Assimilation Is The Intention

For many indigenous women, political action regarding children was not about campaigns for
subsidized day cares or cultural arguments about gender, work, and parenting. Child welfare was a literal fight to keep Native children in their homes and in their nations.

During the 1970s, Native American women activists understood the crisis of child adoption
(which had grown rampant in the postwar era) as more than a personal issue affecting individual
families. The removal of Native children from their homes and communities compromised not only parental rights but also tribal sovereignty. Technically, indigenous nations had a legal advantage in the battle for control over Indian child welfare because the right to oversee issues related to children living on reservations existed as an implicit aspect of sovereignty. In practice, however, state courts and welfare agencies largely misunderstood or ignored tribal authority and the interests of indigenous communities and removed Native children from their homes at arresting rates—an average of one quarter of Native American children lived away from their parents during the early 1970s

In response, Native women activists created a child welfare political agenda that not only kept
children in their communities but also addressed the problems that sometimes led to foster and adoptive placements. Although they acknowledged that there were legitimate issues, such as alcoholism, that required some parents to surrender their children, activists did not interpret the current crisis as the result of inadequate parenting. Nor did they place blame exclusively on culturally insensitive child welfare systems. Rather, activists condemned poverty and the vestiges of colonialism for the problems that precipitated child removals. One activist asserted that ‘‘the process of colonization has brought more destruction to these family ties than any internal changes … could have ever created.’’ According to this woman and others, while colonization created the problems indigenous families faced—solutions to them rested with Native nations. Both the programs’ indigenous women activists established and their petitions to the federal government to uphold the right of the tribes to control child welfare focused on increasing tribal agency in addressing the fundamental difficulties that Native families confronted. These activists gained strength from their citizenship in Native nations and framed their work against child removals in the context of tribal sovereignty.

The history of non-Native people intervening in the lives of indigenous families is a long one; arguably as old as the history of colonization itself. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 is Federal law that governs the removal and out-of-home placement of American Indian children. … ICWA established standards for the placement of Indian children in foster and adoptive homes and enabled Tribes and families to be involved in child welfare cases.

“They closed the boarding schools and opened up CPS (Child Protective Services), but it’s the same thing – they’re still coming in and taking our children,” Cetan Sa Winyan said. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians of California and the Quinault Indian Nation of Washington are petitioning the Supreme Court to request that the Indian Child Welfare Act remain intact.

The state of Texas is challenging the constitutionality of ICWA, claiming it’s a race-based system that makes it more difficult for Native kids to be adopted or fostered into non-Native homes. Another argument is that the law commandeers states too much, giving federal law imbalanced influence in state affairs.

A Supreme Court response to the tribes’ petition and the petition filed by the plaintiffs is due on October 8th.

Tribes and advocates argue that ICWA is culturally- and politically-based, not race-based, because tribal nations have political status as sovereign governments under federal law. Cherokee Nation Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said the tribe will put all the resources it has into making sure ICWA is protected. “ICWA attempts to keep children connected to their tribe … and an attack on that is absolutely an attack on tribal sovereignty,” Nimmo said.

In the case of Brackeen v. Haaland, the Brackeens — the white, adoptive parents of a Diné child in Texas — seek to overturn ICWA by claiming reverse racism. Joined by co-defendants including the states of Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana, they’re being represented pro bono by Gibson Dunn, a high-powered law firm which also counts oil companies Energy Transfer and Enbridge, responsible for the Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines, among its clients.

You can sign a petition here – https://action.lakotalaw.org/action/protect-icwa.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

For several months now our entire country and most of the world has been living with toxic stress.  It’s the kind of stress that puts you on edge and keeps you there, day after day after day.  If you have felt stressed, imagine what it would be like to experience adversity and/or abuse — not having enough to eat or being exposed to violence – then think, what if the one experiencing this is still a child.

Factors such as divorce, domestic violence or having an incarcerated parent are called adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Four or more ACEs can result in chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. In the long term, living with ACEs or other negative factors, such as poverty, can literally change your brain chemistry.

What does it look like for a young person to live with several ACEs and no supports ?  What does a foster parent experience when bringing a middle school or teenage foster youth into their home ?

It might be not being able to sleep without a light on. Or it could be eating even when one is full or not hungry. Some children become “runners” — they leave school whenever they become upset.

And the symptoms can become even worse.  The child may become a cutter; may be suicidal. Such children can have trouble forming appropriate friendships. Maybe they trash their room; in one fight-or-flight moment, climb out of their window and tumble to the ground. Even jump out of a moving car.

A foster parent could find themselves restraining the child physically by wrapping their arms around the child’s shoulders or waist, using all their strength to keep the child from leaving or hurting their self. Maybe you raised your hand only to motion toward something and the child flinched or even ducked.

