The Realities of Adopting Through Foster Care

I’ve seen troubling messages about adopting through foster care. I’m not talking about the standard messages about adopting waiting children – kids who are free for adoption, but because of their age, significant medical or behavioral issues, or sibling group size, are in limbo in the foster care system. No, I’m talking about the Facebook pictures and blog posts that promote a very rose-colored outlook on adopting infants and very young children through the foster care system.

While it is probably not possible to overstate the need for more foster homes, I have a real problem with this trend of making adoption through foster care seem much easier than it is. Yes, there are children in the foster care system who NEED to be adopted – but they are not healthy babies. Yes, there are healthy babies in the foster care system, but they aren’t available for adoption – and most of them WON’T be freed for adoption.

The realities of adopting through foster careThere are so many wonderfully rewarding aspects of foster parenting – but instead of focusing on those to encourage potential foster parents, the trend seems to be to highlight the RARE cases where a foster parent picks up a newborn from the hospital and then ultimately adopts that child. Yes, it happens, but it’s NOT THE NORM! And when it does happen, it takes A LONG TIME!

When we talk to would-be adoptive parents, and minimize the emotional dangers of foster care, we’re not encouraging or recruiting FOSTER parents – and we’re not doing anyone any favors.

PLEASE do not get into foster care because you think that is an easy, inexpensive way to adopt a baby or young child!!!!!!

It is absolutely possible to get a newborn placement and ultimately adopt that child. But let me tell you what happens between that first call and the “Forever Day” pictures.

  1. You get the phone call: “We have a 2-day-old baby girl that needs to be picked up at the hospital. She tested positive and the shelter order’s already approved. Can you pick her up tonight?”
  2. You gleefully say yes and run to tell hubby as soon as you hang up the phone. While you wait for the call with further instructions, hubby gets the infant car seat out of the garage and gets it installed. You go through your “stash” for baby girl bedding and newborn baby girl clothing and begin to make up the nursery.
  3. The phone rings again. “Never mind. The mom realized we were sheltering and ran with the baby. We have no idea where they are, but the state is looking. We’ll let you know if they are found.”
  4. You had the tiny baby to your prayer list, but never hear anything further about the baby girl.
  5. A couple of weeks go by and you get an 11 pm call, “we have an 11-week-old Caucasian boy coming into care tonight. His mom already has several kids in care and we don’t know who the father is. The mom’s family was already disqualified for placement of the previous kids, and the people that have the siblings don’t want a baby. He’ll be a quick TPR and then available. I know you want to adopt a baby, so you were my first call. Do you want him?”
  6. See #2. Substitute boy for girl.
  7. Adorable baby boy shows up at 1 am. Instant captivation ensues. Pictures go out to extended family, everyone is overjoyed.
  8. A few weeks go by and the CM calls with an update – some guy has stepped forward claiming that he could be the father, so we need to take the baby for a cheek swab. There is no way this guy is the dad, so don’t worry about it.
  9. This guy is the dad. He has no criminal record, wants the baby and has the ability to care for the baby. The paperwork is a formality, so you begin to pack up his things and prepare to say good-bye.
  10. Paperwork goes through, baby boy goes to dad. You take some time to adjust to his absence and prepare for the next call.


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  1. Aspiring Foster Mama

    Most people write about what they have experienced. That doesn’t make it a trend. The tone of your post is discouraging and angry in my opinion.

    1. Duck Mommy

      Thanks for reading. I have seen a lot of these types of things recently, which is why I called it a trend.

      I’m sorry if you felt that I seem angry. I was going for realistic. These 10 steps are actually my personal experience.

      If it discourages people from thinking it’s easy to adopt a baby through foster care, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. My sweet Squirm went through completely unnecessary trauma because his previous foster mom wasn’t realistic about adopting through foster care.

      When we, as foster parents, encourage others to foster, I think it needs to be from a place of highlighting the rewards of FOSTERING, not the extremely rare instances of quick happy endings.

  2. POWmom01

    I completely understand what you are saying. I also want to promote fostering but we are one of “those” stories with the quick/fast adoption via FC. I don’t think our story portraits the reality of foster care.

    1. Duck Mommy

      Thanks for commenting. I definitely think you should share your story. I have a good friend who picked up her daughter from the hospital and ultimately adopted her. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to let people know that it *can* happen. But I think it’s crucial to make sure they understand that that’s not normal.

      Because otherwise, you get people who aren’t willing (able?) to handle the realities of foster care, and that never ends well for anyone.

