What Is Child Endangerment?

When my children were very young, I used to worry that some rather innocent parental choice might cause us to lose custody of them. There was a memorable episode of The Simpsons – LINK>Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily – the third episode of the seventh season. Homer and Marge lose custody of their children to the state. The kids end up in foster care at Ned and Maude Flanders’ house. Marge and Homer were spending the day at a spa, while the children were in school. Baby Maggie was left in the care of her elderly grandfather, Abe Simpson. This caused the parents to be accused of negligence after Bart was sent home from school with head lice and Lisa was found shoe less. Child Protective Services agents arrived at the Simpson house and judged it to be under incompetent care.

This was much less likely when I was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I do remember getting in trouble for going too far from home on my bicycle. I also remember wandering in wild and remote spaces and never feeling concern from my parents, though in adulthood I learned they weren’t aware of the extent of my journeys LOL.

We never left our two sons alone and never even employed their grandparents (who lived next door) as overnight babysitters. I suppose we have been overprotective but they are still alive and have not gotten into any serious youthful trouble. They’ve been allowed to develop their own character absent being overly influenced by peers. So often I read in adoption related spaces how easily children have been removed from their natural parents for no more than poverty, which this country does pitifully little to address and probably will do even less in the next 2 years with extremist Republicans in charge of the federal government.

Two recent events have gotten my attention. This country has a serious double standard depending on one’s race and class status. One event is alluded to in the image I chose for today’s blog (more on that below). The other I just read about in The Huffington Post – LINK>What Is Child Endangerment? When Leaving Your Child Alone Becomes A Crime. I remember hearing a similar story from my own mother. She left two of us alone to run to the grocery store, I believe. We were discovered by a neighbor. My mom learned her lesson and the police and/or Child Protective Services were never involved.

The Huffington Post story was about two children, ages 2 years and 5 months, who were left alone in a New York City hotel room, sleeping and under camera surveillance, so that their parents could go out to dinner about a block and a half away. Life is what happens next. The father had a sudden heart attack at the restaurant and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The mother accompanied her husband in the ambulance. In the midst of this crisis, she asked both a close friend and her parents to rush to her children’s hotel room and attend to them (as she continued to monitor them by camera). However, the hotel denied entry to her friend (which actually is policy, I remember being with my dad but in a separate room in a hotel and he asked the front desk what room I was in and they would not tell him). In the case of these children, the hotel called NYPD.

The issue of a double standard comes up in this case, though the mother does face two counts of “acting in a manner injurious to a child” and is scheduled to appear in Manhattan criminal court on Thursday. One commenter noted – “If she was a poor woman in an inner city she would’ve been arrested.” In fact, some children are left alone in inadequate circumstances by single mothers due to a lack of affordable child care options, while that mother must work to feed, house and clothe her children. Any individual can make a call to the police or to Child Protective Services, triggering a process leading to state involvement, which can include the parent’s loss of custody. New York’s juvenile court has defined such neglect with this example – “A child of 12 might be fine alone for two hours in an afternoon. Yet, the same child may be incapable of responsibly caring for a 5-year-old for that same period of time.”

This case gets attention because the parents are wealthy and well-known. As I have already noted – most other cases involve disproportionately poor and working-class parents who leave children alone when faced with a need to go to work or on a job interview, when they don’t have accessible, affordable child care. Families living in poverty or near poverty are judged far more harshly than wealthy parents. Parents who are taken to family court are at very high risk of having their children removed from their custody and placed in foster care. More often than you may think possible, this leads to the permanent termination of their parental rights.

The Guardian had an update this morning, LINK>No fight or warning before six-year-old boy shot teacher, say Virginia police, regarding the case of the Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6 year old who brought a loaded handgun to school. The 9mm handgun used by the boy was bought legally by his mother and kept in the family’s home. It remains unclear whether the mother will face any legal charges. Virginia does not have a law that requires unattended guns to be stored in a particular way or a law that requires gun owners to affirmatively lock their weapons. The issue will be whether it can be proven that the mother’s actions violated a Virginia law that prohibits anyone from recklessly leaving a loaded, unsecured gun in a manner that endangers the life or limb of children under 14. It could be argued by gun advocates that the child was never in danger – but certainly his teacher was.

Tragic

Angel and her Grandmother

Hers is a clear case of all that is wrong with foster care and the family court system. Monica Dunning, Angel’s grandmother, had successfully completed the foster parenting classes and background checks to become a licensed kinship foster care home. Dunning was seeking to be named her granddaughter’s guardian.

