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Five tips to a successful foster/adoption

November 15, 2011

Barbara Grunow is director of adoption for Youth Villages. She has more than 30 years of experience in helping parents through the foster/adoption process. She and her husband Bob are the parents of two sons through adoption.

Last month, when The Biggest Loser’s Jillian Michaels announced that she’s considering adopting a child from foster care, the fitness entrepreneur joined a growing number of Americans who are re-thinking domestic adoption and want to know more about adopting a child from the foster care system.

This month is National Adoption Month and no matter how people choose to adopt, they should be applauded for generously giving a child what they need more than anything else: a family for always.

In today’s economy, adopting a child from foster care may be the best alternative for many families. It is virtually cost-free. Most states offer adoptive parents continuing monthly payments to parents to help defray the cost of bringing a child into the home. State Medicaid plans generally continue to cover the child’s medical care as well.

Here are five tips to successfully foster/adopting an American child in need.

1. Re-focus your parental imagination.

When we think of parenting, sometimes we imagine the “perfect” child. As most parents will tell you, those children really don’t exist. Every child is a challenge in his or her own way, and even infants born to healthy parents come with no guarantees. Infants and young children available for foster/adoption often are medically fragile. They may have been born premature or with drug exposure. The children in the foster care system who most desperately need parents are older: 12 to 17. Some have suffered physical or sexual abuse; most have been neglected or experienced trauma that leads to emotional and behavioral problems. Many are members of sibling groups that should be adopted together or are older teens.

Imagine sharing the simple pleasures of family with a child who never would have experienced family game night or a real home-baked birthday cake without you. The rewards of helping a child overcome challenges and grow up to reach his or her full potential are incredible.

2. Be prepared to foster first.

Most of the children who are adopted from the child welfare system are adopted by their foster parents. Foster parents gain a wealth of experience and learn to support children as they overcome difficult personal or family issues. You may want to foster several children before deciding that adoption is the right thing for your family. Many times at Youth Villages, we find that new foster parents think that young children will fit into their family. But, when they meet a teenager who needs help – and know that they are perfectly capable of providing that help – they open their hearts.

3. Consider the impact on your children and extended family.

The potential of adding a new child to the family through foster or adoption is exciting for everyone. Make sure you’ve thoroughly discussed foster/adoption with your child or children and are open and honest with them about your foster/adoptive child’s needs. Include extended family in your discussions. The support and encouragement from grandparents and relatives will be important.

4. Get ready for some tests.

All of our children test us in many different ways in different stages of their lives, but foster/adopted children are particularly hard graders. In many cases, they’ve been let down and disappointed by adults time and time again.

Often you’ll see their most challenging behavior just before an adoption is final. They are making sure that you’ll stick with them.

After the adoption, when the child begins to feel the safety and security that comes with a permanent home, we find that many emotional and behavioral problems melt away. Children are incredibly resilient and able to start anew when given that chance.

5. Take advantage of available support.

There are many agencies in our community that offer foster/adoption services. Ask for parent references and their adoption success rate. Go with the group that makes you feel most comfortable, has the best track record and offers the most support.

Across the country, there are 423,000 children in foster care; so many need adoptive homes. At Youth Villages, we have nearly 100 children eligible for adoption now. If you’ve ever considered becoming a foster or adoptive parent, now is a great time to act. Adopting through foster care is easier than you think. Please contact Youth Villages, another agency, or your state’s children’s services to get started.

For more information on how you can become a foster or adoptive parent, go to www.youthvillages.org.

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