Licensed to Parent

It’s official!

Our home study is signed, sealed, delivered and we are a licensed foster home!

andy.gif

Cue the question: so, what’s next? 

Now that we’re licensed, we are allowed to view what’s called the “private narrative” of children we are interested in learning more about. These narratives could come to us one of a few ways: we request them based on a public profile we saw of a child, our social worker sends them to us based on a private database she shares with other social workers, or a child’s worker sees our profile on that same database and reaches out to our social worker about us.

If we feel comfortable moving forward with a child after reading their private narrative, we can submit our home study to their social worker for consideration. From there, it’s a matter of fit, meaning if that child’s social worker reads our full home study and feels confident we would be a good fit for that child, we would move forward with interviews, meetings with that child’s support team, and more. This can be a lengthy process as a lot of schedule coordination and research is vital to collect as much information as possible about that child so we can make an educated decision about whether we can commit to parenting them forever.

You might be wondering why we had to get our foster care license when we are exclusively pursuing adoption and not fostering. When adopting children from foster care who are considered “waiting children” (those with biological parents whose rights have been terminated voluntarily or involuntarily), the state of Minnesota has a law that the child must be in our home for at least six months before the adoption can be finalized. During that six month period, they are technically still in the guardianship of the state, and we are technically their foster parents, although we have committed to permanency with that child. You can read more answers to commonly asked questions like this one here.

There are still many steps to go before we are matched with a child or children, but we are taking this opportunity to celebrate the major milestone of being officially licensed! Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far and for continued prayers as we move forward with open hearts, knowing the many challenging decisions that lay ahead.

-Laura & Nate

Advertisements

When Adoption is “Plan A”

Note to readers: I’ve been sitting on this post for a while now. Issues of family planning, fertility and infertility, woman/motherhood, identity and the like are simultaneously deeply personal and frustratingly political. There isn’t always space for every woman’s story, unless we make that space exist for each other. Never one to shy away from a tough conversation, I hope my sisters reading can accept my perspective for what it is…mine alone, as I don’t claim to speak for all of us at once, presented without pretense and with as much sensitivity as possible.


I have held a dear friend in my arms as she mourned a miscarriage. I have sat beside women as they shared with their families that they do not plan to have children, ever.  I have celebrated the adoptions of children who were so incredibly wanted and chosen, although their parents’ story may have started with infertility.  I have cheered blended families on as they took the next step to grow their family in countless combinations of biological, step, adopted, and fostered children. I have shared advice and prayers with gay and transgender friends who were navigating how to grow their family. And of course I have talked, and tweeted, and blogged, and ‘grammed, and texted, and more about the benefits and joys of foster care and adoption.

In all of this, I have encountered few others like me. I have never had the physical, emotional, or spiritual desire to be pregnant. To be a mother, yes. That’s a different story. My heart aches for giggles at the dinner table, bedtime stories, messy playrooms and parent teacher conferences. To not be a mother would be the greatest loss of my life. But to not birth? Meh.

I get it, I’m a bit of an anomaly. There are plenty of women who don’t want to be mothers, but not necessarily a bunch who want to be mothers, don’t want to birth a child, and have no idea whether they are fertile or not (and furthermore, don’t care). It’s not something I can easily explain, though I do grapple with this emotionally, especially knowing so many women who battle infertility. If I am fertile, shouldn’t I want to birth a child? Can I really know that I don’t want to get pregnant if I don’t even know whether I can

Chances are, any question you may have for me is already something I’ve considered myself. And trust me, I do endure a lot of questions, stories, and attempted persuasions because of this. Some of people are kind, some not so much. Everything from, “But why wouldn’t you want to have your own child?” to “Well, I never felt like a real woman until I [got pregnant, gave birth, breastfed, etc.].” I have left rooms of women–mostly mothers–to cry in the bathroom and wonder, Will I ever be considered a ‘real woman’ if I don’t want any of that? What is this exclusive-access club I can’t get into? Isn’t wanting to be a mother enough? Isn’t BEING A WOMAN enough?

Because there are many individuals and couples who come to adoption from a path of infertility, I also encounter a lot of inappropriate questions and assumptions about my body. I empathize with women who are infertile, because the process of diagnosing and treating infertility can be invasive physically and emotionally, putting your body at the forefront of the conversation. In both cases, passerby think our bodies are their business. I recently read this from Rebecca Todd Peters:

“Despite the differences that have attended social attitudes toward women’s fertility, society has consistently believed that it is socially, culturally, and politically acceptable for external forces to control women’s fertility–whether through the encouragement or discouragement of (or the permitting or prohibiting of) pregnancies…”

Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice (p. 118)

In this season at least, my partner and I know for certain that foster care adoption is what we are called to do. So ask me about it, but don’t try to talk me out of it. If you want to know why we decided to adopt, just ask! You might be surprised to learn that a lack of desire to birth a child is not our primary motivation to do this work. Our story is no secret.