Angel’s mother died in a car crash on Halloween 2016. Dunning said that Angel was placed into child protective services in Tennessee the very next day because of a “no contact” order with her father. Dunning said her daughter was divorced from Ahearn at the time of her death. Allegations of domestic violence led to the court order that prevented him from seeing Angel. The girl passed through eight to ten foster homes in Tennessee over the next few years. Instead of being placed with her grandmother, Angel’s father was awarded custody of her on May 3, 2021.

“It’s heartbreaking that I feel like me and my family were absolutely robbed from the time that my daughter passed away. We just, we had very, very limited contact. And there was absolutely no reason why she couldn’t have come here,” Dunning said. After her father gained custody, she was no longer aware of Angel’s whereabouts until she got the call on October 18th that let her know that her granddaughter was dead. 

A third-party caller claiming to be Rachel Hollifield’s aunt said in the 911 call that for the past year her niece had repeatedly tried to run away from Leonard. She was not sure what triggered the shooting incident. The woman’s aunt told the dispatcher – she heard a scream in the house followed by gunshots and then it got silent while she was on the phone.

In his Georgia home, Leonard Ahearn first killed his daughter, Angel Ahearn, who had just turned 12. Then he shot Rachel Hollifield, his girlfriend, in the hand. Finally, he turned the gun on himself. Angel died at the scene. Leonard and Hollifield were transported to a hospital. Leonard later died from his injuries. Hollifield is expected to recover. 

Dunning was particularly frustrated because she had invested time and money to undergo the process to authorize her to care for Angel, in a home where Angel would have been safe. She said it seemed as if the officials in charge of Angel’s case “would place [Angel] with anybody” but her maternal grandmother.

MIA Fathers

In adoptionland, it seems that most of the attention is on moms. Birth mothers, adoptive mothers, women who are mature adoptees. Certainly, the gestation of a baby is a huge bonding reality that is severed, if a child is removed from their mother or adopted out after birth.

It is hard to locate as much information about how men feel if they lose their fatherhood. Lots of stuff about men’s fathers dying but less about the impact on men, if they lose the opportunity to parent their children. Lots of stuff about the negative impact of absentee fathers on their children.

I did find one man’s blog in which he describes that since becoming a father himself, he now judges the value of potential friends based upon how they treat their own children. I did find that interesting. I do believe that men do care about their children – my children have different fathers. My daughter has the father that I married at the end of high school. I have written in the past how he ended up raising her with a step-mother, though that was never my own intention.

My two sons have their father because he wanted to be a father badly enough to accept a novel means of conceiving them. Because he was ready to be a father, he has been awesome in his role in the boys’ lives. I believe that readiness is an important factor is whether a man is successful at becoming a father (and in that case, regarding the likelihood of a divorce severing him from his children). I believe readiness is an important factor in determining how willingly a man goes the extra mile for his children.

You may find this blog by CJ Nigh, who writes as Undead Dad, interesting. He describes himself as an East Coast writer with a Midwestern soul. He describes his blog as being about mindful fatherhood in the deadening age of hyper-technology and over-work. I think you may enjoy reading this offering – Finding Out Your Friend is an Absent Parent – for Father’s Day.

It would also be worthwhile to read this piece in Psychology Today – Father Absence, Father Deficit, Father Hunger – subtitled – The vital importance of paternal presence in children’s lives. I totally agree – parents are forcefully removed from their children’s lives, as daily caregivers, by misguided family court judgments. We have laws and policies that devalue the importance of parents in children’s lives and parental involvement as being critical to children’s well-being. In most cases, children benefit from having access to both parents—and parents need the support of social institutions in order to be there for their kids.

Neglect Is The Reason

75 % of the cases where children are removed from their parents and home are for the broad term “neglect”. These children are then placed into foster care where the care may not be very loving and the foster parents may be simply in the system for the tax free monthly payments directly into their bank account with no accountability required about how they spend this money.

We do not need foster care. We need better programs to address mental health and drug addiction.

Neglect is an outcome of poverty, drug addiction and mental health issues. It does not usually stem from crappy people that just don’t care about their kids and so they neglect them. Sexual or physical abuse is not considered neglect.

Just a thought – what if we put the billions of dollars spent on foster care into drug prevention programs, mental health screening, preventive care? Would neglect be reduced?

