“I really wish infertile couples wouldn’t try to adopt from foster care. They just aren’t in the emotional space for the reality.” So says a social worker/adoption agency director that I respect. Is she right?
Infertility can grind you down and spit you out on the other end a different person than the one who believed that they would be holding a baby nine months after stopping birth control. If your struggle was short and treatment successful, the change may be insignificant, but the repeated losses of those who have been trying unsuccessfully for years change you.
The Realities of Adopting From Foster Care
Foster care agencies are not adoption agencies. Period.
Foster care agencies are supposed to be focused on child welfare first and family healing second. Only if the birth family is not able to get their act together to be able to parent does the agency look elsewhere to find parents for the children in their care, and even then, the first place they look is to the extended family. If no grandparents, aunts/uncles or cousins step forward, they usually consider the family that is fostering the child. And only if the foster family decides to not adopt, does the agency consider a family that is only interested in adopting from foster care. And at this point, the “baby” is most likely a toddler or preschooler.
To be clear, there are children in our foster care system that are available for adoption right this very minute. In fact, there are over 100,000 of these kids. However, almost never are these children babies. The vast majority are over the age of five, or have significant special needs, or are part of larger sibling groups. Most infertility patients I speak with who are considering adoption want to adopt a baby.
“I Want to Adopt a Baby from Foster Care”
I totally understand the desire to adopt a baby. Truly I do. Parenting is many things and is truly for a lifetime, but most of us expect to start our parenting journey with an infant. We have thought about the snuggling and that sweet baby smell. We have imagined clapping at the first steps and laughing at the first taste of carrots. We’ve probably even dreaded the sleepless nights. There is also something to say for learning to parent as your child progresses through the natural developmental stages.
But the bottom line is that if you want to adopt a baby from foster care you first must be the baby’s foster parent.
The Role of Foster Parents
When you sign up to be a foster parent you sign up to be part of a team of professionals who are trying to heal the first family. That means you will likely be bringing your foster baby to meet with his mom and dad weekly—often at separate times and separate places. You may also be asked to meet with grandparents and siblings. You might be asked to invite the birth parents to pediatrician appointments and allow them to take the lead. You may be asked to return this child to her birth family even if you disagree (and often strongly disagree) with that decision.
Why Babies are in Foster Care
“Why would anyone return a baby to abusive parents?!? Surely we’re a better home than them.”
Most people imagine that children are removed from parents because of horrible abuse. Sadly, that does happen, but only in a small fraction of cases. Most kids are removed from their family because of neglect or substance abuse. With infants, especially newborn infants, it is often the threat of neglect. For example, the mom has had another child removed from her home.
No one is saying that it is OK to neglect a child, but neglect is often a by-product of poverty or substance abuse, both problems that are amenable to help. You have to go into foster care with the attitude that your job is to provide this help. As a foster care caseworker said:
In my experience as a frontline worker most children enter foster care because of neglect, not abuse. Neglect is most often a pervasive family condition that with support and services can be addressed to a level that would allow parents to safely parent their children. A far to common example I have personally witnessed is domestic violence, where the non abuser was able to get services and be able to safely parent their children. Another example: An addict turning their lives around and breaking the cycle of addiction. For this reason most children are eventually reunified with their birth parents.
Should Infertile Couples Adopt from Foster Care?
The agency director quoted at the beginning who questions whether infertility patients should adopt from foster care is concerned that the losses inherent in failed infertility treatment make it hard for the infertile to accept their role as a foster parent to an infant in foster care. She believes that their desire to be a mommy and daddy usually overrides what is expected of them. On some level, she believes it is cruel to ask them to fill this role as temporary caretaker trying to help someone else fulfill their parenting dreams.
I think that paints infertility patients with too broad of a brush. I believe that those who have experienced infertility can make terrific foster parents with the proper preparation. In fact, I have seen families use their losses and grief to help them understand the losses their foster children and their birth parents experience. I do, however, agree that it is a fine balancing act to prepare families that come to foster care adoption from infertility for their role as a foster parent and far too often they go in expecting to become instant parents.
A wise caseworker at a foster care placement and adoption agency wisely noted:
As a caseworker in a foster to adopt program for almost 15 years, I have noticed that couples struggling with infertility are at different places in their own grief and loss experience when they begin researching foster care adoption. This makes a difference in their ability and willingness to deal with the uncertainty of adopting from foster care.
Some families make comments such as, “We want to complete our family” or “We’re meant to be parents,” etc. Those families feel more desperate about meeting their desire to be a parent. Other families enter the process saying things like, “We know there are children who need families, and we have the resources to provide a loving family for them.”
This second set of families is at a very different place, and it is not necessarily a progression from one mindset to another. It’s just a different focus. Some are trying to meet their family needs, while others have decided to focus on the needs of children in society. There is nothing wrong with either motivation, but it greatly impacts a family’s experience in foster care adoption.
Can a family with the first mindset have a successful foster adoption? Yes! But in my experience it generally takes longer and is more of a challenging and emotional process. And those families are more likely to get discouraged quicker.
Can a family with the first mindset change their motivation for a more satisfying experience? Yes! But it takes extra understanding, encouragement, and training by the agency. Also, the family has to be willing to let go of parts of the dream that they’ve held onto for so long and exchange it for something new but still extremely rewarding.
