National Coalition for Child Protection Reform

I ended up here because of the mention of CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates. I wondered if there was anything of concern about what they do and found this organization – the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR). My illustration came from their blog and I also read this – “the Tampa Bay Times has discovered that maybe all those children don’t need to be in foster care after all!” in the blog from 2018 right below that Christmas themed graphic.

In fact, from so much that I have read, many children are often removed from their parents for no worse of a crime than living in poverty. The NCCPR is working to help America’s vulnerable children by changing public policy concerning child abuse, foster care, and family preservation. Truly this looks like an organization I could feel good about promoting.

The NCCPR advocates for systemic change. There are many links and a blog at their website. They note that a question they get all the time is “How can I help change the ‘child welfare’ system ?” Often people ask how they can help fix the system because of a personal experience.  But every personal experience is different. NCCPR has 2 publications that outline specific ways to fix child welfare and model systems to emulate. Doing Child Welfare Right focuses largely on improving child welfare services and changing financial incentives.  Civil Liberties Without Exception focuses on reforms to bolster due process for families. There are MORE suggestions here – How You Can Help Reform Child Welfare.

Thinking About Adopting ?

A woman writes in my all things adoption group –

I’m not sure anyone cares about validation but I guess the administrators can decide. I just wanted to say thank you. I joined the group like many do, I was interested in adoption and really just putting a toe in the water. I waited my read only period. I went through the “wtf are these people talking about, anyone who adopts is a Saint”. Then I went through the “uh oh, is everything I know about the world even right?” Then I went through trying to explain this to my husband which didn’t go well. I’m getting ready to leave the group. Adoption is completely off the table and I’ve set up time to volunteer at my local teen pregnancy center.

Being a human is a wild thing. Thanks for being vulnerable and doing emotional labor. You really are impacting the world.

Edited to Add: I’ll gladly stay! I hadn’t thought about it but would be happy to stay and help where I can.

She was not the only one, soon others were chiming in. The one below was NOT the only one to express similar sentiments. This is also why I write this blog because I can reach others not in such a group or with such aspirations but who are uninformed about adoption trauma.

I was a Former Hopeful Foster-Adoptive Parent because of white saviorism. This group opened my eyes on so many fronts – I honestly feel like I see the whole world differently. I’ve learned so much about racism, classism, and ableism. The adoptees and former foster youth who share their stories are the smartest wisest people I’ve had the privilege of listening to. I am immensely thankful you allow people not in the triad to be transformed by this group. I have completely changed my behavior in the real world. I will never again speak about adoption as anything other than trauma. I talk to my friends also interested in foster care about why the child welfare system needs to be abolished and rebuilt, not changed from the inside bullshit. I can’t believe at one time I was willing to provide my home to a child in need but not the resources to their family so they could stay together. I find that incredibly effed up now. I am working on my CASA training so I can help get kids back home and prevent unnecessary adoption from foster care.

The Rev Keith C Griffiths (deceased adoption scholar and activist) quote exploded my brain: “Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.”

And Paul Sunderland’s theory about developmental trauma caused by a newborn being separated from their birth mother. The trauma of not growing up with genetic mirrors, not knowing one’s medical history or having legally falsified identity documents. I had no idea about these things because I had never centered adoptees’ experiences in my perspectives. This group has truly transformed my outlook on the world !

Parentification

This was a new term for me and came out of one of the stories I read recently conveyed by a foster parent. Here’s the story –

I am currently fostering a 14 year old. They were removed because of trauma from a family member who is not their mom but who still lives with their mom. Mom refuses to ask this person to leave or to move into a different apartment, but is otherwise doing what is asked of her to work towards reunification. Today this kid told me they really want to be reunified, which makes perfect sense. I’m worried because this seems unlikely unless mom starts believing them and takes steps to cut their perpetrator out of her life. How do I support them? If you were in their shoes, what would you want from a foster caregiver? I’m also worried because many of the reasons this kid states for wanting to reunify are to care for their mom. It’s not my place to make the judgment calls, but it seems from the outside like a case of parentification. Add to this that I’ve heard this child talk about how much they wish they had been given the opportunity that their peers had to “just be a kid”.

