Everything You Want to Know (But Are Afraid to Ask) About Our Experience With Foster Care

Everything You Want to Know (But Are Afraid to Ask) About Our Experience With Foster Care

I totally get it. You want to ask about our foster/adoptive family, but you’re not sure how. You’re not sure what the appropriate terms are for whatever is going on. Or if you’re allowed to ask if we couldn’t get pregnant and tried a bunch of fertility treatment and this is the fallout of that not working. Or if you can ask about the money involved. Or the race of the kids. Or where they came from. Or whether I’ll give you vague and semi-patronizing answers that will make you wish you’d kept your questions to yourself.

We are big believers in honesty and we love it when people show interest in our family and ask us questions about foster care and adoption. So below are some Q & A about our experience – with questions we’ve been asked before and questions I suspect you want to ask because I always wanted to ask tons of questions when I met foster/adoptive parents before I was one of them. I’ve done my best to answer these in the most straightforward and honest way possible. 

That being said, not every parent is as comfortable with questions as we are. If you are curious about someone else’s family situation, consider asking something like “Do you mind if I ask you some questions about (whatever topic)?” before you ask more detailed or personal questions.

To the parents who might be on the receiving end of said questions: it’s okay if you’re not comfortable sharing information about your family. You can always answer a question with a polite “I actually would rather not discuss that right now” and change the subject. We know that not everyone will want to approach these topics the way we do.

Let’s dive right in:

What’s up with the fact that your oldest kid kind of looks like you but was clearly born before you two met each other? How old is that tiny one? Were you pregnant recently and I missed it??!!

We have actually been foster parents for the last several years – to a bunch of different kids! Our oldest (who was, as you noticed, born several years before we met) came to live with us in summer of 2015 and was adopted by us in summer of 2017. He is not related to either of us at and just happens to look a bit like us. We will probably be adopting another child sometime this year. I was not pregnant recently.

Why did you become foster parents in the first place? 

Such a great question! I wrote about that here.

Are the kids you have now related to each other?

No.

Where are they from?

All our foster kids have been from Arizona.

What happened to their parents?

We don’t know.

Would you tell me if you did know?

Not on a public blog. That being said, we are pretty honest about all aspects of our situation with our close friends and with other foster/adoptive parents.

What if their biological parents come to your house and try to take them? Are you worried about the biological parents being dangerous? 

It’s illegal for a biological parent to try to take a foster kid away from their foster home. If or when biological parents have visits with foster children, those visits are facilitated by a case worker. If we ever did have a concern that we or the kids were in danger, we would gladly call the police. We would get a restraining order or press charges if needed – just like we would if any random person was behaving inappropriately or dangerously towards us or our kids.

What if the kids want to look for their biological parents later?

That would be fine with us, when they are mature enough to deal with the complexities involved in that journey. Our oldest currently has zero interest in his biological family, so that’s a bridge we’ll cross if we come to it.

Can you ask for a certain age or gender of foster child?

Yes and no. You can specify some preferences (ages, genders, types of psychological needs, types of medical needs, behaviors you will and won’t be able to handle), but in the end state workers rarely know much about the kids they are trying to find homes for. They will often call to ask if you will accept children who don’t fit your stated “preferences.” Age and gender is often all you get to know before you accept or decline a foster placement.

Can you ask for a foster child of a certain certain race/ethnicity?

Foster/adoptive families are allowed to request children of specific racial backgrounds if they feel the need. The Indian Child Welfare Act also applies to some cases, and that can have implications for whether certain parents may be allowed to foster or adopt certain children. Again, case workers don’t always know a lot about the children they are trying to find homes for; they often don’t know details about race/ethnicity.

Do you know your kids’ racial backgrounds/ethnicity/ancestry? 

No more than what we can gather by looking at them.

Is adopting expensive?

Not adopting from foster care. Adoptions through foster care are mostly subsidized by the state. For our oldest, we paid for the travels related to the adoption – which consisted of driving to a different city and staying in a hotel for two nights – and that was it. Private adoptions and international adoptions are usually expensive ($30k and up).

Are adoptions from foster care “open” or “closed”? 

