Looking Back Before Moving Forward

It’s typically a time of the year to reflect on everything that has happened during the last year. It’s always grounding to look back and reminisce on every moment that has stood out. Our local newspaper does this every year – the first 6 months in the issue before New Years and the last 6 month in the first issue published after New Years. It doesn’t matter whether our moments have been positive, negative, happy, sad, or a mix. Every moment we live through shapes us into the individuals that we are today.

I will probably continue to try and write a new blog every day. I learn so much doing this as I don’t constrain myself to repeating my own family’s story over and over again because that really would get boring not only for me but for any readers of my blog. I often share other stories related to adoption that I come across – usually excerpts with a link to the full article. Often I make personal comments within my blog that an article triggers me to think of.

So, yes it’s also a time to look towards the future. Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “New year, new me!” but I don’t perceive anything really new about me or anything truly new under the sun that might be shared in this blog. I never know however when someone may discover an old one in a google search or come across my blog in some random way, so I don’t really expect there will be any earth shattering changes in the content that I write about. Just pounding on many of the same points over and over again, to maybe reach someone who has become receptive to the way I am viewing adoption now – thanks to so much emotional labor shared on social media by adoptees and former foster care youth. I have NO New Year’s resolutions related to my own work here, which my daughter has referred to as my seeming mission. My goal remains trying to come up with something I have not written or shared before and to do so almost every day (I do occasionally miss one). I expect that I will just keep going because I am not ready to give it up yet.

Some foster children or newly adopted ones have been through a lot of trauma. It is reasonable to understand that the holidays may have a negative connotation for them, or they have nothing to relate enjoying a holiday to. One woman writes – I know for my adopted siblings, they were able to look at the first new year that they spent with us as a clean slate. They had lived a life that no child should live before and during foster care. Since we were planning to adopt them before my parents went to meet them, this was the first time that they had a sense of stability. I understand that this is a hard concept to grasp, especially for those who didn’t grow up in the system. Imagine not knowing where your next meal is coming from, who you’re going to be with, where you’re going to be, and if this foster family loves you and willingly keeps you. These thoughts are constantly nagging in the back of their heads, but now it’s like a breath of fresh air.

And so, to you who are foster parents, it may be difficult to not use language regarding the future of your foster kids. It is completely full of unknowns and can be scary for these kids. Put emphasis on the future they can expect with YOU. It may be helpful to reassure them that you will be there for them – while they’re in your home and that you will make sure that they are taken care of.

Acknowledging that some parts of today’s blog were assisted by – How to Celebrate New Years As a New Adoptive/Foster Family? by Emily Perez a stay-at-home mom with a BS in Elementary Education from Eastern Oregon University. When she was younger, her parents did foster care and adopted 5 children from all walks of life to become her siblings.

Adding More Misery To The Suffering

Daisy Hohman’s 3 children spent 20 months in foster care.
When she was reunited with her children,
she received a bill of nearly $20,000 for her children’s foster care.

An NPR investigation found that it’s common in every state for parents to get a bill for the cost of foster care. Case in point –

Just before Christmas in 2017, Daisy Hohman, desperate for a place to live, moved into the trailer of a friend who had an extra room to rent. After Hohman separated from her husband, she and her three kids had moved from place to place, staying with family and friends.

Two weeks after living at this new address, police raided the trailer. They found drugs and drug paraphernalia, according to court records. Others were the target. Hohman was at work at the time. No drugs were found on her, and police did not charge her.

Even so, child protective services in Wright County MN placed her two daughters, then 15 and 10, and a son, 9 in foster care. County officials argued she had left the children in an unsafe place. After 20 months in foster care, her three children were able to come back home. Then, Hohman got a bill from Wright County to reimburse it for some of the cost of that foster care. She owed: $19,530.07

Two federal laws contradict each other: One recent law directs child-welfare agencies to prioritize reuniting families. The other law, almost 40 years old, tells states to charge parents for the cost of child care, which makes it harder for families to reunite.

