Foster Care: Another Facet
of Adoption and Reunion

by Barbara Free, M.A., LPCC

     One aspect of adoption that has been largely ignored in adoption reform and support groups is the issue of foster care, and those who grew up in the foster care system. For some adoptees, there was a period of time in which they were in foster care, possibly from birth until placement. For a number of years, in fact, this was the norm for agency adoptions, even though prospective adoptive parents were anxiously awaiting their children. In some cases, they even knew which child they would be receiving, yet the infant was in foster care for as long as a year, while the agency did “testing,” supposedly to make sure the child was “normal.” In other cases, parental rights had not yet been terminated. In any case, these infants were either passed around from one foster placement to another, or, if they were lucky enough to have only one placement prior to adoption, they bonded with the foster parent(s), and then were removed from that home to their adoptive home
     Aside from the trauma issues such adoptees may have, there may be reunion issues, too. Many foster parents tried not to attach or bond with their foster babies, so that they would be more likely to continue as foster parents for that agency; but many did, in fact, bond deeply and were left with grief and loss whenever a child left. In those days, many agencies and states had rules that foster parents could not adopt the children whom they fostered. This writer recalls at least one situation where the child had to leave the home and have another foster placement before the first foster parents, who had raised this four-year-old from birth, could adopt him. It was a traumatic time for all concerned. In another case (long before I knew I would have my own adoption connections), a college roommate’s prospective mother-in-law became a foster parent, loved her foster babies intensely, grieved whenever they left, and in a few years, after my roommate was married and unable to have biological children, she and her husband adopted a baby that the mother-in-law was fostering. They knew for several months they would adopt this particular child, and while they had the opportunity to get to know the child, and the child got to have his foster mother as his adoptive grandmother, eventually, this family spent many months waiting for the adoptive parents to be able to take him home. I often wonder what has happened in the intervening years, if the adoption was a good life for all of them, and if the son has been reunited with birth family
     Occasionally, Operation Identity has had attendees who grew up in the foster care system, or who were in it for some time, who are searching for foster family as well as, or in place of birth family. Foster care has largely taken the place of children’s homes that were orphanages, although group homes and treatment centers are still with us, sometimes connected with what was formerly an orphanage. Many of those who grew up in orphanages, treatment centers, and group homes, have similar issues to those who grew up in foster care, or spent extended time in foster care. Other adoptees may have been in foster care only a few weeks prior to adoption, but wish to locate their former foster families, both for information that might help in their search for birth family and for the purpose of filling one more gap in their history, to learn about their lives between birth and adoption, to meet once again those people who cared for them. Our search systems do not always fit this need as well as they do the search for birth family. In some cases, there may not even be written records of exactly who the foster parents were or where they lived, or even the exact dates of foster placement and leaving
     Because so many older children are now in the foster care system, seeking permanent adoptive homes, these foster care issues will become better known quite soon. Many current foster children are expressing a desire to have open adoptions to the extent that they can maintain contact with siblings who are in other living situations, and eventually most of them will want reunion with birth family, to whatever extent they can do that. Another situation is when these foster children do not get adopted, for whatever reason, and “age out” of the foster system, in other words, reach the age of eighteen. Too often, they are forced to leave their foster home or group home, with no real family connections, no money, no way of finding a future. A. recent PBS television program focused on this problem, following four young people in that situation. Some had birth family contact, some did not. In some cases, the foster family maintained contact and tried to remain nurturing parents, even though funding and legal help was no longer available.
     Foster parents also need the support of the adoption community. In many instances, especially where they have adopted adolescents, they are looking for guidance in helping those adoptees as they reach adulthood and desire reunions with birth families, or birth families want to be reunited. When these sons and daughters need help with addiction and relationship issues, they and their foster parents could use the support and resources of the adoption community. Some former foster/adoptive parents have said they felt really abandoned by the system once the adoption was final, even though the kids had the same problems they did before adoption. One man said their adopted daughter, who had been their foster daughter, seemed to have even more problems once the adoption was final, as if she panicked at the idea of the permanence. She eventually left home, lived on the streets, and was killed. He said he and his wife found no help or support for their grief, because even family said things like, “But you had her only a short time,” or, “Well, she was adopted; it’s not your fault.” They knew of nowhere that they could talk with people who would understand. They had never even been told there were adoption support groups they could attend, even as they were in the process of adopting her.
     In the coming years, adoption from foster care, and the resulting unique reunion situations, will need to be acknowledged by Operation Identity, the American Adoption Congress, and adoption groups and professionals across the country. It is time we make ourselves known to foster parents, to those who grew up in foster care, and those who are currently “aging out” of foster care.

Excerpted from the October 2005 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2005 Operation Identity