A Free-Ranger Considers Adopting: Advice Needed

Folks ifzbthzeea
— This is an area I have no expertise in. Can those of you who have adopted, or know about the process, help out? Thanks! – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve noticed we have some adoptive parents in this crowd. I would really like to adopt, but I am concerned about dealing with the adoption process and having a Free-Range philosophy, especially since we would prefer to adopt school age and domestically, which basically means dealing with CPS and the foster system. Any tips or reassurances?

Advice for a Free-Ranger on adopting a school age child?

Advice for a Free-Ranger on adopting a school age child?

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27 Responses to A Free-Ranger Considers Adopting: Advice Needed

  1. Playfullytacky June 17, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    We adopted a baby almost four years ago through the foster care system. Obviously situations vary, but I’ll share some of my impressions.

    Agency attitudes to a free-range philosophy will be different from state to state. While we had to answer a lot of questions about our parenting and take six weeks of classes, the workers seemed more concerned with placing children in safe/loving home than harping on any particular parenting choices. The workers were very much hands-off during the placement process. I live in a liberal city of a fairly conservative state, if that makes any difference.

    I shared a lot of our process (after the fact) on my blog. It doesn’t talk about the parenting aspect, just dealing with the agencies.

    That all being said, I think you might run into more hurdles dealing with school age children. Dealing with children from disrupted homes, with possible social or medical issues, the social workers really talk about structure and rules. They may be more hesitant to accept a free-range philosophy. I would suggest entering into the process open about free-range, but also with demonstrated commitment to adapt to the needs of the child. I’m not saying you wouldn’t be open to this, just that you may need to proactively demonstrate it depending on your worker.

    Gee. That was a whole lot of “maybe.”

  2. Warren June 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    In this day and age, I would avoid using the words free range.

  3. K June 17, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    I agree. I would avoid using the words, “Free-Range”. You should also keep in mind that they will visit you every so often for a considerable period of time after the adoption takes place and if the child is under the age in the guidelines and playing unsupervised you could run into trouble, lots of it. Other than that, most of what they’ll see is the house. Gas cans and other chemicals should be up high, and insect/pest problems should be taken care of before the adoption takes place, and it has to be clean. You’ll also have to remember that a child that you didn’t raise from birth might really require more supervision than one you did. I am very much a supporter of “Free-Range” and would like to see some changes to CPS laws/guidelines to better support normal, rather than paranoid development. I hope that will happen, but the chances are that it won’t in time for your adoption. Best of luck!

  4. Bose in St. Peter MN June 17, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    It’s probably obvious, but everything in the free-range direction of parenting is founded on teaching our kids how to be safe.

    My anecdote from when the kids were young(-er) relates to walking through parking lots. I didn’t want them to walk through parking mazes trembling in fear, but it was always clear that having many cars around meant that it wasn’t play space. So, the rules at toddler stage were to always hold hands, graduating to everybody sticking close together (no skipping or zig-zagging). And on top of that, while it was open game for us to be playful and trick/surprise each other in many circumstances where I might pretend to be upset or questioning their silliness, I also had a parking lot Stop! which they understood was absolute and applied at all ages.

    So, the point to be made with CPS-oriented folks is much less that parents tilt in free-range directions, it’s that safety (and having kids learn it well at every stage) combined with age-appropriate boundaries come first.

  5. Christina June 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

    I agree with the other posters – avoid the term “free range”. We adopted infant twin boys, but when discussing our parenting and discipline strategy with the agency, we used phrases such as “providing a safe, supportive and nurturing environment”, “positive reinforcement and non-corporal discipline strategies”, “providing our children with the skills they need to thrive emotionally, physically, educationally and socially”, “we believe in developmentally appropriate freedoms”. Best of luck!

  6. SOA June 17, 2014 at 1:50 pm #

    No real advice. You will have a lot of hoops to jump through to adopt. They really should make it easier especially when any dummy can have a baby and keep it. I wish you luck and want to thank you for even considering it. It is an amazing thing to adopt. Those kids will be so lucky to have you.

