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.

Review – I Am Sam

I learned about this movie from my all things adoption group and I wrote an initial blog on July 19th titled I Am Sam. I promised to come back with a review and last night I actually watched the movie on dvd from Netflix. Sean Penn and Dakota Fanning are both remarkable in their performances for this movie.

It is easy to understand the attraction of this movie to the all things adoption and foster care group because the core story is the lived experience of many members of that group. Not so much having a mentally challenged (ie as the movie says explicitly more than once – retarded) parent but as in the Division of Family and Child Welfare taking a child or children from the parents. In fact, when my sons were young, I did worry that our parenting might be adversely challenged by so do-gooder. Thankfully, my sons are now almost grown (one is already 20 and the other one is 17) and beyond such concerns in our own family. It is also true to the lived experience of so many that foster parents often do eventually want to adopt a child placed in their care. However, the movie is enlightened to the trends now occurring in adoptionland that family reunification and in the case of this movie, an eventual recognition on the part of the parent that he is lacking something (a mother – the child’s mother abandoned the child to the father shortly after birth) brings into the resolution a kind of co-parenting solution that is satisfying to watch (I don’t think that saying this is a spoiler for this movie as the ending leaves as many questions as it answers).

The movie was very progressive for its time in the portrayal of people with a variety of cognitive disabilities. In fact, I recognized that I do know one woman who has effectively lost her children due to just such a challenge. The take-away message for me was how incredibly hard it is parent a child regardless of the circumstances. This is clearly portrayed in the contrasting and yet similar parenting challenges of the main character and his lawyer. Every parent needs support of some kind at some time or other.

In an LA Times review, the writer shares this story – “I’m smart enough to know when I need help, I ask for it,” a 46-year-old mother with a learning disability told me recently. She receives support from a parents-with-special-needs program. If she needs help with parenting skills of any kind, a parent counselor is just a call away. If she feels frustrated, she attends the program’s parents support group.

Also from that LA Times review, In one critical scene of the movie, Sam is questioned by state agency officials about why he thinks he has the ability to be a father. He responds, “It’s about constancy and it’s about patience. And it’s about listening and it’s about pretending to listen when you can’t listen any more, and it’s about love.” In the case of parents with special needs, we must provide the kind of support services that will offer practical help and an ear to listen. Parents with special needs benefit from help with tutoring, after-school activities, transportation, budgeting money and, like every parent in the universe, a little baby-sitting now and then.

The movie helps everyone who watches it to understand “that persons with disabilities have needs and desires just like everyone else,” as the parent with a disability mentioned above explained. “They need to take care of someone and love someone else.”

Historic Reforms Keeping Children With Family

Only today thanks to a piece in the most recent Time Magazine, I discovered that one of the reforms I often advocate here became law in October 2018. The bipartisan legislation allows states to use federal funding to help struggling parents before resorting to putting children in foster care.  Congress recognized that too many children are unnecessarily separated from parents who could provide safe and loving care if given access to needed mental health services, substance abuse treatment or improved parenting skills.

“If we can get more children being raised in a family-like setting, either with their parents or extended family, it bodes well for what happens in this country in the long run.”
~ William C Bell, Casey Family Programs

Nearly half a million children are currently in foster care. After years of decline in numbers of children in foster care, the number has risen steadily since 2012, with anecdotal evidence and expert opinion linking this increase to the parallel rise in opioid addiction and overdoses. Family First provides struggling and overburdened child welfare agencies with the tools needed to help children and families in crisis, including families struggling with the opioid epidemic.

Young people involved in the child welfare system do best in families, in a safe and stable environment that supports their long-term well-being, according to research. The passage of Family First took a large step toward this vision by restructuring how the federal government spends money on child welfare to ensure that more children in foster care are placed with families. The law also provides more support for critical services, such as mental health and substance abuse treatment, in-home training and family therapy that can help prevent the need for foster care in the first place.

The law gives states and tribes the ability to target their existing federal resources into an array of prevention and early intervention services to keep children safe, strengthen families and reduce the need for foster care whenever it is safe to do so.  It also provides federal funds for evidence-based Kinship Navigator programs that link relative caregivers to a broad range of services and supports to help children remain safely with them, and requiring states to document how their foster care licensing standards accommodate relative caregivers.

There will no longer be a time limit on reunification services for a child in foster care preparing to return home, and a child returning home will now have access to 15-months of family reunification services beginning on the date the child returns home.  It’s a start.

 

Preventable Separations

Within the community of adopted persons, there seems to be a consensus that separations of children from their original mothers could be prevented with the right encouragement and financial support.  A group I belong to actively seeks to encourage single mothers to at least make the attempt before giving in to surrendering their children for adoption.

A valid question is whether, in being separated from the mother, the child is deprived of something that society cannot replace – even with the best care it can provide.  I have been convinced that this separation results in a wound in the child, and also in the mother, that never entirely heals, even if it has been unconsciously buried within that person.

This most important consideration may outweigh all others in my own opinion. To avoid causing the wound to begin with, seems to my mind, to be more important than convenient “solutions” to a perceived lack of parenting skills or inadequate financial support.

It is a growing belief that separation might be prevented – if we as a society cared enough to do that.  Separating mothers from their children for profit-driven reasons is not in the best interests of the child, nor of the mother.