One of the biggest benefits of financial freedom is the ability to spend more time helping other people. Although writing about building wealth is useful and donating money is good, adopting or fostering a child reaches a next level of kindness.
Today’s post is from Jillian at Montana Money Adventures. She has adopted not one, but four foster children. People like Jillian are an inspiration. I hope her story helps you better understand the foster care system. I was going to write a post about what I learned at a foster care training seminar I attended, but Jillian’s post is so much better.
On my very first date with my husband, I mustered the courage to ask him the one question that would be a deal breaker. “How do you feel about adoption?” His answer was encouraging, so I took a deep breath and asked one more question, “How would you feel about adopting from foster care?”
It might not seem like first date kind of conversation, but I’ve never been one to waste time. I was passionate about being a family for kids who desperately needed one, and any future spouse needed to share that passion. Three years later we adopted our oldest son, a teenager from foster care.
The need for foster/adoptive parents is enormous. There are currently over 100,000 children in foster care available for adoption and waiting for a family to step forward. Over 20,000 of those kids will “age-out” of foster care each year, never finding a forever family, and will go into adulthood alone. They are often ill prepared and lacking the support needed to flourish as adults.
The need for foster care adoption is growing rapidly due to increased methamphetamine use across the US. 10 years ago, most kids removed from their biological families were school aged kids. It was in school that teachers would notice the abuse and neglect. Now more babies are born addicted to meth.
The threshold for removing a child is extremely demanding (unlike 20-30 years ago), but meth addicted babies aren’t able to go home with their birth parents. Because meth is extremely addictive, and drug rehab resources scarce, many of those parents don’t sober up in order to be the parents their children need.
Over the last twelve years we have adopted twice from foster care. Our oldest son, Micah, we adopted when he was twelve. Then two years ago we adopted a sibling group of three kiddos. The two groups of kids who struggle the most to find families are older kids and sibling groups. Those are the kids that pulled on my heart the most. The kids that everyone had passed over, and might not get another chance for an awesome family. (I will use the term “family” but that doesn’t mean a married wife and husband. Any adult willing to come alongside these kids is “family,” and the states won’t discriminate based on age, marital status, gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. And “awesome” doesn’t mean perfect!)
There are some common misconceptions when it comes to adopting from foster care. After adopting four kids from the foster care system, speaking to foster-adoptive groups, and my husband’s former work of licensing adoptive families for hard to adopt kids, these are the most frequent concerns we have heard.
5 Common Concerns About Adopting From Foster Care
1. The kids in foster care are criminals or bad kids.
There are over 400,000 kids in foster care currently. They aren’t criminals or bad kids. They are in foster care at absolutely no fault of their own. Their biological parents just can’t care for them right now. These kids have experienced horrible trauma, abuse, neglect or drug addiction. Then they were removed from their home, which from an adult perspective is a good thing, but it’s a horrible loss for the child. They just lost everything they know. Their parents, their bedroom, all their toys, their friends, maybe their school. They might have been separated from siblings when the social worker couldn’t find a foster family who could take all the kids together. Those things might not have been great, but it was their whole life. They are hurting. They don’t have the words, comprehension, or ability to express all that hurt. They don’t fully understand how to process the trauma they have seen and lived through.
They try to cope the best they can. And often it comes out sideways. Instead of asking for a conversation and hug, they might throw things and yell. Instead of talking about how they are worried about their biological siblings (because it was the 7-year-old who always took care of mom when she was high) they might throw a tantrum.
But it’s one of the most beautiful parts of being a foster and adoptive parent. Slowly, bit by bit, they change. Right before your eyes. As we love them through the behaviors, as we pull them close, as we help them wrap words around the hurt and confusion they feel, they become their true selves. In small moments you see how sweet they are. You discover that they are actually crazy smart and awesome at school. They are funny and witty. They become people who are passionate and sympathetic for others. It’s the hurt, trauma, and loss we see at first. But if we stick with them, and love them through the hurts, we get to see the transformation. Of all the parts of our story, adoption is the most amazing and rewarding thing I’ve been privileged to be a part of.
Do you want a perfect child for your family?
Or can you be an awesome family for a child?
