Adding More Misery To The Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21st Century Children and Families Act

Whether it gets through or not, it is a step in the right direction. New legislation authored by California Rep. Karen Bass (D), would drastically change that standard: Under the 21st Century Children and Families Act, states could not even attempt to permanently sever children from their parents until they’d been in foster care for two full years consecutively, barring extreme circumstances — and even then it would be up to the states, and no longer a federal mandate. The reason that this is important is that the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) requires states to terminate parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 of 22 consecutive months. Granted this is just a tiny step.

“This bill is an important first step in moving away from cookie-cutter timelines that have caused devastating harm to children and families for decades,” said Kathleen Creamer, managing attorney of the family advocacy unit for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

Existing exemptions would be maintained for certain “aggravated” circumstances, such as when parents have committed sexual abuse or have been involved with the death of another child. But the legislation would free parents from the federal timeline when their custody rights are threatened due to incarceration or immigration detention — or in cases where they are actively working with the court to overcome hurdles in their lives to successfully bring the family back together. Parents are not subjected to the federal timeline if their children are placed with relatives.

Under the bill, if a state so chooses, it could eliminate all timeline requirements, except in cases involving aggravated circumstances. 

Bass announced her landmark legislation in a news release Thursday. “It’s time to update old child welfare laws,” she said. “More needs to be done to improve foster kids’ options for stability in their lives. Premature modification of parental rights too often leaves children in foster care with no legal family.”

The legislation is at the earliest possible stage, and far from guaranteed, with many elements that could lead to controversy, including strengthening the rights of prospective LGBTQ parents. The bill could also be challenged by representatives of the adoption industry, policy watchers said.

“With respect to the timelines, we’ll be looking at those proposed changes carefully and considering how they affect children and families involved in foster care, especially BIPOC children and families, given the systemic discrimination they face,” said Mary Boo, executive director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

Children removed from their homes following allegations of abuse or neglect remain in foster care while their parents address the issues that landed them there, issues typically arising from extreme poverty. Under family and dependency court oversight, local child welfare systems must mitigate the circumstances that led to the child’s removal into foster care, offering the parents therapy, anger management, parenting classes and drug treatment, as well as the time necessary to overcome situational crises such as homelessness or illness.

Charles Redding barbecues for his two children last Easter at the home of a relative in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The family is now in dependency court fighting to stay together.

But that time is often not enough. The pandemic has brought heightened scrutiny to the “cruelty” of federal timelines. Parents such as Charles Redding of Minnesota have fought to regain custody of their children when circumstances are stacked against them to no fault of their own. Redding, for instance, had emerged from jail with no computer to attend court-mandated hearings and online classes, and the local center where he needed to go for drug testing suspended services. Earlier this year, Redding’s two children sobbed through a virtual court appearance, imploring a Hennepin County juvenile court judge to give their dad more time to secure stable housing for them to live together.

David Kelly, a former official in the U.S. Children’s Bureau, called the bill introduced this week “a critical, long overdue step toward justice for families,” adding: “I hope it proves a galvanizing moment for realizing the family children need most is their own.”

Bass is a longstanding champion of children and parents caught up in the foster care system — families who are disproportionately Black and Native American. She is among those emphasizing that the bar for reunification is often too high, and the impact of permanent family separation too damaging to continue the federal standards as they currently exist.

“The changes that I’m proposing today focus the foster care system on the child and the idea that children should be at the center of our efforts,” Bass stated. 

Her legislation would require that before moving to terminate parental rights, states must describe the steps they took and services they provided to help keep a family together. It would also mandate data collection on the accessibility and availability of those services. 

Shanta Trivedi, director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore said that while states are already required under law to provide services under a “reasonable efforts” standard, the proposed law will ensure that protocol is followed for every family.

“This puts teeth into the ‘reasonable efforts’ requirement that were previously absent,” Trivedi said. 

The bill has another key element: It adds sexual orientation, gender identity and religion to federal nondiscrimination protections that previously only included race and ethnicity. Under the proposed law, states and agencies they contract with could not “deny to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or a foster parent” based on those additional factors. The provision would directly challenge laws in nearly a dozen states that permit faith-based providers to exclude members of the LGBTQ community by following religious ideology in choosing which foster and adoptive parents, or even which youth in foster care, they will and will not serve.

