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Family and Children's
Resource Program

Vol. 22, No. 3
June 2017

Let's Be Clear with Families: "Fostering to Adopt" Is Not Really a Thing

by Britt Cloudsdale, NC Kids Adoption and Foster Care Network, NC Division of Social Services

If your responsibilities include talking to prospective foster and adoptive parents, it is likely you've heard families say they want to "foster to adopt." It's a common phrase and, at first glance, conveys a simple meaning: the family would like to foster with the end goal of adopting a child placed in their home.

Because this phrase is so widely used, many families--and even some social workers--are confused to learn that "fostering to adopt," as a concept, does not exist. Indeed, because the "foster to adopt" mindset can undermine our efforts to help children and families, we must be ready to set the record straight whenever this term comes up.

Conflicting Goals
To see why the "foster to adopt" idea is problematic, consider the primary goals of foster care and adoption. When a child enters foster care, the goal of the child's team is almost always to reunify the child with the child's family. As a member of the team, the foster parent's role is to care for the child, keep them safe, and meet their ongoing needs until it is safe for the child to return home.

As members of the team, foster parents must do what they can to maintain and strengthen the bond between children and their families. They must buy in to the practice of shared parenting, which builds trust between the biological parents and foster parents and encourages consistency and security for the child. Shared parenting only works when all members of the team view the child's stay in foster care as temporary and are motivated to achieve reunification.

The primary goal of adoption, conversely, is permanency with someone other than the biological parents. Simply put, "foster to adopt" doesn't work because the goals of foster care and adoption are inherently in conflict.

When we ignore this conflict and license families whose primary aim is to adopt their foster child, we set the stage for disappointment and disaster. These families may be unwilling to engage in activities that would help us achieve reunification. In the worst cases, they may even sabotage the team's efforts, which can lead to placement disruptions, longer foster care stays, and more trauma for children.

Send a Clear Message
So, what's to be done? As professionals, we need to be clear with families that the idea that people can "foster to adopt" is a myth. It's our responsibility to ensure families understand the primary goal of foster care, and to properly assess the motivations of families who seek to foster. As we assess families, we should encourage them to carefully and deliberately search their hearts to understand their own motivations. Being open to the idea of adoption is very different from having a goal of adoption.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with wanting to permanently add children to one's family through adoption. We owe a great debt to everyone willing to open their home to our kids in this way!

But if we identify prospective foster families we think may not be able to put their personal adoption goals aside as foster parents, our choice is clear. We should never try to convince anyone to pursue fostering if it would not be a good fit for them. If you are a foster parent recruiter, being clear that there is no such thing as "foster to adopt" may mean referring more families to agencies serving families who exclusively seek to adopt. In the long run, though, this is a better use of your resources, and will result in better outcomes for children and families.

In North Carolina there are many different agencies with different methods, but we are all ultimately a part of one, unified child welfare system. If your agency is not the best fit for a family because of their motivations or because of your focus area, there is likely another agency out there for that family. Partnering across agencies as we recruit foster and adoptive parents opens more homes for more kids, and helps children exit foster care sooner.

Words to Use with Families

Here are some things it can be helpful to say to help families understand the different goals of foster care and adoption, and why understanding their motivation for fostering is so important.

If you keep thinking about adoption every time you get a placement, it's going to make your role as a foster parent very difficult. When the team is working on reunification, you may find yourself hoping it falls apart so you get the chance to adopt. When it's time to engage in shared parenting, your heart won't be in it 100%.

Being a foster family who is open to the idea of adoption is MUCH different than a foster family with the goal of adopting.

The bottom line is, check your motivation. Examine your heart. If you became a foster parent, would you be looking at each child as potentially being your own, or would you be able to cultivate a good relationship between the children and biological family and love the children as if they were your own?

If the answer is yes, you have nothing to worry about.

If you're not sure or your answer is no, you may need to think a bit more before pursuing licensure.

Adapted from Sirratt, 2016