Youth Villages

My husband called my attention to an article at NPR.org – “18 can mean an abrupt exit from foster care. For some, it’s no longer a solo journey.” I already knew somewhat about aging out of foster care and the effects of that.

What attracted my attention was this – Helping young people see that they can have a stable future is the goal of the LifeSet program. Developed in 1999 by the Memphis nonprofit Youth Villages, it is being used today in 18 states and Washington, DC. I appreciate this from their Mission and Values statements – “When at all possible, children belong with their families. We help families provide the support and structure that all children need.”

Also this – We develop innovative programs that serve children and families facing the most challenging circumstances. Our entrepreneurial spirit leads us to test the limits of existing services and create new opportunities. We provide care and treatment for children in an open, safe environment. We ensure that young people are physically and emotionally safe. We help children and families develop skills to live successfully by focusing on areas that have a long-term impact on the family.

LifeSet puts transition-age youth in the driver’s seat of their lives with a trained specialist by their side to help them identify and achieve goals. It is is an individualized, evidence-informed community-based program that is highly intensive. LifeSet specialists meet with participants face to face at least once each week. They text, email and call young people regularly throughout the week, when needed. Specialists stabilize even the toughest situations and help young people build healthy relationships, obtain safe housing, education and employment. LifeSet is one of the nation’s first — and now one of the largest — evidence-informed programs helping young people who age out of foster care. More than 20,000 young people have helped through LifeSet across the country since the program began in 1999.

Victims of Adoption ?

There is currently some upset about birth mothers on TikTok (which I’m not on). An adoptee frustrated with birth moms who have large social media platforms of 30K+ subscribers. Adoptees whose voices should be elevated above birth moms not getting nearly as many views. These birth moms think they know it all when it comes to adoption, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Adoptees are the experts. Period.

At the same time admitting that it’s great they want to help reform the system, but they are part of the problem. They participated and benefited from the system. They signed on the dotted line. But there are first moms out there that are using their platform to profit. A few advise hopeful adoptive parents about how to attract expectant mothers to choose them, in exchange for a fee. They are dangerous and should not be held in such high regard (for example, being asked to speak at paid events).

Another adoptee writes – First mothers who use social media platforms to center themselves as the victims of adoption. In doing so, they focus the attention on their own self, putting themselves out there as the experts in adoption, when the people who should be receiving the attention for lived experience, the true experts in the post-natal trauma of adoption, are the infant adoptees. I am a domestic infant adoptee. I am also a mother of loss to Child Protective Services. I was given very little choice but to sacrifice my parental rights to the machine. I am not the victim of the system: My *children* are the victims. They are the ones who will live every moment of every day of their lives with the consequences of decisions I made, forced or not. If I was to center myself, I would create a vacuum in which there is no room for my children’s experience, and so, I choose to step back and allow them to be the experts regarding their experience — even when it hurts me. The problem with these “loud” mothers of loss is that they cannot comprehend that it really isn’t about them at all: it’s about the person they gave away. And as much as I feel for Baby Scoop Era moms…. I stand by this perspective, even with those mothers.

Baby Scoop Era. Took place during the period of approximately 1945 thru 1974. A time when single mothers–along with and by US society generally–were brainwashed into believing that single mothers could not raise, on their own, a child, and thus large numbers of white babies (mostly, due to demand) were made available to adoption agencies and through them to adoptive parents to “grab”.

Also at the end of the day, it is the children who are the victims. They are the ones *most* hurt by being denied access to their parents, and when their parents aren’t helped as much as possible, it is the children’s loss. Nobody gives a shit about the mothers. For most mothers of loss, they are just vessels for the baby the hopeful adoptive parents want. For those of us who lost ours to the machine, we’re the monsters who abused or neglected our children. It doesn’t matter how loudly we advocate for ourselves or one another, there is still a LARGE contingent of society who is going to see us that way. We’re abusers. Neglecters. Terrible people who hurt children. We’re lying because we have a blood in this game. Believe me – NOBODY CARES.

When we flip that narrative and talk about the children, knowing that the system was MADE for them, to protect them. Then, when we point out that the system designed to protect them is failing them, by exposing them to new trauma by removing them in the first place, then placing them with stranger caregivers who are often more abusive than their families were in the first place, now we have people listening. I’ve been in this fight for long enough to know that as a mother of loss, I’m easily dismissed. But the moment I talk about what my loved ones are experiencing in the care of their kinship caregiver, people start to listen. Better services for families is better for the kids. But we have to put the children of loss center stage, if we’re ever going to make a difference. Because it is the adoptees and the foster care youth who are the ones who really matter.

A Sad Holiday

For many adoptees, Mother’s Day is a complicated holiday.  For many children in Foster Care it is the pits of unhappy reminders.

All my life, Mother’s Day has been a happy one.  When we were young, we made my mom breakfast in bed.  When I had my oldest son in 2001, that next Spring during the month of May in celebration of Mother’s Day, I began a family tradition of taking my children out among the Wild Azaleas that are at the peak of their annual blooming for “see how you grow” photos.  It is cherished by me that we have not missed a single year with my oldest son now 19 years old.

Truth be told, it was my mom’s adoptive mother who started the tradition.  She had grown up in Missouri.  Her childhood location is some distance to the west but is very similar in rural wildness to where I live.  One year she came to visit me before our sons were born and I took her on hikes around our farm.  She cherished the experience because it brought back memories of her own childhood in Missouri.

When she learned the Azaleas were blooming, one morning she dressed up (though she was always fully dressed with jewelry and make-up before breakfast).  She chose a pink blouse to wear and a spot to sit framed by the Azaleas blooming all around her.  Later during that visit, she took me to see her own childhood home and I was surprised to see her farmhouse was very much like our own.  We were fortunate because the owner of that house allowed us to go inside and my grandmother shared with me what remained the same and what had changed over time.

As an adoptee, my mom yearned to have a reunion with her own mother.  She knew that Georgia Tann played a prominent role in her own adoption story.  When news of the scandal resurfaced in the early 1990s, she contacted Denny Glad who lived in Memphis and helped the victims of Georgia Tann’s questionable adoption methods.  My mom learned about her from watching a 60 Minutes special about the scandal that had aired on TV around that time.

Adoption records were still sealed in Tennessee as my mom tried without success to learn about her origins.  Devastating news was delivered to my mom that her mother had died several years earlier and they would not release her adoption file because the status of her father, twenty years my grandmother’s age, could not be determined (in truth he had been dead 30 years but the state didn’t try very hard at all).

Mrs Glad was instrumental in getting adoption records opened late in the 1990s for Tann’s victims but no one ever told my mom.  My mom died believing she had been stolen based on anecdotal stories she read or heard.  That wasn’t far from the truth but in reality Tann’s network of suppliers made her aware of my mom and my grandmother, through only the best motivations of a caring mom, got trapped.

Since my mom was deceased before I began to learn so much about adoption overall, I can’t ask her the questions that weigh heavily on my own heart about how she honestly felt about a lot of the issues related to her adoption.  She didn’t speak about it to anyone else in our family beyond acknowledging that she had been adopted.  That is, except with me and with me her feelings about it were definitely conflicted.