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Caseworkers weigh in: advice to prospective parents

We asked five veteran caseworkers what families should think about before pursuing fostering and adopting and what makes families successful. This is what they told us.

What are the most important things families should consider when deciding to foster or adopt? What do you wish people would think about that they often don’t?

  • Talk with your worker about your expectations and motivations to be sure that they are reasonable.
  • Assess your level of commitment. There will be an adjustment time after a child is placed in your family. What, if anything, would make you call your worker and say, “Come get this child?”
  • Know that your family will go through changes and each member’s role will shift when you bring a child into your home. Are you ready to adapt and change to meet a child’s needs?
  • Remember that in order for your new family to form, another family had to be broken apart. Grief and loss are part of the adoption process. Think about your past losses and how you will relate to a child who is dealing with the loss of their family.
  • Children’s loyalty to their birth family will not end when they are adopted. While you are excited to build your new family, the child is probably conflicted between bonding with your family and feeling connected to their birth family. Forming attachments may take time.

How can families stay at the top of their worker’s list after they get their home study? What should families do while they are waiting to find a match?

  • When envisioning your family, be open to a wide variety of ages and consider siblings, if possible.
  • While you wait, get involved in other ways. Participate in trainings, read books, and attend lectures about trauma and other topics related to parenting children in foster care.
  • If your family is an “adopt-only” family, provide respite care to gain skills and get to know other foster parents.
  • Stay in touch with your worker—in whatever way works best for them. Sometimes workers get inundated with inquiries from families all over the US, and it is easy to overlook responding to a family.
  • Have an open mind, remain positive, and understand that workers have a more complete picture of children than they can disclose early in the inquiry process.

What advice do you give families who are preparing for their first placement? What are some of the qualities that make a family successful?

  • Seek services from the start. Engaging a family therapist early on can support a child’s transition into your home and help new family dynamics form.
  • Take advantage of specialized trainings that will help you prepare to parent the children you may be a match for.
  • If you don’t already have a strong support system, develop one, including other families who have fostered and adopted. They have great wisdom to share and can be a source of support in the future.
  • Stay connected to the foster care system—including by training others, speaking at PRIDE trainings, and providing respite care.
  • When fostering, welcome a child into your family with a spirit of collaboration and compassion. Be ready to support and co-parent with the birth family, when possible. Keep them informed and involved in their child’s life. Building relationships with them benefits the child and may help you remain in their life if they go home to their birth family.
  • Don’t let your inexperience or fear prevent you from advocating for your foster children. You will know when your children are hurting and need more support because you are there every day.

Many thanks to the caseworkers who responded to our call for information:

  • Latisha Ball, permanency specialist, Cleveland, TN
  • Odessa Becker, resource family coordinator, Alexandria, VA
  • Kim Espindola, adoption supervisor, Grand Junction, CO
  • Summer Renne, training and engagement manager, Brentwood, MO
  • Kimberly Roberts, case manager, Murfreesboro, TN