So what is parentification ? Parentification is when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, a toxic family dynamic that is rarely talked about and is even accepted as the norm in some cultures. However, research has found that it can have far-reaching negative psychological impacts. It is a functional and/or emotional role reversal in which the child sacrifices his or her own needs for attention, comfort, and guidance in order to accommodate and care for the logistical and emotional needs of a parent and/or sibling.

One response was this from experience – my parents put me in foster care briefly when I was suicidal from the pressure of being a “good kid” and experiencing their abuse. I wanted to go back to them to protect my brother. I feel for the teen. I would have this child in therapy now to begin processing those emotions of responsibility. I’m 24 and still struggle with guilt that my brother may have suffered when I was gone or what would have happened if I’d stayed gone. My mom would’ve likely lost her mind. She did – when I went to college. My best advice is therapy for the child while in your care, and perhaps talk to a therapist about how you could best talk to their mom about her removing that person in the home. My mom chose my dad over me often, so I feel for the teen.

Another one shared – Unfortunately this might be something that never fully goes away. I was like this, the eldest child who took care of the family from a very young age and getting rid of that guilt and the “needing to take care of them feeling” has been very very resistant to therapy. I think the best you can do is just try to be empathetic, don’t make them feel like they’re acting too old or whatever (mine did that and it really fucked with my head) just be kind and remind them they can relax and do things for themselves, even if they don’t listen.

This one touched my heart, because I am the oldest as well. I was not in an awful situation but I have always felt a sense of responsibility for my two sisters. Our parents died only 4 months apart (high school sweethearts married for over 50 years). From the first day I returned to my family after my mom died first, I found myself having to take over financial responsibility for my sisters that my mom had been financially providing, making me in effect “the mom”. Then, after our dad died too, I had to ask the court to appoint someone to assist my youngest sister with her finances. She is likely a paranoid schizophrenic with very weird ideas about the way money functions. The court agreed to appoint a conservator. My sister and I have struggled. What had been a really good relationship before was destroyed when our mom died. Our mom had a poor relationship with my sister for over a decade and my sister’s feelings about that transferred to me when my mom died and I had to take over the family finances.

Also this interesting perspective – I cared for a teen relative of mine last year similar situation. As soon as she could legally, she returned to mom and the abuser to care for her siblings again and her mom. This is what she had been taught was the only way to get attention, love etc from mom. The best way we found to help her was to enroll her in a group for teens about healthy relationships at our local Domestic Violence shelter. She also did therapy with someone she selected and equine psychotherapy which helped her with attachment a lot. While she was here, we focused on just reminding her of our unconditional love and building trust in our relationship. Even though she went back, it didn’t take long for all of that to help her see how to set boundaries with mom, identify unsafe situations with abuser and start to come out of some of the fog. It’s still complicated but she isn’t engrained and I see her setting more healthy boundaries. We (and her dad) are still safe people she can come too and does. It took about 6 months of us just watching from a distance and being supportive regardless. In your situation, maybe focus on staying neutral and asking for a CASA or Guardian ad Litem to help with the other side of the coin. Having a mentor also really helped my relative. It was someone closer to her age that she could confide in and she is still actively talking to that person now. Maybe your foster youth could use a mentor because they aren’t a therapist but can be a sounding board. Also a lifeline if the youth returns and ‘adults’ get cut off from that person. (I say adults because the mentors we have had are usually 25 or younger and parents don’t see them like they do a 40 year old caseworker).

What Gives Me The Right ?

This is a tricky issue that I have encountered here on this blog. What gives me the right to talk about issues related to adoption or foster care ? Am I an adoptee ? No. Have I spent time in foster care ? No. I do have a connection to adoption – Yes, I do. Both of my parents were adoptees and both of my sisters have given up a baby to adoption – but these are not the reasons I have become passionate about the subjects I write about in this blog. I am almost 67 yrs old and honestly, until about 3 years ago, I was in what is called “the fog,” not seeing anything to be concerned about when it comes to adoption. And I needed enlightenment and educating.

