What Is Child Endangerment?

When my children were very young, I used to worry that some rather innocent parental choice might cause us to lose custody of them. There was a memorable episode of The Simpsons – LINK>Home Sweet Homediddly-Dum-Doodily – the third episode of the seventh season. Homer and Marge lose custody of their children to the state. The kids end up in foster care at Ned and Maude Flanders’ house. Marge and Homer were spending the day at a spa, while the children were in school. Baby Maggie was left in the care of her elderly grandfather, Abe Simpson. This caused the parents to be accused of negligence after Bart was sent home from school with head lice and Lisa was found shoe less. Child Protective Services agents arrived at the Simpson house and judged it to be under incompetent care.

This was much less likely when I was growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I do remember getting in trouble for going too far from home on my bicycle. I also remember wandering in wild and remote spaces and never feeling concern from my parents, though in adulthood I learned they weren’t aware of the extent of my journeys LOL.

We never left our two sons alone and never even employed their grandparents (who lived next door) as overnight babysitters. I suppose we have been overprotective but they are still alive and have not gotten into any serious youthful trouble. They’ve been allowed to develop their own character absent being overly influenced by peers. So often I read in adoption related spaces how easily children have been removed from their natural parents for no more than poverty, which this country does pitifully little to address and probably will do even less in the next 2 years with extremist Republicans in charge of the federal government.

Two recent events have gotten my attention. This country has a serious double standard depending on one’s race and class status. One event is alluded to in the image I chose for today’s blog (more on that below). The other I just read about in The Huffington Post – LINK>What Is Child Endangerment? When Leaving Your Child Alone Becomes A Crime. I remember hearing a similar story from my own mother. She left two of us alone to run to the grocery store, I believe. We were discovered by a neighbor. My mom learned her lesson and the police and/or Child Protective Services were never involved.

The Huffington Post story was about two children, ages 2 years and 5 months, who were left alone in a New York City hotel room, sleeping and under camera surveillance, so that their parents could go out to dinner about a block and a half away. Life is what happens next. The father had a sudden heart attack at the restaurant and was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. The mother accompanied her husband in the ambulance. In the midst of this crisis, she asked both a close friend and her parents to rush to her children’s hotel room and attend to them (as she continued to monitor them by camera). However, the hotel denied entry to her friend (which actually is policy, I remember being with my dad but in a separate room in a hotel and he asked the front desk what room I was in and they would not tell him). In the case of these children, the hotel called NYPD.

The issue of a double standard comes up in this case, though the mother does face two counts of “acting in a manner injurious to a child” and is scheduled to appear in Manhattan criminal court on Thursday. One commenter noted – “If she was a poor woman in an inner city she would’ve been arrested.” In fact, some children are left alone in inadequate circumstances by single mothers due to a lack of affordable child care options, while that mother must work to feed, house and clothe her children. Any individual can make a call to the police or to Child Protective Services, triggering a process leading to state involvement, which can include the parent’s loss of custody. New York’s juvenile court has defined such neglect with this example – “A child of 12 might be fine alone for two hours in an afternoon. Yet, the same child may be incapable of responsibly caring for a 5-year-old for that same period of time.”

This case gets attention because the parents are wealthy and well-known. As I have already noted – most other cases involve disproportionately poor and working-class parents who leave children alone when faced with a need to go to work or on a job interview, when they don’t have accessible, affordable child care. Families living in poverty or near poverty are judged far more harshly than wealthy parents. Parents who are taken to family court are at very high risk of having their children removed from their custody and placed in foster care. More often than you may think possible, this leads to the permanent termination of their parental rights.

The Guardian had an update this morning, LINK>No fight or warning before six-year-old boy shot teacher, say Virginia police, regarding the case of the Virginia teacher who was shot by a 6 year old who brought a loaded handgun to school. The 9mm handgun used by the boy was bought legally by his mother and kept in the family’s home. It remains unclear whether the mother will face any legal charges. Virginia does not have a law that requires unattended guns to be stored in a particular way or a law that requires gun owners to affirmatively lock their weapons. The issue will be whether it can be proven that the mother’s actions violated a Virginia law that prohibits anyone from recklessly leaving a loaded, unsecured gun in a manner that endangers the life or limb of children under 14. It could be argued by gun advocates that the child was never in danger – but certainly his teacher was.

