About 2 weeks ago, we welcomed a special little person into our lives with 90 minutes notice. It was a call that we have waited for in one sense, for many years, but in another sense, we were so unprepared to take.
Joy and I were approved to foster and/or adopt a child back in February of 2020 and we’ve been waiting for the right call. When it finally came, we were excited, nervous and unprepared.
How Does the Foster/Adoption process work through a Children’s Aid Society in Ontario?
The Children’s Aid Society gets involved in situations where there is abuse, neglect or other serious issues in a home. There comes a time when a situation is bad enough that CAS and the Police may be called to remove a child from the situation and place them into a foster home.
Becoming a foster/adoptive parent is a fairly exhaustive process that takes at least 6 months to 1 year to complete. There are background checks, interviews with social workers, reference checks, financial situation approval, health checks and so on. Basically, we are getting approved to parent and care for someone else’s child, so the checks and balances can seem like a lot, but it’s understandable.
When we received the call from CAS a few weeks ago, they were looking for a home that had been “dually approved”.
What dually approved means, is that the home will take foster children in and if the opportunity comes up, they would move to full legal adoption. This means that a child would not be bounced from foster home to foster home, until a permanent solution comes up.
In the past, children could have been in a number of different foster homes, while waiting for someone to adopt them. As you can imagine, this ends up being an emotionally damaging process, hence the new “dually-approved” model.
In the end, this process is much better for the child as it does give the stability that they need in a volatile time in their life.
The goal of the Children’s Aid Society is to hopefully keep a child within their existing family or social circle as much as that is possible. That could mean a child going back home if the parents are willing and able to sort through the issues that first caused CAS to be involved. That could also mean that a family member or even family friend steps up and presents a plan to care for the child. This is often a grandparent, aunt or uncle, but could also be someone else who has had a relationship with the child over a period of time.
In most cases, if it doesn’t look like the home situation can or will improve, and there are no family members that are able to make it work, then after a period of time, a child may become available for adoption, at which point, we would move into that process.
About 2 Weeks in…
Now, we’re almost 2 weeks in and we’ve been able to get into a routine that’s working well for us. I’ve had time to think and process the situation and make 6 observations about the journey so far.
1. It Was a Big Transition
Let’s not sugarcoat the situation.
After being married for 17 years, having complete freedom and autonomy, and a nice quiet home, the first 3 days were HARD.
Hard because we weren’t accustomed to having someone else in our home 24/7.
Hard because I’m set in my ways.
Hard because little kids are messy, loud and unpredictable.
Hard because almost all of my free time is gone.
Hard because we didn’t have much for a 3-year-old, so we’ve been spending money like it grows on trees, acquiring all kinds of items. Every day comes with a new Amazon order, Wal-Mart order, grocery store visit and so on.
I know all of the above sounds terribly selfish, and it likely is.
But it’s reality.
For the past 17 years we’ve been able to get up every day and generally have full control of our schedule. We watched TV when we wanted. We did work when we wanted. We travelled and went to Starbucks when we wanted.
That’s all different now. Our downtime right now consists of a couple of hours in the evening as we’re still working through sleep issues from a very frightened toddler who is attached to both of us.
2. Community is Vital
I’m a pretty independent person overall. I don’t like asking for help and I like to figure things out on my own.
But, one of the biggest things I have learned during this process so far is that community is important. I think a better word is VITAL.
With biological children, you have the ability to grow into the role and generally speaking, you have at least 6 months to prepare.
Not so in this case. 90 minutes isn’t much time!
This is where community becomes vital to our success.
What in the world does a toddler need? Clothes? Shoes? Toys? Food? Diapers? And the list goes on.
Thankfully our good friends were able to make a quick trip to Wal-Mart and get us all set to welcome the child into our home. By the time the child was arriving, so were bagfuls of toys, snacks, clothing etc. I sent out a few texts and within no time, we had resources and we had help.
Our neighbours have 2 children and we often chat over the fence. Their help has been so appreciated because in so many ways, we don’t feel like we know what we’re doing! It’s so nice to be able to ask a question and hear from someone who has been through it fairly recently.
People from our church circles have come forward to prepare dinners for us for 10 days, which has been great.
A toddler can keep inexperienced and tired old people like us, very very busy!
When 4 pm rolls around, not having to think “what are we going to have for dinner?” has been wonderful. We’re getting into a good routine and feeling saner at this point, but those meals sure help out!
3. Confidentiality is Key
The Children’s Aid Society has some strict rules regarding the confidential nature of the children that come into their care. We know some things about the home environment and if you ask us about it, we’re not likely going to tell you.
Ok…we’re not actually sorry.
There are 2 reasons why we’re not going to give you as much information as you might be asking.
First, those are the rules. We want to abide by the rules laid out by the Children’s Aid Society as it relates to giving you information about the child’s background, family etc.
But second and more importantly, we want to respect and protect the child that we are caring for.
What I do not want is for anyone (family, friends, acquaintances) to view the child differently because of the information they learn about the history and background of the child. It’s easy for a person to be “branded” by their past and we’re just not willing to allow that to happen.
Just because this child has a complicated and sad family history does not mean her future has to reflect that.
The background of children in the care of CAS is complicated and heart-breaking and if you knew all the details, you wouldn’t look at the situation in an unbiased manner.