In our experience, children adopted from foster care often don’t have relationships with their biological parents (so in that way it’s more like a “closed” adoption than an “open” adoption). They sometimes do have relationships with other biological relatives. What that looks like is completely at the discretion of the adoptive parents until the child is 18. However, there are usually not records that are “sealed” and therefore inaccessible, as can happen in a truly “closed” adoptions (although the records may still be difficult to track down). Adoptive parents are generally able to request vital records, medical histories, court records, etc., just like they could for any biological child of theirs.

How many babies have you fostered? Was it hard to get a baby?

We’ve fostered several little ones at this point! It’s actually relatively easy to become a foster parent for a baby who needs a home. Many foster babies will have special healthcare needs or developmental needs. There is never a guarantee that any given baby (or child of any age) in foster care will become available for adoption. There are certainly far more older kids (8 years old and up) available for adoption from foster care than there are infants. If someone’s goal is a guaranteed adoption of a healthy baby, foster care is probably not the right avenue for that.

Are most foster babies also drug babies? 

Some of them (not all) have been exposed to drugs in utero. Foster kids’ medical histories are usually incomplete, so you may not know what any foster child has or has not been exposed to. As you may already know, intrauterine drug exposure and early childhood drug exposure can have a wide range of effects ranging from death of the affected child to lifelong brain damage or physical deformity to relatively minor treatable problems.

Do you get babies straight from the hospital?

Sometimes. We’ve had two newborns come straight to us from the hospital.

Don’t you feel terrible that the state just ripped a baby away from its mother and put it in foster care? 

This notion makes for great click-bait, but in today’s U.S. foster system it’s not usually the reality. For a child to be removed from their parent’s care and placed in foster care, the parent has to commit a significant crime against the child (such as severe or repeated neglect or abuse). The primary goal of foster care is reunification of biological families, assuming that can be accomplished without future endangerment of a child. Long-term foster care and/or adoption is the system’s last resort.

I heard that social workers will just drop the kids off at foster homes with no notice. How much warning do you get when you get a new foster kid?

If you are licensed for foster care and have an “open bed”, sometimes they do call and ask if they can drop a child off immediately. You always have the right to say no; you will not end up with a foster child without your consent. With the last couple of foster kids we’ve had, we got just a few hours’ notice.

Is the system really as messed up as I’ve heard it is? 

Bear in mind that even with 3 years’ of experience as foster parents, we are not experts on the nuances of “the system”.  There is some good and some bad – and the issues involved are incredibly complex. Don’t be afraid to get involved just because it’s messy and complicated – most things worth doing are! There are many good, intelligent people working both within the system and working from the outside to try to make positive changes. We appreciate those people more than they know.

Isn’t the process of getting licensed incredibly invasive? I’ve heard they ask you about finances and your personal life and tons of other things you might not want to share – and then someone looks through your cabinets and drawers and stuff?! 

We’re pretty open people, so sharing things like bank records and health histories and getting background-checked doesn’t bother us. It makes sense that the state wants to know a lot of things about the people they are considering as caregivers for vulnerable children. Home inspections are a little odd, but no big deal once you’ve done one. We didn’t feel like anything we went through was particularly invasive. Given the fact that sometimes people who should not be in charge of children in any capacity somehow still get licensed, we would support more thorough vetting of potential foster parents.

I’d like to be a foster parent, but my spouse and I both work full-time. Doesn’t one of you have to be a stay-at-home parent in order to foster? 

No. We both work. We might pay more for childcare than most, because we do need babysitters/nannies sometimes outside the regular school/daycare hours to accommodate our schedules… but that’s okay with us. We knew it was part of the deal since we wanted to do this while we also both pursued our careers. In fact, we encourage all parents to budget extra for babysitting when possible. Occasional breaks from your kids are good for your mental health, your marriage, and your other adult relationships.

Do you get paid to be a foster parent?

Yes. Subsidy amounts vary by state and by the needs of the child. Some subsidies continue after adoption. Medical care is covered through the state. Some (not all) childcare is covered. These benefits are not enough to cover the full cost of raising a child, but they sure are nice to have.

Can you have biological kids?

We probably could if we wanted to. We didn’t go very far down the “trying” road before, and now we’ve decided we don’t want to.

What if you regret not having biological kids?/Being pregnant is amazing!/What if you change your mind?/Lots of other objections to the decision to not reproduce.

