Guardianship is a Better Plan

In my all things adoption group which includes foster care issues, the preference is for guardianship rather than adoption to preserve the identity and original family details for the child involved. In some states, it is an uphill battle to have such a situation considered a permanent forever home because it is still a relatively new perspective for reforming adoption.

Today’s story –

In trying to explain to the post-Termination of Parental Rights child we are foster care givers for, that we want to give him the security of a “forever home” without the identity fracture that adoption can bring, we are failing. Though he is not at the age of consent, he is plenty old enough to have several friends who have been adopted as older children from foster care, and he really wants to be “adopted.” Having been through so many foster placements and told so many times that people “didn’t want to adopt him”, the fact that we do (or did until we discovered this better way) has been a big thing for him. We can’t seem to find a way to communicate that we want him to have everything he thinks adoption is, without changing his birth certificate, etc. He is protesting that we can adopt him but not change his name at all (which was always the plan – and, yes, that is true). I’m really stressed about doing this right, and honestly every therapist we have spoken to can’t seem to understand why adoption might not be best.

The Dept of Health and Human Services seems to be willing to work with us either way (adoption or legal guardianship) but the caseworker is also having a hard time understanding how this is better for him- and I worry she is thinking we are having second thoughts in terms of our commitment to him – which is NOT the case.

I admit, I’m scared of losing him back to the system, if we mess too much with the permanency agenda. He was in some truly horrible homes and my heart breaks thinking about him ever being vulnerable to that again. Extended family doesn’t want to get involved right, now though we are determined to keep the communication open, and want to go the legal guardianship route, in case they ever are ready to be more active.

How do we communicate all of this, in a way that doesn’t hurt, because so far it’s clear we are hurting him and he doesn’t understand because of my failure to communicate it! Another thing that is bothering him is that he considers our biological children to be his siblings and he wants them to be his “real siblings” , and he thinks we need to adopt him to make that real. He is so beautifully clear that we are NOT mom and dad – he has those already – but I think because our biological children are so much younger and he’s seen them from birth and onward, so that he really has a sense of being their big brother.

Some thoughts about this situation –

Everyone’s experience is different. My husband is a Former Foster Care Youth who aged out of the system. He always wanted to be adopted because that was his validation that he was *wanted*. The family he mainly grew up with finally adopted him at age 25 but he still keeps his original name. His birth certificate hasn’t changed. Maybe that can be an option? He is adopted but keeps his name and if his biological family comes forward, he can still have a relationship with them as well.

Also this – There’s nothing stopping you from letting him have a relationship even if he is “adopted”. You also need to explain to him what adoption means to you. Family is not a piece of paper, it is the people that take care of you, and his siblings are his siblings now. Maybe explain that he already is family and in your mind he is adopted ?

You can do other things to make him feel like he has a permanent placement with you, as you work through the pros and cons of the adoption conversation.

The child is in the 8-10 age range and so, these ideas were suggested –

1) have a sit down in which you express to him how much he means to you and how your meaning of family won’t be impacted by legality or adoption. A written letter or something to that extent would be nice, and having your biological children (if they feel similar to you, which I hope they do) also write letters to express to him that he’s their brother !

2) Give him a goal age for adoption, so like if he still wants to be adopted at age 16 or whatever feels right.

3) look up legal benefits to waiting to adopt (like for where I live, if you wait until after age 14 you get all sorts of government assistance with schooling etc, that you don’t get if you’re adopted before age 14, even if you’re in the system for years like I was) to let him know the pros and cons of that

4) do things that FEEL permanent for him (if you haven’t already). Let him paint his bedroom walls whatever color he wants. Pick out some furniture. Make things “his”. That will greatly help his sense of agency in this situation. Talk about the future a lot, in specific detail. This is what middle school you’ll go to. When you’re x age your bedtime goes to x time. Next summer we should do x activities. Etc. Just make him feel heard and like you’re not ignoring what he wants entirely, you’re just wanting to make sure it’s the best thing for HIM, since it’s such a permanent decision