With no ill intent to ostracize anyone struggling with infertility, we proudly shout from the rooftops that adoption is our “Plan A” because we are so passionate about it and the good it can do for children and society. I believe it is my calling in life to mother in this way, and my mission to share this path with others so they can decide if it is right for them. But if it isn’t? You do you. What’s more important is that you can validate and honor my family as legitimate, whole, worthy, loving, “mine,” and equal to yours. In turn, I promise to do the same for you.

Peters later writes:

…discerning who God is calling you to be is ultimately a process between and individual and God. A willingness to accept one’s calling is an expression of honoring God and resting the holiness of life that is at the heart of living life as a Christian. Christians regard parenting as a sacred trust in which parents enter a covenant relationship to care for, nurture, and bring up a child to love and know God. It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly…”

Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice (p. 174)

God calls us in different and unique ways, and each of our journeys is for us alone to walk with Him. The best thing we can do as women, without judgment or preconceived notions, without assigning value or lack thereof, is to be a listening ear and to hold the hearts of our sisters in our own, praying for them the same kind of close, purposeful walk with God we hope for ourselves.

So whether you’re child-free and loving it, saving money for a round of IVF in hopes of birthing a biological child, nervously asking a friend to be a surrogate or donor, trudging through paperwork to get your foster care license, pursuing adoption of a teenager or waiting to be matched with a birth mother so you can adopt an infant, there is space for your story here.

I have come to this:

just as the infertile woman should not have to justify why she desires to birth,

so too should the fertile woman not have to justify why she doesn’t,

so too should the wombless woman not have to justify her motherhood,

so too should the childless woman not have to justify her womanhood.

I know that it’s impossible to capture every part of a woman’s journey with her body, her fertility, her motherhood, her womanhood, in one little blog post. But I want all of us to know: your status as mother (or not yet, or not ever) may be integral to who you are as a woman, but it is not ALL of who you are as a woman, and our womanhood is not contingent on motherhood or anything else.

You are whole, real, and complete to God, and to me, and in this space, exactly as you are.

8 Things to Expect During the Foster Care Home Study

*Disclaimer: No two agencies, counties, states, or countries are the same when it comes to the foster care home study process. What follows is an account of our experience, in the hopes of dispelling any crazy myths and reassuring you that YOU CAN DO THIS!*

 

Alright, class. Welcome to “Parenting 808: A Study In Home.”

We’ll be meeting 4-6 times over the next six or eight weeks, depending on how thorough the in-class discussions are. I’ll be giving you all of the homework on the first day, and your entire grade is based off one final exam that determines whether or not you are allowed to be parents.

Yes, you in the back. What was your question? Oh, no, you won’t be receiving a letter grade for this course. The only way to take this class is pass/fail.

Did I mention you’ll only succeed if you bare your heart and soul and expose your home and family to intense scrutiny by strangers? I did? Great.

Let’s get started.

 

8 Things to Expect During the Foster Care Home Study

 

#1: It’s not really as scary as that syllabus makes it sound.

I knew I needed to write this post because in the weeks leading up to our first home study meeting, I think I searched a million different versions of the phrase “What to expect during the foster care adoption home study” on Google and Pinterest and any other site you can imagine. What resulted was a very overwhelmed mind filled with horror stories of failed licensing visits, intimidating social workers, and probing personal interviews during which you separated from your spouse for hours. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything like the internet had convinced me it would be. So far, it’s been friendly, educational, and the right combination of serious and fun (and we were only interviewed individually for about three minutes each so that each of us had an opportunity to share any concerns). If you’re looking for an honest, authentic overview of what this process will be like, look no further!

#2: You thought you were done with paperwork. You are not.

That giant manila envelope we turned in had nothing on the homework we were given during our first home study meeting. During the six-ish weeks of meetings with our social worker, we were busy creating discipline, grievance, and emergency plans, watching even more webinars, reading through state foster care laws, visiting our vet to get the pup up to date on shots, completing additional special needs questionnaires, and so much more. So do some hand stretches, because you will be writing and typing a lot during this process!

#3: Your social worker is your friend.

So many depictions of the foster care and adoption home study paint the social worker as cold, callous, invasive, or worse. Keep in mind that your worker has the same goal as you do: to license you as a foster parent and match you with a foster or adoptive child. Period.

You are on the same team, so if you approach your relationship this way instead of going into it picturing them as the adversary, the whole process will go a lot more smoothly!