  7. Renee June 17, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

    My husband and I are the parents to 14 children, 5 of whom are adopted. Be forewarned, DSHS will be all up in your face about parenting, discipline, etc. They will want to know everything. We have adopted domestically through foster care, privately and an international adoption. We chose to be perfectly honest about our parenting style but at the same time assured the social worker that we would follow the foster care guidelines for our sone to a tee. In the end, it was worth it. We have five beautiful children though adoption. Feel free to contact me if you have specific questions.


  8. Barbara June 17, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    As the mother of 3 adopted children, 3,5,&6 at the time of adoption 6 yrs ago , my advice is this…play their games (the system’s not the kids…lol). DCFS and the foster system will make you jump through more hoops than you can shake a stick at. They have rules, regulations and more bs than you can imagine. The good part of the journey is that as soon as the court declares the kids adopted, DCFS and the ‘system’ disappears from your life (yay). On the other hand, adopting older children can be more than a handful. They come with issues, as I am sure you know. Most issues are going to be attachment disorders and serious trust issues. I don’t know what state you live in but here in Los Angeles county, we have Post Adoption Services to help with just such stuff. We are utilizing some of their services now. As far as the “free range” goes, my kids are definitely being raised as such. Being that they are mine, no one has the right to tell me I can’t let my kid ride his bike to the grocery store, beach, etc. I do have to deal with other parents warning me of the dangers lurking around every corner, but stay strong. They can’t do anything. Know the laws in your state. You can read them at the state’s .gov site. My kids are self sufficient, ambitious, have normal, healthy fears(dark alleys, strange looking people, etc) instead of obsessive ones. In fact, my daughter left Brownies because she couldn’t stand the helicopter scout leaders. Make sure you teach them how to be safe in situations and enjoy your kids. Again, play the game, then do what you feel is best for your kids, because after the adoption is final, they are YOUR kids. Good luck and congrats on the decision.

  9. Tina June 17, 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Hi, I am a current DCF foster parent, of one school age child and one toddler, we also have 2 adopted children who came to us at 6 and 2. They are now 8 and 12. We have always been free range parents even before knowing the term. At 8 my oldest could go into the store for milk or bread, and would ride her bike around the block. She would stay home for short times by 10 and at almost 13 she will watch her brother on rare occasions and is taking CPR/ first aid/ and a babysitting course to sit for other family and friends kids. I am slowing training the 10 and 8 year old as well. They all do chores, and the older three play out independently in our neighborhood.
    That being said I have had to adapt the priveges and rules to fit DCF guidelines. My oldest cannot sit for the baby or the 8 year old, neither can my 17 year old cousin bc she cannot be CORIed or DCF checked. I keep the free range phrase to myself along with our love and logic philosophy of parenting…

    Feel free to post any questions to my web page, would really like to help out other parents get started with DCF adoption and fostering !!! There are so many kids who need homes and families!!!


  10. Michelle June 17, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    There’s 2 main issues here. One is the pure bureaucratic requirements of your particular agency. Which is tough, but you’ll basically just have to conform and tow the line.

    The other is your child’s needs. We’ve adopted 2 older school aged children through foster care. The biggest thing I found was that they just hadn’t had the chance to become more capable. And in both cases needed supervision more appropriate for younger children, both for their safety and their attachment. They needed to go through the toddler stages with me, even if they were older.

    I’d recommend giving them freedom where ever possible, but realize that this won’t necessarily reflect the freedom you’d give to children raised in your house since birth. Start by showing them how to do things at home. Give them small responsibilities and let them experience small successes. Pouring cereal by themselves, or cooking kraft dinner were both milestones for my kids.

    And keep in mind where they are in their attachment journey. Some children coming from foster care backgrounds will try to push you away so hard, that it’s just easier to let them free range. But in reality, what they need is more of you. My son, at age 9, probably had freedoms similar to a preschooler or a toddler. Because that’s what his emotional age was. Now, at age 13, he’s got age-appropriate freedoms, is able to walk himself 2kms to school, and go downtown or to the park on his own. My 9 year old daughter, has freedoms similar to my biological kindergardener. She can play outside with her friends, and walk to the bus stop alone. But she’s not yet ready to handle greater freedom. She can’t emotionally handle it yet.