From a Former Foster Care Youth – I was a teen in foster care and adoption never even occurred to me BUT I aged out and was all alone. It was really scary and I would have given anything to have had someone who was ‘mine’ to go back to when I needed it. Instead I got into a lot of unhealthy relationships looking for a parent figure. Please sit down and explain adoption to him. The permanency of it and that you will forever belong to him but it means that his past will be erased. And that the birth certificate will look as though he was born to you, even if not true. And that it will legally sever the relationship with his siblings and biological family. Then explain guardianship and the pros and cons of it. Please be candid and honest about all of it. Ask him what he wants. But honestly… only do this if you actually will be ‘his’… even when he goes through the toughest part of his teens and tries hard to push you away in any and all ways possible. Because he will. As a much older adult now, I’m glad that I still have some connections to my family. It’s complicated but… it’s mine.

Plus this sad story – I stopped wanting to be adopted at around 6ish. The thought of losing my “real’ family” was not an option for me, even that young. Even if I did not really know them. Instead I went thru 75 placements in 20 years. As a former foster care youth, I wish I had been more open to being adopted. I aged out and had to deal with the reality of life on my own. I wish I had someone to fall back on and made some really bad choices, including some that ultimately cost me several of my own children.

And here is a downside to guardianship – Your biological children are your next of kin, and with permanent guardianship he is not. They have automatic inheritance rights and he would not. If you and your husband die, your children will go to family or whomever you have dictated, but guardianship ends upon death, so he would go back into the same foster system he was in previously. Some of these issues can be addressed through estate planning but some can’t so long as he is a minor.

Regarding the above perspective – here’s experience

I am a former foster care youth (that was kinship adopted) and I am also an adoptive parent. I try to tread lightly, so my adoptive parent voice does not out run my former foster care youth experience. I was 9 years old when my grandparents became my sole caretaker and 10 before they got guardianship. They both battled health issues, and it became abundantly clear that there needed to be a “permanent legal bond” or things could go terribly wrong, which would put me back in foster care. I was legally adopted at age 11, after requesting it. I would have been devastated, if they refused. It would have been yet another rejection.

Maternal Grief

There is more than one way to “lose” a child. Certainly, the most obvious is the most permanent. Today, many adoptees are going through reunions with their biological families. That gives hope that the kind of loss that is giving a child up to adoption may not be a permanent one. That said, one can never regain the years the locusts have consumed. The bible promises a restoration but the reality is, those years can never fundamentally be retrieved. They are forever lost.

Adoption is, in its idealized form, is suppose to be about finding homes for children that need them, not about finding children for parents that want them. That perfect world is a place we all know we do not live in. There is nothing inherently wrong about wanting to be a parent, but it can become wrong depending on how you go about becoming a parent. Once they have achieved their goal, adoptive parents might desire to remain ignorant regarding the real loss involved for the other participants in their own path to parenthood. 

Surrendering a child can really hurt emotionally, in a way that is completely indescribable and that words could never do justice regarding, if one attempts to convey it to any other person who has not had direct experience with it.  Relinquishment can never be undone and all a birthparent can do is continue live their life throughout the time knowing that someone else is raising their child.

Hear it described by the most honest and real, courageous and brilliant adopted persons and you will learn that many of the feelings they have for having been adopted do not express feelings of gratitude, or contentment, but of loss and primal rejection, as well as confusion, anger, many unanswered questions and often unsatisfactory love, truth be told regarding the adoptive parents who settled for second best.

These unfulfilled adoptive parents also grieve – the child they wanted to have – compared to the child they settled for. All around a disagreeable situation. Adoption & Child Welfare Services were expected to bring in a revenue of 14 Billion Dollars during 2015. Even the banking and insurance industry has more regulations applied to them than adoption and some of the things they do to try and make money at all costs is unethical. Adoption is the largest, mostly unregulated, industry in the US allowed to do business.

