You Don’t Have To Age Out to Qualify

Today’s Story –

I was in foster care from the age of 5 until 9. I was adopted at 9. But I moved back in with my biological family and mom when I was about 10 or 11. Then, I was back in foster care from age 16 to18. Even if I had only been in foster care that once from 5-9, I would consider myself to be a former foster care youth. I remember my social worker clearly. I remember being moved from house to house because my older siblings fought to keep us all together, even though my brothers were “trouble makers”.

I remember one home making us shower outside with the water house instead of using the bathrooms inside to shower. Then, eventually being separated from my brothers, while my older sister and I stayed together, until they found another placement that would take all of us.

All of that happened to me in the first year of foster care.

Then, when they found the placement that would eventually adopt me. But one of my brothers was molested by a grown up, the family had adopted as a child. That led me to want to move back in with my biological family – after the adoption was finalized.

I don’t think it takes aging out to be considered a former foster care youth. I get how being adopted as an infant doesn’t really give you the voice to speak as a former foster care youth, mainly because while it involves trauma, these aren’t experiences you can describe first hand because you don’t actually remember them.

I’m not going to tell someone how to identify themselves. If foster care was some part of your own story, it’s just a part of it. I’m not going to say you are wrong for identifying however you identify.

Tolerance

After seeing this, I went looking for some background on Christianity and LGBTQ issues. I found this – Cultural backlash: Is LGBTQ progress an attack on Christianity? – from Washington University in St Louis Missouri. PS – FD is Foster Daughter. From that linked article –

“Many Christians have come to see themselves as being on the losing side of the culture wars,” said Clara L Wilkins, principal investigator and associate professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences. “Christians may perceive that an America where same sex marriage is legal is one in which they have lost their sway and are now victimized.

“This is especially common among conservative Christians, who also are more likely to believe that Christianity is a defining feature of being American. As a result, they see themselves as being at odds with LGBTQ individuals, who are perceived as having increasing social influence.”

The root causes and consequences of “zero-sum beliefs” or ZSBs— these are a belief that social gains for one group necessarily involves losses for the other – are most common among conservative Christians, and are shaped by their understandings of Christian values, the Bible and in response to religious institutions.

Christians saw the decrease of LGBTQ bias as corresponding to more bias against Christians. ZSBs are driven by symbolic threats, not realistic threats. White Christians are concerned recent social changes threaten their social influence, namely their ability to instill and enforce their notions of Christian values upon broader society — not realistic threats, such as loss of livelihood. Simply reminding white Christians about a changing cultural climate in which their influence is waning was sufficient to increase their perception of Christians’ victimization and perceived conflict with LGBTQ people. “The church is a strong moral authority with the potential to shape norms and attitudes toward sexual minorities like court rulings have shifted attitudes on same sex marriage,” the study authors wrote.

Momentous changes such as the Biden Administration’s appointment of Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay secretary in the presidential Cabinet and Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender federal official as well as the electoral win of Delaware Sen Sarah McBride (the first openly transgender person in that role) have sparked outrage by opponents. They argue that the growing acceptance of LGBTQ individuals impedes the ability of Christians to practice their faith — as if gains for one group necessarily involved losses for the other.

While the number of white evangelical Christians has decreased significantly in recent years — from 23% in 2006 to 14% in 2020, their political influence continues to grow. Mass media has enabled white evangelicals to disseminate their messages of Christian nationalism, culture wars and cultural grievances and political conservatism to a far-reaching constituency. The Human Rights Campaign predicted that this will be a record-setting year for anti-LGBTQ legislation with as many as 250 bills introduced in state legislatures in 2021 alone.

National Adoption Month and Teens

It’s that time of year again. Yes, November. National Adoption Awareness Month.