Wonder just who reports this neglect? The highest percentage are teachers. What qualifies for a teacher to report neglect? Kid being dirty? Wearing the same clothes? Not having lunch? Why are these things reportable to Child Protective Services vs reporting a genuine need for the intervention of a program that could help families overcome these challenges?

If you don’t see something wrong with this system as it currently exists, maybe you are part of the problem in your complacency.

There’s a huge problem when society thinks they are “helping” children but are actually damaging them more. People do not understand how these systems actually work but they still trust them. We need to educate teachers and the public about their poverty bias and on what causes actual trauma.

In effect, everyday children are kidnapped because of a belief they are at risk of possible future harm. Many have experienced corruption in the family court system. In reality, most children never were harmed or neglected at all but people’s judgements of them made it so.

In one case, someone shared their family came under investigation by Child Protective Services because a doctor reported the husband when he went to that doctor with symptoms of a paranoid personality disorder due to PTSD. The “potential harm” was nothing more than thoughts at the time. But the experience was an absolute nightmare for the family. Thankfully it ended up being only an investigation and not a removal.

When my young sons were acting up in public – I used to caution them that they really needed to behave better because someone might not understand what our family was really like 99.9% of the time and take them away from us believing that we were abusing them, when we were only gently disciplining them in such a way so as to get their attention long enough to get them to stop. It is a fine and scary line that parents have to balance. One mother shared that her son’s principal at his school reported her to Child Protective Services – twice – just because she didn’t like her.

During the pandemic, there has been almost a 50% decrease in CPS reports from mandated reporters. While some cities did report an increase in child visits to the emergency room, possibly due to physical abuse, the cause may have simply been the shut down of conventional medical offices. There has been no documented increase in emergency room visits or fatalities related to abuse or neglect. Obviously mandated reporters are significantly over reporting.

When my mother in law was in the prime of her career as a social worker, she worked within the low income Black community to make certain that whatever was keeping the child out of school was provided to the family to ameliorate that lack. Here’s what one teacher said about their school’s social worker –

I am a teacher in a low income area. When we see poverty related issues we go to the school social worker first, who contacts the family to offer resources. Usually our family resource center can offer things like coats, shoes or snow boots, school supplies, food and clothing. Some schools I’ve worked at even carry clothes for adults in their “caring closet” for families in need. School social workers will also coordinate with outside agencies to help families get situated with housing or any other needs they may have.

This teacher defends neglect calls from her own experiences. Like when the parents don’t seem to be making an effort or don’t seem to care. There may be a lot of reasons why they are coming off as not caring, but situations where a child is sick and throwing up or injured and the parent can’t be reached for hours and when they are reached they don’t show up to pick up their kid and this happens every time their kid gets sick. There are kids who get returned to school on the bus because they’re 4 or 5 years old and there was no one at the bus stop and it’s hours before the parent can be reached and they didn’t even realize their kid was missing when the social worker is knocking at their door at 6pm trying to track them down, and again it’s not the first time.

Kids with obvious medical concerns that have been brought to the parents attention repeatedly and the parent does not take them to a doctor. Once we had a kid transported to the hospital via ambulance with the parent completely unreachable. When the parent was finally reached they said they weren’t going to meet their child at the hospital because they were in the middle of cooking dinner. The parent never showed up. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) was eventually called and a worker had to come out and go find the parent to take them to the hospital. It was like 9pm and the parent was just refusing to go get their kid.

Sometimes neglect is a symptom of something far worse. A child can be removed for neglect initially and get bounced in and out of foster care for neglect, only to find out years down the line that there was severe physical and sexual abuse that was occurring.

This teacher did agree that providing resources should be the first line of intervention, when dealing with neglect issues. Yet it is her perspective that when a family is being offered resources and the issues continue, it’s important to dig down deeper because kids are not going to come right out and tell non-family adults about abuse that may be happening. Kids can show up to school with marks and bruises but so long as they deny abuse, nothing will be done about it. They can even initially report abuse and then. will take it back when DCF shows up or after the parent threatens them. Parents will tell kids that foster care is so much worse than what they’re living with now in an attempt to scare them into keeping quiet. They will tell kids that in foster homes, kids are starved and fed nothing but bread and water- all sorts of stories to keep them quiet. Fear of the unknown, shame, and the desire to protect their parents are all powerful tools that keep kids in abusive situations silent.

