Recently AdoptiveBlackMom received an email from a reader/listener who is a foster parent. Sue* and her husband have been fostering for two years and did not originally have plans to adopt. The couple is now in the early stages of the adoption process with the hopes of parenting a teenager.
As they navigate the adoption process and begin the search for a child to parent forever, Sue posed an important question to Mimi and ABM: What advice would you give to someone who was reading files of teens in foster care in hopes of finding their child?
The ladies decided to reach out to an expert on older child adoption, Beverly Clarke, director of Project Wait No Longer at the Barker Adoption Foundation to answer Sue’s question. Beverly was featured in Add Water and Stir episode 44, The Truth about Preventing Adoption Disruption.
Below, Beverly shares some advice on reading files of teens in foster care and determining if you might have found a prospective match.
Beverly Clarke’s Advice for Hopeful Adoptive Parents of Teens
- Remember that kids are more than their files. If anyone was to take every seemingly “bad” thing you had ever done and put it all into one document – minus the context of what was going on in your life at the time, very few of us would seem like “good” people.
- Be honest with yourself. Try to think carefully about your skills, strengths, and weaknesses and be honest about your ability to meet the needs of the child you are considering. Many people talk about kids as being difficult or “bad.” It is not about a “bad” child. It is about an ill-prepared or being a less than capable parent. Many kids that seem hard to parent to one person prove to be the perfect son or daughter for someone else.
- Talk to current caregivers. This is a big one. If you have the opportunity, try to talk with the person that is currently taking care of the child to see what daily life with your child might look like. The day in and day out realities of living in the same home with a person can make all the difference in the world. If you find a child endearing or charming, the most difficult behaviors can seem manageable. However, if a child’s daily habits are all of your trigger behaviors – even a relatively well-behaved child will feel unmanageable. The caveat to this is that you need to filter all information received through your own lens. Some caretakers may find certain behaviors to be a much bigger deal than you would.
- Look beyond the behaviors. Try your best to connect with the child’s history and their story. Behaviors are often just symptoms of larger emotions that your child is learning to manage. Holding on to that reality will help you to parent beyond the behaviors. Being in tune with the grief, trauma and sorrow your child has experienced will make you a much more compassionate and forgiving parent.
- Assess your resources. Support is the key to successful parenting. When looking at the needs of a child, do a careful assessment of the resources you will need in order to make parenting as low-stress as possible. Will they need therapy, tutoring, and child care? Will you have to have a backup plan for school suspensions or summer care? Whatever the needs, do a careful assessment of the support systems you will need and do a cost analysis of those needs to be sure that you are going to be able to access support services as needed to help your child have a successful transition.
- Be Realistic – Teenagers are teenagers. If you are looking at teen profiles and don’t want to parent a child who is sometimes withdrawn, combative, verbally disagreeable, entitled, ungrateful, lies and has fights over rules and technology then chances are, this type of parenting is not for you. Talk to your (honest) friends who are parenting teenagers. They will tell you that (whether by adoption or through biology) parenting teenagers can be rewarding and wonderful in many ways but that there are some basic behavioral and parental struggles that just go with the territory.
We are grateful to both Sue* and Beverly for the question and the advice!
If you have questions for the ladies of Add Water and Stir, drop a note at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to @AWASPod!
*Sue is a pseudonym.