Have you ever thought about going to a foster care adoption matching event? They go by different names– adoption meet & greets, foster care adoption recruitment events, or adoption activity days–but are all events designed for prospective adoptive parents to meet and play with children currently available for adoption through foster care. Are they a wonderful resource for finding families for harder to place children or are they basically a meat market inflicting emotional distress on very vulnerable children.
Why Have a Foster Care Adoption Matching Event?
The idea behind in-person adoption matching events is to provide an opportunity where prospective adoptive families can meet children currently available for adoption in a relaxed environment with the opportunity for mingling, talking and participating in activities together. They are often used to help find families for the harder to place children.
These events put a real child in front of the stack of papers and labels. The hope is that they encourage the prospective adoptive parents to see the child for who she really is in a fun environment that allows both the prospective parent and the child to enjoy themselves. It is also hoped that it gives the parents a more realistic idea of the types of children that are available for adoption since there is often a mismatch between the children who prospective adoptive families have in their minds and the children who are available from foster care for adoption. Some agencies have found that parents who have participated in these adoption matching events become more flexible in the type of child that they are willing to adopt in terms of age, sibling group, race, etc.
Adoption matching events have the added benefit of allowing prospective adoptive parents to meet each other and share the unique ups and downs of adopting from foster care. It’s a special type of camaraderie that most prospective adoptive parents have a hard time finding in their circle of friends.
Do Adoption Matching Events Work in Finding Families for Kids
Over 80% of US families who adopt children older than five years old have some prior connection or relationship to the child. Families are significantly more likely to adopt when they have a sense of “knowing” this specific child prior to deciding to adopt. In-person foster care matching events are a powerful way to help create this sense of knowing. But do they work?
Research is hard to come by on how effective foster care adoption matching events are for finding families for children. Some evidence indicates that they may be. Organizers have reported that the overall matching rate is approximately 25% for foster care adoption matching events, which makes them a successful tool, especially for older kids, sibling groups, and kids with a file full of labels.
Are Adoption Matching Events Harmful for the Children
It is not hard for most of us to put ourselves in the place of a child attending one of these recruitment events hoping to be chosen—hoping for a family. Approximately 25% of the kids who attend will be matched, but what about the remaining 75%? Won’t they feel inspected and rejected? Keep in mind that most of these kiddos have been already faced a lifetime of rejection. Further, some foster parent report that the adoption matching events are stressful to children because they bring home the reality that the child will have to move from their foster family.
Is the possibility of finding a family worth the risk of emotional damage? For those kids who find their family, the answer is almost always a resounding yes! For those who don’t, the answer is far less clear.
There aren’t easy answers to these questions. Good preparation is essential, but all the preparation in the world doesn’t remove the sting of not being chosen. Sadly, the likelihood of both not being chosen and the full awareness of what these events are for is greater the older the child.
On a positive note, some older foster children say that these adoption matching events give them an increased sense of involvement and control in the adoption process.
Voice of One Foster Child on Adoption Matching Events
Here are the thoughts of one 12 year old we interviewed who is in the process of being adopted. He attended several foster care matching events, but did not find an adoptive family through these events. Ultimately his family found him through social worker outreach. (He’s a man of few words.)
How did you feel before the matching events?
I felt nervous and scared mostly because I was meeting new people.
How did you feel during the event?
I felt happy because I was seeing all those families there, but I also felt weird because strangers were coming up to me telling me they wanted to be my family.
Do children realize that the people at the event are considering adoption?
Yes. I did and I think all the kids did. My worker told me it was an adoption event and also that my photo was going to be online, which was scary because I didn’t want random people knowing about me. My worker told me I’d probably get adopted after the events.
Were you coached on how to act?
Not at all.
How did you feel after the event when none of the families there chose you?
I felt happy because I didn’t like the families I met.
How could people make those events easier for kids?
My state worker could have prepared me better. She could have told me there would be some weird people there. And people need to be more respectful. People shouldn’t tell me they want to be my family before they even know my name. They could at least ask my name first.
His mom told me that he still complains about those recruitment events, and basically felt like a show dog on display. She felt bad that they didn’t find him before he had to go to so many adoption matching events, but “secretly, and selfishly glad none of those families felt a match with him” because she couldn’t imagine what life would be like if someone else took him home before her family met him.
Emotional Burden on Prospective Adoptive Families
Foster adoption matching events can be emotionally challenging for the prospective adoptive parents as well. Researchers have described parents struggling with the “powerful mixture of wanting a child and worrying about their capacity to be a good enough parent and enabling the child to love them and to able to love the child.” We all want the power of choice until we are faced with the burden.
The sheer noise and chaos of a large group of kids playing can be overwhelming for anyone, especially for people without children. A number of prospective adoptive parents have told us that they worry that they will not know how to interact with kids or even how to play with them because they have had little experience. They fear being rejected or not liked by the children.
Tips from Parents Who Have Attended Foster Care Adoption Matching Events
Jenn W. shared the following about her and her wife’s experience at an adoption matching event where they met their son.
We met quite a few kids at the event. We seemed to be pretty popular. We went into it with an open mind and took time to sit and chat. I noticed a lot of prospective parents sit down, ask a couple of questions, and walk away. Sometimes they walked away because that’s all they were doing with each kid, but sometimes it was because the kid was giving short answers. We really took the time to get to know each kid as best we could, as though that was THE kid. We asked a lot of fun questions, kept it light, tried to joke with them and get them laughing a little. We really just had fun with the kids.
A lot of kids had been to that exact event before, so they were sad and didn’t want to open up. We were able to break through the walls of a couple, while others were really just not interested. We did apply for a few other kiddos that we never heard back from the case workers about. Looking back at the profiles that have been updated on some of the kids we put our home study in for, I can see that they would not have been the best fit.
Our son was not the kid we thought we were looking for. We were leaning toward a sibling group with at least one (preferably both) being under age 10. Our son was turning 13 and not part of a sibling group available to adopt, but we could not have found a better match for our family! You really just need to go in with an open mind and show the kids that you really care, rather than being obvious that you’re on a hunt for someone specific.
And Laura Jenkins shared:
We met our soon to be son at a matching event. Don’t let anyone tell you the kids aren’t aware these are matching events, they know it, and it’s evident immediately which kids are desperately hoping to find an adoptive family and which have been burned too often to make any effort at all. Don’t let this 2nd group throw you–most of these kids want a family as desperately as the “happy” and engaged kids, but are often too scared of another rejection to make any effort at all to connect with anyone there. Our son was in this group but, having already successfully adopted 4 older kids, we were intrigued by him…not frightened…and I thank God we saw through his feigned lack of interest.
Have you attended a foster care adoption matching event? What was your experience? Do you have any tips for others on how to prepare yourself and navigate the event?