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This is the second in a series of biweekly Family Friday blogposts that will address the topic of becoming a foster or adoptive parent. This posting considers the choice between foster care or adoption as the best option for you and your family.

So, you have the prerequisites – the space, the financial means, and the unbiased love of children – necessary to be successful as a foster or adoptive parent. Now you have the first of several decisions before you which the agency of your choosing will inquire, and at some point will require – do we want to be foster or adoptive parents? You probably are unsure at this point and that is more than ok! As a matter of fact, it is fully expected. What’s important is that you have a degree of confidence in the choice you have made to open your heart and home to children in need. The following is but a glimpse of the distinctiveness of circumstances common in foster care and adoption placements.

The first and most definitive consideration is that foster care is temporary in duration and adoption is life-long. A typical foster care placement can be as brief as overnight or can stretch to days, weeks, months, and occasionally years. The ultimate goal for a family whose child has been placed in foster care is the reunification of the family. When all attempts to address concerns and reunite the family have failed, parental rights are terminated by the courts and the children become eligible for adoption while continuing in their present foster care setting. Conversely, adoption placements are permanent and life-long, carrying the same legal standing as birth children. In all ways, they are your children and you are their parents, with all the privileges and responsibilities such entails.

Birth-family interaction is a second distinctiveness between foster care and adoption. Children in foster care typically have regular, supervised visitation with the birth family. It serves a useful purpose in that it affords opportunities to insure birth family that their children are receiving adequate care. For the children, it offers an ongoing sense of connection with the birth family in the midst of emotional chaos. Inasmuch as the parental rights of children eligible for adoption have been terminated, birth-family interaction is highly restricted or non-existent. Occasionally, interaction with appropriate relatives may continue on a very limited basis when beneficial to the children. The key determinant in the interaction of adoptive children with birth family is that it is at the sole discretion of the adoptive parents. After all, you are now the parent!

A final distinctiveness between foster care and adoption is financial support. Consideration of this factor may seem callous, but it is a brutal reality that there are necessary expenses involved in raising children. For children in foster care, child-placing agencies should offer a daily stipend or allowance in addition to a Medicaid card (or state equivalent) to cover health care needs (as utilization of these Federal funds varies from state to state, ask your child-placing agency for details).

Children whom you have adopted may or may not be eligible for any financial support or health insurance coverage. Typically, it is limited to children placed through state agencies for domestic adoptions and reserved for those children identified as having “special needs.” Again, the child-placing agency is your best source of definitive information. Keeping in mind that the child-placing agency considers your financial stability a critical issue, it is appropriate for you to consider the question as well before making your decision.

Assuming you are still undecided, there is one final option that has proven to work best for many families and may for yours as well. The option, available through many state child-placing agencies, is known as “foster-to-adopt.” Simply stated, you are licensed as both a foster parent and an adoptive parent. Children are initially placed in your home as a foster care placement. During their stay, you get to know the children in many ways unavailable to a prospective adoptive family. Some of the children may very likely be reunited with their birth families (remember, that is the goal of foster care, where possible). For those children for whom reunification is impossible and the termination of parental rights is inevitable, most states will allow you, as the foster care family, first consideration as their adoptive placement. It is an option that can be a win–win for you and the children as it eliminates yet another disruption in their lives and your family as well.

While all of these options are worthy of consideration, there is likely only one that will be the best for you and your family. The greatest choice you have made up to this point is to open your hearts and your home to children in need. For that, you should be commended. Many decisions lie ahead as you welcome these special children into your family as foster or adoptive parents. In spite of the challenges their presence in your family will represent, you will come to appreciate that their inclusion in your family has been a blessing to them and to you. May God’s richest blessings be yours as work through the process of reaching out to His children in need.

Have you made that call yet to ask for information about being a foster or adoptive parent? Call today the agency of your choice or the local office of Child Protective Services in your community.