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.

The Warmth of Home and Family

This blog is mostly about adoption and sometimes foster care. Today it is Christmas and not every child is in a stable home with emotional and physical supports nor is every family functional and happy.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a stable and loving family. We didn’t have a lot, were not wealthy but my parents made what we did have stretch as far as they could. Grocery day was always exciting because by then we had run out of “fun” stuff to eat and we could be certain my mom would bring home some treat. One of my favorites was Chocolate Eclairs (I almost bought some the last time I went to the grocery store simply for sentimental reasons).

My parents made Christmas morning a wonderland of presents and our excitement was hard to contain until they finally woke up. I believe my husband’s family was much the same. When we had our sons late in life, while they were little, we wanted to give them the feeling of that same kind of surprising magic – going to bed with an empty tree and waking up to a wonderland of presents. We’d get up in the wee hours of the night, I would stage the previously wrapped and hidden gifts on our basement stairs and my husband would creep down and get them.

We live in a one-room cabin of a farmhouse. We have one big room that is bedroom (two king-size platform mattresses side by side), our entertainment center (when the boys were young the floor was always covered in toys like trains and building blocks), as well as our office for the home-based business that has supported us. The Christmas tree has always been between the beds and the office space. I’m not certain one or the other boys never woke up while their dad was placing gifts or hanging stockings but as they got older they at least pretended for their own self interests.

We have been struggling financially the last few years, maybe not quite a decade, but the boys are older now (17 and 20) and when finances got really tight, they began to notice fewer and fewer presents under the tree. Finally, we came clean about the fun game of Santa that parents play. We began to buy quality gifts and only a few. Now it has gotten to where there are only token gifts and some stuff for the stockings but we are all happy with that.

To be honest, we spent way too much money and bought way too much stuff. For awhile, we cleaned out some of the things the boys had outgrown and took it to a woman’s and children’s domestic violence shelter that serves our region. Then, came Trump and we live in a very conservative, solidly Republican, sparsely populated county. We have now for the last year or two, taken no longer needed clothing and all the excess stuff that the boys only unwrapped and never looked at again, to a predominantly Black and poverty stricken area of North St Louis. My husband’s mother was once a social worker for the St Louis Public Schools doing everything she could to help Black children stay in school. So my husband honors his mother’s memory (we lost her in 2009) by choosing this avenue of giving.

These things we bought way too much of, that sat on a shelf un-used, were high quality and educational because our sons are schooled at home. We had a huge library of children’s books that we have given many of these books away (we’ve kept the best of the lot, stored now on a high shelf in our library in case one or both boys someday have children of their own – we are not optimistic they will – many young people are now choosing not to have children – one can never say never but we will never pressure them in that direction).

All I really want to say today is that my Christmas Wish is that all children had the stable, secure and loving home we have given our sons and that my husband and I had growing up. I think my parents got pretty lucky with the adoptive parents they had (both my mom and my dad were adopted). It is a sadness that not every child has that warmth of family to give them security.

To Walk A Fine Line

Today’s story is about finding one’s way in unusual situations without any role models or rules to guide you.

My husband and I divorced about 25 yrs ago and he basically disappeared and didn’t keep visitation or support our 4 children. About 15 yrs ago he just showed up with a 1 yr old, said he wanted to introduce his baby to his other siblings (our 4 were about grown by then). The baby was a sweet heart and well all adored him, met the mother and she was a sweetheart too.

Both of the parents were dealing with addiction issues and the baby ended up staying with me and my 2 children who were still living at home at the time. Once the baby was old enough for Prekindergarten, I went to court and got guardianship but wanted both parents to have extensive visitation rights. At first the dad, my ex, visited often. The mom kinda came and went depending on her own issues. However the visits kept getting less and less.

Neither has visited in the past 9 yrs. I send the mom updates on her Facebook messenger but she has never responded. I’ve always struggled with what to tell him. I usually just say, “your mom and dad loved you very much but sometimes adults just have issues that takes them away from the things they love and hopefully one day they’ll be able to get it all straightened out.”