  11. no rest for the weary June 17, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    There’s that funny meme travelling around the internet right now… shows an older gentleman at a job interview, and the interviewer asks him what his weakness is. “Honesty.” The interviewer replies, “I don’t think honesty is a weakness.” The gentleman replies, “I don’t f*ing care what you think.”

    You are completely at the mercy of the “system” when you adopt. You must prove yourself to them, and measure up to their standards and judgement. You have everything to lose, and they have nothing to lose. It’s a case of complete power imbalance.

    Some individuals within the system will be willing to behave in ways that acknowledge the humanity and equality in all of those involved (children, adoptive parents, social workers and their agency superiors), and some will be like the Nazi officers in Germany who said, “We are just following policy / orders / government procedure.”

    I would err on the side of “say what they want to hear.” This does NOT mean you go on and on about “I’ll never let any child of mine out of my sight, it’s such a dangerous world out there,” but it may mean that you stick to the script (a post a few above mine gives you a very good example of how it sounds), which is vague but true for most of us raising kids, and leave it at that.

    Doubtful that a social worker will grill you on specific scenarios and ask you to explain what you’d do… “Say your child is eight and wants to ride his bike to school alone” or “Say your child is five and wants to walk across the street by herself to the neighbour’s house” or “Say your child wants to try using a sharp knife in the kitchen to cut an apple.” And even if they did, that script I mentioned would do nicely.

    Basically, you take a page out of the book of most leaders of Western countries, and spin, spin, spin. Make yourselves look like wonderful specimens of loving, caring, and relaxed humans. Here’s a “spun” version of the Free Range philosophy:

    “We are passionate about providing every opportunity for a child’s unique and individual needs to grow and develop— physically, emotionally, and intellectually.”

    We adopted an infant in 2000. It was an international adoption, but we had to go through the local social worker to get blessed. Basically, it felt intrusive, belittling, and unfair. Meaning: I value fairness, privacy, and power-sharing. The adoption process left me longing for all of that.

  12. Kate June 17, 2014 at 3:03 pm #

    I’ve no experience with this, but my instinct is that, when adopting older children, your focus will be on “skill-acquisition” to begin with, anyway.

    You can try telling the caseworker that your long term goals are to raise children who are self-confident, discerning, and secure (all very free-range!) and that you intend to afford them responsibilities and freedoms as they learn skills and acclimate to your household.

    You may need to spend a lot of time nurturing attachment at first, so I think free-ranging is going to have to be something you slowly feel your way towards, not something really relevant right at first.

  13. semiuseless June 17, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    We adopted twin girls from Russia (back when that was possible). We just completed our last home study at the three year mark. The twins are 4.5 years old.

    “Free Range” as it is understood by the media will NOT be a point in your favor. The “we believe in safety” aspect IS a point in your favor.

    There is a lot of training that potential parents go through when adopting. Most of that emphasizes the need to actively parent these kids for an extended period of time. No school aged child will go through an adoption “unaffected.”

    Many of the kids in foster care are likely to have mothers who abused alcohol or drugs at some point in their life. If there is ANY admission of maternal alcohol or drug use, ask about FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) or about any fetal alcohol or drug exposure.

    FASD is an invisible physical disability. There is no cure, but there are tools and techniques to help the individual cope in life. Only about 20% of FASD people are able to live “fully independently” as adults.

    FASD is a brain injury that makes it VERY difficult for the individual to learn from consequences (cause and effect), and to apply that understanding to future situations. Impulse control is a huge issue. They have NO sense of “stranger danger” when meeting new people. Their trust levels are too high almost all the time.

    It is not uncommon for these kids to be able to repeat the rules verbatim, but fail to apply them in a “new” situation – they will often fail to generalize information given the smallest change in the situation.

    As an example, our girls and my wife visited her parents for a week earlier this year. The girls had “accidents” in their pullups on every outing (this is something that normally happens once or twice a month…not everyday). It wasn’t until the 4th or 5th day that the girls asked “…Mama, does this store have a bathroom like the one at home…” The girls did not generalize the knowledge that “…all stores have bathrooms…” so they tried to hold it, and failed. That is what living with FASD is like (on a good day).

