What to expect when you're fostering a child

Surprising facts about foster care I learned while adopting

My husband and I decided we were ready to grow our family several years ago. My husband brought up adopting an older child. He had a strong pull to parent a child who was already on the earth, needing a family. (And he even more strongly wanted to avoid sleepless nights and dirty diapers!) I just wanted to be a mother and didn't care how it happened, so this plan was fine with me.

We thought the process would be quick. We had heard about the thousands of children waiting in foster care for permanent homes often. It turns out we had many misconceptions about foster care. Here's what we learned:

· The goal of foster care in Florida is always to reunite the child with the biological family. We wanted a child that stayed in our home forever, so we decided to pursue straight adoption. This means we were only considered for children who were already legally free for adoption. Plus, my husband was a substitute teacher at the time, so running into children we had once fostered and their families in the school setting might have been awkward.

READ MORE: Is foster parenting right for you?

- Most of the children who are available for adoption are older, have special needs or are part of a sibling group. While the goal of foster care is always reunification, when that can't happen foster parents often get the option to adopt. Most young, healthy or single (no siblings) children are adopted by their foster parents. We decided to search for a girl under the age of 13 with mild to moderate special needs. There were surprisingly few available. 

·The rules vary from state to state. Some things are different even within the same state. An agency in Tampa, Florida required an official copy of our home study, while other agencies in Florida were fine with an emailed version. Our daughter was in Texas, which meant we had to abide by the rules of both Texas in Florida during the pre-adoption process. 

· Case workers have extremely full plates. We often didn't hear back about our inquiries. The workers simply don't have enough time to keep up with everything and communication falls through the cracks. Our daughter's case worker told us that she was one of 75 children she was responsible for. Finding adoptive homes often has to take a burner to finding a foster home for the child to sleep in the next night. 

· The process is lengthy. It took a full year to get a child in our home. Our daughter was waiting in foster care for five years before we found our way to her. 

Adopting from foster care is worth the time and stress. I wish we had a better idea of what to expect when we went into it. It would have saved a lot of frustration. Our daughter has been with us for over three years now. She was worth every minute of anxiety during the process.

 READ MORE: Saugerties mom fosters hope in children

Children's Books About Adoption

We adopted our daughter when she was 9. We read a ton of books together about children who were adopted or lived in foster care during her first months home. Many of the books were below her academic and chronological age level, but they were just right for her emotional level at the time. Plus, we all enjoyed the cuddling up and reading picture books together! We have read all of these. We own some of them, but checked most out from our public library:


"A Forever Family" by Roslyn Banish and Jennifer Jordan Wong (This is my daughter's favorite. She read it multiple times in a row the first time.)

"A Mother for Choco" by Keiko Kasza

"We Belong Together" by Todd Parr (His books The Family Book and "It's Okay to Be Different" are also great for children who are adopted or part of the foster care system.)

"Maybe Days" by Jennifer Wilgocki

"The Star: A Story to Help Young Children in Foster Care" by Cynthia Lovell

"Murphy's Three Homes" by Jan Gilman

"Happy Adoption Day" by John McCutcheon

"Zachary's New Home" by Geraldine Blomquist

"I Love You Crazy Cakes" and "Every Year on Your Birthday" by Rose Lewis

"Max and the Adoption Day Party" by Adria Klein

"Sisters" by Judith Caseley

"The Three Names of Me" by Mary Cummings

"Adoption is..." by D.A. Royster

Follow your child's lead. He may not be ready to address the big feelings that come along with discussing adoption or foster care. Read the books together if he's willing, but don't push the topic. Allow him to open up to you and ask questions in his own way and time. Gently encourage him with questions like, "Do you ever feel that way?" or, "I think I'd be really sad if that happened to me. Books are a great way to start the flow of communication.


Rachael Moshman is a mom, freelance writer and blogger.  Find her at www.rachaelmoshman.com.