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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

But I Never Said I Wanted to Be a Foster Parent

Many people contact the state when they come to the decision to adopt. Primarily, they want to add a child to their family- they anticipate the fun, the snuggles, the pride in having a son or daughter, the challenges of raising a child into an adult. They have probably looked at their options and have come to the conclusion that they want to give a kid from their own community a chance to have a stable, loving family. Maybe they’ve seen a Heart Gallery portrait that touched them, maybe searched out a child online, but usually they just have a general idea of the kind of child that would best fit with their family. Then they make the call and go to an orientation or Raft training and learn that CYFD only issues foster care licenses- not “adoption licenses.” This can be confusing, (“Don’t we hear all of the time about all of the kids that need to be adopted?”) or even infuriating (“I said that I don’t want to be a foster parent!”)

But here’s the deal- social workers aren’t trying to find the right kid for your family, they are trying to find the right family for a child. Adopting a child is not like buying a used car where you find the right model, low mileage, upgraded options, and then negotiate the best price. Kids in state custody are actual people with ideas, specific talents and gifts and always, always a lot of hurt. You can’t order one with the characteristics you want, like a sci-fi movie. They are already assembled and already there. One way to find them homes is to put them in temporary care with a family that doesn’t want to adopt and wait until a “forever family” comes forward. In storybooks, this process takes a couple of weeks. In reality, and more so in the past, this process has caused further damage for the child because they were inevitably moved many times before they ended up in a family that wanted to adopt them. New Mexico joined many other states in deciding that they would find a better way to find a child permanent parents. “Concurrent placement” is the strategy they have chosen to help kids find stability with the least amount of system-inflicted pain.

Being a foster/adopt/concurrent parent in this plan involves a paradigm shift (one of many in the life of an adoptive parent). The question changes from, “How can I find the child that I’ve dreamed of?” to, “What do I need to change in myself and my circumstances to help a child heal and thrive?” These changes can be difficult. They may involve becoming vulnerable and open to establishing a relationship with the child’s first family. (That may be as large as welcoming them into your home or as small as sending pictures a few times a year- it’s important to a kid to know where they are from.) They probably mean that you need to learn some very different ways of parenting than the ones you grew up with. (The trauma experienced by many children requires closer supervision and a priority of connection instead of perfect behavior.) They could mean that you have to take on the risk of loving a child as your own and letting go. (Even though CYFD tries to place children who are legally free with families who want to adopt, they don’t always know if Aunt Mary will step forward at the last minute.) Or not loving a child right away and taking your time to nurture a small flame of caring. (Kids with so much hurt can be slow to trust and to attach to you as their parent.) There is sacrifice in this lifestyle, but there is joy. You think you’re signing up for a sprint, but it becomes a marathon. This is not for the faint of heart. But for that one child, it is worth it.



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