Building Your Family Through Foster Care

The New York Times recently had a story about a man who found an abandoned baby in a New York subway. It goes on to tell how he and his partner found themselves in court 3 months later when the judge unexpectedly asked him if he would like to be a foster parent to this baby and without any hesitation or discussing it with his partner he said yes. You have to read the rest of this amazing story to see how they became a family.

I thought about them and a dear friend of mine who, after 6 painful years of struggling to become a parent, finally did foster and adopt a beautiful baby boy last week.

I talked with her a lot about being this child's foster parent. She and her husband met him while he was being fostered by a wonderful woman who has opened her home to foster over a hundred children. She literally gets a call and an hour later that child can be in her home.

Foster parenting is a potential family building option that does offer unique challenges and is not for everybody. By definition foster families work with children whose parents were unable to care for them. These children range in age from new born babies to teens. They may have experienced neglect, abandonment for a variety of reasons, or at times physical or emotional abuse from their biological parents. Because of these circumstances, foster children can have behavioral or emotional difficulties adjusting to their foster care families. Some foster children, like all children, may sometimes have medical problems that require special care.

When you become a foster parent you work with a team that typically includes a state sanctioned foster care agency, social workers, an ad litem attorney representing the child's best interest, doctors and teachers. The biological parents may be involved as well depending on individual circumstances and recommendations from the agency and court. If you are a foster parent you must be licensed in most states. You will need a separate license to become an adoptive parent. You also should have legal representation. State laws and restrictions can vary but all states have guidelines about who is eligible to become a foster parent and there is a training and evaluation/screening process. Foster parents do receive money from the state when they assume this role.

One of the challenging aspects of foster care is that, although as a foster parent you do handle the daily physical and emotional needs of the child, legal decisions about the child are often made jointly by the agency and the biological parent(s). The philosophy around foster care has evolved since the early 1970's. The goal of agencies and the courts used to be to try to get the child back into the custody and home of the biological parent. That has slowly changed as the courts and agencies have come to see the powerful bonds and positive chances that a foster child can have with a good foster family when the biological parents can not offer a stable environment. The trend to have foster parents who become adoptive parents is definitely growing at a steady rate.

I watched my friend and her husband take a giant leap of faith standing on a huge emotional cliff taking this sweet baby into their home and their hearts knowing that a biological parent could step in and try to stop the adoption at any step along the way. They tried to be cautious about it but immediately fell in love with this child. They were not sure what if anything to say to family and friends. They were fearful of falling in love with a child who ultimately might not be theirs in the end. They had experienced the emotional scars from past failed infertility treatments and had ridden the infertility roller coaster far too long. They knew that the ultimate decision was not even theirs to make. Their fate as a family was left to a judge, the biological father, and agency recommendations. This waiting period and process which is designed to protect the rights of the child may be the most challenging aspect for many people contemplating foster care.

If you are considering becoming a foster parent ask yourself some important questions:

1. What are the reasons you are considering foster care?

2. Are you prepared to have a child live with you who ultimately may not be able to stay?

3. Are you interested in becoming an adoptive parent?

4. Are you able and willing to work with other members of the foster care team who come with this child?

5. Are you able to cope with a child coming in your home who may have serious emotional, behavioral, or medical challenges?

6. What impact will bringing a foster child into your home have on your other children and family/friends?

7. Imagine yourself working with the guidelines, time frames, and restrictions that are in place in your state? Do you have the determination and patience needed?

8. Can you see yourself bonding with a child who has no biological connection to you?

There are many roads we can choose to take as we try to build our families. Foster care may be an option with you. If you are married make sure you and your spouse are in agreement about foster care and whether you want to pursue adoption from there. The risks may be great but so are the potential rewards for all concerned.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.

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