Loss of Custody in Domestic Abuse

Let’s talk about domestic abuse and child custody.

For everyone who is convinced that children only end up in foster care and/or adopted because the parents were abusive, guess what? Women in abusive relationships are especially vulnerable to losing custody of their children. Spouses/intimate partners use custody of children as an abuse tactic.

Examples:

–If you leave me, you’ll never see your children again.

–Filing false/malicious child abuse reports if you succeed in leaving with your children

–Deliberately impoverishing you so you can’t afford to provide for your children to the standard required by social workers

–poisoning authorities against you by using things like depression, addiction, etc. to paint you as an unfit mother

–deliberately getting you pregnant to make you vulnerable and unable to leave the relationship

Domestic abuse services are notoriously underfunded and unsupervised. Unscrupulous providers can get away with neglectful or even downright harmful treatment of the vulnerable women in their care because it’s non-profit, charity funded, and people assume that they’re doing good things.

Someone in an abusive relationship is in the most danger when they try to leave the relationship.

A tactic abusers might use is to always keep one child with them (as a way to make sure you can’t leave without putting that child in danger).

Abusers might explicitly favor one child over another, creating a situation where one child contributes to the mistreatment of the other child.

An abuser might groom a child to make false accusations against you (projecting and protecting themselves, the real abuser).

Of course not all cases are the same, but there are too many situations in which the mom would be a perfectly fit parent, if she just had enough support. All the things that we talk about – help getting a job, affordable daycare with flexible hours, supplemental income for pregnancy and maternity leave periods, actual maternity leave, and in this particular example, trauma therapy/mentoring/emotional support.

Someone who has fled an abusive relationship often has to cut off contact with family and friends. If there are children involved, this might be a requirement from social services (such as: if you move back to that area, you will lose your child because you’re being a bad parent putting them at risk).

That means being especially isolated when you’re already vulnerable and unwell and stressed. If your case goes to court (and many don’t, due to lack of funds or resources or simply not being able to cope), this can trigger more danger for you and your children. Some women successfully flee an abusive relationship with their child(ren), only to have their children taken away later.

Now imagine that you’re a foster carer or adopter in this situation. You’ve been told by social workers that the child was removed from an abusive family and that you’re “rescuing” them. You’re told the parents are a danger to the children. You’re told about addiction and jail time and all kinds of fairy tale reasons why you now have custody of the perfect parentless child who is yours to shape as you will.

You then go onto social media and repost this false story everywhere. Launch fundraisers, complain that your stipend “isn’t that much,” and say that you need respite care because caregiver burnout is so awful and claim you have “Post adoption depression.”

The reality is that you have no idea what the hell these children have been through. You have no idea what their parents’ situation was like.

Case in point – “Most recently I’ve watched a young lady whose abuser isn’t the parent of her children. He manipulated, punished, and such – until he was able to get the two children to their biological father by feeding him false information. This caused the biological father to be able to gain emergency custody and a restraining order against the mother. All while this same abuser has promised he is “going to help her get her kids back so they can be a family.”

Ugandan Adoptee Reunion

From an article in Intercountry Adoptee Voices by Jessica Davis. She is an American adoptive mother of a Ugandan daughter, who successfully returned to her daughter back to her Ugandan family. She is also a co-founder of Kugatta which brings families together who are impacted by Ugandan intercountry adoption.

Jessica writes – Every year I think I will not cry and it will not hurt as deeply as it once did. But each time I see all what was almost permanently taken from Namata, the pain returns just as deep (if not deeper) than the first time when I realized what I had participated in — and what needed to be done. I still have extended family members who refuse to admit that reuniting her with her Ugandan family was the RIGHT and JUST thing to do.

There are many people that believe it is okay to take children from LOVING families if these families are poor, living in the “wrong” country, practicing the “wrong” religion, or for a number of other irrational reasons. It is incredible how much money, time and resources contributes to the separation of families who should never be separated in the first place.

I will never stop speaking out against the wrongs being perpetuated within the intercountry adoption system. I won’t stop fighting for those that have been exploited by this system and I will certainly never forget the amazing little girl that came into my life and taught me to do better. As much as I miss her, my heartache pales in comparison to the joy I feel seeing her home with her family and thriving.

