problematic Foster-to-Adopt mentalty

Foster-to-adopt is not a term that our agency uses. The licensing specialist who initially worked with us made a point to say, “That doesn’t really exist.”  She emphasized that, in Ohio, a family can be licensed to foster and also be licensed to adopt at the same time. Some people confuse this with fostering IN ORDER TO adopt. Motive aside, the foster parent is obligated to support reunification since the goal of state involvement is typically to reunify the child with birth parents.

To say that a case is “foster-to-adopt” (while the child is still a foster placement) is problematic. And, unfortunately, many less-than-ethical agencies use this term when marketing to potential foster families (hopeful adoptive families).

First, in my opinion, using this term sets up the foster parent (temporary caregiver) to make comparisons. Many caregivers will think, “Life is ‘better’ in my home because this child will have more ____ while here.” That type of thinking is a slippery slope. Realistically, a caseworker is not searching for a better home. She is connecting the birth family with resources so that THEIR home becomes safe, healthy, and stable and – therefore – the child can return home.

I believe kids need foster parents who love without hesitation, who pray for their first families, who dream and empower the children to reach their potential. They need cheerleaders. They need caregivers who focus on the children’s needs, not solely the adults’ desires for a permanent parenthood.

Second, it sets up perspective adoptive parents for “false hope” and heartache. Plain and simple: if you want to adopt, private adoption is the ideal route for you. Not foster care. A foster parent’s job is to support reunification. Foster families are always “Plan B” only AFTER every possible means of reunification (or kinship placement) is exhausted.

I understand those longings for children. And I understand the hurdles to adoption. But foster care is not merely the cheapest route to “forever” families. (I don’t like that term either.) The mission of state foster care is to help the whole family, not just the kids.

Foster Love Tee

Third, in my personal experience, when a birth parent learns that we are licensed to both foster and adopt, he or she feels insecure about our intent. They often think that we secretly hope they will fail. Our attempts to encourage and support reunification are sometimes met with skepticism. And I get it. I would hate it, too, if I felt like every slip up was quietly celebrated. No thanks!

This last point bothers me most. I know that many birth families WANT to do better. They may not know HOW to do better. They need help. And, for them, temporary foster care will likely do what it’s intended to do: To offer the support they need to change the course of their lives.

For these reasons, when we are asked if we are a “foster-to-adopt” family, I immediately say no. And yet we have adopted from foster care.

And we would like to adopt again, probably from foster care.

But we are NOT fostering in order to adopt only. I struggle to communicate that difference that when we talk about our family’s situation.

I absolutely support adoption if reunification is not possible. Nevertheless, the term “foster-to-adopt” can create division and misconception. And, sadly, it’s often misused for that reason.

This document does a good job explaining the role of a child welfare agency.



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Elaine and her husband are licensed as an adoptive family and foster home in Ohio..




One thought on “problematic Foster-to-Adopt mentalty

  1. ” She [the social worker with regards to utilising a foster family] is connecting the birth family with resources so that THEIR home becomes safe, healthy, and stable.” This feels like the right perspective 🙂

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