He is 16 now and has social media and can reach out to them and I make sure to tell him every so often that he can reach out to them any time and I’ll help in anyway he feels comfortable with or I’ll refrain from being involved at all, if he’s more comfortable with that.

I’ve never adopted him nor terminated their parental rights and the first visitation order we did years ago still stands. I’ve fielded questions for years from people who said, “Why don’t you adopt?”, but it just never felt “right” for me to cut off their parental rights (even if at times I didn’t feel they deserved them).

He has called me mom for years, he asked if he could when he was about 5, I told him he could call me whatever he felt comfortable with. I’ve spent the last 14 yrs second guessing myself and I’m sure I’ve done stuff wrong and surely he has trauma. I just try to be honest without criticism toward his parents, although his older siblings will sometimes let a mouth full fly about their (and his) dad.

Sometimes I feel that he may think I don’t love him as a son because I didn’t adopt him. It’s just hard knowing what was right. He has a maternal uncle who he sees regularly and he gets to see all his maternal family at Christmas, birthdays, holidays , etc. But unfortunately his mom is not in contact with her family at all, so he still doesn’t see her.

I’d take any advice/ideas on how to make sure I’m not adding to his trauma.

One response was this –

I think you did everything perfectly. I would somehow bring up that you love him as a son though and that you just didn’t want to erase his past. Mention if he feels the need when he’s older, you two can discuss it then. If he is an adult and still wishes to be adopted by you, then it was his choice and that’s what matters most, giving him a voice, and loving him.

Holiday Expectations

Holidays often bring with them unrealistic expectations. Even realistic expectations can prove disappointing. For an adoptee recently entering into a reunion with the woman who gave birth to them, failed expectations can be especially painful. One woman in that situation shared this story –

Merry Christmas to you all. I know it’s a difficult day for many of you. I heard from several people in my birth family except my birth mom…why? Honestly, what would keep her from shooting a simple text saying Merry Christmas?! Yesterday was the two year anniversary of us reconnecting and when I didn’t hear from her then, I just knew I would today. But no…. I didn’t. Can other birth moms explain something I’m not realizing or seeing?! Or other adoptees…. do you feel like expectations around the holidays are difficult?! I felt like it was a minimal expectation but I’m looking for feedback to understand and not just be hurt.

Some replies – from a first mom, Christmas may remind her of all she lost when she lost you. I am on the other end of the spectrum, tried for many years to reconnect with my son and nothing.

Another adoptee shares – I am the deer in headlights, can’t talk because it’s just too much sorrow and then, I feel horrible because I really do want to talk to all of my biological family, hug them, but it’s so hard to talk a lot of the time, even though I love them more than they will ever know. I try to keep the door open. You never know what’s going on… I know I’m going to try again tomorrow, and the next day, to reach out to people I should have today, but sometimes it’s just so scary putting yourself out there. Some days are tough for other reasons. I’m sorry that happened, though still sucks no matter why.

One such natural mother writes – I am 25 years into a very open adoption. I’m sorry she didn’t reach out when you wanted her to. This is the first year I didn’t send a message to my daughter. Mainly I wanted to see if she would actually want to reach out to me – I always initiate contact, meeting up or messages etc and am always the one to send “Merry Xmas” etc. I don’t know if she cares or even wants me to send a message, would I be interrupting a nice day for her? Sometimes she takes days to reply or doesn’t reply at all. I struggle enormously (something I keep well hidden) with the emotional toll it takes on me. Perhaps it is hard for her too, I don’t know.

 As the blog author, I can relate. My daughter was raised by her dad and step-mother from the age of 3. I sensed that I had to keep a low profile because I didn’t want to disrupt her family life. I gave her a calling card she could use to call me anytime she wanted. Sometimes, there were long gaps between contacts. Sometimes, I would learn she gave the Christmas presents I sent to her, to her younger siblings. I was hard being an absentee mother and not knowing what the right thing to do was. While this wasn’t an adoption situation, per se, it was an unintended surrender due to financial hardship (which sadly, I share with both of my natural grandmothers who lost their own children to adoption for very similar reasons).