We did everything “right”. We used a highly rated adoption agency, followed all of the proper protocols and procedures and reported everything that was wrong as we discovered it. In fact, even though it has been proven our adoption agency was corrupt, Namata’s paperwork was fabricated, the Ugandan judge was bribed, the embassy interview showed Namata’s mother did not understand what adoption was and we were not told this at the time, our adoption of Namata from Uganda was and still is considered LEGAL. What does this tell you about intercountry adoption?

Namata didn’t get to go home because it was the right and just thing to do. Serena’s rights being violated and Namata’s best interests ignored were irrelevant by those that should have cared. The reason Namata got to go home and be reunited with her family was because Adam and I refused to accept that this was all okay or “for the better”.

Rarely do I hear anyone express concern for these injustices or what has been lost, rather people use good intentions gone awry to ignore these realities and press on as if nothing wrong has occurred.

If people won’t listen or can’t understand the problem at hand, maybe they will SEE it when they look at this family and realize all that was almost lost and there was literally NO reason for it at all.

Jessica did her research.  Due to her findings, Jessica appealed to the authorities for an investigation into the American adoption agency, European Adoptions Consultants, Inc. (EAC) that had facilitated this adoption (I wrote about them in yesterday’s blog). As a result of that investigation, EAC was debarred and as of August 2019, one of their employees pled guilty to federal charges of visa fraud, wire fraud and bribing Ugandan judges and other officials in order to facilitate illegal adoptions abroad.

Whatever Became Of ?

In Life magazine’s – Year in Pictures 1972 – in a Feature titled Whatever became of ? – I read about “Mike” and “Tammy” – twin children found by police in a Long Beach California alley on May 5 1972. As a Gemini, twins fascinate me. After national publicity, the children were identified as Tamara and Brian Woodruff. They had been abandoned by their mother and were placed in foster care. Their mother was placed under psychiatric observation.

I tried to learn more about the twins but understandably, out of privacy concerns, they disappeared from any easy ability on my part to find out. So, I looked into the topic of child abandonment. It is defined as the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one’s offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling (as opposed to a runaway or an orphan). Some of the effects on survivors of abandonment include feelings of guilt about being at fault for being abandoned.

The earlier in life estrangement happens, the more damaging it can be. It can impact personal development, anxiety and depression, and of course the adult relationships people get into. When that person is trying to have a sense of identity, they are dealing with a black hole where their mother should be and a really dysfunctional model of love.

In parenthood, when she holds her baby in her arms, a woman who was “abandoned” as a child might say – “I will never leave you. I will never do to you what was done to me. Mommy will always come back.” And what she is doing is self-consoling through nurturing her child.

One woman says that becoming a mother did end up being one of the most healing parts of her own journey. And much of her anger did disappear as she reflected more on all the things that had broken her mother before she ever broke that woman. She found a lot of compassion for her original mother and the path that woman had to walk through life. Even so, she says something my own mother said to me once, “as a mother myself, I know I’ll never understand the choices you made.” For this woman, in being the mom she always wished she’d had; she found healing.

I will admit this one hits home in a very personal place. So, I didn’t do it illegally. I did not intend to never have her living with me when I dropped her off at her grandmother’s house. Yet I am at fault for lack of foresight.

I struggled financially after my divorce from my daughter’s father who refused to pay child support. I was always an adventurous soul. Would wander off further and for longer than my slightly detached adoptee parents ever seemed to notice.

And so, from financial desperation, after being rejected from a good paying job with the railroad because my ex worked there, I tried TEMPORARILY leaving my daughter with my former mother-in-law, while I tried to earn a bit of money driving an 18-wheel truck.

I didn’t know it then, but that was a point of no return. My daughter would sometimes visit me, even for extended periods of time, but she would never live permanently with me again. I never thought of it at the time as having abandoned her, but I know now that regardless of my intent, I must accept responsibility for whatever emotional harms that may have done to her. I know it did emotional harm to me. I’ve never fully gotten over the outcome or my sense of guilt for it.