The legislation proposed by Bass retains current legal requirements that adoptions cannot be delayed to match children with families of the same race, gender, culture and religion. But it instructs states to consider such factors if that is requested by the child or their birth parent.

When the Adoption and Safe Families Act became law decades ago, nearly a third of all foster children had been in the system for at least three years. The timeline was designed to push those cases in the direction of adoptions or guardianships so that children didn’t languish with uncertain futures. 

Since then, adoptions from foster care have more than doubled — from 30,000 in 1998 to 66,000 in 2019. Over the past decade, federal statistics show that the number of children awaiting adoption has also increased, by more than 20%. 

The attempt to rewrite ASFA comes at a time when some are pushing for its outright repeal, including Jerry Milner, the Trump-era head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Along with Kelly, his former deputy, Milner now leads a consulting group helping state and local systems interested in significant reforms of their child welfare systems, including the strengthening of family bonds so children can avoid permanent family separation. 

Critics of the current timeline that pushes for termination of parental rights after 15 months describe it as arbitrary and unjust to the families who mostly come from communities of color where daily life and the weight of historic and systemic injustice can bear down on home life. Advocates for parents say the federal timeline also penalizes people in recovery for substance abuse or seeking treatment for mental health challenges — complex healing that can take time and involve relapse and setbacks. 

In a February 2021 op-ed, Creamer and Chris Gottlieb, co-director of the NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic, described the social context around the original law: “Passed in the wake of the now-debunked ‘crack baby’ scare, and at the same time as nefarious federal laws on crime and welfare, it reflected the racial and class biases that were ascendant at the time and that to this day continue to inflict harm on children, youth and families.” 

Under the proposed legislation, a 24-month timeline was selected to align with the Family First Prevention Services Act, a 2018 law that overhauled the federal child welfare system to decrease reliance on group homes and emphasize foster care prevention. But as it is currently worded in the Bass bill, states could choose not to abide by the two-year timeline — the legislation as written uses the word “may” — not “shall” — while continuing to receive federal funds for the children who remain in foster care. 

“We are hopeful that this is just the beginning of making sure that states have the flexibility they need to embrace and uphold family integrity,” said Shereen White, director of policy and advocacy for the national nonprofit Children’s Rights.  

Child welfare policy consultant Maureen Flatley, who helped craft both the original Adoption and Safe Families Act and Bass’ new bill, said the additional protections for parents would not only help more children reunify with their families, it could reduce the number of young adults who leave foster care alone and disconnected from stable housing, income or a support system. 

Flatley said while the timelines can succeed at creating a greater sense of urgency around permanency for foster youth, roughly 22,000 youth still age out of foster care each year with no legal family ties. Meanwhile, many of their parents may simply have needed more time to complete court-ordered service plans.

“By maintaining those family connections and those relationships, we may be able to mitigate and limit the number of kids who are aging out alone,” Flatley said. 

Under the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, states have received financial incentives to push foster children along the adoption path, despite critics’ objections. Bass’s bill does not address adoption incentives, instead taking aim at timelines that lead to the termination of parental rights — a critical first step for children to be adopted.

Still, even staunch detractors of the existing law applauded Bass’s attempt to update it through a social justice lens. 

“I don’t know what the chances are for passage, but the fact that we can even have this discussion shows that the racial justice reckoning finally is reaching child welfare,” said Richard Wexler, an outspoken foster care critic and executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “If it passes, it will improve the lives of, ultimately, millions of children.”

Thanks to The Imprint for this blog.

Disturbing

Isabella Kalua

What causes such a sweet face to create such a pained looking smile ? It is Isabella’s smile in the most recent pictures that disturbs me on some psychic level. The adoptive parents (Lehua or Isaac Kalua) are now strongly suspected of having murdered the 6 year old a full month before they reported her missing in Hawaii. They have now been arrested and are awaiting a hearing to provide them with legal counsel. There is an article about the current state of the case at this link from Maui.

I found a dissertation by Katherine E Sunder titled Mothers Who Kill Children They Have Adopted. Her dissertation topic is described this way – A mother killing her child is a disturbing and puzzling crime. A review of the cases in the United States from 1993 through 2013 that involved mothers who killed children they had adopted was conducted. The similarities and differences between mothers who kill their adopted children and mothers who kill their biological children are described. The common factors and general patterns that exist among these mothers are examined to propose a theory for why a mother decides to kill her adopted child.

