What makes a successful adoption?
In my limited experience, this is a fairly complicated answer. For me, I fell in love with the boys who were placed with me immediately. They felt as much mine as any naturally born child could have. Adoption, for them, probably felt the same because they were always mine in their minds, having entered the foster care system at the age of eighteen months, with the final adoption taking place ten days short of two years later. Most, if not all their memories were with me and my extended family. For me, however, it was the greatest relief I have ever experienced. Because, they were my children in every way other than biologically, and mere months before the finalization of the adoption, I was being told that I would need to work with the biological father on a plan for potentially transitioning the boys back to him. This was legally required, and, by all rights, a successful conclusion to a foster case. But, nothing in my heart agreed with that outcome. To take that another step, expressing these concerns can be viewed as a barrier to reunification and grounds for removal, in and of itself. You, as a foster parent, have no rights. At least not in the legal sense of what a biological parent has, whether qualified or not. And that makes adoption through foster care an extremely stressful process. When you, as a parent, would throw yourself into traffic to protect your child, but you have to willingly give that child back to a parent who has made minimal effort to change the behaviors that lost him or her their children in the first place, it is difficult.
But, so as not to get too far from the root of the question, the answer to what makes a successful adoption is a willingness to endure anything you may encounter during the process, without allowing your fears to rob the child of the short time they are able to simply be children, free from the worry of separation, hunger, abuse, neglect, or whatever other unique situation landed them in your care. It is your job to shoulder every ounce of it, and be as forthcoming, outspoken or protective as you are legally aloud, without them knowing their future was ever uncertain. When the adoption is actually finalized, not a thing will change for them, but everything will change for you. Because your biggest fear will have been alleviated to make room for new ones shared by every loving, responsible parent on the planet.
What advice would you give foster parents when making the decision to adopt?
Do it. Without a second’s worth of uncertainty. If you’ve made the decision to foster children and your motives were, in fact, to complete your family and give a child who was dealt a lousy hand, a chance at a better life, then do it. I had countless people offer opinions ranging from, “What an amazing person you are. I could never do that”, to, “Foster kids are problematic and you are going to regret it.” Both, by the way, are worthless. Taking in foster children does not make you Mother Teresa and foster kids are not inherently problematic. If you’re doing it to be considered for a special honor, donate a kidney instead. It’s easier. If you think you’re a savior going to set a bad kid straight, then talk to a therapist and deal with your hero complex, self-righteous indignation, or repressed childhood memories. This is hard. It’s forever. You are not responsible for whatever brought them into your life, but now that they are, you are absolutely responsible for what happens next. Adoption gives you the opportunity to see this through to the end. It is the most personally rewarding and simultaneously difficult thing you will likely ever do. But, from the bottom of my heart, it is worth every second of struggle, uncertainty, and pain. And, to walk my previous statement back just a little, your willingness does, in my opinion, make you uniquely qualified for this privilege. You will not be perfect. You will second guess yourself and compare the job you’re doing to everyone else’s experience. My advice is, let your child see you struggle. They have likely never seen anyone do that for them. It is through your imperfections that a child learns to accept their own imperfections, and still know they are valuable. They also learn how to work through a struggle as a member of a family.
What advice would you give perspective adoptive parents?
I know many people who have had dozens of foster children and never had the opportunity to adopt. I, conversely, was fortunate to be able to adopt my first placement, a set of identical twin boys. Going through an adoption agency is similar to visiting a Build-A-Bear at your local mall. You can be choosy, but so can the parents who are placing their child up for adoption. It is also prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. I think adoption is great, however you choose to go about it. A lot of people will tell you that going into foster care for the purpose of adoption is a terrible idea. With that said, even the system will tell you that the primary goal of Social Services is reunification. As it should be. Personally, I would change the amount of effort and time that goes into meeting this goal, but it is primarily an avenue to remove a child from a dangerous environment so that the parent(s) can fix the issue. There needs to be ample opportunity for them to get their child back. Now, I will preface my next statement with: THIS IS MY PERSONAL OPINION AND NOT THE OPINION OF SOCIAL SERVICES, CHILD WELFARE SERVICES, STATE ADOPTIONS OR THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA. It seems to me that California laws pander to the lowest common denominator in society, meaning that the more an individual messes up, the more time and chances they are given, and the more resources get invested into them. As a perspective adoptive parent, this can feel like the laws are written to benefit the parents, not the children. To whatever extent that “feeling” is or is not accurate, will vary based upon the circumstances surrounding each unique case.
Again, to get back to the heart of the question, my advice for perspective adoptive parents is this: Play the odds. If I was a mathematician, I would break down the odds for what it took for me to get to a place in my own life where this became a decision I was ready to make for myself and get approved at the exact time that a set of twin boys entered the system, and were ultimately a successful adoption. The odds of birthing twins is something like 1 in 30. The chance of a set of twins becoming available for adoption is probably somewhere in the vicinity of 1 in 5000. Then factor into that all the things that happened for me to make these decisions at the exact moments I needed to, and you’re probably somewhere closer to 1 in 500,000. I have no idea. In may be half that or ten times that. I failed statistics. But if you’re wondering if you should put yourself in a position where the odds are stacked against you, my answer is, yes. Absolutely. Make the decision and metaphorically burn the ships. It can and does happen for people just like you and me, every day in this state. It takes a leap of faith and a willingness to endure setbacks and disappointments, but my advice is to confidently take that step and ignore the advice of those around you who have never or will never do anything beyond what makes mathematical sense to them or takes minimal effort or personal risk. History is written by people who defied the odds. I am one of them. You can be, too. But no one has ever had a statue erected of them for their good intentions and, in my opinion, action is the most defining, replicable quality that separates great people from average ones.