Here is a thing you may not know about me if we interact primarily online: I’m a foster parent.
Well, I was, until around 10:30 this morning, which is when a judge decreed that my spouse and I are now the legal parents of our former foster son, who shall be known to the internet as Boy Wonder.
For legal and privacy reasons, I’ve been pretty quiet about this extremely important thing happening in my life, and that’s not likely to change. Now that the adoption is final, I’m no longer bound by the strict privacy laws forbidding foster parents from splashing their foster kids all over social media, but those laws exist for really good reasons. There’s an awful lot of saccharine clickbait out there painting foster parents as heroic saviors of damaged children and that’s not a narrative to which I care to contribute.
My son is in high school, and can decide for himself how much of his business he wants to share with the world. As someone with a moderate internet presence, I try to be particularly conscientious about not making that choice for him.
But I have his permission to share this post explaining that I am now the parent of a high schooler, so that I can talk about parenting, foster care, and adoption without having to use vague statements like “I work with teens.” (I do work with teens who are not my son, but sometimes I’m trying to say something that is specifically about foster care or parenting).
And while my son’s business is his business, I’m happy to talk more generally about the experience of adopting from foster care, and answer questions for folks who might be considering older child adoption. In fact, I have a few quick answers for you up front:
How does older child adoption work?
I’m not going to get too deep in the details of our specific adoption process, but the broad strokes are these: we worked with a private agency called the Barker Adoption Foundation that runs an older child adoption program called Project Wait No Longer.
Through this program, prospective parents apply to be considered to adopt older children. If approved, Barker helps them get licensed as foster parents. Then, Barker’s social workers reach out to social workers across the country who are seeking adoptive placements for older children (generally kids over twelve), looking for a “match” between the prospective parents’ circumstances and interests and the needs and interests of kids seeking adoptive families. When a potential match is found, first the prospective parent(s) and then the child (or children, in the case of sibling groups) are given information about the other party and are asked if they want to meet. If everyone is amenable, a meeting is arranged. If all goes well, that’s followed by a series of visits, followed by a pre-adoptive placement, where the prospective parent(s) become(s) the child’s foster parent until the adoption can be finalized.
An adoption like this, where a child is matched with strangers, is meant to be a last resort. More than half of children in foster care reunify with their parent(s). When that’s not possible, the next best thing is a kinship placement, where the child is placed with a family member, godparent, family friend, or someone else within their community, such as someone from their school or faith community. When those options are unavailable (which is unfortunately more likely for older kids), placements with an adoptive family not otherwise known to the child open up a door to permanency that would otherwise be closed.
Interstate placements like ours are governed by the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, which is an agreement between the 50 US States, DC, and the US Virgin Islands.
We are, in fact, not, and this is important. We know that people who praise us for adopting from foster care mean well, but this is a microaggression towards our kid, and we’ve gotta push back.
First of all, not all adoptive parents are good people. Some of them are fucking monsters. The narrative that we’re heroes makes it that much harder for vulnerable children to get help when they need it, and that much easier for abusers to skate past accountability and continue hurting kids, because who wants to scrutinize a hero?
Second of all, to say that we’re heroes for adopting our son is to say that only a hero would want him, and that’s not true. He’s awesome. We chose to parent him for the same reason most people choose to parent: we wanted to.
I think adoption is unethical and wish to discuss this in relation to your son.
That’s not a discussion I’m willing to host. I have deep respect for the perspectives of adoptees and birth families, and if you’ve been harmed by adoption or foster care, your pain is real and valid. But the ethics of adoption are complex and highly individual. You can’t know if this adoption was ethical unless you know the details of my son’s story.
And his story is just that: his. The details are his to tell (or not) as he sees fit, and his to politicize (or not) as he sees fit.
So I will not be engaging with anyone who wants to use my son to make a broader argument about foster care and adoption. I know the details of his situation, and I am comfortable with the ethics of this particular adoption. You don’t have to take my word for that, but I’m not going to try to convince you. This is my son’s business, and if protecting his privacy means that strangers on the internet don’t like a decision that they have no power to change, that’s a consequence I can live with.
Does Boy Wonder have a wish list up anywhere where I can buy him a gift?
I’m adding this one because many friends and family have asked, which is extremely kind and generous. But Boy Wonder’s needs are comfortably met, and he has an allowance on top of a separate family budget item for literature (books, comics, etc) which is basically all he buys. He’s also been with us for a year now, so the usual move-in needs of a new family member are well behind us.
But if you’re in a giving mood, can I suggest a donation to Project Wait No Longer? Or to Free State Justice, the LGBT legal services organization that helped connect us with the lawyer who finalized our adoption? Or to an organization in your area that supports queer kids?
Comments are open for the time being so folks can ask questions about older child adoption if you’re interested in learning more about how it works—but please take extra care to stay within bounds of the comment policy, and remember that you’re talking about my kid, who is a minor you do not know.