Adoptive Mother Mattie Parker

I often believe that adoption is more common than many people believe. Coming across a brief profile of Mattie Parker in Time magazine, who is now mayor of Fort Worth TX, intrigued me. I did not learn a whole lot about her adopted daughter, who is now 19, and from what I know about former foster care youth turned adoptees, it gives me pause to see so many photos of her sons but never one with the daughter. I did however discover a rather surprising Republican woman.

According to the LINK> Fort Worth Report Mattie and her husband, David, fostered, then adopted their daughter, Shainey. She was already 10 years old at the time (which is generally commendable). They have since focused their philanthropic efforts on children in the foster care system, promoting adoption and providing all children with a forever home. They also have two boys, Greyson, 10, and Laney, 4.

More recently in a profile in LINK> The Texas Tribune, I discovered that she is a Republican who has criticized the current state of the GOP and its intraparty battles. She believes that politics is not about party affiliation but should be grounded in public service and making our communities the best places to live and raise our families. Parker is known for making regular appeals for bipartisanship and in Texas municipal races are not partisan. That is the same in my own local county in Missouri.

Parker is one of the youngest mayors in the country at 38 years old. She has been known to buck her party and particularly as an outlier when it comes to expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — which Texas Republicans have staunchly resisted.

Parker came to the defense of transgender children and their families amid the state’s push to label some parents of transgender youth as child abusers. Gov Greg Abbott, who endorsed Parker when she ran for mayor in 2021, recently directed the state’s child welfare agency to investigate parents who let their trans children access gender-affirming care.

Parker said policymakers should instead focus on providing mental health resources for teenagers and improving conditions for children in the state foster care system. She also cited figures showing transgender teens are more likely to attempt suicide than their cisgender peers. “I’m worried right now that you’re targeting families that are already incredibly vulnerable and in a really difficult circumstance, when there are so many other hundreds of thousands of kids and families that are in dangerous positions with no regard for the subject of transgender,” Parker said.

In A System Haunted

DeJarnette Sanitarium

It doesn’t take long if spending time among adoptees to learn about the strong link between foster care and adoption. Foster care is often the first step in that direction as children are removed from their parents and placed with strangers. The official goal is reunification of the family when it is deemed safe for the children to be returned to their parents. That does happen in many cases after an emotionally damaging experience for all concerned. Other times the parent’s rights are terminated and in the case of infants and young children, often these are adopted by the foster parents or some other hopeful adoptive parent. And in too many cases, these young children “age out” in the system and are thrown out into the world as young adults with few supports, though that situation has improved somewhat in recent years.

Yesterday, I learned about the link between the building pictured above and foster care. Dr Joseph DeJarnette was a proponent of racial segregation and eugenics, specifically the compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill. He was known to idolize Nazi Germany and took the facility under his management from a resort-like treatment center to an apocalyptic prison nightmare. His determined efforts resulted in the passage of the “Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924” (a.k.a Racial Integrity Act). This new act reinforced racial segregation by preventing interracial marriages and classifying “white” as being pure 100% Caucasian. Men and women who were admitted to his hospital were involuntarily sterilized to prevent the conception of mixed race human beings. DeJarnette also forcibly sterilized single mothers, alcoholics, those with mental conditions and epilepsy, the poor, and the incarcerated. Dr DeJarnette not only performed countless sterilizations but also medical procedures on his patients like electroshock therapy and lobotomies.

He died in 1957. DeJarnette became a state institution with a focus on children’s behavioral health issues. It is at that point in the history of this place that my interest today became awareness. If you believe emotional energy leaves traces of residual energy in a place, then in that sense DeJarnette is believed haunted. A young woman writing an op-ed for LINK> The Huffington Post brought that awareness to me.

At the age of 14, the author was relatively new to the foster care system and waiting for a bed to open up at a long-term facility. The author walked those halls, recognizes the once-grand arches that frame the doorways, the bedrooms with graffitied walls. She says, “Dr. Joe’s evil spirit is said to walk the halls. Some say they’ve heard children’s voices in the darkness or moans and other noises from the former patients reported to have perished due to medical experiments. I doubt the teens who once lived there were aware of Dr DeJarnette by name. I wasn’t. However, the building’s ties to eugenics were among the first things new kids learned about the center.”

