Poverty Is Not A Good Reason

The question was asked – Should poverty be a reason to remove children from their families?

Let’s be clear – the stipends the families get to care for children that are not their own biological offspring are more than large enough to help take the child’s original, natural family get out of poverty. This is misplaced societal priorities. It is actually less expensive to help the child’s family than to pay for foster care, not to mention the trauma to the child involved.

Poverty is seen by our society as a moral failure when it is in fact most often a sign that someone is being exploited by employers who don’t want to pay a livable wage. So, poverty is NOT a moral failing or a sign of unfit parents. That is a sign of a family who needs resources and support. No one should be having their family ripped apart because of poverty. Poverty is not a crime but not helping people who need support is. We shouldn’t punish families due to a system that refuses to help them, despite having the means to do so.

One woman shares her personal experience – When I had my case it was simply due to poverty. My husband lost his job and we lost our home, so they took my son for 6 months. I’ve met other people who didn’t get as lucky as we did and never got their kids back. The stipend they paid his caretakers would have easily gotten us a cheap 1 bedroom apartment and saved us all 6 months of trauma.

The saddest part is that many Americans still believe that cash welfare exists (almost without exception, it does NOT), and they rail against the imagined “Welfare Queen” fabricated by Ronald Reagan 30+ years ago. It’s every family for their own selves here, and the most insidious part is that many people don’t even know it. If you make any upward progress in your income, the system disproportionately takes support away from you. It makes it very hard to get anywhere, because getting ahead can actually put you behind. 

The thing about systems is there is no humanity in them. Take a part time job and earn $500/month, and you would lose $800/month in food stamps. It’s a system that punishes people for working hard and then, turns around and calls the same people lazy.

It’s been proven that all a woman needs is $800 and access to the right support agencies in order to keep her baby. So how is it necessary that some couples to pay upwards of $40,000 to adopt another woman’s baby ? Sadly, it’s capitalism – the adoption industry makes billions of dollars in revenue.

Follow the money. The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 is how states receive federal monies that they then give to foster carers and adoptive families. This is where the push to remove children comes from. The federal government gives states big money for every child in foster care. This money is simply not available for family preservation or reunification.

There is some good news on the horizon. Some states are trying new ideas. Hopefully, their results will be positive and lead to better programs for families. Change is challenging. Kudos to any state that is open to new and better options for struggling families. The government does need to put more importance on family preservation than it does for paying adoption incentives.

Why Is Adoption So Common Here ?

It’s a known fact that other countries have very few adoptions annually. Some as few as 100-300. This is vastly lower than the US obviously. One of the main contributing factors is the better social programs in those countries.  We don’t have that in the US.  Other countries focus on helping families stay together.

I do believe that if we provided families with what they needed, like some of these other countries do, the percentage of parents losing their children would be significantly lower.  Domestic infant adoption would basically cease to exist.

What needs to change for there to be fewer adoptions overall ?

Some thoughts in answer to that question . . .

Universal healthcare and an adequate minimum wage.  Readily available, affordable childcare for working families.  Both generous paid maternity and paternity leave. Paid vacation time which allows for families to create happy memories (I had that in my 50s and 60s era childhood). A good educational system.  Just the basic stuff I grew up believing this country provided (even if it wasn’t actually the truth, which I now understand in maturity).

I do believe that if we actually supported families, the adoption rate might drop 80%.  I do believe the vast majority of adoptions are caused by poverty or I would imagine if we actually supported all moms, it would reduce it by at least 80%. I do believe the vast majority of adoptions are caused by poverty or religion based coercion utilizing shame to get young women to give up their child.

The nature of capitalism is such, that society won’t do these things to keep families thriving.  It isn’t that we can’t, if the tax structures were in place to raise taxes on the wealthy.  Many people in our society have bought the Republican line about Trickle Down Economics.  The belief that if we help the 1% have more, they will help the rest of us do better too. That has never proven a reality – plain and simple.

Until we as a society decide that every citizen is worthy of a good quality of life, broken families will continue to be way too common.

Case in point – Australia.  They don’t have an exorbitant income tax, but they do have universal health care, subsidized childcare, parental leave, sick leave, a minimum wage etc. Support payments are available to family members who take on caring roles. So do the UK and New Zealand.

