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.”

They Are Not Orphans

If anyone cared about children and adoption, they would be focused on changing the things that lead to a child being taken away from their parent or a parent not feeling adequate to parent their own child.

Things like poverty, addiction, mental illness and abuse.

Most “adoptable” children are NOT actually orphans. That is a myth.

Poverty plays a huge role in how children end up in foster care and through that in the adoption system or end up going straight into adoption without the parent ever trying to raise their own child.

Society needs to focus on the inequities that destroy a stable family unit.

Focus of those aspects that disrupt children’s lives.

At the maternity ward level, every adoption takes place in a tragic situation where the birth mother actually wanted her baby – that is the main reason any woman would devote 9 mos of her life into the creation of a new human being in her own womb. This is a huge sacrifice and commitment on the part of any woman.

Here’s the honest truth – there actually is ENOUGH money in this world to HELP people – instead of jerking their precious children away from them in order to make a profit from another couple who desperately believes that is their only path to parenthood.

Adoption Issues On Facebook

Ten years ago, there was an article in The Guardian which the title “Facebook has changed adoption for ever.” The sub-title was “Social network sites like Facebook are changing what happens after adoption. At the click of a button, birth parents can contact their children – and vice versa – with far-reaching consequences.” I would add inexpensive DNA testing via Ancestry and 23 and Me have done as much.

The lead-in on that article noted – “Adoption is undergoing a revolution. Until recently, it has been a closely managed process, with social workers going to enormous lengths to protect children placed with adoptive families from inappropriate contact with birth relatives.” That was always the argument but never the truth. The truth was that social workers and adoption agencies were protecting the adoptive parents from the intrusion of the natural bond between the original parent and their child. There certainly have been “. . . cases of adopted young people being contacted by birth parents through Facebook. There are even more instances in which the approach is initiated by adopted young people themselves, who are curious about their birth families.” You can read that rest of that decade old perspective at the link above.

Now today, another one. This one published in Wired titled Adoption Moved to Facebook and a War Began and raising the hackles of some in my most important (though I do belong to several) adoption related support group at Facebook. The sub-title notes – As the adoption industry migrates to social media, regretful adoptees and birth mothers are confronting prospective parents with their personal pain—and anger. I do see these in my support group. In fact, adoptees are the “privileged” voices there.

This is true to the best of my own knowledge on the subject – “The adoption industry has never been very well regulated, and there is a history of certain firms engaging in unethical practices. But when agencies were the primary facilitators of adoption, they could at least perform basic vetting of birth mothers and adoptive parents and manage complex legal processes. The open marketplace of the web removed that layer of oversight.” Wired refers to people in adoption support groups as anti-adoption but then goes on to note that these are older women who, as “unwed mothers” in the 1950s and ’60s, were forced to give babies up for adoption; women whose churches still pressure them to give up children born outside of marriage; adoptees who want to overturn laws in 40 states that deny them unrestricted access to their original birth certificates. These are legitimate experiences and desires that do not in themselves constitute being anti-adoption.

However, as understanding of the deep sub- and un- conscious trauma that adoptees experience and the lifelong regret that mothers who surrendered their children to adoption as a permanent solution to a temporary situation are increasing shared openly or privately in groups that maintain anonymity, as my dominant choice does, there is a desire to limit the number of adoptions that do take place. There are recommendations for kinship guardianship whenever possible, for true efforts on the part of foster parents to assist the original parents in successfully navigating the child welfare requirements for reunification with their own children and that at the least, when adoption seems somehow the only alternative left – allowing the child to retain their original identity by NOT changing their name nor creating a new “false” birth certificate the creates the impression that the adoptive parents gave birth to that child.

These are reasonable attempts at reform.

In the movement Wired identifies are a wide range of perspectives. Some recognize the value of adoption in certain circumstances and have specific goals, like improving federal oversight, eliminating practices that are coercive to birth mothers, or giving them more time to reverse a decision to give up a child. Others see adoption as wrong most of the time – in my group it is NOT as Wired indicates “in all cases” – but there is a recognition that the natural bond between a biological mother and her child is a reality. Some are finding community and expressing feelings of anger and pain for the first time; birth mothers describe pressure, regret, and lifelong mourning for the children they gave up, while adoptees talk about their sense of estrangement and about not knowing their medical history. Certainly, poverty plays a role in children being removed from their parents and placed for adoption.

Wired does proach the topic of the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR). The article notes that TPR has been called the “civil death penalty,” because of its severity and finality. It is overwhelmingly levied against poor families. Some children are taken away from parents who abuse them horribly—and others who should be removed are not and die at the hands of abusers. Nationally, the majority of children are removed from their homes by child protective services not for abuse but neglect, which can be a more subjective state. Neglect can mean a child was left in a hot car for hours or that a child’s parent is an addict. Or it can mean that a child was alone at home while their mother worked an overnight shift or went to the store, or that there’s not enough food in the fridge. In other words, poverty can create conditions that lead to neglect, and the exigencies of poverty can also be interpreted as neglect.

