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Domestic/International Adoption or Fostering? Both.

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The adoption journey is intensely personal. Each family has to decide what they are best qualified to do and what resources they have available to them when they begin to research their options. For some families, they feel the call to international adoption, some decide domestic infant adoption, and some will work towards an adoption through foster care. They each have their benefits and drawbacks and different types work best for different families.

I have written before about my concerns over the disconnect between the foster community and the international adoption community. These two groups have MUCH in common when they choose to listen to each other. Both are wanting to help kids who have had a rough start in life. The challenges those children can bring into your home are life altering, although so are the benefits. But while you may wait years in the paperwork and fundraising process to adopt internationally or domestically, there are foster children today waiting for families (temporary or permanent ones) in your community.

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My message today is for those of you who are pursuing international or domestic adoption. I love that you’re here reading. I love your heart. I love your passion for kids who need you and your desire to love somebody who didn’t come from your body. I love that you’re willing to invest your time and resources into adding to your family.

I know those of you who are pursuing international adoption have had people say to you, “Why are you spending all that money when there are kids here who need families?” I know how offensive that feels when you are thinking about the child you’re waiting to adopt who has none of the access to education, medical care, or even clean water that a child in foster care takes for granted. I know those of you who are waiting to be picked by a birthmom through the domestic infant adoption process may have had similar questions thrown at you- “Why wait so long and pay so much and then you have to deal with birthfamilies? Why not just get a foster kid?” It is frustrating when you feel a calling to a specific kind of adoption and feel that people are questioning your motives and belittling your choice. I am not here to do that today.

Instead of setting up an either/or situation between adoption and foster care, I would like to encourage you to think about doing both. If there is one universal in adoption these days, it is that it is a time consuming process. Homestudy, paperwork, gathering funds, and then waiting to be picked by a birthmom or waiting on a referral from an orphanage- I tell people to prepare for at least a 2 year process from beginning to end. So what could you be doing during that wait?

What could you be doing that would prepare you for the challenges of adding a child who comes with a history to your family? What would help you learn how to establish a bond and attachment with a child you didn’t birth? What would give you an idea about how your other children will react to a new family member? What might help you adjust to the reactions of others when you’re out with a child who is not color matched to your family? How could you learn if you’re ready to love a child who may not love you back? What process might help you develop a more complete understanding about the birthfamilly situations that might leave a child in need of an adoptive home? What would help you gain respect for the birthmom who makes that selfless decision?

Foster care.

It is possible for you to right now be experiencing a lot of the unknowns of adoption and becoming prepared to take on those challenges. If your heart truly is about caring for children who need care, then this is a great way to find out what that really means before you step into a permanent commitment. Think of it as an interim step during your waiting process. It’s on the job training for what is to come. And who knows what God might ultimately have in mind.

I am suggesting this path to you because it is the path I have taken. While waiting on a pregnancy and then an international adoption, my husband and I were houseparents in a boys home. While waiting on a domestic infant adoption, we got our foster license. The very day our license came in the mail we were called about a baby boy who needed a temporary family. 17 months later we gave that boy our last name and he became our son forever. We opened the door to domestic infant adoption, but God chose foster adoption for us instead.

Yes, there are risks to fostering. The legal system is obviously new to most parents who have only considered adoption. It is hard to deal with visitation and birthfamilies. I will never describe this process as “easy”, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing and that there aren’t blessings in midst of the struggles.

And for the couple considering adoption, many of the risks of taking on a foster child are risks you should already be prepared for. The child may have issues related to poor prenatal care, malnutrition, educational needs. The child may have some emotional or behavioral problems related to the environment they were living in. While domestic infant adoption may eliminate some of those risks, for those parents pursuing international adoption these are the EXACT issues you need to be actively preparing yourself for. An institutionalized child from another country is going to bring some quirks with them that are not dissimilar to the issues common to foster kids. How great would it be if these were issues you were already familiar with? What if you already knew what resources were available in your community and had relationships with people who could help?

I know we shouldn’t necessarily live our lives with the focus on how other people see us. BUT this is an area where I think Christians can have a unique witness. When those outside our community want to paint us as “trendy” for doing an international adoption (a concept I obviously find offensive), we can show them that our hearts are for children. ALL children. While your calling and goal may be that international adoption, loving foster kids while you wait is a great way to show that this isn’t about a trend.

And if you find yourself unable to foster for whatever reasons, there are lots of ways to be involved and advocate for kids in crisis in your community. Become a CASA, volunteer at the city mission, read to kids in your local school, contact a foster care agency about mentoring opportunities (for kids and for parents who may need some guidance). Take the long wait between your adoption decision and the actual placement and make it meaningful. You’ll be glad you did.

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3 Comments

  1. I’m feeling more and more of a pull towards adopting through foster care. I just forwarded this entry to my husband to see what he thinks as we haven’t talked much about it yet.

  2. I would just like to put a huge word of caution out there. Maralee’s story of bringing home a foster child and then making him a permanent part of her family, while wonderful, is not the story that everyone finds. The goal in foster care is always reunification. My husband and I have currently been caring for our two children for 18 months, and one month ago the goal changed from adoption back to reunification, and the children will be returning to their mom by the end of the year.

    It is absolutely true that we have learned all of the skills that Maralee talks about during the past year. We’ve learned to deal with trauma, we’ve learned about attachment parenting for older children, we’ve learned general parenting skills, we’ve learned about availability of resources for counseling and support, and we’ve even learned about the IEP process. We’ve learned to respect the kids’ mom and to be on the same team with her.

    But the story of “adopting through foster care” is not the norm, and people going into foster care need to be completely ready to honestly support reunification as the goal and as what is best for the kids.

    • I totally agree, Andrea and I write and speak extensively about supporting biological family and the reunification goal. We have adopted three children from foster care, but we have cared for 17 boys through our group home work that returned to their families. I hope what you saw in this post wasn’t a push for people to do foster care with the goal of adopting their foster kids (although that obviously does happen in some situations), but a push for people to do foster care as a way to learn the lessons you described while pursuing adoption from other avenues. My hope was to express that it isn’t an either/or situation— adoption or fostering— but you can foster while you wait.
      My heart hurts for you and your family as you prepare to let go of these kids you have obviously loved and invested in over the last 18 months. I hope you will be able to continue to have a relationship with them and their mom since it sounds like you’ve made the effort to be on the same page with her. I admire that so much.
      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience!

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