This special child is wonderful, made in the image of God and loved so much by Him and by us. The past is the past and we’re going to leave it there as much as we can.
So for now, if you ask specific questions about the child and their situation, you’re going to get a vague answer or no answer at all. #sorrynotsorry
4. Foster/Adoption is NOT a replacement for having biological children
10+ years ago, all our friends were having babies. We wanted to start a family and that’s when we learned that we were not going to be able to have biological children.
It was heartbreaking.
And after the doctor told us the news, in the next breath he said: “but you could adopt.”
He’s not wrong. Adoption is a viable option for infertility, or so it would seem.
But, if you do go down the road of fostering or adopting, you will quickly find out that it is in no way the same.
I know if you are currently experiencing infertility, this isn’t the answer you want to hear. It’s heartbreaking and one that may take quite some time to heal from.
You want to hear that you’re going to get a call from CAS that a baby has just been born and you take them home and live happily ever after.
Or that you will adopt a baby from a foreign country and live happily ever after.
This just isn’t the reality in most cases. I’m not saying that it doesn’t happen – but it’s not the norm.
Adoption of any kind has risks and challenges. Children adopted through CAS maybe have experienced trauma that you will need to work through.
Negative behaviours, even in young children can be extreme. Most are based on fear and anxiety on the part of the child and even they do not understand why they’re acting out in a certain way.
Other children may come with learning challenges as a result of substance abuse in-utero or mental health issues from being abandoned or neglected.
The same can be said of babies adopted from foreign countries. Trauma can affect babies from the moment they are born. If they’ve spent time in a foreign orphanage, chances are that they cried and were rarely picked up. This may cause trauma that could last a lifetime.
If you’re going to foster or adopt, you need to go in with the mindset that you are serving the children by loving them, by providing them with food, shelter and a stable home environment, but it may not look much like what your friends with biological children are doing.
You may even begin to foster and hope to adopt a child, only to have them go back home 6 months or more into the process. It’s complicated.
You will need to be committed to the process, and be able to adapt to the changing nature of the situation.
5. How long do you get to keep him/her?
I’ve been asked this question so many times in the past few weeks and I don’t have an answer to that.
The reality is, if a dually-approved home has been called into service, it could be a while, but it may not be forever.
The reason situations like this occur is that Children’s Aid or the Police have determined that the situation is serious at home and there’s doubt about the parents’ ability to safely parent the child now and possibly forever.
When a child is placed in a dually-approved home, Children’s Aid is working to reunite the child with the family or another family member but if that doesn’t or can’t happen, it would turn into adoption at a later date.
But, here’s the question I have.
Does it matter how long we get to keep them?
The need exists and it’s huge, whether it’s for 2 months or forever. If we aren’t guaranteed that we can keep them, should we just ignore the need?
I don’t think so.
Of course we’re going to get attached and love the child and of course, it’s going to be tough if they go home many months down the road, but that’s part of serving children in this way.
I grew up in a stable environment as did Joy. We have great families, healthy relationships and have developed healthy coping strategies. The reality is, we’re much more capable of handling the grief than a child who is bounced from home to home.
The best option is for a child to be placed in a loving home, and if they stay for 6 months, a year or forever, at least they’ve been provided with a stable, loving environment for a time, that’s all that matters.
6. Congratulations may not be in order
We’ve had a number of people say congratulations to us, which is nice, but I’m conflicted as to whether “congratulations” is the correct term to use in this type of situation.
This is the one I’m having the hardest time with because in my mind, congratulations are NOT in order. The real accomplishment was getting approved to foster/adopt through the Children’s Aid Society. That took time, effort and it was a draining process.
When we finally got “the call” to step up to the plate and look after a toddler, our happiness was overshadowed by the grief of the little one that we are now looking after and loving.
We now try to console her when she’s crying incessantly for her mom. When she’s asking about people we’ve never met or heard of before. When she’s wondering where her beloved pets are and the toys she loved so much. Or when she’s trying to explain to us what foods she likes or how she likes to have her bedtime routine.
With 90 minutes notice, we know so little about her that every day is a new day of learning.
The reality is, for our “dream” to come true, another family had to experience a catastrophic breakdown. One in which a family is broken apart and may never be restored. One where birth parents are grieving as they try to process what happened and as they work through significant life issues.
And if our dream of fully adopting a child comes true, it just means that there’s an end to the original family unit.
To be totally honest, what we would love to see most is for the parents to be able to work through the issues that warranted Children’s Aid involvement in the first place. For them to get better and for the child to return to the home they miss so much.
We don’t know if that will happen, and if it doesn’t, we will love her for however long is necessary. Maybe forever.
I know that so many people are happy for us, and we’re happy too, but please remember that this is a complicated situation with many moving parts. Happy endings in a situation like this are often one-sided.
Adoption is at the heart of the Gospel
Those of us who are in a relationship with Jesus have been adopted. At one time we were far away from God and when we turned to Him and put our faith and trust in Jesus, we were adopted into the family of God.
The Bible speaks about adoption in a number of books, both in the Old Testament and New Testament and it’s clear that it’s important to the Lord and should be on the radar of every Christian. Whether that’s fostering and/or adopting or at least supporting someone else who is.
And of course, Jesus loves children. He healed them, spent time with them and admired their faith.
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”