Sometimes, a child is placed in the home and it seems like he is a perfect fit into the family. But as time goes by, and his case plays out and he becomes legally free, the foster family does not adopt him. Why is that? I am sure that for people who have not yet entered into the foster care world, this can be confusing or may leave you wondering what happened.
So I will be straight up honest…we have never been presented with the situation in which a child who is available to be adopted was in our home and we were not able to or chose to not adopt him. But my personal experience aside, I do know that this is definitely a situation that happens within foster care so I would like to take a few minutes to address it. And while I cannot tell you with certainty what has happened in each situation, I can give you several possibilities. And hold on to your hats, because there are many and I’m only listing a few of them here.
- Foster families don’t want to adopt or choose not to adopt because that’s not what they feel led to do, at least in that particular instance. It might seem that the child is a good fit, but there is something that leaves the family unsettled about it. Often that child will then be transitioned to a foster to adopt home, especially if they are already legally free for adoption.
- Sometimes foster parents know that a child will require long term care…as in care surpassing the “typical” 18 years of a child. Children might have behaviors, social and emotional struggles or high medical needs beyond what a foster home feels they can give for the long term. A number of the children who pass through foster care may never live independently and so foster parents choose to bypass adoption of children who might seem to fit that narrative.
- If they adopt a child with many emotional and/or medical needs, that means they should possibly not continue to foster because they, as the foster parents, don’t have the bandwidth (read: emotional space) to continue to do so. What I mean by that is this: parenting trauma, whatever that looks like in your home, takes a lot of time and energy, and it might mean not taking in any more foster children because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to give quality care to multiple children with multiple needs.
- Another scenario is that their hearts are only led to care for children temporarily. In this case, they’re probably not going to adopt an adoptable child. Sometimes foster homes choose not to adopt because to do so would mean they have to close out their foster license…all of their spaces are full in the home. DCS will only allow a maximum of six children in the home. So, if adopting a child, or sibling group, puts you at six then you have to be finished. If you feel led to foster, then adoption might not be the path you go down.
- Other times, a person with close contact, but not the foster parent, ends up adopting the child. This could include but is not limited to a babysitter, a nanny, other foster parents who are friends with the foster parents with whom the child is placed, a cousin, a neighbor, or a teacher. It is someone who has bonded well with the child and vice versa. This is rare but probably happens more often than you might think.
- Biological family (extended family members) might come through at the last minute. Or other times, a case goes to guardianship instead of adoption; when given the opportunity to mediate, some biological parents are more willing to agree to guardianship than full termination of rights in adoption.
- The child can choose to not be adopted due to the relationship he has with his biological family; this happens more frequently with an older child. This may be because it’s harder for an older child to sever ties with his biological family. He can choose to stay with the foster family and enter Long Term Foster Care (LTFC); he would more than likely identify the foster family as family, but the legal ties to biological family have not been cut or changed.
- An older child opts to stay in care because he has his eyes on college. Kids in the system and graduating from high school can get government assistance to cover college. If adopted, much of that money could/would dry up.
- An older child may not be headed to college, but opts to remain in the system beyond graduation because he has become accustomed to DCS helping care for him. There is comfort in that for some kids so they choose to remain in care and receive extended services until they age out, typically at age 25.
- Foster parents may be set to adopt a child but DCS decides to try to blend a sibling group back together. For instance, three siblings have been placed in three separate homes. Instead of each individual homes being allowed to adopt, DCS (or a judge) decides it is in the best interest of the children to be reunified with each other in one adoptive home. That home may or may not be one of the three original homes.
Finally, one of the biggest reasons why adoptable children are not adopted is because frequently foster parents enter into foster care with unrealistic expectations. They are terribly excited to get into the “game” and start helping, but they maybe aren’t as realistic as they should be about the effects of trauma on a child and what that would look like living under their roof. They might think, “This is going to be amazing! We’re going to have some kids placed with us and we are going to help them and everything is going to go well and then we will adopt them.”
And that’s so often not the case.
Sometimes, the child and the foster parents simply don’t bond or connect well. Sometimes, the foster parents have a preconceived belief of an ideal child, but the child who is placed with them is never going to live up to that ideal. And all too often, the adoption doesn’t take place.
All this said, the first (or second, third or fourth) child who is placed with you may not be the child you adopt…for any number of reasons.
I simply close by encouraging all potential (and current, if applicable) foster parents to be open minded when taking a placement. Every child (however he comes to your family…by birth, foster care, kinship, adoption, etc) is going to have flaws. No child is perfect. I encourage an open mind and an open heart, and then hang on for the ride on which foster care takes you.