Why Co-Parent with My Foster Child’s Birth Parents When I Want to Adopt?

On occasion, we hear some variation on the following from someone in the Creating a Family Facebook Support Group: “Why should I go to all the trouble to co-parent with my foster child’s birth parent, when I really want to adopt this child and the birth parent doesn’t deserve a second chance?”

One of the biggest obstacles to forming a healthy co-parenting relationship between foster parents and birth parents is foster parents not understanding their role.

Reasons for Becoming a Foster Parent

The reasons people become foster parents are varied, but can generally be boiled down to three:

Soft Landing for a Child in Need

Some people become foster parents because they want to help children and families in crisis. They have the emotional bandwidth to help and they like kids and parenting. There is a need for good foster parents and someone has to do it, so why not them!

Want to Adopt

The primary reason others become a foster parent is that they want to adopt a child. Often they are coming from infertility and many years of wanting to parent. Some have spent all their savings on infertility treatment and have heard that adopting from foster care is free. They are often interested in fostering the youngest children.

For the Money?

This is actually a fake reason that the general public often attributes to foster parents. No doubt there are a few foster parents who are fostering the most kids allowed and depend on the foster care subsidy to help pay their bills, but these are the exception, not the rule. In fact, one of the requirements to become a foster parent is financial stability. Every foster parent I know spends more on their foster child than what they receive as a foster care subsidy payment.

What About Foster-to-Adopt

The term “foster-to-adopt” still exists but is becoming less common because we have come to realize that it is misleading. It encourages people who really want to adopt to think that their primary goal as a foster parent is to prepare the child and themselves for adoption. That is not the purpose of foster care and should not be the purpose of foster parenting.

Sometimes a caseworker has a strong feeling that a birth parent is not going to be able to “get their act together” and that reunification is unlikely. They may look for a foster family that is open to considering adoption in these case. But keep in mind that the initial goal, even if unlikely, is for the birth family to be healed to the place that the child can go home.

Foster Care is Not a Cheap Adoption Agency

It is often very hard for those who want to adopt to accept that their role is not only to care for the child but also to help heal the birth family. It is up to us, as foster care educators, to help people understand their primary role as a foster parent is to support the goal of foster care—healing birth families and getting children back home as soon as possible.

At Creating a Family, we tell people whose primary reason for becoming a foster parent is to adopt that it is indeed possible to adopt one of your foster children, but you will likely foster a number of children before adoption is an option. Unless the child is already legally free for adoption (and don’t forget that there are over 100,000 kiddos in foster care just waiting for an adoptive family), your primary role is to help heal the birth family.

About 25% of children who enter foster care are adopted by their foster parents.* Those are the odds you are working with.

The Best Attitude for Foster Parents Who Want to Adopt

The lines between the reasons for becoming a foster parent are not hard and fast. It is not only possible, it is common, for someone to really want to adopt, but also want to provide a safety net for a child and family in need. They go into foster parenting understanding that they will get the joy of having kids in their lives and hope that someday one of these kids may become their own. In the meantime, they are rooting for and co-parenting with the birth family.

If you really want to adopt, do you think you are cut out to be a foster parent?

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*(These are national statistics and there is some variation by state and county.)

Image credit: ciboulette