415,000 children in the U.S. were placed in foster care in 2014, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families. Twenty-six percent of those children are waiting to be adopted and 56 percent have parents whose rights were terminated. In 2015, Ohio had 2,801 children waiting to be adopted, according to the Ohio Adoption website.
While there are still children who need permanent homes, many families around the region have decided to serve as foster or adoptive parents. Those families have a lot to consider to prepare for the new addition of a young child or teenager. Agencies that support and assist families with this process share what parents can do to get ready before the child arrives home.
What’s right for your family?
There is an important difference between foster care and adoption.
Foster care is meant to be temporary care that may last for a night, a year, or more. Foster parents provide a safe, loving, and temporary home to children who have been removed from the care of their parents due to abuse or neglect. Reunification of the children with their birth parents is always the primary goal of foster care, and the foster caregivers are expected to assist with that process when appropriate. When reunification with birth parents or other relatives is not possible, children will become available for adoption.
Adoption is a lifelong commitment. The adoptive parents become legally, morally, and financially responsible for all aspects of the child’s care.
Tracy Muntz-Dalton from The Village Network in Wooster emphasized the importance of parents developing a support system, which would include their children, parents, and even their place of business — “that ‘village’ is going to help the family to meet the needs of the children in their care.”
Brandy Pendleton, director of social services for the Bair Foundation, suggested some questions that parents should consider as they prepare for foster care or adoption: Who will babysit? How will they make sure the other children in their home do not feel lost or abandoned? How can they accommodate planning one-on-one time with each child, which has to be done intentionally?
“A family should be thoughtful in their preparation to adopt,” recommends staff from Caring for Kids, a private non-profit, full-service adoption and foster care agency in Cuyahoga Falls that serves Ohio. “They should consider their strengths and limitations, and be realistic about the children they are hoping to adopt. A family should consider what age child they are prepared to parent, the level and types of needs they feel comfortable and capable of parenting, how many children would they like to add to their family, are they open to sibling groups, and is their family and extended family committed.”
Training also plays a key role in the decisions and how to help all members of the family know the expectations of becoming a new foster or adoptive parent. Many agencies provide services such as informational meetings, training and other resources.
For example, The Village Network provides 36 hours of training for individuals who have parented within the last 5 years, and 48 hours of training for first-time parents. Those trainings discuss child development, trauma, sexual abuse, the child protection team, the primary family, what to expect, policies and procedures, permanency for children and families, cultural issues, and even managing behaviors.
Summit County Children Services requires families desiring to become foster or foster-to-adopt parents to first attend an informational meeting to learn about SCCS and the children and families they serve, as well as their specific need for foster and foster-to-adopt parents. Once the decision is made to move forward and become licensed for foster or foster-to-adopt, families attend training consisting of workshops designed to orient prospective parents to child welfare, explore the experiences of children and families involved with SCCS, and develop skills to successfully parent these children.
Caring for Kids suggests researching on the Internet, attending informational sessions, reading books on the topic, and talking to multiple families who have pursued similar paths.
Here are some questions and answers to consider when preparing the whole family for a foster or adopted child:
How can parents help children prepare to welcome new family members?
“Discuss that the child coming into the home didn’t have the life that the child is experiencing,” Muntz-Dalton says. “Don’t give them details, but that the child is going to need a lot of patience and understanding from them.”
She also recommended reassuring children that even though another child is coming into the home, your love will never change. Make sure to take the time to provide one-on-one time with all of the children in the home.
Pendleton warns that children may be very excited early on in the process, but that excitement can quickly fade. Parents should empower their children to let them know when they are feeling lost, left out, or invisible.
How can the parents prepare other relatives for adoption or foster care?
“Many relatives only have a very basic level of understanding the adoption and/or foster care process,” says the staff from Caring for Kids. They recommend educating your family on the process, the myths, and the realities regarding foster care and adoption, as well as how they can support you. Relatives need to know that parenting children out of the foster care system is not always like parenting children that have had a safe and secure home since birth and your parenting may look different from parenting children born to you.
Letting your family know why you decided to pursue foster care or adoption is also an important step, Pendleton suggests. Let family members know this is something you are excited about and would appreciate their support in. She warns that parents taking on foster and adoptive roles should also be prepared for some family members to not be excited or to reject the idea, and should be open to talking that through with them.
What are some ways the parents can prepare their home for their new child?
If fostering or adopting an older child, make sure the child’s bedroom is neutral. Let the child have input and control over how the room looks after they arrive. A child needs a space that is his or her own where he or she can feel safe.
Muntz-Dalton suggests having a dresser cleared for the child to place his or her most valuable possessions, perhaps including a picture of his or her biological parents or family.
“You will also want to consider the ages of the children you will be adding,” suggests the staff from Caring for Kids. “Have a warm and inviting child-friendly environment that would include age-appropriate toys, books, crafts, and games.”
To help your child feel welcomed into the home, Caring for Kids suggests hanging pictures of the new children around the home as soon as possible. They also suggest having a new family picture taken and displayed.
Brent Hite, Homefinding Recruiter for SCCS, states that home visits with a social worker are part of the home assessment process. The social worker will assist the family in preparing their home for a placement. Homes must pass a basic safety audit and fire inspection, and families must have adequate beds and space for the number of children they desire to foster and foster-to-adopt.For more information about preparing for foster care or adoption, check out these additional resources recommended by local agencies:
Dr. Bruce Perry’s books, “Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” and “Born for Love”
“The Explosive Child” by Dr. Ross Greene
Survival Strategies for Foster Caregivers: ocwtp.net
Ohio Adoption Guide: odjfs.state.oh.us
Visit the Northeast Ohio Parent Adoption Directory for a listing of local agencies and resources for fostering and adoption.