While an average of four children die every day from child abuse and neglect in the United States, adoption is often put forth as a way to try and prevent such tragedies from occurring. Generally, parents who adopt domestically and also internationally are described as extremely devoted and committed to family. They are described as people who will literally “lay everything on the line” to parent a child. Considering the rigorous and demanding process these parents go through in order to adopt a child, it raises the question of why would a mother kill the child or children she adopted ?

However, the killing of a child is not an arbitrary or unpredictable crime. Instead, it can be viewed and experienced as imbedded in and a reflection of the societies in which it occurs. Abuse by adoptive parents is often mentioned by adoptees in privacy constrained groups. In an abuse-related killing of a child, the mother has intentionally committed a purposeful physical assault that unintentionally led to the child’s death. The purpose was not to kill the child but to provide harsh discipline. 80% of these cases involve the child welfare services in their background. Some cases involve the mother’s attempt to stop the child from crying. Some cases involve an abusive relationship with a violent male partner.

Isabella’s body has not yet been found and it is not known what may have caused her death. Homicide investigators say, “What was initially reported was that she had left her home in the middle of the night, and when they [her adoptive parents] woke up they didn’t see her.” Police say support from the city deputy prosecuting attorneys and individuals from the domestic violence division was critical getting police where they are today in their now eight-week investigation. Also the FBI is credited with offering evidentiary analysis that was extremely valuable including behavioral analysis unit into the mindset of the suspects in this case.

Walking A Fine Line

Today’s Story –

Situation: My two nephews are in permanent guardianship. My husband and I have had them for almost one year. The reason for removal was 9 Dept of Child Services cases, many of which involving physical abuse and neglect.

The kids’ mother has not taken any classes, or worked toward getting the children back. She has gotten herself a place to live, so that is improvement. However, nothing else has been done.

We do two hour visits every other week. Not mandated by the court, but just to keep the boys in contact with mom. The father will not answer calls, texts, or requests for visits. It’s been six months since the father has messaged us back. Honestly, not hearing from their father is hurting the 7 year old really badly.

The mom has recently asked “to be more involved in the kids’ lives”. When I asked her what she meant by that, she said she wants to be present for the kids’ doctor’s appointments, specifically the 7 year old’s psychiatric appointments. I feel that her being involved in those appointments is out of line. So I said no. She was very upset by it. I just can’t find it appropriate to have her involved in my nephew learning coping strategies and healing, at least not until the therapist requests the mom’s presence.

My rambling here is due to – I don’t want to fuck up these kids. I want them to live happy, healthy, lives free of trauma. I hear a lot of adoptees wish to have been left with their biological parents, is this the case with physical abuse as well? Doesn’t that seem a little Stockholm syndrome like? I mean, obviously it’s different because children will always have a deep love and connection with their biological parents. But at what point is it okay to say it is more traumatic to live with mom than it is to be placed within another home?

The three year old is now starting to call my husband dad, due to him never seeing his real dad. We correct it, but he insists on dad. We just try to correct it and move on.

I’m not sure if mom will ever try to get her kids back. We are ready to care for them as long as needed. However, my question is, at what point, if any should we terminate rights? We are capable of doing so in May. However, from reading in this group, is it best to just remain as permanent guardians? Therefore the birth certificates and other legal documents are not amended? The negative to that is, we cannot Will children in guardianship. So, let’s say we both die – what happens to the kids? Would it be in the court’s hands (probably foster care)? That concerns us.

I’m happy to receive any opinions or guidance as this is not something I know a lot about. We never planned for this to happen. It was kinship placement with us through guardianship or foster care. Thank you for all of your time. I wish to limit the amount of trauma that my little nephews will have to deal with.

My concern as well was about the child feeling free to be honest and face whatever issues the abuse has caused. So this comment resonated with me –

If mom wants to be more involved, she needs to do the work of parenting classes, before being able to participate in her child’s psychiatric care. I was ultimately removed from my parents raising me for abuse. At 37, I’m still in the thick of trauma therapy. Therapy needs to be a safe place for guards to come down, otherwise it won’t be productive. It’s hard for therapy to be safe, when the person whose created the trauma is in that space. Especially when you’re a child. Had she been wanting to be involved with another aspect of his life, then as long as your nephew also desired that, it would be okay. Adoption is trauma, but so is abuse, and the messages we internalize from abuse can take a lifetime to reverse. I sincerely hope she does the work she needs to, to be safe for her child. For both their sakes.