As I read all of that, I personally had reservations about the teacher’s perspective. Someone else responded as I had been thinking – did you ever consider that poor parents who have jobs don’t have the ability or privilege to take off work every-time they need to take a kid to the doctor, pick them up when the school calls or even answer the phone? Why assume they just don’t give a shit? Some people have to take whatever job they can find and some jobs, more specifically low wage jobs aren’t often very understanding. So if parents are having to leave work, they may lose their job and then you’re calling Child Protective Services ? Now they can’t pay rent and are homeless because public housing often has wait lists 8 years long and most women and children’s shelters have long wait lists too and stay full. I worked in a school. Maybe where you worked school social workers were “helpful” but that’s not always the case. Your school doesn’t seem like a low income school because low income schools don’t typically have all of those resources to offer the student’s families. And maybe a parent refusing to go get their kid is in the middle of a mental crisis and needed immediate HELP and that is not having their child removed. Most parents are not just assholes who don’t give a damn. There is always something more going on. Rather than removing kids, let’s fund families better, make even more services available to them. Let’s stop making assumptions about why things are happening and work with families to get to the bottom of their very real problems. Remember, a struggling parent isn’t going to be very trusting because they know how the system works. So when they act like they don’t want to take your help, maybe it’s because they don’t trust you.

I believe a lot of what this person shared below, also happens in my rural community where the median household income is $43,636 annually and for a single wage earner only $23,587.

The school in my town (rural/low income) has washers and dryers and people donate laundry supplies to them. The kids themselves or their parents that aren’t able to clean their clothes at home can take them to school to have them washed, so that the kids have clean school clothes to wear. They have a clothes closet where people can donate shoes or clothes for kids in the school that need them. They have a big coat and shoe drive every Christmas and give hundreds of kids in our community a new coat, a new pair of shoes and toys. We have a huge school supply giveaway every year before school starts where they give everyone a backpack full of school supplies, free haircuts, a new outfit, socks, underwear and pair of shoes. This year our county Board of Education is providing every student all of their school supplies free. They give kids a bag full of food every Friday, so they know they’ll have food when they’re out of school over the weekend and every child at our school gets free breakfast and lunch. I think all of these are great ideas that could help a lot of low income communities. It is well known that one reason families get reported for neglect is because the kids are dirty or wearing dirty or out of season (no coat or shorts in winter) clothes.

Low income families often just need a little extra help. Our society can and should do better !! But I need to end this with just one more because there are multiple sides to every story. This one is sad and regrettable.

One of my friend’s family was reported by a teacher to Child Protective Services (CPS) for bruises but by the time they actually responded, his mother had broken his arm. I was repeatedly physically abused as a child and I even threatened to call CPS myself. My mother told me I would be abused even worse in a foster home and the trauma she had caused made me actually believe it. If your position on a subject is firmly entrenched due to a negative experience, then nothing anyone else says will change your mind. If we didn’t have the Child Protective Services system and there were reports of children dying from neglect and abuse on the news every night, people would demand something to be done to protect innocent children. In my case, I was never taken from my biological family, but I should’ve been. I suffered extreme amounts of trauma and have had counseling multiple times to try and help me deal with the aftermath.

From Obesity to Foster Care

When my children were young, I did worry about excessive intrusion on our family as regards our choices in parenting. Thankfully, the boys are close to grown and we escaped any of those kinds of worries.

So it was startling for me to read today about a family who’s children have been taken from them and placed in foster care because they didn’t do enough to offset their children’s obesity. What really makes this scary is this note – “The case was such an unusual one because the children had clearly had some very good parenting, as they were polite, bright, and engaging.”

I see so many obese people of all ages here in our rural Missouri environment. I have struggled with healthy weight issues all of my life, I was raised with a high awareness of this and have dieted my entire life with varying success. At the moment I am holding on (sometimes barely) to a decent stability in that regard. I know that it is important.

The case that prompted this blog occurred in the UK. Social services staff at West Sussex county council had told a family court judge about their concerns. The local authority had provided Fitbits (fitness trackers) and paid for gym membership for the family, who had also signed up to Weight Watchers. Months after family court proceedings began there had been no reduction in the children’s weight, and they had not provided recordings from their Fitbits or attended the Weight Watchers appointments consistently.

The judge said the children’s parents did not seem to understand the seriousness of concerns raised by social services staff and had failed to set boundaries and promote healthy eating and exercise. She said the children needed the chance to “learn ways of living more healthily” and to improve their health by losing weight. The judge said there were also concerns about poor home conditions and a lack of guidance on personal care.

