November is National Adoption Month. In honor of the month, we will be bringing attention to the thousands of people in foster care awaiting forever homes, as well as those who provide and advocate for them. These stories emphasize the idea that families are bound together by the love they share, rather than their biological roots.
While we love celebrating all those who have found their way into a forever home, there is still so much to be done for the approximate 428,000 American children who are in the foster care system on any given day. Of course, the best thing anyone can do is become a foster or adoptive parent themselves, but prospectives might feel hesitant for one reason or another. While it's natural to have reservations about taking on such a big responsibility, myths surrounding adoption often stop people from thinking it is a viable option for them.
According to Cynthia Billey, the program director of the foster care adoption program at The Alliance for Children's Rights, such myths have proliferated for so long because of misrepresentation in the media, and a lack of visibility.
"The media tends to focus on sensational and negative stories about foster care, with comparatively little attention to the ongoing work of finding permanent homes for children who have been removed from their parents due to abuse, neglect, and abandonment," Billey tells A Plus. "In movies and televisions, we also don't see a lot of foster/adoptive family stories. This is starting to change, with shows like The Fosters, that have broken new ground in terms of accurately portraying the experiences of foster/adoptive families."
Billey adds that while some myths may be based on real-life negative experiences, the foster care system is complex and requires a lot of patience and education to navigate. "… Research (and my experience!) does show that there are many individuals and families interested in foster care adoption," she says.
In order to aid people through the process, and encourage others to get involved, it is so important we distinguish myth from reality so everyone can make well-informed decisions. There are plenty of resources on the subject, but to make things even easier, we're dispelling a few myths about adoption right here.
Here are nine myths about adoption, debunked.
1. Children who have been abused and neglected are somehow irreparably damaged.
"In fact, children at all ages are incredibly resilient, and they can, and do, recover from trauma with a great deal of love and support," Billey tells A Plus, adding that every day she works with families who have stepped up to embrace a child who has been in foster care. "I see those children thrive, overcoming all sorts of obstacles so they can grow into adulthood and live fulfilling lives."
2. The child’s biological parents may take them back after the adoption.
According to the Donaldson Adoption Institute, post-adoption revocation can happen, but because they are so rare, they often gain a lot of publicity. This perpetuates the myth that a biological parent can just take back their child at will.
This is hardly ever the case. Once a child has been adopted, the child's biological parent's rights are terminated. "In fact, the legal process of adoption is designed to proceed in a way that makes very clear that a biological parent's rights have been terminated in order to grant to the adoptive parent all of the same rights of a biological parent with regard to the child," Billey explains to A Plus.
3. Adoption is very expensive.
Adopting children from foster care can pretty much be free as many programs, such as The Alliance for Children's Rights, do not charge for their services.
"Programs like ours will finalize an adoption at no cost to the adoptive parent, and the child welfare adoption agencies typically waive their home study fees for families who are adopting a child from foster care," says Billey. "And although the process of adoption from foster care does take time, we seek to alleviate unnecessary delays."
On The Alliance for Children's Rights website, it is also noted that more and more companies and government agencies are providing adoptive and foster parents with benefits such as maternity/paternity leave. "Congress has also made federal tax credits available for foster care adoptions to help offset required fees, court costs, and legal and travel expenses. In 2014, the maximum federal tax credit for qualifying expenses was $13,190. These types of benefits enable more families to adopt children from foster care into their homes."
4. The adoption process takes years and years to complete.
According to Adoptive Families, the process can actually take under a year. On its website, the organization claims most of the families that went through it brought their children home within two years of submitting their paperwork. Billey also contends that most of the families that go through her program complete their adoptions within two years, which is a much shorter time frame than international adoption.
5. Agencies may withhold information from adoptive families about a child's past.
According to the National Adoption Day website, state agencies are legally required to provide adoptive parents all the background information about the child. "Agencies have an invested interest in ensuring that parents have a positive experience with foster care adoption so they will continue to adopt and recommend others do the same. For children who have physical, emotional or behavioral problems, agencies seek to provide the most comprehensive post-adoptive services available to help the children transition into their new homes."
6. Once a child ages out of foster care, they no longer have a need for adoption.
According to You Gotta Believe — the only NYC Metro organization that exclusively focuses on finding permanent families for young adults, teens, and pre-teens in foster care — more than 25 percent of kids waiting for adoption right now are between the ages of 13 and 17, and about 25,000 young adults age out of the system every year without ever finding a forever home. These people are among the most vulnerable and in need of families to help them through their teenage years into young adulthood.
"Parenting a teen isn't easy," it says on the You Gotta Believe website. "But it's not impossible and the rewards abound. We've had single women and men adopt youth, women and men who are in committed relationships, domestic partnerships or neither, parents with zero experience of parenting, parents with disabilities and/or who have children with disabilities, and parents who had planned to adopt a baby and fell in love with a teenager. We welcome all!"
Through contacting organizations such as You Gotta Believe, you can learn more about adopting a person who has aged out of foster care. The organization will also help parents prepare for parenting youth with classes and support groups.
7. All children in foster care have special needs.
"While it's becoming increasingly rare to adopt a healthy infant or toddler from another country, many of the children eligible for international adoption have minor, correctable special needs," it says on the Adoptive Families website.
How to Adopt adds that many children labeled as "special needs" may be classified this way not because they have a disability, but simply because they are part of a sibling group, require special educational resources, or if the child is older.
"While some children are dealing with physical or emotional concerns, they need the nurturing support only a permanent family can provide," it says on the National Adoption Day website. "Many children in foster care are in the 'system' because their birth parents weren't protective and nurturing caretakers — not because the children did anything wrong or because there is something wrong with them."
8. Potential adoptive parents must be perfect to be considered.
According to The Donaldson Adoption Institute, most adoptive parents pass the home study process as long as they can provide financially and emotionally for the child. That said, they don't have to be rich, married, own a home, or be of a certain race, identity, or sexual orientation, according to National Adoption Day. In fact, the organization states that almost one-third of adoptions from foster care are by single parents. Additionally, all states allow gay and lesbian parents to adopt. but prospective parents should contact their local state agency to see what guidelines apply.
"... Families are as diverse as the children who are available for adoption. Patience, a good sense of humor, a love of children and the commitment to be a good parent are the most important characteristics," it says on the website.
9. A parent who adopts is less real than a biological parent
This year, our theme for National Adoption Month is "bound by love." This means that love shared between family members is more important than their biological roots. There are countless ways this has been proven over and over again. Parents have posted open letters about their experience adopting a child and the love they feel for them, and children have shared the ways these feelings are reciprocated. It is clear that a parent is the person who loves and provides for a child, not necessarily the person who conceived them. That love and support are what matters most.