In 2020, there were 407,493 kids in foster care. Of those kids, 117,470 kids are waiting for adoption. Parents preparing for adoption probably have a lot of emotions about the prospect of welcoming an adopted child into their home. Excitement and nervousness are just two of them. If you are a parent preparing for an adopted child, you’re not alone. There are many resources for adoptive parents out there, so let’s explore a few tips and outlets for support.
The Difference Between Adopting and Fostering
First of all, what does it mean to adopt versus foster a child? Foster care is temporary caregiving for kids whose parents cannot care for them due to circumstances. This could be because of the death of the parents, abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol addiction, incarceration, or any number of other reasons. Just under half (48 percent) of children exit foster care because they are reunited with their primary caregiver. Others go to live with guardians or relatives, and some are adopted.
Maybe you’re still in the deliberation stages of whether or not you should adopt, or maybe you’ve already decided, or maybe your new child is already on its way. No matter what stage in the process you are at, let’s explore some ways you can prepare for an adopted child.
How to prepare for an adoptive child
- Educate yourself
Whether you have already met your adopted child or not, it’s important to know everything you can about them so you can best prepare. Ask questions. What was their circumstance before coming to you? What is their background? If they are from a different culture, learn everything you can about the cultural context they come from. What age are they? What is their personality? Try to learn about behavioral tendencies and possible challenge areas or medical issues. The more you know, the more you can prepare your home and help your child adjust and thrive.
- Get supplies to prepare for your adopted child
Before your child gets to their new home, you will want to make sure their room and necessaries are already accessible to them so they feel at home as quickly as possible. If you have a baby, toddler, or younger child coming to your house, make sure you have child-proofed your home, making dangerous chemicals or medications inaccessible to kids. Pay attention to sharp corners and drawers or cabinets that are accessible to tiny hands.
The bedroom is going to be an important place for your child, whether they are a toddler or an older child. It can be a safe space that feels like it’s theirs, so make sure you have the bare bones already set up, like a bed, desk, dresser, etc. It might be a good idea to allow older kids to have a say in the decoration and other elements so they feel involved and listened to.
- Go slow
This is an exciting time for you and your growing family. Remember to be patient and allow yourself and your adopted child to adjust to the new dynamic. As wonderful as it is, it won’t be an easy change and will take time. Remember, it’s new for both of you, so give both yourself and your child patience.
Many people want to share their excitement and joy of adopting a child. If you are adopting a baby or toddler, this can be a nice way to bring extended family members into the celebration. However, if you are adopting an older child, a party might be too overwhelming. The child should be given time to adjust before being introduced to many new people. A private party between the household members would be a more laid-back way of welcoming an adopted child who is older.
- Let go of expectations
Don’t expect a specific reaction from the adopted child. Many newly adopted kids have already experienced a lot, even if they are very young. They may even express anger, withdrawal, depression, or other complicated emotions. This is not a reflection on you. Rather, it is a reflection of the child’s processing of and reaction to their own experience.
- Give a tour
If your child is old enough, give them a home tour. Show them the different parts of the house and tell them about the functioning of different rooms. Show them their new bedroom and let them ask questions if they want. You can use this opportunity to help your child begin the process of feeling like this is their home.
- Get some foods they enjoy
A great way to make your child feel welcomed is by buying foods they like or even foods that they are used to. If they are from another culture, you could cook a meal from their home country or the culture in which they grew up and ask them to help you so they feel involved.
Ask them what they like and incorporate it into your weekly meal plan so they feel heard. Food can be a great source of comfort, so it is a wonderful way to add a small piece of welcome to your new life.
- Get a few toys
Similar to finding out their favorite foods, get a few toys when adopting a child. Play is so important for any kid, regardless of their experience. If you’re bringing home a baby or toddler, this is fairly straightforward. Find some safe and engaging toys and make them accessible to your new baby.
For older kids, you might consider bringing them along on a shopping trip. This gives you an opportunity to understand their tastes, likes, and dislikes and a chance to feel like they have some say and control in their new home.
- Establish a routine
One of the biggest things you can do to help your child adjust and feel secure is by creating and sticking to a routine. Routines are predictable and safe, and they help kids in any situation thrive. By making a routine, you are creating a norm that will begin to feel like home once you and your child get used to it.
A big part of establishing a routine is setting rules and chores and following through on them. Fair rules that are explained well can bring a sense of structure and order that your new child needs to grow. This is especially helpful for children who come from tumultuous backgrounds or who have behavioral challenges. Follow-through on rules is important on your part to establish credibility. By doing so, you become a solid and protective force that your child can come to when trouble brews. Using positive discipline methods and redirecting negative behaviors can be a major turning point for your child.
Resources For Parents
Community support groups: The online community can be a great place to seek out help and support, and it’s also a great way to give your own strength to those who are fostering or adopting. There are a number of different community threads and boards available for adoptive or foster parents.
For in-person groups, you can search for community support groups in your state, or if you live in a city, look into programs your community might have for adopted kids.
Your own family and community: If you already have your own developed community and family that you can lean on for emotional support, these can be great resources for adoptive parents. Your own immediate community is an incredible place to go for help with childcare and your own mental health support.
Your child’s care team: These days, mental and physical healthcare teams are becoming more integrated. Use this to your advantage and make your child’s physician and other care members (like psychiatrists and therapists) into a team you can look to when you have questions about your child’s well-being.
Adoption agency: It’s a good idea to keep in touch with the adoption agency you went through to adopt your child. Many adoption agencies have post-adoption resources and support for parents, so make sure you reach out. If they don’t offer any programs themselves, they likely have connections to programs, groups, and resources that can help you and your growing family thrive.
National Support Organizations for Adoptive Families
The Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE): CASE is the largest national resource for foster parents or parents of adopted children to access mental health support in their communities. The organization offers information, training, and educational resources on best practices for adoptive families.
National American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC): This website is a great resource for parents and their adoptive kids. The organization connects families with support groups in their local communities, and they help families find information and training that match their specific needs. They also help youth in advocacy and building support communities.
National Council for Adoption (NCFA): This website provides the most up-to-date information on webinars, training, and readings on adoption resources, research, and policies. It’s a one-stop shop for information and education regarding adoption.
You can also find state-specific resources for adoptive parents online. For more information on specific programs, organizations, and laws in your state, check out AdoptUSKids’ online database for an examination of resources by state.