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”

🤍

 

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.