The term “foster-to-adopt” is a very common phrase. It refers to the process that many families go through before adopting children for whom they were first foster parents. At Amara we try to avoid the term “foster-to-adopt”, instead using “fostering and adoption”. And while this may seem like just semantics, it is much more important than that.
Amara is a foster care agency. Our mission is to ensure that every child in foster care has the love and support of a committed family – as quickly as possible, and for as long or as short as each child needs. We recruit and train foster families and support them every step of the way on their journey of fostering and, if necessary, adoption.
We have found that the most successful foster parents see themselves as providing safety and comfort to a child or children for as long as that child needs. This approach recognizes that foster care is separate from adoption, the time frame is not set, and the outcome is not guaranteed.
Indeed, unless children are already legally free (meaning that all parental rights have been terminated) there is no guaranteed path from foster care to adoption.
We suspect that the frequently heard stories of adopting through foster care and the prevalent use of the term “foster-to-adopt” have contributed to a misconception of how the foster care system is intended to work. Removing a child from their birth family is meant for the child’s safety, but is not intended to be permanent unless circumstances are dire. The idea is for children to be safe, loved, and secure with their foster family while their birth family is given the opportunity to receive the support they need to parent their children.
At Amara we ask our foster families to support this intention to honor birth parents’ rights and to be prepared for their foster child’s possible reunification with their birth family.
Reunification from foster care is actually quite common – far more likely than adoption. Indeed, in Washington state only 16% of children in foster care are adopted. The rest are reunified (57%), placed with a guardian (5%), emancipated (3%) or remain in foster care (16%).
We know we are asking a lot of families who want to foster. We are asking them to open their home and their hearts to children with no guarantee they will be with them forever. We are asking them to potentially experience pain and loss so that children in their care don’t have to. We are asking them to enter into a challenging situation, bring a measure of healing and hope to children, and then be prepared to step aside if that is in the child’s best interests.
Moreover, we are asking foster parents to expand their image of what family is: to consider themselves part of a larger constellation of family than our American image of the nuclear family usually includes – to see themselves as loving caregivers, stepping in when birth family cannot for as long as is needed, whether that’s a month, a year, or a lifetime.
We do not pretend this is easy. But it can be incredibly rewarding. We have witnessed beautiful examples of how foster and adoption, including reunification, have created powerful extended families of support for children: adoptive parents, families of origin, foster families, biological siblings and more – all in a powerful web of support for the child’s ultimate benefit.
Ultimately, Amara’s goal is to remain focused on children’s well-being, working to find, develop, and support foster families through the complex experience of foster care. We are proud of our Amara families – those currently fostering, those who have adopted, and those who are just beginning their journey. We believe that together we can create powerful systems of support for kids in foster care that will strengthen and provide for them their entire lives, whether their time in foster care is short-term, long-term, or leads to adoption.
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