Review – I Am Sam

I learned about this movie from my all things adoption group and I wrote an initial blog on July 19th titled I Am Sam. I promised to come back with a review and last night I actually watched the movie on dvd from Netflix. Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning are both remarkable in their performances for this movie.

It is easy to understand the attraction of this movie to the all things adoption and foster care group because the core story is the lived experience of many members of that group. Not so much having a mentally challenged (ie as the movie says explicitly more than once – retarded) parent but as in the Division of Family and Child Welfare taking a child or children from the parents. In fact, when my sons were young, I did worry that our parenting might be adversely challenged by so do-gooder. Thankfully, my sons are now almost grown (one is already 20 and the other one is 17) and beyond such concerns in our own family. It is also true to the lived experience of so many that foster parents often do eventually want to adopt a child placed in their care. However, the movie is enlightened to the trends now occurring in adoptionland that family reunification and in the case of this movie, an eventual recognition on the part of the parent that he is lacking something (a mother – the child’s mother abandoned the child to the father shortly after birth) brings into the resolution a kind of co-parenting solution that is satisfying to watch (I don’t think that saying this is a spoiler for this movie as the ending leaves as many questions as it answers).

The movie was very progressive for its time in the portrayal of people with a variety of cognitive disabilities. In fact, I recognized that I do know one woman who has effectively lost her children due to just such a challenge. The take-away message for me was how incredibly hard it is parent a child regardless of the circumstances. This is clearly portrayed in the contrasting and yet similar parenting challenges of the main character and his lawyer. Every parent needs support of some kind at some time or other.

In an LA Times review, the writer shares this story – “I’m smart enough to know when I need help, I ask for it,” a 46-year-old mother with a learning disability told me recently. She receives support from a parents-with-special-needs program. If she needs help with parenting skills of any kind, a parent counselor is just a call away. If she feels frustrated, she attends the program’s parents support group.

Also from that LA Times review, In one critical scene of the movie, Sam is questioned by state agency officials about why he thinks he has the ability to be a father. He responds, “It’s about constancy and it’s about patience. And it’s about listening and it’s about pretending to listen when you can’t listen any more, and it’s about love.” In the case of parents with special needs, we must provide the kind of support services that will offer practical help and an ear to listen. Parents with special needs benefit from help with tutoring, after-school activities, transportation, budgeting money and, like every parent in the universe, a little baby-sitting now and then.

The movie helps everyone who watches it to understand “that persons with disabilities have needs and desires just like everyone else,” as the parent with a disability mentioned above explained. “They need to take care of someone and love someone else.”

Adoption Is NOT The Goal

A foster parent is asked by some other person – “So . . . are you going to adopt him ?”

A red flag that this foster parent is in it for the wrong reason would be this answer – “We hope so. We’ve been waiting a long time. His parents are (insert case details here).”

A better answer that would be more appropriate would be – “The goal of foster care is to support a family in crisis. We will support the goals of the state as long as they need us to.”

But the best answer is actually the most direct and simplest – “That’s not the goal of foster care.”

Love this post by a woman named Lauren Flynn –

Y’all, it’s #fostercarewarenessmonth and we need to talk: Why is “foster to adopt” an acceptable phrase, ever? Why are there SO many people who become foster parents (which is SUPPOSED to mean pledging to love and support a child AND their family and be part of the crisis remediation team for that family) when they have zero intention of actually working towards the goal of reunification?!

Why does #fostertoadopt have hundreds of thousands of posts but #fostertoreunify has barely 500?! Shouldn’t every foster parent foster to reunify?!

No seriously. Don’t just dismiss that, resist the urge to get defensive, sit with it. Sit with it, and think about if you were, God forbid, in a situation where your babies were taken from you. Would you want them to be in a home that was “fostering to adopt”?! Or would you want them to be in a home that would fight like hell for your family’s healing?!

I wish I could say that I could never imagine praying for another mama to fail so that I could keep her babies, but God help me, that wouldn’t be true. I know how it feels to want to keep these babies close, because I’ve been there. To hope for a family to be separated, to lay awake and pray for the children you love to lose everything…that’s true selfishness.

I don’t want that for myself or for any other foster parents, and I sure as hell don’t want that for families in crisis, families the system is supposed to be HELPING.

We can fight for a better way. This #fostercareawarenessmonth let’s start with doing away with the term “foster to adopt”

🤍

 

Clueless Foster to Adopt

The goal of foster care is supposed to be family reunification. The parents have challenges that disrupt their ability to properly care for their children. The state steps in and removes the children from their family home. This is always a sad occurrence that calls for subtle considerate of the emotions involved.

There are many people who become foster carers with a hidden agenda. They hope that reunification fails and results in the permanent termination of parental rights and the door open to their adopting the child(ren) in their temporary care.

