Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"If you want to adopt you should...

...adopt from foster care."

How many people who work in foster care, who are actually here, would say that? Raise your hands...higher now...I CAN'T SEE YOU. Okay, there are a few of you would decided that you should adopt from from foster care, given that you wanted to become a parent through adoption, but does anyone think that that is something that should be said of anyone wanting to parent by adoption?

Have you heard that claim too? It seems to come up in discussion of international adoption or private infant adoption. There are serious ethical concerns in those practices, and it can be difficult for potential adopting parents to be confident that the agency they are working with is one of the ones acting within ethical guidelines.

And so, somewhere along this conversation someone is likely to say, "If you want to give a home to a child who needs one, why not a child who really needs a home? Adopt from foster care!"

When I hear that, part of me wants to agree. The kids in foster care are marvelous human beings. The rewards that come from parenting them are immense. It can be a parenting experience like no other. The children in foster care are children. They deserve to be safe and loved. They deserve to be cherished for who they are.

Mostly though when I hear the recommendation that someone who simply wants to parent should adopt through foster care I want to laugh hysterically. A child who has come through hell, in the closest to a literal sense as one can get on this planet, will find and introduce you to your own demons. The first thing you may learn is that you have less patience and ability than you thought you did. You will hurt. You may find strenth you did not know you had.

We desperately need foster parents and people who are ready to adopt from foster care. There are many people who think they cannot do it really can. We need people to do this work, but there is no particular reason to think that infertile couples who are wanting to be parents will be particularly good at it. Some of them will be, of course. But infertility in itself is neither a qualification nor a source of obligation.

We are so accustomed to thinking of adoption as a means of forming a family, a way of having children, as a response to infertility, that we forget that the only rational and ethical justification for its existence is to find parents for children who need them. It is so obvious when you say it. Adoption exists to find parents for children, not to find children for parents.

And yet is so easy to let that fundamental truth slip away.


  1. So many of the people that were in my PRIDE classes were in it to adopt, but they had no clue. I think they were expecting this cute, perfect, bright-eyed child to just drop in their laps. I don't know what happened to them but I'm sure the legal realities, the trauma and resulting behaviors of the child, and the horrendous red tape has slapped them upside the head by now.

    I think foster care is a wonderful road to create your family. But you HAVE to be real about it.

  2. Hear, hear. I am so sick of reading that. I strongly believe in adoption reform in all areas but that particular argument -- "why don't you just adopt from foster care" -- is really irritating. I feel like saying... unless you have some experience with the foster care system already, in some capacity, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT. YOU REALLY DON'T. DON'T PRETEND YOU DO. Don't use children in foster care as props in your arguments without real regard for them.

    I'm still sort of a foster care adoption evangelizer but I try to be realistic about it.

  3. Someone I know recently told me that they are planning to adopt a child in the next year. She wanted advise. I brought her some literature from an adoption agency that I know is really, really ethical and does place children from the foster care system.

    I never, never recommend someone apply with our county to adopt from foster care. You have to be prepared for months (or years) of torture.

    It makes me really sad to know that.

  4. Just to stir this up some more. While I agree that people need to be prepared before truly considering foster adoption I don't see any reason not to promote. Having gone through it myself and talking to people who have adopted through private agencies and from abroad the reality is that they each have their own hurdles both ethically and physically. I don't think what we went through to be worse than the couple who had to spend thousands in beaurocratic bribes to adopt overseas, or who still wonder what the real story is about their child's past.

    I'm not saying that everyone should adopt through fostercare, heck I don't think everyone should have children. What I'd like to see is more honest conversations about what prospective parents really think, fear and hope.

  5. Respectfully disagreeing with Bacchus... I would NOT advocate adoption from foster care for people who simply want to parent a child. It is not easy, it is not fun.

    It is, for us, the most ethical possibility which is why we are pursuing it. But to go into it blindly, as your first (or even second or third) choice if your end goal is adopting a child is, I think, a bad idea.

  6. A child, whether an infant from a domestic adoption, or one from another country or one from foster care comes wounded - being taken from or not being able to be raised by your natural family for whatever reason - is a traumatic experience for a child, infant, teenager.

    All who care for the children of others need to be educated that all children taken from the families are wounded to varying degrees and that wound needs to be cared for and respected.

  7. I agree Suz. That separation trauma is as obvious to us foster parents as it is sometimes paradoxical. Children of all ages miss their parents. They miss parents who were abusive.

    Separating children from their parents and finding them new parents is a radical solution that should be used only when it is absolutely necesseary.