    While I love the philosophy of “Free Range” parenting, it is impractical for us given the girls physical disability. Our girls require an “external brain” in order to navigate a typical day. We do strive to give them as much freedom as is appropriate given their developmental age and abilities.

    FASD covers a wide range of possible outcomes. Here is an short PSA…


    Here is outcome from the “good end.”


    Here is an outcome on the “bad end.”


  14. Liz June 17, 2014 at 3:24 pm #

    Play their games and jump through their hoops while the child is still a ward of the state. I say that to anyone, free-range or not. You have to play their game even if it seems unreasonable. As soon as the child is adopted, you can do whatever you want. But keep in mind that the free range philosophy might not work for an abused, traumatized child. They might have been “free ranged” to the point of severe neglect so what they need is to be closely parented, almost “re-parented” and treated like a baby for a short time, to build that bonding. Please don’t write your rules before you have even met your child. Each one has specific needs, and will not fit neatly into any parenting philosophy. I would absolutely be willing to over-protect a child who needs it, and maybe after a few years and attachment, you can ease into Free Ranging.

  15. Jenn June 17, 2014 at 5:00 pm #

    I have two bio kids, and an adopted daughter (the youngest) via foster care.

    We had no problems, but we didn’t label ourselves, we just described ourselves.

    I agree with the previous statements that you will have to do what works for the child. Our caseworker actually stressed that a lot. And since part of free range is knowing your children well enough to challenge them appropriately, that worked well.

    As a side note, we’ve grown very close to the birth mother, and at 2 years post adoption, still see her on a regular basis. Recently, our daughter was displaying some of her independance, directed at her birth mom. Birth mom rolled her eyes, and looked at me and said with a smirk, “She gets that from you.”

  16. Celeste June 17, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    Hi! I’m an adoptive parent (through foster care) to three wonderful kids. My advice is: don’t subscribe to any particular parenting style now, even though you personally might feel inclined to parent one way or another. Your approach will change and adapt to best serve your child’s special circumstances and needs. Your job with the social workers and inspectors prior to placement is to show them that you can provide a safe and loving home; not to promote your preferred philosophies. Best wishes.

  17. Filioque June 18, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    We have two adopted children, both of whom were adopted at older ages. I have to agree with most of the other comments so far, specifically playing ball with “the system” until your adoptions are truly final. Standing up for the free range way of parenting will likely get you nowhere. And as others have noted, your children may not be ready for free range parenting, depending on their circumstances and background. Trust your instincts.

  18. SKL June 18, 2014 at 10:55 am #

    Since you are interested in school-aged children, this should be easier for you than for me, at least in my state.

    I had to get my house approved as a “foster home” as part of the home study. This included a fire inspection (so I had to buy a fire extinguisher and draw a plan with 2 fire escapes from each room in the house). Not really a big deal. They also had a babyproofing checklist, but I told the social worker that I’d do that later in time for the kids to come home – I wasn’t sure when that would be. The social worker accepted that and never checked again.

    They asked about discipline and how I’d nurture the girls’ development and talk to them about their personal history. Really, what they are getting at is, have you given this some serious thought, and do you know how to think about it? If you seem like you haven’t really thought it through all the way (they asked me, for example, whether I’d tell my kids if they were a product of rape – that was a new thought for me), then they will talk about the things you need to think about. They aren’t actually telling you how to parent, although I was told that I wouldn’t pass if I declared an intention to spank. 😛 (So I didn’t mention spanking, I said I’d try x, y, z, and left it at that – not a lie. :))

    For school aged kids, they will probably want to know that you have thought through how to make sure they have the appropriate education, emotional support, supervision plan, social and physical outlets, inculcation of your value system, discipline, that the kids can approach you about stuff like sex and peer pressure, that you will be willing to seek outside help if anything seems beyond what you can manage on your own. For safety, they might want to know about pool and gun safety, if your dogs are OK with kids, and that here is an adult available to the child in case anything happens. You don’t have to promise to be up his butt all the time, just be careful how you word things. Say things like, I’ll keep the lines of communication open and work as a team to arrive at an appropriate balance of boundaries and freedom. 🙂

