Privatizing Foster Care

A woman in my all things adoption group encountered this business (and by that I do mean for profit) at a pop up market. I had to go looking for a definition of that. Pop-up retail, also known as pop-up store or flash retailing, is a trend of opening short-term sales spaces that last for days to weeks before closing down, often to catch onto a fad or scheduled event.

She shares her experience thus – Today I did a pop up market and after I was fully set up I walked around. One of the other vendors that were there was this one (First Home Care). They claim to be there to help children in the foster care system. Ok, cool. I asked what they did for the community as I’d love to be able to help local families… The good ends there… After talking to the lady for less than 5 mins, She starts talking about how much money you can make as a foster parent. My jaw hit the floor. I was like are you a not for profit or a for-profit company? They are for profit… Not unification… Wtf… I told her she should be ashamed of herself and walked away… Is this common? I feel like a complete noob. I had no idea that there were foster companies for profit. Like I know there’s adoption companies for profit, but foster companies…

To which someone else posted a link to an article in The Hill – “Privatization of foster care has been a disaster for children.” The article highlights an abusive system, where corporations profit from and victimize vulnerable people: foster care for children.

Twenty-eight states allow some degree of for-profit contracting of foster care services. The private companies that make money off foster children would have us believe that they are providing quality service at affordable rates — as is often the selling point of privatization made to the general public. But evidence has shown that some of these for-profit services are rife with mismanagement and abuse.

One woman, who aged out at 18, describes her last (of 3 placements) in Utah – “It was the worst of them all. I still have bad dreams. My sleep was monitored; I wound up banished to the basement, alone for days. They listened in on my phone calls, read my mail. I was told the sexual abuse I had lived through was my fault. The meds they put me on threw my moods all over the place. I wanted to kill myself. I feel lucky I made it out alive.”  She had entered foster care when her mother died after being severely abused by her father.

Privatizing the core functions of the foster care system makes it harder for the public to exercise the necessary oversight over the activities of companies that are entrusted with the safety and well-being of vulnerable children. Of course, the for-profit foster care industry argues that abuse claims are nothing but isolated cases — bad apples in an otherwise pristine crop.

Foster care contractors benefit from a steady flow of children into the foster system, just as private prison contractors rely on the persistence of steady rates of crime and incarceration. A bipartisan congressional report released in 2017 by former Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) found that, by and large, “children who are under the legal authority of their state, yet receive services from private for-profit agencies, have been abused, neglected and denied services. The very agencies charged with and paid to keep foster children safe too often failed to provide even the most basic protections, or to take the steps to prevent the occurrence of tragedies.”

Parentification

This was a new term for me and came out of one of the stories I read recently conveyed by a foster parent. Here’s the story –

I am currently fostering a 14 year old. They were removed because of trauma from a family member who is not their mom but who still lives with their mom. Mom refuses to ask this person to leave or to move into a different apartment, but is otherwise doing what is asked of her to work towards reunification. Today this kid told me they really want to be reunified, which makes perfect sense. I’m worried because this seems unlikely unless mom starts believing them and takes steps to cut their perpetrator out of her life. How do I support them? If you were in their shoes, what would you want from a foster caregiver? I’m also worried because many of the reasons this kid states for wanting to reunify are to care for their mom. It’s not my place to make the judgment calls, but it seems from the outside like a case of parentification. Add to this that I’ve heard this child talk about how much they wish they had been given the opportunity that their peers had to “just be a kid”.

So what is parentification ? Parentification is when the roles are reversed between a child and a parent, a toxic family dynamic that is rarely talked about and is even accepted as the norm in some cultures. However, research has found that it can have far-reaching negative psychological impacts. It is a functional and/or emotional role reversal in which the child sacrifices his or her own needs for attention, comfort, and guidance in order to accommodate and care for the logistical and emotional needs of a parent and/or sibling.

