A “Fair” Way of Encouraging Foster Care Adoption?

by Luanne

Have you ever been to an adoption fair?  If you haven’t, maybe you’ve seen one on the television news.  You know those tear-jerker short stories they run to make you feel good about watching their network?  It would be one of those–designed to make soft hearts feel that something is being done for foster children looking for forever homes.

But are they a good idea?  I’m sure there are pros and cons.  It’s good to encourage prospective parents to consider adopting older children and sibling groups. Nothing like having someone in your face to press home the fact that it might be possible to make the lives of these kids better.

I get an image, though, of the puppies and kitties which are brought to Petsmart on Saturday morning to find them homes.  That glass case of tiny kittens curled up together is an adorable sight, but look closely, and the cats are overwhelmed and frightened by what’s going on.  They get picked up and put down and there are swarms of strangers looking them over.

But at least cats aren’t being gawked at and handled by their own kind.  I can’t even imagine what it’s like for a human child to go through this experience.  After all, most of them are old enough to understand that they are being inspected and evaluated by strangers.  Their deepest hopes and fears are stimulated by the event.

The Christian Science Monitor published an article by Alicia Morga entitled “Adoption fairs are speed dating for kids. Families need ‘arranged marriages’ instead” a couple of years ago (March 4, 2011).  In the article, Morga describes her own experience with an adoption fair.

When I was ten years old in the early 80s, I participated in an adoption fair. My family of thirteen – two parents and eleven children – was dismantled when my youngest brother died of malnutrition. I became a ward of the state of California at the age of three. By the age of ten, I was a veteran of several foster homes and, with my options dwindling, was residing at a group home – a sort of juvenile hall with the décor of a dentist’s office – where they stick the “hard” cases.

Being Hispanic and older, my stock was depreciating fast, so my social worker lined me up with about 20 other kids at an adoption fair held at the Los Angeles Arboretum.

There among the trees and in full view of the Queen Anne Cottage, at the time also the backdrop for the popular television show, “Fantasy Island,” a carnival atmosphere was devised. There were popcorn, games of chance, and games of skill. Couples and families looking to adopt milled about. Ricardo Montalbán, the star of “Fantasy Island,” was rumored to be making an appearance.

The goal of the fair was clear to me, even if it wasn’t explicitly stated; I was supposed to sell myself. I stood next to a tree and did my best to appear good.

For a while no one approached me, and I watched other kids attempt to entice the Adopters with strong throws or pretty smiles. The fair encouraged mixing by holding games of leapfrog and partnered up Adopters with foster kids. Finally realizing, similar to a game of musical chairs, that parents were being snatched up, I waded in and leap-frogged a woman while launching a charm offensive on her husband.

I was all good manners and lots of smiles. The husband was brown like me, so I stood close to him hoping he would see himself in me and she, being of a lighter hue, would see what she liked in him in me. We made small talk while I walked the fine line between being pleasing and being obsequious, being engaging and being obnoxious, being energetic and being frantic. We spent about 40 minutes together.

The couple called my social worker a few days later and expressed interest in adopting me. Technically I was given a choice about whether I wanted to accept them as a placement. I say technically, because it’s hardly a choice when your social worker is telling you to get with the program or you’re going back to the group home.

Before I knew it and before the adoption was finalized, as is typical, I was moved into their house. It was pretty clear early on that things weren’t going well. There were red flags. But much like when you move in with a boyfriend, breaking up becomes harder to do. Plus, in the immortal words of my social worker, this was “my last chance.”

Turns out I “chose” adoptive parents who were wholly incapable of handling a ten year-old stranger in their home, much less their lives. I was a child, but I had already had a whole history – one that didn’t square with their expectations for a cute young girl, but was more akin to a distrustful, jaded old maid. It was a choice for me that resulted in some very difficult years until I turned 18 and moved out.

I’m not sure what the answer is because obviously it’s important to find homes with loving adoptive parents for children who need them and want them.

What do you think about adoption fairs?  Are they a positive development, a necessary evil or an evil which should be abolished?


  1. I am quite surprised as a person who is going through the steps to adopt from DHS that I have never heard of this before. I’m not sure either. My first response is that it would be nice to interact with kids in a fun environment but my gut is saying no way because as Alicia says, the kids know what is going on. It almost feels dirty. Like “shopping” for kids like men do in sex-trafficing documentaries where they line women up and choose the ones they like. But I wouldn’t say no one should have/participate in them, just don’t think I will.

    • Thanks for your great comment, princessofowasso. In Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s book Three Little Words the family that ultimately adopted Ashley did see Ashley in a similar event. Ashley didn’t notice them, if I recall correctly. So that seems that it wasn’t the type of event that Alicia Morga’s event was. But where does one draw the line?!

  2. corinne trowbridge says:

    Heartbreaking and yet there must be some good outcomes, right?

  3. I think I’m not that comfortable about this idea…but I understand the reasons for it being done. I feel kids and parenting are too precious to be “put” in a fair. Well, this is just me. I guess I’m being traditional.

  4. What???? This still happens? I’ve heard of fairs where kids’ profiles are presented, but to put the kids through that trauma??? I don’t think that’s the best thing for them.

  5. I’m not a fan of these fairs, and I don’t think they’re OK. When I lived in NH, the radio station would run ads about an adoption fair at Fenway Park every year. I wonder how many kids had to be there for them to fill up the field at Fenway. It seemed skeevy to me.

    • Yeah, I didn’t mention this in the post because it’s not a good analogy for a lot of reasons, but I can’t help but think of slave auctions. The idea of humans being selected by strangers. It seems like objectifying the kids, although the intentions of most of the adults are good, I think.

  6. I wonder how the actual foster kids displayed in the fair feel about this. Do they see it as an opportunity or, like you said, another way to diminish one’s self-worth. I think how the kids feel about it should be the most important consideration

  7. I think BAAF holds adoption activity days which have had some success. The key is in the preparation and support. Perhaps the gains outweigh the risk for some children.

  8. Foster/Adoptive Mom says:

    I think your eyes need to be opened… Our current FOSTER CARE system is BROKEN! The first goal of FOSTER Care is REUNIFICATION… MANY MANY times, kids are given back to birth families, and these families have NO business in the parenting business (think drugs, prostitution, sexual/physical/mental abusers). While “adoption fairs” seem kind of harsh, the whole system needs revamped

    • This post wasn’t meant to be an analysis of the foster care system. It was meant to stimulate discussion about the adoption fairs. Maybe you would like to write a guest post about why you think the foster care system is broken. That’s a different topic.

  9. This is heart breaking and in my view should not be allowed. These children have so many complex needs, asking them to hide these and sell themselves sickens me. How can this be in the best interest of anyone the adopter or adoptee?

    Thank you again for providing an interesting post for the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO x

    • I saw on twitter that you probably don’t have these fairs. Foster care is one of those subjects where nobody can seem to come up with a solution that works well. Thanks for having WASO and including our blog!

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