She goes on to note that she asked – “Why did they do it?” And the answer she got was – “They think your kids are gonna end up like you. If we don’t have babies, they’ll be less of us and more of them.” She says – “I wasn’t totally sure what more of them meant but I understood less of us. Less of me.” She also shares that she lived in DeJarnette during the winter with the holidays were approaching. It was her first Christmas in the system. Her expectations were perpetually low back then. She fixated on the phrase anything you want when asked to provide a Christmas wish list with one condition – as long as it’s less than 10 dollars. She remembers asking for a Def Leppard tape even though she no longer had her boom box. Receiving the tape symbolized hope and the belief that someday, she would have a tape player again.

We don’t often consider what it is like for a teen living in foster care. That they don’t have typical teenage memories like going to the homecoming dance, having their first date, a sweet 16 party or getting a driver’s license. What she did get was a strong sense of her ability to survive. She made it through the system and didn’t become a statistic. She says that she is thriving today. She says of that residual energy – “when you consider the collective traumas and experiences of all those who spent time in that cavernous, state-run institution, there was plenty of haunting going on. It wasn’t ghosts, though. It was us.”

Inside DeJarnette Today

Understanding To Do Better

From a Foster/Adoptive Mother – though here is one adoptee’s comment – This must be satirical. You’re joking, right ?, you must be. You cannot really be this ignorant, while still “collecting” your trophies. Disgusting. So with that in mind, here goes –

I have one biological child. Friends of mine adopted 2 unrelated children at birth. When my friends passed away, I first took guardianship of their children (ages 14 & 11) and adopted them two years later. They are now adults and struggle with the many traumas of their childhood. My daughter’s first adoption was open and she has positive contact with her birth family. My son’s first adoption was closed. Upon reaching adulthood, he found another family to call his own and is pursuing adult adoption.

I am also a foster parent to babies age 0 to 2. I went into this thinking that I would provide love to a child in need, until they could return to their family. If a child is reunified but then comes back into care, they return to me. If they cannot be reunified with parents or extended family, or if they are placed with someone who has one of their siblings, there is always the option for them to make the choice to instead stay with me. No child who comes through my doors will ever lack for permanency.

Fostering is not all sunshine and light. Most of my placements were born addicted. Two children each came to me with multiple fractures (skull, arm, leg, ribs). I can more easily advocate for reunification with addicts in treatment than for physical abusers. I most recently adopted the infant placed with me at three days. The termination of parental rights was heartbreaking. Even so, I celebrated this adoption.

I know that adoption is not all happily ever after. I will continue to make the effort to better understand the harsher realities of adoption.

Personally, I think this is better than not trying at all. At the beginning of today’s blog – I indicated that some of the comments were not kind nor gentle. There is certainly more than a hint of saviorism. Here’s another one – you shouldn’t be allowed to care for anyone’s children. You are clearly toxic and think you own them and the right to decide the narratives of their lives. I’m so sad and so angry on behalf of the children who have to call someone “mom” who is so unwilling to honestly learn.

It Will Take A Lot

I often wonder if I will ever run out of things related to adoption to write about here but everyday I seem to find something and so, until I can’t seem to do that anymore, I suppose I’ll persist. Today’s inspiration comes from this admission from an adoptive mother –

After adopting our daughter and experiencing some pretty clear effects of her being separated from her mom, I have changed my mindset on adoption. While I know realistically that there will always be a need of some sort for a program to care for relinquished children, I don’t believe in the current system and think it needs a complete overhaul.

She admits – I did not do enough research before we went through the process and relied too heavily on the agency to provide me information. Now I realize their bias, pursuit of financial gain, etc. I did everything wrong – did a gender reveal, had a baby shower, did a GoFundMe, ick ick ick. After placement, I could just FEEL that my baby needed more than I was giving.

I also know that a woman who is struggling with fertility issues that desperately wants to start a family is going to be mighty difficult to dissuade – the flood of savior stories and toxic positivity that is shoved in hopeful adoptive parents’ faces is overwhelming. And despite all of the very valid points that have been made by those who know repeatedly, it will take a lot of education and dedication to overcome the propaganda and the emotional response a woman experiences in order to make a decision that is best for the child and not for her own desires.

So what to share with a woman who is struggling with fertility issues, who desperately wants to start a family ? I often see the very first suggestion is therapy to reconcile her infertility issues and realize that adoption is never a replacement for a natural born child.

Read The Primal Wound by Nancy Newton Verrier. I have read it myself and I still see it turn up recommended as the very best possible perspective into adoption trauma from a woman who is both an adoptive and a biological mother as well as a therapist to adoptees and their families. She has tons of insight about all of it.

