Guest blogger Ariele O’Brien has a master’s degree in social work and is an adoptive mama of twins who, one decade after being adopted out of the foster system, are thriving.
A pair of innocent eyes stared up at us when we greeted the social service worker hours after we had received our foster care license.
They were adorable 2-year-old twins, one boy, one girl — and one journey that has blessed me beyond words.
We were assured that most placements for foster children take an average of three to four months or much longer after licensure.
Our placement took four hours.
Our agency called around lunchtime and our social worker congratulated us on being approved to foster. Then, she called a few hours later and asked if we could take an emergency placement of twins immediately. Apparently, these children needed to move yet again, and the judge had selected us to foster if we were willing. We were their FOURTH placement in ONE month!
Thankfully, we were their LAST placement.
The state actually tried to drive the twins to us, but after sitting in traffic for three hours with them screaming and getting carsick, the driver gave up and turned around. The next morning, just a mere 12 hours after the failed delivery attempt, the driver delivered two sick babies with fevers and sinus infections. The delay, however, had allowed us to run to the store and buy another bed, another car seat, another booster seat for our table.
While my husband assembled, I moved 50 boxes from their room to the garage because we had JUST moved into that house. We had intended to wade through the boxes and get rid of stuff or unpack things to the appropriate spot BEFORE we received foster children.
Clearly, our plan was not God’s plan.
Once inside, the twins explored and played with toys. Meanwhile, I received absolutely no helpful information about them. (It might have been helpful if the state had thought to share the fact that both were lactose intolerant. Instead, we had a few weeks of terrible digestive issues, followed by a week more of similar issues as I again discovered on my own that they were also not able to tolerate soy milk, either. It was rice milk for the win! After the adoption, the state released the twins’ medical records, which indicated that prior to them arriving at our house, they had already been diagnosed as lactose intolerant.)
They came with two garbage bags full of clothes four times their size from the social service worker and one doll each — a creepy Barney that would start talking by itself from the closet at 2 a.m., even after we’d removed the batteries, and an Elmo that sang the alphabet. Since the owner of Barney wasn’t that emotionally attached to it, it disappeared and was replaced with a cuddly teddy instead.
The social service worker didn’t stay for more than five minutes — I can’t even recall what she looked like — though I remember my babies. And she told us absolutely nothing about these children.
It almost seemed to the state like these were just two more foster children without stories or personalities of their own.
In a way, that worked out better, because I trusted my own instincts. I probably would have treated them differently had I known that the state believed they were partially or completely deaf because they didn’t speak at all, documented that they threw lots of tantrums and noted that they didn’t respond to adults.
Case in point, one day one at meal time, I took the toxic cow milk out of the fridge and both screamed, cried and pointed at it in an attempt to let me know they wanted some. Had the state told me they thought they were deaf, I would have used sign language to get them to communicate appropriately. Instead, I said, “Say, ‘Milk, please.’” Both ignored me, continued to scream, pointed and used sounds instead of words. I said, “You’re not having this until you say: ‘Milk, please.’”
One twin was much more willing to oblige and mumbled a recognizable phrase to which said twin was quickly rewarded with the milk. The other was not having it and continued the tantrum until finally realizing that he or she was not going to get his or her way and spoke up with a clear and intelligible, “Milk, please.”
Those two words opened up the world to them, because it wasn’t that they were deaf or developmentally delayed; it was that they were never forced to speak, ever. It turned out that both children were actually gifted and even at the tender age of 2, manipulated the adults around them — that is, until they met me.
God truly matched us up to even out the playing field. Both were stubborn, but I was more stubborn than the two of them combined when it came to right and wrong. I kind of chuckled to think that prior to us, they had outsmarted every adult they had encountered.
You would think that the state would check in on you after they dropped off two kids, but that didn’t happen for us — not even a phone call. We did get a call from the organization we went through to see how things were going, but not from the state. My only theory was that they knew I had my master’s degree in social work and that I had previously worked with foster kids at a group home, so they didn’t feel the need to check on us.
Regardless, we didn’t hear from them for an entire month.
One month later, a Guardian Ad Litem (G.A.L.) called to set up a visit to check on the twins.
A lot transpired in one month with LOVE, energy, time and two gifted kids.
By the time the G.A.L. arrived, the two supposedly deaf children spoke in full sentences, sang their alphabet and recognized all 26 letters and 0-9 numbers in any order presented, counted to 100 and completed 25-piece jigsaw puzzles on their own.
She was shocked. She couldn’t believe they were the same twins.
We didn’t see our G.A.L. too often because she said she was thrilled with how well the twins were doing in our home. By age 3, they’d complete a 100-piece jigsaw puzzle in 20 minutes and could read words and small sentences. (I think that helped us in the long run, because in the end, the G.A.L. advocated that Mom’s rights be terminated and they be adopted by us.)
More importantly, though, throughout the year, our G.A.L. also listened to me when I told her that each time we had a visit or drove to have a visit with the biological mother, both twins would have night terrors that night. Additionally, both twins got car sick easily and the hour and a half drive (one way) in traffic to visit her (when she didn’t show up) was traumatizing to them, as they would inevitably vomit from car sickness.
