My wife and I have been foster parents for nearly two years. The explanations you have been given about the process were excellent and thorough. I can’t really add to it.
What I can tell you is the biggest difference in Foster/Adoption and international adoption is the interaction you will have with the birth parents. For months to years you will take the child to visit his or her birth parents. You will turn them over to drug addicts, mentally unstable people, alcoholics and more. You will wait patiently in the waiting room until the child comes back out, then you deal with the aftermath.
At first, it can be dealing with missing birth mom/dad. Slowly, over time, as the child bonds to you it becomes apparent that the child will struggle with issues over guilt about loving you. There will be frequent problems after a visit with behavior, anger, sadness, bathroom control, wetting the bed, nightmares, etc. You are powerless to do anything except provide unconditional love and stability.
If is a very challenging process, especially if it is not a short term relationship and one that moves eventually to adoption. (We have our first adoption scheduled for next week). you will be tested in ways that you cannot believe. You are getting children that are broken and damaged, some physically, some mentally, all emotionally.
Even infants suffer. Some of ours (we have 3 fosters girls 3 and under) come out of their visits visibly sad and confused. They cannot communicate their confusion. They don’t know why mommy or daddy gives them to these strange people once a week.
Do not go into foster care as a means of adoption. You cannot control who stays and who leaves. The state determines fitness and you are not consulted. Your choice is either to bond and face a broken heart, or stay at arm’s length and protect yourself. My wife and I have always said we will love them as our own for as long as they are with us and face a broken heart if they are returned. They’ve already had their share of pain, we can take our turn.
We’ve invited birth mom’s to our home, taken food to crack addicts, and tried to treat the birth parent’s like people who are also facing a loss. They are not trash, just people who cannot care for their children – but they love them. I’ve seen other foster parents treat the birth parents like the enemy because it’s a win/loss for one of them. Someone gets the kid and someone has a whole in their heart.
In the end, all the parents who have faced termination have asked us to adopt their child. We were going to anyway, but it feels like a gift to the birth parent to take away concern about their child being in a loving home. We’ve spent the past year or two proving to them that we love their child and respect the loss the birth parent is going through.
Foster care workers tend to focus on the child and the process, they do not tell you just how much of your life will be taken up by the “undesirable” elements. We’ve grieved with birthmother’s who had miscarriages; wept with mother’s who faced terrible health problems and even been the support person for the birthmom at termination. They often have no one else in their lives.
You can, of course, tune them out and refuse to see them as people. Most foster parents do. It protects you from having to deal with them and allows you to see them as bad people who deserve to have their children removed.
Don’t get me wrong: some are. Anyone who hurts a child or abuses them is not fit; they deserve to be punished. I’m talking about the majority of cases that we’ve seen where the mother (usually it’s a single mom) is mentally ill, addicted to drugs, or just not fit. None of our foster children have ever been physically abused.
For us, foster care is the form of service that we feel best displays our faith in action. We are taking in children and protecting them and also treating the “undesirable” as people. Seems to me, Jesus did stuff like that.
We cannot change the world, but we can change some lives. What a blessing that is. I truly wish every Christian family would take in one child – what a powerful message and life changing thing. Who knows how many abortions are saved when a girl is taken into a home where life is valued. Who knows how many are saved from a life of drugs, despair and simply adding the next generation to the system.
Just don’t misunderestimate the work, though.