Choosing our Agency
My husband Paul and I had been married for just over two years as August of 2012 rolled in. As a couple, we were prayerfully considering foster care and or adoption for the better part of a year (you can read about the beginning of our journey here and here), and now we were certain that it was time to move forward. We decided to become licensed though PATH, a treatment level foster care agency in our state. PATH was recommended to us from the couple that my husband did part time farm work for, and we were confident that this was the direction for us to go.
In our state there are two statewide organizations that work in harmony with each other, PATH and AASK. PATH is a treatment level foster care agency (they have since broadened their scope to also include children at the regular foster care level; previously children not requiring treatment level care would have stayed within county foster care systems). AASK is the agency that facilitates adoption services for parents adopting children out of the foster care system. Prospective adoptive parents can go directly into becoming a waiting family through AASK; however we knew that we wanted to become foster parents first, with the possibility of potentially adopting our foster children someday, if and when they became available for adoption (more about that in a future post!)
The Licensing Process
And so we began the licensing process. We had our first meeting with our social worker, Tiffany, that August, and began the long and sometimes arduous licensing process. Each state may do this process a little differently, and even within a state there may be some differences based on whether you are going through the county or through another agency, but many aspects will be similar. For us, the licensing process included thorough background checks, including fingerprinting, a home safety inspection, many visits with our social worker, and several different mandatory trainings. The process was incredibly thorough, and at times it seemed rather invasive, especially for introverts like my husband and I who treasured our privacy (goodness, we didn’t even have Facebook accounts!).
Sometimes we caught ourselves thinking this whole process was a little unfair. Just because we couldn’t have children biologically we now had to endure intense scrutiny and evaluation, hours of training and obtain a parenting license before we could have little ones enter our home. The decision whether we would be granted a license was up to complete strangers at the state level who had access to our most personal information.
But it was what had to be done, and while the process was painstaking at times, we understood the necessity of families being thoroughly vetted and prepared to nurture children that had likely endured high levels of trauma prior to entering foster care. And I figured there was at least one bonus: no pregnancy sickness here!
While there was much physical preparation, there was also much heart preparation. One thing that was stressed over and over in our training was the importance of perspective and motivation in foster care and adoption.
We had to dig deeply and honestly into what was motivating us to pursue foster care. Did we feel like we needed children in our lives to fill a void or complete us somehow? It’s completely natural to feel that way, but yet, we were told (and I’ve since come to wholeheartedly agree) that we needed to go into this with one motivation: to love and care for hurting children. If this was about my husband and me bringing children into our home to attempt to fulfill a perceived need in our lives, we were entering the messy world of foster care and adoption on a self-centered , shaky foundation that risked crumbling quickly under the weight of the brokenness of the children entering our family.
This was tough stuff to work through. I don’t know that we were completely there when our children first came, but it has been an area that we have sought to grow in through the years.
For us as believers, we have become more and more convinced that our children, whether biological, adoptive or foster, are on loan to us from God. It is our job to steward them for however long God entrusts them to us. Do children fill a void? Absolutely. Would we be missing a huge part of who we were created to be if we did not have our children? More than we can imagine. But when our focus shifts to what our children can do for us rather than how we can be a channel of God’s love and grace into their lives, then everything begins to come unbalanced and out of focus, and we are in danger of losing our way on this journey of parenthood.
The process of becoming licensed foster parents took us about six months. While we would have loved to have sped the process along a little bit, we needed every minute of that time to prepare our hearts for what God was calling us to do, and looking back we can see how God’s timing was indeed perfect. Somebody wise once said, “God is seldom early and never late”.
If you are preparing your home and heart to receive children through foster care or adoption, here are some things you may want to consider and talk through with your spouse:
- Be mindful of the trap of self-pity. There will almost certainly be times during the process when your heart will scream “This isn’t fair!” Perhaps you have walked a painful path on your way towards becoming a foster or adoptive parent, especially if you are pursuing it after a struggle with infertility. Ask God to help you see your sorrow as a channel through which you can open your heart to another person in need rather than a justification for frustration, anger or self-focused pity.
- Continue to gather information from helpful sources: talking in person (if possible, otherwise on social media) with other foster and adoptive parents, adult adoptees, and birth parents can all give a helpful perspective and help you to view the complexity of adoption from various angles .Books or podcasts on the subject, websites and blogs can all be helpful as well. If you still have a bit of a romanticized, Hallmark idea about foster care and adoption, I can’t stress enough the importance of gaining perspective by reading other people’s stories, the happy and the heartbreaking. If you are a first time parent of any children, books and resources on parenting in general will also be helpful.
- Consider your motivation carefully and prayerfully. You are embarking on a beautiful and amazing journey, but there will be hard days ahead. What will carry you through on those days? When your comfortable life is shaken to its core, what will anchor you to the commitment that you have made?
- Use this time to think carefully through a family motto, mission statement, and even family rules. Once your license is in place, things could move very quickly, so use this time for establishing what your guiding principles are going to be.
- During your home study, your house will be inspected and there may be some things that you will need to do to bring your house up to the state’s and your agencies safety guidelines. Beyond that, now is the time to be preparing a room or rooms and gathering items that you are likely to need when you receive your new child. With foster care in particular, it can be tricky because you have little to no idea whether you will be getting a boy or girl, an infant or school aged child. (In another post I will share more ideas on how to have a home prepared for a variety of children and ages).
- This time of preparation can be very straining on your relationship as a couple. Now is the time to be deliberately focusing on strengthening your relationship and investing in each other in deep and meaningful ways.
If you are already a foster or adoptive parent, what would you add to this list? In what ways did you prepare for your children, or in what ways do you wish you had better prepared? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!