The Foster Care Problem

Today again, for the umpteenth time, I learned of 2 children being removed for neglect when that neglect was fixable! It’s criminal these kids are removed.

Being part of the Foster Care System in a non-kinship capacity makes you part of the problem:

If being a foster parent is such a good thing, if they are doing right by these kids, then why do we have these statistics?

Half of foster youth will never graduate high school

One in five will enter the homeless population

One in four will be involved with the criminal justice system

The False Belief: Neglected, abused children are pulled from their home and placed in welcoming environments that are stable and safe

The Reality: More than 1/3 of youth in foster care have documented abuse in foster homes. The act of removal adds additional layers of trauma

So you, who are wanting to become a foster parent, are thinking you are one of the good ones right ? You would not abuse a child – so fostering is the right thing to do because you’re a good guy.

Awesome, but to fight for these kids, you often have to really fight and you are at the mercy of the state. You really have no leverage. You are a glorified babysitter in many cases.

That means your fighting for these kids could be one mis-step away from crap with the caseworker that will cause you to lose that child to a home that WILL abuse them considering how high the likelihood of abuse in foster care is.

So before someone else says it – let’s talk about “what’s the alternative, just let children be abused by their parents ?”

The False Belief: Children removed from their homes are removed “for a good reason”; otherwise they would not be removed

The Reality: “Neglect” is cited in 76% of the cases but what is considered neglect runs the gamut: lack of proper supervision, food insecurity, housing/utility issues, medical challenges, safety issues, assumed neglect due to poverty level, assumed neglect due to the race of the family.

What would solve the “Neglect” issues cited above ? These are ALL solvable issues and addressing them would reduce the number of removals by 76% !!

Why do so many NOT see how the money, time and energy, that goes to Foster Parents and/or the Foster Care system, could be put to programs for family preservation. Doing so would vastly reduce the number of removals and keep children with their families.

What is it going to take for John Q Public to get this and advocate for change ? What is it going to take for foster caregivers to do better and put their time and efforts behind helping families keep their kids out of foster care.

6 Months After

It’s still too early to know all of the ramifications of overturning Roe. My state of Missouri was quick to claim the first out of the gate to overturn any right to have one. It is said the decision had a definite effect on the midterm elections. Kansas was an early surprise.

What impact has the overturning had on adoption ? After all, more than one Supreme Court Justice covered their decision by praising adoption. LINK>Good Morning America has a piece that takes a look at this.

Research on abortion and adoption shows that, in reality, there is not a clear line between adoption and abortion as equal options. “The idea that adoption is going to be an alternative [to abortion], that’s not borne out in what we see people already deciding. That’s not what they want for their lives, and their children’s lives,” according to Gretchen Sisson, a sociologist and researchers at the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health program at the University of California San Francisco. Among women who are denied abortion services, over 90% of them choose to parent versus choosing adoption, according to data from LINK>The Turnaway Study, which tracked nearly 1,000 women for five years.

According to Sisson, the data shows that adoption is a “rare decision to make,” while abortion is by comparison a “far more common” decision women make. In 2020, 620,327 abortions were reported in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which collected data on every state aside from California, Maryland and New Hampshire. That same year, there were an estimated 19,685 non-stepparent, private domestic adoptions in the US, according to the National Council for Adoption, an adoption advocacy organization. “Adoption is almost always a constraint. It’s what happens when people feel they don’t have another option, when parenting is so impossible, so untenable, so unsupported, that people will turn to adoption purely as a way of surviving and ensuring their child’s well-being,” said Sisson. “And if you remove abortion as a legal option, more people will relinquish when they feel that they can’t parent.”

