According to the foster care/adoption literature, websites, and media ads, there is a tremendous need for foster/adoptive parents in this country. Consequently, one might expect that the road to adoption for eligible potential adoptive parents would be relatively smooth. But this is far from being the case. I am not saying that anybody should be able to adopt or foster a child or that there shouldn’t be a valid process and standards. But on my journey I am hearing that in too many cases the road to adopting a child out of the foster care system is very discouraging, sometimes painful, and even impossible. In fact after sharing my disappointments, stops and starts, some people have suggested that I consider adopting a child from overseas! However, I am not ready to give up. I should not have to give up on adopting a child in my own "back yard." I admit that I did not expect the kind of experiences that I have had thus far.
My journey formally began two years ago when I attended an orientation at a large local foster/adoption agency. There were only about five prospective foster/adoptive parents present, which seems to be about the norm. The facilitator was so negative that if I had any doubts about adopting she nurtured them. I cannot remember one positive remark that might have been said at that orientation. An agency can be candid and realistic without being overly negative.
A year later I regrouped and signed up to attend an orientation at another local agency that was recommended to me. Two heterosexual couples (one black and one white) and two single black women, myself included, attended the orientation. Of the six, only four attended the follow up mandatory PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education) training (takes place on three Saturdays). The other single woman and I expressed our interest in adoption only. She wanted to adopt her grandchildren out of the system. Much of the PRIDE training was conducted by an experienced foster care parent, a mature and retired African American lady whose biological children were grown and out of the house. Many people don’t know that most foster parents are fifty years and older. She and her husband foster only boys with disabilities, the difficult children to place. Their foster children are of various races and ethnicities. She shared a wealth of experience and wisdom with us. I was hopeful that I had found the right agency for me.
At both the orientation and the PRIDE training, attendees were asked to fill out the same application form. On the form we were asked whether we planned to adopt or foster, the gender, how many children, and the age range. I discovered during the training that in Michigan there cannot be more than fifty years difference between the child and the adoptive parent. One of the only ways around this rule is if one fosters a younger child or baby and the baby/child becomes a permanent ward of the state (parental rights are terminated) and thus available for adoption. Then the foster parent(s) may be given priority as adoptive parents regardless of age difference, if there is no eligible biological family willing to adopt the child. On each application I wrote that I wanted to adopt one female African American child at least eight years old. And when verbally asked, I reiterated my intention to adopt. Each time the response was "we recommend becoming a foster parent first." Those conversations should have been a warning to me.
In the last segment of the PRIDE training two African American teens from Wendy's Kids shared some of their stories with us and then responded to questions. Both young ladies struck me as very intelligent, talented, and sincere. One became a ward of the state when her mother died. Her aunt had promised the mother to take care of her daughter but the aunt got married and the child no longer fit into the scheme of things. Both young ladies stressed that potential adoptive parents need to get to know them personally and not rely on words written about them in a file, which may or may not be true. A white male who was there with his wife asked the teens why they wanted to be adopted when they both were almost eighteen years old. I reminded myself that “there are no dumb questions.” The teenagers responded that everybody wants to belong somewhere no matter how old they are. There was hardly a dry eye nor an untouched heart in the room.
When the training ended, we were told that we would be assigned a licensing worker within two weeks to set up home visits and that meanwhile we should collect the items we would need for that visit (e.g., reference letters, criminal background check, TB test, physician’s report from physical exam, etc). I had already begun collecting the items and had almost everything checked off the list. After a week I was impressed to call and follow up with the agency. The licensing supervisor was in a meeting so I left a voice message. She did not return my call, so I called again. This time she took the call and said to me that "nobody gave me your file." She proceeded to interrogate me on the phone, and finally claimed that there was not a great need for adoptive parents for African American females age 8-10. I challenged her statement; all the literature her agency gave to us and that I have read says otherwise. She said that she would get back to me. When she did not get back to me in what I felt was a reasonable time, I followed up by faxing a letter recounting her conversation with me and cc'ing the president of the agency. Within a few minutes of my sending the fax, she called me stating that they only have one case worker who does the licensing I need and that case worker would not be available for three months. I responded, “then please give me an appointment with her in three months.” "I will need to contact her," she responded. I said, “please do so. I don’t think this is an unreasonable request, is it?" The licensing supervisor never got back to me, but instead sent me a letter stating that they are a small agency and are unable to meet my needs. The letter named other agencies I might try. The one I am using now was not listed in her letter. The good thing about this whole fiasco is that my PRIDE training is transferable to any licensing agency. In my current agency, I was told that the licensing processing should start immediately upon filling out the application to become an adoptive/foster parent. This had not happened with me.
The agency matters, as successful adoptive parents have told me and as I have found out. And all are not created equal, nor are all licensing and case workers. Since I am still going through the process I will not reveal at this time on my blog the names of the agencies to which I refer. Pray with me that the current agency with which I am dealing will demonstrate compassion, professionalism, and competency. Pray for me that I will not give up or give in to a less than optimally functioning system. Pray for the child that I hope to eventually mother and nurture that she is safe and loved, in the meantime.