What Pro-Family Preservation Is And Is Not

I would NEVER advocate for ANY child to remain in an abusive or neglectful environment. That’s NOT what being pro-family preservation is about.

A family is a fundamental institution that provides a sense of identity and feelings of belonging. However, conflicts can affect the functioning of the family, which endangers a child’s development. In homes where there is a high level of conflict between parents, the children are at a greater risk of developing issues with concentration and managing their emotions.

A surprising 70% to 80% of Americans consider their families dysfunctional. While violence, abuse, and neglect are common forms of dysfunction, many families reported feelings of estrangement, emotional disconnection, and non-traditional family structures as well.

This has led to the development of family preservation services to strengthen the community and ensure safe environments for children. The aim is to create good quality parenting that advocates for emotional support and positive reinforcement within families to reduce conflicts.

Family preservation is a movement by state and child welfare agencies aimed at helping families cope with whatever stressors are affecting their ability to nurture children. This movement grew due to the recognition that family separation leaves some lasting adverse effects on the children. It’s possible to protect children from unwarranted traumas by offering information, guidance, and support to parents.

Millions of children worldwide live in care institutions worldwide, but a shocking 80% of kids living in children’s homes have at least one living parent. The increased number of orphanage-style institutions—coupled with an increase in people wanting to adopt babies—has motivated families in vulnerable situations to willingly take their children to the orphanage. Most of the parents who would do this are simply hoping this will give their children a better life.

Although these institutions offer refuge to such children, even the best caregivers can never replace biological families. The separation from family can harm the child emotionally and affect their cognitive behavior. The effects are worse the younger the child is and an infant is as much at risk of separation trauma as an older child. Do not think because they are preverbal that they don’t have an instinct for the mother who gestated and birthed them.

Family preservation services can benefit any parent who needs a non-judgmental environment to learn parenting strategies and other beneficial skills for their families. Typically, all families will face financial, employment, parenting, substance abuse, or illness cycles that affect the bond between members. In such challenging times, rather than giving up on your family, you need the proper support to help you safely stay together.

Much of the above (with some minor modifications from me) came from the source of my image – Camelot Care Center. There is more about their services at the link. I am not recommending them or do I have any complaint against what they do. I simply wanted to address that wishing to see fewer children adopted and more vulnerable families supported does not mean that I do not recognize that some families are in difficult straits for whatever reason. Some of those children will end up being removed. Some of those will be placed into foster care. Others may be adopted. If there is any good quality to their parents, that is where they need to grow up.

Bottom Line – It Is About The Child

Foster care and adoption is not about YOU as a foster/adoptive parent. It’s about the child, always was, always will be. That said, defining “wellbeing” gets very tricky.

“Neglect” is the official reason given when children are removed from their parents. Defining that turns out to be biased and difficult. First the question, then some of the answers.

1) What type of neglect gets children removed from parents?

Cleanliness, Lack of Nourishment, Irresponsibility

Depression, Addiction, Domestic Violence, Illness, Lack of Basic Child Care

Perceived neglect, whether the behavior is truly neglectful or appearances just don’t meet the ‘standard’.

Concerns regarding a parent’s mental health.

2) Why do you think that neglect occurs?

Poverty

Lack of resources, predominantly. Occasionally, lack of concern, and sometimes, inability (due to substance abuse, mental health, mental capacity- all tied into lack of resources).

Poor mental health may contribute to poor housekeeping. One woman admitted reaching a point where she questioned – “why am I keeping my house as neat as a pin, always on top of the kids, stressing them out to be clean, when the only people in the house are us?”

3) Is there anything that could help avoid neglect happening?

Financial Resource Support, Increasing the Parental Skill Set

Young women with kids need options for jobs that are compatible with being parents.

Family needs to go back to being family, actually bothering and being there for each other. If you have friends with kids, visit them and offer to help them out, if they are struggling – you can either help tidy or you could play with their children, so that they are occupied allowing the parent time to clean.

