SheKnows: What has been the most difficult thing about fostering/adopting?
MéLisa Lomelino: As a foster/adoptive parent you have the challenge of parenting a child, but not the full authority to make decisions. Even if your plan is to adopt the child, you still have to consult with your caseworker which can be very frustrating at times. We’ve worked with several caseworkers over the years and we’ve had good ones and let’s say, some not-so-good. I remind foster parents that they are not the only client on the caseworker’s overflowing caseload.
Try to adopt the philosophy of “you win more flies with honey” and be the client your caseworker loves to help out. In the social system the squeaky wheel often doesn’t get the grease, but instead is ignored until it almost falls off. That being said, you are the advocate for your child and if your caseworker is not doing their job it is your responsibility to report them. This was the case with our first adoption and we had to hire an attorney to represent our family against the corrupt agency. Not a pleasant situation, but in the end justice prevailed and that caseworker was exposed.
SK: How important is it to have a good support system when deciding to foster?
ML: You must, I repeat, must have a good support system if you are going to foster children or adopt from foster care. Most foster children have one or more special needs which require extra time and attention. Our society views foster children as “damaged,” but I think of our children as “challenged.” It is your job as their parent to help them overcome these challenges and equip them to have a productive and fulfilling life.
As the parent this can be very overwhelming at times, which is why you need a support system in order to take a break. Line a babysitter up, even if it’s only for a few hours, so you can enjoy a relaxing bath or go to a movie. I also suggest you have some close friends and family on speed dial that you trust implicitly for those days you need to vent. Your partner is a good support, but you will need people outside of your immediate family to rely on. So to repeat it one last time, you must have a support system in place before your child comes to live with you.
SK: What’s one major change that you think needs to happen to the foster care system?
ML: There are several changes that need to be brought about in the foster care system, but the biggest of these is “time spent in care.” The average foster child spends at least two birthdays in the system. This is unacceptable. The longer children are in care, the harder it is for them to be adopted. One of my children was in foster care for five and half years, literally putting their childhood on hold. Lingering in foster care means: 1) a complete lack of stability for the child, and 2) a disruption in treatment of their special needs (which exacerbates issues like attachment disorder thereby making them even more difficult to adopt). The social system and the courts need to work together to cut down on the amount of time a child spends in care. We owe these children a better present, not just a better future.
SK: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to foster parents who are just starting out?
ML: The biggest piece of advice I can give to new foster parents is to be parents. Oftentimes new foster parents have what I call a “Fairy Godmother Complex.” As caring human beings we inherently want to fix all of the traumatic things that have happened to the child. In reality we can’t fix the past. All we can do is focus on the present and try to work toward a better future.
Your foster child is a survivor. They have learned to survive many horrible situations that they should have never been exposed to as a child. In order to survive they have also become master manipulators. Our kids are Oscar award-winning actors when it comes to turning on the crocodile tears. We have a firm, but loving parenting philosophy in our house. Post your house rules and stand by them. It is your job to model good and consistent parenting for the child. They will fight it at first, but eventually they will learn to take comfort in the security blanket of a strong, loving family.
SK: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a couple wondering if they should adopt from foster care or choose another route?
ML: I meet a new person interested in adopting almost every day. I tell them it’s better to know what they are willing to accept up front. Know yourself and your expectations about adoption rather than adopting a child and trying to make them fit those expectations. Remember that adoption is not the original plan for the child, it’s the solution.
If you think you are going to have difficulty with an open adoption then adopt internationally. If you are afraid you can only bond with the child if they are an infant then only adopt a baby. If race is an issue with some of your family members, don’t hope they will change once they meet the child. Understand that any child born can have special needs, but with foster adoption it is more likely. There is no “perfect child,” but there is the “perfect match.” I’ve seen families connect like this time and time again. We chose adoption because we wanted to help kids in need. Each person chooses to adopt for their own reasons, but in the end all adopted children find their forever families.