Thankfully, my daughter did not eliminate me from her life entirely. I did make real efforts to stay in contact with her throughout most of her childhood. There were periods of time that due to the people I was living with, it became impossible to be contact with her but as soon as it was safe, I did resume contact and she was still young enough, that it reconnected our bond with one another, even if it did not reconnect us full-time under the same roof.

Sadness remains in my mother’s heart regardless. Knowing the legal definition of child abandonment helps but does not heal my personal pain at all that I missed with my daughter.

Broken Family Threads

It is said that it is Black History Month, though many of my friends chafe at that and say it is ALWAYS black history. I understand. Imani Perry’s book South To America has been getting some buzz and as I writer I notice those things.

Yesterday, I read an essay adapted from her book published in Time Magazine’s Feb 14 – Feb 21 2022 issue titled “The Way Home.” It is about her effort to reconnect with a grandmother in Maryland who she is able to know very little about. Was her name Easter Lowe or Esther Watkins ? Was she born in Maryland or Georgia, was she 101 years old or 91.

I realized as I read how much I could relate to her journey to Maryland which is described in the article. Her attempt to get some insight into unknowable people. I recognized my own “roots” journey, often fraught with disappointment and too little too slowly. I am fortunate to know what I know now. Though the African American experience of slavery is not mine, I know how it feels not to know anything about where one came from (both of my parents were adoptees). At one time, I used to tell people I was an albino African because no one could prove me wrong, not even myself. Now I finally do know better.

Slavery was not exactly in my family history but in a way it was. My paternal grandmother was put to work in the Rayon mills in Asheville NC at a young age. She was not allowed to keep her own earnings and was probably expected to do a lot of other chores in the home. Her mother died when she was only 3 mos old and she had to live with a decidedly evil step-mother (from a story I heard about her being tied to a tree in a thunderstorm). She was a run-away slave. When her family visited her grandfather and her aunt in La Jolla California, she refused to return to Asheville and her slave labor there.

Poverty and the Great Depression was likely the cause of both of my grandmothers being separated from their babies. There really was not any family support for them. My maternal grandmother also lost her mother at the age of 11. She also escaped harsh conditions with her widowed father who was a sharecropper. She ran away to Memphis where she met and married my mom’s birth father.

Though I am not black and my family wasn’t enslaved, I can relate to Imani Perry’s story because in very real ways it is my story too. I didn’t grow up with a strong white supremacist’s identity. I was in the minority in Hispanic El Paso Texas and anyway, we didn’t have a clue to our ethnicity. Even so, I do recognize now that being white has put me in a class of advantages and I’ve worked very hard at educating myself by reading every anti-racist type book that has come my way. I celebrate the contributions of Black, African Americans to the diversity and vibrancy of the country of my own birth.

The Exploitation Problem

What could be wrong with a couple who has experienced infertility and has the financial means adopting the baby of an unwed mother ? Many people would see nothing wrong with this.

The problem is that behind this happily ever after scenario is a great deal of exploitation. In both of my parents’ adoptions, this was a definite factor, even though my mom’s parents were married. There is a great deal of money changing hands in the domestic infant adoption industry.

So, let’s consider domestic infant adoption. Only a newborn baby will do for these adoptive parents. They desire to only adopt a newborn baby. Let us judge this as selfishness. Maybe you as the hopeful adoptive parent just want to have the baby “experience.” Maybe you believe you’re getting a “blank slate” (that was what Georgia Tann who was involved in my mom’s adoption would tell her prospective parents). The truth is babies are NOT blank slates. Maybe you want the “as if born to” parenting experience (being there at the very beginning and you as parents being the only ones the child will ever know). Maybe you think this is as close as you can get to having your “own” child.

Some reality checks –

1. You are NOT needed. There are over 100 hopeful adoptive parents/singles/couples for every ONE newborn baby that is available to adopt. These babies are in high demand and sought after. They won’t age out of foster care, if you don’t adopt them. Furthermore, they have biological genetic families. Contrary to popular belief, there are very few women who just don’t want their kids. Imagine the desperation, fear and poverty you must live in to give away your own child. Adoption rates have gone down drastically over the last year. Why? Because families have received so much more financial help and resources due to COVID. With help and support, even more mothers are parenting their own children.

