Of course, there are many differences between foster care and adoption, ranging from the trivial to the significant. After a child is adopted and post placement visits have occurred, a social worker will no longer be a regular guest at your home. The child will have your last name. You will not have to share authority with an agency decisions about school, medical treatment, religious practice and a myriad of other parenting matters can be made without someone looking over your shoulder. The child will inherit from you and is entitled to a share of your estate equal to that of any of your other children. You will be financially responsible for the child’s welfare until the age of majority, and you will be liable for his or her actions in any legal disputes.
When you adopt your foster child, especially one who has been with you for an extended period of time, both you and the social worker should help the child to understand the significance of the change in status. The child’s life-book, a personalized account of his or her birth and placement history, may be an important tool in facilitating understanding. It is very important that you mark or celebrate the change from foster care to adoption in some symbolic fashion, so that the child really perceives the difference. Children who have been moved around a lot may truly not see what all the fuss is about, but it should be made clear that adoption is a major life event. A special party, a family ceremony, even the sending of formal announcements are all possible ways of marking the adoption. Ask your child and other family members what they would like to do to commemorate this milestone.
When you adopt, you will have to incorporate the child’s birth family experiences and background and possibly former foster care situations into your family lore. You must honor the child’s birth heritage and positive memories, and build upon them. If the past involved abuse or neglect, especially sexual abuse, you should receive special training to understand how those experiences can affect a child in later stages of development. If the child will have contact with birth or former foster family members, you should consider how visiting or corresponding will work within the context of your family.
If you adopt a child who has special needs either as a result of genetics, placement experiences or a combination of the two you will have to deal with these ongoing issues. Adoption subsidies can help with the financial aspects of raising children with special needs; you should also know what other resources will be accessible to you.
The central issue in changing from the role of foster parent to adoptive parent is that of redefining your attachment to the child as a full lifetime commitment. Are you ready, willing and able to see this child through to adulthood and afford him or her all of the opportunities and burdens that being a member of your family entails? Can you see this child as a part of your life long into the future? To do this, you and your agency social worker should examine the strengths and needs of your family, agency and community, and evaluate the impact of adding this particular child, with particular strengths and needs, to your family on a permanent basis. This is what making an informed adoption decision is all about.