It is very important to listen to adoptee voices. Here is an analogy – We would never do open heart surgery without an expert surgeon who performs that surgery every day. While a patient (adoptive parent) is part of that process, they are not the ones (adoptees) who know what it feels like to walk in those shoes. A hopeful adoptive parent is inherently biased against hearing any truth about the pitfalls of adoption. They often only listen to the voices of other adoptive parents who have benefitted from adopting. You will rarely hear these discussing the risks, only the positive aspects of adopting a child into their life.

It is important to explain what a for profit enterprise adoption is. The coercion of birth mothers, our society’s lack of focus on family preservation, the option of being a foster parent who strives for family reunification over fostering simply to adopt, explain the guardianship option, share the loss of identity and anything else that a mature adoptee knows about it all.

Remaining connected to those genetic mirrors that the child’s original family is of vital importance. There is occasionally a need for long term care, when the parents could not or would not parent their child(ren), and the extended family members were unwilling or unable to be a placement resource for those children. Adoption is much more nuanced than most people realize and many adoptees feel negatively about their adoptions. Many who choose to be foster parents are actually trying to help and actively trying to support families in crisis to reunify. That said, the training and support is abysmal. 

Ethics In Adoption

Adoption is a BIG Business

From an adoption community post –

There is an economy at work in adoption.

Let’s begin with adoption agencies –

An adoption agency connects hopeful adoptive parents with expectant mothers in crisis who may wish to relinquish their child for adoption. In the process of negotiating, the adoption agency receives money from the hopeful adoptive parents (in most cases), and sometimes (rarely) from expectant mothers. The money is used to pay for the associated legal fees, the matching service, and sometimes for care for the expectant mother. This money also pays the salaries of the agency employees. This is true even if the agency is listed as a “not for profit” agency. The employees, social workers, and directors are not working for free.

Hopeful adoptive parents reach out to agencies for help in finding an available child (usually an infant) to adopt. There are 40 hopeful adoptive parents (couples/families) for every infant available for adoption. That is an estimate, some say it may be as high as 1,000 hopeful adoptive parents for every infant who becomes available for adoption.

If you look on websites and in social media, an expectant mother who indicates anywhere that she is considering adoption, will receive hundreds, often thousands, of responses from people who would like to adopt her baby. The demand far exceeds the supply of infants available for adoption. In the leaked Supreme Court draft written by Alito he makes a note of that lack of supply.

So, let’s apply the law of supply and demand –

In order for an agency (which, whether for profit or not for profit, stands to make money from the transaction) to keep itself in business, the agency must provide a certain percentage of infants for the demand. When supply is low and demand is high, coercion enters into these transactions. Agencies must obtain children for their market and are willing to do whatever it takes to supply that market. Social workers and agency contacts do whatever it takes to convince an expectant mother that one of their adoptive couples is better for her child, than she could ever be.

If she receives any money from the agency to cover her expenses but then decides she wants to parent, they will call her a “scammer” or a “fraud.” In many states there is no revocation period during which a woman who has given birth but indicated she is willing to give up her baby can change her mind. Those are considered “adoption-friendly” states Some have short revocation periods. In many cases, social workers pressure expectant mothers to hand their babies over and sign their termination of parental rights, while the new mother is still within the first 48 hours after birth.

Coercive tactics are part and parcel of domestic infant adoption. International infant adoption is even more coercive and heinous because some parents are not even told that their legal rights to their child are being severed.

So, what about the children in foster care ? They’ve already had their parental rights severed. Some hopeful adoptive parents believe they are only motivated to help these unfortunate children. But there’s an economy at work there too. You can be forgiven for not knowing that, thanks to the many promotions of this method of adoption by various states. A federal stipend is paid to foster parents for children of all ages, from under a year old until they age out of the foster care system at 18.

In 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) went into effect. Its purpose was to achieve permanency for children who had been in foster care for a long period of time by having them adopted. The intent of the law was good: permanent placements for children who had been abused, neglected, or abandoned. Its implementation, however, has proven faulty. It has amplified the corruption that has always been endemic within the Child Protective Services system.

The ASFA provides federal stipends to state agencies for each adoption they process out of foster care. Because the states receive money for having children adopted out of foster care, they now have a financial incentive to take children from actually SAFE families and place them into foster homes, so that they can be adopted. The more recent Family First Prevention Services Act includes federal funds to pay for services aimed at preventing the use of foster care by providing better support to parents at risk of losing custody of their children.