It is human nature that if you put few regulations in the way and add to that large sums of money to be made from taking part in the industry, it is a situation that asks to be corrupted. A lobby group with a deceiving name, The National Council for Adoption (and an even more disturbing game) is paid for by the adoption agencies, pro-life groups, and given federal tax funds and grants – all to promote adoption. 

The goal is to separate families not protected by money or the Godly union of marriage in favor of giving their child to a legally married, heterosexual, Christian couple. Many mothers have truthfully lost their children to adoption and they suffer in isolation what can only be described as a very real diagnosis of “birthmother grief”. These are women who are and could have been good parents. These children were in no danger of being bumped around in foster care for years. There was no threat of them being abused.

Maybe they would have had a few first years of lean times, maybe it would have been hard but they would have parented. There is a huge difference between child protection and child surrender. Child surrender is voluntary, it is often not really necessary, but made out to be beneficial. The real “good” of the child is questionable depending on your personal interpretation of what is “better”. Often fraught with myths, and misinformation that sway the participants involved for the benefit of the adoption agency and, often, the desires of their paying clients (the perspective adoptive parents). It is finding children to fit the needs of the industry which is based entirely on transferring the parental rights from one party to another for a profit.

Adoption adds a whole bunch of baggage to any adoptee’s life. They had adoptive parents that tried their best, made mistakes, and loved them lots. The fact is though, that if a child does not need to be separated from their original family – experts agree it is a person’s birthright to be with their original family. There are enough adoptees and natural parents searching for each other that we cannot humanly deny that it is not a primal and necessary urge in many cases. It’s not a whim, not a phase, nor a sign if immaturity, nor selfishness, nor of poor adoptive parenting, or anything else might we believe. Adoptees may have the reality of having two sets of parents, adoptive and birth parents, but they need to know and have relationships with their original, biological families – regardless of how good the adoptive family was. It is also clear by how many birthmothers never quit searching for their child that being reunited is also a unrequited need in most maternal hearts.

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.

Levels of Necessity

A woman asks – Is there ever an instance where adoption is ok?

A good example comes from an adoptive parent – I don’t know. I thought no, but then a friend reached out yesterday about being contacted to adopt a friend’s child that was born 3 months early. The baby is still in the hospital (born in November). Both parents recently passed away, and the extended family is either unwilling or unable (because of incarceration) to adopt. The other siblings have been adopted by other families that are not related. If all this proves to be true, it’s the first time I’ve felt like maybe this is a time when a child does need a home and does need to be adopted. The baby is literally alone in NICU and is truly an orphan. With that being said, as an adoptive parent, I’ve come to realize that most adoptions don’t have those levels of necessity attached to them.

I also thought this was a good answer – There will never be a blanket statement of “adoption is okay in xyz case.” The answer is that adoption should be a last resort. Instead, support the parents in keeping their kids. But if you are adopting no matter what, look for kids (usually teens) who have already experienced a termination of parental rights.

Another writes – Living in a country (New Zealand) where adoption is almost obsolete – fallen 98% in the last 30 years and considered a relic of the past, I think we have proven it is not needed anymore – there are better options that do not erase a persons identity.

Here is another perspective from an adoptee related to an International adoption – I was adopted from China as a baby during their one child policy – families were often stuck in the position of giving their daughters to other family members, hiding them from authorities, or giving them up for fostering or adoption. I don’t think it was my American parent’s job to fix this through adoption, when there were other ways they could care for children domestically, but should this be considered a slight “exception”? I do empathize with my parents desire to help a dire situation, but I’m sure I’d feel different had I not had a loving, safe childhood in America. Thousands of Chinese girls were adopted by American families during this time, and I know others feel they have had opportunities here in America that they know they wouldn’t have had, had they stayed with their birth parents.