And your heart breaks for this young person.  You had hoped they knew you would never hit them.  You are a foster parent.  You signed up for this because you thought you had something to give — time and care and love — to kids who desperately need that.

You might become the person the county calls when a child is removed from a home and has nowhere else to go, or when a foster family needs a break. This is known as emergency respite.

Most foster kids want to be happy.  After a lifetime of abuse and neglect, they may not know how.  A foster parent is also there to be a support for reunification with the biological family.

The best foster parents build a fortress of protective factors around their foster children. Protective factors are those things that most of us take for granted — a friend to call when we need advice; someone to help whenever we aren’t enough on our own.

Some of us are born privileged to have built-in protective factors (a supportive family, enough money).  Most foster kids will need to collect them from somewhere else (perhaps a chosen family made up of friends). At school, they require trauma-informed teachers and staff who understand how ACEs can be reflected in behavior.

National data shows that more than 20 percent of children up to age 17 have experienced two or more ACEs.  Beyond abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) and general neglect these include the loss of a parent to death, divorce and abandonment.  A family member addicted to drugs or alcohol.  A family member that is incarcerated. Being exposed to domestic violence and mental health issues among the family’s members.

Brain toxicity exists. A child can have post-traumatic stress disorder. ACEs are not limited to low-income neighborhoods, domestic violence and substance abuse take place in higher income homes and are every bit as toxic. Learn to look at all people through a trauma-informed lens. Ask, if you suspect this, “What happened to you?” and then listen without adding your own opinions.

Every domestic-violence shelter worker or child-care provider, anyone who works for child-protective services, anyone associated with family court, law enforcement personnel and physicians – ALL need to be trained appropriately to deal with trauma related behavior

Trauma is not the fault of any child.  Understanding ACE impacts allows adults to see the reason behind the behaviors.  Baby steps in a positive direction are progress.

 

Please Don’t Take Another One of My Babies

Reading these words – “Not another one. Please don’t take another one of my babies”.

This was in a tale of adoptions but not adoptions by strangers.  The story was one about how a woman took two children from two different relatives.  It is sad that “family” can be so cruel.

The first one – the mother was unable to have more children so she stole babies from family members.  This child’s original mother was told that she was incapable of caring for her child and that she would be in much better hands in the woman’s household. That was all a lie. The adoptive mother would say things like “she is lucky to have us. I treat her like my daughter”. But this girl was not treated equally. Sadly, according to this woman’s one biological daughter, they were all abused but this adopted girl had the worst of the emotional and mental abuse.

Eventually, the original mother had an apartment and car and job and never did she stop loving her daughter.  When this girl turned 15, the adoptive mother decided the original mother was actually “good enough”.  In truth, the adoptive mother didn’t want to deal with the teenage years and so kicked the girl out.

Then, the second one elicited the quote and title of this blog.

A distant cousin had a new baby boy and the adoptive mother decided the original parents couldn’t care for him properly. The adoptive mother drove over to visit.  Then, right after leaving, she called the Department of Child Welfare and reported her cousin. The very next morning, the adoptive mother had the baby boy in her arms. He was only 1 month old. He has 9 other siblings. The woman telling this sad tale said, “I’ll never forget his mother’s sobs as we drove off.”

The adoptive mother made herself out to be the hero of the story and of course, the biological parents were the awful people. This adoptive mother played the loving mother until the date for his adoption, at around 8 months of age.

Then the adoptive mother pushed all the “mother” responsibilities onto the woman conveying this story. She was 15 years old at the time.  She did love the little boy with all her heart.  She wanted to give him the best possible chance.

It may not surprise the reader to know that eventually the adoptive mother ended up having a mental breakdown and went into a treatment facility.

When A Parent Dies

When a parent dies, children can end up with strangers – either in foster care or through adoption.  At one time as my husband and I were rewriting our trust documents, having learned about the realities of a foster care system that sends a young person out the door with no resources at the age of 18, we made provisions to lower the age at which our children could access the financial accounts we had created for them.  Originally, we were more concerned about immature mismanagement of the funds.  From this new awareness, we realized those funds might be critical to our children’s survival, if they lost us.

Losing a parent at any age can be life changing but losing a parent while still in childhood robs the child of important supports going forward.  Death is absolute, so no well-meaning person can change that reality.  If there is no other person – another parent, grandparent or extended family willing to step in – then child welfare and the courts step in.

Even for a young child, closure is necessary, even if understanding is lacking.   Death is an important and natural part of life. Whenever possible, there should be an opportunity to be with someone in death, who has meant something to you in life. It is true, it can be a traumatic shock the first time one sees a dead person but it is also instructive. The intimacy of “saying goodbye” before a burial can help heal a young person’s loss, all the way into adulthood.

