have to wait for months, even years, to hear of a baby or child available for adoption. These are both beautiful ways to start or grow your family, but it will cost a significant amount of money to adopt privately.
The goal of adoption is to provide a home and family for orphans. While the traditional definition of an orphan is a child who has lost both parents through death, this definition has changed over time to also include children who have been abandoned by their parents. In the United States, this definition can extend even further to include children whose parents’ rights have been relinquished because of abuse, neglect, imprisonment, or maltreatment. In our current culture, these children are those who have been placed into the foster care system, whose parents have not been able to gain back guardianship of them, and who have no biological family (kin) or current foster parents willing to adopt them. When this happens, these children are then available for adoption, and families can adopt children out of the foster care system sometimes free. Essentially, you can change the entire trajectory of a child’s life by providing her with a home and a family through adoption, and it will cost you almost nothing. These children have experienced separation, abandonment, and fear. Through adoption, you can offer them connection, love, care, and most of all, a family to call their own.
Growing up, when I had heard about adoption, it was always tied with a fundraiser that would allow the family to bring their future adopted child home. As a future teacher, I assumed that this meant I would never be able to adopt, and if I did, I would have to fundraise and ask for support. However, when you adopt a child out of the foster care system, it can be free or pretty inexpensive as there are state and federal funding programs for the lawyer and fees. In addition, there are federal adoption assistance programs that help with monthly costs as well as Medicaid. Some states even offer free college tuition for children adopted out of foster care. These resources are extremely helpful as they expand the range of people who are able to adopt.
I found out soon after starting the process to become a foster parent that adopting a child from the foster care system could be nearly free. There is a huge need for children to be adopted out of foster care: over 107,000 children in the foster care system are waiting to be adopted. As an incentive for people to adopt out of foster care, the state provides funding so that there are little to no expenses.
One night, my daughter and I were looking through the photo list of children (you can find the one for your state on Adoption.com). As we clicked through the pages of children in need of homes in Texas (there are 924 of them), my heart broke. In many of their descriptions of themselves, they expressed their desire to find their “forever family.” These are children genuinely seeking what most children take for granted: a loving and caring home. These are children who will age out of the foster care system without a family to support them, leaving them without hope on their journey to adulthood. Clicking through the pages, we noticed a common theme: older children (mostly teenagers) and children with special needs.
My husband and I adopted our children out of the foster care system. Because of our life stage and jobs, we decided to open our home to any kid ages 5-11 when we became foster parents. I am a full-time teacher, and my husband is a full-time youth pastor. We were 26 at the time with no biological children, so teenagers and babies seemed a little daunting. We didn’t intentionally choose “older children” because there was more of a need for that, but now we are passionate about informing people of the need for loving families to adopt older children and children with special needs. The fact that there are older children and children with special needs waiting to be adopted tells us something about “adoption culture” in the United States, that often (not always!), adoption becomes about us and growing our family instead of being about the child who needs a home. There is nothing wrong with adopting babies as that is also a need, but there is definitely a greater need to adopt older children and children with special needs. According to Adoption Network, experts say there are between one and two million people waiting to adopt in the United States. If those one to two million people were willing to adopt one of these older children or children with special needs, we wouldn’t have any children waiting for families. Children would find their forever families, and families would find their precious forever children. I am so glad I chose to open our home to older children because it brought me my two precious kids who have brought so much love and joy to our lives. Yes, we stay up later, worry more, and watch more animated films. Yes, we enter into our children’s suffering every day, trying to help them cope with and navigate the ins and outs of their story, of their pain, and their feelings. I’m thankful for an everyday way that I can exercise kindness and love in my own home.
By adopting a child from the foster care system, you are not only providing a home, but also preventing a very dangerous outcome for them. About 23,000 children will age out of foster care every year, leaving them in the adult world without support, without family, without hope. This increases their chances of becoming homeless, having unwanted pregnancies, dealing with mental health stresses, and being incarcerated. Although we can create programs and mentorship programs for teens who have aged out of foster care, nothing can replace the love and consistency a family can provide. Maybe even consider adopting a child who has already aged out. You can adopt people at any age! No one is too old for a family.
