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.

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.

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.

Almost Never Acceptable

It’s very hard to understand why ANYONE would choose to take another mom’s (or dad’s) child either through adoption or by becoming a foster caregiver. The only acceptable path I see is true kinship, when their parents are dead, ie they are orphans (both of my parents were adoptees and I thought they were orphans when I was a child – I was totally ignorant that biological family existed and was living lives unknown to me). Other than that, no possible excuse.

So here are some questions for adoptive parents and foster caregivers to contemplate: How do you not see what an absolutely horrible thing this is to do? Have we as humans become so blind that we see taking another mother’s child as a good thing? Where is the accountability for adoptive parents and foster caregivers since they are contributors to this huge problem of family separation? Why are we constantly talking about the best interest of the child and not the best interest of the family? Do adults who lose their children not count as well?

A better choice is guardianship and not adoption – if there are children who have arrived in your home, who aren’t able to be with their first/birth family. Allowing them their identity and knowledge of their genetic family.

One should feel absolutely sick to their stomach, if they’ve built their own ‘motherhood’ on another woman’s brokenness and loss. How cruel and selfish, to be so focused on your infertility loss, that you failed to see the other humans in your family’s picture.

No one advocates kids being abused. 

Our society needs to be doing something before a crisis sets in. Maybe the parents need support and some intervention but this should occur WAY before it becomes necessary to remove children from their natural home. Maybe those parents didn’t have a good role model, to show them how to parent properly. Without a role model for how it is done, it can really be an impossible task. Maybe if, as a society, we didn’t leave so many parents unsupported, there would be no need for adoptive parents and foster caregivers.

I know that this sounds very utopian. The challenge is actually translating this into the real world solutions. So how would real world people make a difference for families where the children have been separated from their parents for apparently valid reasons involving the child’s welfare? Here are some ideas related to foster care . . .

The social end goal for that situation is reunification of the children with their parents. There are a lot of steps along the way. Weekly urine analysis requirements, parenting classes, drug counseling, therapy, visits/phone calls with kids, parents needing housing, a job, education, showing up to court.

As a foster parent your job should be to walk along side the parents as an additional support to them in their own efforts. You can’t make anyone do anything, but you can support them, encourage them and remind them of the ultimate goal. You can help pay for those weekly urine analysis requirements, if $10 a week is too much. You can help them get signed up for parenting classes, you can drive them to parenting classes. You can help them find a drug program and get started with therapist. You can provide transportation and support after those sessions. You can go to court and support them and advocate for them. You can help them get to visits, or call them instead of waiting for them to call. You can help by providing resources for housing/jobs. Transportation, if needed.

And then after you’ve helped, you’ve taught them a lot about where to access the resources they need. You’ve shown them what they can do for themselves. And now, they may have many of the skills they need to be successful. You’ve lead them to goal by supporting them and making them feel safe that you aren’t only there to take their children away. Now they can find their own way to parenting their children properly.

And the inconvenient truth is this – too many foster parents flat out refuse to spend any time with the children’s parents or even talk to them because they look down on them as inferior and damaged and not worthy of help. Yes, it is true that some children’s parents are not safe, but it is more true that most of these parents simply need some help to be safe.