      I truly think the key is to promote the rewards of FOSTER CARE. For example, since I take babies, I get to experience the first banana/step/word/hockey game *over and over and over*. And for the most part, the kids leave before they want to drive my car. 🙂

  3. Anonymous

    I have done it twice brought a baby home from the hospital that is and kept them both. It took 35 months for the first one to go to adoption. But he was mine from the moment we came home from the hospital very few visits with birth family, a few up’s and downs and he is not healthy but he is mine. The second one was a long bumpy road of 11 months of birth mother visits and 19 months of waiting before we got to court. It is a long journey but so worth it. It is not easy.

  4. Amy @ Fig Milkshakes

    Hi duck mom. My husband and I do eventually want to adopt a small child. Two or younger, but it certainly does not have to be a newborn. We do want to be optimistically realistic about what to expect – in your experience do foster families have any better “chance” of adopting a child in that age group? Thanks.

  5. Duck Mommy

    Hi, Amy. Thanks for reading/writing.

    I want to make sure that I am answering the question you are asking.

    Are you asking whether a foster parent would have a better chance of adopting a toddler from foster care than a non-foster family? Yes.

    If you are looking to adopt a remotely healthy child under the age of 2 from foster care, I think you would have an incredibly difficult time doing that if you were not the child’s foster parents.

    I won’t say it’s impossible. You could be in the right place and know the right people, at the exactly right time…. But I definitely wouldn’t make any plans based on that happening…

    I am not aware of a single waiting child in the US who is reasonably healthy, not a part of a sibling group, available for adoption and under the age of 2.

    Typically, by the time any child in the foster system becomes available for adoption, that child has been in foster care for well over a year. So, in the case of a 2-year-old, that child has most likely been a member of a foster family for over half his life. If biological family is ruled out, the foster family has “dibs”, if you will.

    Additionally, if a young child is part of a foster family that is not willing to consider adoption, agencies (and foster families) will start considering a move to an adoptive placement as soon as it is apparent that the case is heading towards adoption.

    Finally, the system HATES creating legal orphans. Judges like there to be an adoptive family lined up before the rights of biological parents are severed.

    I hope that answers your question – I do want to add one more thing:
    The goal of foster case is not adoption. The purpose of foster care is to provide a safe, loving and stable home for children until they can safely be returned to their biological parents. Failing that, biological relatives are the next preferred option (in most cases).

    ***In the vast, vast, vast majority of foster care cases, the goal is to safely reunify the children with their biological parents. ***

    Adoption via foster care does happen – my family is living proof of that. But all foster parents must always remember that a child has the right to be raised by their biological parents if it can be done safely. That is the number one priority in foster care. And foster parents must always remember that.
    And I will be the first person to admit that that is easier said than done.

    ~~Duck Mommy

  6. CJ Daddy

    Hi Duck Mommy!

    Thank you so much for this post. We are working through the “system” and picked up a two day old little boy directly from the hospital three weeks ago, the CSW said this was the first direct from hospital pick up she’d done in over 5 years, it very seldom happens and we live in a BIG state.

    A year and a half ago we started the lengthly foster care process for two main reasons; 1. We wanted to offer a permanent home to a child who really needed it, 2. We couldn’t afford the thousand and thousands of dollars private adoption would require.

    The journey was not an easy one, in fact, a week before we got our current placement, the exact example you laid out in points 1-3 happened to us and we were devastated.

    In retrospect, the first failed placement was a blessing because it prepared us emotionally and mentally for what it actually means to be a Foster Parent.

    Yes our primary goal is adoption but I have learned a very, VERY important fact; everything you do MUST be for the best interests of the child, even if that means that he will be reunited with his birth family and regardless of your perception of his biological families ability to take care of him.

    The first night we got “our” little guy home it struck me! He is here right now and I am making a difference in his life in this moment…and that is the gift and joy of being a Foster Parent.

    I truly hope that prospective parents who are interested in fostering to adopt read your post and prepare themselves for what this process entails.

    We are currently helping our social workers in every way we can with the reunification process (even though his biological Mom is being noncompliant) and while I do admit to saying little prayers that he is our “forever-child”, those prayers aren’t nearly as significant as the difference we are making in his life today and our commitment to doing “what is in the best interests of the child”.

  7. Duck Mommy

    Thanks for reading and commenting CJ. I’m not sure why I never came back to continue this story. But I will tell you that the guy in #5-10 came back. And we finalized his adoption in March.

    But before that we had Lady Bug for almost 2 years before she went back to her dad. We were dead-set against it, but it really was the best thing for her and they are doing marvelously!

    It is such a delicate balance we have to hold as foster parents – loving a little one like our own and taking them fully into our heart, but genuinely working toward reunification. I’m glad that you’re learning about the higher call of fostering, rather than just focusing on what it means for you.

    I wish you luck and will add you and your duckling to my prayer list.

    ~~Duck Mommy


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