As I mentioned last time, adopting older kids (generally) means getting kids who are in the foster care system. This, in turn, means that your first step to adoption is becoming a foster parent. Why? Because even though it takes a while to become a foster pasrent (as described below), the process of sending a kid from one foster home to another is much faster than transitioning from a foster home to an adoptive placement—which can take months, if not years.
There’s a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo involved, but the bottom line is it bought me an extra 10 months with my kids—so I’ll take it.
So what does this have to do with training? Everything. If I had decided to adopt a kid outright—whether a $10,000 infant or my neighbor’s son—the law would require me to have this much training: none. This might ring a bell for anyone who has birthed a child biologically: zero training required. Apparently, when a kid is yours, you can feed them Cheetos 24/7 and have them sleep on the roof, and no one minds much.
Being a foster parent? In California at least, 40 hours of mandatory training, folks. Forty hours, lots and lots of rules and reqs: all meds must be locked up, kids need separate bedroom with door, etc. Apparently foster children are much more prone to trouble—and sleepwalking—than their biological or adopted counterparts.
I signed up for AASK training in January 2002, which started in March. The trainings were either twice a week for 8 weeks, or four weekends in a row, or something like that—I don’t really remember. I do remember I was the only the only prospective parent there who was both single and gay. In retrospect, I have to laugh at myself for being surprised at how many couples were in the room—being nestled in my alterna-bubble, I honestly forget that most people who consider having children are in couples, and most include one woman and one man. There are a lot of straight parents in the world! There were, however, one or two single women, and last but not least the couple who became my next heroes: Jim and Chris (as in Christopher, not Christine).
In training, one of the first things you learn is the definition of a “special needs” child. This includes, believe it or not, a child with a diagnosed “special need” such as a physical, emotional, or developmental disability. However, again at least in California, it also includes the following:
- Any child over two
- Any child who is not white
- Any siblings
So, yeah: You could fost-adopt a future president of the United States, and if he or she is three, or Latino, or has a sister, that child is special needs. I actually hit the trifecta: My kids were both over two, and not white, and part of a sibling set. Yahtzee! The good news is, the county gives you a monthly stipend for these “special” kids, up to age 18. The bad news is … really?
Anyway, other things you learn in training include the following:
- How to discipline
- How not to discipline
- All the attachment disorders you can expect to see
- How there’s a good chance you won’t see these disorders until your kid hits puberty
- The honeymoon
- How not to be fooled by the honeymoon
- What to do when the honeymoon ends—probably much sooner and more abruptly than seems reasonable
- The home study
- What you are required to have in your house
- What you are not allowed to have in your house
- How you will be interviewed and analyzed in a way that puts the NSA to shame
- How you will discover your own attachment issues and probably cry about them
And the most important thing you learn: How you need to build a support group. Folks who will step in and take over when you are absolutely sure you are going to go crazy/postal/on a one-way flight to anywhere. The trainers couldn’t emphasize this enough, yet it turns out they didn’t emphasize it enough. My own thought, years later, is that no one should be allowed to adopt unless you can show the agency/county the names of 20 people who agree to step in at times of need—and then the agency/county needs to meet with all of these people and get their agreement in writing, including alternate contact phone numbers. Six or 10 or 15 is not enough—it’s amazing how your friends can all seem to have weekend plans at the same time, and how, after they spend one night with your kids, their social lives all seemed to spike dramatically.
Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
Next: Our House