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Waiting too long? Expand your view and gain experience

Man with arm around woman sitting on a bench.

As a prospective foster or adoptive parent, you may feel frustrated waiting for a child placement, especially when you hear ads recruiting new foster or adoptive parents and you have been approved for a long time.

You might ask:

  • Why are children waiting for families when there are families who have been approved to adopt?
  • Why haven’t I been matched with a child?

One obstacle preventing a match could be that you are waiting for a child who is not currently available for adoption. For example, maybe you are hoping to adopt an infant or a toddler or are only planning to adopt one child.

The majority of children who are available for adoption are:

  • Between the ages of 6 and 18 years old
  • Part of a sibling group who need to stay together
  • Children of color
  • Children with emotional and behavioral difficulties

You may also wait longer if your goals and needs are different than the needs of your community. For example, you may want to adopt a child who is legally free for adoption, but your community may have a more pressing need for foster families who are going to partner with birth parents to help them regain custody and no children waiting to be adopted.

One solution: expand your view

If your desire to help children now is greater than your need to parent a specific child, you may want to look at how you can widen your comfort zone and open your heart to children you might not have considered before.

Taking a closer look

The reality is that all of the children from the foster care system will need a family who can help them heal from their past. Most of these children live with pain from their early childhood, grief from their losses, anger, learning gaps, and social, emotional, and behavioral issues related to the trauma and loss they have experienced. Many will need help catching up in school and some may have more serious problems. As a parent, you will need to do whatever you can to try to help a child heal—including participating in therapy, understanding trauma-informed parenting, and advocating for your child at school.

Analyzing the characteristics of a child you can parent

When you think about the child or children you hope to adopt, acknowledge their challenges, and think about your strengths and where you may be able to grow. Maybe you are:

  • Talented at helping children with physical disabilities
  • Gifted at helping children with social and emotional problems
  • Willing to parent a child with FASD, knowing that you’ll likely need to draw on support services
  • Ready to learn more about how to a parent a child who has behavior challenges related to their early life experiences
  • Part of an extended family or community where you know you can get solid support

Most agencies provide a checklist on which prospective parents check off the behaviors, diagnoses, and medical conditions they feel they will not be able to handle. Many parents say that they found they were able to handle far more than they anticipated. As one mother said about her son: “He was everything we never knew we wanted when we first envisioned our family.”

There are a lot of parents who have adopted older children and sibling groups and have handled more than they ever thought possible. Think about where your individual talents or your strengths as a couple lie and look deeper at your capabilities and the children you might be able to help heal from their past. And consider how you can build your skills or knowledge about challenges you’re not as familiar with.

Some prospective parents say they want a young child, and yet after they think about it, realize they have a special rapport with teenagers and decide maybe their place is to nurture teens, help them heal emotionally and physically, and prepare them to enter the adult world with skills and confidence. All children eventually become teenagers, and if you are skilled with teens, think about starting where the need is great.

Below are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What does it mean to be a therapeutic parent and am I willing to do it?
  • What qualities do I have that help me relate to older children or children with special needs?
  • What are my talents?
  • Who will support me?
  • How can I expand my network of support?
  • What am I willing to learn to help me parent children with special needs?
  • What will I do to get more experience parenting older children or children with special needs?

Gain experience

If you don’t have a lot of parenting experience, you might want to pursue volunteer opportunities, including mentoring or coaching or working with children with disabilities, or other parenting options:

  • Foster families provide immediate care to children, most of who will likely return home or get to live with other relatives. A foster parent’s primary role is to care for the children while their parents get their lives in order and prepare to resume their role as parents. This can include mentoring or coaching birth parents. If reunification is not possible with birth parents or relatives, foster parents may be able to adopt. Do not foster only with the goal of adopting. Reunification with the birth family is the primary goal, and foster parents must support that goal.
  • Treatment foster families provide temporary care to children who may have more serious challenges. They receive extensive training to help them provide integrated treatment services to children who have severe problems.
  • Respite care providers take care of other birth, foster, and adoptive parents’ children to allow the parents to take a short break or have extended time away from their children. Respite care providers care for children at regularly scheduled times on an hourly basis, for a weekend, or even a week. They get a chance to see what it is like to provide 24-hour care to children and have the added luxury of taking time to reflect upon the successes and the challenges of the visit. Respite care providers offer a needed service to birth, foster, and adoptive families, but also receive great training for future full-time parenting.

Whatever you decide to do needs to fit with who you are and what your goals are. If you have been waiting for a long time, you might want to ask yourself if you are being too particular, if your needs match with your county’s or agency’s needs, or if the child you want to parent will be realistically available within a reasonable amount of time. You may want to look beyond an unattainable ideal child and explore becoming a parent to the children who have been waiting a long time for a family to nurture and love them.

Thank you to our friends at the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) for allowing us to share this edited version of an article that originally appeared on their website.