The NPR investigation also found that: The fees are charged almost exclusively to the poorest families; when parents get billed, children spend added time in foster care and the extra debt follows families for years, making it hard for them to climb out of poverty and the government raises little money, or even loses money, when it tries to collect.

Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement for children, provided by state and county child welfare agencies when families are in crisis or when parents are thought to be unable to care for their children. It’s long been recognized that the best thing for most children in foster care is to be reunited with their family. While in foster care, children live with foster families, with relatives or in group settings. More than half will eventually return home. There were 407,493 children in foster care on the day the federal government counted in 2020 to get a snapshot of the population, according to a report from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

In 2018, Congress reformed funding for child welfare when it passed the Family First Preservation Services Act. That law tells state child welfare agencies to make it their focus to preserve families and help struggling parents get their lives back on track so that they can be safely reunited with their children. But a 1984 federal law still stands, as do additional state laws, that call for making many parents pay for some of the cost of foster care. Among the costs the federal funding pays for: shelter, food and clothing; case planning; and the training of foster parents.

Of parents who get billed for foster care: A disproportionate number are people of color. Many are homeless. Many have mental health or substance abuse problems. And almost all are poor — really poor. 80% of the families in a data analysis had incomes less than $10,000 annually. Try living off $10,000 a year. You’re in deep poverty, if you’re living off that kind of money.

Hohman followed the case plan set out by county caseworkers in 2018 and completed the steps required to get her children back. She went to family therapy sessions and submitted to random drug testing. She saved up enough money to rent an apartment in order to provide the children with safe and suitable housing. The $19,530 bill was just a few thousand dollars less than Hohman’s entire paycheck in 2019, for her seasonal work at a landscaping company. The debt went on her credit report, which made it hard to find an apartment big enough for her family or to buy a dependable car to get to work. When Hohman filed her income tax, instead of getting the large refund she expected it was garnished.

To charge poor families for the cost of foster care sets them up for failure. Mothers, often single, work overtime or take on a second job to pay off the debt forcing them to leave the kids alone and unattended. While it might not seem like that much to have to pay fifty or a hundred or two hundred dollars a month in foster care child support, if you are a very low-income, low-earnings mom, that can be the difference in being able to save money for first and last month’s rent on a decent apartment or not. The mom is at risk of losing her child again because of poverty. That doesn’t make sense from a child well-being, family well-being standpoint, or from a taxpayer standpoint.

Even a small bill delayed reunification by almost seven months. That extra time in foster care matters. It increases the cost to taxpayers since daily foster care is expensive. And it inflates the bill to parents. It matters because the clock ticking for the parents. They are given a set amount of time to prove they should be allowed to get their child(ren) back. Once a child spends 15 out of 22 months in foster care, it is federal law that the child-welfare agency must begin procedures to terminate a parent’s rights to the child with a goal of placing the child for adoption in order to find them a permanent home.

Today’s child welfare system also struggles with conflicting incentives. Laws meant to hold parents accountable can end up keeping families apart. When parents don’t pay, states garnish wages, take tax refunds and stimulus checks and report parents to credit bureaus. In the overwhelming majority of the people in the child welfare program, a significant contributor to the reason they’re in that situation is poverty. Abuse is an issue in only 16% of cases when kids go to foster care. Mostly, the issue is the parent’s neglect. Maybe there’s no food in the refrigerator or the parent is homeless or addicted. These are issues of poverty.

States don’t actually have to go after this money. There’s some leeway in the 1984 federal law. It says parents should be charged to reimburse some of the cost of foster care – when it’s appropriate but it does not define the term appropriate.

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.

A Christmas To Remember

Angela Turbeville hugs one of the six children, all siblings,
that she and her husband Elliott adopted Monday in Columbus Georgia

Sharing a story from Georgia Public Broadcasting. It is not perfect (having their original parents able to care for and raise them) but it is the best possible outcome for these siblings, allowing them to grow up together with each other.

Her wish list for Christmas includes items typical of a 10-year-old girl, such as a cooking set and fake nails. But at the bottom, in larger letters, is a request:

Get adopted.