#4: Honesty is the best policy.

We went into this process from day one (not just the home study, but waaaaay back when we were just interested parties attending an hour-long orientation) committing to full honesty and transparency about ourselves, our strengths and challenges, and our comfort levels with various special needs. There are so many spots along the way where if someone wanted to cover something up, they could, and I’m sure some people do. I’m not saying someone would necessarily lie with bad intentions–this process can feel very intrusive and when you are so focused on growing your family, there is a definite fear that even the smallest of things could become a roadblock. From taking the “marriage survey” and fudging your answers to make it seem like you’re the perfect couple, to leaving out that one time you tried pot in college…just be honest. Think about it: if you tell one white lie thinking you are making yourself a stronger candidate, how many other lies might you have to tell down the road to cover up that one? How much anxiety or guilt might you feel if the truth ever did come out?  You could be risking your family – your children – and nothing is worth that.

#5: Do the hard work up front.

One of the most intimidating parts of the initial application process was our “Self-Assessment Homework,” which ended up being about 25 single spaced pages EACH answering a ton of questions about our lives, families, and relationship. All of the questions were very open ended, so it was hard to know whether we were going about it correctly. Fortunately, our social worker walked into our first in-person meeting and the first thing she said was, “You guys did such a thorough job with your self-assessments, I feel like I could write your home study just off of that!” This was a huge compliment and has made the rest of the meetings go a lot more smoothly. She can ask us more pointed questions about specific things she wants to know more about, instead of having to start from scratch. So even though you may be feeling anxious to turn in your application, take the extra time to be super thorough, or you’ll just have to make up that time later.

#6: Prepare to answer a lot of questions. A LOT.

See #2. In addition to all that paperwork, your social worker will likely walk through anything you shared in your application and ask clarifying questions. You may also have to take a Relationship Assessment (ours was through an organization called Prepare/Enrich), or other activities that are meant to reveal your strengths and weaknesses.

These things might feel a little probing, but see #3 – you and your social worker are on the same team. These pieces are important to help your social worker know you well enough to write the final document that will be your Home Study (capital H and S)!

If they don’t ask, they’ll never know, and they won’t be able to answer questions from children’s social workers about what type of people and parents you are. So my best advice is to bring coffee with you, get comfortable, and share, share, share.

#7: It’s not really about your home.

Yes, there are some components of this process that are focused on your physical home–evacuation plans, emergency kits, smoke detectors, etc. But I was surprised to learn that in Minnesota, our social worker won’t actually visit our home until the very last meeting. That will be her chance to do a final walk through and point out any little things we need to fix before our license is finalized. But up until then, despite its name, the home study process has mostly been about US. Our relationship, our family culture, how we communicate, how we will parent, and more. The house is just a physical structure. It’s up to you to make it a home.

#8: Trust God. Trust your partner. Trust the process.

Before each meeting with our social worker, we took a few minutes to pray together over this process and what was to come. It always came back to this:

God has called us to this, and God will equip us for this. Because he doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.

Over the past eight weeks (and eight months), We have shared tears and fears, whispered late night wishes after the lights were turned off, navigated tough conversations, and laughed over the unsurprising results of our relationship assessment. We have at times felt ready to take on the world, and at other times felt completely in over our heads. But we’ve also learned so much about ourselves and each other, and it has been a season of renewal for our relationship. If you fully submit yourself to this process and God’s will, and you might be amazed at the good work he can do within and through you and your partner.

 

Our prayers and best wishes go out to anyone reading this who is considering foster care or adoption, or those who found us by a Google search late at night before your first home study. We hope your mind is put a little more at ease by reading our experience – because as intimidating as it is, it is worth every second.

-Laura & Nate

 

Have questions? Want to learn more about foster care & adoption?

Contact us here!

 

Resource Review: Strangers and Kin

As we’ve gone over before, the waiting times of foster care and adoption can leave you with a lot of energy and looking for somewhere to put it. With my extra time, I can’t seem to stop searching, buying, and checking out adoption books! If you ask Nate, I’m always asking to “just stop in this bookstore really quickly” or begging for just ONE MORE BOOK on Amazon.

Typically, I’m drawn more towards books that tell stories, like memoirs, or practical books to help prepare me for parenting children who have experienced trauma. But I came across Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption by Barbara Melosh at the library and although it seemed more intellectual than conversational, I couldn’t resist reading a thorough history of adoption here in the United States.