Even adult adopted children can be very wounded by being deprived of experiencing the death of their loved one.  When my mom tried to get her adoption file from the state of Tennessee in the 1990s, she was rejected (she was a Georgia Tann adoptee).  More devastating than the rejection was learning that her mother had already died and that door to connect with her forever closed.

Never deny a child this opportunity.  Think about it – who wouldn’t go to their parent’s funeral, regardless of age?  The reality is that it will hurt.  That is death.  Every child (adopted, in foster care or otherwise) deserves a chance to say goodbye.

A Home For Orphans

Milton Hershey School

There is a need to care for true orphans that do not have living family to care for them.  Milton Hershey is mostly known for perfecting a recipe for milk chocolate.  I love their Hershey Bars with Almonds but I really shouldn’t eat them because my biology is afflicted with a tendency to have high blood sugar.  If I let myself eat one small miniature bar, I want more or something else that I shouldn’t be eating that is too sugary.  Mostly I just don’t.

Milton Hershey was a leading philanthropist during his time.  In the early 1900s, he was a visionary about providing better working conditions for his workers.  He knew this support would also allow them to do a better job in his factory.

Eventually, he built a company town.  It was beyond what most companies did at that time.  Not only did he build homes for his workers but supported the growth of businesses in the surrounding area as well as a transportation infrastructure.

He and his wife Catherine never had any children of their own but they cared about child welfare.  This motivated them to establish a boarding school for orphans.  Even now, the school provides a home and free education through high school to more than 2,000 boys and girls.

Hershey is a good example of a visionary social entrepreneur.  His efforts never diminished his financial well-being but kept on enhancing that further, so that he could do more.

Lifetime No Contact Order

I didn’t know this was a thing.  It seems draconian and excessive.  There seem to be some cases of children placed into state custody where the parent has not only had their parental rights permanently terminated but is denied permanent contact forever with their own children.  It may relate to addiction.  But lifetime ?  This just seems wrong and it may not actually be “lifetime”.

I read that – the court order essentially is in place until the kids turn 18.  It is thought that the kid’s can choose whether to extend it or let it lapse at that point.

In the case I read about, which is typical of many poor people who encounter the legal system, the mother was coerced through fear tactics to sign this as part of her plea bargain.  I agree with the person who shared this story that such a permanent lifetime no contact order would do more harm than good for the kids and their mom over the long run.

People do change.  Lord, how I know that up close and personal.  I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my lifetime, even put my sweet baby girl at risk in my naivety.  Thankfully, she survived my immaturity.

It may be that how this particular situation resolves will depend on the relationship that the foster parent has with the genetic/biological parent.  Hopefully in this case, both the foster parent and the mother can let the caseworker know they object to this stipulation that was obtained under duress.  It may be that getting all of the parties to request the court make a change will prove successful in allowing the potential for contacts within this family.  If the judge is not willing, there is always hope in an appeal.

Part of our modern reality is that there are parents now who have gotten into addiction – often it begins with a valid need for pain relief – or it did, until society woke up to the fact that the pharmaceutical industry had a profit motive in getting people addicted to begin with.  End of societal inequity and/or injustice rant for today.

When Genetic Family Won’t

There are times and situations when it seems that adoption is the only answer.  The mother dies and the genetic family does not volunteer to step in and care for the child.  Or a father is overwhelmed.  That happened in my father in law’s family.  His grandmother died young after giving birth to her 3rd child.  There were two older children to care for, so the baby was given to and adopted by a childless couple.

In my own family’s circumstances, my parents (both adoptees) were never willing to take on that responsibility for their grandchildren.  With one sister, they led her down the path of surrender.  The daughter seems to do as well with the situation as any adoptee can be expected to – issues of concern about the feelings of her adoptive mother if any attention is given to her genetic family.

The other sister does have a debilitating mental health illness – paranoid schizophrenia – and is prone to irrational responses.  In that case, I am grateful she gave up my nephew and he is a high quality person.  There are probably issues related to having been adopted for him and we aren’t close, though I have been warmly welcoming and answer any questions he or his adoptive mother have asked of me.

There is no simple answer to children needing care and each person/family has to make their own decisions for their own reasons.  I understand that.  I do try to share some of the impacts and implications because there have been more adoptions and related issues in my family than most people experience.  About the only blessing for me is that I wasn’t given up when my unwed teenage mom discovered I had taken up residence in her womb.  I consider that a minor miracle for which I am deeply grateful.

In the case of mothers who die after giving birth – realistically and ideally – the mother intended and wanted to raise her baby.  She most likely did not want to die (unless it was a suicide which is complicated regardless).  The mother would not have planned for her family to raise her baby, if she had survived.

It seems a little unfair to put that expectation of taking responsibility on the genetic extended family.  Those who do are heroic in my own perspective.

