Since it’s National Adoption Month and one of my values as a blogger is community, I believe one of the best ways to educate you is simply through sharing stories. My friends the McCommas’ adopted their daughter through a private domestic adoption, and you can read part 1 of that story here. They are now a foster family, so we will continue on with their story below.
What led you to choose foster care?
We were certain that we were going to pursue another agency adoption to grow our family – so much so that we made a formal announcement that that was our intent. As we started reaching out to agencies it was very clear that God was closing that door. It led Cody and I to have lots of conversations about what our next step would be. Clearly this wasn’t going to look like our first adoption, but what did that mean? Through our discussions we realized that we didn’t want to do another domestic infant adoption. We knew we wanted to go where there was a need and it was very clear that there was a need for foster homes. While there are families waiting in line for the next infant adoption, there are foster children waiting in line for the next family. It should be noted that I was terrified of foster care before we started fostering. Slowly I’d been learning more about foster care over the years, but I also knew that it felt too far out of my comfort zone. Extraordinary people foster, not me. Yet I knew that God was leading us toward foster care. I also knew that this meant that we needed to be okay with not “growing our family” through foster care. Serving these families and fostering means that reunification is the goal and that we are simply keeping them safe for as long as they need it. Our hearts needed to be okay with that and they are. We are both happy to foster and if any kids we foster need a forever home we are happy to do that too.
What was the process like to get licensed in your state? How did you choose your agency?
Lots of training and paperwork! Our date nights became working date nights so that we could get our paperwork completed and online trainings done.
We chose our fostering agency the same way we chose our adoption agency – by talking to people. I went to a local support group and talked to other moms. I didn’t know what I needed to be looking for, so I asked them. We kept hearing the same name, so we went to an orientation and had the same THIS IS IT feeling. We liked hearing about their support of foster families, their purpose for existing is to pack resources around the foster families so they can STAY foster families. After also having attended a CPS orientation we knew that we wanted the extra resources and support we’d get from the agency.
Knowing you had another child in the home already, what were some decisions you made in order to best fit your family, but also still be able to serve the children in your county?
That is tricky. I feel like we’re still figuring that stuff out. From the beginning we decided to keep birth order and only foster children younger than our daughter. As Eliza gets older I want her to have a growing understanding of why we foster and what it means. I also want her to know that her voice is heard. It’s important for us to be aware of how fostering and these relationships affect our daughter and make adjustments as needed.
After you became licensed, how soon did you receive a placement? What was that like when you got the phone call and said yes?
Only a few days, which demonstrates the need! It was such a mix of feelings, but definitely nervousness and excitement. Everything happened so fast. We got a phone call with a very brief explanation of the baby and I distinctly remember realizing that the intake worker was waiting for me to say yes or no. There was something strikingly poignant about that- if we said no she needed to keep looking for open homes; if we said yes she would need directions to our house because we’d have a new baby soon. We said yes and 3 hours later we had an infant in our home and were signing placement paperwork.
How many placements have you had so far, and were there any that were particularly difficult? How did you guys handle that, what kind of support was given?
We’ve had 3 placements and 4 kids. The one sibling group we said yes to was the most challenging for us as a family. Suddenly I was a mom of three kids under 4, 2 of whom had some really big needs. We were in survival mode. It was so different than what we had already experienced in so many ways. We immediately started reaching out and asking for help. We needed babysitters, meals, extra hands while Cody was at work, clothes and shoes, playdates for Eliza, and advice. Every need was filled. Cody took time off of work. My mom stepped in to help every day – and night. When I would put a need on Facebook an amazon package would arrive at my door. We had friends bringing meals and groceries. Friends would show up to pick up Eliza for a playdate so we could stabilize things. One friend would come once a week after dropping her kid off at daycare to stay with me for a few hours. Our support system (made up of our family, our church, our friends, and foster/adopt advocates) is amazing. I don’t know what we would’ve done without them. I can’t overstate that, we owe so much to their support and are so thankful to have them.
How do you handle all of the appointments, home visits from caseworkers, paperwork to keep up with, court dates, and visits with birth family while also juggling another child?
