When Something Doesn’t Feel Right

From Slate.com’s Dear Prudence.

Titled – Help! I Think the Kids We’re About to Adopt Are Being Wrongfully Taken From Their Family.

Subtitled – The parents may be incarcerated, but the extended family seems totally qualified to raise them.

My husband and I (both white men) decided to become foster parents several years ago, with the ultimate goal of eventually adopting. We took the classes and our first placement came to us in September 2020, during the pandemic. In my estimation, we have done an excellent job with the day-to-day, but something has come up that I’m at a loss about. I’ll try to be brief.

In short, the agency has decided that the children’s extended family (they are two siblings, both parents are incarcerated for unknown “drug-related” reasons) is ill-equipped to care for them, despite owning a home, seeming to have a stable income, and already having raised two children previously. They have asked us to step in and proceed with a full adoption. My husband wants to do this as he has always wanted children, and these two are pretty awesome. I am very hung up on a number of things that can be boiled down to: I feel like we are stealing someone else’s kids. We don’t know (and the agency won’t say, for “privacy” reasons) why the parents are incarcerated, and we don’t know why the extended family has been ruled out and denied custody (they really seem fine, stable, nice, and they are interested in the kids), also for “privacy” reasons.

This seems insane to me. What if the parents are in jail for possession, or some other goofy crime that God knows I’ve committed 8,000 times myself (in bygone years)? What if the extended family is perfectly fine but has been precluded due to some bureaucratic nonsense issue like lacking paperwork? We live in a large urban area and the foster system is known, according to them, for its diligence, but this still feels icky. Both our families are pro the adoption, and I’m the only one pointing out red flags. They think it’s because I’m not “fully committed” to the idea of adoption or having kids, but I can tell you I’ve been agonizing over this and can’t get past the lack of data we have on how the kids have come to this point. They are Latinx kids caught up in foster care and the carceral state. Am I overthinking this? Should we trust the agency’s process? What should I do?

I don’t entirely agree with Prudence’s response – but here it is.

I think your concerns are very, very real and very thoughtful. But the thing is, they are about the system, not about this one adoption. Declining to move forward won’t free your kids from that system and all of its problems—it will (as far as I know; hopefully a reader will correct me if I’m off base here) simply lead to them being placed with another family that may or may not be as loving and sensitive as you are.

I think you should do it, and make it a priority to give the kids as much contact as possible with their family of origin, and as much reassurance as possible that they are not terrible people. So no, you’re not overthinking it at all. You are thinking about it the perfect amount. And I have a feeling you’ll put the same amount of thought into all the future aspects of raising Latinx kids and the many complicated issues that come with being an adoptive parent.

No Communication ? Then Terminate

I did not know this was possible.  So, there is this case of a child in foster care.  The Dept of Children and Families is recommending that the child continue on in their care and flippantly adds in that the parents can lose their rights based on their level of communication with one another. That’s the DCFs basis for “terminating parental rights.”

Therefore, a grandparent is seeking a kinship adoption with plans to allow the parent who has been stable and involved in the child’s life from day one to raise that child.  It gets complicated.

Certainly, offering the child a stable, safe, loving home is preferable to the instability of foster care.  A kinship adoption keeps the child with their natural family. In this case, an original birth certificate can be obtained so that when the child is older, it will be accessible to them. Advocates suggest asking that the birth certificate not to be amended. The official world may think you are insane because changing an adoptee’s name is the more common approach.

For the grandparent that is willing, always it is better for a child, long term, to be somewhere stable and away from the family court system. However, as a family member, be very careful if your plan is to adopt “on paper” but give the children to a parent who’s rights are terminated.  In court, you will have to commit to raising them.  If you do otherwise, and it becomes known, you could lose custody as well.

It is also true that with kinship placement adoptions, the courts will be more lenient on contact with a terminated parent, than they would be in another type of adoption. After all, it is unrealistic to expect family members not to have contact with one another and the purpose of a kinship adoption is to keep the child in contact with their natural family.  This is simply a different kind of adoption compared to the child going to strangers.

In complicated situations such as this example, it is best to obtain an attorney.  If they are willing, have the parents sign guardianship or voluntary termination so you as the grandparent can take custody of your grandchild.   It isn’t uncommon for foster families to fight the change, when adoption is so close.  They will cite the child’s attachment to them.  Also DCF will challenge you as to why you didn’t ask for the placement of your grandchild, at the time the child was removed from their parent(s).

By establishing that you would be willing to take guardianship or even adopt, if needed – the social worker can change the plan for this child to “adoption or concurrent work towards a reunification with adoption possible if necessary, before an actual termination occurs.

Bottom line – all children need to stay with family whenever possible.

What Is It About Babies?

The reason there is a business related to adoption is that couples are willing to wait a long time and pay a lot of money to adopt an infant.  It is the blank slate idea that Georgia Tann (the baby scandal thief) was fond of utilizing to obtain customers.

After 10 years of marriage, my husband decided he actually wanted to become a father after all.  Before that, he was glad that there was no pressure from me because I had been there and done that (I gave birth to a daughter in a previous marriage at age 19).  Therefore, when he announced to me over Margaritas at a Mexican restaurant that he had been thinking, I think my mouth dropped open in amazement.

At first, we considered adoption.  We weren’t actually thinking about infants.  My husband’s uncle had adopted an older boy.  We considered the problems that had resulted from that choice.  We wanted a child without someone else’s baggage.  Ours was not an uncommon perspective.  At the time, I really knew nothing about adoption beyond the fact that both of my parents were adoptees.

Ultimately, we did find a way to conceive our two sons that required a lot of medical assistance and thankfully, in our case, it worked.  Half of all women who try to conceive in the manner we did – fail.  Because my husband waited until he was truly ready and did not have fatherhood forced upon him without intention, he is a wonderful father.

There are lots of older children in foster care who would benefit from a more conventional kind of home situation.  Many never receive that and age out of the system without any resources to be independent and self-reliant.  There is no profit in taking any older child into one’s home and the attendant complications can be daunting.

The only request adoptees make of hoping to adopt couples is that they first understand the impacts of their own infertility and what it is they seek to do, in taking another woman’s child and raising it as their own.  I’ve previously discussed some of the common reforms suggested.  [1] Not changing the child’s name or birthdate.  [2] Making possible their awareness of and eventual reunion with the people who conceived them as well as any other siblings that exist.  Those two are some primary ones.