Regarding the current concept of “Foster to Adopt” –

Foster parents already receive a generous stipend from the state for caring for the state’s ward. Often, a foster parent will even receive an infant fresh from the hospital due to “risk of future harm” from their parents. These infants are placed with foster parents whose aim is to adopt. Both the foster parents (who wanted to adopt an infant) and the state child protection agency (which receives federal monies for every adoption from foster care) stand to gain from the adoption of this infant “out of foster care.”

The economic implications of adoption are the most straightforward and fact-based way to address whether ethical adoption is even possible. To whatever degree this all matters to you personally – consider the social impact of adoption and the reasons why adoption is considered unethical based upon social reasons.

Include in your considerations why children are removed by protective agencies simply due to perceived neglect caused only by poverty. Consider how it is possible that stipend money paid to them somehow makes foster caregivers more fit to parent than the biological parents. Look into the statistics for suicide and mental health issues among adoptees. Contemplate why laws promote adoption rather than legal guardianship.

Adoption is a contract made between two people – in which a third person is subjected to its ramifications – without their consent. Thank you for contemplating the ethical ramifications of adoption and the use by the state of foster care to increase adoptions.

It Can Be Complicated

A young woman shares this story – hi. I don’t really have a point to this, maybe someone else has gone thru something similar. My sister is fostering my baby right now. I named him *William* *dad’s last name.* My sister doesn’t like his dad. (I’m guessing that’s the reason idk???) but she calls him, and everyone knows him by William *M* (our last name). It really irks me. I find it totally disrespectful. His dad’s name is what is on his birth certificate. I just find this disrespectful. !!! Do other foster parents do this??? I don’t think so.

Without knowing more about this specific situation, one foster parent explains the circumstances from their general point of view – I know this isn’t your situation but whenever we received children into our care – [1] They couldn’t talk clearly due to age and [2] They came with very little information because they were removed in the middle of a crisis, obviously. So there were times, we knew the child’s legal name but not the name the family called them by… Or didn’t know what nicknames the family used… Maybe for months at a time, depending on the case. So I guess #notall but also just #itscomplicated. And after adoption, the issue becomes a whole other story because sometimes everyone just wants to do what feels like fitting in. It seems to me the key is keeping an open mind and an open communication line, as much as possible. The adults hold so much power in the household… I’ve heard “a name is a gift” and isn’t meant to be a burden… Keep it for as long as it is useful, treasured, wanted, etc. But don’t owe it any debts. Idk if any of that rings true…

This answer reflects how most adoptees feel about the issue of their name having been changed . . . I care what’s on a birth certificate. I care that people think nothing of changing a child’s identity. I care that someone is creating a false identity for a child who isn’t competent to agree.

Another one writes – Some fosters (#notall) particularly F2Adopt (foster to adopt) HAP’S (hopeful adoptive parents) ….. will call themselves mom/dad with other people’s babies. And they will call the babies by the name they plan to rename them, if they ‘get lucky.’ This undermine the original mom’s self confidence and make reunification attempts difficult but sadly is common. Making mom feel as though she isn’t ‘enough’ and that her baby is thriving and better off with the fosters…

(BTW This is totally untrue! Fight for the return of your child, request they refer to your baby by name. And affirm that the only mom he has is you!)

And it is common as this example confirms – my nephew’s adoptive parents called him a different name before their adoption was finalized, they were foster to adopt as well. We also asked that they at least keep his middle name because it was our dad’s name. He had just passed away. Nope they changed his entire name. I know they will have to answer for it later with him but I just feel so bad for him not being able to keep any of his original identity.

Only adoptees, and sometimes infants in a foster care situation, are forced to live a false identity.

That Pesky Uncertainty Thing

Many hopeful adoptive parents experience the uncertainty of whether that unwed young mother they have matched up with to take her newborn after birth will back out. And some do experience that outcome after spending tons of money on baby stuff in anticipation. Many of these are angry. Why are your family’s hopes so high that another family must fail to satisfy their hopes ? Me. Me. Me. My family. My family.

Because newborns are a scarce commodity bringing in huge profits for adoption agencies and lawyers, the field is competitive and the effort expensive. Here’s one example of the perspective of a whole family of hopeful adopters.

First comment on the above – Your family needs to change their expectations, and their expectations are not your responsibility. Its NOT your baby. Even if you get the placement. If Dad steps up that would be the BEST thing for that baby ♡ if dad can’t and you get the placement then that’s great that you are so well prepared and your heart and your families hearts are so open for that baby! ♡

It should be the reality that the father has to be PROVEN UNFIT before that child is taken into care. The father should NOT have to prove he is FIT to get his own child back! The child shouldn’t be with the woman complaining AT ALL, if there is a dad coming forward. I don’t care what his legal record is, as long as he isn’t a child abuser.