Historic Reforms Keeping Children With Family

Only today thanks to a piece in the most recent Time Magazine, I discovered that one of the reforms I often advocate here became law in October 2018. The bipartisan legislation allows states to use federal funding to help struggling parents before resorting to putting children in foster care.  Congress recognized that too many children are unnecessarily separated from parents who could provide safe and loving care if given access to needed mental health services, substance abuse treatment or improved parenting skills.

“If we can get more children being raised in a family-like setting, either with their parents or extended family, it bodes well for what happens in this country in the long run.”
~ William C Bell, Casey Family Programs

Nearly half a million children are currently in foster care. After years of decline in numbers of children in foster care, the number has risen steadily since 2012, with anecdotal evidence and expert opinion linking this increase to the parallel rise in opioid addiction and overdoses. Family First provides struggling and overburdened child welfare agencies with the tools needed to help children and families in crisis, including families struggling with the opioid epidemic.

Young people involved in the child welfare system do best in families, in a safe and stable environment that supports their long-term well-being, according to research. The passage of Family First took a large step toward this vision by restructuring how the federal government spends money on child welfare to ensure that more children in foster care are placed with families. The law also provides more support for critical services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, in-home training and family therapy that can help prevent the need for foster care in the first place.

The law gives states and tribes the ability to target their existing federal resources into an array of prevention and early intervention services to keep children safe, strengthen families and reduce the need for foster care whenever it is safe to do so.  It also provides federal funds for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that link relative caregivers to a broad range of services and supports to help children remain safely with them, and requiring states to document how their foster care licensing standards accommodate relative caregivers.

There will no longer be a time limit on reunification services for a child in foster care preparing to return home, and a child returning home will now have access to 15-months of family reunification services beginning on the date the child returns home.  It’s a start.

 

Meanwhile In Another Reality

Imagine the dominant social narrative surrounding adoption was flipped – that it was viewed negatively by society (media, public, social policy, etc) with no saviorism or birth mom/adoptive parent platitudes like brave or selfless.

Imagine it was considered a socially unacceptable way to build a family or to fulfill a deep wish or right to experience parenting and people seeking to adopt were viewed as selfish.

This radical change came about as the catastrophic effect on children caused by relinquishment, and subsequent adoption became common knowledge.  And that clear understanding developed societal beliefs that deliberately perpetrating adoption was as unpalatable as the current “anti” adoption movement is viewed by proponents.

Instead, society truly became child-centered – where the child’s needs are put first. One that does not permit ownership, name you as parents nor replace the birth certificates, allow name changes, or any family severance. It is also socially unacceptable to brag about your adopted child, or even share their story.  It is instead as embarrassing as it is to admit you are not raising your own birthed child (I know that one way too intimately).

Then other options (like guardianship) would be the default route for permanence when  strangers are needed to care for children who are not able to live with their natural family for safety reasons.  We can and should imagine “better”.  That is why adoptees and original mothers are speaking out about the deep wounds that giving up children for adoption has caused for them.

Helping Families Stay Together

We’d be better off spending the money upfront, whether that’s in the form of early childhood education, preventative healthcare, or helping families get the support they need to stay together. It would cost less overall and be more beneficial to those who truly need it. There will always be cases where throwing more money at a scenario doesn’t help, but overall, it makes more sense financially and emotionally.

If we really cared about children, we would want to do everything in our power to keep them out of the foster care system.

I am so grateful no one ever reported us as having children out of control. There was a time in our lives when I worried about that. I even cautioned my children to try to be on their best behavior out in public or they could end up like that episode of The Simpsons when the children are taken away.

I was happy to read that there are efforts underway to totally rewrite how child welfare works.

As a society, we should be helping children BEFORE a caseworker shows up at their house. We should be supporting that family BEFORE anyone feels inclined to call a child abuse and neglect hotline on them.

As a society, we can be spending taxpayer funds more effectively by spending them on prevention.  Many believe it would be cheaper to intervene earlier. It would be less traumatic for the children and their parents.  Therapists, parenting coaches (children do not arrive with an operating manual) and mental health professionals could help families avoid bad outcomes.

A good goal to begin with is to find families at risk but not over the edge yet.  Families that lack secure food and housing because of poverty. Those young parents who grew up without good attachment to their own parents (in my case, my parents were adoptees and I can see now that they were strangely detached as parents, though overall good parents who did love and care about us).

I remember my mom telling me how she didn’t know how to cook or clean house when she first married my dad because her mother lacked the patience or tolerance for flaws to teach her. My mom made certain her daughters had such skills.

Here is the shocking statistic for only ONE of these 50 United States –

In 2019, in the state of Colorado there was a $558 MILLION dollar budget and 8,820 children were taken out of their family homes and placed in foster care.

I find that staggering and very very sad.