Exploiting the poor to increase the supply of adoptable babies ? That has seemed to be the intent from the Supreme Court Justices. Sisson estimates that new abortion bans enacted post-Roe will increase the number of infants available to adopt each year by as many as 10,000. “You’re talking about a relatively small number compared to the number of people that are going to be parenting children that they didn’t intend to parent,” said Sisson. “But you’re talking about a massive number when looking at the overall rate of adoption.”

Rory Hall, executive director of Adoption Advocates, a Texas-based adoption agency, said the agency has not yet seen a noticeable increase in women opting for adoption amid heightened abortion restrictions in the state. She said that while she believes infant adoptions will increase, she does not believe they will increase as much as anticipated because adoption is such a “hard” option. “Our biology tells us not to do it, and emotionally it’s just so hard to do that,” Hall said of adoption. “I think most people, if they would terminate the pregnancy but can’t, are going to try to find a way to parent.” She continued, “With that said, there’s going to be some that are just in a position where they can’t no matter what, and will choose adoption.” Hall said of increased abortion restrictions, “I think it’s going to weigh even more on our foster care system. My concern is we already have so many kids in [foster] care … and that will increase, probably exponentially, as each year goes by, and so I worry about those kids.”

Reproductive Justice

And Reproductive Justice MUST include adoptee voices because adoptees are intimately familiar with the same systems of white supremacist violence that make reproductive justice necessary. Today’s blog is thanks to an op-ed by Tina Vasquez in LINK>Prism. The goal of this series about reproductive justice and adoption was simple – disrupt the adoption storytelling that has become the norm in mainstream media. These feel-good stories from the perspective of adoptive parents rarely include the voices of adoptees or question the preponderance of “cheap, easy, and fast” transracial and international adoptions by evangelicals that amount to little more than child trafficking.

No more salvation narratives. No more narratives of gratitude. No more framing adoption as a “win-win.” No more white saviors. We will question adoption as a system—its power dynamics, its economics, and its privileging of certain “reproductive destinies.” “Out of the Fog” is a phrase adoptees often use to describe facing the reality of their adoptions.

LINK>Operation Stop Child Protective Services (CPS) was founded by Amanda Wallace. She spent 10 years as a child abuse investigator before realizing that “she had become the silent enforcer for an oppressive system.” She now lends her insider knowledge to families navigating the system and trying to regain custody of their children.

About 27% of adoptions are transracial, according to a recent survey from the Department of Health and Human Services: birth mothers are disproportionately women of color, and adoptive parents are overwhelmingly white. Low-income Black and Native American children are the most likely to be separated from their families. Poverty is often interpreted as neglect when applied to these people.

When Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, white evangelicals wasted no time communicating their desire to take the babies that result from forced pregnancies. Never mind that most people denied abortion care simply become parents and that there is little evidence linking abortion bans to increases in adoption.

Time and time again, the solution offered to state violence is adoption, yet we fail to center adoptees whose lived experiences and areas of expertise touch every injustice and systemic problem our movements battle against. This is especially true when it comes to reproductive justice. While efforts are being made to explicitly discuss adoption as a reproductive justice issue, adoptees’ voices are still not being uplifted in these conversations. Adoptees are building their own movements—including Facebook groups like LINK>Adoptees for Choice—but will movements for sexual and reproductive health, rights, and justice invite them into the fold?

A World Without Adoption

I bring this up frequently – we do not support families well enough in this country. If poverty, racism, and health care inequities were properly redressed, adoption would be a last resort. Very short on time today but picking up a few points from an article in LINK> The Nation – We Should Be Fighting for a World Without Adoption by Michele Merritt.

Remarks from the Supreme Court, most notably from Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in the recent overturn of Roe v Wade position adoption as a viable alternative to abortion. Framing the tragedy of losing reproductive freedoms as a problem easily solved by the relinquishment of a child obfuscates the reality of adoption as an institution that is steeped in systemic injustice. Moreover, such a framing underscores the way adopted people—the ones purportedly “saved” by adoption—are overlooked. 

The social narrative that places adoption on a pedestal and views adoption as an alternative to abortion completely misses the point that it is not a reproductive choice at all. It’s a parenting choice—and one that should be a last resort, instead of being lauded as a great act of charity or a cure for a world where abortion is all but outlawed. 