When poverty is not the source of neglect, children are rarely taken out of the home. One woman shared – my parents were negligent hoarders who didn’t meet a lot of my fundamental needs. But they had good jobs and to be honest, I turned out fine. I would NOT have fared better by being taken away from them. That is true for most kids who are placed in foster care.

Every so often you hear of cases where a small child was left home alone, or wandered off while a parent was sleeping. I think sometimes these instances of neglect happen in desperation for parents who have no options for childcare or can’t afford it. I remember a case of a toddler who was missing 3 days. He decided to try to go through the forest to his grandma’s house. He had been playing outside and his mother had fallen asleep. They did NOT take that child away from his parents.

Neglect Is The Reason

75 % of the cases where children are removed from their parents and home are for the broad term “neglect”. These children are then placed into foster care where the care may not be very loving and the foster parents may be simply in the system for the tax free monthly payments directly into their bank account with no accountability required about how they spend this money.

We do not need foster care. We need better programs to address mental health and drug addiction.

Neglect is an outcome of poverty, drug addiction and mental health issues. It does not usually stem from crappy people that just don’t care about their kids and so they neglect them. Sexual or physical abuse is not considered neglect.

Just a thought – what if we put the billions of dollars spent on foster care into drug prevention programs, mental health screening, preventive care? Would neglect be reduced?

Wonder just who reports this neglect? The highest percentage are teachers. What qualifies for a teacher to report neglect? Kid being dirty? Wearing the same clothes? Not having lunch? Why are these things reportable to Child Protective Services vs reporting a genuine need for the intervention of a program that could help families overcome these challenges?

If you don’t see something wrong with this system as it currently exists, maybe you are part of the problem in your complacency.

There’s a huge problem when society thinks they are “helping” children but are actually damaging them more. People do not understand how these systems actually work but they still trust them. We need to educate teachers and the public about their poverty bias and on what causes actual trauma.

In effect, everyday children are kidnapped because of a belief they are at risk of possible future harm. Many have experienced corruption in the family court system. In reality, most children never were harmed or neglected at all but people’s judgements of them made it so.

In one case, someone shared their family came under investigation by Child Protective Services because a doctor reported the husband when he went to that doctor with symptoms of a paranoid personality disorder due to PTSD. The “potential harm” was nothing more than thoughts at the time. But the experience was an absolute nightmare for the family. Thankfully it ended up being only an investigation and not a removal.

When my young sons were acting up in public – I used to caution them that they really needed to behave better because someone might not understand what our family was really like 99.9% of the time and take them away from us believing that we were abusing them, when we were only gently disciplining them in such a way so as to get their attention long enough to get them to stop. It is a fine and scary line that parents have to balance. One mother shared that her son’s principal at his school reported her to Child Protective Services – twice – just because she didn’t like her.

During the pandemic, there has been almost a 50% decrease in CPS reports from mandated reporters. While some cities did report an increase in child visits to the emergency room, possibly due to physical abuse, the cause may have simply been the shut down of conventional medical offices. There has been no documented increase in emergency room visits or fatalities related to abuse or neglect. Obviously mandated reporters are significantly over reporting.

When my mother in law was in the prime of her career as a social worker, she worked within the low income Black community to make certain that whatever was keeping the child out of school was provided to the family to ameliorate that lack. Here’s what one teacher said about their school’s social worker –

I am a teacher in a low income area. When we see poverty related issues we go to the school social worker first, who contacts the family to offer resources. Usually our family resource center can offer things like coats, shoes or snow boots, school supplies, food and clothing. Some schools I’ve worked at even carry clothes for adults in their “caring closet” for families in need. School social workers will also coordinate with outside agencies to help families get situated with housing or any other needs they may have.

This teacher defends neglect calls from her own experiences. Like when the parents don’t seem to be making an effort or don’t seem to care. There may be a lot of reasons why they are coming off as not caring, but situations where a child is sick and throwing up or injured and the parent can’t be reached for hours and when they are reached they don’t show up to pick up their kid and this happens every time their kid gets sick. There are kids who get returned to school on the bus because they’re 4 or 5 years old and there was no one at the bus stop and it’s hours before the parent can be reached and they didn’t even realize their kid was missing when the social worker is knocking at their door at 6pm trying to track them down, and again it’s not the first time.