There are about 1000 miles between those two question.
The child you foster/adopt won’t be perfect. They are dealing with a lot. But if you can be an awesome family for a hurting child, that is what they most desperately need (reminder, “awesome” does not mean perfect). A great family could change everything for them. Their entire life trajectory can shift.
2. It’s expensive.
Private adoption is expensive and overseas adoption is expensive ($20,000-$40,000). Whereas, adopting from foster care has very little, if any, upfront cost. You might wait in line for years to get a baby from a private agency. Whereas, the kids in foster care have waited years for you. Because 100,000+ are waiting, and very few people are getting in line for them, the US government has tried to remove as many of the financial barriers as possible to help these kids find forever families.
Typically the government will cover the cost for your home study, training, and adoption filing costs. If your child has ongoing needs, your state might help with that even after you adopt. There are special tax credits for adopting kids the state deems special needs (that could be a child of certain races, sibling groups, those with disabilities, or older children). If you adopt older kids (over 16) they qualify to receive the full FAFSA amount for college despite your income.
The cost to adding a child(ren) to your family is still high. Primarily in terms of time. All kids take time. These kids might need a little extra time. Knowing that I wanted to adopt was a large motivation for striving to create more financial freedom. We have been able to take our 4th and longest mini-retirement while our kids needed us most. Over the last 15 years, we have built up enough passive income to cover all our expenses. It’s enabled us to really lean into what is best for our family in each season and only take on work that fits our families lifestyle. FIRE absolutely isn’t a requirement to adopt, but it’s been a huge help for us while adding a high needs sibling group to our family.
We had very low upfront costs with our adoptions. I would say overall the costs are similar to having biological children. We did buy a minivan ($10,000) and extra furniture ($3000). I left a full-time job ($30-40k a year) for two years before this mini-retirement to be a stay at home mom. Our kids came with 12 appointments a week for the first year!
We also do more planning for the long term costs our kids might have. I have no expectation of them being 100% fully independent and self-sustaining at 18. Very few kids these days are, and that might be even more the case with our kids.
3. The kids might be returned to their biological parents
There are two ways you can adopt from foster care. 1) You can welcome kids into your home whose parents are currently working a reunification plan.
Those parents are trying to make the needed steps to get their kids back. If those biological parents are able to be reunited with their kids, that is the priority. If not, your state would look at other biological family members who could care for them.
Out of the 400,000 currently in care, 300,000 fit in this group. If those first two options aren’t possible, the state would most likely ask the foster parents to adopt the child. That is how we adopted our sibling group of three. Because of their needs and behaviors we were their 4th foster family, which added to their delays and challenging behaviors. The Child Protection Services would prefer just one foster family from start to finish, but that is rarely the case. We were there foster parents for 1.5 years before we were able to move forward on the adoption.
In the past, this could be a very long journey, sometimes lasting 5-10 years. The government finally wised up and acknowledged that isn’t healthy for kids to live in limbo for that long, not knowing where they belong. Now the federal mandate is 18 months. Birth parents have 18 months to work a reunification plan before the courts move towards terminating parental rights. It doesn’t always go quite that way, but it’s closer to that timeframe now than in years past.
Or option 2) The other 100,000 kids who are just waiting. Their birth parents rights have been terminated and they are free for adoption. No other biological family was a healthy fit. Now they wait. And hope. For someone to step up and take a chance on them.
You can see profiles of many of the waiting kids on Adopt US kids plus all the information to get started as foster/adoptive parents. It’s often easiest to adopt kids from your own state, but you are legally able to adopt kids from anywhere in the country. This is how we adopted our oldest son. He was already available for adoption. We lived in Virginia and he was from Nebraska. The federal government mandates a six month trial period, where we were his foster parents, to make sure it’s a good fit for everyone. After that, we were able to officially adopt him.
4. There is a waitlist like with private adoption.
The need for foster-adoptive parents is overwhelming. Unlike private organizations, the states aren’t allowed to discriminate based on religion, gender, marital status, orientation, etc. They are just looking for awesome people. It doesn’t matter if you’re single, gay, young or old (although you have to be an adult, over 21 in most states).