The hopeful adoptive mother is already feeling this way, before she has the baby ? What about the father ? He has to get a lawyer to even get this child back-during FORMATIVE BONDING MOMENTS that no amount of money can bring back. She gets those moments – but why? WHY!?

If there are concerns the father can’t parent, then society should support him with the resources they would have sent the foster parents – parenting classes, therapy, any assistance for supplies/etc. There should be no need for him to have to fight for HIS baby, the fact this is even a thing is appalling, and sadly, this is not a one off circumstance.

One adoptee shared this sad story – My poor sister had her 3rd child stolen out of her arms in the hospital and had to go to court postpartum (like that is on any woman’s to do list after delivering a baby and should be bonding) to get her baby back. The effects of this on her mental and emotional health was awful to watch-and triggering (cuz you know, she didn’t have the support she needed already). I was an adult by this time and had been removed/adopted into another states system and seeing them steal my nieces and nephew and have our family have to deal with all the lies of the courts again, well it just sent many of us into dark holes for many years.

Another comment – Personally, I don’t believe that anybody should get into fostering with the sole intention of potentially adopting a child. From everything that I learned in my classes and have read, the goal should always be to have a child return to their biological family if possible. In the event that is not a reality, then bringing a child into your life is the most beautiful thing that you can do for them. I’m a little concerned that this person may have been one of those people who is only interested in fostering newborns/babies…because they hope to adopt one.

Sharing the attitudes, language and culture surrounding the adoption industry are a primary purpose of my own in conveying information like this.

Why Foster ? Not to Adopt.

Recently, a woman contacted me through private message on my Facebook page for this blog. She wanted to know what my group (which it actually isn’t) was about and I explained it to her, as I have often, both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption. The blog is about all things adoption but along the way, I also learned about foster care and I shared with her the book I read – Foster Girl by Georgette Todd. She is interested in becoming a foster parent and I suggested the Facebook group I belong to because there are a lot of former foster care youth and current foster parents there who can share with her the reality.

As luck would have it, I spotted this guest essay in Huffington Post and thought I would make this the basis of today’s blog. Here’s Why We Became Foster Parents, Even Though We Aren’t Looking To Adopt by Stephanie Kaloi. She adds “For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.” It is a reprint of the original written in just after Christmas in 2019.

Our journey toward becoming foster parents began about five years ago, when we realized two truths: Having a second biological child would be nearly impossible and was not necessary for our family’s happiness, and there was a way to experience parenting many children (and for our son to have many siblings) while also doing our part in our community.

Enter foster care.

So we did what every potential foster parent does first: searched “What is foster parenting really like???” online. Unhappy with the results, which were largely a grab bag of blog posts from people who foster to minister religion to unsuspecting children and their families and people who are hoping to adopt their foster children from Day 1 of placement, I started sending a flurry of texts to a friend who also happens to be a longtime foster parent.

Her advice essentially boiled down to three things: One, the relationship you have with the biological parent(s) of your foster children is sacred and should be nurtured as much as the relationship you have with the kids. Two, foster care is unpredictable and there’s no point making plans for how it will go. And three, if you really want to do it … stop taking up my time and sign up for a class already.

My husband and I signed up for around eight weeks of PATH classes, which are the classes that all foster parents take before becoming certified. It’s meant to be all-inclusive, but the reality is that you are in class for two to four hours each Saturday covering huge topics, like ethnic diversity and poverty and child abuse.

The path to becoming a foster parent seems bizarre in retrospect: You take the classes, complete the home study process and boom! You’re now qualified to raise someone else’s child in your home for an indeterminate amount of time.

Still, the training felt like one of the most intense, personal experiences we had shared together. We went into classes knowing we were hoping to foster children, but left classes knowing we wanted to foster children and foster their families — we wanted to support the birth parents of any children we might foster as much as we support their children.

We knew going into it that we could handle the babies and toddlers and school-aged kids of the world (we’ll get to teens … one day), but we left class feeling reasonably certain that we could extend ourselves and support their parents, too.

Approaching foster care as fostering the entire family was a turning point for both of us. The idea gave us a phrase we could use whenever someone asked what our plans were. While the Department of Child Services and PATH leaders constantly remind you that the first goal of foster care is reunification with a child’s family, just about everyone in our classes was transparent about their desire to build their family through adoption.

