Foster Care Adoption: Five Reasons You Don’t Want to Do It … and Five Greater Reasons Why You Do

art-1113-adp4There generally is no easy way to start a family. Physical procreation has its serious challenges and costs. We are also fully capable of procreating with the help of surrogacy, or we can pursue private adoption, which, while not biological, is pro-creation of a family. Another way to create a family and help others is through foster care that leads to adoption – there are over 100,000 children in the system that can be adopted now.

Both of my sons were adopted, and came into my family from foster care. For that alone, I owe the system a debt that I will never, ever be able to repay.  I do not wish to imply that the road through foster care is a cakewalk. It is daunting at times, but doable.

Below are five reasons that could be challenging enough to dissuade you from pursuing the avenue of foster-to-adoption, and five why it may be the right path for you. If you are discouraged from it, think carefully – it certainly is not for everyone. It was the way for me. There are possibly children out there hoping it is the way for you as well.

The challenges:

Note: This is based on my experience in the California system. Other systems, and your own experience, are likely to vary. 

1. Paperwork and Training:  The paperwork for any type of adoption makes the IRS look fun by comparison. While the training classes that follow may seem to be a nuisance, I am of the opinion that training for parenthood is a good thing. You have to take classes and pass exams to operate a car … to operate another human being’s life should require nothing less.

2. You will feel judged: Then social workers check you out. The fear of their judgment is usually worse than the reality – they won’t care how you dust or fold laundry, even though before their visit, you will run around doing both. Where you will be judged, and will have to fight the temptation to fight back, is from the birth parents. They can be scared, angry and defensive. They often need a target at which to lash out. It can easily be you.*

3. You will have no rights: When going to court,  the birth parent has a lawyer (often a public defender), the state has one (the child is technically their ward), the child has one. You do not have one. The best way to navigate is to maintain a good and cooperative relationship with the state’s and your child’s representatives.

4. Your strength of character will be tested: The process demands that you care enough for a child who may become your permanent adoptive child, but also requires that you are lovingly detached enough to let go if the birth parent is successful in completing reunification requirements.

5. You may have your heart broken: There are cases where the birth parent is a good person who made mistakes, is able to get it together, and everyone, including you, is cheering for success with the child’s return. There are cases where the birth parent is so blatantly incapable of caring for the child that everyone knows it’s not a matter of if, but when, the child will be yours. The hardest cases are in the middle – requiring you to give a child you have come to adore back to go into a situation with a parent that was successful in meeting reunification requirements, but that you do not trust. You have to let go, and hope for the best.

Those are the challenges and potential risks. They can vary. For some people, they are reasons enough to run. For others, here are greater reasons to “go for it,” starting from the least important reason to the best one:

5.   There is no more economically reasonable way to start a family: Your adoption comes to you without the charges of private adoption. If this is your only reason for adopting through foster care, you need to re-think your motivation, however.

4. You will be doing probably the best thing you ever did in your life: While other parents are creating a life that would otherwise not be here,  you are taking a child who had little to no hope for a happy, productive life, and are giving that child a viable future.

3.  It will change who you are: You will be somebody’s dad or mom. You will be indelible. Priceless. Wait until your child calls you “Dad” or “Mom” for the first time … then call me and tell me if I was wrong.

2.  Love will have new meaning: I truly was unaware that it was possible to love other human beings this completely with every ounce of my being.

And, most importantly:

1. It will change your life forever: Whoever you thought you were, whoever you think you will be … this adventure will change you into a better you. Life won’t necessarily always be easy, but it promises to always be interesting, enriched, and ultimately, worth it.

When I was considering this choice for my own life, I made a “pros” list and a “cons” list. I started with the “cons.” Was I too old? How would I afford college? Terrible twos? Teens with car keys? The list went on. Then I made the “pros” list. I wrote the first one down: “The look of my child’s eyes on Christmas morning.” I stopped and looked at it. I heard the noise of paper being crumpled … it was the “cons” list in my other hand.


*Editor’s Notes:  Foster parents can choose the route of closed adoption, says Glenda York, MSW, adopter of ten boys and three girls from the foster care system. Many parents choose open adoption – it’s an individual choice, keeping the child’s best interest at heart. York reflects that it’s important to give birth parents the benefit of the doubt in that they often come to recognize that intervention was needed for the child’s sake. With some of her own children, she says, the birth parents have expressed genuine appreciation. Most, if not all, foster care and adoption agencies provide support through pre- and post-adoption processes, through classes, workshops and parenting groups.

Rob Watson
About Rob Watson

Author Rob Watson is a well-read blog columnist. He was a foster care parent and became the adoptive parent of his two sons. They reside in Northern California.


  1. Tara Hutchins says:

    Thank you for the article Rob! I, too, am a foster/adoptive parent. How terrible is it, that children get shuffled back and forth, home to home, get comfortable, then are forced to move again? Children need permanency. Some parents simply cannot care for themselves, nor their children. Our kids are exposed to drugs (my boys were smoking marijuana at ages 5 & 6 years old, with their biological dad), taught to take things that do not belong to them, (my now 17 year old was taught at an early age to use various tools to break in to homes and cars), and exposed to adult situations (their bio mom was a stripper who often brought guests home). In our situation, the biological parents are grateful (which is probably rare). My boys, now 16 & 17, do require ongoing counseling and treatment, lots of patience, and sometimes it is all overwhelming, but it has been worth every second!

  2. Just a note… I am a foster parent and recently found out that I can have a lawyer to represent me. My lawyer has made my most recent placement so much better because I finally feel heard by the judge.

  3. “There is something bad happening to our children in family courts today that is causing them more harm than drugs, more harm than crime and even more harm than child molestation.”
    Judge Watson L. White Superior Court Judge Cobb County, Georgia

    “…you are taking a child who had little to no hope for a happy, productive life, and are giving that child a viable future” is not necessarily true. While there are many children that need to be removed from their parents the majority of those removed would have done much better having stayed with their parents with some services. Studies show that being ripped from one’s family, even when there are some issues that need to be addressed, is more destructive to children than staying where they are. Kids taken into the system suffer PTSD at a rate higher than returning vets and are more likely to be abused in foster care than at home.

    Countless parents have had their rights terminated after having done nothing wrong or truly nothing worth losing their children. Thank God parents get a lawyer although it often doesn’t mean that they won’t receive the equivalent of the death penalty and have their children taken.

    There are better methods in place to make family preservation work than tearing families apart. Yes, there will be those children who need absolutely to be removed and to receive the blessing of new families that will love them. I know children that needed to be taken and families who had their children taken wrongfully.

    Let’s stop the myth that all kids in foster care are there because they need to be and that their parents are bad people. Let’s tell the truth – every day children are torn from their families that never should have been and these children are suffering because of it.

    “There is no system ever devised by mankind that is guaranteed to rip husband and wife or father, mother and child apart so bitterly than our present Family Court System.”
    Judge Brian Lindsay Retired Supreme Court Judge New York, New York

Comment Policy: All viewpoints are welcome, but comments should remain relevant. Personal attacks, profanity, and aggressive behavior are not allowed. No spam, advertising, or promoting of products/services. Please, only use your real name and limit the amount of links submitted in your comment.

Leave a Reply