That wish not only came true for the girl Monday, but Angela and Elliott Turbeville of Columbus also adopted five of her brothers — all in a joyful surprise. The Turbevilles surprised the children on December 20th with the news they would be going to court that afternoon to finalize the adoption. The Turbevilles creatively broke the news to the six children, ages 7-14, at their Green Island Hills home this week, before the two-year effort to go from foster to adoptive parents culminated in a courtroom.

When they awoke Monday morning, the kids got ready for school like usual. Outside, relatives started arriving for the surprise that would keep the children from going to school that day. Isabella, one of the Turbeville’s biological children and a Columbus State University student, brought 120 donuts. Elliott emerged from the garage to greet her. Then he took out his phone and started recording the scene as Isabella walked to the front door.

When one of the children opened the door, the others followed and saw on the front lawn a sign the Turbevilles had arranged to be put up overnight.

IT’S ADOPTION DAY

Wide-eyed and mouths agape, the kids soaked in the significance. One of them asked, “We’re adopted?” Angela answered, “Today, we’re going to court to be adopted.” The children shouted, “Yaaaaaaaaay!” After the bevy of family hugs, the 13-year-old boy sasid, “Coming right before Christmas, this is like the perfect time. … I’m just amazed and excited because we’ve been waiting for this a long time.”

Being adopted, instead of fostered, strengthens the sense of security the children feel. We’ve been through a lot of stuff that shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “Our parents should have taken care of us. But now, we have these parents that actually take care of us and feed us every day.” He smiled and continued, “They put me in my place when I’m in trouble.” Then he paused and added, “They just do everything right.” He noted the frustration the siblings shared when they were split in different foster homes and the gratitude they have for the Turbevilles to adopt them all together. “This is really rare,” he said. “They took this chance getting all of us. I thank them — and I thank God — for this.”

Seeing the children revel in the surprise, Angela said, “I’m just happy the day is finally here and that everybody will have the same last name.” Angela reflected on the legal hurdles they had to leap over to reach this moment, and emphasized that they still are working to adopt the seventh sibling. “I feel like I’m almost at the end of a marathon,” she said. Elliott said he was holding back his emotions until the adoption would be finalized later that day. “I’m just happy to see how surprised they were and how happy they are,” he said.

The family rode downtown in a chauffeured party bus for the adoption hearing in a 10th-floor courtroom at the Government Center, with Superior Court Judge Maureen Gottfried presiding. About two dozen relatives and friends were in the gallery.

“This is just a really, really, happy, happy day,” Gottfried told them. “I’m so glad that all of y’all are here to celebrate because this is really a celebration of a bad situation turning great.” About 10 minutes later, after Tom Tebeau, the Turbevilles’ lawyer, presented his clients and their case to the court, Gottfried approved the adoption. “These kids,” Gottfried said, “y’all are getting what you deserve as children, to be able to be raised in a happy house and taken care of, loving each other, loving your parents and just having everything be great. So I’m very thrilled to be able to sign off on all these.”

Angela and Elliott are relieved the legal process delivered the result they sought. “It’s a dream come true to be able to adopt children,” Angela said. “I hate it that they were in foster care, but at least we get to give them a good life. … They’re safe, and they’re happy, and we’re their parents.”

The back story – Angela is a former elementary school teacher and tutor. Elliott is an associate director at Pratt & Whitney. Both are in their 40s. After raising three biological children, their bodies wouldn’t allow them to have more kids, but their hearts and minds yearned for them. They considered other options, such as in vitro fertilization, but fostering and eventually adoption better fit their mindset. They became certified ​foster parents in 2019.

“There’s just thousands of kids in that need,” Elliott said. “So we figured, instead of going through all of that with her body and trying to make more of our own, why not just help kids already out there and need help?” That October, they received a call from Hope Foster Care, the child placing agency of the Methodist Home for Children & Youth: Would they foster four siblings? They figured they had raised three children, so this would be just one more. Then Angela was noticed one of the boys has the same birthdate of Elliott’s deceased mother. It was like a sign to her that this was the right thing to do. Elliott said, “She likes those coincidences.” I am like that too – my mom called these Godincidences.