From Child Welfare dot gov – National Adoption Month is an initiative of the Children’s Bureau that seeks to increase national awareness of adoption issues, bring attention to the need for adoptive families for teens in the US foster care system, and emphasize the value of youth engagement. We have focused our efforts on adoption for teens because we know that teens in foster care wait longer for permanency and are at higher risk of aging out than younger children. Teens need love, support, and a sense of belonging that families can provide. Securing lifelong connections for these teens, both legally and emotionally, is a critical component in determining their future achievement, health, and well-being.

This year’s National Adoption Month theme is “Conversations Matter.” Incorporating youth engagement into daily child welfare practice can start with a simple conversation. Listen to what the young person has to say, what their goals are, and how they feel about adoption. Create an environment where they can be honest and ask questions. Youth are the experts of their own lives, so let them partner with you in permanency planning and make decisions about their life.

In 2019, there were over 122,000 children and youth in foster care waiting to be adopted who are at risk of aging out without a permanent family connection. Approximately one in five children in the U.S. foster care system waiting to be adopted are teens. Teens, ages 15-18, wait significantly longer for permanency when compared to their peers. Only 5% of all children adopted in 2019 were 15-18 years old. There is a high risk of homelessness and human trafficking for teenagers who age out of foster care.

More statistics from 2019 (the most recent year data is available) – of the 122,000 children and youth waiting to be adopted: 52% are male, 48% are female, 22% are African American, 22% are Hispanic, 44% are white, while the average age is 8 years old – 11 percent are between 15 and 18 years old.

The History of National Adoption Month –

In 1976, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis announced an Adoption Week to promote awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care.

In 1984, President Reagan proclaimed the first National Adoption Week. In 1995, President Clinton expanded the awareness week to the entire month of November.

The Damage Done By Addiction

It is a personal issue for me but people do sometimes recover. Just this morning I was reading an article by a woman who admitted the difficulty of recovering from the trauma of her past and four addictions. Today’s story –

I am a foster parent and have a one year old child in my home who I have had since she left the hospital. I have a good relationship with her parents, I think about as good as can be expected in this situation. We text frequently, exchange pictures, arrange visits outside of the court-mandated ones. They love her endlessly but are deep into struggles with addiction. Both have had a few stints where they go to treatment for a day or two (so, there does not appear to be a barrier with access to treatment) but do not stick with it. Addiction has been a long-time struggle for both parents.

Her case is very much still open and I am still trying to help them into treatment. But, it’s to the point where the department is asking about permanent placement options. The child has a relative (I think mom’s second cousin, not positive on the exact relationship) who lives about three hours away and is not in contact with the rest of the first family. Relative has said she would adopt if needed, but didn’t want to be the first choice. Parents were asked who they would want to adopt and they said me. I had not talked to them about this and didn’t know it was being asked, so I don’t think they felt pressured. If we get to that point, I would try to facilitate a relationship that’s beyond “open” – i.e., I would invite them to her activities and holidays and would support them seeing her with gas cards and paying for activities and the like. I know many open adoptions end up closed, but to the extent that you can believe an internet stranger, please try to believe that I would not do that.

She also has four half siblings and cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents (none placement options, unfortunately) in the area where I/her parents live. Under these circumstances, what’s the “best” placement option? (Understanding that the actual best option is with her parents). I’m a foster parent who yells at other foster parents about interfering with kin placements, but it seems like parents should get a say here. How does one weigh the benefits of living with a member of your first family vs living outside of your family but having the option to see them regularly? (I know guardianship would be preferable, but the department won’t do that – so, the options are adoption or not adoption for this case).

First of all, straight up, I would NOT want to go to a relative that didn’t want me.

One response seems realistic to me as well – I would adopt if left no other legal choice. If you do allow her parents to see her when they are able, then I think ultimately it’s what best for the girl, if her parents can’t find their way out of addiction and the state is pushing the issue. A similar response from an adoptee was –  If I was the little one in question, and guardianship was not an option, I would want you to adopt me over the distant relative and keep me in contact with my close family. The deciding factor, for me, is that the distant cousin doesn’t want to be the first option, and that is bound to come across to the adoptee, especially if times get tough when they are older. It’s hard enough to know that your biological parents didn’t want to/couldn’t raise you, but when you start getting the same message from multiple sources, it can really compound the trauma.