One response was this from experience – my parents put me in foster care briefly when I was suicidal from the pressure of being a “good kid” and experiencing their abuse. I wanted to go back to them to protect my brother. I feel for the teen. I would have this child in therapy now to begin processing those emotions of responsibility. I’m 24 and still struggle with guilt that my brother may have suffered when I was gone or what would have happened if I’d stayed gone. My mom would’ve likely lost her mind. She did – when I went to college. My best advice is therapy for the child while in your care, and perhaps talk to a therapist about how you could best talk to their mom about her removing that person in the home. My mom chose my dad over me often, so I feel for the teen.

Another one shared – Unfortunately this might be something that never fully goes away. I was like this, the eldest child who took care of the family from a very young age and getting rid of that guilt and the “needing to take care of them feeling” has been very very resistant to therapy. I think the best you can do is just try to be empathetic, don’t make them feel like they’re acting too old or whatever (mine did that and it really fucked with my head) just be kind and remind them they can relax and do things for themselves, even if they don’t listen.

This one touched my heart, because I am the oldest as well. I was not in an awful situation but I have always felt a sense of responsibility for my two sisters. Our parents died only 4 months apart (high school sweethearts married for over 50 years). From the first day I returned to my family after my mom died first, I found myself having to take over financial responsibility for my sisters that my mom had been financially providing, making me in effect “the mom”. Then, after our dad died too, I had to ask the court to appoint someone to assist my youngest sister with her finances. She is likely a paranoid schizophrenic with very weird ideas about the way money functions. The court agreed to appoint a conservator. My sister and I have struggled. What had been a really good relationship before was destroyed when our mom died. Our mom had a poor relationship with my sister for over a decade and my sister’s feelings about that transferred to me when my mom died and I had to take over the family finances.

Also this interesting perspective – I cared for a teen relative of mine last year similar situation. As soon as she could legally, she returned to mom and the abuser to care for her siblings again and her mom. This is what she had been taught was the only way to get attention, love etc from mom. The best way we found to help her was to enroll her in a group for teens about healthy relationships at our local Domestic Violence shelter. She also did therapy with someone she selected and equine psychotherapy which helped her with attachment a lot. While she was here, we focused on just reminding her of our unconditional love and building trust in our relationship. Even though she went back, it didn’t take long for all of that to help her see how to set boundaries with mom, identify unsafe situations with abuser and start to come out of some of the fog. It’s still complicated but she isn’t engrained and I see her setting more healthy boundaries. We (and her dad) are still safe people she can come too and does. It took about 6 months of us just watching from a distance and being supportive regardless. In your situation, maybe focus on staying neutral and asking for a CASA or Guardian ad Litem to help with the other side of the coin. Having a mentor also really helped my relative. It was someone closer to her age that she could confide in and she is still actively talking to that person now. Maybe your foster youth could use a mentor because they aren’t a therapist but can be a sounding board. Also a lifeline if the youth returns and ‘adults’ get cut off from that person. (I say adults because the mentors we have had are usually 25 or younger and parents don’t see them like they do a 40 year old caseworker).

Always An Adoptee

Advice from an adoptee – If/when your adopted child says anything that you deem “negative” about their adoption, instead of just throwing around frequently used adoption phrases – please please please consider the long term affect of hearing some of these phrases

1. “Would you have rather stayed in the orphanage/on the streets, been aborted, would you rather have died?”

Yes, sometimes. Adoption is complex and complicated. Sometimes I wish I wasn’t here instead of enduring nights of sadness, depression, suicidal ideation, intrusive questions, all the unknowns, the mental health problems .. I will never stop being an adoptee. It affects EVERYTHING in my life

2. “God/We saved you from your biological family.”

Let us decide that. What was I saved from? I do not know. There are many things adoption has NOT protected me from. So please let me decide in what ways I was saved. It may shift and change. Also, please don’t say negative things about our biological families. Give us the FACTS that you know and allow us to decide where to place them in our hearts and lives. Y’all don’t get to decide if our biological families are good or bad. Many things I was told about my biological family ended up being racist, unkind, untrue, and problematic.