That week, they learned the four children had three siblings in a foster home 2-3 hours away. After a period of Saturday visits over the next few months, Hope Foster Care asked whether the Turbevilles would take in the other three siblings as well. They agreed, but Angela asked for 30 days to get the house ready. That meant rearranging rooms and buying bunkbeds. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic started in spring 2020 and the Turbervilles hunkered down in their house with their seven foster children. “Luckily, I was a schoolteacher, so I did homeschool,” Angela said.

That gave Angela time to help the children who were below grade level catch up. “The oldest boy is now almost at grade level (eighth grade) in most subjects,” he said. “He came to me on a kindergarten/first-grade reading level 2½ years ago.” Now, all the children in school are on the honor roll. “They’re smart,” Angela said. “They understand where they came from. They understand where they are. … Their mom was a foster child, so we’re trying to break that cycle. My goal is to get them educated, keep them out of jail and be productive citizens.”

When the seventh-grade boy came home last month with a gift card for having the highest math test score in his grade, he told Angela he wanted to use it for the family to buy groceries for Thanksgiving. “That was a big deal for him,” she said.

The Turbevilles gained the children’s trust by striking the fine balance between providing them a structured yet compassionate home, where promises are kept, Elliott said. “A lot of it is routine and being open and honest and setting clear expectations and just making them feel safe,” he said. “… They came from an environment that they didn’t know where their next meal was coming from.”

The children had been asking the Turbevilles for two years to adopt them, Angela said. This past spring, the Turbevilles learned the juvenile court in Floyd County had terminated the parental rights of the biological mother and fathers for the six oldest siblings, allowing them to start the adoption process. In addition to taking on a new last name, some of the children also chose to change their first name or middle name to something connected to the Turbeville family.

“It’s just confirmation that we’ve doing the right thing for these kids,” Elliott said. “… Every kid deserves a chance. … There’s just so much angst and bad stuff out there. If we can carve out a little area and make them better, make us better as a result and let them go out and make the world a better place as well, I know that sounds kind of cheeky, but it’s just the general idea of doing something good instead of just sitting back and watching all the bad happen.”

The timing of the adoption process culminating five days before Christmas is a coincidence, the Turbevilles said — but a delightful one. “It’s a Christmas to remember,” Elliott said.

Their caseworker, Caytlin Merritt of Hope Foster Care, called this case remarkable. She praised the Turbevilles for their patience with the children and for being fierce advocates when it comes to “going above and beyond” to fulfill their needs. “Not only have they welcomed these kids into their home and love them, but now they’re opening their hearts to them forever. That’s a huge commitment and sacrifice on their part, and they have just been all-in from day one. … It’s just a joy and a pleasure to have been a witness to that and support them.”

Beyond the number of children the Turbevilles adopted, what makes their case even more special, Merritt said, is their willingness to take in older children and keep siblings together. “There are not many foster homes currently able to take more than two children at a time and even fewer that are willing to take in teens,” Merritt said. “This means that siblings are often separated and may be placed in different counties, sometimes hours from each other. We want to do everything we can to keep teens in foster families, not group homes, and to keep sibling groups together.​”

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.

Is It Really ?

One hears this a lot from people who want to adopt a baby – “I applaud you for your courageous choice to give your daughter a chance at a better future. There are so many women with infertility issues like myself who would love to adopt a child. Please keep me in your thoughts if you know of other women in your situation. I have a lot of love to give.”

One cannot really say if being adopted gives anyone a “better life”. Both of my parents were adopted. They both would have grown up with some degree of poverty had they remained with their original mothers. And the truth of the matter is, my dad still grew up with some degree of poverty. In fact, he actually experienced food insecurity and hunger as a child. We always had more food on our table at dinner than we could eat. My mom told me that was the reason why. And my dad was so obese as an adult, he relished his nickname Fat Pat.