For our family, adopting from foster care was an accident. We signed up to be foster parents, and we checked the box for “foster-to-adopt” just in case. We truly wanted to provide a safe place for kids whose parents were getting back on track. We wanted to be the in-between foster parents, and if that ended in adoption, we would be willing to do so, but it wasn’t our main motivator. In both of our kids’ cases, we started as a foster home, but that in-between ended in forever because when adoption became an option, we couldn’t imagine saying anything but “yes.” They had already become an integral part of our family. We ate together, fought together, danced together, and jumped on the trampoline together. We had already fallen in love with their precious hearts. They had shown us love, fun, joy, and how to be parents. How could we say no?
Adopting children out of the foster care system requires viewing adoption perhaps a little differently. Many people view adoption as a way to grow their family while simultaneously helping a birth mom and child in need. These people see adoption as finding a child that “fits” their family. This isn’t necessarily wrong, but adopting a child from the foster care system necessitates a perspective shift. Adoption through foster care is more about finding a forever family for a child in need. Many of these children have been shuffled around to different foster homes, shelters, and residential centers. They have experienced the trauma of being separated from their birth families and most likely have experienced some sort of abuse, neglect, or drug exposure. Now, their precious faces are stuck on the “waiting to be adopted” website, and, unfortunately, the older they get, the lower their chances are of finding their forever family. Adoption through foster care is not easy, but it is a way that you can truly make a difference in the life of a child, and this type of adoption is nearly free! By providing a family and a forever home for a child, you can provide a space for love and healing that this child may not experience otherwise.
Ways that you can adopt through foster care:
- Foster-to-adopt: Fostering-to-adopt is somewhat of a deceptive term. The term makes it seem like you bring children into your home when they are removed from their biological home, and that eventually, you adopt them. While this can happen, this is not the purpose of foster care and does not always happen. In fact, it usually doesn’t. The purpose of foster care is for children removed from their homes to reunify with their biological parents after they have completed the necessary services to gain guardianship of their children again. Many families have pursued this option in order to be able to adopt, only to be sorely disappointed and heartbroken when the child they have cared for as their own and thought they would be able to adopt returns to his or her biological parents. Therefore, if you choose to pursue adoption through fostering-to-adopt, you need to understand the purpose of foster care and choose to serve the children in your care and look out for their best interests, which many times is returning to their biological parents. Adoption is only an option when the child cannot return to his family, and there are no kinship relationships. If you do end up adopting (this was our story), it is beautiful because you already have some level of established trust with the child in your care since she has been in your home for a significant amount of time, and you just get to continue that legally through adoption. I will warn you: Once you get involved in foster care, it will change your heart, your home, and your life. Check out the article “How to Become a Foster Parent” to learn more about the process of becoming a foster parent.
- Matched Adoption: According to Adoption Network, there are 107,918 children waiting to be adopted. Matched adoption (through foster care) is simply being matched with one of those beautiful children waiting for a forever family. You will have to complete most of the same requirements that foster parents have to complete (see #1). Once you have been matched with a child, he or she will have to be in your home for six months before you are able to adopt. This gives you time to acclimate and adjust to each other.
Some Things to Keep in Mind
- All adopted children (even those adopted as babies) have experienced the “primal wound” (as explained in the book The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier). This primal wound is that they have been separated from their biological parents. This means all adopted children face this initial trauma of separation.
- Children in foster care have experienced another level of trauma because in order to be placed in the foster care system, they have to have faced significant abuse or neglect. This means that adopting children from foster care will require education, therapy, consistency, outside support, and a lot of love. It does not mean that these children are incapable of healing or that they will not heal from their trauma. It will take love, dedication, and lifelong commitment, but they are able to experience healing. And aren’t they deserving of a home, of a family, of love? Isn’t this purpose and goal of adoption?
Adoption through foster care is not easy and is not always the “picture perfect” version of family that you may desire, but it is beautiful and always worth it. As adoption is always born out of loss, there is always brokenness attached to it. But from the ashes comes beauty, from tragedy, triumph is born. And as adoptive parents, we get to provide a safe and healing environment for our children to grow, thrive, and heal. I can tell you firsthand that adopting through foster care will force you to step into the mess that your children have experienced in their past, and it will be difficult. But these children deserve a loving, caring parent who is willing to do that for them. And you and your family will be different and better for it.