Earlier, I outlined my reasons for, and the beginning steps toward becoming certified for adoption (www.wickenburgsun.com, August 2008). As the time goes by, the obligations are met and the process continues, I am increasingly excited and enthused.
Most people looking to adopt want a newborn or infant and go through private agencies to achieve their goals. I am interested in what is loosely referred to as an “older child.” A child is generally considered “older” by about age 3, and the older the child, the less likely he or she will be adopted. In my case, I am hoping for a daughter between the ages of approximately 8 and 11. I’ve been told that my wait shouldn’t be long.
There are nearly 10,000 children in Arizona alone who are in the foster care system. The state’s goal for these kids is to return them to their parents. Numerous independent agencies work in conjunction with the state to give birth parents the opportunity to improve their parenting skills and enable the families to reunite. Ideally, dysfunctional families improve, get their footing, and become loving, healthy places for children to grow. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it does not.
When it becomes clear that a child cannot return to his or her birth parents, the state seeks to terminate parental rights and an adoptive home is sought for the child. Far too many of these children “age out” in the system, that is, they live in foster or group homes until 18 years old, when they are legally free to live on their own. They never find a “forever family.”
In seeking to adopt one of these children, I must go through the same training and most of the paperwork as a prospective foster family. We submit lists of references, piles of documentation, background information, financial disclosure, and fingerprints. We undergo multiple interviews, home inspections and participate in 33 hours of class time.
I find myself wishing all prospective parents went through similar rigors before giving birth. Perhaps there would be fewer of these neglected, abused and abandoned children needing people like me.
This week will be my sixth class of 11 in the PS-MAPP training (Partnering for Safety and Permanence – Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting) required by the state. These are not typical “parenting classes.” These classes teach the underlying psychologies of the children within the system and how to recognize and meet their needs. Most of these children have experienced far too much in their brief lives, often at the hands of those they love and trust the most – their birth parents. We as foster and/or adoptive parents frequently need to help these kids learn how to feel safe, how to trust, and how to feel good about themselves – things that most children learn from infancy. The classes are invaluable in giving us tools to be able to truly help these “damaged” kids. The classes, along with resource books I’m reading, are teaching me a great deal.
I had my first “home visit” last week. My caseworker from the agency – a pleasant young professional woman – came to my home, met my two boisterous dogs, and casually toured my house. We settled comfortably into the living room for about an hour of conversation, questions and answers. She asked me what a typical day was for me, how I cope with stress, what hobbies I enjoy, and what have been my biggest challenges in life. I asked her about procedures, agency expectations, and what I might expect in the weeks to come.
I’ll be meeting with Shelly three more times, probably in my home. The next meetings will delve deeper into who I am, how I live, what I believe, and what kind of parent I will be. As she and the agency get to know me, they will also learn what kind of daughter I am hoping for, who I can best parent, and how best to match my strengths and needs with a child’s.
We are working together for the successful creation of a new, strong and loving family. I can hardly wait.
(www.wickenburgsun.com, Sept. 2008)