    In my state, there was no requirement of post-adoption visits, but my agency required this. The visits were not inspections, the social worker just went down a checklist of how the kids were doing and asked if we had any issues or needed any information on resources. She was always super nice and supportive. In fact, once I asked if something I’d done for discipline was OK and she mentioned that her husband works for CPS. She wouldn’t come out and say it was OK or not, but she kind of raised her eyebrows and I could see it was not on the “recommended” list, LOL, but nothing bad happened. 🙂

    Free range or not, be open to the very significant possibility that your kids are going to have adoption-specific problems, including a likelihood that their emotional age may be younger than their chronological age. You may in fact need to have very tight boundaries, depending on your individual child. Ultimately the best thing for your kid is whatever is best for *your* kid at that time. You don’t know what that is until you’ve lived with your kid for a while.

  19. SKL June 18, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    Not sure why but FRK apparently doesn’t like my comment that I tried to post. So I will try again.

    The social workers are not going to try to dictate your parenting style. They want to make sure you’ve thought through things like this in a mature way:

    – How will I meet my kids’ basic needs (including education and supervision as appropriate, physical and social outlets, being available to talk about sex and peer pressure…)?

    – How will I pass along my values?

    – How will I evaluate discipline options? (They won’t pass you if you say you *plan on* spanking or anything worse, at least in my state.)

    – How will I meet my kids’ adoption-related needs, including talking to them about their history, for better or worse?

    Be clear that you are going to respond to where your kid is at any given time. Be open to the fact that your kid may be at an emotional age that is much less than his physical age – and free ranging may not be at all what you planned for this child. Be open to seeking outside help if your child needs more than you can give him yourself.

    In my experience, the social worker was really supportive. After the adoption, she was only checking on whether the kids were on an upward trend. An important purpose of the post-adoption visits is that you can ask for support with tough situations.

  20. SKL June 18, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    Oops, now my first comment is showing too… Whatever!

  21. Rae June 18, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been said. I have one kid who was 5 at homecoming and another who was 2, they are 7 & 9 now.

    1. Do not say “free range”, just describe your style.

    2. Depending on the kid’s background you might not be able to parent exactly how you want. At the end of the day, their needs trump your philosophy, be prepared to grieve that a little.

    My 9 year old can walk to the store on his own, go for a bike ride and stay home alone for up to 1 hour. All 3 of these accomplishments were hard won, with lots of practice and ‘do overs’. He just doesn’t have the judgement or the life skills of a 9 year old who was raised in a capable family.

    Because of some of their past trauma our days are WAY more structured than would be healthy for an average kid. My kids raised themselves to a great degree prior to coming to me. My son was on his own for a good part of the day as a 5 year old. It wasn’t safe, bad things happened, and he learned that adults should never be counted on…he had to unlearn that and heal. I feel like a micro manage them, I hate that. But they need their world to be small and predictable to trust and feel safe and be successful, and slowly, slowly slowly, I work and loosening the leash.

    That said, the free range philosophy still benefits my kids. We all view increased independence as an accomplishment and a privilege.

    While we were practicing going to the corner store alone, my son shoplifted. Rather than decide he was a thief and could never be trusted, it was a setback, a sign that we were going a little too fast.

    A few weeks ago I let him stay home for 2 hours alone, he freaked out and started knocking on doors, he thought I wasn’t coming back. Thankfully a neighbor was home an called me, 2 hours is too long for him right now. He can’t “hold on” to the knowledge that I’m coming back for that long right now. I remind him that “I will always come back.” Those scars are deep for him.

    On the other hand both my kids have good problem solving skills and think on their feet. We have gotten separated in a crowds on numerous occasions and both kids have had the “sent-home-on-the-bus-by-accident-and-nobody-is-home” experience and handled it perfectly without trauma or panic. We had a plan, we talked about what to do if it happened, we practiced. So when my the 5 y.o. daughter got off the school bus and realized the house was empty, she knew what to do. When my son got lost at Disney, I think we were apart for all of 10 minutes.