One other natural mother also shares – I am in reunion with my daughter. I always leave it to her to text, call, face time. I think it goes back to the 1st time you make contact, of not wanting to over step or put pressure on a delicate relationship. So, I always let her guide the contact. Perhaps your mother is doing the same. It can be hard when both parties feel they don’t want to be over bearing, so no one makes the 1st move. I’m lucky my daughter calls when she feels like. But there can be 2 times a week, then nothing for few weeks. It varies. Maybe text your mom. Open up the conversation and say that you’d love a holiday text from her too.

These separation relationships will always be fragile and there is nothing to guide any of us in attempting them. Even so, we should try. The other person may be struggling as much as we are. Any contact is better than none. And sometimes the contact or lack of it will be disappointing because there are no guarantees in this life.

Like the song goes . . .

 I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime
When you take, you got to give – so live and let live – or let go

I think the risk is always worth the potential disappointment. Sometimes we get a happy surprise.

Just Babysitting ?

An adoptee wrote – for Christmas, I would just love for an adoptive parent to honestly say that they just feel like they are babysitting someone else’s child. I feel like that’s how I would feel if I were an adoptive parent and I wonder if they really think they are that child’s parents…

I thought this was a rather novel perspective and will share with you a few responses to this.

From an adoptive parent –

 I did feel that way and my husband did too. It took time for us to become a family. We became a family when our daughter was just shy of 5. It took time, attachment takes time. Earning trust takes time. My daughter has expressed she was scared when she met us. TOTALLY FAIR! I would have been worried if she wasn’t to be honest.

Adoption is so awful, and so hard, and I more than anything wish that her birth parents were known and could be involved. Heck! Would have been great for our daughter to be known and loved and cherished by her birth family. We don’t know why she needed adoption in her life. Likely poverty.

And it’s so so sad and disheartening to know that was likely their reality. One day hopefully sooner rather than later (with the help of a lot of technology) we will find them and she can know what it is like to have those relationships and call them “home” too.

Another adoptive parent said – while I love my adopted daughters, I know that I’m just caring for them, and loving them until they are able to leave and search out the rest of their birth family. I try to connect with various members of their birth families but no one responds to my efforts. I’ve told them that they may respond to them when they are adults and ask about them and if that’s something they want to pursue in years to come I will support them. They are still quite young to have that responsibility, but when they are ready, I’ll be there to help.

I believe they love me, and they are happy with me. But I know it’s not their first or even second choice. It was just the only one. I’m preparing myself already for all the many scenarios that may play out in the coming years. I am not and will never be their mother. They have a mother, and she’s passed all too recently. I am a motherly figure in their lives but I will never be their mom, and I will never try to take her place.

Yet another adoptive parent writes – Adoption was simply a last resort for these kids to give them some stability in life. It was not something that was planned, or desired on my part. These girls along with my biological daughter are my whole entire world. I live and breathe for them. I am a better person because of them. But I know they aren’t mine. They will forever and always be my girls, they will forever and always be our family. No matter what happens, my door will always be open for them. They can always come back.

I know my place in their lives. I know that while they were happy to be adopted to have a home they don’t have to leave, it’s not what they wanted. I know that they want their family, whatever family they can find. And I know that there’s a huge possibility that as soon as they turn 18 they will leave and search out their family. And I’m okay with that. I’m here to support them. I will drive them, pack their things, whatever they need. That’s my job. Loving them unconditionally means supporting them, even when it destroys me.

And now for balance perhaps, an adoptee’s voice –

My adoptive parents were my parents. They loved my brother and I. They worked hard for us, provided for us, loved us, taught us, nurtured us, instilled goodness in us and sacrificed for us.

They were not mere babysitters to us.

They were parents and family to us and responsible for us.

