In March 2014, we opened our home to a 7-year-old girl in need of adoption. Within a year, that adoption was finalized. After a little more than 18 months with our new daughter, it’s hard to imagine there was ever a time she wasn’t part of our family. It’s been a great journey, full of both joys and challenges. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve screamed. It’s all been worth it. If anyone is considering adoption (or foster care), here’s what I tell them:
Cost should never be an obstacle. Is adoption expensive? Well, that depends. Many of us know friends or family members who have spent $10,000 (or more) in attempts to adopt a child. While infant or foreign adoptions can be very expensive, special needs adoption has very little cost at all. In Virginia, up to $5000 in adoption costs are covered for children who meet criteria as “special needs”. This more than covers attorney fees, court costs, and similar expenses. Also, most children coming through the foster care system have medical expenses and necessary therapies covered through the department of social services. For many kids, therapeutic services and other forms of assistance are available even after an adoption has been finalized.
Know what “special needs” means. Many people assume that a “special needs” adoption means that a child has a disability. It’s true that many kids in the foster system have experienced some sort of trauma. For many, that’s the reason why they are now in the custody of social services. However, special needs encompasses a lot of other criteria. Sibling groups, kids who have been awaiting placement for more than 12 months, kids from ethnic or racial minorities, and kids older than 6 years of age all meet this criteria as well. With these needs come supports. In working with our agency (UMFS) over the last 2 years, we had a great case worker who provided us with resources and tools as well as ongoing training so that we could be the best parents possible to our daughter.
There are some big advantages to adopting older kids. Babies are cute. They’re cuddly and sweet. They also require feedings every 2-4 hours and aren’t toilet trained. Don’t get me wrong. I love babies; but I had no desire to go back to that part of parenthood. Older kids can be a lot of fun. If you have other biological (or adoptive) children, adding kids of a similar age to your family can be easier (in many ways) than adopting an infant. When we were presented with potential referrals, we saw case files for kids that ranged in age from 2 years-16 years.
The challenges are worth it. Because of their trauma history, kids who are in the foster system bring their own unique set of challenges. They have often felt rejected and unloved, and sometimes have been subject to significant abuse or neglect. They see the world through a different lens than kids who have been raised in a loving home. It’s important to recognize that their behaviors…what can sometimes look like noncompliance, apathy, or aggression…come out of their need for control and a desire to be accepted and loved. Understanding that concept has been the key to a successful adoption journey for our family. We utilized our case worker, counselors, and other professionals to help us with this challenging aspect of the journey. The parenting approach we use with our adopted daughter is not the same we would use with our biological child.
Today, over 800 children in Virginia are waiting in foster care for permanent families. One out of every four of those kids will age out (turn 21) before they find a permanent home. When children are not adopted from foster care, the statistics are devastating. 42% will drop out of high school. 71% of girls will become pregnant before age 21. 25% will be involved in the justice system within 2 years.
Our daughter spent almost 4 years (half her life) in the foster system. She didn’t really understand what permanency meant. To her, a “mother” or “father” was just the person who took care of you and put a roof over your head. It’s amazing what consistency and unconditional love can do for a person. We have seen our daughter grow so much in the last year, as she has come to understand that she has a permanent home and that we will continue to love her, no matter what. Many of her challenging behaviors have diminished or all but disappeared now that she knows she has a loving family.
Rachel Reynolds is a speech language pathologist and freelance writer who lives in Ashland, VA. She is the author of “Four Seasons for Charlotte: A Parent’s Year With Pediatric Cancer” and writes at her blog at www.rachel-writes.com. In her spare time, she obsesses over Don Draper, dark chocolate, and public radio personalities (not necessarily in that order).