It Matters What We Are Called By

The name of a thing does not matter as much as the quality of the thing.
~ Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

A person’s name is the greatest connection to their own identity and individuality. Some might say it is the most important word in the world to that person. … When someone remembers our name after meeting us, we feel respected and more important. It makes a positive and lasting impression on us.

I love hearing my sons say “Mom” and my grandchildren say “Grandma”. My oldest son, now 20 years old, sometimes says Steve or Debbie when referring to us but I see this as a maturity thing. Though most of us will still say Mom or Dad even when we are in our 60s, if we are so lucky to have them still living. Back in my early 20s, my young daughter (preschool age) did also sometimes call me Debbie. The children hear other people refer to us by our given names and that is a factual reality, we do carry the names we are given, unless we change them intentionally.

Adoptees are mostly never allowed to keep their birth given names after adoption. Their names are changed and their birth certificates altered. This is the erasing of an identity.

With foster care, the circumstances can be slightly different, as illustrated by today’s story.

Children ages 5 and 6 have spent 1 year with their current foster family. They have been in foster care for 2.5 years. The Termination of Parental Rights has already happened. The current foster family intends to adopt them.

Now the foster mom is crying that the kids keep calling her and her husband by their first names. They insist on calling their biological parents mom and dad. This is totally understandable as those people are their original, natural mom and dad. However, the foster mom says this hurts both of the foster parents’ feelings. Their reason for wanting to adopt is to grow their family. They want the kids to accept that, after adoption, they are the mom and dad now. They don’t want to be called by their first names going forward. They set an example by calling themselves mommy and daddy. The kids continue to persistently call them by their first names. The foster parents call the original birth parents – biodad or biomom – or even by their first names. Kids remain adamant and keep saying my “real” dad or “real” mom.

And the hurt feelings for the foster parents do not end and this matter to them because they’ve never had kids of their own before. They suffer from infertility and after years of trying, they want to become parents by adopting. They’re adopting to become “parents” not simply babysitters.

It upsets them that the original natural parents hardly made an effort to visit the kids and yet the kids still remember them and call them their parents, mom and dad. The foster parents are seeking to drive a wedge between the kids and their original natural parents by saying “A real parent takes care of you. Does not choose an addiction over you or go to prison.”

The foster parents are seeking to intentionally disrupt the children’s relationship to their original parents because it simply hurts them too much to not be called mommy and daddy by these children. The foster mom has said that it has always been her dream and desire to adopt. She is laying down the law !! She will not be called by her first name after adoption.

The foster parents had a fantasy that by now the kids would be happy to call them mommy and daddy. They believed that since these kids are so young, the kids would easily bond with them as parents by now. That after having been in foster care, these kids would be happy to receive a new mommy and daddy.

It would seem that good quality healthy people would not be obsessed with molding a child to be something they are not, when they are supposedly trying to help that child by adopting them. Why would they insist on erasing the factual family history from an innocent, already traumatized child ? Reasons why reform has become such an important concept in adoption and foster care.

Defunding Foster Parents

If a biological parent can’t financially support their children, they are taken away. Yet the state funds foster parents to keep other people’s children. If you want to raise these children, you should be able to afford to do that first.

Case in point – a woman has NINE foster children and says that without funding from the state, she would only be able to care for THREE.  Needless to say that having 9 foster kids in one home would constitute that home as being a “group” home. Different standards should apply plus a lot more monitoring.

The requirements for providing foster care do vary by state.  I read that in Texas, you’re classified a group home if you house more than six kids. You are also required to have someone awake overnight on staff.

Defunding foster parents would cut down on abuse and neglect perpetrated by foster parents. However, given the current reality foster parents should not be allowed to have so many children in one home – unless they’re a sibling group. Three or four should be the maximum.

The state really should be funding parents instead of removing children in some cases. There are definitely cases where the children may need to be removed to allow the parent to get treatment/therapy/better parenting skills, etc but sometimes a parent just needs some utilities paid or other financial assistance, until they get back on their feet.

For more perspective, here is one former foster youth’s experience – group homes do have a bad reputation.  I do strongly believe that with on site treatment, reputable staff and good funding it is possible to create group homes with less risk of abuse. I’ve been in 36 foster homes, in which 33 were abusive or neglectful. I’ve been in 3 group homes that were amazing. All that said, I do believe the state should be funding parents before any stranger, if it will keep a family together.