3. “You were chosen”

Maybe. Kinda. But often, not exactly. My adoptive parents chose me between 2 babies. I was laying beside another baby and they chose me. But if they had decided “no, she’s not for us” they would have found another baby – easily. Adoptees often feel like replacements. We know a lot of our parents wanted A BABY – not necessarily “us” specifically. We have to process that – please allow us the space and time to do so

4. “They loved you so much they decided to give you up.”

No. What about desperation? Survival? Poverty? Lack of resources? Addiction? Death? Would you give up your child because you loved them? I was not given up out of love but I was raised to believe so. It made me feel awful about myself and my biological sister (she was not “given up”). Does loving someone mean sending them away forever? Would my adoptive parents do the same because they loved me?

5. “Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful you are not dead/alone/orphaned/poor/etc. You are so lucky to have a loving, stable family.”

STOP telling us how to feel and what aspects of our lives to feel good about. Especially in response to something we have said, please don’t.

Please Imagine losing your mom at a young age and when you tell someone, they say “Wow but you should be so grateful that you still have…” or “You are so lucky that you have a family that loves you!”

How about “I am sorry for your losses and pain. How can I help without overstepping?”

There are days I would rather be dead than adopted. Days when I miss my biological family. Days that I want to return to a place I barely remember. Those are not the times to dismiss an adoptee’s feelings. Imagine how you’d feel hearing these responses.

Two Adoption Related Fantasies

I really wasn’t in the mood to write during my daily session at my deceased in-laws cabin.  I suppose it is the death of Ruth Bader Ginsberg last night that has me de-motivated and distracted.

I thought – how to honor her life then.  I remembered seeing “STEINEM” in large letters at the top of the spine on a book in my mother-in-law’s bookcase.  I was aware of her as a feminist when I was coming of age in the early 1970s.  My mother in law was a lifelong feminist.  So I thought, I won’t try to write, I’ll just read a little today.

I chose the essay – Ruth’s Song (Because She Could Not Sing It) – because.  It should be obvious why.  I read this –

My ultimate protection was this: I was just passing through, a guest in the house; perhaps this wasn’t my mother at all. Though I knew very well that I was her daughter, I sometimes imagined that I had bee adopted and that my real parents would find me, a fantasy I’ve since discovered is common.

~Gloria Steinem, from her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions

It is common for adoptees to have fantasies about their natural mother finding them.  My mom wanted to find her mother but when she got the tiniest bit close to that goal, she was told that her mother had died a few years earlier.

Much of this essay is about Steinem’s mother’s mental illness.  I can relate.  My youngest sister is seriously mentally ill.  And my mom had this obsession that each of her daughters was mentally ill.  We each ended up in an institution at least briefly.  I was dragged in by my dad for observation.  After about 3 days, I was released as I was not a threat to anyone except perhaps my own self.  My parents were never willing to financially invest in mental health care for their children, even when it was warranted.

I also know my mom once seriously thought about committing suicide.  I don’t know what the trigger was but she changed her mind because she actually did care about her daughters.  At least, that was what she told me.

Adoption can have a psychological toll.  It is known that adopted children are more likely to struggle with emotional or behavioral disorders ranging from depression, anxiety, and ADHD to suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.

Adoption is the difficult process of gaining a child by removing him or her from another family.  There is trauma associated with separating a child from the mother in whose womb the baby developed.  Children are commonly unable to vocalize or even identify what they are feeling and so it is unlikely they will ask for help.

Symptoms of mental illness in children can be difficult to identify. Signs of emotional or behavioral disorders, like outbursts and sleep issues, are common in many stages of development without adoption as an added issue.  As a parent, pay attention to age-inappropriate emotional responses, as well as symptoms that last longer than normal or don’t improve regardless of continued efforts.  Seek professional help.