  8. Anonymous12:22 PM

    I have three boys, all were adopted through the foster care program, and all were pre-adoptive placements from the start. In my parents prep classes, they started by saying "If you are here to adopt a healthy newborn, this is not the right place for you". When I hear that someone I know is thinking about adoption, I almost always suggest that they consider fost/adopt. I also talk to them about the challenges that we, and other families I know, have faced. It isn't easy and you don't know what you are getting into until you're in it. I don't think that fost/adopt should be the automatic default or "first choice" for people who hope to adopt, but I do think that sometimes people might not consider it without some encouragement. That said we have friends we met through the adoption process and after we or they brought kids home through fost/adopt. The people we already knew, decided after going through training that it wasn't for them so I guess I'm not much of a recruiter.

  9. Alisha4:13 PM

    If foster adoption is rejected (by adults looking to adopt) on its face because all that comes out of the foster system is damaged children and because the adults are not prepared to deal with those issues, then those same adults have no business adopting through any other means, either.

    The same root issues are present in all adoptions, and people are fooling themselves if they believe that by having a closed adoption, or by removing a child from her country of origin, they will not have to face those issues. At least with foster care and foster adoption, the difficulties are there from the first and cannot be ignored.

    Infertility sucks. But if you still want to be parents, adoption will never be without issues, and treating some forms of adoption as "safer" for the emotional stability of the adults makes for a dangerous atmosphere for children.

  10. Alisha,

    I appreciate you adding this to the discussion! I think there are ethical issues in private infant adoption and international adoption that I can speak to, although not with the same level of confidence as I do the issues in foster care.

    What I can't speak to at all are reltaive risks of whatever sorts. It seems likely to me that the older a child is the more trauma you are likely to need to deal with, and that in any adoption you need to be prepared to deal with a child who experienced trauma. And of course simply becoming a parent is risky. Anyone who wants a perfect baby had probably better purchase a doll.

    One of the the reasons that I like working with teens is that I can usually know what challenges they are most likely to have.

  11. Alisha5:34 PM

    Yes, I suppose I should have been more specific. I agree that there are additional issues present when children have experienced abuse and neglect.

    The "issues" I was referring to were the ones universal to adoption -- for example, the fact that your child has not always been your child. No matter if they become yours at 5 minutes or 15 years after he's born, he was someone else's. Someone else has a biological claim to him, someone else was his mother, someone else was his father. And just because you (as the parent) don't know who they were, just because there's thousands of miles between you and the faceless parents, or just because your child's mother is in prison for fifty years doesn't negate the fact that they exist.

    I'm sure I need a Venn diagram -- obviously, not all adopted children were abused by their parents -- but in foster care adoption, the reality of loss is up front (along with the reality of abuse or neglect, but I wasn't necesarily including that). With private or international adoption, parents can ignore it much more easily, and they may or may not realize the ramifications of adoption for much longer. Or perhaps only their children will.

    Adoption can be wonderful, of course. But if people are not prepared to deal with the realities of loss and their children's (current or future) pain, they should not entertain it in any form.

    Most likely, I'm not explaining my position well. I supopse what it comes down to is that every time I see someone blog something similar to, "Just because I'm (ie my reproductive system) broken doesn't mean I should have to adopt a broken child," I want to throttle them for their stupidity and show them the "broken" children they automatically reject.

  12. I think you are being clear Alisha, and I agree. I too would want to throttle anyone who would say "Just because I'm (ie my reproductive system) broken doesn't mean I should have to adopt a broken child."

    I agree that being infertile when you want children is extremely sad, so is finding yourself widowed, or just never finding a life partner to begin with. None of these states though means that someone is entitled to anything. It is sad. Life is like that.

    And I don't want to sound heartless -- anymore than I would wan to sound heartless to someone who was widowed. I want to respect the pain.

    It just doesn't mean what some people seem to think it means.

  13. I've heard this comment more than once (I'm an a-parent, my children are both Korean and are now teens in college and late high school).

    Although this comment may be delivered by people who misunderstand the complexity of adopting from foster care, it has a perhaps unintended effect - to challenge what we think about adoption generally. It has certainly challenged me to think about my motivations to adopt from Korea, to face the selfishness that led to that decision, and to better understand the losses my children have experienced through adoption - separation from their families and their country, culture and language.

  14. please if you chose to use foster care for adoption be doing it for the child not ure self.If you want a baby it can be a long fight and some time disaponting.the child might not make it to adoption even though dcs tells you it will.There can be mistakes made by these people because they see so much bad that some times they dont see a fasle alagation staring wright at them and the bio family is trying to tell them.We have seen this and living this and there has been four family torn up over it.two familys are foster and two bio.be very carefull and dont be so sure u know who u can trust u may be wroung.lots of luck and keep praying we do.its not all bad we did adopted two kids and we fell they are a gift from god.we didnt start with the idea of adoption but we did.


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