So I joined a group where the voices (thoughts) of adoptees and former foster youth are “privileged,” meaning given the most deference. However, in the group are adoptive parents, foster carers, hopeful adoptive parents and oddballs like me. And so, I have read and read and read there. I have bought books to inform me from the perspective of adoptees and former foster youth. And I get it and now I care about family preservation. I know that most parents actually DO want to raise their own children and those children want to be raised by their natural parents. Most of the time, children are removed from their parents over issues of poverty or solvable problems. Many an unwed woman who finds herself pregnant ends up convinced and coerced to surrender her baby – often to her lifelong regret. That happened to both of my natural grandmothers.

So the issue came up in my all things adoption group today. The woman identified herself as being a hopeful adoptive parent when she was younger. currently a teacher and someone who would like to become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) when her own kids are a bit older. She admitted that she no other links to adoption. Her question was – Should I stay out of discussions of adoption ? Or should I share opinions that I’ve gained from listening to the members of this group ? When I see posts in other groups or have conversations in real life, I’d like to amplify the voices of adoptees and former foster youth, but I’m wondering if that’s not welcome. She noted in closing – Obviously, you can speak for yourselves on posts like these, but I know it is with emotional labor and at the risk of being gaslighted and all of that.

Someone who tried to speak up was told that she needed a reality check because some adoptees value life and don’t dwell in the past, and that the only trauma is for birth parents who are found years later and have privacy violated. And this is old misinformed thinking. It is the adoption agency line as to why adoptions should be closed and kept secret and it has been proven to be abundantly false by many adoptees who have had successful reunions with their natural parents. Yes, some of these fail or are awkward or come at an inopportune time in a mature adult’s life, especially if they are now married with children from that current spouse. It happens and it is painful and heartbreaking when it does but fear of rejection (which honestly happened to some degree when the child was given up and they know this) is no reason to prevent the effort.

One adoptee shared her own experience – Most first mothers want to be found. Mine was terrified of it but I think she’s glad I found her.

Another one encouraged the effort – Preach it…..pffffftttt on those who fuss ….. remind them that they can not speak for anyone but themselves. The truth will ruffle feathers. That’s ok. I personally don’t mind a dialog about differing view points….but many adoption focused groups don’t want that and delete/block a naysayer.

The one who originally posted the question shared – the adoptive parent I was communicating with felt comfortable speaking on behalf of the child’s birth mother. It bothered me. To which someone else noted – Remind her that it is okay to share her own story but NOT the child’s story! Then it is further revealed –  She also brought up racism her daughter has experienced, so it’s a trans-racial adoption on top of everything. And clear that they are living in a very white neighborhood.

And so, in this particular case, it had become clear that the adoptive mother is wrapped up in some heavy adoption issues. Someone like that becomes so enmeshed, their only recourse is to carry on with adoption speak and in favor of what they created…..a big case of, pretend. That last word is an adoptee’s perspective on what adoption is – someone who pretends to be the parent who birthed you or that they have somehow saved you from a fate worse than death – called saviorism when it is trans-racial adoption.

So, this is partly why I write this blog. To spread some light in the darkness that has been adoption practice for decades as well as share my own personal stories, illustrating one or the other with one or the other. Yes, it has become a cause (family preservation) that I am admittedly passionate about.

Is Guardianship Enough ?

As prospective adoptive and foster parents find the all things adoption group I belong to, some of their perspectives truly do begin to change. Same for expectant mothers thinking about surrendering their child for adoption, then changing their mind and deciding that they may actually be capable of raising their own child. Always a happy outcome.

Unfortunately, many Division of Children and Families agencies at the state level still operate from an obsolete point of view. Here’s a story from one foster mother who is facing that dilemma.