2. If you’re a hopeful adoptive parent glad that “support” from the government is stopping to increase your odds of getting a baby – you are not adopting because you are a good person.

3. If you’re praying for a woman to feel desperate enough to give you her baby – you are not adopting because you are a good person.

4. If you match pre-birth with a pregnant woman and coerce and manipulate her during her pregnancy – your desperation is showing and you are not adopting because you are a good person.

5. Agencies are a for profit business and often are not at all ethical. Know this, if you’re paying thousands of dollars to adopt through an agency – you are not adopting because you are a good person. You are adopting because you have the money to do so (or have raised the money through a Go Fund Me or other such platform).

6. A standard adoption practice is for the hopeful adoptive parents to be present in the delivery or hospital room. The agencies tell the birth mother that “this is just how it’s done.” Know this – it’s done to make it harder for the mom to change her mind, when she sees her child. If you’re there breathing down her neck while she is giving birth and in that moment when she first meets HER child – you are attempting rob her of the only precious moment with her baby that she may ever have. And maybe she WILL change her mind and her baby will be glad that she did.

7. If you make her feel guilty for wanting to keep her baby, the same way the agency will – you are exploiting her. If you employ an agency to call Child Protective Services on her (mind you, just standard adoption practice) when she wavers regarding giving her baby up to you, just to scare her into going forward – you are exploiting her.

8. So, the mom has changed her mind and is going to keep and parent her baby. Then, you fight against her decision by using the legal system or the agency does it on your behalf – you are exploiting her.

9. If the father is not on board with the adoption and his rights are being completely ignored – you are exploiting the father.

If any of this is true of your circumstances – you are guilty of exploiting a difficult time in someone’s life. A situation that will likely change for the better given time. You will leave a baby with lifelong trauma from sundering that child from its original family.

It’s A Small World After All

I am constantly amazed at how many people have some connection to adoption or foster care. It isn’t much talked about. I am proud of an all things adoption group I belong to on Facebook because they do some really good work.

Some examples –

We (as a group) helped mom financially with legal fees to revoke consent and get her daughter home. Because of this, several members of this group had to testify in court. We were accused of “child trafficking” and only helping get “O” home, so we could “sell her.” Clearly, DSS and the judge thankfully could see through that BS and “O” was returned home to her mother. Months later, the hopeful adoptive parents are still periodically calling Dept of Social Services DSS. They even created a TikTok and Instagram to slander her parents – months after she went home to her original family.

Every single mom with or without agency involvement has had Child Protective Services CPS called – out of spite. Hopeful adoptive parents HAPs have even told CPS “if you remove the baby, I’ll take her/him.”

Moms have received numerous text messages, phone calls, emails etc from HAPs. When mom blocks them, HAP’s family members continue the harassment.

The online adoption community is a small, small world. We’ve had HAPs find out that we have assisted moms with legal fees, baby registries and it is used against them because “they can’t afford” a baby. Obviously, when a mom has planned adoption for 9 months – she only has days or even less to get everything her baby needs. This is why we do baby registries. It’s also why we now do them anonymously. We will not let it be used against a mom because she simply doesn’t have everything her baby needs, when CPS comes knocking. And they always do, thanks to spiteful HAPs.

Shaming mom online because she has ruined their entire life, comparing their loss to a stillbirth. Yet, they miraculously recover, when the next baby comes along. Because the truth is – any baby will do.

Not only are some of the things above, what the community I am a part of has done but also what we have seen. When a hopeful adoptive parent enters the community, they often don’t stay long because this community’s mission is original family preservation. No rah rah rahs for the whole industry of adoption – though it is acknowledged that sometimes adoption cannot be avoided. Many HAP leave this community angry. Adoptees and former foster care youth are privileged voices in the community and speak their trauma and pain and what it is like to come out of the fog of believing adoption is a beautiful thing. I was in that fog when I first arrived there and quickly learned my place and then, by reading and considering the point of view there, they won me over to their side of the mission – hence this blog.

