So in Georgia we have 4 categories to choose from when you are going through the process to be a foster/adoptive parent:
- Partnership Parent
- Resource Parent
- Adopt Legal-Risk Parent
- Adoptive Parent
I imagine that some form of these 4 categories exists in every state, and so to determine how this specifically applies to you in a different state be sure to read these descriptions carefully.
A Partnership Parent is another name for a basic foster parent. We call foster parents partnership parents to keep focus on the fact that the primary goal of foster care is family reunification, and that foster parents are meant to partner with birth parents to achieve reunification. Partnership Parents (or foster parents) should be prepared to communicate with birth families, coordinate visitation with birth families, and even mentor birth families when possible. Ideally, you would not be a passive player just caring for the child while the parent works their case plan, but you would be actively be trying to engage the birth parents in healthy contact with their child. As you can imagine, this can take a great deal of patience, and the relationship can easily break down if a foster parent is sensitive or easily offended. If you don’t have a passion for seeing birth parents heal and seeing families reunified, this course is probably not for you. It is true that many foster parents do get the opportunity to adopt children in their home years down the line, after all reunification/family placement efforts have been made, but this should be viewed as a secondary solution of permanency for the child. When everyone can remain safe, the best place for children is always with their biological family. Adoption is a beautiful thing, but with it also comes grief and loss of the family a child didn’t get to have. You will hear many foster parents say that the worst part of fostering is the uncertainty of what will happen next. This is very true. This is where trusting in God and His sovereignty becomes especially important. The truth is we never know what is coming next in our own lives or in the lives of others. Fostering points us to trust in our Father day by day, moment by moment, trusting that He has our best interests and our foster child’s best interests at heart, and that He is working all things together for our good and His glory.
The next category of foster/adoptive parent is resource parent. Resource parents are foster parents that only take children on concurrent case plans. Concurrent case plans are case plans that are working both reunification and adoption, with reunification still being the primary goal. Usually a case plan switches from only reunification to concurrent when 6-12 months have gone by with little to no progress. Switching to a concurrent case plan is an acknowledgement that the state needs to start identifying an adoptive resource just in case reunification does not work. In many cases, if the current foster parents do want to adopt, no changes are made. On the other hand, if the foster parents of children on a concurrent case plan do not want to adopt, than the state may begin to identify resource parents to move the children to. The tricky part about this is that resource parents still need to be willing to partner with birth parents, and work reunification as the primary case plan. Adoption in these cases is a kind of “back-up plan” for permanency. And in many situations even when children move to a concurrent case plan, the state chooses not to move them due to the high risk and volatility of the case. Is it worth it to move children to a resource parent home, when their parent could easily get back on track? Is it worth it to put the children through a move when reunification or relative placement is still a large possibility? These are the questions that must be weighed. I often choose not use resource parents until termination of parental rights is imminent, because often it is too difficult to 1) put children through a move, 2) expect resource parents to partner with birth parents when deep down they only want adoption. The only other time when it is really helpful to have resource parents available is when children come into care due to severe abuse that leads to a ruling of aggravated circumstances. If there is severe physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect that causes criminal charges against parents to be brought, then we may immediately place children in a resource home because we know that either the case will move to adoption very quickly or the children will be placed with relatives very quickly.
The third category of foster/adoptive parent is Adopt Legal-Risk. Adopt Legal-risk parents can only take placement of children where at least one parents parental rights have been terminated or surrendered. However, it is important to keep in mind that just because a child can technically be placed in the “legal-risk” category does not mean that their case is heading towards adoption. One parent could be very active in their case plan and in their child’s life, or there could be a relative that is being recruited for adoption. That being said, usually when a case manager reaches out to find an adopt legal risk home, it is because they feel like they have exhausted all other options. Foster/adoptive parents in this category need to be aware of the fact that children that fall into this category have probably been in foster care for at least one year, and are often older than the age of 5 or part of a sibling group. Furthermore, although a case worker is only going to seek out a legal risk home when it seems all other options are exhausted, it is called legal risk for a reason. There is always a chance that the TPR won’t be granted, or a random relative will come forward. Legal risk families will not always get to move straight forward to adoption in a clean, linear fashion. There may be 6 months, 1 year or 2 years more of the child being in DFCS custody before the adoption can be finalized. The important piece is that we have an adoptive placement for the child whom they can bond with and begin to attach to and their moves are then ceased for the remainder of their time in foster care.
The last category is straight adopt parents. These are parents that are only able to take placement of children that are completely free for adoption. These children are typically age 8 and up, and are also often part of sibling groups. While there is no legal risk involved, the biggest challenge for these adoptions is that there are often multiple traumas in the child’s past and intense feelings of rejection caused by their moves in foster care or by their birth parent’s lack of effort to reunify with them. While adopting an older child from foster care is an incredibly noble and wonderful thing to do, adoptive parents should be aware that more is going to be required of them to be successful. The standard pre-service training will not be enough. Adoptive parents will need to invest into their own growth and their own learning about what it takes to be successful parenting their specific adopted child. Adopting from foster care requires a new tool set of parenting skills that are all trauma-informed (this is true for every category by the way). Transitioning a child to a new home and then beginning to build a relationship and build trust is hard, and adoptive parents of older children need to be willing to value the child as an individual. This means that we don’t erase their past experiences, but that we seek to understand them and value them just as our child does. Adoptive parents should not expect the child to mold in order so that they can “fit in” to the family, but instead pursue a process of molding and compromising together so that a new family with new dynamics is formed. Because adoption is a transformative process for everyone in a family, it can often feel very vulnerable and scary. But if you as the parent are willing to put in the work to grow and change, there will be a beautiful end result on the other side of healing.
Here is what I don’t need you to take away from this: Don’t become a foster parent in order to adopt 0-5. It won’t work. Don’t do it. First of all it is unethical and wrong, second of all you will just cause everyone involved in a case to be frustrated and disappointed. In every one of these categories, if you are parenting children from foster care on any level, the ONLY WAY you can be successful is through valuing birth families. That is the truth of the matter. Because no matter what they have done or haven’t done to/for their child, the biological bond and the “first” bond never goes away. For all of us, at some level it will always be a part of who we are. We as adoptive/foster parents have a responsibility to honor it, value it, and celebrate any time that we can. If you can’t do that, adoption is probably not the right path for you.
Sorry to end on that heavy note, but some of ya’ll needed to hear that!