I do appreciate his adoptive parents. My granny was hugely influential in my life. We often spent days and weekends with her. A word from her that was very serious about some issue had the power to change the direction I was traveling in. Having learned my parents more or less full background stories, I believe had it not been for my granny, my teenage mother who conceived me out of wedlock, would have been sent away as so many girls in the 1950s through 1970s were, to have and give me up. I believe my dad’s adoptive parents insisted he do the right thing and quit college and go to work, after quickly marrying my mother so I would be born legitimate. And my nuclear family experienced hardships but we knew we were loved, even though our parents were strangely detached, having had their own familial bonds broken before the age of one year.

And how about my mother ? Her dad was the vice president at a large bank in downtown El Paso Texas. Her mother was a socialite and charity do-gooder. She was also influential in my own life for different reasons than my granny. She modeled for us good manners and good taste in home decor and clothing. However, my mom – while wanting for nothing of a financial basis – struggle with her adoptive mother. My grandmother was always thin and trim (she would starve herself if necessary, her mother and sister were quite rotund) and my mom’s body type was never going to be that – big boned Scottish farm girl stock that she was. My grandmother also dangled her wealth as a carrot and a stick over my mom.

My mom’s father was very poor and her mother’s family was also poor. My grandmother lost my mom when she gave birth while separated from her lawfully married husband during a massive flood on the Mississippi River. Unable to contact him for support or reconciliation, Georgia Tann along with her enablers the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley and the Porter-Leath Orphanage supervisor Georgia Robinson (to whom my grandmother turned for temporary care while she tried to get on her feet financially without family support) exploited her financially precarious situation and coerced her into surrendering my mom for adoption. She tried to undo this 4 days after signing the papers but Tann was not letting my mom loose as her soon to be adoptive mother was already on her way from Nogales Arizona by train to Memphis Tennessee to collect her. My grandmother had previously adopted a son from Tann.

One cannot actually say my mom had a “better” life either. The truth about adoption is – the child has a DIFFERENT life from the one they would have had with their original parent(s). Better is a subjective concept that adoptive parents like to believe in order to justify taking a child, due to their own infertility, from another woman. It honestly is that simple.

Kinship Caregivers

On December 29, 2020 – Ohio Governor Mike DeWine signed Senate Bill 310 which authorizes payments from the Ohio Dept of Job and Family Services to pay kinship caregivers. This is a big deal and hopefully other states will now follow suit. The governor noted that in Ohio alone, there are 2,600 kinship caregivers providing safe and loving homes to nearly 4,000 children registered in a children services agency.

The governor ordered the development of a system to pay kinship cargivers by June 1, 2021 and that payments to caregivers should be caught up retroactively to the date the bill was signed – December 29, 2020.

Across the United States, 4% of all children (more than 2.65 million) are in kinship care. In this arrangement, relatives raise kids when their parents cannot care for them. This is an effort to keep families together.

There are three general and sometimes overlapping categories of kinship care. These categories are: 1) private or informal care, where families make arrangements with or without legal recognition of a caregiver’s status; 2) diversion kinship care, where children who have come to the attention of child welfare agencies end up living with a relative or close friend of the family. and 3) licensed or unlicensed kinship care, where kids live with relatives but remain in legal custody of the state.

There are many reasons that a parent may be unwilling or unable to care for their child, including death, incarceration, illness, substance abuse and financial instability.

Kinship caregivers may be grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or family friends of the children in their care. Caregivers often feel responsible for extended family members and prefer to care personally for relative children who may otherwise end up in non-relative foster care. In many cases, grandparents and other relatives have not planned for the addition of children to the home, and may have problems accessing social and educational services that have changed drastically since they raised their own children. Some caregivers experience feelings of guilt and social isolation resulting from fear of the perception that one failed in raising one’s own child. Caregivers may be hesitant to pursue legal custody of children in their care if they want to maintain relationships with the child’s biological parent, or if they view the arrangement as temporary.

