Not Under The Tree !!

Adoptee Under The Tree

I will share some excerpts from this link where you can read Ashley Rhodes-Courter‘s essay about something that actually happened – Babies Don’t Belong Under The Christmas Tree: AN Open Letter From An Adult Adoptee. My image here comes from a feature in People magazine about the same story – Sisters Overcome with Joy After Finding New Adopted Baby Brother Under Christmas Tree. The date line is actually from 2015 but no doubt some adoptive parents will think this is a very cute idea that will also make them famous at least momentarily.

An adoptee’s perspective – In what they described as “one of the most magical experiences,” a Texas family posted a video on social media of their three daughters seeing their new baby brother for the first time. Captions accompanying the viral announcement included: “Sisters find newly-adopted baby brother under the tree,” “Parents hide new son under the Christmas tree for daughters,” and “Sisters’ adoption surprise!”

The children and family seem thrilled, but as an adult adoptee, adoptive mother, and social worker, I cringed and wished this family had been given better counsel. Not wanting to be hasty or “overly sensitive,” I asked professional peers and child advocates for their opinion. Most agreed that this video sends a variety of disturbing message to those not familiar with the intricacies of adoption. It was also the general consensus that surprising family members with a human being is not advised under any circumstance.

Even if adoption had been discussed in the family prior, it was made clear that the older children in the family were told nothing about this baby, and they had no idea they were about to welcome a child into their lives. The adoptive mother writes, “We met them at the door and told them that we had been out Christmas shopping and got them a gift to share…and it was under the tree!” Without knowing the context of the clip, a viewer might assume the little girls’ moment of delight, laughter, and tears was being expressed for a puppy, vacation, or desired toy. Adults understand the metaphor that children are “gifts,” however young children see the world more literally. The idea that the parents went shopping and came home with a baby reduces the complicated adoption process to a mere credit card transaction, likening the young boy as nothing more than a commodity.

While we are not told where this baby came from—or his price tag—it is likely these parents paid tens of thousands of dollars in legal and other fees for the privilege of adopting an infant. People enthralled by this “enchanting” scene would be better served to learn that there are currently over 120,000 foster children of all ages, abilities, and races available for adoption in America. People who believe it costs a great deal of money to adopt, would be interested to know that adopting children from their state’s dependency system has little to no costs, and many children come with subsidies to help pay for their medical care, education, and other expenses.

Adoptive parents strive to teach their adopted kids, family, and community that children are not possessions or accessories. These are little people whose needs are immense and whose love is infinite. Mothers and fathers adopt children because they want to be parents— not to be presents for their existing children. Children are not playthings to be ignored or dismissed when they cry, disobey, or getting boring; they are humans requiring years of care and nurturing. When I was still in foster care, a family who was interested in adopting me, stated: “We gave our kids the choice of getting a dog or a new sibling. They chose a sibling.” Fortunately for me, those screening the family realized this was completely inappropriate and explained this to the family.

Adoption already suffers from many skewed preconceptions. To some, adoption is a way “rich” people “steal” babies from “poor” people. Others believe they are rescuing children and should be praised for their sacrifice. Even worse, sometimes parents believe they are taking children on a trial basis and can return them if they are defective or don’t fit into their family. As a child, I knew many who were adopted—and later returned when they proved “unsatisfactory.” Adoption was a terrifying prospect for me because I knew that if I messed up, I could end up like one of those boomerang kids. As an adopted person, I must object when I see a baby depicted as an object. Parents never “own” their children and no child should be brought into a family—by adoption or birth—to fix a relationship, entertain, amuse or belong to someone else. The family is the resource for the child—not the other way around. For those of us seeking homes for waiting children, we want to find “A family for every child” and not a child for every family.

I cannot help wonder how the adopted boy will perceive his arrival. At some point in their lives, most adoptees struggle with wondering why they were rejected by their birth mothers or families or origin in the first place. He may wonder if he did something wrong, if he wasn’t loved, if this family simply had more money or resources than his birth family. Many adoptees already feel different than birth, or previously adopted children. Because the posted arrival pictures and video clip don’t allow for any nuance or explanations, all he (and the world) will see is that he was presented as “surprise” for the other members of the family, instead of being innately a member himself. The celebration should have been about him, not how others react to him. It would have been more appropriate and equally compelling to have the parents tell the children that the family had been matched with a baby; or, as one family did, surprise their foster children with adoption papers.

She has more to say, which you can read at the link for Ashley Rhodes-Courter.

It’s Temporary, Don’t Choose A Permanent Solution

Today’s story –

My daughter is 5 months old. I was going to parent her until a series of unfortunate events occurred leading me to believe I could not parent her. I made the difficult decision to give her to my sister. The adoption will be finalized next month.

I felt confident in my decisions until recently. I made the choice to place my child with my sister after I was in a really bad car wreck causing me to be injured losing my job along with my car and being near homeless. On top of already having 2 children I was convinced by my “support system “ that I would be selfish to keep her.

These were temporary issues and have since resolved. I am now in a stable job again and have my own car and am close to owning my own home (will happen after Christmas). So, I am currently in a stable living situation. I now know 100% without a doubt that I should’ve kept her and I could’ve made it with her in my care.