We have a 7 year old pre-adoptive foster son that has lived with us for 21+ months. I always had the intention of adopting (until I joined this group), but we were only regular foster parents until this boy moved in. Everything was going “well” and mom was going to sign an open adoption agreement. Then the pandemic hit and we had to supervise their video visits, which ended up being good because we got to know each other. Then we offered to supervise the monthly in-person visits. I joined this group and now I’m trying to help mom to get her son back. She is working on her plan and I’m so proud of her, but I am not sure it will be enough for Division of Children and Families. We have a permanency meeting in a month, so I need some help.

I have 2 questions about our situation:

For the adoptive parents/foster parents in the group: How do you navigate changing a goal of adoption to guardianship, when the department has said in the past that doesn’t offer enough permanency for the child and they would move him. Is a 7-8 year old listened to, if the child says he wants to live here forever but only if his mom can’t get better?

For the adoptees/former foster youth in the group: Let’s assume mom’s rights are terminated. There is no dad involved and there literally is no family that could take this boy in and raise him. How do we know if this boy really wants to be adopted by us or not? How do we know if guardianship is or isn’t enough for him? We have a biological child who is only 6 months, in case that matters. How old is old enough for us to follow what the boy requests? We have heard so many adoptive parents talk about how their children’s behaviors changed after adoption because they felt “secure”, but after reading so much stuff in this group, I have a whole different view about adoption. Yet I don’t know how to figure out what our foster son would really want or if he would think we love him less, if we don’t adopt him.

Only one response, from an adoptive/foster parent so far but it could be helpful to others in a similar situation –

Does he have a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) or GAL (Guardian ad Litem) ? I am not sure what state he is in but in Indiana, the guardianship petitions are heard in a separate court outside of the Child Protective Services court. Child Protective Services is notified that a guardianship petition has been filed and they can come and object, if they want but sometimes they don’t.

So I would think, if you get an attorney and just file it – with mom being in agreement, then they would have to come and object, explaining why adoption is better. I think if mom is making some efforts, then that would be a bonus towards guardianship.

Guardianship is always an option. I haven’t figured out why they don’t push more for guardianship for very young children and what the age is that it suddenly becomes an option but I have seen our state grant guardianship with a Child Protective Services case for kids as young as 2 years old.

Also, I don’t think it is ethical for the department to threaten you with moving him. So I would ask for a supervisor or above to sit in on your next meeting and just ask for them to explain why this is happening and why adoption is the only option. I would personally tell you that we have custody/guardianship for our two youngest and it has been good.

So You Want To Help A Child ?

Many people go into foster care with good intentions. They really want to help a child who might need it. Here are some words from a woman who did that.

So, having been a foster parent, I want to just get out there to those considering it to say – don’t. Child protection is a corrupt vehicle of systemic abuse. The system abuses children, and as cogs in that machine, you are participating. If you ‘have a heart’ for children or ‘feel called’ or whatever it is, let me suggest you can do any of the following:

1. Volunteer as a CASA. These advocates listen to kids and represent their position in court. No one listens to foster kids, and this is a genuine chance.

2. Volunteer at a local women’s shelter, as a domestic violence or sexual assault advocate, or within the shelter childcare system.

3. Support wellness courts, programs that serve addicts, and programs in your community aimed at helping with food security or relieving poverty. Most children are removed because their parents are struggling with addiction.

4. If you truly want to be a foster parent, license for transitional care or teens, and don’t waiver.

5. Donate your kids clothes and baby items.

What else can you think of that might help?

My family has long taken our obsolete toys to our regional women and children’s shelter for those fleeing domestic violence (children do grow up and we bought more things at Christmas – trying it make it magical like we experienced as children ourselves – than we should have and while it was a lot of fun to open all those presents on Christmas morning, many – sad to say – remained on shelves and were never looked at again. Happy they get a second chance). We have also taken the children’s outgrown clothes and the women’s clothes no longer need by me to the same place.

It is a small thing. Nothing to win awards for but it is some thing. Do what you can. It matters.