Kids with obvious medical concerns that have been brought to the parents attention repeatedly and the parent does not take them to a doctor. Once we had a kid transported to the hospital via ambulance with the parent completely unreachable. When the parent was finally reached they said they weren’t going to meet their child at the hospital because they were in the middle of cooking dinner. The parent never showed up. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) was eventually called and a worker had to come out and go find the parent to take them to the hospital. It was like 9pm and the parent was just refusing to go get their kid.

Sometimes neglect is a symptom of something far worse. A child can be removed for neglect initially and get bounced in and out of foster care for neglect, only to find out years down the line that there was severe physical and sexual abuse that was occurring.

This teacher did agree that providing resources should be the first line of intervention, when dealing with neglect issues. Yet it is her perspective that when a family is being offered resources and the issues continue, it’s important to dig down deeper because kids are not going to come right out and tell non-family adults about abuse that may be happening. Kids can show up to school with marks and bruises but so long as they deny abuse, nothing will be done about it. They can even initially report abuse and then. will take it back when DCF shows up or after the parent threatens them. Parents will tell kids that foster care is so much worse than what they’re living with now in an attempt to scare them into keeping quiet. They will tell kids that in foster homes, kids are starved and fed nothing but bread and water- all sorts of stories to keep them quiet. Fear of the unknown, shame, and the desire to protect their parents are all powerful tools that keep kids in abusive situations silent.

As I read all of that, I personally had reservations about the teacher’s perspective. Someone else responded as I had been thinking – did you ever consider that poor parents who have jobs don’t have the ability or privilege to take off work every-time they need to take a kid to the doctor, pick them up when the school calls or even answer the phone? Why assume they just don’t give a shit? Some people have to take whatever job they can find and some jobs, more specifically low wage jobs aren’t often very understanding. So if parents are having to leave work, they may lose their job and then you’re calling Child Protective Services ? Now they can’t pay rent and are homeless because public housing often has wait lists 8 years long and most women and children’s shelters have long wait lists too and stay full. I worked in a school. Maybe where you worked school social workers were “helpful” but that’s not always the case. Your school doesn’t seem like a low income school because low income schools don’t typically have all of those resources to offer the student’s families. And maybe a parent refusing to go get their kid is in the middle of a mental crisis and needed immediate HELP and that is not having their child removed. Most parents are not just assholes who don’t give a damn. There is always something more going on. Rather than removing kids, let’s fund families better, make even more services available to them. Let’s stop making assumptions about why things are happening and work with families to get to the bottom of their very real problems. Remember, a struggling parent isn’t going to be very trusting because they know how the system works. So when they act like they don’t want to take your help, maybe it’s because they don’t trust you.

I believe a lot of what this person shared below, also happens in my rural community where the median household income is $43,636 annually and for a single wage earner only $23,587.

The school in my town (rural/low income) has washers and dryers and people donate laundry supplies to them. The kids themselves or their parents that aren’t able to clean their clothes at home can take them to school to have them washed, so that the kids have clean school clothes to wear. They have a clothes closet where people can donate shoes or clothes for kids in the school that need them. They have a big coat and shoe drive every Christmas and give hundreds of kids in our community a new coat, a new pair of shoes and toys. We have a huge school supply giveaway every year before school starts where they give everyone a backpack full of school supplies, free haircuts, a new outfit, socks, underwear and pair of shoes. This year our county Board of Education is providing every student all of their school supplies free. They give kids a bag full of food every Friday, so they know they’ll have food when they’re out of school over the weekend and every child at our school gets free breakfast and lunch. I think all of these are great ideas that could help a lot of low income communities. It is well known that one reason families get reported for neglect is because the kids are dirty or wearing dirty or out of season (no coat or shorts in winter) clothes.

Low income families often just need a little extra help. Our society can and should do better !! But I need to end this with just one more because there are multiple sides to every story. This one is sad and regrettable.

One of my friend’s family was reported by a teacher to Child Protective Services (CPS) for bruises but by the time they actually responded, his mother had broken his arm. I was repeatedly physically abused as a child and I even threatened to call CPS myself. My mother told me I would be abused even worse in a foster home and the trauma she had caused made me actually believe it. If your position on a subject is firmly entrenched due to a negative experience, then nothing anyone else says will change your mind. If we didn’t have the Child Protective Services system and there were reports of children dying from neglect and abuse on the news every night, people would demand something to be done to protect innocent children. In my case, I was never taken from my biological family, but I should’ve been. I suffered extreme amounts of trauma and have had counseling multiple times to try and help me deal with the aftermath.