Someone else writes – Considering the addiction issues, this child needs a home. If there was NO other option but you vs the cousin, I’d prefer you because you live near her family/parents. But, closing this child off from her family at anytime and getting all “she’s MINE” – no, nope, nada. Being a supportive and caring adoptive mom with the child’s mental and psychological health front and center – providing therapy as needed throughout this child life for issues that will pop up – remembering always that you are not this child’s mother….period. I can be on board for you to provide a stable home for this child.

Finally this from a voice of experience – I was adopted at the age of 9. Both of my parents are addicts. My adoptive parents said they would never keep me from my family. True to their word, they didn’t. When my mom was clean and I asked to go back and live with her, they let me. Even paid my mom child support that wasn’t mandated, just to help out. She relapsed and my adoptive dad actually gave me the choice to stay in foster care and finish high school or for him to come and pick me up, since legally he was my parent. I chose to stay in high school in order to stay near my siblings, instead of moving across the country. If you are really going to keep it open, with access to the child’s family, I would say you are the better option than a long distance blood relative who doesn’t speak to the family. I just hope that you always give her parents grace and don’t cut off communication when you are mad. Especially if the child wants to keep that communication open.

Adoption Is NOT Needed

Today’s story –

I’m tired of having to explain this to prospective adopters. Adoption is NOT needed to give a child a “good” life.

I am Latina, and in my culture, aunts and uncles as well as grandparents step up to help raise each other’s children. Even in cases where there is no poverty nor struggle. My parents were middle-class average Joe’s, yet my aunt and grandma still raised me. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

I am not an adoptee nor mother but I am a foster parent. My job is to help reunite infants, toddlers, and grade schoolers with their natural families. I get a lot of hate from other foster parents and adoptive parents for saying this, but adoption simply isn’t necessary.

I became a close family friend to some of the families that I have helped to be reunited, and they are all doing so well. All they needed was a little bit of help. I will go as far as to hire a lawyer to fight family separation. I love these kids, and what’s best for them is to be with their own families. Imagine if we had a mentorship-type program where women helped struggling mothers parent their own child, instead of taking their child away from them. Friends don’t let friends give away their babies.

Also, that $30,000-60,0000 that is spent to adopt an infant would go a long way to helping these parents to keep and raise their own children. I have yet to see a mother who genuinely did not want her child, just a mother who is struggling or has low self-esteem. If that is the case, then build her up. No excuses why you cannot do this. In lots of cultures, like mine, everyone helps to raise each other’s kids without anyone taking them away their own parents and erasing their identity.

The Obstacles Are Daunting

I was reading through a story this morning. No idea of the reasons this young father is incarcerated but he seems to care about his child in foster care. I’ll do my best to sum up the situation and share someone else’s personal experience in a similar situation.

A baby girl was placed with a foster family. The father won’t be released for another 4 years. The mom has never shown up for court dates. The father was forced to since he is in the state’s control. The foster parents were petitioning the state for a ruling of abandonment on behalf of the little girl in their care. In court, this father said that he did want his daughter. He claims he has previously sent a list of family members who might be willing to care for her until he is released. The caseworker is now doing background checks on his family members to determine if any of these are suitable to care for his daughter until he is available. This foster parent is angry because this little girl has been with her since birth. So she claims that placing this little girl with anyone else will be traumatizing because her foster parents are the only parents she has ever known. She actually says, “I pray that none of his family are suitable.”