The process is invasive and long. The first step is to contact your local child protection agency and get signed up for classes. After you finish the classes you will go through background checks, overly personal questionnaires, a million rules, and constant delays. The need is great, but they want to make sure you are qualified/prepared to be an awesome family.
It also takes far longer than it seems it should. Between your first phone call and a child arriving at your home, it could be anywhere from 6-18 months.
The foster care system is overwhelmed right now and funding is always tight in social service agencies. If you are adopting in order to have an amazing experience in the approval process, well, that won’t happen. You will meet some of the most amazing people on Earth. Dedicated, hard working, passionate social workers who have given their life for this cause. But they won’t have time to return a phone call. Just FYI.
5. It will end badly and it’s not worth the risk.
I once heard that 30-50% of people consider adopting at some point. In reality, only 2-4% of Americans ever do. I think the gap might be due to not really understanding the process/options/ or how to start.
And fear. Mostly fear.
What if it all goes wrong? What if I’m not up to the task? What if the kid is horrible or dangerous or ruins our family? What if they don’t love me? What if I don’t love them? What if they go back to their biological family and my heart breaks so much that I never recover?
We fear the worst and are paralyzed by it. There is risk. But there is always risk in anything worth doing.
My best advice: Do your research, ask good questions, stay open minded, and just start the process. Calling your local Child Protection Service office isn’t a forever commitment. Signing up for the classes isn’t a forever commitment. Looking at the kids on Adopt US kids doesn’t mean they are moving in tomorrow. It’s a long process. So if you really are interested and feel like you could be a family to a child, just start.
And if everything goes wrong…you can’t waste good.
Our first adoption had the worst ending that I could imagine. At 20 years old, our oldest son died. He was Type 1 diabetic when we adopted him. Diabetes, along with his behavior, educational delays, and emotional problems were the reasons he struggled to find a family. Eight years later that disease took his life due to a case of mild food poisoning.
After eight years of being Micah’s mom, I had to bury my child. I had to write his obituary and pick out songs for his funeral. It was the worst possible ending to our story. The grief and sorrow nearly crushed me.
But you know what? I wouldn’t trade those years for anything. For eight years I got to be Micah’s mom.
Through all his struggle and challenges, I got to watch him grow into a strong, compassionate young man. He was better for having been part of our family, and I was definitely better for being his mom. I grew just as much as he did during those years. And his story changed those around him. That time and that work mattered. Even though I would never wish that pain on anyone, all the good and love we poured into him wasn’t wasted.
No matter how your story works out, all the love you put into these kids, it won’t be wasted. You can’t waste good. In the things that matter the most to us, there is always fear. There are always unknowns.
Our adoptive kids are adorable. They are sweet and kind and simply amazing. People comment all the time about how wonderful they are and how they would love to “take them home.” Part of me wants to say, “There are about 100,000 kids just waiting for you.”
Once you know the kids who are waiting, who need a home, it changes everything. They aren’t a number, but a real person that you would do anything for. I would cross oceans for my kids. I’ll go to battle to defend and protect them. There is always risk, but my kids are worth the risk. So are the 100,000 kids waiting and the 300,000 in limbo in foster care.
Additional Foster Care Resources:
This was the short movie I (Sam) watched in the training seminar which made me realize a foster child may not want to leave his/her parents at all, despite a bad situation. I also learned that despite one’s good intentions, there may be triggers unbeknown to you that may set off a child.
Additional information on adopting (Childwelfare.gov PDF)
College options for older adopted children (Nacac.org)
Meet the kids waiting for families (AdoptUsKids.org)
Jillian writes about creating a life with more financial freedom, adventure, and mini-retirements over at Montana Money Adventures. The rest of the time she is hiking in Glacier National Park, chasing 5 kids, gardening and drinking imported black tea.
After attending a three-hour training seminar at Braid Mission in SF, Sam will be joining a team to mentor a foster child once a week this winter. It’s his small way of getting more involved in a world where much help is needed. Perhaps you’d like to join him if you are located in the Bay Area.
My goal is to volunteer at a foster care home again once this pandemic is over. The aging out of foster care situation is a tragedy.