22, No. 3
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.
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
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.