It can be easy to assume that transitioning your child from foster care to adoption would be a welcome change for everyone in the family. After all, we know that permanence is vital for our foster kids to thrive and form healthy attachment within our homes.
However, transitioning to adoption is not always a change a child will readily embrace. Whether he’s already living with you as a foster child or another family fostered him, the move might be challenging. So what can you do to help your child transition from foster care to adoption?
In a recent Creating a Family radio show with author and adoption and foster educator, Jayne Schooler, there were some excellent ideas offered to help a child transition from the identity of a foster child to that of an adopted child. Some of these suggestions will apply more specifically to a child you might already have fostered in your home. Other of these ideas might be more applicable to a child who has been fostered elsewhere before being placed in your home as an adopted child.
Be An Information Gatherer
Get all the information on the child that is available from his file, caseworker, and previous foster parents. Placement history can be used to help you prepare for the child’s fears and questions. This background information will also help you support the child as he processes his story.
Consider reaching out to former teachers, therapists, church or community organization workers, or others who might have had significant relationships with your child. Ask them to share what they know of your child that might help ease the transition to your family.
Create a Lifebook for your child and use this book to help explain some of the differences between foster care and adoption. Ask the caseworkers and foster families in your child’s life to provide pictures, relevant documents, or school projects, for your child’s Lifebook to help them hold on to and process their story.
Do Some Relationship Inventories
Do an “extended family check.” Examine your expectations for your extended family in the addition of this new child to your home. Set yourself up for success in your relationship with them by having realistic expectations. Talk with them about having their expectations set reasonably, especially during the transition stage of your newly formed family.
Talk with both your caseworkers and the child about what type of relationship you can maintain with your child’s birth family. Come up with ways to help your child maintain safe connections to their biological roots and be sensitive to your child’s struggles with the adjustments in those relationships.
It’s also essential to prepare the children already in the home for this transition period. Talk with them about how kids who have experienced trauma might behave. Set up supports or “safe persons” that you can trust to help them in this season. It’s helpful for them to know that you’ve surrounded yourselves with folks who will walk with your family through the growing pains and potentially difficult behaviors.
Don’t forget to identify support for yourself. Whether it’s a friend or two who “gets” the complexities of foster care and adoption or a support group in your community, you will need a “village.” It’s entirely likely that at some points in this process, you will feel discouraged, frustrated, and maybe even regretful. You need a support network that will speak the truth and will offer you resources and support to get through the hard times.
Be Patient and Intentional
Go slowly with the transition process – particularly if the child is coming from a different foster or resource home than the one into which he is going to be adopted. Visits should be done in a slow, drawn-out process. Try to allow the child time to feel comfortable and familiar with you and your home before he is asked to move in permanently.
Think in advance how you will maintain a tie to his cultural, racial, or ethnic roots. Focus intentionally on understanding those issues, particularly if you are becoming a transracial family. Look to your community for racial mirrors and role models for your child and consider how to facilitate those relationships.
Anticipate other potential problems for the transitioning child and come up with ways to work through them. Think about how your role as his educational advocate can and should change. Talk with the school about supporting him through this transition. Brainstorm what additional resources you might need to use. Consider your child’s age and try to involve him in this conversation so that he knows he has an extensive network of support.
Give Your Child A Voice
Give your child as much voice in the process as possible in this entire transitional process. Ask him what level of relationship with former foster families feels comfortable for him. Talk about what he needs from you to facilitate that contact or if he wants to continue contact at all. Discuss how other transitions or placements felt to him and ask what he thinks will ease this transition.
If your child objects to the adoption, explore why. Schooler called it unpacking the “no” with him. Is he struggling with fear? Does he feel guilty? Does he feel as if the adoption is a betrayal of his birth family? What options can you consider together, if the child is adamantly opposed to a legal adoption? Explore those together.
Make Your Finalization Significant
Brainstorm together what you can do to mark the adoption finalization as a significant milestone for your family story. Create a rite of passage that elevates the day for you all. Ask your child what will feel meaningful to him. If he’s old enough, invite him to exercise his creativity on invitations to a family celebration or for an adoption announcement. There are lots of great ideas for adoption announcements, finalization celebrations, and other ways to honor the day on our boards on Pinterest.
Be sure to also talk with the child – especially if he is older – about the mixed emotions he might be feeling. Ask for his input on how to respectfully acknowledge both the joy and the losses of the adoption process.
The general theme here is that regular, open communication is the key to transitioning your child from foster care to adoption. Thoughtful preparation to have these honest conversations will pave the way for building trust and confidence between you and your child – whether he’s new to your home or you’ve been parenting him as a foster child for a while now.
We’d love to hear from you: what helped ease your child’s transition? What was challenging? Share your thoughts in the comments.