Grandfamilies face obstacles not encountered by biological parents such as obtaining medical and educational services for the children in their care and securing affordable housing in which they can live with the children. Many of the public assistance benefits available to birth parents and foster families are not available to kinship caregivers even if the child was receiving assistance in the parent’s home. Some states offer “subsidized guardianship” payments for kinship families with children placed through children services agencies or foster care agencies, although these payments are substantially less than payments that non-relative foster families receive.

Financial issues are common for many older grandparents and great-grandparents who are living on fixed incomes, Social Security or disability payments, who did not plan to raise children late in life, or who are raising children with demanding educational or medical needs. The prevalence of these financial issues has led to a high rate of food insecurity, job loss and home foreclosure in families who support additional children without adequate financial and service assistance. The obstacles can be even greater in “informal” care arrangements, where the relative caregiver lacks a legal relationship (such as legal custody or guardianship) with the child.

No Support

I was reading an article this morning about a social networking site known as Urban Baby.

Urban Baby was part of the first wave of confessional Internet women’s writing about parenting, one that occurred in tandem with our society’s withdrawal of support for parents and children, and the simultaneous ratcheting up of expectations of what makes for good mothering. Blogs like Dooce — that’s Heather Armstrong, also known as the “queen of the mommy bloggers” — wrote openly about struggles with postnatal depression, while others took on the challenges of raising a special-needs child.

This new world of parenting was challenging and liberating, but, most importantly, optimistic. There was the almost-always unspoken assumption that the Internet was going to change the world of mothering for the better.

But that did not happen. For all the delights of the mom blogosphere, its members fell into a trap all too common to our time: We might kvetch about our problems jointly, but we struggle, for the most part, alone.

Despite, say, all the online chatter about the struggle to get a child into a “TT” — that’s Urban Baby lingo for top-tier — private or public school, very few connected their struggles to the greater society and economy causing their woes. Rare was the moment on Urban Baby when someone asked why there were so few TT schools — it was simply yet another problem to surmount. That remained true as the mothering blogosphere and forums lost ground to social media, to Instagram posts by neighbors and celebrity influencers alike about the wonderfulness of their parenting lives.

For my part, I belong to a mom’s group that started out connecting only by email and eventually ended up on Facebook.  All of our children are turning 16 years old this year.  We all conceived within that brave new world of reproductive technology.  We have been together since before we knew we were successful.  We met once when the children were two years old at Elmo’s World.  I’m so glad we did.  One of our more outspoken moms died from breast cancer some time ago and it was heart-wrenching.  She was our second loss to cancer.  More than one of our mom’s lost their spouse in one way or another during our time together.  Only the current politics has divided us and that is bittersweet indeed but all of us are trying – to hold onto what unites us and not pick at the wounds of the country that affect us as well.

Yet that ambitious appetite for change was desperately needed, as our current covid-19 world is making all too clear. We are — even in a life-altering pandemic — the only developed country not to offer paid family leave or sick days to all. Nearly a fifth of families with children under the age of 12 are reporting they do not have enough food.

Children have been out of school since March, and for many, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, except for more in the way of subpar online classes that need parental supervision. And forget complaining about the high cost of child care: Our decision to leave it almost fully to the free market may well result, according to the Center for American Progress, in the loss of millions of child-care slots. This combination might well turn out to be cataclysmic — not just for children, but for their mothers, who, minus the child care offered by school, might well find themselves permanently exiting the workplace.

On Urban Baby this week there were final goodbyes, one last show of virtual hands for Zip codes, and final reasons they were here before everyone scattered. As one poster pointed out, “UB has been a release valve for all of the pent-up frustration and all of the challenges of modern motherhood.” No doubt. But, ultimately, emotional release is a thin gruel.

Mothers, fathers and their children need more — more help, more support, more resources. This was true before the current crisis, and it’s even more true now. When it comes to the online world of parenting, the biggest failure is not one of organization. It’s that for all their complaints, all too many of the people doing the talking on sites like Urban Baby still believe that they can individually surmount the ever-increasing challenges of American life rather than changing the system that underlies them. Until that mind-set changes, nothing else will.

My thanks to Helaine Olen’s op-ed in The Washington Post (for all of this except my personal comments).