Through the G.A.L., we arranged to only leave for a visit if the biological mom had already arrived at the rendezvous point. Our G.A.L. also had the visits moved closer so the twins weren’t in the car for hours. That worked well, because the children were not traumatized by the visit or attempted visit.
After almost nine months of very few actual visits and more no-shows than not from the biological mom, our G.A.L. recommended we no longer be forced to go at all. After the mother failed to show up for a mandatory visit, the state initiated the process to terminate her rights.
The state saw that the twins were thriving with us, and that it was not in their best interest to have continued contact with their biological mom. The state would have moved forward with a completely closed adoption, but we offered to send pictures through the state to the mother, so they agreed to a semi-closed adoption.
The best advice I can give anyone considering a true foster-to-adopt program is to take copious notes and video or photo journal all that you can to support any fact you need to present to the state. Also, you may not have as many “rights” as foster parents, but you should have someone on the side of the child who will advocate for the child’s best interests.
On day one, I should have demanded to know more about the twins’ medical history pertinent to their care. When I asked, I was told that medical history is only disclosed in the case of adoption. However, had I known better, I could have asked the Guardian Ad Litem to check into their medical history and I’m SURE she would have disclosed that they were lactose intolerant, because it was in the twins’ best interests for me to know that information.
Not every state has a true foster-to-adopt program, but ours did have one. The children placed in that program were extremely likely to need a permanent home. Some of the main requirements to be eligible for placements in the program were children whose parents had previously, permanently lost children, children that had parents not likely to change their behaviors, parents with addictions and so forth. Infants of teenage mothers were not allowed in a program like this because there was a great chance the teenage moms would change their mind and decide to raise their children with the help of the state.
Currently, not every state has a foster-to-adopt program established for children entering foster care. However, there are thousands of children in foster care whose parental rights have already been terminated by the state. These children are legally free to adopt. But adopting them isn’t like going into an animal shelter and driving home with a new family member. These are precious people, and there is an established process.
In those cases, a foster license is still needed and the process is to start with short visits at the group home (or someplace neutral), then increase to few-hour visits, then a day, then a day and a night, then a weekend, then a week, then a month, all the while getting to know the child or sibling group while going to counseling. The process continues until the child or siblings live full-time with the foster parents and then an adoption can begin. In this way, even with legally free children, one would still foster-to-adopt.
One other benefit of this kind of adoption is the cost. Adopting U.S. kids in the foster care system is essentially free. If one does ALL the work, it can be free from start to finish. If one uses an agency, such as Children’s Home Society, a small fee is required to conduct the home study. However, once the adoption is finalized, that fee is reimbursed by the state.
Also, the state pays to foster and often includes a small stipend after the adoption, though not always a financial stipend. To my knowledge, all states guarantee continued medical insurance and mental health insurance until the age of 18.
I’m sure I can write a book an entire book on our journey and experience as foster parents. Maybe I will someday. But I hope this sneak-peak into our experience helps others realize that, while there are challenges to fostering, the joy of adoption far outweighs them all!
What made our experience successful was the strength we received from God, the support we received from the body of believers (from driving us clothes that actually fit the twins to making meals for us because we went from being non-parents to parents of toddlers overnight) and, finally, from our continued faith in obedience to the Holy Spirit each day. I know I couldn’t have done it by my own strength or wisdom!
If you have questions, need prayer or want to know more about fostering or adopting, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested in fostering to adopt but not sure where to go from here?
Recommendations from Ariele:
If you’re interested in fostering-to-adopt, but have no prior experience with fostering or adopting, I would strongly recommend using a non-profit organization to help navigate the paperwork and process.
Since I had previously worked for Children’s Home Society, an organization in almost all 50 states, I chose to work with them. Even though they require payment for the home study, that money is reimbursed once an adoption is finalized. In many cases, fees can be supplied by other grants, if necessary.
One of the main reasons I recommend Children’s Home Society is because of the continued adoption support post adoption. Additionally, as a Christian, I felt led to adopt from a public agency because all those who adopt through a Christian organization are required to be believers and those children will go to a believing family. However, the public agency has no religious requirement and those children can be adopted by anyone or any couple, who often don’t share my religious beliefs. I wanted to serve those children and provide a Christian home.
More often than not, online research answers many questions, fears, concerns and so forth. A great place to start is http://adoptuskids.org/. Adopt-US-Kids also has online chat help. While I did not use this website, I do recommend it.
Also, I recommend searching for Children’s Home Society. There isn’t one specific URL because each state has its own variation. For instance, the URL in Florida is https://www.chsfl.org/. Children’s Home Society’s websites are geared for the specific state laws in that area. However, adopting from a C.H.S. in any state can give you access to all U.S. children.
While I worked at a C.H.S. in Florida, a family adopted a sibling group of five who lived in California. In that case, the children were all legally free to adopt. They transitioned once they arrived in California. C.H.S. is a great organization, because they walk you through the process step-by-step and keep track of all necessary paperwork. C.H.S. stays up to date on the children’s needs, as well. For instance, many foster kids enter foster care without basic computer/technology skills. C.H.S. has programs to catch them up to their peers. They offer group counseling, individual counseling, group activities, adoption support activities and so much more.
Want to know more? Email me at email@example.com.