Wednesday, February 8, 2012

There's No Expiration Date on Forever

I was recently talking with a friend who adopted an older child through foster care; my friend's son has been with the family for years and is now a teenager. When this family became involved in this boy's life, he was just about to be moved off the adoption track and onto a plan for permanent institutional residency. Because of his challenges and behavioral issues he was considered "unadoptable," but he has thrived in his adoptive family and is now an honors student in high school. That's not what this post is about, though. It's about a story this mom shared with me during our recent conversation -- a story that may surprise you but didn't surprise me. The son had made some comments that confused his parents, and when they pushed a little further to understand the meaning, they became aware that he was under the impression that he would have to move out on his 18th birthday. And he was starting to feel anxious about that date looming in his future. He is legally adopted; this family is his forever family. But he thought forever had an expiration date.

When my friend told me this story, I nodded in recognition because we went through something similar with Ashley, though at a younger age. In a manner similar to that of my friend's son, she didn't express her concerns directly; rather, there were various hints that we needed to decode. She was asking a lot of questions about college. Did she have to go to college? What would happen if she didn't want to go to college? Around this same time she started asking a lot of questions about homelessness and how people end up homeless. Eventually it dawned on me that my eight-year-old was worrying about her own future. She was concerned about how she would survive when we ceased to support her. I turned to her and told her she didn't need to worry about that; she could stay with her dad and me as long as she needed to. I told her the day would probably come when she would want to move out, but it would be her choice when that happened. I watched her body relax. The anxious questions stopped after that, and on a few occasions in the coming months I heard her repeat the message in her own words: "I get to choose when I move out."

Now, if she's still living here at 35, we'll need to revisit this conversation. But I'm not really worried. She can't imagine it yet, but the day will come when she's ready to move on, knowing we've got her back if she stumbles. That's not something she needs to worry about yet, though. And when she was 8, and just starting to settle into our family, she needed to know that she could settle in for good. She needed to be told directly that forever means forever.

It's heartbreaking to think that former foster kids carry this legacy of anxiety with them into adoption, but I'm also aware that the two kids I've written about so far in this post are among the lucky ones. Forever may not have an expiration date, but foster care does. According to Fostering Connections Resource Center (2010), "in 2008, 29,000 youth or ten percent of the children exiting the system were emancipated from foster care (this is also referred to as aging out of foster care) at the age of 18 or older without a safe, permanent family."

I have heard it said by others within the adoption community that adoption should be about finding families for children, not children for families. If you are considering adoption as a way to build a family, please consider adopting from foster care. It's not an easy thing to do and I'm not going to try to tell you that it is. But there are kids out there who really do need "forever families." 


5 comments:

  1. Rebeca this is heartbreaking. I can't imagine what your daughter and your friends son must have felt, and continue to feel. I think it's just amazing how you shine a light on this subject!! Bless you!! Beautiful piece!!

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  2. This is a beautiful post. I have worked with children in the foster care system and it is just heart breaking to see their anxiety. It is like they are waiting to be rejected yet again even if that is not the case. In my state we have over 10,000 children in foster care! Just in this state. I can not imagine what is like for these children and hope that there are many more families like yours and your friend who are willing to make a forever family for a child.

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  3. Your post is such a good reminder. I'll never promote adoption for adoption's sake, but there sure is genuine need within the foster care system. Thanks for advocating for these kids and sharing some concerns that children coming out of foster care might have.

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  4. Oh! I had never thought about this, but now that I do it makes sense that approaching 18 might cause anxiety for children. I love the way you handled it, by putting the choice in your daughter's hands.

    Congrats to your friend and her honors-student son.

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