Many people go their entire lives without a thought to adoption or foster care. Perhaps they see a story on the news or have an acquaintance that decides to care for non-biological children. When fostering and adoption cross their path, well-meaning people think “what angels they must be” and “gosh, I could never do that.” (You don’t want to know what ill meaning people say to a parent or child’s face.)
Thus, I’m taking a moment to educate. In America, there are 3 main types of adoption:
domestic – an American child removed from the home or placed for adoption at the parent’s request.
international – a foreign-born child placed for adoption
kinship – an American child under the physical custody of a family member other than their biological parent, often a grandparent.
Kinship adoptions can be informal (not processed through the court systems) and are often overlooked by a crowded system, or relatives ashamed to admit the parent cannot care for the child. As a result, these parents are less likely to have access to needed services and support. Some forms of kinship can later be overturned by birth parents.
No matter what form of adoption, each one begins with a trauma – the separation from birth parents. In some adoptions, that is the only trauma, and it is followed by much joy.
For other children, the trauma is compounded by other circumstances, such as:
– the neglect and abuse that caused their removal
– neglect and abuse while in care, from caretakers or other adults
– distance from their culture of origin and possibly language of origin
– an unstable birth parent repeatedly becoming involved and then disappearing
– having to live with people of a different race, socioeconomic status, or belief system
– neurological conditions stemming from a lack of secure connection in infancy
– and many other unique conditions
I grew up with friends who had been adopted, so I had some understanding of this central tenet all my life. But even that paled in comparison to living it and meeting many different children who are dealing with this basic trauma in very different ways.
In America, we also have a system known as foster care. I’m not sure how it works elsewhere in the world.
Generally speaking, there are three kinds of fostering:
foster-to-adopt – in some states parents must complete specialized training and foster a child for a period of time before they can adopt that child from the child welfare system.
fostering – caring for a child who has no available and appropriate family members and whose biological parents are deceased, incarcerated, or otherwise unable or in some cases unwilling to care for them. This can be short or long term but usually is for a period of months to years, with a primary goal of reunifying the child with fir birth family.
respite – this is a short-term, either regular (such as monthly) or emergency care for a child whose parents (biological, adoptive, or foster) need a break. Typically the child has special needs, but it can also occur if foster parents are traveling, or if another child in the home is hospitalized, or if a parent is ill and unable to care for their child.
In America, fostering is subject to federal regulation but can look very different from state to state or even from county to county within the same state (because some states regulate at the state level while in other cases a county or agency might have additional regulations).
There are some similarities across the country:
— ICWA or the Indian Child Welfare Act recognizes the treaties made between the United States government and various American Indian nations and acknowledges the legacy of boarding schools that forced assimilation. For any child with Native heritage, that heritage can override all local and state regulations and the tribe has the ultimate authority over that child. How this is executed varies widely. Some tribes have their own systems while others monitor the local or state child welfare system and voice input on decisions.
— National regulations instituted a timeline which respects a child’s need for permanency. Parents now have a period of time in which to show substantial progress, after which a long-term solution is sought for the child. In practice this can vary widely depending on the case.
— “Special needs” and other words can have different meanings in foster care. For example, special needs can refer to a child with siblings, a child from a particular culture or religion that needs to be maintained, or an older child. It can also mean the more standard definition of a child with above-average medical needs. Always look up terms, even if you think you understand the definition.
I am not a lawyer, or a social worker, or in any other way able to dispense official advice on your foster case or adoption. There are people who can do that in your local area, and other corners of the internet for advice, venting, and ideas. I’m in no way an expert on these topics, this is just an overview since this week is a theme week where I’ll be posting several reviews of books that deal with adoption or foster care, and I suspect many of my readers don’t have much experience with the American system.