Erasing The Mother’s Name

I was reading an article this morning in Time Magazine (the March 14/March 21 2022 issue) by Aubrey Hirsch titled “Why my children have their mom’s last name.” She describes all of the complications this has raised in their family’s lives. When I conceived my oldest son, my husband strongly wanted my name added to our son’s names and so both of my son’s have my maiden name as their middle names (which in this patrilineal society causes us not the confusion this woman and her husband’s choice has caused). What is a bit strange in our case is that both of my parent’s were adopted and so my maiden name links us not at all in genealogical terms to my family. Even trying to concoct an honest family tree at Ancestry is going to be a challenge (one that I only started but still need to complete).

My dad was given his mother’s maiden name as a surname because she was unwed at the time she gave birth and even though she knew full well who his father was (as I have since discovered in my own adoption story journey and am grateful for the breadcrumbs to my paternal grandfather’s identity that she left me) she did not name him on my dad’s original birth certificate and of course, because he was adopted, his birth certificate has the names of his adoptive parents. And because his adoptive mother later divorced the first adoptive father and remarried, my dad was adopted twice and his birth certificate as well as his first name was changed twice. It was all very patrilineal because his “new” (one could say he spent his entire life as many adoptees do living under an assumed identity) first name was the name of the adoptive father each time as well as the surname for each of these adoptive fathers. I can imagine what this might have felt like to his 8 year old self when the second one occurred.

The woman who wrote that personal essay for Time magazine laments how she has been pushing back against her children having her last name and not the father’s since they were born. Is it true that babies must take their father’s last name ? Well only if the mother identifies who the father was, I suppose, in most circumstances. Studies have shown that 95% of the time, heterosexual married couples give the baby the father’s name.

Ms Hirsch makes a good argument for her choice, she says – women do the hard work of pregnancy and childbirth. They also do the vast majority of the actual parenting (generally about twice as much). And she also points to the circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic 80% of US adults who were not working were women who were caring for children not in formal school or day care.

I agree also that our society simply does not support mothers and their children enough. Note that any attempt to pass more social supports for working parents, like paid family and medical leave, subsidized day care, and universal preschool, have stalled. It is mothers who will be shouldering the bulk of these burdens, forced to give up their jobs along with their names. And it is the male dominated society we live in that is mostly to blame. In general, women are not valued as highly as men, only make about 75% as much in the same jobs in most cases.

The issue of names shown on birth certificates is one that most adoptees are very sensitive to for understandable reasons. Even so, this woman bucked the tradition. She is proud of her family heritage and it is true that marriage erases the family connection for women 95% of the time (though some women today do keep their maiden names in marriage or hyphenate them). For this woman, her family name will be part of her genealogy and not erased as most women’s connections to the family of their birth are.

Related Issues

Two articles came to my attention yesterday that I believe are related. One was titled The Baby Bust: Why Are There No Infants to Adopt? The subtitle was – Declining birth rates and other factors make it difficult for hopeful adoptive parents to create their forever families. In my all things adoption group, it has become obvious to me that many prospective adoptive parents have become more than a bit desperate.

I actually do believe that the Pro-Life movement is driven by the sharp decline in women either not carrying a pregnancy or choosing to be single parents. Our society’s norms have changed since the 1930s when my parents were adopted.

The other article was Why is the US right suddenly interested in Native American adoption law? In this situation, laws meant to protect Native Americans who have been exploited and cheated out of so much, including their own children, is being challenged by white couples wanting to adopt as being a kind of reverse discrimination against them.

So back to the first article –

The number of adoptions in general has been steadily declining over the years. U.S. adoptions reached their peak in 1970 with 175,000 adoptions tallied. That number had fallen to 133,737 by 2007. Seven years later, the total sank further to 110,373, a 17% decrease.

Reports of a 50% or more decrease in available birth mothers are coming from adoption agencies all over. As a result, some agencies have folded. Those still in operation are compiling long waiting lists of hopeful adoptive parents.

Even so, the demand for infants to adopt remains high. The good news is also that fewer teenagers are becoming pregnant. Teen birth rates peaked at 96.3 per 1,000 in 1957 during the post-war baby boom. However, with the widespread acceptance and use of birth control, there has been a dramatic decline in the teenage pregnancy rate.  This rapid decline in teenage birth rates was seen across all major racial and ethnic groups. 

Estimates indicate that approximately half of the pregnancies in the United States were not planned. Of those unintended pregnancies, about 43% end in abortion; less than 1% of such pregnancies end in adoption. Adoption is a rare choice. The pandemic shut-down also reduced places where meetings could occur that tend to lead to casual encounters, which often result in unplanned pregnancies.

On to that second article –

A 1978 law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act or ICWA tried to remedy adoption practices that were created to forcibly assimilate Native children. Last April, an appeals court upheld parts of a federal district court decision, in a case called Brackeen v Haaland, that found parts of ICWA “unconstitutional”. The non-Indian plaintiffs (mostly white families wanting to foster and adopt Native children) contend that federal protections to keep Native children with Native families constitute illegal racial discrimination, and that ICWA’s federal standards “commandeer” state courts and agencies to act on behalf of a federal agenda.

The thinking that non-Indians adopting Native children is as old as the “civilizing” mission of colonialism – saving brown children from brown parents. In fact, among prospective adoptive parents there is a dominant belief that they are actually saving children. Native families, particularly poor ones, are always the real victims. A high number, 25-35%, of all Native children have been separated from their families. They are placed in foster homes or adoptive homes or institutions. Ninety percent are placed in non-Indian homes. Native children are four times more likely to be removed from their families than white children are from theirs. Native family separation has surpassed rates prior to ICWA according to a 2020 study.

The fact is that there is a dark side to foster care. Some state statutes may provide up to several thousands of dollars a child per month to foster parents, depending on the number of children in their care and a child’s special needs. Why doesn’t that money go towards keeping families together by providing homes instead of tearing them apart?

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.