It Isn’t Fair

It could happen to anyone . . . today’s tragic story.

I am being forced to sign an adoption agreement tomorrow. With it comes a gag order. I won’t be able to speak to my experiences as much after that. My kids were in foster care because of my ex. I’ve been ruled fit however the children have been bad mouthed so much by the fosters that they are unwilling to return home. It’s this or I have to go to trial and lose any hope of contact with them. I am only doing this at their request and at the last possible minute. I always wanted my children. I always loved and supported and kept them safe. It’s not my fault I’m poor and the system is abusive. I fought hard for almost 10 years and it was never going to be good enough for the department. I’m beyond destroyed.

I submitted yesterday. I had to go in open court today and sign and consent. The judge was patronizing. The kids refusing to come home would mean I would just by default lose in court. I asked for therapy and assessments but because the kids’ therapists said that it wouldn’t be in the kids best interest, the social worker refused and the judge refused to allow it. Anyway, an assessment would have come out against reunification. They argued that however it happened, they were damaged now so we just have to make the best of it.

As the blog author, I relate to this comment –  I cannot imagine the anguish you are experiencing. I am so sorry that this is happening, has happened and unfortunately, will happen again- to someone else.

In fact, I believe that my mom ended up adopted because Georgia Tann threatened to have her declared unfit because she wasn’t able to find a way to provide financially for her self and her baby quickly enough. Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, was certain to have done it if she was requested to.

Adding More Misery To The Suffering

Daisy Hohman’s 3 children spent 20 months in foster care.
When she was reunited with her children,
she received a bill of nearly $20,000 for her children’s foster care.

An NPR investigation found that it’s common in every state for parents to get a bill for the cost of foster care. Case in point –

Just before Christmas in 2017, Daisy Hohman, desperate for a place to live, moved into the trailer of a friend who had an extra room to rent. After Hohman separated from her husband, she and her three kids had moved from place to place, staying with family and friends.

Two weeks after living at this new address, police raided the trailer. They found drugs and drug paraphernalia, according to court records. Others were the target. Hohman was at work at the time. No drugs were found on her, and police did not charge her.

Even so, child protective services in Wright County MN placed her two daughters, then 15 and 10, and a son, 9 in foster care. County officials argued she had left the children in an unsafe place. After 20 months in foster care, her three children were able to come back home. Then, Hohman got a bill from Wright County to reimburse it for some of the cost of that foster care. She owed: $19,530.07

Two federal laws contradict each other: One recent law directs child-welfare agencies to prioritize reuniting families. The other law, almost 40 years old, tells states to charge parents for the cost of child care, which makes it harder for families to reunite.

The NPR investigation also found that: The fees are charged almost exclusively to the poorest families; when parents get billed, children spend added time in foster care and the extra debt follows families for years, making it hard for them to climb out of poverty and the government raises little money, or even loses money, when it tries to collect.

Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement for children, provided by state and county child welfare agencies when families are in crisis or when parents are thought to be unable to care for their children. It’s long been recognized that the best thing for most children in foster care is to be reunited with their family. While in foster care, children live with foster families, with relatives or in group settings. More than half will eventually return home. There were 407,493 children in foster care on the day the federal government counted in 2020 to get a snapshot of the population, according to a report from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

In 2018, Congress reformed funding for child welfare when it passed the Family First Preservation Services Act. That law tells state child welfare agencies to make it their focus to preserve families and help struggling parents get their lives back on track so that they can be safely reunited with their children. But a 1984 federal law still stands, as do additional state laws, that call for making many parents pay for some of the cost of foster care. Among the costs the federal funding pays for: shelter, food and clothing; case planning; and the training of foster parents.

Of parents who get billed for foster care: A disproportionate number are people of color. Many are homeless. Many have mental health or substance abuse problems. And almost all are poor — really poor. 80% of the families in a data analysis had incomes less than $10,000 annually. Try living off $10,000 a year. You’re in deep poverty, if you’re living off that kind of money.

