Should Survivors of Abuse be Foster Parents or Adoptive Parents?

Our social worker said that adult survivors of abuse, neglect, sexual assault and other forms of trauma often make the best foster/adoptive parents.  However, she said there is a big “but” that can disqualify people from adopting or becoming foster parents.  Read on…

Survivors Can Make Fantastic Parents – Adoptive or Foster

Empathy:  Adult survivors can truly empathize and understand what foster kids are going through.  They can easily love traumatized children as the child’s difficult circumstances don’t scare them away, and similar histories may actually be something that bonds them together as a family.  Survivors almost instinctually get that an outburst is due to fear of abandonment or that a tantrum is about anger over not having control of one’s life, which means these parents can see and address the root cause of their children’s less than desirable behaviors.  They may even have an innate sense of what to do to calm a child who’s acting out or feeling blue.

Vision:  These parents truly believe in a bright future for their hurt kids, even when those kids are struggling in school or are having a hard time making friends or even just being part of a family.  They know that hurt kids can heal and turn their lives around, because survivors know from their own experience of healing themselves that it can be done.

Dedication:  Parenting kids who may exhibit difficult behaviors can be exhausting.  Imagine handling a child who hits, who wets the bed, and yells a lot.  Now add time for doctor appointments, counseling sessions, teacher conferences, and visits with birth family.  And kids typically don’t thank parents.  Survivors can be tenacious, though, holding onto the vision of a healed child.  Perhaps they vowed that they wouldn’t give up on children like adults gave up on them when they were younger.  Perhaps they’ve vowed to make their own suffering mean something.  Perhaps they promised God that if God got them out of their previous bad situation, they would help others in the future.  Or maybe simply reflecting on how hard their journey of healing was will give them strength to stay the course.  Regardless, survivors tend to be dedicated to helping kids, even when the going gets tough.

Believing It:  Foster children’s stories can be horrific.  Their mother sold them to a pedophile in order to get drug money, their father tried to strangle them with a belt, or they have been eating carpet since their parents haven’t brought home food for weeks.  If you lived a typical childhood, it can be really hard to believe your new children’s stories of what happened.  You can be shocked by the tragedy and may have a hard time coping when your view of the world “as a good place” is turned upside down.  Survivors, however, know from experience that terrible things can and do happen; it’s not really that shocking when it happens to others, too.  Abused children benefit when parents validate their experiences, when parents trust that the children are telling the truth.  Traumatize children also benefit when their parents aren’t bowled over by their histories. They sense that their new parents are strong enough to handle their darkest experiences – giving them confidence that in time they will be able to cope, too.

When Survivors Should NOT Adopt or be Foster Parents

Triggers:  Your children’s troubles can trigger your own personal memories or emotional turmoil.  For example, imagine that your child reveals to you that he or she was sexually abused, and you were raped previously.  You may relive those experiences, and/or become sad, angry or depressed.  It’s already challenging to parent a traumatized child, but it can be incredibly tough to parent a child when you’re in your own emotional tailspin.  Will you still be able to work towards reuniting your foster kid with their family?  Will you have enough emotional energy to heal yourself and your children simultaneously?  If you haven’t healed from your trauma, now is not the time to take on responsibility for an abused or neglected child.

What’s Changed?:  Are those people who hurt you still in your life?  Sadly, the perpetrator who hurt you when you were younger may be a family member, such as a parent, aunt/uncle, or sibling.  You may have jumped from one bad previous relationship into another bad relationship.  How will you protect your children from abusive or neglectful relatives, significant others or friends?

How Social Workers Decide

Resolution? Counseling?:  Social workers will ask you about all of the losses in your life, how you handled them, and assess whether you seem to have resolved any trauma.  If you have gone through therapy and successfully addressed your own trauma, social workers will recognize this.  Be honest with them about what has happened in your life, and what you’ve done and continue to do to compensate.  For example, if you know bed wetting reminds you of being beaten as child and triggers big emotions, but you’ve made arrangements for your spouse to handle changing bed sheets if your child has an accident, then you’ve shown an understanding of yourself and the ability to handle that particular situation.  However, if social workers think you may have unresolved issues, they will ask you to seek counseling (on your dime) and then come back afterwards to finish your home study.  Your willingness to seek help will demonstrate to social workers that you’ll do what’s necessary to keep your family healthy.

Lifestyle:  Social workers use something called a genogram to dig through your family relationships.  In short, it maps out your relationships and acts as a guide for your social worker to talk with you about how well you get along with relatives.  If you had abusive or neglectful relatives, it gives you an opportunity to discuss how you’ve either resolved the situation, whether you have terminated the relationship, or how you would otherwise protect your foster or adoptive children.


A 17 year old liked Should Foster Teens Seek Adoption?, so I checked out her site and saw a young woman in a lot of pain.  But I have faith that she can grow up to be a tremendous power for good.  (You can do it, C!)  She already inspired me to write this post (thanks, C!).  If you’re going through hell, keep going… and then consider how you can take something horrible and make it into something wonderful.

So, what do you think? Should adult survivors of abuse or neglect be able to foster or adopt?

4 thoughts on “Should Survivors of Abuse be Foster Parents or Adoptive Parents?

  1. Thank you so much for this. Really, really, thank you. For showing me that my own childhood abuse history can make me a better adoptive parent. I’m scared that I will be turned away by the adoption agency, but really, I should be asking myself these questions above and working out how I will show them that I’ve grown, healed and changed for good.


    1. Hi Eleanormary90.

      So great to hear from you. You CAN be an excellent parent and I’m sure you have a lot to give children. Think about how protective you will be, determined that your children have a happier and safer childhood. Think how you will have that special connection with your children as you both will have overcome adversity. Everybody has something lurking “in their closet” – low income, history of illness, divorces, etc. – that they are scared to reveal to their social worker. Your approach of thinking through the questions and doing a self evaluation are signs that you are on the right path. You go, girl!


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