I also liked this answer – With the consent of the person being adopted, and then ONLY if the person being adopted is of an age to consent to the adoption. Adoption is never necessary. Therefore, it should only be done with consent.

I definitely agree with this perspective – Until they stop erasing the child’s ancestry and issuing fake birth records, no. Adoption, as it is practiced today, is never OK. You can provide permanency, love, and support to a child without adoption. Adoption is a lie.

These last two are backed up with this personal experience – If they are old enough to fully understand what is going on, so I would say 12 and up (just my opinion) and if there was no other family. In my case there was no one, but I didn’t get adopted until I was an adult (had 7 unsuccessful adoptions while in foster care) but adoption should only happen of the child is fully aware of everything and 100% without a doubt wants to be adopted.

And lastly this – I am an adoptive parent – I adopted my nephew when my sister was dying and his dad was not available. I would have done things differently and possibly left it as a kinship placement with permanent guardianship – had I known then, what I know now. Talking about his first parents is common in my home, we have his mom’s pictures hanging up, I have his original birth certificate and several other documents of importance. And he’s in therapy at the age of 6 from trauma directly from being adopted. It’s not sunshine and roses, even when it’s family.

Moving Around

I didn’t grow up in a military family but I went to school right next to Ft Bliss in El Paso TX and so throughout my public school years, there were military families in the mix. Sometimes, I’d become very close friends with someone, only to have them leave as their family was moved to another location. So, there was a sense of loss in that.

Today’s question was whether an active military upbringing is in the best interest of an adopted child given adoptee abandonment issues and a military move every 4 years or a parent deploying here and there.

One adoptee shared this surprising but understandable answer – The moving every three years was hard, but I also felt like I had the opportunity to reinvent my entire identity every time I went to a new school. I think the instability felt comfortable and normal to me. As an adult I can see how messed up that is, but as a kid it just felt like what life is. Don’t get deeply attached to anything or anyplace because it’s never permanent.

With racial issued focused for many people this year, I found this sharing interesting –

She is an adoptive parent who has moved location 3 times and moved house 5 times in three years (only the first move was intentional… I found a way to move us to the Caribbean – a decision driven by what we thought would be best for the kids for issues related to race – and it was awesome until the dual hurricanes Irma and Maria decided we should be in Miami instead and then Covid brought us full circle back to where we started in Virginia) – I can attest to the reality that the strain of frequent moving is an additional burden on an Adoptee’s trauma load that can be quite difficult. However, it’s also true that structure, and knowing what to expect, can be very supportive of kids who have trauma histories, and the expectation of knowing the moves come every 3 years and that the moves are part of a shared culture could have an ameliorative affect or at least teach tools for processing and managing trauma. I will say that the tools our kids have learned over the last 3 years with all the moves have been good “practice” for delving deeper into the more primal, bigger “T” trauma of adoption. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the moves are a “safer” kind of training wheel for handling and processing trauma – and then those tools can then be turned on to the bigger traumas that all adoptees are trying to manage. However, it’s risky to add to that trauma load with frequent moves if the adoptive parents are in denial about or ignorant of (or worse) the toxicity of adoption itself.

And there is also this perspective –

I am an adoptive parent and a military spouse. I just wanted to mention that the military has provided phenomenal therapies and medical care. Our now 7 year old was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy at 15 months and the military medical system was willing to send her anywhere she needed to go to get her to the correct specialists. They were willing to relocate my husband to another base, if needed to get her the medical care she required. Most employers would not. Now, it’s set up that he can’t be stationed anywhere that doesn’t have a medical team to meet her needs. She also has access to a neuropsychologist who minored in adoption and separation trauma.

The military started putting a lot of emphasis on children’s behavioral health back in the 90s with Operation Desert Shield/Storm and have done an amazing job of “normalizing” behavioral health for children and adolescents. Today, almost every school district around a military base has a Military Family Life Counselor on staff. I’m not saying this makes military life “ok”. I’m just putting an aspect of resources available out there that aren’t currently being considered in this thread.