Hohman followed the case plan set out by county caseworkers in 2018 and completed the steps required to get her children back. She went to family therapy sessions and submitted to random drug testing. She saved up enough money to rent an apartment in order to provide the children with safe and suitable housing. The $19,530 bill was just a few thousand dollars less than Hohman’s entire paycheck in 2019, for her seasonal work at a landscaping company. The debt went on her credit report, which made it hard to find an apartment big enough for her family or to buy a dependable car to get to work. When Hohman filed her income tax, instead of getting the large refund she expected it was garnished.

To charge poor families for the cost of foster care sets them up for failure. Mothers, often single, work overtime or take on a second job to pay off the debt forcing them to leave the kids alone and unattended. While it might not seem like that much to have to pay fifty or a hundred or two hundred dollars a month in foster care child support, if you are a very low-income, low-earnings mom, that can be the difference in being able to save money for first and last month’s rent on a decent apartment or not. The mom is at risk of losing her child again because of poverty. That doesn’t make sense from a child well-being, family well-being standpoint, or from a taxpayer standpoint.

Even a small bill delayed reunification by almost seven months. That extra time in foster care matters. It increases the cost to taxpayers since daily foster care is expensive. And it inflates the bill to parents. It matters because the clock ticking for the parents. They are given a set amount of time to prove they should be allowed to get their child(ren) back. Once a child spends 15 out of 22 months in foster care, it is federal law that the child-welfare agency must begin procedures to terminate a parent’s rights to the child with a goal of placing the child for adoption in order to find them a permanent home.

Today’s child welfare system also struggles with conflicting incentives. Laws meant to hold parents accountable can end up keeping families apart. When parents don’t pay, states garnish wages, take tax refunds and stimulus checks and report parents to credit bureaus. In the overwhelming majority of the people in the child welfare program, a significant contributor to the reason they’re in that situation is poverty. Abuse is an issue in only 16% of cases when kids go to foster care. Mostly, the issue is the parent’s neglect. Maybe there’s no food in the refrigerator or the parent is homeless or addicted. These are issues of poverty.

States don’t actually have to go after this money. There’s some leeway in the 1984 federal law. It says parents should be charged to reimburse some of the cost of foster care – when it’s appropriate but it does not define the term appropriate.

The Warmth of Home and Family

This blog is mostly about adoption and sometimes foster care. Today it is Christmas and not every child is in a stable home with emotional and physical supports nor is every family functional and happy.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a stable and loving family. We didn’t have a lot, were not wealthy but my parents made what we did have stretch as far as they could. Grocery day was always exciting because by then we had run out of “fun” stuff to eat and we could be certain my mom would bring home some treat. One of my favorites was Chocolate Eclairs (I almost bought some the last time I went to the grocery store simply for sentimental reasons).

My parents made Christmas morning a wonderland of presents and our excitement was hard to contain until they finally woke up. I believe my husband’s family was much the same. When we had our sons late in life, while they were little, we wanted to give them the feeling of that same kind of surprising magic – going to bed with an empty tree and waking up to a wonderland of presents. We’d get up in the wee hours of the night, I would stage the previously wrapped and hidden gifts on our basement stairs and my husband would creep down and get them.

We live in a one-room cabin of a farmhouse. We have one big room that is bedroom (two king-size platform mattresses side by side), our entertainment center (when the boys were young the floor was always covered in toys like trains and building blocks), as well as our office for the home-based business that has supported us. The Christmas tree has always been between the beds and the office space. I’m not certain one or the other boys never woke up while their dad was placing gifts or hanging stockings but as they got older they at least pretended for their own self interests.

We have been struggling financially the last few years, maybe not quite a decade, but the boys are older now (17 and 20) and when finances got really tight, they began to notice fewer and fewer presents under the tree. Finally, we came clean about the fun game of Santa that parents play. We began to buy quality gifts and only a few. Now it has gotten to where there are only token gifts and some stuff for the stockings but we are all happy with that.

To be honest, we spent way too much money and bought way too much stuff. For awhile, we cleaned out some of the things the boys had outgrown and took it to a woman’s and children’s domestic violence shelter that serves our region. Then, came Trump and we live in a very conservative, solidly Republican, sparsely populated county. We have now for the last year or two, taken no longer needed clothing and all the excess stuff that the boys only unwrapped and never looked at again, to a predominantly Black and poverty stricken area of North St Louis. My husband’s mother was once a social worker for the St Louis Public Schools doing everything she could to help Black children stay in school. So my husband honors his mother’s memory (we lost her in 2009) by choosing this avenue of giving.