Adoption Book Review_Strangers and Kin

In Strangers and Kin, Melosh seeks to integrate primary sources from the Children’s Bureau of Delaware into the grander scheme of what was happening in the adoption world at the time. Though I was skeptical at first of applying these examples of case files and social worker testimony from one agency too universally, the author did a nice job of strengthening each section with statistics and studies from other parts of the country and globe.

The book revolves around the theme of kin–What defines it? Who defines it? Does it have to look the same for everyone? Do kin have to look like each other, period? How has the idea of kin changed over the last century in the United States? I appreciated this angle, especially given what we believe around these parts: whether blood relation or not, just as you choose to come home to your partner each and every day, you choose your family. You choose it in your words, your actions, your love, your day in and day out commitments to one another. And yes, sometimes strangers become kin.

Certain sections were more riveting than others to me, surely because I come to the world of adoption and foster care books with the eye of a future adoptive mother, and therefore I was hoping for some pieces that applied directly to my life and identity. Chapter Two, “Families By Design,” examined the role of ‘fit’ in matching adoptive parents with children and was particularly intriguing to me. As we are currently in the home study process, our every answer to the many vulnerable questions asked by our social worker could ultimately be held up as justification for our ‘fit’ to be matched with a child. It turns out that a number of personal attributes we wouldn’t necessarily consider important today were examined very closely to determine ‘fit’ in the early-mid 20th century. Potential adoptive parents were judged on their physical appearance, projections of femininity, religion and religious intentions, perceived intellect, and more.

The mid-century approach of embracing adoption as “The Best Solution” for children born out of wedlock was detailed in Chapter Three, and it was very revealing. It made me uncomfortable at times, and grateful that we are adopting in today’s more progressive society. For example, as someone who did not come to adoption via the journey of infertility, I would likely not have been accepted as an adoptive parent by agencies in the 1950s. The quotation below details some of this bias.

“The Child Welfare League of America endorsed the policy of restricting adoption to infertile couples in 1952: ‘If they can have children and do not, their reason for adopting is highly questionable.’ Such attitudes reflected postwar pronatalism, directed with special intensity toward women.

In a discussion of agency requirements of infertility, a 1957 adoption manual explained, ‘This is not merely because there are not enough children to go around. It is also because the motive for adopting, if not based on an organic sterility that precludes having one’s own children, might be a neurotic one. No matter how desperately anxious for motherhood a woman claims to be, social workers know that a potentially good mother makes every effort to have her own child before she tries to adopt one.'”

p. 112, Strangers and Kin

Wow. There’s a lot to unpack there. Not only were professional organizations, adoption agencies, and even the government convinced that fertile couples (women in particular) were questionable, neurotic, or outright liars, but the language used directly in an agency adoption manual reflects how important it is that we now embrace adoption positive language. And that was written just over sixty years ago, a relatively short time in the history of our world (and adoption). If our agency stated in a manual that ‘a potentially good mother‘ should have exhausted her efforts to have ‘her own child‘ before attempting to adopt, I think I’d flip the table. How demeaning to potential mothers, and to the children in need of permanent families.

I could see this book being particularly informative for today’s social workers, as the direct quotations from workers of yesteryear were incredibly revealing of the myriad of ways adoption has changed in the United States, and the ways the role of the social worker has ebbed and flowed. Ultimately, the primary sources I doubted enjoying initially ended up being the most revealing parts of this book. I did find myself longing for more analysis from Melosh, who instead seemed to just state the facts and move on to the next point. It seems an effort to remain unbiased instead came across as dry in places.

I also would have appreciated more examination into the advent and growth of foster care adoption. Though foster care was mentioned throughout the book, it was more in passing. I recognize that Melosh was working primarily with about 400 case files from the CBD, and they were not focused on this type of adoption, I feel that permanency planning deserved its own section. Some additional research outside of the CBD could have really helped Strangers and Kin complete the ‘history’ aspect of this book by focusing on modern approaches to adoption and the diversity of the 21st century adoptive family.

Although it wasn’t my usual style of adoption-oriented book, I’m grateful to Melosh for putting this exposition together. I can be a better mother of adoption by being a good student of adoption, and having a historical perspective on the institution allows me to appreciate how far we’ve come. Hearing the stories of what other birth and adoptive mothers have experienced over the past century both broke my heart and empowered me on this journey.

Whether 1948 or 2018, to me, this adoptive mother life is a sisterhood. If it were easy, everyone would do it, but there are those of us who have chosen this harder path because we know there is something beautiful and scary, gentle and wild to be discovered. To get there, we have to break our hearts wide open again and again, hold our most vulnerable selves up for examination, and push things aside to make room for strangers to become true kin. It’s enough to make you question your sanity and worth.

