Should We Consider Adoption or Foster Care?

“How did you and your husband decide to become foster parents?” It’s a question people frequently ask me when they discover we foster-adopted our two children. Most often, their tone indicates that we have done something extraordinary, even heroic.

In reality, no hand from heaven came down to deliver a special invitation to us. No angel materialized on our doorstep, kids in tow. Instead, God used our natural desires to have a family; a series of doors presented themselves to us, which we tested one at a time until we found the one that had our children behind it.

Door One: Acknowledge Any Grief and Fear

From the beginning, we knew that it would be highly unlikely that the ordinary path to parenthood was in store for us. A fertility specialist confirmed that my medical history and our ages made it unlikely that we would conceive without assistance. And yet, we were sure of two things: (1) If God wanted us to become parents, it would happen in His way, in His time; (2) We refused to let infertility wreak havoc on our marriage, as it had preoccupied and even destroyed the marriages of other couples we knew. We remained open and trusting, simply taking life one day at a time.

I was very fortunate in that Craig and I always seemed to be on the same page where these decisions were concerned. I knew couples where one — usually the woman — longs to enlarge their family, while the other is content just as things are. One is eager to adopt … while the other holds back because of the expense, or the inconvenience, or out of fear of what adding an “unknown quantity” might do to the existing family dynamic.

Door Two: Gather Information

In situations like this, it’s important to arrive at a mutual decision based not on fears, but facts. Talk with other adoptive and foster parents to find out the names of reputable agencies in your area — then go to an information meeting or two. Online sources are also available; websites like or tools like the “Adoption Guide Planner” ( can help you decide which kind of adoption or foster plan is best suited to your family situation.

Adoption need not be expensive, especially if you consider foster care or foster-adoption. You do not even need to own your own home, and a wide variety of resources are available to assist couples with more heart than money. In the state of Michigan, for example, children adopted out of the foster care system continue to receive the monthly subsidy and medical insurance benefits that they received while they were wards of the state; they are also eligible for a variety of benefits ranging from free hot lunches to free college tuition.

Neither is the age of a couple necessarily a barrier. Remember that no two children are the same or do they have the same level of need. Couples who feel too old to do the “diaper brigade” may be a godsend for a grade-school child or teenager whose opportunities for a real home diminish with each passing year. Those who long for a baby — but who are willing to open their hearts a little wider, to include the infant’s older brothers or sisters — can find the blessings multiply with the challenges. In many cases, families willing to consider a child with special needs (both temporary, due to trauma, andĀ long-term due to physical and developmental needs) or a biracial child often discover that love comes in all shapes, sizes and colors.

Door Three: Prepare Yourself

So what do you need to be a good foster or adoptive parent?

  • Patience. Whether dealing with bureaucratic red tape, a toddler who hides food in the closet, or a boy-crazy teen, you will have ample opportunity to practice virtue.
  • Support. Even experienced parents will quickly discover that adoption and foster care is an “extended family affair.” When extended family lives too far away to be of practical assistance, it becomes that much more important to cultivate a support network — even if you have to pay for it temporarily. (In the beginning, a large chunk of our subsidy checks were spent on babysitters and housekeepers.)
  • Faith. Adoptive and foster parenting is not for wimps, or for those with an over-inflated sense of self-reliance. Extraordinary parenting (investing yourself in the life of a child you did not bring into the world yourself) requires spiritual strength, cultivated through prayer and the sacraments.
  • Time. A child who comes to you through adoption and foster care will often require special attention, especially in the first months that he or she joins the family. Especially for the first six months or so, the child needs one primary caregiver to assist with the bonding process. Depending on how he came to you, he may also have physical and emotional problems that may not immediately present themselves. Remember … parenting is a marathon, not a sprint!

Door Four: Make a Choice

As you gather the information you need, continue to ask the Holy Spirit to make your way clear to you. Remember that while God calls us to take up certain challenges in life, ultimately the choice is ours to make. Adoption and foster care areĀ adventures for the whole family … and yet, timing is very important. For example, you may decide to postpone adding to your family until your youngest child is in school, or even wait until all your children are fully grown. Or you may decide that a younger sibling is just what you and your children need to grow in virtue!