My own adoption support group advocates, and some experts in child-welfare reform do as well, for helping families get what they need—rehab, food stamps, child care subsidies. We agree that should be prioritized over permanently removing children from their parents. In a 2019 paper, “A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families,” Vivek Sankaran, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and his coauthors note that removing children from their homes is traumatic for both parents and children, and that standards for removal vary from state to state. In some states there must be evidence that a child is in immediate danger; in others, suspicion of neglect is sufficient cause. Some states allow a parent to appeal the removal within 24 hours; in others a parent may have to wait 10 days. As a result, the authors note, states and even individual counties have widely varying rates of removing children.

“If we eliminated poverty in this country, that would be the best abuse- and neglect-prevention program,” according to Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School.

It is true that the internet, along with widely available genetic testing, has dismantled the possibility of a truly closed adoption.  However, the truth about open adoptions is the adoptive family an easily end the relationship. Open adoptions exist at the discretion of the adopting family. They are not legally enforceable in all states, and where they are enforceable the cost of a lawyer can be prohibitive for a birth mother.

My adoption support group often recommends the Saving Our Sisters (SOS) organization to expectant mothers considering a surrender of their baby. This group seeks to persuade birth mothers that financial strain shouldn’t prevent them from keeping their children. When a woman who is having second thoughts reaches out to SOS online, the group tries to find a “sister on the ground” nearby to bring her diapers, a month’s rent, or a baby swing. In 6 years time, they helped 90 mothers and their children remain together, rather than be lost to adoption.

 

Answer These Questions If You Dare

So in my ALL THINGS ADOPTION related group, I saw this –

When should adoptive parents start taking responsibility for their unethical behavior?

They aren’t innocent either. Anyone want to help me compile a list?

Did you use an agency with unethical practices?
Did you pay tens of thousands of dollars?
Did you participate in pre-birth matching?
Were you in the delivery room/at hospital?
Did you seek out states without a revocation period?
Did you troll Facebook groups looking for expectant mothers?
Did you send your profile to OB offices and leave “business cards” on college campuses?
Did you aggressively advertise on social media and Craigslist?
Did you fight the parents if they tried to revoke?

Foster to adopt parents:
Did you support reunification?
Did you sabotage reunification?
Do you realize you chose to also participate in a corrupt system?

While it may seem harsh, this is the reality in adoptionland and its close cousin foster care.

One answer that came was this – Even though I know the system is a MESS and needs reform I still can’t regret my participation in it because all of our boys would likely be growing up in group homes or homes for the disabled that’s where each was headed before coming to us.

A leading edge advocated for guardianship.  When it was suggested to one woman, she answered – My teenage son’s team explored that with him and I was in support of that, or of him remaining with us while in foster care. He did not want that and was very adamant about adoption being the best choice for him. Do you feel that adoption is a better option if the child is asking for that, or do you think guardianship is still best in that case? Sometimes I wonder even at 16 if he knew what he was advocating for.

Another one shared – No to all except, her birthmom asked us to be in the room. I never thought about adoption as I didn’t know much about it. I wish I was part of this group and knew what I have learned from everyone the last 4+ years that I have been in here. I feel horrible for the pain and heartache our beautiful daughter will go through. We have a good open adoption with her mommy and we see each other once a year I wish it was more as we lived in the same town and she then moved. We get together every year to celebrate our little girls birthday. I so ache for all of them including our daughter. I am and will continue to be open as can be for her and her birthmom and siblings.

That was answered with –  Once a year? Please do better. That’s hardly a relationship.

To which she did answer – I will try to meet up more or however it may work out I will make better attempts on my end.

Another one said – Stopping participation in the system won’t change it, change needs to come from within. Do families need more support to keep them together, absolutely!  She went on to say –  I will admit when I first started as a foster parent over a decade ago there may have been some saviorism ideologies in my mind because that is the message that gains the most traction when it comes to adoption, I’ve been doing this for over a decade now and those have long since passed from my mind. I don’t feel like a savior, I feel how I believe most mothers feel – like I am just doing the best I can and some days I fail and some days I rise.

Finally, one added this –  I’ve taught training classes and help pushed for bills to prevent foster care and support families. Saviorism is the foundation of the system. Kids need to be saved. Even by caseworkers who remove kids especially Black kids at a high rate. We have to admit the system is set up to serve everyone but children or families.

And lastly came this honesty – I made several errors that I take responsibility for, and I’m also the first person to say unequivocally that adoption is an unethical institution, and I’m responsible for participating in it. I have to own that. There are reasons why things happened how they did, but reasons aren’t excuses and don’t make anything better.