 

Systemic Constraints

Foster care is a system full of constraints.  There are the legal ones and the social ones and the physical ones.  Regardless of good intentions, anyone choosing to be a foster parent will have to recognize, acknowledge, work within, make the system fit their actual circumstances and do the best they can without ever being able to end the constraints.  It is fraught with problems.

The foster care system is simply corrupt. As a foster parent, you can’t change it from the inside.  There are those that would love to just burn it all down but it is too overwhelming and entrenched to make any difference.  Better to acknowledge as a foster parent that you are not special nor are you are privileged enough to change anything.

No matter what you do, if you have a corrupt social worker, they can and will do whatever they want to. A parent should not have to fight Child Protective Services or the Department of Human Services to regain custody of their own kids. Foster caregivers should not have to fight these same large bureaucratic agencies. Those seeking a kinship solution for their young family members should not have to fight the system.  But all of these do and often fail to achieve success.

One foster parent recently shared her own perspective informed by direct experience – These agencies had an premeditated, well executed plan in place, before they even let her know what was happening. They made it where she, the agency she works through and the kids’ parents have no way to stop the forward trajectory of that plan expected to culminate in adoption. And she has tried and pulled out all the stops in defense of this family.

She now has a plan to show up at the court house with these 4 kids and their parents in order to try to beg and plead with the judge to intervene. She acknowledges that at this point, the judge is the only one that can stop the removal of these children from their parents and the permanent termination of those parents’ rights to their own offspring.

She explains the damage she saw when she took the children to visit their parents.  The expectation was for a long afternoon filled with swimming, music, cooking and fun.  Yet the devastation in the parents overwhelmed the prospect of a joyful occasion.  All she saw in the parents’ eyes were tears, sadness, worry, defeat, anger, hopelessness and confusion.  These emotions infected the children.   The mom, dad and brothers spent most of their time together crying off and on. These children face that permanent end to their natural familial relationships in only a couple of days.  It weighed heavily on every one in the family.

It is a helpless, angry, sad, worried, and defeated feeling.  This foster mom had to drive by the local Department of Human Services in her way back out of town after this visit.  She admits to having felt so distraught that if she had had a lighter and some gasoline, she would have been tempted to burned the place to the ground.

She judges that none of this okay but that this is the foster care system – corruption, an abuse of power and the application of a kind of oppression that traumatizes the children and their parents.  As a foster parent, she experiences a lack of support and compassion from the system. It is her feeling that they don’t care about families. She believes monetary issues based on a for profit adoption model are what matters in this case.

Admittedly, this is the story of a poor family with 10 children.  The issue here is with the 4 youngest who are babies or toddlers.  This age group of children is easy to place for adoption because there is more demand to adopt babies than a supply of such children.

Her feelings are such that she warns people thinking about becoming foster parents to just don’t.  Do not be part of the problem. She warns that if you are, then you are participating in a corrupt system that intentionally tears families apart. Not to be deluded into thinking you will be one of the “good ones” who is going to change anything. The system doesn’t care about the foster parent and they have no power within it. The system will trample on a foster parent, just like it tramples on everyone else.

If there were no foster homes and child welfare agencies, then there would be billions of $$ available to create family supports for everything from abuse to addiction and everything in between. There would be no harm and resources would be plentifully available for struggling parents.

Need convincing monetary issues are involved in people becoming foster parents ?

Let’s suggest a realistic figure of $77/day/child for foster parents. $77 times 30 days = $2,121/month/kid. If there are 3 kids being fostered that is $6,363/month total.  If the foster care lasts for a year then that is $76,356. And it isn’t unusual for a foster home to house as many as 6 kids for a year, netting these people $152,712 for that year.  It is easy to see that providing foster care can be considered a good way to make one’s living.  And this calculation doesn’t even begin to factor in the money the whole adoption industry makes providing children to hopeful adoptive parents.

The number of child welfare workers known to lie to kids and their parents, or withhold information from them, in the effort to prevent a reunification within the natural family, is appalling to those with direct knowledge.  This is a system that needs to change but for which any change seems impossible to achieve.

 

A Question of Ethics

A question arises among adoptees about the morality of putting a price on their lives.  It is a fair question.  Is it right to pay tens of thousands of dollars to buy a child ?  The going price is often in the $30,000-$40,000 price range.

One adoptive parent answered that question rather honestly – “We were so clouded by desire that we really didn’t think about the cost.”

