"The Checklist", and why foster and adoptive families should rethink theirs.
When you become certified to be a foster or adoptive parent, one of the steps is filling out a checklist. This checklist is a literal list of challenges a child might face in their life, plus age ranges. Your job to to mark "yes" next to the ages and needs you think your family could possibly handle, and "no" next to the ages and needs you don't think you could handle.
Most families are very specific going into this journey. They want a baby, because God has called them to care for infants. They want a girl because they haven't yet been "blessed" with a girl. They want a boy because their family wants to "experience the gifts of raising a boy." They're open to siblings, but only two siblings, and only if both children are younger than the age of 5.
5 is the cutoff age, by the way. The age that kids stop seeming little and cute to prospective foster or adoptive parents. Everyone, EVERYONE, just "feels more comfortable" with a child under age 5.
And disabilities like Autism, Cerebral Palsy, or intellectual delay? No thank you. Return that one back to the store, please. If you go on adoptuskids.org today, disabled kids will make up the MAJORITY of kiddos who are photolisted and waiting for adoptive families. That's an issue for its own blog post.
Here's the uncomfortable truth: foster families and adoptive families need to be offering their family for a child, not searching for a child for their family. If you're truly in this to serve the kids that NEED it the most, your goal should not be to get in line behind hundreds of other families for that one perfectly normal unicorn baby girl with no special needs and a fast track to adoption. Your goal should be to open your home to a child whose needs you are capable of meeting, who NEEDS a family, whose options are slim.
I know a thing or two about checklists. I had a very specific one when I was in the process of adopting a waiting child from foster care. Sure, my checklist was more open minded than most. I was a special education teacher, so I was looking for a child with disabilities. But I was thinking a child who could walk, or who was very young. That way the obstacle of my extremely vertical house could be solved years and year down the road (hahahahaha...fate had other plans).
I wanted a small, young child under five so that their special equipment would fit in my small house and vehicle. I wanted a child who had a lot of personality and who was semi-verbal, so that I could use my skills as a teacher to further develop their communication skills. I was afraid of g-tubes and oxygen tanks because I didn't have experience with those things. I wanted a local child so that travel expenses to meet them wouldn't be too steep. I still wanted this child to fit in the box of expectations I had made.
There were several little boys who met my checklist, and I had conversations with a few social workers, making plans to attend match meetings, where my agency worker would chat with the child's worker and see if their team thought I would be a good fit. Sure, there were other families interested, meaning that these little boys weren't exactly in desperate need for adoptive homes. I would be competing with these other families, you see, because these kids checked their boxes as well. The aspect of competition did feel a little gross to me, but I shoved that feeling down. I had to stick to my checklist.
Except there was this little face that I just could NOT get out of my head. This other little boy definitely did not fit the checklist. He was blind, a disability that I have zero experience with. He used a wheelchair and was already 8 years old, meaning I'd be lugging a lanky 3rd grader up and down the many MANY stairs in my house. He was completely nonverbal and in his recruitment video he seemed to be on the autism spectrum. He used a g-tube to eat, and I had no freaking clue how those worked. He also lived all the way in Seattle, Washington, a 400 dollar plane ride away.
And yet, unlike my several "good matches", this little guy had zero other options. He had been waiting for a family for four years, and had had several "first meetings" with other prospective parents who ultimately decided he didn't fit their personal checklists. His social worker was looking at long term group home options for him.
I honestly couldn't tell you what made me decide to crumple up the checklist and throw it away. I couldn't tell you exactly what it was that made me say yes to the little boy that became my son. There were many reasons to say no, many ways in which it didn't seem like we would be the perfect fit for each other. I was scared, listening to his social worker's unfamiliar voice crackling through the phone from across the country. I couldn't tell you what made me turn away from those other, simpler options and choose my son.
But damn...I'm so fucking glad I did.
This boy. He checks all the boxes I never knew I had. He's my little soul mate, and I get it now. It was always supposed to be him.
Prospective adoptive parents, consider throwing that damn checklist away. Just think about it.
You never know who you might be missing out on.