“Everyone agrees that this is a very sad and unusual case, of a loving family, where the parents meet many of the basic needs of the children, but the local authority has been concerned that the parents are not meeting the children’s health needs, in that both children are severely overweight, and the parents have shown an inability to help the children manage this condition,” the judge remarked in her ruling.

Figures in 2014 disclosed that up to 74 morbidly obese children were estimated to have been taken into care over a five-year period across England, Wales and Scotland. Children over age 2 or teens whose BMI is greater than the 95th percentile are considered obese. BMI uses height and weight measurements to estimate body fat. Obese children at BMIs of 30, 35 and 40 are defined as class I, class II meaning severe or class III meaning morbidly obese. Class III obese children had a higher waist circumference, systolic blood pressure and fasting insulinaemia (an abnormally large concentration of insulin in the circulating blood) compared with less obese children.

So, I get it. But foster care ? Seems like an extreme solution. I wonder if the parents are also morbidly obese. If so, do we imprison such people as well ? Just saying.

When The Money Matters

Family court is always about who can outspend the other, not about who is best for a child. Now, if you are biological family to a child who’s parents aren’t fit and that child is taken by the Dept of Social Services, any foster parent can outspend you in court and adopt and take that kid, YOUR BLOOD family, anywhere they want. Biology means nothing compared to a “foster” parent wishing to adopt a “Same Race American” baby the cheap way.

Its much more expensive to adopt a child if you’re not a foster parent, but you can run most families in the ground financially trying to save their blood, and take that child with the help of Dept of Social Services (taxpayers help pay for these adoptions) for much less, usually. All thanks to this case ruling that was only intended to allow a foster to adopt – only – if the biological family was ALL unfit.

Now it applies in any case, even when that child has a huge, wonderful, loving family, even if a family has to cut ties with a biological parent. As always, $$$ talks, and this child could lose her wonderful grandparents after a $100,000 + 3 year battle.

I am so heartbroken for Gracie and The Hajeks. This case could affect any of us and often no one even knows about a family’s challenges. Many of us have either benefitted or lost in a divorce/custody case because of the amount of money we could spend, rather than what was in the best interest of the child. It would be morally wrong if this child is purchased by the highest bidder, rather than remaining with her natural family.

It is a complicated legal case – the grandparents have a temporary joint custody of their granddaughter in an odd custody arrangement that includes the former foster caregivers. The grandparents are being pushed to settle with previous foster parents because they want to adopt the child.

The girl was taken away from her mom at 3 days old when drugs were discovered in her biological system. The baby girl was then placed into foster care. The girl’s mom had tried to hide the identity of her dad and so put someone else’s name on the birth certificate (my own sister did that with my nephew).

So, the grandparents found out about the baby’s existence when she was 3 months old. Their son had learned about her and was trying to get custody. He had to have his paternity confirmed. This was finally completed when the baby girl was 7 months old. Though he wanted a relationship with his daughter, he wisely believed he could not care for her fully and asked his parents to step in. They willingly agreed.

The Dept of Social Services and the child’s Guardian Ad Litem recommended family placement. The judge presiding at the time awarded a visitation schedule to the foster caregivers along with placement with grandparents. Several months ago, when the Dept of Social Services wanted to close the case, the judge awarded an odd temporary joint custody between grandparents and foster caregivers. The girl spends 3 days with the foster parents and 4 days with her grandparents. The grandparents do have final say in her issues. The Dept of Social Services is no longer involved.

The foster caregivers are now fighting in court to adopt the 4 yr old girl. They have not done much to move the case forward. The strategy appears to be continuing the case, so that the grandparents run out of money and lose by default. The foster caregivers have never been generous as they have always wanted to adopt her. Originally they only wanted to give the grandparents 4 weekends a year. The grandparents pushed for their rights and were given every other weekend.

The grandparents are young – age 40 and under. They want to raise their granddaughter but feel trapped in the legal system. They don’t have funds to fight the foster caregivers for much longer. The grandparents have lost their lawyer because of falling into arrears in their payment of legal fees. So now, they are on their own in this fight.

Only noting here that the male foster caregiver is a police officer and worked as a court bailiff for many years. So he knows how the legal system functions.

Here is the link, Help The Hajek Family Fundraiser, if you are willing to donate to the grandparents’ legal expenses.

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.

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.

 

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.