When one looks at this meme by a foster carer – it immediately becomes clear by the word “permanency” that the goal of this person is adoption. The celebration is because they believe they are that much closer to achieving that goal. This could never be viewed as a celebration by the child(ren) involved as they grieve what has happened to their family.

A proper foster carer would hold space for the child to feel however they need to feel about the situation without judging their emotions. It should be understood as one of the worst days of this child(ren)’s life. So, let them feel that and stand quietly alongside them as they process the circumstance.  Beyond this clueless approach, there’s this issue.

The lack privacy regarding the reasons for separating families.

There are foster support groups riddled with fosters sharing details about the children’s parents’ cases. Details about drug use, neglect factors, criminal history. HOW do fosters even know any of this?? What happened to privacy laws in this country?

So if you’re an addict, struggling, dealing with mental health issues, it’s totally cool for strangers to be privy to that ?

First of all, social workers are not the ones removing the kids in most cases. They are reading words on a piece of paper. This is how they determine the situation that caused the initial removal. It is not surprising that bias and burnout then factor in, regarding how a social worker views the family.

How does sharing details and disgust not create bias against the natural family with the fosters right at the beginning ? There is no reason that fosters should need any details about the parents in order to provide care for the kids ..zero! All they need to know is – what do the kids need ? Clinical info only about the children! Anything else is just their morbid curiosity disguised as concern. It is unbelievable, the degree of information about private matters that some foster carers have received.

Oversharing In The Classroom

I am frequently surprised how common some connection to adoption is. If you were an adoptee, how would YOU have felt if your teacher in school openly shared with the classroom information about her “adoption journey” as it is ongoing? How would hearing details about “matching” and “failed adoptions have affected you!? How would a “slideshow” announcing the birth of teacher’s adopted child affect you?

These questions were put to my all things adoption group – and adoptees and former foster youth were asked to be the only responders (and not parents who had given a child up for adoption, adoptive parents or foster caregivers).

Some replies –

I would have been so uncomfortable but wouldn’t have known how to voice that as a student. Even now as an adult who is coming into my power, I still shake like a leaf when I speak my truth about the trauma of adoption.

My 5th grade teacher adopted a boy they were fostering. It wasn’t infant adoption with that whole journey, but we all certainly knew this boy. He was always in her classroom during lunch or after school. As I was only 10, I guess it solidified a lot of the propaganda I was fed my whole life. I liked it because I felt like I related to it? I didn’t know any other adoptees at the time. But I was a child! As an adult out of the fog, looking back, I feel very uncomfortable about it. I’m not sure how else to say it.

I would have felt very awkward. It seems so very personal to share with people at school. Especially children. They aren’t in a position to understand or put into context what any of that means. I would also feel that it was attention seeking behavior. It’s just someone playing at being a hero. No thanks.

Would have made me f**king uncomfortable as a kid, and it makes me furious as an adult. Don’t freaking normalize the act of switching babies from one family to another. We need kids growing up with a better understanding of how damaging our current way of dealing with family disfunction is. If this was one of my kids teachers I would demand it stop.

I would still keep my own adoption a secret. And I would feel terrorized.

I was very much “in the fog” for my entire childhood and most of adulthood so I wouldn’t have noticed anything problematic about it. I wanted to be like other kids so much that I probably would have been kind of glad to see someone else in my daily life was affected by adoption too, as it would mean I would be less singled out as having an alternative family structure.

I have to say I find the failed adoption thing the weirdest part, then and now. I was always assured that adoption was permanent and they wouldn’t have it any other way so I’m sure that probably would have made me feel …uncomfortable? Normalizing the process of ….deciding you don’t want that child after all. That is what they mean by failed adoption, right?

Someone else thought that last one wasn’t what was meant in this particular situation (though sadly such a think as second chance adoptions actually do happen in reality). So the counter response was – I have to imagine by failed adoption they mean the baby’s natural parents decided not to go through with the adoption. Which is always disturbing. Hopeful adoptive parents act like that was something bad that someone did to them, or they were “tricked” or that someone took their baby away.

I would have been so upset and not even known why because that’s pretty much how triggering worked when I was a kid. I can look back and connect all the dots now, but not then. I would have been a mess. It would have manifested into days and maybe weeks of negative behavior to myself and to others.

This makes my stomach churn now. I can imagine it would have affected me similarly at the time but I wouldn’t have known exactly why.

I remember being 11 or 12 years old, when the a teacher started talking to me about Child Protective Services and my potential removal. I know it’s not the same but I heavily didn’t want to associate home life and school life. Because it’s their personal thing, OK mention it once I hear you, but it would have me outright avoiding their class, probably with some defiance, if it were repetitive. I don’t know if I would have even had the language then to express my feelings.

If you doubt adoptees suffer trauma, consider what the above adoptees have said consistently.