These things we bought way too much of, that sat on a shelf un-used, were high quality and educational because our sons are schooled at home. We had a huge library of children’s books that we have given many of these books away (we’ve kept the best of the lot, stored now on a high shelf in our library in case one or both boys someday have children of their own – we are not optimistic they will – many young people are now choosing not to have children – one can never say never but we will never pressure them in that direction).

All I really want to say today is that my Christmas Wish is that all children had the stable, secure and loving home we have given our sons and that my husband and I had growing up. I think my parents got pretty lucky with the adoptive parents they had (both my mom and my dad were adopted). It is a sadness that not every child has that warmth of family to give them security.

Why Foster ? Not to Adopt.

Recently, a woman contacted me through private message on my Facebook page for this blog. She wanted to know what my group (which it actually isn’t) was about and I explained it to her, as I have often, both of my parents were adopted and both of my sisters surrendered babies to adoption. The blog is about all things adoption but along the way, I also learned about foster care and I shared with her the book I read – Foster Girl by Georgette Todd. She is interested in becoming a foster parent and I suggested the Facebook group I belong to because there are a lot of former foster care youth and current foster parents there who can share with her the reality.

As luck would have it, I spotted this guest essay in Huffington Post and thought I would make this the basis of today’s blog. Here’s Why We Became Foster Parents, Even Though We Aren’t Looking To Adopt by Stephanie Kaloi. She adds “For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.” It is a reprint of the original written in just after Christmas in 2019.

Our journey toward becoming foster parents began about five years ago, when we realized two truths: Having a second biological child would be nearly impossible and was not necessary for our family’s happiness, and there was a way to experience parenting many children (and for our son to have many siblings) while also doing our part in our community.

Enter foster care.

So we did what every potential foster parent does first: searched “What is foster parenting really like???” online. Unhappy with the results, which were largely a grab bag of blog posts from people who foster to minister religion to unsuspecting children and their families and people who are hoping to adopt their foster children from Day 1 of placement, I started sending a flurry of texts to a friend who also happens to be a longtime foster parent.

Her advice essentially boiled down to three things: One, the relationship you have with the biological parent(s) of your foster children is sacred and should be nurtured as much as the relationship you have with the kids. Two, foster care is unpredictable and there’s no point making plans for how it will go. And three, if you really want to do it … stop taking up my time and sign up for a class already.

My husband and I signed up for around eight weeks of PATH classes, which are the classes that all foster parents take before becoming certified. It’s meant to be all-inclusive, but the reality is that you are in class for two to four hours each Saturday covering huge topics, like ethnic diversity and poverty and child abuse.

The path to becoming a foster parent seems bizarre in retrospect: You take the classes, complete the home study process and boom! You’re now qualified to raise someone else’s child in your home for an indeterminate amount of time.

Still, the training felt like one of the most intense, personal experiences we had shared together. We went into classes knowing we were hoping to foster children, but left classes knowing we wanted to foster children and foster their families — we wanted to support the birth parents of any children we might foster as much as we support their children.

We knew going into it that we could handle the babies and toddlers and school-aged kids of the world (we’ll get to teens … one day), but we left class feeling reasonably certain that we could extend ourselves and support their parents, too.

Approaching foster care as fostering the entire family was a turning point for both of us. The idea gave us a phrase we could use whenever someone asked what our plans were. While the Department of Child Services and PATH leaders constantly remind you that the first goal of foster care is reunification with a child’s family, just about everyone in our classes was transparent about their desire to build their family through adoption.

As someone who wrestled with not being able to conceive a second child the easy way for years, I understood … but as our classmates became more focused on their adoption goals and learning how to work the system in their favor, we became more focused on reunification goals, and learning how the system works against parents who lose custody of their children.