In the conservative adoption fairy tale, a pregnant person who does not feel that they are capable of adequately parenting hands off these duties to people who have been desperately hoping to become parents. The child, it is assumed, will fare better, escaping a life most assuredly filled with poverty or neglect. Above all, this child “could have been aborted,” so adoption rescues them from annihilation.

Certainly, this was Georgia Tann’s theory when she took my blond, blue-eyed mom from her poverty afflicted parents by exploiting my maternal grandmother’s desperation under extreme circumstances (a missing husband, gone off to another state while working with the WPA to fight an epic flood on the Mississippi River in 1937). My mom did grow up under affluent circumstances in the adoptive home of a banker and socialite mother. Her first mother never had another child (not uncommon among women who lose their first born to adoption).

It is true that many parents who relinquish children for adoption cite financial concerns as a chief obstacle to parenting, but that does not mean that adoption is the solution. Positing adoption as a solution to impoverished parenting ignores the fact that another solution exists: supporting struggling families. You can read more at the link in the first paragraph.

How Come ?

In my all things adoption group the question was asked – “If these families are so great, how come kids end up in foster care?” Basically supply chain issues with unfulfilled demand make it necessary to remove children from families ?

The Adoption and Safe Families Act provides federal funds to stage foster care agencies for adoptions out of foster care. In order for children to be adopted out of foster care, there must first be children *in* foster care. In order to obtain this federal funding, the state agency must have more adoptions out of foster care than the previous year, which means the agencies must constantly be increasing the number of children in foster care in order to have them adopted *from* foster care.

There are as many as 100 hopeful adoptive parents waiting for every infant who becomes available, and in order to provide children for those families who are waiting for them, those children must first be removed from their biological families in order to be placed with adoptive families who are waiting to adopt them. Hence, coercion in adoption and foster care. A smaller but still large number of hopeful adopters will fight over a child between the ages of 1-5. After that the ‘demand’ starts to drop off, which is why no one is talking about a shortage in the domestic supply of adoptable teens.

Children are *frequently* removed from families for issues relating to poverty or trauma in the parents, and this is not resolved by taking the children from the parents and forcing the parents to pay into the system that has taken their children from them.

A simplistic way to understand suspicious things going on in the foster care space is often (not always) to look at how different ages of children are treated. Another major question is why children are more likely to be removed from their biological parents than from foster caregivers who are abusive toward those children? Foster carers, social workers, and professionals who work with foster youth are quick to believe a child is lying when it’s about one of them.

Putting A GenZ Adoptee in Congress

Maxwell was adopted as an infant by a special education teacher, who migrated to the United States in the Freedom Flights, and a musician. The Freedom Flights were the largest airborne refugee operation in American history and operated between 1965 and 1973 from Cuba to Miami, twice daily, 5 days per week.

He was born in Orlando, Florida. His original mother was caught in a cycle of drugs, crime, and violence – while pregnant. She didn’t have healthcare and wasn’t able to see a doctor. She put him up for adoption because she would not be able to raise him. He reconnected with his birth mother in June 2021.

He said, “What changed everything for me was connecting with my biological mother, learning about her story, learning about the things she had been through.” He learned he has multiple siblings (and she wasn’t able to raise another child).

His grandmother, Yeya, came to the USA in the 60s with only a few clothes and without any money. His grandmother had to work 70 hours per week under harsh conditions. He was close to her and only a few days ago, the family buried her.

Frost says to have a better democracy, there should be more poor and working-class candidates in the political system. He became politically active early in his life organizing with March for Our Lives and not surprisingly better gun control regulations are among his most heartfelt issues. He also cares about climate change and voting issues. He notes that “The biggest generational divide isn’t the issues – it’s the urgency.”

