By Jeanne Hollingshead
Most families spend years thinking about becoming foster or adoptive parents. My husband and I were no different. We debated and researched having children after the age of 40. We talked about whether we had space, time and energy to parent. After much deliberation and the purchase of a new house, we decided we were ready to explore fostering and adoption with more intention.
Fostering and adopting is a time-consuming process, and it’s normal to spend your time fantasizing about the child who may join your family. Our fantasy was to adopt a child around the age of 8 years old — old enough to take care of his own needs but young enough to still need a parent.
Lesson No. 1 is there are a lot of ways to bring a child into your home, and adoption was more expensive than I’d realized.
We selected a great private adoption agency and went to an information meeting. It was an overwhelming experience. I’ve been working in the foster care and adoption field for over 15 years, but there was still a sharp learning curve. Lesson No. 1 is there are a lot of ways to bring a child into your home, and adoption was more expensive than I’d realized.
We hit the pause button and explored other options, which led us to an information meeting at a local Department of Social Services (DSS). Our local DSS has great support services and a team of professional and experienced staff. They described a need for adults to work with teenagers and said that some of the children in their programs become available for adoption, but it was unpredictable. The presenter said that fostering is about meeting a child’s needs and not our own. That forced us to consider what we wanted from this experience. Lesson No. 2 is no matter what our fantasy is like, no organization or child will fit neatly into that picture.
The presenter said that fostering is about meeting a child’s needs and not our own. That forced us to consider what we wanted from this experience
Next, we went to a treatment foster care agency. This agency provides a combination of services including training, mentoring, and they have a supportive team environment. They work with a variety of children from many local DSS agencies around the state. Some children have already been released for adoption and are waiting to be matched with a permanent family. They also stressed the need for families to foster and adopt teenagers.
By this time, we had decided that fostering a teenager would be an option we would consider. For us, fostering is a way of exploring what it’s like having a child without making a permanent decision. It felt like a more logical progression than committing to adoption from the beginning. It also made the idea of parenting a teenager less intimidating because of the supports that would be offered. Lesson No. 3 is that adoption and foster care allows you the flexibility to discover what you want for yourself and your family.
Many people come to fostering out of a desire to give a child a stable place during a challenging time of his or her life. Some want to add a member to their family, and others want to help the children and families in their community by being a supportive and secure person. Our final lesson is that you can’t assume you know the destination before you make the journey.
Lutheran Family Services of Virginia has provided treatment foster care and adoption services for more than 20 years. We continually look for families who want to adopt or foster, but it is getting harder because the numbers of children needing a home are growing.
This is National Adoption Month, and this year’s theme is “Teens Need Families, No Matter What.” It’s worth considering that there may be a youth out there who could make a difference in your life.