The response from experience – my dad was in jail when my mom lost her rights and the state REFUSED to keep me in foster care till he got out (less than a yr sentence). My dad was so mad about it he ended up flipping out in court and getting more time added onto his sentence because he threatened the lives of everyone in the court room once he learned they were forcing against his rights. My dad got remarried a few years after he got out and ended up having 6 more kids that he still has custody of. He and his new wife kept a portrait of me hanging in their bedroom my entire childhood but I never knew that because I had a closed adoption. My adoptive parents would speak badly about my dad for being in jail. They said he was violent, unhinged, etc etc. I definitely get some of my zest from him!! He was never the psychopath they made him out to be. Just a desperate young dad in a bad situation. He swears to this day that the state kidnapped his daughter. Fathers “rights” are hardly exist. The state could wait until this dad can get out of jail and acquire the stability to take care of his daughter. If there are other family members willing to help out, then great! The state should have been looking for them from the beginning!

If the state has someone in custody, they shouldn’t be hard to track down to discuss custody arrangements and extended family.

Fostering Babies Is Difficult

One of the hardest things to do was to let them go home to their natural parents but that’s what we as foster parents have signed up for. It’s what foster families are suppose to do. But the urge to parent and fall in love with babies is a strong one, even if you didn’t birth them.

A foster parent writes – Today’s the day I realized I can’t do this. Most of the 20+ foster kids we have had were teens who stayed with us until they decided otherwise. This is the first time we have fostered babies and today I realized this will be the placement that breaks me.

I went to the hospital and picked the twins up 2 weeks after they were born, my home was their first home. They have had 3 visitations from their biological parents, who are trying to get them back. I have had them for 4 months now and my family is the family they know.

Today the twins had a doctor’s appointment and their biological parents showed up. No one knew they were coming, so it was just me with the parents and the babies. During the appointment the babies cried and reached for me but the biological parent wasn’t having it and would try to soothe them. It was like watching a stranger try to comfort my own child.

Today, I wanted nothing more than to hold these babies and tell them it would all be ok and today I was told I couldn’t. Today was the day it really set it that they won’t stay with me. Today’s the day my heart shattered. Today is the day that being a foster parent sucks.

First things first. This foster parent was immediately given a reality check.

What got to me was her saying “they were reaching for me!” Babies don’t reach at 16 weeks…my daughter can barely control her arm movements yet. It’s so delusional!!

My daughter is 6 months and I didn’t even catch that but yes! She didn’t start reaching for her dad and I until this month.

I was thinking that too! That’s so little to be reaching!

Babies at 16 weeks know who mom is instinctively and recognize caregivers but they don’t even show a preference.

The only one who was ‘reaching’ was the delusional foster parent.

And well . . . I’m sure it must have been a painful experience for their birth mother too. Let’s hope that whatever agency is handling the return of the twins to their parents will help you and the parents to work out a transitioning period during which they can come back to feeling “at home” with their parents again. It takes lots of generosity of spirit by all the adults concerned, but it is possible–and possible to do well, for the twins’ benefit. (Said from experience.)

Our infant fosterlove was crying and crying in her mom’s arms at a social services meeting. So instead of just letting the baby scream I asked the mom if I could help. I showed her how her daughter liked being held like a football and bounced. Then I handed the baby back and had her comfort her. I reminded her that she will figure that all out once she goes home. She thanked me and it led to us having a good relationship while her daughter was with us. We had her until she was 14 months.

Life Skills and Art

Mark Bradford’s Art + Practice with Foster Youth

Co-founded last year by artist Mark Bradford, philanthropist and collector Eileen Harris Norton, and social activist Allan DiCastro, Art + Practice (A+P) “encourages education and culture by providing life-skills training for foster youth in the 90008 ZIP code as well as free, museum-curated art exhibitions and moderated art lectures to the community of Leimert Park.”

Art + Practice is seeking to enrich the neighborhood and change lives with a focus on the community’s foster youth.

In California, there are more than 55,000 youth in foster care, the largest foster care population in the nation, according to A+P. An untold number of youth transition out of foster care without the resources for higher education and the skills for employment, leaving them susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder and vulnerable to homelessness and incarceration.

