|An Ideal Candidate|
|Looking for “the Perfect Infant”|
In my role as supervisor of Resource Parent Training with the Child and Family Services Agency in the District of Columbia, I talk with and meet prospective foster and adoptive parents everyday. Once an individual who is interested in foster care or adoption submits an application at one of our Orientation sessions, I call them to schedule an office appointment. During this brief meeting, I explain the required paperwork and give them a folder of documents to work on prior to the pre-service training class they are planning to attend.
All applicants must complete a 30-hour program (the Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) as part of the licensing process; these classes are held twice a week for five weeks. We start a new class every month of the year except December and we offer different combinations of class times so applicants have many opportunities to enroll. Though time-consuming for both presenters and participants, these classes are fun and rewarding. As a supervisor, I no longer am required to teach, but I sometimes volunteer to train with a new social worker in my unit or pinch-hit when someone is unavoidably absent. I always enjoy the time I spend in the classroom.
Recently, I met with a woman who I’d describe as the ideal candidate to be a foster or adoptive parent for a child from the Washington, DC neglect system. After speaking with her, I felt rejuvenated and reaffirmed in my conviction that I’m in the right place doing the job I need to be doing. What was it about her that made me feel this way? A number of factors come to mind: She had been thinking about adoption and foster care for a long time and had been informally helping children in her community – through tutoring and being a welcoming neighbor for many years. She had indicated on her application that she was interested in adoption but as soon as I asked her whether she’d also consider being a foster parent, she said, “yes.” Her level of openness signaled to me immediately that she is likely to be very successful in working with our foster care system.
This applicant was also forthcoming about several challenges she had faced in her own life. In our pre-service training, we stress how important it is to be able to talk about our own losses as adults so that we can be a guide for children who are suffering from the trauma of abuse and neglect combined with the loss of their birth family. This applicant exhibited an immediate comfort level with sharing some of these aspects of her life. At the same time, the information she provided on her application in addition to areas we discussed clearly established that her home life and career are stable and that she is in a reasonably financially secure position. We don’t look for applicants with high incomes, but all too often people come to the agency hoping to be foster parents when their own houses are not in order.
This applicant also expressed a willingness to engage with school age and older children. She was even interested in sibling groups, adolescents and teens who she could mentor into adulthood, even though they may maintain ties with members of their birth families. She communicated a sound appreciation for the needs of the children and youth and was able to set their needs clearly ahead of her own. She expressed a desire to build a family of her own through adoption while at the same time being open to helping children in a variety of ways as she moved towards this goal.
In contrast, I often speak with applicants who come with a narrow view of the type of child they are willing to consider parenting. Sadly, couples that have suffered infertility come to our agency hoping we can provide them with the perfect infant they have longed for or lost through miscarriage. When they hear that the majority of the babies committed to our system have been born drug-exposed or that we cannot guarantee that they will be available for adoption until we rule out any and all members of the birth family, these applicants can become deeply frustrated and hurt. I have to explain that this is one of the critical differences between a child welfare agency and an adoption agency: though we pursue adoption as a viable permanency goal whenever appropriate, our first mandate is to work with the birth family, except in extreme cases where reunification is not an option. I have witnessed a number of successful infant placements in my six years with the agency, as well as several painful disappointments.
I also speak with a number of well-meaning prospective foster/adoptive parents who feel that only a child under the age of five is “salvageable,” and that the older children are already “set in their ways.” I always tell prospective foster and adoptive families that I believe each family should pursue what feels right for them and never feel coerced into accepting a child into their home when the fit isn’t right, for whatever reason. But that being said, I also know the best rewards will come to those whose minds and hearts are the most open. I tell people too that having a child through whatever means – adoption, foster or kinship care, or biologically – takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I’m not sure I could do what successful foster and adoptive parents do everyday, but I know what it takes.