The Legacy of Georgia Tann

Stolen Babies Movie Poster

I was reminded today of Georgia Tann’s belief that taking babies from poor families and placing them in wealthier circumstances improved their outcome. Totally not a provable theory but never the less. An adoptee was asking about the effects of changes in socio-economic mobility in subsequent generations for the children and grandchildren of adoptees. I watched the Mary Tyler Moore movie about Georgia Tann on YouTube one night during my roots discovery journey in 2017.

I responded from my own circumstances as the child of adoptee parents (both) – My mom was a Georgia Tann adoptee and would have grown up in poverty had she remained with her original mother’s family. That is what I have been informed by genetic family I’m in reunion with. Her adoptive parents were a banker and his socialite wife. My dad’s socio-economic situation was relatively the same as it would have been if he remained with his natural mother (he was adopted out of The Salvation Army). His adoptive parents had a home based entrepreneurial business and never had any wealth but managed to buy a house. We witnessed two very different socio-economic worlds growing up. My dad was union at a refinery. My mom went to work while we were yet young. We didn’t have a lot growing up but enough. Both of my parents got “some” inheritance when their adoptive parents died. Some is locked up in a trust to be divided by 5 grandchildren when my mom’s adoptive brother dies (generation skipping). I think our perspective was broadly balanced. But whatever residual economic improvement was slight, if any.

Today, I found an interesting LINK> blog – Until We Learn from the Legacy of Georgia Tann, We’re Doomed to Repeat It by (I believe) Rebecca Vahle who is the admin for the “Family to Family Support Network. She describes her own self this way – an adoptive parent since 1998, the founder of a hospital-based adoption support program since 2004, a radio host hearing 5 years of stories of people impacted since the era of Georgia Tann. In addition, I have trained thousands of nurses in adoption-sensitive care in Women’s Centers around the country. I have heard stories coast-to-coast from mothers, fathers, adoptees, birth mothers, birth fathers and adoptive families, and I have seen first-hand the invasion of technology in this process. Yes, it has been an invasion. The Internet has poured gasoline on the embers of Georgia Tann’s legacy and until we address what it happening, I worry her legacy of corruption will continue.

She refers to the books by Lisa Wingate – the fictional but accurate Before We Were Yours I have read (and it was riveting for me). She then offers perspectives on “Why & How Georgia Tann’s Legacy Continues.” You can read through them at the link. Her bottom line was this – “When couples don’t know what they don’t know and, like myself, find out too late that their adoption placement was saturated with unethical tactics and financial profits for the agency.” She adds – We cannot look away, justify behaviors, ignore the impact of the Internet and discount the shadow of Georgia Tann that continues to fall across portions of the infant adoption industry. 

Understandably, she is promoting her own efforts of providing a hospital-based standardized program of training for healthcare professionals. This blog is not a recommendation – just bringing awareness only.

In A System Haunted

DeJarnette Sanitarium

It doesn’t take long if spending time among adoptees to learn about the strong link between foster care and adoption. Foster care is often the first step in that direction as children are removed from their parents and placed with strangers. The official goal is reunification of the family when it is deemed safe for the children to be returned to their parents. That does happen in many cases after an emotionally damaging experience for all concerned. Other times the parent’s rights are terminated and in the case of infants and young children, often these are adopted by the foster parents or some other hopeful adoptive parent. And in too many cases, these young children “age out” in the system and are thrown out into the world as young adults with few supports, though that situation has improved somewhat in recent years.

Yesterday, I learned about the link between the building pictured above and foster care. Dr Joseph DeJarnette was a proponent of racial segregation and eugenics, specifically the compulsory sterilization of the mentally ill. He was known to idolize Nazi Germany and took the facility under his management from a resort-like treatment center to an apocalyptic prison nightmare. His determined efforts resulted in the passage of the “Eugenical Sterilization Act of 1924” (a.k.a Racial Integrity Act). This new act reinforced racial segregation by preventing interracial marriages and classifying “white” as being pure 100% Caucasian. Men and women who were admitted to his hospital were involuntarily sterilized to prevent the conception of mixed race human beings. DeJarnette also forcibly sterilized single mothers, alcoholics, those with mental conditions and epilepsy, the poor, and the incarcerated. Dr DeJarnette not only performed countless sterilizations but also medical procedures on his patients like electroshock therapy and lobotomies.

