Conflict Induced Adoption

Illustration by Nat Castaneda)

An interesting custody battle is taking place. I am going to summarize. You can read a more detailed account at this ABC News LINK>Baby orphaned in military raid now at center of custody battle with her relatives and Marine.

In September 2019, a weeks-old baby girl was found badly hurt but — miraculously — alive in the rubble of a raid by U.S. special operations forces. Both of her parents were killed in the operation and she was placed under the temporary medical care of the U.S. military to recover from burns and physical trauma. The military had targeted a home in central Afghanistan, looking to capture or kill suspected foreign fighters associated with al-Qaida.

Today, the 3-1/2 year old girl (known as Baby Doe) is claimed by two families who are fighting a complex legal battle over the right to raise her. On one side are her paternal uncle and cousins in Afghanistan, with whom she was placed by the Afghan government in early 2020. Her uncle’s son and his wife, referred to in court as John and Jane Doe, cared for her for 18 months. Baby Doe and her Afghan family fled the Taliban and came to the US. John and Jane Doe have now resettled in Texas.

On the other side is a U.S. Marine lawyer who was in Afghanistan at the time of the raid and who successfully petitioned a local Virginia court to grant him an adoption order. An attorney for the Marine, Maj Joshua Mast, has contended in court filings that the girl had no surviving biological relatives (which the U.S. government says isn’t true). Mast’s attorney described her as an “orphan of war and a victim of terrorism” and Mast used the adoption order in Virginia to take custody of Baby Doe in September 2021. Baby Doe currently lives in North Carolina with Mast, his wife and their children. In September, John and Jane Doe filed a federal lawsuit suit against the Masts, claiming that the Masts unlawfully took Baby Doe.

The case is being reviewed in both Virginia and federal courts. Also involved are the Pentagon, the State Department and the Justice Department, who say the child should be returned to her Afghan relatives.

Following Afghan cultural traditions, Baby Doe should have then been taken to her next closest relatives. But who was she? Who were those relatives? Was she even Afghan? The US worked with the Afghan administration of then-President Ashraf Ghani and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to locate Afghan relatives who could raise her as their own, in line with local customs.

Mast was serving in Afghanistan at the time, as an attorney for the government’s Center for Law and Military Operations. In that role, he was involved in discussions about what to do with Baby Doe and took a keen interest in her welfare. He advocated for her transfer to the United States, so she could be placed for adoption far away from the dangers of “a country known for child abuse, neglect and sexual trafficking of children,” as an attorney for Mast once wrote. Mast’s court filings have also stated that Baby Doe’s parents were likely combatants, not collateral damage from the 2019 military raid. In late 2019, when Mast and his wife, Stephanie, sought an adoption order, they claimed Baby Doe was stateless and needed continuous medical care. John and Jane Doe claim that Mast abducted Baby Doe days after he had helped them arrive in the US in August 2021, as part of the chaotic US evacuation from Afghanistan.

The Justice Department filed a motion that argued the case should be moved to a federal court. The motion also stated that the Masts’ adoption should not have been granted, citing a U.S. government decision that Baby Doe should be returned to her Afghan family. The State Department likewise said in a recent statement to ABC News that the baby should have been brought back to her relatives. “Reuniting the child with the family members in Afghanistan was the right thing to do,” a department spokesperson said.

“We need a full investigation on this case and how this child could have been adopted away from her relatives,” Lisa Lawrence, a Defense Department spokesperson, said. “The investigation could lead to loopholes that need to be closed within our system. There shouldn’t be anyone from any rank of military that can push something as significant as an adoption through without following proper protocol and procedures.”

We All Want To Feel Safeā€¦

Safe by Kristin Brantley Poe<LINK

I was inspired by this adoption related painting to consider the concept of Safe. I found a related kind of article at LINK>Fostering Perspectives, an effort by the North Carolina Div of Social Services and their Family and Children’s Resource Program.

Safe can be defined as free from harm or hurt. So, feeling safe means you do not anticipate either harm or hurt, emotionally or physically. One emotion we often feel without consciously knowing it is the feeling of safety.

It’s likely you’re able to recall at least one time in your life when you didn’t feel safe. Do you remember what emotions you were experiencing when this happened? Several emotions often compete for attention during traumatic events like this. The author of the article writes – When I was feeling unsafe, I was scared and anxious, and my body just froze in place. My heart pounded and my mind was racing to figure out what was going to happen next. Because I was not in control of my body’s reaction, panic was closing in.

Your interest in adoption related topics including foster care and family preservation is probably why you read this blog. It is highly probable that you may have heard the expression “safety, permanence, and well-being” before. We use these terms to compartmentalize the vision we have for child’s welfare. Caring people want children to have a permanent family who will be there for them for the rest of their lives.

The concept of safety is always evolving. Historically, we may have thought of safety as simply being free from physical abuse, free from sexual abuse, free from emotional abuse, and free from neglect. This type of safety is a critical first step on the road to well-being. We can broaden our definition of safety to include the concept of feeling safe; a concept that is called psychological safety.

What research tells us is that permanency and general well-being alone are not enough. It matters if a child does not feel safe. To have the kind of a good quality childhood that allows the child to develop, grow and be well in all aspects, the child needs to have a feeling of psychological safety as well.

At every age in a child’s development there are things that help a child to feel safe. When they are very young it might be a pacifier, a special blanket, sucking their thumb, a stuffed toy, a loving caregiver, a kind word, a smile, a hug, or the act of either rocking back and forth or being rocked. As children grow older, a feeling of safety might take the form of a friendly voice on the telephone, a comfy pillow, a special meal, friends, clubs, a special location, spiritual beliefs, or books.

Unfortunately, some seek safety through unhealthy behaviors – over-eating food, getting drunk on alcohol and/or high on drugs.

One important thing to remember is that children who have experienced trauma may get a sense of safety from things we hardly ever think of being related to the concept – food being readily available to the child at all times might just help them feel safe from hunger. The comfortable temperature in a room might help them feel safe if they have experienced homelessness or inadequate shelter.

It can be surprising to learn that things we may believe should create the feeling of safety such as a comforting hug or a hot bath could actually cause a child who has been abused to feel terribly unsafe. Sights, sounds, smells, people, places, things, words, colors and even a child’s own feelings can become linked to trauma. Afterward, exposure to anything associated with the trauma can bring up intense and terrifying feelings. Often, these associations to a trauma will be completely unconscious.

This is why it can be challenging for non-related (genetically and biologically) caregivers to actually help. It could help to become a really good detective. Such an effort might help a child identify things that make them feel safe. It could also help eliminate or minimize the things that cause the child to feel unsafe.

All caring people should understand that just because a government agency has certified a foster/adoptive/kinship parent as “safe” (often meaning such obvious factors as having the right locks on doors, or that there are no criminals living in the home, and that family pets are up-to-date on their rabies shots) does not mean that a child moving into this home will feel safe. In fact, what government agencies define as a “safe home” has very little to do with a child placed there feeling safe.

“If your (adoptive) parents or foster parents go on and on about what happened a long time ago, that’s kind of putting you down and not really making you happy.”
~ Angel, age 13