What would you think, if you knew, that an agency had tiered pricing on the babies they are selling ?   White$$$, whomever $$, Black$.  Is value related to the ethnicity of a person ?

An adoptive parent in an honest evaluation of how they are feeling might say, “The moment we drove away from the hospital it felt like we stole him. It was such a conflicting feeling.”  Some won’t even give it a moment’s pause.

What would you think if you knew the legal system was being gamed ?  “Our lawyer was a whole other bag of nuts as she moved our court date around because the judge that was assigned to our case hates adoption.”  I wonder why ?  Could it be that judge knows something about the realities ?

A very honest adoptive parent might admit to an adoptee that – “Yes we bought a kid, yes at the time we thought we were doing the right thing ‘if we didn’t take him…’ yes, I wish it was different for him that he wasn’t a secret. But I love him. I am totally geeked when he discovers something new. I make little videos and pictures to send to the one app that I know the natural mother checks, so she can see her son. I hope that she comes and builds a relationship with this amazing human. I also daily feel conflicted with the whole process. I caught myself in the market one day when asked if he was adopted – I replied ‘oh no we bought him.’ I struggle with not wanting him to feel like he was a purchase. Do you ever feel like you were not bought ?”

Money will always be a complicating factor.  It is often said of corrupt practices “follow the money.”  That makes sense.  Who is gaining wealth at the expense of whom ?  Just one of the reasons that the whole system of adoption is being looked at deeply and reforms to that practice are being discussed.

Being Charitable

What are you actually saying to your adopted child as an adoptive parent about what your motives were ?  There are cases – I suppose – like true orphans.  However, among the thoughts about reforming adoption in general, instead of buying a baby to raise as your own, is the radical idea of helping the mother in danger of losing her child.  Her crime may simply be lacking the financial means to raise that child.

Clearly, if you can plunk out tens of thousands of dollars to obtain another woman’s baby, you could go very far in your ability to charitably help keep a baby and mother together.  Sadly that is not the kind of thinking that motivates most adoptive couples.  Most are self-absorbed, only thinking about what it is they desire, and rarely considering the emotional price and mental anguish someone else (and often more than one someone else – the original mother, the adoptee, any subsequent siblings) will have to bear for you to fulfill your personal desire.

You will be held accountable for every decision you make regarding adoption.

Don’t you think your adoptees will have enough sense to realize that in 9 out of 10 cases you could have helped their parents keep them vs adopting them ? Do you think you’ll never be asked this question or held accountable ? In cases where infertility was the reason for adopting (as most cases actually are), don’t you think these children will have enough sense to realize they were your second choice ?

It is still a rather new perspective and some adoptive parents have been able to own the facts and own their culpability in the messed up institution of adoption.  What is done is done but things could be done better going into the future and that is why the idea of raising awareness and talking about ways that would be more life and family affirming is happening now.

If you do want to understand adoption trauma, then here it is – I have seen this for myself in an adoption triad group with thousands of members (all 3 sides of the adoption equation) – there really are a lot of very angry adoptees.  Ask yourself, why is that, if adoption is such a perfect answer to everyone’s problems ?

For adoptees unfortunate enough to have been the victim of a shady adoption, the truth will probably come out in this modern day and time (much of that kind of story did not come out during Georgia Tann’s illicit 3 decades long scandal from the 1920s up until 1950).  There will be damage that you (as an adoptee) may or may not ever be able to repair.  The damage is deep – and comes out in bits and pieces – and in ways that are not always obviously related to the adoption directly.

 

Taken At Birth

We do not have commercial TV or streaming service in my home, so I have not seen this series, though I know this is what happens.  Today, I read a rational question about adoptions – I don’t know why after this, birth certificates don’t have a place for natural parents and adoptive parents on them? Doesn’t make sense why we haven’t evolved our legal system to preserve people’s identities.

At least that.  Better yet – no false identities.  No falsified birth certificates.  No loss of genetic connection, which is what I think this person’s comment indicates.  Can there not be a “new” kind of birth registration that acknowledges the reality ?

TLC shares this about their series – In 1997 a shocking story made headlines. Thomas Hicks, a small town Georgia doctor, illegally sold more than 200 babies from the back door of his clinic. Jane Blasio has been trying to uncover the mysteries of the Hicks clinic for over 30 years. She is joined by Lisa Joyner and Chris Jacobs as they try to bring closure to those stolen babies desperately searching for their true identities and birth families.