All families and children in the foster to adopt process will experience grief at some point for some reason. One of my foster mothers was surprised at how much she grieved for the birth mother when rights were terminated, even though it meant she could adopt. So it is important for families to honestly assess how much they can take when they’ve already been struggling with a lot, and whether foster care adoption is really something they’re ready for.
The more a family loves a child in their home, the greater the grief and loss will be if an adoption does not happen; there’s no getting around that. However, that love makes a world of difference for a child, which makes it worth it in my opinion.
If you were infertile and adopted a baby from foster care, please share your experience in the comments.
Other Creating a Family Resources You Will Enjoy
- “If You Want to Be a Parent, Don’t Adopt from Foster Care”!?!
- Becoming a Foster Parent: What You Really Need to Know
- When a Foster Child Leaves, a Scar Remains
Image credit: Stevan Sheets
Add Your Comment
Dawn Davenport, this is a very insightful piece. This question needs to be asked. I’m going to add this post to my library of reference pieces. It’s really well done. Some of your best writing, imo.
Posting this comment for a reader who could not get her comments to post:
This article made me so angry I had to wait several minutes to calm down and post a civil comment. However, I now understand the way my husband and I were treated when we tried to adopt from Foster Care about two years ago.
Since our first visit to our local Child Welfare office, when we opened our hearts to the social worker who met with us, regarding our dreams to build a family through adoption, we were referred to a fertility clinic or to a private adoption agency. The social worker dared to asked me if I had “viable eggs.” She had records of our financial statements, Pictures of our home and property and also, certifications from doctors and my personal therapist, that confirmed our physical and mental fitness for adoption.
Our case indicated from the get-go that we were great candidates to adopt. However the social workers got very frustrated when we tried to explain in several occasions, that we were not ready to adopt older children for sibling groups. We explained that we wanted to start with a younger child (younger than 4) and see how we felt in the future. We had the best of intentions of heart and the social workers whom were assigned to our case knew this. Yet we encountered hostility, lack of support and disrespect. After such negative experience with the Child Welfare system, I realized that they really did not care about the well-being of the children.
Putting ALL infertile couples in the same category and all people whom decide to adopt from foster care is divisive, disrespectful and completely unfair.
No research study nor the number of years that a social care worker spends in this field are enough to understand the struggles that abused or neglected children face, nor to understand what it is to want to build a family unsuccessful. Very few people and organizations are empathetic and compassionate about what infertile couples experience. Not all couples have the same intentions or desires when their heart calls them to do the right thing, and that is to give a child who needs it, a forever loving home. No human being, fertile or infertile is certified to be a perfect parent.
You could certainly be both, infertile and a good candidate for adopting a child from foster care. If an infertile couple decides to adopt from foster care, they may not necessarily would take this route, because it is the most economic choice. They may do it, because they have the resources to provide for a child, and the desire to provide love, stability, safety and a healthy environment.
Being infertile makes you so vulnerable to abuse. Abuse from the health care system and the ridiculous lack of insurance coverage. Infertility makes you vulnerable to insensitive specialists, nurses and secretaries that often times have no idea what we face every day of our lives, and who honestly just run a very lucrative business. It makes you vulnerable to abuse from outrageously expensive private adoption agencies. Finally, and sadly, infertility makes you vulnerable to cruel and cynical social workers from the Foster Care system, that may be better off retired.
Having tried to build a family for over 6 years unsuccessfully, has allowed me to see the ugliness in humanity. My husband and I spent almost 50K, in both medical treatments and adoption attempts both in private agencies and in foster care.
The irony in all this, is that before we tried medical treatments or private agencies, we tried to adopt from foster care. Not because it was “faster” or “cheaper.” We opted for this choice, because we felt it was the most ethical and humane choice. We are not naive, nor uneducated. I have worked in Human Services for ten years and my husband is a scientist. We both researched, and educated ourselves about the needs of vulnerable children before we started the adoption process. We completed all the classes and foster care certifications, I read about 50 books about abuse and neglect. My job has consisted in working with needy families and vulnerable children, so I have years of experience in this are. We attended conferences about FAS, I subscribe to this show, and listened to hundreds of episodes, I researched about specialists and therapist specialized in special needs children in our area, and identified child care providers with experience in special needs children, so that me and my husband could better care for our future son or daughter.
None of this mattered to the social worker who performed our home study, and who made our lives so miserable for months and months, until she won, and we gave up. For several months, (this doesn’t count the three months that took us to complete the foster care certification) our case worker would come with more and more requests, that in the beginning seemed necessary, but at a certain point, became so unreasonable, that for the sake of our sanity and self-respect, we walked away from the whole process.
When I read the quote from the social worker quoted in this article “And those families are more likely to get discouraged quicker” I felt sick to my stomach. To be clear: It is not that we “these families” get discourage quicker. It is that the Foster Care system is set up in a way that they don’t provide to couples with financial resources and the tremendous desire to give a home for a child in need, a chance. It is that there aren’t any post-adoption support services in our entire state. It is that they really don’t care about the children.
I am sure my husband and I aren’t alone in this issue. Change must happen soon, for the well-being of our children. When hundreds of children could be placed in safe homes within reasonable time-frames, we would be a much better society. The goal should be to build families and to raise children in safe, loving environments. It should never be to assist a social worker in satisfying his/her desire to have another family taken off of a caseload. Super sad.