Adoption Issues On Facebook

Ten years ago, there was an article in The Guardian which the title “Facebook has changed adoption for ever.” The sub-title was “Social network sites like Facebook are changing what happens after adoption. At the click of a button, birth parents can contact their children – and vice versa – with far-reaching consequences.” I would add inexpensive DNA testing via Ancestry and 23 and Me have done as much.

The lead-in on that article noted – “Adoption is undergoing a revolution. Until recently, it has been a closely managed process, with social workers going to enormous lengths to protect children placed with adoptive families from inappropriate contact with birth relatives.” That was always the argument but never the truth. The truth was that social workers and adoption agencies were protecting the adoptive parents from the intrusion of the natural bond between the original parent and their child. There certainly have been “. . . cases of adopted young people being contacted by birth parents through Facebook. There are even more instances in which the approach is initiated by adopted young people themselves, who are curious about their birth families.” You can read that rest of that decade old perspective at the link above.

Now today, another one. This one published in Wired titled Adoption Moved to Facebook and a War Began and raising the hackles of some in my most important (though I do belong to several) adoption related support group at Facebook. The sub-title notes – As the adoption industry migrates to social media, regretful adoptees and birth mothers are confronting prospective parents with their personal pain—and anger. I do see these in my support group. In fact, adoptees are the “privileged” voices there.

This is true to the best of my own knowledge on the subject – “The adoption industry has never been very well regulated, and there is a history of certain firms engaging in unethical practices. But when agencies were the primary facilitators of adoption, they could at least perform basic vetting of birth mothers and adoptive parents and manage complex legal processes. The open marketplace of the web removed that layer of oversight.” Wired refers to people in adoption support groups as anti-adoption but then goes on to note that these are older women who, as “unwed mothers” in the 1950s and ’60s, were forced to give babies up for adoption; women whose churches still pressure them to give up children born outside of marriage; adoptees who want to overturn laws in 40 states that deny them unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. These are legitimate experiences and desires that do not in themselves constitute being anti-adoption.

However, as understanding of the deep sub- and un- conscious trauma that adoptees experience and the lifelong regret that mothers who surrendered their children to adoption as a permanent solution to a temporary situation are increasing shared openly or privately in groups that maintain anonymity, as my dominant choice does, there is a desire to limit the number of adoptions that do take place. There are recommendations for kinship guardianship whenever possible, for true efforts on the part of foster parents to assist the original parents in successfully navigating the child welfare requirements for reunification with their own children and that at the least, when adoption seems somehow the only alternative left – allowing the child to retain their original identity by NOT changing their name nor creating a new “false” birth certificate the creates the impression that the adoptive parents gave birth to that child.

These are reasonable attempts at reform.

In the movement Wired identifies are a wide range of perspectives. Some recognize the value of adoption in certain circumstances and have specific goals, like improving federal oversight, eliminating practices that are coercive to birth mothers, or giving them more time to reverse a decision to give up a child. Others see adoption as wrong most of the time – in my group it is NOT as Wired indicates “in all cases” – but there is a recognition that the natural bond between a biological mother and her child is a reality. Some are finding community and expressing feelings of anger and pain for the first time; birth mothers describe pressure, regret, and lifelong mourning for the children they gave up, while adoptees talk about their sense of estrangement and about not knowing their medical history. Certainly, poverty plays a role in children being removed from their parents and placed for adoption.

Wired does proach the topic of the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). The article notes that TPR has been called the “civil death penalty,” because of its severity and finality. It is overwhelmingly levied against poor families. Some children are taken away from parents who abuse them horribly—and others who should be removed are not and die at the hands of abusers. Nationally, the majority of children are removed from their homes by child protective services not for abuse but neglect, which can be a more subjective state. Neglect can mean a child was left in a hot car for hours or that a child’s parent is an addict. Or it can mean that a child was alone at home while their mother worked an overnight shift or went to the store, or that there’s not enough food in the fridge. In other words, poverty can create conditions that lead to neglect, and the exigencies of poverty can also be interpreted as neglect.