As someone who wrestled with not being able to conceive a second child the easy way for years, I understood … but as our classmates became more focused on their adoption goals and learning how to work the system in their favor, we became more focused on reunification goals, and learning how the system works against parents who lose custody of their children.

The more we learned, the more it became clear: Just as many in our society will call the cops the second there is even a hint of a perceived threat anywhere nearby, many in our society assume that having your children placed in state custody means you are a predator, a child abuser, an addict ― that are you the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low.

And to be fair, there are plenty of people who are one of those things (or all of those things), and sometimes children are better off with foster and adoptive families. But in our experience … there are just as many people who are simply poor, or uneducated, or who have no perceived alternatives to whatever struggle they are facing.

This is the idea that fed our goal to approach this experience as fostering families: If you don’t grow up with someone teaching you how to successfully pull off what many consider basic life feats, it can feel impossible to figure out how to get a job, pay rent, pay your bills, pay for childcare, provide food consistently, read to your children, play with your children, kick your addiction, etc. Without consistent, healthy support, just attempting to do so is often an insurmountable challenge.

If no one in your family has ever done those things, the odds are stacked against you. When you think about it, a lot of Americans are probably closer than they think to one mistake that could land their own children in DCS custody. (I know that when my sons were very young, I worried that our un-orthodox parenting choices such as unschooling our children or when they acted up in public and required some kind of immediate response from us, not later but in that very moment, we could lose our children due to the interference of do-good, well-meaning people.)

I am not saying that every parent who loses custody is an angel who just needs a leg up. I’m also not saying that every parent who adopts from foster care didn’t try to do exactly what we do. I think one truth all foster parents can agree on is that there is a lot of gray area in foster care.

We didn’t find out we were actually certified until we received a phone call asking if we would be willing to take a sibling set of two into our home. Let me tell you this straight out: I don’t know how anyone, especially first-time foster parents, says no to those calls. Our plan was to foster one child, up to age 8, and we ended up with two babies under 2 because I literally could not imagine saying no.

So what do we do, then, if we aren’t answering a higher religious calling to foster, we aren’t related to the children we foster, and we aren’t planning or secretly hoping to adopt any children? I mean, I suppose I am ministering, kind of: These kids have been introduced to a wide berth of music that we hold dear, and the youngest really enjoyed watching ”Homecoming” when it came out.

But to be real, we begin by nurturing their families, their parents, from Day 1. We offer phone numbers, email addresses, Facebook Messenger access. We start the conversation by telling them our names, describing what our home is like, asking what foods their children like to eat, and telling them we aren’t trying to adopt their babies. We tell them to message us anytime, and that if they don’t hear from us within five hours or so, to message again.

We ask when we can supervise visits, when we can meet up at playgrounds and parks, way before social workers are talking about us doing so. We talk about their goals, their plans, and what they need to get from where they are to reunification of their family.

The “TL; DR” version is this: We begin each placement by treating the parents like they are human beings, like they are people who we might want to know, instead of like they are a scary Other who is standing in our way. Sometimes it doesn’t work, we don’t form a relationship and things go sour. Other times, it works but requires ongoing attention and support, and that’s an exhausting thing to give someone you have met a handful of times.

None of this is easy, and it often feels like foster care is a second full-time job. We are perpetually exhausted by the sheer emotional weight of this journey that we entered into willfully, and that’s not even including the lived reality of nurturing additional children, of loving them, holding them, waking up in the middle of the night with them, feeding them, reading to them, guiding them. Teaching them all the things we taught our son: the ABCs and 123s, who Elmo is and why we love him, the names of The Beatles because it might come in handy someday, how to sit up and how to use a fork. You know, the parenting part of foster parenting.

We have been lucky so far: We have worked with excellent social workers who are very patient, helpful, and kind. The parents we have co-parented with have been easy to talk to, love their children a lot, and a lot of the time, they just need someone in their corner. And this need is the crux of why we are fostering children and their families: For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.

Sure, it’s a lot more involved than donating books or cleaning a classroom on a Saturday, but it’s something that makes sense for us right now, in this season of our lives. We won’t do it forever, but we are doing it right now. One of the most important ideas our family tries to follow is that while we may not be able to effect meaningful growth and change in areas of the world that are far away, we can do work in our own community that will help people we live and work with grow.

And that alone makes this entire wild ride worth it.

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”

🤍