Bradford has responded to what he calls a crisis in the foster care system by partnering with the The RightWay Foundation, which serves current and emancipated foster youth. Together, the organizations are providing job training and mental health services to local youth in a creative and educational environment.

“They need jobs, places to live and then we can talk about everything else,” says Bradford. He further explains why he decided to take up the cause: “I feel like artists are outsiders for one reason or another and in many ways foster youth through no volition of their own are outsiders,” Bradford says. “So I thought well one outsider group to another, maybe we can create a platform, and maybe we can create a conversation.”

Mark Bradford has been named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential Persons for 2021. That is how I learned about his focus on youth transitioning out of foster care.

Why One Woman Chooses To Foster A Child

Here’s an insight into just one woman’s reasons and situation –

Hi! I’m a kinship adoptive mom, domestic infant adoption mom, foster teen adoption mom, and current foster parent. I also went through 30 years of trauma with an abusive parent and should have been removed – but it was never reported… It’s a journey, but I am healing. I truly believe the trauma/pain I have gone through has helped me be a better parent and be able to better relate to our kids.

This was in answer to a suggestion that the standards for being a foster parents should include a college degree. This woman did not feel that would necessarily lead to better outcomes. So, she said – Maybe instead of a college degree, it could be specifically initial and ongoing intensive trauma training? I don’t feel that we got nearly enough training – even though it was a lot. I’ve had to read many books and listen to a ton of podcasts to help me understand/help with trauma in our kids. I love the emphasis on doing whatever we can to help with family preservation – I do that now and have in the past with each of our kids as well. I think the drug tests/psych tests make sense. Sad to think it may be needed.

I work full time (I have my own company) and that pays for all of our bills as well as extra things like vacations etc. (note I do not have a college degree). I really enjoy working outside the home, and feel I am a better mom (just speaking for myself) not being there 24/7. We do pay for childcare for our youngest, and the other kids are old enough to be home alone when needed. I will say I have a very supportive and domestic spouse – which helps everything run semi-smooth. 

We use the reimbursement we receive (we get monthly payments for 2 out of our 4 kids) towards strictly expenses for the kids (not our utility bills/mortgage etc).

That said, I realize some kids need extra care (young, or high needs) and caregivers getting paid for the job (and not having another career) might make better sense. Just depends.

I’ve been learning a lot from hearing the different perspectives in a group that looks at the realities of adoption and foster care. May each one of you find healing, love and purpose for the pain you’ve been through.

Anxiety For The Unknown

Today’s topic is stepping into what’s next when aging out of foster care. I don’t know how that feels but I have stepped into the unknown myself, to leave a dangerous romantic relationship with only a suitcase and $500 and drop myself into the city of St Louis where I knew no one and had not job waiting for me. It is empowering to face such great challenges and survive through them, so I am certain this young woman will be fine. In fact, immediately, from my all things adoption and foster care came lots of offers of support.

Right away came some simple advice with which I agree 100% – Make plans but try to stay in the moment, worry comes from living in the future.

The young lady admits – Everything seems to be slowly working itself out. I do have a lot of anxiety about the unknown. Many of us do but somehow we manage to muddle through. And that is what I found as well. Things begin to fall into place as you take the next logical step forward.

Do you have monetary needs ? Two possibilities were mentioned – Dream Makers project and One Simple Wish (both are said to be on Instagram, I’m not, so you’ll have to look for those if you are and are in need).

You can make a great life for yourself. I’m rooting for you to find that out for yourself. If you are in the Bridges program, they will pay your rent and utilities until you’re 21.

I know that many states do have programs to assist young people aging out of foster care. Many help with finding an apartment and a job, other skills a young adult will need to survive. For many, I think simply the huge shift from no responsibility to a LOT of responsibilities for their own welfare, can be scary. In this young woman’s case it includes her young son. Adding a dependent, which I didn’t have, certainly makes the situation more difficult.

More good advice – start out with making do and then improve things a little at a time. Do all of the things that you can for free, while you can.