The more we learned, the more it became clear: Just as many in our society will call the cops the second there is even a hint of a perceived threat anywhere nearby, many in our society assume that having your children placed in state custody means you are a predator, a child abuser, an addict ― that are you the worst of the worst, the lowest of the low.

And to be fair, there are plenty of people who are one of those things (or all of those things), and sometimes children are better off with foster and adoptive families. But in our experience … there are just as many people who are simply poor, or uneducated, or who have no perceived alternatives to whatever struggle they are facing.

This is the idea that fed our goal to approach this experience as fostering families: If you don’t grow up with someone teaching you how to successfully pull off what many consider basic life feats, it can feel impossible to figure out how to get a job, pay rent, pay your bills, pay for childcare, provide food consistently, read to your children, play with your children, kick your addiction, etc. Without consistent, healthy support, just attempting to do so is often an insurmountable challenge.

If no one in your family has ever done those things, the odds are stacked against you. When you think about it, a lot of Americans are probably closer than they think to one mistake that could land their own children in DCS custody. (I know that when my sons were very young, I worried that our un-orthodox parenting choices such as unschooling our children or when they acted up in public and required some kind of immediate response from us, not later but in that very moment, we could lose our children due to the interference of do-good, well-meaning people.)

I am not saying that every parent who loses custody is an angel who just needs a leg up. I’m also not saying that every parent who adopts from foster care didn’t try to do exactly what we do. I think one truth all foster parents can agree on is that there is a lot of gray area in foster care.

We didn’t find out we were actually certified until we received a phone call asking if we would be willing to take a sibling set of two into our home. Let me tell you this straight out: I don’t know how anyone, especially first-time foster parents, says no to those calls. Our plan was to foster one child, up to age 8, and we ended up with two babies under 2 because I literally could not imagine saying no.

So what do we do, then, if we aren’t answering a higher religious calling to foster, we aren’t related to the children we foster, and we aren’t planning or secretly hoping to adopt any children? I mean, I suppose I am ministering, kind of: These kids have been introduced to a wide berth of music that we hold dear, and the youngest really enjoyed watching ”Homecoming” when it came out.

But to be real, we begin by nurturing their families, their parents, from Day 1. We offer phone numbers, email addresses, Facebook Messenger access. We start the conversation by telling them our names, describing what our home is like, asking what foods their children like to eat, and telling them we aren’t trying to adopt their babies. We tell them to message us anytime, and that if they don’t hear from us within five hours or so, to message again.

We ask when we can supervise visits, when we can meet up at playgrounds and parks, way before social workers are talking about us doing so. We talk about their goals, their plans, and what they need to get from where they are to reunification of their family.

The “TL; DR” version is this: We begin each placement by treating the parents like they are human beings, like they are people who we might want to know, instead of like they are a scary Other who is standing in our way. Sometimes it doesn’t work, we don’t form a relationship and things go sour. Other times, it works but requires ongoing attention and support, and that’s an exhausting thing to give someone you have met a handful of times.

None of this is easy, and it often feels like foster care is a second full-time job. We are perpetually exhausted by the sheer emotional weight of this journey that we entered into willfully, and that’s not even including the lived reality of nurturing additional children, of loving them, holding them, waking up in the middle of the night with them, feeding them, reading to them, guiding them. Teaching them all the things we taught our son: the ABCs and 123s, who Elmo is and why we love him, the names of The Beatles because it might come in handy someday, how to sit up and how to use a fork. You know, the parenting part of foster parenting.

We have been lucky so far: We have worked with excellent social workers who are very patient, helpful, and kind. The parents we have co-parented with have been easy to talk to, love their children a lot, and a lot of the time, they just need someone in their corner. And this need is the crux of why we are fostering children and their families: For us, foster care is a kind of community service; it’s a gift that we can give.

Sure, it’s a lot more involved than donating books or cleaning a classroom on a Saturday, but it’s something that makes sense for us right now, in this season of our lives. We won’t do it forever, but we are doing it right now. One of the most important ideas our family tries to follow is that while we may not be able to effect meaningful growth and change in areas of the world that are far away, we can do work in our own community that will help people we live and work with grow.

And that alone makes this entire wild ride worth it.