If one looks at the number of children adopted each year in Australia, the number is about 300.  That’s ALL children who are adopted from infants to teens. They do not have an adoption “market” (yes, it is a BIG $$$ business in the US).  Taxes in Australia may be higher than in the US but they know that they are getting plenty of services in return.

Sadly, the problem here in the US is entrenched inequality and cultural bigotry.  Many countries outside of the US have much better social programs – most EU countries, Canada, Switzerland and Australia.  Knowing this, it is pretty amazing that this country won’t do better.  We are the richest nation in the world, but most of our money goes into the pockets of our richest citizens.  America is the country with the most billionaires in the world.

It is way past time for a change. That change requires accessible, affordable family planning (birth control and terminations), no private for profit adoption agencies and an end to the manipulation and coercion (Christian) of expectant mothers.

Sadly, adoption has become so ingrained in the American worldview as a means to getting a child that our society is hostile to the idea of children staying with who they were born to. It is all about who has money and who doesn’t.  Anyone with the financial means who wants a child is basically able to, in effect, buy one from someone who doesn’t have the financial means to help their family stay together.  Money is the driver of the for profit adoption complex. Sadly, given all I have shared above, I don’t see any of it changing any time soon.  I wish I could be more optimistic about it.

How Poverty Affects Adoptions

I don’t know if anyone has done a study on the percentage of children given up for adoption due to simple poverty (and poverty is not simple, I realize this).  I know it was a factor in both of my grandmothers losing custody of my parents and it was certainly a factor in my losing custody of my daughter.  Divorce and lack of child support left me desperate enough to temporarily leave my daughter with her paternal grandmother.  That ended up with her staying with her dad and a step-mother for the remainder of her childhood.  It was a factor in my sister losing custody of her daughter – she was denied government assistance because she was living with my parents during her pregnancy.  Therefore, because they didn’t want financial responsibility for my sister and her child, they pressured her to surrender her daughter to adoption.  This is all in only my own family of birth.

Someone asked – Do you believe that financial illiteracy is the reason people are poor and that programs teaching life skills like checking, bank accounts, and savings would work to eliminate poverty ?  While these skills are useful for any maturing adult, I don’t think they would eliminate poverty. Rich people have bigger safety nets. Financial illiteracy is not the reason people are poor and there are rich people who don’t know how to manage their money as well.

Someone answered the question – why are people poor ? With this – Capitalism. Rich people exploit others to gain wealth, keep money/land/resources for themselves, create systems that work to their advantage (and poor people’s disadvantage), pass it on to their kids who in turn use their wealth to get richer. Scarcity mindset is real and in my experience rich people are the most paranoid about losing any wealth. There is more than enough to take care of each other but our system doesn’t by choice. Some people think “if only poor people managed their money, they could accumulate wealth.” This completely misunderstands how wealth is acquired and horded in this country.

Generational and systemic poverty plague the poor. How can you climb a ladder in a system built to make the rich richer and keep the poor poor ? Our economic system is built upon the 1% wanting to make that difference bigger every day.  How can anyone achieve socioeconomic upward mobility when your grandparents were poor.  Therefore, your parents had to sacrifice an education and instead find work to support themselves and their families.  Then their children end up in the exact same situation. The deck is simply stacked against the impoverished.  This tends to become a *major* generational trend.  Even assistance is created in such a way that it keeps the poor poor.

Case in point – Medicaid and Food Stamps. As soon as a person gets a non-minimum wage job, they lose  their benefits.  Without these, health care and groceries are significantly more expensive than slightly above minimum wage will cover. The result ?  You’ve either got a person making $20/hour, but barely making ends meet if at all.  Or a person without resources and access to food and healthcare, simply because they would rather be self-supporting.

One mother wrote – I gave up my first two kids to adoption because I was broke.  I didn’t know how much help shelters could be.  I kept my third child thanks to a shelter and I got on my feet.  I now have a place of my own for us to live in.  I wish I would have known how to keep my children before.

I do believe as a society we can do better than we have been doing.  I don’t know how we get there.  If we supported families adequately, children could remain where they want to be – in the family they were born into.