My birth mother has been a curse for me, a rotten haggard hypocrite to me, a liar and manipulator to me, a shameful and shamefilled harbinger of sorrow for me and I wouldn’t let her babysit my soiled laundry for me. I’m not in the fog. I’m not blinded by the adoption narrative. I’m not naive, grateful or meek. I hate the adoption system. I hate that my rights are superseded and ignored and that my personal information, identity and birth certificate are denied to me. I hate what adoption does and that the general belief is that it is inherently and unquestionably good, despite the evidence of Adoptees lived experiences, but I won’t allow the other extreme you put forward be my truth.

I’ve had enough people…stranger’s opinions be expressed on my behalf, silencing me and my truth, to let this post go unchallenged. Adoption has too many faults and many adopters have too many faults for anybody’s liking. Standards, policies and procedures are severely lacking. The system is not fit for purpose. No arguments here. But it is unfortunately, necessary in some cases.

My birth mother was 30 years old when she had me…her second mistake…that we know of. I hate her AND I hate the adoption system. Full blown despise them. My adoptive parents were not perfect, I don’t think they ever claimed to be, nor are biological parents. I’m a biological parent, I’m in no way perfect.

To which this blog author can honestly say – me too, sister.

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.

What Is The Money For ?

It is the middle of May and May is Foster Care Awareness Month.  I am in the middle of reading one Foster Care girl’s experience and it isn’t pretty, though I’m certain just as individual’s vary greatly so do experiences in the system.

Did you know that Foster Parents receive a stipend ?  Imagine what that kind of money might do to keep a family intact.  Of course, that isn’t always the issue.  The girl in the book I am reading (I will review it here when I finish it) had no where else to go.  The family dynamics weren’t good.  The mother had died.  Both the natural father and the step-father were in prison.  The grandfather got trapped in a poor decision related to trying to fix an awkward drug related situation that made him inappropriate for the girls even though he was not charged with an actual crime.  The aunts and uncles did not step forward.

So an issue developed with these unfortunate girls that the Foster Mom (the Foster Dad had died while they lived there) was NOT spending the stipend on the girls and there were cultural issues in this home.  The girls were non-Spanish speaking whites.  The Foster Mom was Hispanic and one foster child in the home before these girls was also and then one that came subsequently.  They frequently spoke Spanish with one another leaving the two white girls feeling excluded.  But what really hurt was the generous spending on the Hispanic girls while little or nothing was spent on the white girls.

One foster parent handbook states that the money is intended to maintain the placement and cover the costs of having the child in the home, including the cost of food, clothing, school supplies, a child’s personal incidentals, liability insurance with respect to the child, and reasonable travel to the child’s home for visitation.

That money is not intended for household bills, or to buy a new car or a new house because you need the extra room.  Other possible appropriate uses for the stipend could be holidays, presents, spending money depending on the child’s age, or to put into a savings account for child.  A sad fact in the book I am reading is that these girls did not receive presents at Christmas.

Words Of Encouragement

Life changes, never forget that it can.

It is perfectly acceptable to wish for better days to come.

There is nothing wrong with wishing for better income, more stability, and an ability to give MORE.

Years from now, you may realize something startling –

Your wish came true.

You will realize that those “better days” that you once could only dream of are now your reality.

It can be so easy to feel discouraged and just want to give up. Keep your hopes for better alive. Dreams can come true.  I know.  I’ve seen my own come true in amazing ways.

I remember one Christmas with my daughter when she was just a toddler. I bought the tiniest tree. I painted little wooden ornaments. I bought her a little bra and underwear set, patent leather shoes and lacy socks and one of those children’s microphones she could sing through. We didn’t have much but we did have a Christmas. Life is full of ups and downs. Change is constant and can be a source of hope when nothing seems hopeful at all.

HUGS of encouragement for you, who in a season that can feel so discouraging and depressing for a lot of people, must somehow carry on.  You are never truly alone in difficult moments.  Others are struggling and some are overcoming those same kinds of struggle.