May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and our theme for the observance is “It Takes a Village.” In this post, we talked to Dan about his and his wife’s experiences as foster/adoptive parents. They wish to remain anonymous, so we’re using pseudonyms.
For Dan and his wife, Cathy, foster-to-adoption was their preferred way to build their family. While foster care is intended to be temporary solution for children in need of a nurturing home until they can safely reunify with their families, adoption is a lifelong and legally binding relationship between children and their resource parents.
David & Margaret’s Foster Family Agency dually approves families for both fostering and adoption; this allows children to be adopted by their foster families, who have already nurtured and loved the children in their care for some period of time, in the event that reunification is not possible. (Other agencies may handle approvals differently.)
“My wife couldn’t have kids, and we could have gone through in-vitro fertilization, but decided not to,” he says. “We weren’t that set on having kids of our own when so many others need foster homes and adoptive families.”
They worked with a private agency that offered services similar to those of David & Margaret’s Foster and Adoption Agency (FFA). The FFA works in collaboration with Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties to place children awaiting stable, loving homes. Whether prospective parents are interested in being a foster (also called a resource) family, adopting, volunteering, or otherwise supporting youth in foster care, the caring and experienced staff are here to guide them through the process.
After being approved as foster parents, Dan and Cathy had a few placements that they knew would be short term. “Then we got our son, who was less than a year old at the time,” Dan says. “He was originally with another foster family, but they had two kids of their own and lived in an apartment, so it was kind of tight. They moved him in with us, because we have more room and a yard.”
Dan and Cathy found their agency a valuable resource. “It was like having a buffer between us and the county for things like Medi-Cal – like having an advocate so we didn’t have to go it alone,” he says. In addition to being on-call around the clock for foster parents, David & Margaret’s FFA staff offer ongoing training, child and family therapy, home screening and approval, complete adoption services, home visits and support for the family, and monthly stipends as set by the Department of Children and Family Services.
A few months after the toddler was placed with them, Dan and Cathy learned that he had a one-year-older sister – one of six siblings in total – in the foster care system “and it boiled down to the fact that the court wanted to keep him and her together, so we needed to take her too, or lose him. So we took both, and just fell in love with them.”
The children’s biological parents had gang ties and drug dependency issues. “I don’t know how much the kids saw, but it wasn’t good for them,” he says. “We had other kids from similar circumstances as short-term fosters.”
Dan and Cathy decided to adopt the sibling set, but their mother frequently missed court dates during the adoption process. Also, a godparent tried to get custody of the children, but was not able to. Through all of that, an adoption that would normally have taken about two years instead took five. “It’s a labor of love to adopt a child,” he says.
“There were visits with their bio mother during that time, which we felt were detrimental to them,” Dan adds. “They’d come back and act out, be angry, and cry a lot for a day or two. But it’s part of the court’s responsibility to try to return them to their family if that’s what’s best for them.”
Dan and Cathy’s children are now grown, and while their son “couldn’t care less” about their biological siblings, their daughter tried to stay in touch with some of them. “She even went out of state to visit some of them and discovered that they don’t have much in common except a parent. One sister did drugs, but our daughter was never tempted by gang life.” Their son is in college, and their daughter is married and expecting their first grandchild. Dan admits with a grin that he and his wife are ready to be grandparents.
Want to learn more about foster care and adoption? Check the calendar for Foster and Adoption Agency orientations.