He died in 1957. DeJarnette became a state institution with a focus on children’s behavioral health issues. It is at that point in the history of this place that my interest today became awareness. If you believe emotional energy leaves traces of residual energy in a place, then in that sense DeJarnette is believed haunted. A young woman writing an op-ed for LINK> The Huffington Post brought that awareness to me.

At the age of 14, the author was relatively new to the foster care system and waiting for a bed to open up at a long-term facility. The author walked those halls, recognizes the once-grand arches that frame the doorways, the bedrooms with graffitied walls. She says, “Dr. Joe’s evil spirit is said to walk the halls. Some say they’ve heard children’s voices in the darkness or moans and other noises from the former patients reported to have perished due to medical experiments. I doubt the teens who once lived there were aware of Dr DeJarnette by name. I wasn’t. However, the building’s ties to eugenics were among the first things new kids learned about the center.”

She goes on to note that she asked – “Why did they do it?” And the answer she got was – “They think your kids are gonna end up like you. If we don’t have babies, they’ll be less of us and more of them.” She says – “I wasn’t totally sure what more of them meant but I understood less of us. Less of me.” She also shares that she lived in DeJarnette during the winter with the holidays were approaching. It was her first Christmas in the system. Her expectations were perpetually low back then. She fixated on the phrase anything you want when asked to provide a Christmas wish list with one condition – as long as it’s less than 10 dollars. She remembers asking for a Def Leppard tape even though she no longer had her boom box. Receiving the tape symbolized hope and the belief that someday, she would have a tape player again.

We don’t often consider what it is like for a teen living in foster care. That they don’t have typical teenage memories like going to the homecoming dance, having their first date, a sweet 16 party or getting a driver’s license. What she did get was a strong sense of her ability to survive. She made it through the system and didn’t become a statistic. She says that she is thriving today. She says of that residual energy – “when you consider the collective traumas and experiences of all those who spent time in that cavernous, state-run institution, there was plenty of haunting going on. It wasn’t ghosts, though. It was us.”

Inside DeJarnette Today

Pluses and Minuses

A Former Foster Care Youth, then Adoptee writing her thoughts… contemplates – Am I the only one that struggles with going back and forth with being – glad my parents gave me up and then, at the same time sad that my extended family didn’t keep me ? I can’t imagine the person I would be, if I was raised by my biological parents… if I were to guess, I probably wouldn’t have finished high school and would be living off welfare. But being given up also caused additional trauma including feeling unworthy, unloved and abandoned. I was sexually abused in the first foster family I was placed with. Then, the second family had so many foster kids, I never got attention. The family that adopted me did so because their biological daughter passed away at 20 years old, so they took me in. I always felt like I had to be who she was… Then again, my adoptive mother did teach me to be a strong, independent woman who doesn’t need to depend on anyone including the government, financially. So I think, there are pluses and minuses in being given up and adopted. However, I also think, if my biological mother had received the help she needed, mentally and financially, maybe I would not have had to go through any of my imagined or my real outcomes.

I am not an adoptee myself but I have thought about such things. Both of my original grandmothers could have raised my parents had they had the proper support and assistance. I have no doubt about that. My mom may have grown up in more poverty because her adoptive parents were financially very well off. This did allow some benefits and privileges for my mom and for me and my sisters. I’m less certain about how my dad may have turned out.

His original mother was unwed and had an affair with a married man. I doubt he ever knew he had a son as his extended family here in the United States and still living in Denmark did not know he existed. DNA proved my relationship to them. My paternal grandmother did go on to have other children but also a rather difficult life as I have been told. No doubt he would have been loved. He was very important to his adoptive mother as well who had a huge influence on the outcome of my own life. She was a strong woman in her own ways.

I grew up with good adoptive grandparents, aunts and cousins and I am grateful for all of them. Learning about my original family has had a bittersweet effect on me. It has left me more lonely in odd ways – not part of the adoptive or the genetic families – in reality. More alone than I was before I knew . . .