Meh. We’re not sure why it alarms people so much that we don’t have an interest in biological kids, but we don’t. We promise it’s not a commentary on your biological kids or your family-related choices.

Are you going to foster or adopt more kids?

We take things day-by-day at this point – we’re certainly open to it!

I’ve heard that if just one family from every church in the U.S. adopted one kid, there would not be any kids left in foster care waiting for families. Is that true? Don’t you think more religious people should adopt? Don’t you think more people in general should adopt???

Unfortunately it’s not that simple. Yes, there are a lot of “waiting” kids – in the U.S. and around the world. Yes, there are a lot of functional adults that hypothetically could be foster or adoptive parents. No, we don’t think foster parenting or adopting is right for everyone, any more than moving to Africa to build schools is right for everyone. There are a whole lot of needs in the world. If you are able to open your home to a child who can’t be with their biological family, that’s awesome. If you can’t, find another way to impact your community for the better.

I know someone who knows someone who adopted a kid and then that kid burned down their house. Aren’t you worried about that happening to you?

No more than you worry about your kids joining extremist groups in the middle east. Some things are just statistically incredibly unlikely. No need to agonize over bizarre situations with your children until you’re actually dealing with them.

But foster kids and adopted kids have problems, right? Weren’t you worried about not knowing “what you would get”?

To be fair, it’s rough to lose your family of origin. Dealing with that is hard for anyone, even a well-adjusted adult. If you choose to foster or adopt, you have to walk through some of that hardship with your foster child or adopted child. If that’s not the sort of challenge you’re up for, that’s okay. But don’t think that parenting challenges can be avoided by taking some prenatal vitamins and keeping your kid on a strict Whatever Parenting Thing You Like regimen from age 0-5. We never know what we’re “going to get.” Not with pregnancy or with kids or with our health or with our loved ones or with life in general. The sooner we all realize this, the better. If one of your goals in being a parent is controlling everything about your child’s actions and experiences, please for the love all things holy do not become a parent.

What’s up with those kids on online photo-lists and on TV? Are they foster kids? Could I adopt one of them if I wanted to? 

In general, the kids who are “photo listed” or who you see spotlighted on TV segments promoting adoption are foster kids who are available for adoption. If you were interested in adopting one of them, you could need to be licensed to adopt, and then go through the process of contacting the child’s case worker and requesting that you be considered as an adoptive parent. The child’s team (case worker, lawyer, judge, etc) ultimately make the decision of who will be allowed to adopt a “waiting” child. If you’re really interested in going this route, be aware that inter-state adoptions are much more difficult than adopting from your own state.

Why are some foster kids available for adoption and some aren’t? 

For a foster child to become available for adoption, their biological parents’ rights must be severed by the courts (through a series of hearings and sometimes trials resulting in the “termination of parental rights” aka a TPR). Since this is not something the courts take lightly, a TPR takes a minimum of six months – but usually much longer. There is a period allowed after the TPR for appeals. A foster child becomes available for adoption (assuming no extended biological family members such as grandparents are able to care for them) only after the TPR has happened and the time for appeals has passed.

How do you talk to your kids about foster care and adoption and their own backstories? 

We’ve found that when we answer kids’ day-to-day questions in a validating way, they bring up the big questions when they’re ready. So we let our kids be the ones to bring up those topics. When they do, we keep answers concise and respectful and as honest as we can.

What’s the weirdest thing someone has said to you about your foster/adoptive kids? 

The most annoying commentary I ever got was, ironically, in the form of a 10-minute tirade from another adoptive mom. You can read about that here. Overall, we try not be weirded out by people being curious or making honest observations about us. Some of my favorite comments (in no particular order) have been:

1. (From strangers, any time I’ve had a tiny foster baby with me) “You look great for just having a baby! Good for you!”

2. (From multiple people in our hippie town, plus or minus a few words) “Formula is poison. You should be breastfeeding. You can take hormones to make it work, you know.”

3. (From an airline representative, when I told her our son’s unusual name) “I need a real name for the ticket, ma’am.”

4. (From a good friend who we hadn’t seen a while) “How did you…how do I ask this?…. acquire that kid?”

Wait, are we done? I still have more questions!   

Awesome! Leave your questions in the comment section. And thanks for reading!

three boys walking in parking lot

 May is National Foster Care Month! Learn more here.

 

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