Whether you're choosing to foster a child with the hope to adopt, or would like to begin the process of adopting a foster child already living in your home, here's what you need to know.

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The practice of foster parent adoption is growing. An increasing number of public social service agencies are finding that a child's foster family often is the placement of choice when that child becomes free for adoption. This is especially true when the child or children in question have special needs or are children of color and when a strong feeling of attachment has grown between foster parent and child during the course of the foster care placement.

In many ways, when a child lives in your home with you, life is not terribly different if he or she is officially a foster child or an adopted child. The day-to-day tasks involved in child rearing remain the same. There are meals to cook, clothes to wash, outings to plan, lessons to supervise, hugs to savor, conversations to share, discipline to administer, a mind to stimulate, talents to develop, values to instill, and ambitions to encourage.

During the course of living, growing, learning, and playing together, you are very likely to become attached to the child placed with you. So what is the big deal if you decide to adopt? It is just more of the same, right?

Well, yes, but also, no.

What Will Change

Of course, there are many differences between foster care and adoption, ranging from the trivial to the significant. Here are a few biggies:

  • After a child is adopted and postplacement visits have taken place, a social worker will no longer come by your home to visit.
  • The child will have your last name.
  • You will not have to share authority with an agency — decisions about school, medical treatment, religious practice, and a myriad of other parenting matters can be made without someone looking over your shoulder.
  • The child will inherit from you and is entitled to a share of your estate equal to that of any of your other children.
  • You will be financially responsible for the child's welfare until he or she reaches the age of majority, and you will be liable for his or her actions should he or she be involved in a legal dispute.

Over and above these practical matters, you will have to deal with emotional issues as well. Because the child has experienced loss, he or she will go through the grieving process, perhaps over and over again at certain critical times in his or her development. This is called developmental grieving. You will become acquainted with the stages of grief and the behavior that goes along with each stage. The denial, anger, and depression stages all have predictable patterns of behavior that you soon will be able to recognize, if you do not already.

You also will be learning about the concept of entitlement — the awareness that this child is now your child and that you have the right to discipline, love, and care for this child, totally and permanently. You will have a stake in this child's future, and this child will have a stake in yours.

How to Explain the Adoption

When you adopt your foster child, especially if the child has been with you for an extended period of time, both you and the child's social worker should help the child to understand the significance of the change in status. The child's lifebook, a personalized account of his or her birth and placement history, may be an important tool in facilitating this understanding. It is very important that you mark or celebrate the change from foster care to adoption in some symbolic fashion, so that the child really perceives the difference.

Children who have been moved around a lot may not really understand what all the fuss is about, but it should be made clear that adoption is a major life event. A special party, a family ceremony, even the sending of formal announcements, are all possible ways of marking the adoption. Ask your child and other family members what they would like to do to commemorate this milestone.

When you adopt your foster child, you will have to incorporate the child's birth family experiences and background — and possibly former foster care experiences — into your family life. You must honor the child's birth heritage and positive memories and build upon them. If past experiences involved abuse or neglect, especially sexual abuse, you should receive special training to understand how those experiences can affect a child in later stages of development. If the child will have contact with birth or former foster family members, you should consider how visiting or corresponding will work within the context of your family.

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

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