“Recognizing their position on the unfavorable side of the supply-and-demand equation, adopters generally entered the home study with considerable apprehension. As one adoptive mother recalled wryly in a [1963] memoir, [receiving] an adopted babe depends on one’s worthiness to have him. It’s the profoundest difference there is between natural and adoptive parents.‘” (p. 207)

Are we worthy?

-Laura

How to Use Adoption Positive Language

Language matters. But life is awkward, so it’s also hard to know what to say and when. Over the past few decades, the process of adoption has changed, and we have learned so much more about the lived experiences of members of the adoption community. When times change, our language should change too. So when discussing adoption, it’s important to use adoption positive language.

So, what is “Adoption Positive Language?”  It’s choosing words and phrases that communicate respect for the feelings and experiences of everyone in the adoption process, including the child, birth family, and foster or adoptive family. It celebrates the joys in the adoptive process, instead of focusing on the loss involved. It also honors the permanency of the adoption process while not erasing the past.

This quotation explains it quite directly:

Though in adoption parent and child are linked by love and by law, the fact that they are not connected by blood has often meant that some people are unwilling to acknowledge their relationship as genuine and permanent.

Thus, they use qualifiers (“This is Bill’s adopted son”) in situations where they would not dream of doing so in a non-adoptive family (“This is Bill’s birth-control-failure son” or “This is Mary’s caesarean-section daughter.”)

They tend not to assign a full and permanent relationship to persons related through adoption (“Do you have any children of your own?” or “Have you ever met your real mother?” or “Are they natural brothers and sisters?”)

They assume that adoptive relationships are tentative (“Will the agency take him back now that you know he’s handicapped?” or “What if his real parents want him back?”)

Patricia Irwin Johnston

By using adoption positive language, we affirm that there is no best way to make a family. We communicate to others that no type of family is any more or less valid than another. Making a conscious effort to adjust your vocabulary shows members of the adoption community, especially adoptees, that you care!

Read and share this infographic, & find more examples below!

Adoption Positive Language

Even more adoption positive language…

Give up/put up for adoption ⇒ Place for adoption, make an adoption plan

  • The decision to place a child for adoption is a challenging, emotional one with many facets. A birth parent is not “giving up” their child. They are making a plan that is in the best interest of the child.

Keep the child ⇒ Parent the child

  • Again, a child is not something to be exchanged through keeping or giving away. The decision to make an adoption plan likely means the birth parent recognizes they may not the best person to parent the child, for whatever reason.

Natural/own child ⇒ Biological child

  • Many people will ask an adopting couple, “Don’t you want to have your own children?” First, all children in a family are “our own children,” regardless of how they came to the family! Second, this implies that adopted children are somehow less a part of a family than biological children are or would be.

Reunite with birth family  Make contact with birth family

  • Calling something a reunion makes it seem like a child or family was not whole without a connection to the birth family. In many cases, making contact with a birth family is something that ADDS to an already full life of family and love. Furthermore, making contact doesn’t always result in regular communication, depending on the feelings of the individuals involved. Sometimes that’s all it is–making contact.

Foreign adoption ⇒ International adoption

  • In many ways, this one is just a reflection of society moving into the twenty-first century. “Foreign” can be translated as “strange.” What you really mean is the family adopted internationally, from outside their own country of origin (as opposed to domestically).

Foster kid ⇒ Child in foster care

  • Much like the is adopted/was adopted example above, calling a child a “foster kid” makes foster care a central part of their identity. They are so much more than that! They are complex humans with lots of feelings, interests, and experiences, and just ONE of those pieces is that they were or are in foster care. It’s up to each child how significant this part of their story is to them.

Broken/damaged child ⇒ Child who has experienced trauma

  • No child is broken or damaged, regardless of what has happened to them. Little ones who are coping with abuse or neglect are innocent children who have experienced trauma. We as parents are working to help them heal from this trauma and live as normal a life as possible. We believe they are beautiful, never broken.

We hope this has helped you get a grasp on what adoption positive language is and why it’s important. Practice using this new vocabulary and help others learn too!

-Laura & Nate

 

Have questions? Want to learn more about foster care & adoption?

Contact us here!

Foster Care Adoption: Little Steps, Big Excitement

Today, it has been 84 days since we turned in the giant manila envelope with our application inside.

Also today, we learned that after 84 days, the right email makes us do this:

excited

We have been assigned a social worker by our agency, and we will be starting the home study process very, very soon! There will be so many things to do and learn in this process as we get ready for our future child to arrive.

We know this is a small step, but it’s a step nonetheless, and we are unashamed of our over-the-top joy about forward movement and having things to work on and look forward to. WE’RE SO EXCITED AND WE JUST CAN’T HIDE IT.

Laura & Nate