Is It Really Necessary ?

So is adoption really necessary ?

One could conclude that an orphan should ideally be adopted by the guardians assigned before the parent‘s demise. For foster kids, who would like to be adopted, after parental rights were terminated. Guardianship or temporary fostering could suffice to serve the needs of children in most cases.

It may be that the only time adoption is “necessary” (and one could always argue that word) would be for an older child or teen, whose parents have already signed termination of parental rights.  But only if the child has asked for that without prompting. And the child’s name should never be changed unless the child wants their name changed to feel more in harmony with the rest of the family.  And go slowly on that one because it could be only a temporary phase that won’t be as lasting as changing the child’s name.  The child does need to be empowered in a situation in which they don’t have a lot of control otherwise.

There are very sad and difficult cases.  For example, cases of extreme abuse and neglect where the mother refuses all offers of assistance. Where there is no other family able or willing to help.  There could be no way that this child could ever be safe with their original family. Counseling will be required for every person involved.  Some contact with the original family should be maintained if at all possible, if nothing more than knowing how to reach them.  In the best cases, monitoring for a changed status.  There is always the possibility of change because change is a constant.

Regarding guardianship, some judges and courts may have concerns that the guardianship could too easily be terminated and the child would lose a sense of permanency.  However, a child’s sense of attachment was destroyed the minute their family of origin was severed from them.

Still the question remains – to fully love, protect and be a family is adoption necessary ? Full custody as an alternative to adoption can accomplish the same legal requirements. The system has been an enabler for white saviorism and has made adoption like a free for all.  It’s unethical that so often the natural family is not allowed to give any input and the lack of effort put into connecting these kids to their kin just is mind boggling.

The best adoptive families, upon becoming more enlightened about the impacts of adoption, will make attempts to mitigate the inevitable difficulties for the child (some of these can include not changing the child’s name, learning about the child’s original mother and if possible opening up contact with her and with any other related siblings).  Though most adoptive parents genuinely feel they are doing the right thing . . . when we know better, we do better.

The Broken Birth Mom

This sculpture speaks so strongly to my own heart.  I empathize with my grandmothers who gave up my parents to adoption.  In a sense, though less permanently, I am one myself.  Each of my sisters truly are.  There are no words for how this haunts a person.  No mother should have to live without her child, even though I do understand that sometimes the safety issues are so strong because that mother is so broken as a person, the child isn’t safe with her.  I get it.

Adoption isn’t just a one-time event and it’s over. It is never over, it can’t be and it isn’t.  It is something that follows an adoptee and their original parents throughout their lives.

I have obsessed in my guilt for not raising my daughter. Just like my maternal grandmother, I never intended to leave her daily life permanently. In my effort, just as it was in my grandmother’s effort, to work things out financially, circumstances changed and it was no longer the best outcome for her to take her back. Both my maternal grandmother and myself would have, if it had been possible or truly made sense to step back in.

There were no role models for absentee mothers in the early 1970s though one read a lot of stories about absentee fathers.  I realize I caused the situation for myself. My grandmother stepped into a serious trap without realizing it when she turned to Porter-Leath Orphanage in Memphis TN for temporary care of my mom.

The superintendent there betrayed my grandmother and my mom to a master baby thief.  Miss Georgia Tann was backed up by her good friend, the Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, in her pressure campaign to exploit my grandmother and wrest my mom out of her possession so that she could sell her to my adoptive grandmother.

Being a birth mom who permanently surrenders her child is not a club you should want to join.  It is a grief that lasts a lifetime. The pain of that wound will change over time but it will never go away. It will always be there.  I have spent years trying to resolve my own.  I know the reasons and the causes but there is no recovering lost time and those precious memories of your child growing up.

If you are an expectant mother, especially a single and financially challenged young woman, seek out the help that will make it possible for you to keep your baby. You will be glad you did.  Here’s one place – https://savingoursistersadoption.org/