In many ways, when a child lives in your home with you, life is not terribly different if he or she is officially a foster child or an adopted child. The day-to-day tasks involved in child rearing remain the same. There are meals to cook, clothes to wash, outings to plan, lessons to supervise, hugs to savor, conversations to share, discipline to administer, a mind to stimulate, talents to develop, values to instill and ambitions to encourage. During the course of living, growing, learning and playing together, you are very likely to become attached to the child placed with you. Are you ready to adopt? what is the big deal if you decide to adopt? It is just more of the same, right? Well, yes, but also, no.
Of course, there are many differences between foster care and adoption, ranging from the trivial to the significant. After a child is adopted and postplacement visits have occurred, a social worker will no longer be a regular guest at your home. The child will have your last name. You will not have to share authority with an agency -- decisions about school, medical treatment, religious practice and a myriad of other parenting matters can be made without someone looking over your shoulder. The child will inherit from you and is entitled to a share of your estate equal to that of any of your other children. You will be financially responsible for the child's welfare until the age of majority, and you will be liable for his or her actions in any legal disputes.
Over and above these practical matters, you will have to deal with emotional issues as well. Because the child has experienced loss, he or she will go through the grieving process, perhaps over and over again at certain critical times of development. This is called mental grieving. You will become acquainted with the stages of grief and the behavior that accompanies each. The denial, anger and depression stages all have predictable patterns of behavior that you will soon be able to recognize, if you do not already. You will also be learning about the concept of entitlement -- the awareness that this is now your child and you have the right to discipline, love and care for this child, totally and permanently. You will have a stake in this child's future, and this child will have a stake in yours.
When you adopt your foster child, especially one who has been with you for an extended period of time, both you and the social worker should help the child to understand the significance of the change in status. The child's life-book, a personalized account of his or her birth and placement history, may be an important tool in facilitating understanding. It is very important that you mark or celebrate the change from foster care to adoption in some symbolic fashion, so that the child really perceives the difference. Children who have been moved around a lot may truly not see what all the fuss is about, but it should be made clear that adoption is a major life event. A special party, a family ceremony, even the sending of formal announcements are all possible ways of marking the adoption. Ask your child and other family members what they would like to do to commemorate this milestone.