This is the first in a series of guest posts about adoption. I am so thankful for all of the people who have so generously offered to share their stories. If you have the chance and are so inclined, I would really appreciate it if you could take the time to visit these guest posters blogs, or leave a kind word for them.
Getting Out of Foster Care
By Addison Cooper, LCSW
It’s hard to get out of foster care. AdoptUSKids.org reports that about 20,000 kids “age out” of foster care every year – that is, they reach age 18 without being able to return to their family and without being adopted. Another hundred thousand children in foster care are waiting to be adopted.
Many adults apply to become foster parents each year, and most of them are open to adoption. Some even enter foster care because they hope to eventually adopt. Many adults wait more than a year before they take placement of a child that they eventually adopt. And yet 20,000 kids age out, unadopted, each year. And 100,000 more are waiting to be adopted.
Where’s the disconnect?
Here it is: age. Most of the parents who pursue foster care with the intent to adopt are focused on very young children. Typically, they want to take in a child no more than 24 months old. Some prospective parents even draw the line at 12 months. One set drew it at 6 months. The reasons they give are, “we want to make an impact on the child.” They say they’re fearful that adopting an older child means that they won’t be able to have a strong influence. And so, as unlikely as it seems, children begin to be called “difficult to find an adoptive home” at three years of age. Other children who get the “difficult to find an adoptive family” tag are kids who are part of a sibling set, kids with any disabilities, and kids who aren’t white. That’s where the 100,000 kids are. Waiting, because they’re Black, or Hispanic, or part of a two-sibling set that shouldn’t be split, or hard of hearing, or five years old. Waiting. Because most of the foster parents that want to adopt think that, once a child is a toddler, they can’t influence them.
I was blessed a few years back to work with a strong family, and a special girl.
Susie*was eight years old. She had already been in ten foster homes, and the county workers assigned to her case believed that if she moved again, it would be to a group home. She had stayed with Greg and Joan for the last nine months, and it seemed as though she had found stability. Then the call came.
It was about ten at night, and I was parked outside of a Target after an abnormally late night of work. My phone rang, and the screen told me it was Judith, our on-call supervisor. Her frantic voice greeted me, “Addison, can you think of any homes that would take an emergency placement for the night? Greg and Joan are demanding that we move Susie.” Somehow, reason prevailed over rage and I suggested the home of Rebekah, a tough, experienced single mother who was still fairly new to foster care.
Rebekah took Susie in. The next morning she shared that Susie greeted her by asking “Can I stay here forever?” Whether it was the sign of attachment difficulties or just a logical question for an often-moved kid, Rebekah’s answer was solid: “As far as it depends on me, yes. I can’t say what will happen, because I don’t control circumstances, but I promise that I will never ask for you to be moved.”
Later investigations showed that Greg and Joan were unwarranted in their rationale. But that doesn’t matter. Moves go on a kid’s record; Susie seemed likely to be headed to a group home, and we needed a quick, safe place for her to spend the night.
But sometimes, Divine creativity is applied to horrible situations. Susie did stay with Rebekah. It’s been over five years since the call and Susie has found a forever home. Rebekah adopted Susie a couple years ago. I hear from them occasionally, and Susie is thriving. She has overcome the problems that folks said she had. Even though she was older than three – she was eight! – Rebekah had a profound influence on her.
So – might you be another Rebekah?
Addison Cooper is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with several years’ experience as an adoption social worker and supervisor. He tweets about adoption @AddisonCooper, and writes adoption movie reviews at www.adoptionLCSW.com
(* This story is a compilation of several actual cases. No real names are used, and details are disguised to protect anonymity)
Be sure to check out the “other days of Christmas” for more adoption stories and some giveaways!