In fact, the ’90s were a time for shocking revelations about adoption as Georgia Tann’s scandal from the 1920s to 1950s re-emerged in the national consciousness.  And by late in that decade, sealed adoption records became accessible in some cases such as in Tennessee for Tann’s victims.  In 2017, that allowed me to obtain my mother’s adoption file, though it had been denied her in the early 1990s, she never learned that she could have gotten this file while she was yet alive.  It is a sadness because she would have seen a photo of her mother and learned alot about the true circumstances of her adoption.

The comment I shared above had some more thoughts.  “I was shocked at the empathy and benefit of the doubt given to the Adoptive Parents. I think I would consider them kidnappers if I was coming in from the outside to help track down the truth. It definitely showed me more of what Hopeful Adoptive Parents will do when they are desperate for a child.  I also am just heartbroken for these families and the adoptees. Felt like in episode 2, you finally get to hear a testimony of just how devastating this is for them.”

The only good thing I can say about this increasing awareness is that it is a good thing.  Reforms and changes are likely to be encouraged as more people learn the truth about the impacts of separating babies from their natural mothers.

The Child Of Separation

Family separation has taken on a new meaning in the current government administration.  Many of my friends and myself included are horrified at the barbaric and cruel images of what is being done as we witness these.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote – “Every happiness is the child of a separation, it did not think it could survive.”  I think in the context I am considering, one could not equate happiness with separation.

Family separation means something different in my life.  It means my parents being taken away from their mothers.  It means families so broken they cannot be put back together again.  There is so much damage done when any baby is taken away from the mother who’s womb that child developed within.

Activists and reformers within the adoption world are hoping to see the common place separations end.  We seek stronger safety nets for mothers with children with no judgement applied.  It is not about how hard the mother works or how well she does trying to provide for her children but about the children themselves.  Seeing that children grow up in safe spaces with loving relatives with enough to eat and enough usable clothing to wear.  With a roof over their heads to protect them from the environment.

This is really not so much to ask of society and especially the wealthier members of our society – that we each accept a responsibility to the future generations of human beings on this planet.

Recent advances in the science of brain development offer us an unprecedented opportunity to solve some of society’s most challenging problems, from widening disparities in school achievement and economic productivity to costly health problems across the lifespan. Understanding how the experiences children have starting at birth, even prenatally, affect lifelong outcomes—combined with new knowledge about the core capabilities adults need to thrive as parents and in the workplace—provides a strong foundation upon which reforms can be created.

Not all stress is bad, but the unremitting, severe stress that is a defining feature of life for millions of children and families experiencing deep poverty, community violence, substance abuse, and/or mental illness can cause long-lasting problems for children and the adults who care for them. Reducing the pile-up of potential sources of stress will protect children directly (i.e., their stress response is triggered less frequently and powerfully) and indirectly (i.e., the adults they depend upon are better able to protect and support them, thereby preventing lasting harm). When parents can meet their families’ essential needs stress can be reduced rather than amplified.  Families are better able to support a healthy development in their children.

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.”

Motherhood Rights

What about women who do NOT want to know the children they gave up for adoption, do they have the right to not have their identities revealed ?

No, you have a child, you owe them an identity, you owe them at least this – their place in the chain of life.

Does such a mother have a right to be free of the trauma of confrontation ?

I don’t believe a confrontation would be traumatic.

No right to that privacy.  Once you are a mother, you are a mother – even if you don’t raise that child.  The issue in reform is when the rights of the original mother infringe on the rights of an adoptee.

Every Adoptee Is Unique

We are all unique and so are our adoption stories.  There is no one size fits all as to the experiences of any individual adoptee.

We should play close attention to our adoptions stories.  Because being adopted is still relatively rare among the people of society, our stories matter as a window on a practice that takes the children of one mother and places them with a mother with whom they have no genetic connection.

As writers, we must polish the imagery with which we tell our stories so that they can receive the attention they are due.

In my own family’s numerous adoption stories, I seek to find their positive rather than their negative aspects, while not denying nor hiding from that.  It is a reality and so, acceptance is an important part of healing any wounds that have occurred.

I search for the ways in which we have experienced life differently from those who without thought live the inherited version.  As I discover the truths within my own family’s stories, I edit the plot accordingly because the truth has become even more important to me as a result of it’s having been hidden for so long.

I also keep my eye on the philosophical implications of the changes to the experience of having been adopted that reformers and activists seek to make.