If, after gathering the information you need to make your decision together, you conclude that adoption and foster care are not appropriate at that time, there are other ways to make a difference in the life of a child. You can volunteer as a tutor or mentor through your local school or “Big Brother/Big Sister” program. Become a CASA volunteer, who befriends and advocates for foster children currently in the system. Volunteer as a respite worker for foster or single parents. Host a fundraiser to assist families from your church who are pursuing international adoption, or organize a toy drive for your local foster agency or children’s home. Befriend a family with special needs children, and offer them practical support — even sitting with the child while they go to Mass for an hour of uninterrupted prayer.

If you have a heart for kids … there are always children who need you!

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  • Claire

    Adoption has been such a blessing in my life. It doesn’t completely erase the pain of infertility, but it takes away most of the sting and makes it all worthwhile. I’m now grateful for my infertility, because it’s the reason that I have my beautiful baby boy.

  • We have 9 children and my husband and I have often talked about fostering children after our brood is ‘done’. I think Christian parents aught to at least consider this because these children truly need some light in their life.

    The only reason we wait is because as we’ve considered and done research, we know we will probably want to foster older sibling groups, and as these children come from unstable, even traumatic backgrounds, You can not risk some of that trauma affecting your own Bio children. You have to make sure you clear the slate for them completely. It’s a real commitment. But hearing from other fosters, one worth taking.


  • Catholic Mom of 9

    My youngest brother (in a family of 13 children) came to us through fostering first then adoption. The experience was a blessing not only to my parents but to us siblings as well. Thank you for writing about this, Heidi! Great article!

  • gk

    Great article.

    We attempted to foster but in NJ the law was recently changed so that 6 children is the limit. We have 6 of our own.

    If the law changes we’ll gladly go ahead.

    – GK

  • trainwife1962

    My husband and I attempted to become foster parents in NJ after we were first married- We attended the course, did the fingerprints, handed in our paperwork, and nothing- When I was following up on our status two months later, I was told that we had withdrawn our applications, which was a nasty surprise for us. We then refiled, after vigorously protesting, and again nothing. Then we were told that our paperwork had been lost, and we resubmitted. Then we were told that we had to retake the course! Along the way, we approached the Trenton diocese Catholic Charities about adoption. I submitted my medical reocords, as I suffer from recurring depression (which was NEVER hidden from CC or NJ DYFUS) I was told originally by CC that this would NOT disqualify us. I then receive a phone call, telling me that I was unfit to be an adoptive mother, because of my depression, and was told by the same woman that I needed to get a grip on myself, that some women were not meant to be mothers. What options do we have if the Chruch turns us away? We cannot afford private or overseas adoptions

  • Claire

    That’s outrageous that someone from Catholic Charities spoke to you that way. Very un-Christian. As far as the state of NJ, I’m sure their pool of foster parents is no better than any other state, and I’m sure that you and your husband would provide much higher quality parenting than many foster parents, so it’s also ridiculous that they “lost” your application.

    I know that the cost of private adoption is daunting, but keep in mind that the federal tax credit is now above $11,000. If you could get a loan, that would be a huge help in paying it off. Some employers also offer adoption assistance/reimbursement.

  • Today was a field trip to Toledo Zoo, so I’m late logging in today!

    I truly believe that God has a family for every child — but not every family steps up to the plate, to take the child. Those who no longer have children at home are ideal for children with particularly traumatic backgrounds (particularly those who have been badly abused) because the parents are free to focus their attention on the needs of that child. However, I need to point out that not ALL foster children have such severe needs, and while it is considered preferable to maintain birth order (foster/adopt only children who are younger than the youngest bio child), it can be beneficial to both to raise foster and bio children together.

    For those who really want to wait (or who, like GK, have “caught their limit,” consider respite care or CASA volunteering.

    A history of depression should not disqualify you, especially if your doctor can testify to the fact that your condition is being managed well. It may well be that you simply have not found the right agency. (Please also remember that even agencies that have “Catholic” in the name are not necessarily run by Catholics, or even Christians. We received ours from Catholic SS … so I know this from personal experience.)

    I suggest testing the waters at a few other agencies, talking candidly about your history. It may be that your children have yet to enter the system — sometimes it’s all about timing! (The agency we selected was an hour away from our house, but it was around the corner from the seminary where I was taking classes … If we had chosen one closer to home, our kids would not be with us today.)

    God bless all of you who are taking this important issue to prayer. We are at a particularly crucial juncture in our nation’s history, when the witness to the value and dignity of every human life is desperately needed. What better way, than to give a child (who might otherwise never get one) a chance at a forever family?

    Heidi Saxton

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  • trainwife1962

    I did have such a document from my therapist, yet I was still told that I was unfit

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