Update: I wrote this post shortly after we received a baby as a foster placement. Originally our plan was to foster, but not adopt, this baby. We have since changed our minds and are now considered a pre-adoptive home for the baby we have fallen head-over-heels in love with. But I share this post because it shares a different, but equally difficult, side of fostering.
There is a very obvious fear for most foster parents that they'll foster and parent and love a child for a long time who ends up being returned home at the end. On the flip-side of the same coin is a very different fear that I have: that I'll foster and parent and love a child for a long time who ends up becoming available for adoption. Our forever family feels complete. We have to consider how much time and attention we'll be able to give our children in the future when they become adolescents. We have to consider how many children we can afford to put through college. And selfishly, we have to consider the type of lifestyle we envisioned for our family - how many sacrifices are we willing to make? We must draw a line somewhere - we can't keep committing to permanency for every child who crosses our path.
But we also don't feel done with fostering. We know that there are far too many less-than-ideal foster homes still out there, and each really great foster home means one fewer of the not-so-great foster homes. So we continued to keep the fifth spot in our home open for fostering, which is how we ended up with sweet little Baby Legs.
I'm in love with this baby, and I sincerely hope that someday she'll get to return home. Because the alternative is that she'll become available for adoption. As her foster family we'd have right-of-first-refusal to adopt her. If that time comes, how are we supposed to say no to that adoption? How are we supposed to willingly say goodbye to a child we love and adore? And more importantly, how are we supposed to choose to make her move away from us - the only family she'll really have known by that point? I'll become one more in a line of people who've let this child down and seemingly abandoned her.
It's one thing to say goodbye to a child because the government orders that the child be moved. In that case, you know you've done the best you can, you know you've given that child vitally important love and stability during a rocky patch in his or her life, and you know that you've hit the end of the road. There is no choice to be made on the part of the foster parent. It feels completely different to be the one making the choice at the end of that road. Even though we initially started fostering with the intent of only fostering (not adoption), it never really sank in that someday our family's choice might be the reason a child has to move and adjust to yet another family. It's a lot of pressure, and a lot of responsibility.
Meanwhile, many of the really great foster families I know don't want to be crushed by saying goodbye to a child. They really only want to adopt. They want to fall in love with a child they'll get to keep forever and ever. So you have two very different camps - those who wish to foster only, and those who wish to adopt only. Unfortunately, when a child comes into foster care it's usually unknown if that child will become adoptable or not. The goal is almost always to return home, but that doesn't mean the child won't end up adopted.
So here's my wish ... could some genius please come up with a responsible and ethical way to assess the probability of a child returning home or becoming adoptable? Aren't there factors in the birth parents' lives that could be examined - level of education, employment history, number of children, birth order, genetics, economic status, history of trauma, marital status, family history, etc, etc - which would predict with a fairly high probability whether or not they would be likely to complete the tasks required for bringing their child home? And then couldn't the child be placed into a foster-only or pre-adoptive home based on those results? I'm not saying those assessments should be used in any way to decide the actual outcome of a case, but rather as a tool for proper placement in order to cut down on the number of moves a child must make, and the amount of heartbreak that foster families must endure.
There has got to be a better way.