Preparing Your Family for a Child from Foster Care

Whether you have wanted to adopt all your life or you've recently decided that adopting a foster care child is a way in which you can positively shape society, know that your decision doesn't just involve you and your spouse or partner. You may have parents and other children who are affected by adding another person to the family, so be sure you're confident about the path you've chosen.

Explaining Your Decision to Other Children

Just how you explain your decision to adopt or foster/adopt to existing children will depend on the age of your child. In foster/adopt situations, you will need to explain to your children that you're going to be taking care of the new child because his parents are ill or can't take care of him right now. Younger children don't need more details than that. Talk to your older children with as much detail as is necessary for them to accept the child and feel safe. Remember that children have a tendency to see events in a very self-centered way. While you may foster several children before being able to adopt one, your other children need to know that they are permanent and not subject to being sent to another family.

If you are adopting from foster care, your explanations won't be much different than in any other adoption. This new child is becoming a member of the family because his birth parents could not care for him. Older children will want more details — such as why the parents can no longer care for the child or where they are.

Alert!

Foster children can endure multiple losses (losing loved ones, a home, a school, best friends) within a short period of time, so their grief may be demonstrated in disconcerting ways. A foster child who has experienced frequent loss could bang his head against the floor, scratch himself until he bleeds, hide under the bed or in the closet, etc. Talk with experts about how to handle these behaviors.

Deciding to foster/adopt or adopt is very different from the decision to get pregnant. You probably wouldn't give your other children a vote on when you get pregnant, although they may tell you they want a brother or sister (or not). Since biology doesn't dictate, and you have a choice whether or not to adopt, you should involve all those who are old enough to have an opinion to participate in discussions about having a foster/adopt child in your home. After all, the new child will be a sibling. However, because it is impossible to guarantee a positive outcome to a child being placed in your home, your existing children should in no way feel responsible for the final placement decision. The final decision of having a new child in your home is an adult responsibility and children need to be free of that burden.

Reassuring Your Children

If you are planning to foster/adopt, prepare your children for the uncertainty of the situation, because they, too, will be sad if their sibling returns to his biological family. Depending on their ages, they may fear that they could be taken away from you, too. Take your children to training with you. If the rules don't allow them in the classes, share what you've learned when you come home — in the same way you would go over homework.

Tell them why you want to foster/adopt. For example, your situation may be like Manuel and Amy's who had five children ranging in age from eight to nineteen. They were called by Children's Protective Services in their state to take two-year-old Tyler. Manuel and Amy called a family meeting about what they could do for Tyler. You should hold the same kind of meeting if your children are old enough to have an opinion. Tell them generalities like “We've been asked to take a baby whose dad can't take care of him” and “Tyler will be with us at least three months (or whatever you've been told) because his dad is trying to turn his life around and get him back.”

All of Manual and Amy's children enthusiastically accepted Tyler, thinking it would be six months or so before reunification. But Tyler's father continued using drugs, failed to comply with court-ordered parenting classes, and his parental rights were terminated. Manuel and Amy adopted Tyler after the other children proclaimed him their baby brother.

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