Changing How We Talk (and Think) About Adoption and Foster Care

Supply of Stories

Take a second and Google “adoption videos.” Or “foster care blogs.” Or “birth mom interviews.” In seconds you’ll come across blogs, videos, and lectures about adoption and foster care. You’ll hear from young parents who turned to adoption as “Plan A,” naming it as their first choice method for growing their family. You’ll read the confessions of twentysomething birth moms and dads, acknowledging the joy in knowing their baby has a wonderful family, and the pain of missing their child’s first steps. You’ll listen to parents talk about the struggles of transracial adoption in a world full of prejudice. You’ll find the blogs of foster parents who are honest about the heartbreak of nurturing kids who have been abused. You’ll become invested in the stories of young adults who age out of foster care and recognize the cards are stacked against them, but see this as a reason to celebrate small victories. You’ll witness adoptees embrace their adoptive families and long for lost biological relatives.

Across the board, these young writers and speakers agree that adopting and fostering are messy, gut-wrenching, and difficult yet, when rooted in respect and love, they are beautiful, fulfilling, and, most of all, worth it.

However, in the not too distant past, these stories weren’t easy to find. Adoption wasn’t widely talked about, and kids who were adopted or fostered were falsely stereotyped as unwanted, destined to be troublemakers, and too damaged to ever succeed. These dangerous myths still circulate, but we now have the data and personal testimonies to defy them.

Changing the Narrative

What allowed the narrative about adoption and foster care to change? It’s important to recognize the work of social worker Marietta E. Spencer, who introduced a new adoption vocabulary. She encouraged us to leave behind words like “abandoned” and “real parents” in favor of sensitive terms like “placed” and “adoptive” or “birth parents.” Positive terminology empowers people in the adoption and foster care community to tell stories without perpetuating stereotypes. But it’s the way in which we use this vocabulary that makes a difference.

In the age of social media and blogging, people involved in foster care and adoption began sharing their stories in droves. Many of these storytellers are young, as are most social media users, and post in the form of casual Instagram captions and meandering blog posts, but their everyday honesty is starting to change how we talk (and think) about these topics.

There can be no stereotypes about these adoptive or foster families, because anyone who listens to them will soon realize that each family is different.

These stories admire adopted and foster kids’ successes, and are frank about their struggles, helping readers see them as kids first. Not foster kids, or adopted kids, but simply kids. These conversations include birth parents, allowing us to begin a more truthful discussion, because birth parents face their own struggles and stereotypes, and their pain, joy, and love for their children is real and valid. These stories honor a teen who finds it difficult to bond with his adoptive family but has just given his new dad a hug for the first time, or a foster mom who rejoices in a birth family reunited while crying over the loss of a child she had loved for months.

When we meet adoptees, adoptive parents, or foster families in person or online, we realize they’re a lot like our own families, and a lot like us. They’re not perfect or broken. They’re just people.

These stories are what’s changing the way we talk, and think, about adoption. Because they never shy away from the fact that being part of the adoption and foster care community is hard. But in the same breath they affirm: it’s so worth it.

Sharing Your Story

Is adoption or foster care part of your story?

You can change how we talk and think about these topics. Speak out, in person or online. Be honest about the hard parts, and share the joy of the beautiful moments. If you’re a member of the Arms Wide family, consider sending your story to our Development and Marketing Coordinator, Melissa Daigneault, at and you could be spotlighted on our website.

About The Author

As the Marketing Intern, Isabel creates web content and social media posts to uplift and engage our Arms Wide community. She’s a senior English major at the University of St. Thomas and hopes to teach middle school after graduation.

The Arms Wide team feels very lucky to have Isabel in our Marketing Department this summer!