For me, lists, a plan, and a shared google calendar! I have a monthly checklist posted of everything that needs to be done. I have found a system that works for me – a clipboard hung for medical logs, binder for all of the paperwork, and a schedule for writing out weekly or monthly forms. All the busyness has an impact on our daughter, so we try hard to give her one on one time and special attention, especially when a placement has significant needs. As a couple we’ve also had more conversations about being choosier with what else we commit or say yes to. We simply can’t do all the things we used to do, or want to do, with the added commitments of fostering. That’s not to scare anyone, it’s just a reality. We only have so much bandwidth and as long as we are saying ‘yes’ to these kids we necessarily have to say ‘no’ to some other things.
What were some of the emotions you experienced after children were in your home and were reunited with the birth family?
Out of three placements that hasn’t been our exact experience yet. One child was moved to kinship (went to live with a relative) so I can speak about that. Like everything else we’ve experienced in foster care, it was a mix of emotions. It was our first placement. We didn’t think we were going to be her forever family, but we thought that things were going to turn out differently. We had one week to prepare and I’m so thankful for that. I soaked up all the snuggles and cuddles I could, took time packing her things and making sure she had stuff to grow into, printed pictures, and wrote a long letter explaining everything I knew about this kid – schedule, likes/dislikes, etc. I sobbed when the caseworker came to pick her up because I was attached to her and knew I would miss her. I still do, but I’m also happy that a relative was able to step in an care for her.
Many people have stereotypes of birth families when walking into foster care. What are ways that you honor them, even when the choices being made are not the best?
It’s important for me to remember that I don’t know the full story. We know the reason for removal and not much else in the beginning. I want birth families to know that their kid is safe and loved. I don’t want them to miss the new things they are learning and seeing them grow, especially since we typically have infants and that first year seems to fly by. I like to keep a journal in the diaper bag for visits. Every week I write an update and I send pictures. I want birth families to know that we are a team. I’m rooting for them! I want to see them succeed and for their kid to be reunified with them. We talk about them in a way that conveys that and never stop praying that God will heal these relationships.
What kind of support have you guys received during the process? Was there anything that particularly stood out to you or ministered to your family during that time? For those wanting to serve foster families, what are some tangible ways people can do that?
THE BEST. I honestly love this question because I get to brag on our community, our village. We are surrounded by loving people who serve us well. Oftentimes we are so busy trying to adjust to our new normal that it’s hard to ask for help or know what would be helpful. Having people bless our family with meals, groceries, clothes, amazon deliveries for new things we needed, flowers, notes of encouragement, their time and energy makes a difference. All of these (and more) have been incredible gifts to us and these babies we were caring for. Thanking them seems hardly sufficient. We couldn’t do what we do without these people.
If you want to serve foster families, don’t wait for an invitation. If you’re going to the store, see if they need anything. If you’re making dinner, make a double batch and deliver it. If you have something to donate, see if there’s a family nearby who needs it. If you have some free time, see if you can help them with something around the house. If you’re feeling really daring, do a background check and be an approved babysitter for them. It’s the little things and the big things.
Many people are scared to enter into foster parenting because of birth families and getting “too attached.” What would you say to them about that?
I was that person. I get it. Also, it’s worth it. These kids need someone to get “too attached” to them – to invest in them, to keep them safe, to tell them they are worthy and loved. You will probably experience a wide range of feelings fostering including sadness and heartache – I know I have. I have also experienced recovering from them. You are stronger than you think you are!
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to people who say they want to adopt?
One piece of advice?! How can I choose?
Here’s my advice- do something now! A lot of people will let the endless unanswerable questions get in their way and never actually take a step forward. I’m not saying be hasty, I’m not saying don’t do research or ask questions. But I am saying don’t be passive, start the process. If you know you want to adopt, research how it may affect your family, or what agency or system to use. If you aren’t sure you want to adopt, talk to someone who has. See how it has impacted other people’s lives and then decide if God has called you to that same path. Take that step forward.