My own adoption support group advocates, and some experts in child-welfare reform do as well, for helping families get what they need—rehab, food stamps, child care subsidies. We agree that should be prioritized over permanently removing children from their parents. In a 2019 paper, “A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families,” Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and his coauthors note that removing children from their homes is traumatic for both parents and children, and that standards for removal vary from state to state. In some states there must be evidence that a child is in immediate danger; in others, suspicion of neglect is sufficient cause. Some states allow a parent to appeal the removal within 24 hours; in others a parent may have to wait 10 days. As a result, the authors note, states and even individual counties have widely varying rates of removing children.

“If we eliminated poverty in this country, that would be the best abuse- and neglect-prevention program,” according to Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School.

It is true that the internet, along with widely available genetic testing, has dismantled the possibility of a truly closed adoption.  However, the truth about open adoptions is the adoptive family an easily end the relationship. Open adoptions exist at the discretion of the adopting family. They are not legally enforceable in all states, and where they are enforceable the cost of a lawyer can be prohibitive for a birth mother.

My adoption support group often recommends the Saving Our Sisters (SOS) organization to expectant mothers considering a surrender of their baby. This group seeks to persuade birth mothers that financial strain shouldn’t prevent them from keeping their children. When a woman who is having second thoughts reaches out to SOS online, the group tries to find a “sister on the ground” nearby to bring her diapers, a month’s rent, or a baby swing. In 6 years time, they helped 90 mothers and their children remain together, rather than be lost to adoption.

 

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.

Evolving Approaches

Why are so many foster parents uneducated about trauma ? It’s 2021.

Yes, training is lacking but it’s frustrating to keep seeing things like the comment below from a foster parent. If I have a biological child with special needs, we change to accommodate her. We change for biological kids. Why not do the same for a foster child ?

The question above was raised by one foster parent, after reading this comment below in quotes from another foster parent.

“I don’t know. This is sad because the foster family shouldn’t have to change everything for a child. It’s give and take. Obviously the child should feel accepted, but that’s also a choice on their part. Half this stuff (sleep in the bed, no TV after bedtime, eat what we’re eating, bond with us, doing chores) is not unreasonable.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t bend rules for the ‘undamaged’ kids in my home, not everything changes for the new arrivals. Foster kids need to understand the world doesn’t evolve around them. In the real world people don’t care if you’re in foster care. They don’t care if you have trauma. You do what your boss tells you to do. They don’t make accommodations for you.”

“We need to stop making excuses for foster children and stop letting others feel sorry for them. Being in foster care shouldn’t be used as an excuse. Everyone is treated the same in the real world. So why should we bend the rules to foster kids? A foster child shouldn’t force you to change your household or your rules. You’re the boss of your own home.”

“They should follow the rules and the values that the family that decided to open up their home to them has in place. We can’t keep allowing foster kids to take and we always give. It’s unfair. It doesn’t teach them anything about giving back or teach them anything about following the rules in life”.

So why wouldn’t foster parents want to provide specialized care when traumatized kids need this so critically ? Why do they choose to be foster caregivers ? Oh right, it is the money, the stipends foster families are paid to take in stranger’s children.

There could also be another aspect. Some foster parents are there for the glory and accolades from other people. This person’s perspective is simply justification for a rigid response. In reality, what should motivate anyone to be a foster caregiver, would be to help the child heal from whatever trauma has put them into the system to begin with. Just removing the child from their parents and home and being put into foster care IS trauma to begin with.

Think about it – if the injuries were visible and the child was then refused help to heal because of BS excuses like, the “real-world” is unsympathetic to your pain and suffering, many people would judge such a foster caregiver (like the one quoted above) as some unfeeling monster who neglects the children in their care. There should be zero tolerance for an attitude like this.

Truth is, parenting should be individualized to the unique person each child is. As parents, we should give more to children who need more. Parenting is not about one’s self or selfishness. A parents job shouldn’t be to make the kid’s lives crappy, even if we ourselves feel we have it crappy.

Finally, this foster parent writes as though fostering wasn’t a choice they made freely. A child who is unwillingly placed in your home doesn’t owe you gratitude or deference. And “everyone is treated the same in the real world”….what a sad excuse for having closed off your heart. One gets the sense that this foster parent has come from a middle to upper class white family and has not experienced a whole lot of the “real” life they speak so freely of upholding.