Adoption Or Foster Care

I’ve been reading a book about one girl’s experiences in foster care to better inform myself about a system I have no experience with.  Adoption ?  Though not adopted myself nor have I given up a child to adoption, I have LOTS of experience – both parents were adoptees and both sisters gave up a child to adoption.  I also spend significant time each day within a private Facebook group that includes original parents, adoptees and former foster youth, and adoptive (or hopeful) parents.  I learn a lot there that broadens my perspectives.

Some of the major differences I am understanding – foster care does not alter the child’s identity (doesn’t change their name or birth certificate).  Foster care is less permanent or certain.  The goal in a lot of foster care is eventual reunification of the family unit.  The quality of foster care varies but a bad placement can be gotten out of.  Not all foster parents treat the foster child well nor do they really care about what is happening to the child.  Some actually do it for the money (NOT saying most or all do it for that reason).

Adoption is a PERMANENT solution to what is a temporary problem when talking about an unwed mother or a poverty situation.  Adoption does provide a more certain home environment than foster care does but the double edge sword is that if it is an awful placement, most of the time the child is simply trapped there (I’ve read enough nightmare stories to believe this).  That said, there are also “second chance” adoptions where the adoptive parents want to be rid of a troublesome child.  This is very sad for the child as it sends a debilitating message about the worth of that child.

Most of the time, adoptive parents change the child’s name and to some extent their cultural identity if it is a transracial adoption.  Some adoptive parents hide the date and/or location of the child’s birth to place an obstacle in the way of the parent/child unit reuniting.  Genetic family bonds are broken or permanently lost.  Even when such direct family is recovered later in life, so much life experience and inter-relationship is lost that it is nearly impossible to rebuild.  I understand this as I have been able to learn what my own parents could not – who my original grandparents were.  Along with learning that, I have acquired new family relationships with genetically related aunts and cousins.

I acknowledge that not all children are going to be parented by the people who gave birth to them.  This is a reality.  I would also argue that as a society we do NOT do enough to keep families intact and could do much better.  I would further add that MONEY plays a HUGE role in perpetuating the separation of mothers from their children.  That money could be better spent with less traumatic outcomes on the natural family and its supports.

Only For The Extreme Cases

In some ways, Judge Ernestine S. Gray with her child-friendly courtroom, reminds me of Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley of Memphis in the Georgia Tann days but whereas, Judge Kelley became corrupted, I have an intuition that is not going to happen with Judge Gray. She gives each child who appears before her a bear and a book. She believes it makes what can be the worst day of their lives just a little easier.

This soft touch belies the power that Gray wields as one of just four Louisiana judges who control the entire child protection docket in their jurisdiction. And she has used that authority to upend the status quo and reduce Orleans Parish’s foster care numbers to levels unmatched anywhere in the country.

Between 2011 and 2017, the number of children in foster care here fell by 89 percent compared with an 8 percent increase nationally. New Orleans children who do enter the system don’t stay long. Seventy percent are discharged within a month; nationally, it’s only 5 percent.

Gray has effectively all but eliminated foster care except in extreme situations, quickly returning children flagged by social workers to their families or other relatives.

“We shouldn’t be taking kids away from their parents because they don’t have food or a refrigerator,” she said in explaining her philosophy. “I grew up in a poor family in South Carolina, and we didn’t have a lot. But what I had was people who cared about me.”

Removing a child is extremely traumatic, and the best outcome is to make sure kids go home to their families where they deserve to be as quickly as possible, or not enter the system at all.

Few who know anything about the foster care system would disagree that it is severely broken nationwide due to decades of mismanagement and inadequate funding. Instead of protecting children, it often traumatizes them further. They have poorer outcomes in education, employment, housing and early pregnancy, studies show. By 17, more than half will have been arrested, jailed or convicted.

The Family First Prevention Services Act is the biggest overhaul of foster care in a generation. The law redirects money from paying for state custody to providing services designed to keep families intact, such as mental health care, substance abuse treatment and parenting skills training.

Judge Gray stresses that “The greatest threat of harm, for most of the children who appear before her, is being unnecessarily removed from their families.”

“Foster care is put up as this thing that is going to save kids, but kids die in foster care, kids get sick in foster care,” she said. “So we ought to be trying to figure out how to use that as little as possible. People have a right to raise their children.”