    I think free range has still made me a better parent, but it’s all in context. Probably, if I’d given birth to a neuro-typical kid, that kid would have a lot more freedom and be a lot more independent at 9.

  22. SKL June 18, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    Rae, my daughter was 1 when she came home, but she also gets insecure like that at times. I ask her if I have ever left her and not come back as promised, and she says no, yet it’s not that easy to shake off.

    She will also see another kid without a parent and point it out like it’s a “problem.” Recently she saw a boy who looked at least 10, riding his bike down a residential sidewalk. She strongly felt he should have had an adult with him. Don’t ask me where she gets that – especially considering that I have sent her down our block with her bike on her own. She used to ask about that in story books too – where is the young character’s parents? How can he be doing xyz without an adult present? And when I suggest something new to her, half of the time she says “but __ could happen.” Totally different from when I was a kid and was happiest away from home/adults for hours and hours.

    So free-range isn’t a one-way decision. The kid needs to get truly comfortable with it or it can backfire.

  23. anonymous mom June 18, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    @SKL, I’m not sure that’s not free-range, though. I mean, if what we’re talking about is an alternative to fear-based parenting and trying to create a zero-risk environment, by instead allowing the child to do developmentally-appropriate things and thinking rationally about risk, I see nothing contrary to that about recognizing that certain activities may not be developmentally-appropriate for an individual child or situation.

    Forcing a child to do something they truly lack the skills (whether they be physical or emotional) to do or are truly not ready for is very different from denying a child the opportunity to do something they want to do and are able to do because of the parents’ irrational fear.

    My oldest has a tendency to be anxious. And, we live in an inner city neighborhood that does have its fair share of crime. So, those things factor into my parenting. He has a lot more freedom than many 10yos I know, whose parents basically won’t let them out of the backyard unsupervised, but probably less than many here, both because of his own choices and because of some genuine risks we need to consider due to where we live.

    But, then, I’m not a fan of adhering to any parenting philosophy. I was a gung-ho attachment parent when my first was born–I totally bought that I’d raise a horrible selfish monster incapable of empathy unless I immediately met his every need and kept him close to me at all times–and instead of having a securely attached, happy kid who was empathetic and able to self-soothe without fear, I ended up with a kid whose need for attention was a bottomless pit, who had no ability to self-soothe, and who could not stand to ever be alone. If I could do it all over again, I’d keep in mind that there is no magic formula for parenting and that all you can really do is make choices based on who you are, who your child is, and what you know to be true (rather than what you fear might happen).

  24. Yocheved June 18, 2014 at 12:48 pm #

    My daughter is adopted, and honestly, Free Ranging never came up in the conversation. They were much more concerned with our financial and emotional stability.

    Adopting is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever done in my life, so go for it!

  25. James A June 18, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Adoption is a joyful and life-changing expreience. But if you adopt from foster care, you MUST check the legal status of the child. Neither adoption agencies nor CPS will tell you whether the child is legally clear. And if the child is not, he/she won’t be able to work in most major career fields.

    See, the government keeps a secret list of disobedient children, and then uses that list to bar them from working decades later. The list is called the Child Abuse Central Registry. If a child mistreats another, and somebody calls CPS, the child gets put on the list and his/her future is in limbo.

    In Texas, some 40,000 children have been put on the list so far. And each day CPS adds 10 more children to the list. All it takes is an allegation to alter a child’s life forever.

    Before you adopt a child you must have your agency run a Central Registry check. Unless you ask, they won’t.

    For more information, this is our story:


  26. James A June 18, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Not all children offered up for adoption have a clear legal background…before you adopt, have a Central Registry check run on the child or you might end up in big trouble.


  27. baby-paramedic June 19, 2014 at 12:07 am #

    Australia is different, but, I think it would be the same in the US, that it is more important to talk about meeting the children’s needs rather than subscribing to a particular parenting style prior to even meeting the child.
    Sometimes freerange won’t initially work, especially for the older adoptee.