Despite the best intentions, there is often collateral damage amid fostering and adoption. It is not a common topic, but it is needed. Part of our organization’s mission is to “prevent harm” by helping families navigate these complex realities and prevent and minimize collateral damage from coming to their households. We have spent over three years collaborating with a diverse group of child welfare professionals, therapists, and those with lived experiences to create our training and core content. Furthermore, the complexities of fostering and adopting require a diverse perspective. This article and many others have been written from these various perspectives and collaborative discussions.
To clarify, the definition of collateral damage is forms of damage, including deaths and injuries that result from fighting in a war but happen to people who are not in the military. We are not using the phrase lightly or in exaggeration. The verbiage “collateral damage of fostering and adopting” is strong because the reality of loving children from hard places is intense. It is a fight for the trajectory of a child’s life; it is a battle both in the spirit and in the natural. Often families believe that the fight for a child’s life is only till adoption day. We are here to tell you that the battle is just getting started. Instead of a struggle with a broken system and the future of the child’s life, it will now be for the child’s heart and wholeness. It is a battle that is just getting started.
Our goal is not to provide you with cookie-cutter answers but guidance and wisdom, so you can reflect and find peace in your decisions amid complex realities. We humbly submit the following to you and not out of criticism of anywhere you are in your journey, but out of an intense desire for the child and your family to find peace, joy, and love that enriches your lives:
No One is Immune to Collateral Damage
Fostering and adoption is a highly emotional journey. Often those with childhood trauma find themselves with a strong desire to foster or adopt, a beautiful reason to engage and help. However, it can easily be a stumbling block when your emotional needs or pain become the focus of the process. We have witnessed the dynamic blindside even the most experienced or professional individuals. Years go by, and they find their marriage, children, and emotional health in disarray. Watching this collateral damage is heartbreaking.
Often these families are amazing people with huge hearts to help but get swept up in a highly emotional and complex situation, which harms them. None of us are immune to this reality. We must humble ourselves to the fact that no human being can fix the broken realities of these children’s lives. There are some simple important truths that can help us safeguard our families through the process. All we can do is love and serve, but they need a bigger and better superhero!
We are not the Superhero of the Child’s Story.
Being a foster or adoptive parent is NOT about being a superhero; it IS about being a servant! Jesus wants to be the hero of each child’s story! When we try to be the superhero, we often get in the way of the ideal outcome that God wants to produce. It is too big for any human being; we cannot fix a child or a situation. We open our hearts and home because a child needs love, care, safety, and protection. We stand in the gap as an advocate between heaven and earth and believe for the child’s life trajectory to be set on a course designed by God.
Being a foster or adoptive parent is NOT about sacrificing your family on the altar of good intentions. It will require setting boundaries, limitations, and expectations. It will have an expiration date. This does not mean that you are not loving or not willing to help. It means you are realistic about what you and your family can do. Understanding upfront that the need is far greater than your ability to help will be essential to making peace-filled decisions that produce realistic expectations and fruitful outcomes.
Don’t Force it if it Doesn’t Fit
Sometimes children don’t “fit” well with your family. This is a hard reality that many loving foster and adoptive families have to face. When a placement doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with the child or your family. Sometimes it simply isn’t the best fit. We have seen countless times where families forced placements that were not a good fit, and the collateral damage to their families was severe.
Often, children with extensive and severe trauma do best in households with no other children or much older children, so there is no direct competition for their needs. Often resulting from severe neglect where the child has had to live in survival mode, and anyone who threatens their basic needs becomes an enemy. These children need extensive therapeutic services, every adult in the family to be trauma trained, and a significant commitment by the foster/adoptive parents. This commitment is so intense it also requires unity among the parents and all age-appropriate individuals in the household.
Unity is Not Optional; it is Essential.
Unity is one of the most critical elements to a healthy fostering or adoption journey. The challenges you face amid fostering or adoption are unlike anything you will ever experience. It is taxing on time, money, emotions, and family rhythms. You cannot do it without support. Having your WHOLE household involved and unified is vital to achieving a positive outcome. This includes your spouse, children, or other adults living in the house.
We highly encourage parents to have age-appropriate children in the decision-making process. We recommend including children seven and older in your decision, depending on their maturity level. Be sure to give them a voice and keep them involved throughout the process. The choice to foster and/or adopt affects their lives significantly; they need a voice throughout every step!
Get Outside Perspectives
We encourage you to get extended family and friends involved in your decision. Their disagreement should not weigh into your final decision but should be considered. Remember, most resistant family members worry that you and your family will get hurt. However, they are on the outside looking in and sometimes can see things from a perspective that you cannot amid the trenches. All of 10.18’s training is available to your family, friends, and support system to aid in this unity. We highly encourage everyone within your support system to go through our How Do I Know if I Am Ready to Foster/Adopt and Watchful Eye Child Protection training together.
If you have a strong desire and encounter resistance, it is crucial to identify WHY there is a disagreement. There can be a lot of reasons. It may not be an issue of willingness but ability. Sometimes, their emotional bandwidth with family and work is limited, their trauma history or fear of making their heart vulnerable is a factor.
What you can do amid disunity:
- Go through the training we mentioned above.
- Start a non-pressured dialogue.
- Hear them out.
- Seek counsel from a peace-filled experienced foster/adoptive family together.
- Discuss your choices. It may be a specific decision and not the whole idea that’s creating the conflict.
- Ask lots of questions; because they may not even know why.
- If needed, give it time.
- If you are waiting, there are many other ways to get involved and help!
It’s All Hard
The reality is that ALL forms of adoption or fostering are challenging! All ages are hard. They are hard in different ways. There is no easy route to adoption or fostering. They all have their challenges, roller-coasters of emotions, and surprises. At the same time, it is one of the most gratifying decisions you will ever make!
No two foster or adoptive parents’ journeys will be the same: no two cases you have will be the same, and no two kids will be the same. The fastest way to lose hope is to compare yourself to others. Don’t allow anyone to expect or pressure you because of their “opinions”, profession, or experiences. Often your decision comes with a lifetime impact. The key is to understand that everyone has limitations and limitations are not bad.
When you come face-to-face with victimized children’s gross injustices, it will touch your pain. Even in situations with no abuse history, the emotional process can still be a trigger. Fostering and adopting children is a very emotional process. Your pain points will be touched to some degree, no matter the level of healing you have obtained. That is not a bad thing; it is just something you need to be aware of in your decision-making process. Know that “your hard is your hard.” Someone else’s hard will be your easy and vice-versa. We are here to help smooth your path as much as possible, but only you can determine WHY you want to do it!
Seek Peace & Pursue It
Wherever you have peace, pursue it (Psalms 34). Anything that doesn’t give you peace, do NOT do it, no matter what anyone says to you. The entire trajectory of a child’s life is in the balance, and it is not the time to do what everyone wants. It is time to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit within you and keep the child whole! Make the child the center of every decision. Having peace does NOT mean you won’t feel a tinge of fear or concern when you think about it. After a time of contemplation, dialogue, and prayer, what do you feel deep in your gut? Do you feel more at peace about it than you do about not doing it? Wherever you find that inner peace, pursue it!