In Texas you have to wait 48 hours to sign papers. Then afterwards you have 3 days to cancel the paperwork and change your mind. Even so, I don’t feel like I had enough time to change my mind. I didn’t have time to let my hormones and emotions settle, let alone establish a stable living situation for myself. Now I so badly want to undo it.

But it would destroy my sister and the family she’s created in the process. And I’m not even sure if it even can be undone, even if my sister would agree to it.

One replied from experience – Unfortunately, I fear that your time frame to fight without repercussions has passed. I am not sure that Texas would reverse your Termination Of Parental Rights. This is definitely a question for an attorney, as it differs by state and situation. I would talk to the attorney before talking to your sister. If she is offended or panics, she could simply cut you out of both her life and your daughter’s, and take other family with her. I would try to preserve that relationship until you have legal guidance.

Yet another from experience – I also live in Texas and unfortunately it can is very difficult to reverse Termination Of Parental Rights. I’m heartbroken that your family pushed for you to give your baby up instead of standing with you by giving you support. I would seek legal advice to understand your rights. Ideally your baby should be with you and your family should help support you.

Assimilation Is The Intention

For many indigenous women, political action regarding children was not about campaigns for
subsidized day cares or cultural arguments about gender, work, and parenting. Child welfare was a literal fight to keep Native children in their homes and in their nations.

During the 1970s, Native American women activists understood the crisis of child adoption
(which had grown rampant in the postwar era) as more than a personal issue affecting individual
families. The removal of Native children from their homes and communities compromised not only parental rights but also tribal sovereignty. Technically, indigenous nations had a legal advantage in the battle for control over Indian child welfare because the right to oversee issues related to children living on reservations existed as an implicit aspect of sovereignty. In practice, however, state courts and welfare agencies largely misunderstood or ignored tribal authority and the interests of indigenous communities and removed Native children from their homes at arresting rates—an average of one quarter of Native American children lived away from their parents during the early 1970s

In response, Native women activists created a child welfare political agenda that not only kept
children in their communities but also addressed the problems that sometimes led to foster and adoptive placements. Although they acknowledged that there were legitimate issues, such as alcoholism, that required some parents to surrender their children, activists did not interpret the current crisis as the result of inadequate parenting. Nor did they place blame exclusively on culturally insensitive child welfare systems. Rather, activists condemned poverty and the vestiges of colonialism for the problems that precipitated child removals. One activist asserted that ‘‘the process of colonization has brought more destruction to these family ties than any internal changes … could have ever created.’’ According to this woman and others, while colonization created the problems indigenous families faced—solutions to them rested with Native nations. Both the programs’ indigenous women activists established and their petitions to the federal government to uphold the right of the tribes to control child welfare focused on increasing tribal agency in addressing the fundamental difficulties that Native families confronted. These activists gained strength from their citizenship in Native nations and framed their work against child removals in the context of tribal sovereignty.

The history of non-Native people intervening in the lives of indigenous families is a long one; arguably as old as the history of colonization itself. The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 is Federal law that governs the removal and out-of-home placement of American Indian children. … ICWA established standards for the placement of Indian children in foster and adoptive homes and enabled Tribes and families to be involved in child welfare cases.

“They closed the boarding schools and opened up CPS (Child Protective Services), but it’s the same thing – they’re still coming in and taking our children,” Cetan Sa Winyan said. The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, the Morongo Band of Mission Indians of California and the Quinault Indian Nation of Washington are petitioning the Supreme Court to request that the Indian Child Welfare Act remain intact.

The state of Texas is challenging the constitutionality of ICWA, claiming it’s a race-based system that makes it more difficult for Native kids to be adopted or fostered into non-Native homes. Another argument is that the law commandeers states too much, giving federal law imbalanced influence in state affairs.

A Supreme Court response to the tribes’ petition and the petition filed by the plaintiffs is due on October 8th.

Tribes and advocates argue that ICWA is culturally- and politically-based, not race-based, because tribal nations have political status as sovereign governments under federal law. Cherokee Nation Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Nimmo said the tribe will put all the resources it has into making sure ICWA is protected. “ICWA attempts to keep children connected to their tribe … and an attack on that is absolutely an attack on tribal sovereignty,” Nimmo said.

In the case of Brackeen v. Haaland, the Brackeens — the white, adoptive parents of a Diné child in Texas — seek to overturn ICWA by claiming reverse racism. Joined by co-defendants including the states of Texas, Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana, they’re being represented pro bono by Gibson Dunn, a high-powered law firm which also counts oil companies Energy Transfer and Enbridge, responsible for the Dakota Access and Line 3 pipelines, among its clients.

You can sign a petition here – https://action.lakotalaw.org/action/protect-icwa.

Justice For Foster Care Abuse

A former foster care youth writes – I thinking about taking legal action against the state of Nevada for putting me and my 3 siblings through 8+ years of abusive foster homes? My brother repeatedly told our case workers about abuse over and over and they said no one wanted us, so we would have to “suck it up”. I want justice. We were abused, severely in some cases and the worst that happened was a slap on the wrist and MAYBE a foster license taken away. Why no jail time? I would think that most of what happened must be written in our case files somewhere. I know it’s a long shot and probably “way too dramatic” but I’m angry and so are my siblings, our lives were completely turned upside down and we will carry unnecessary trauma with us our entire lives. There has to be something we can do??

Turns out this isn’t as rare as you might think. Oh I knew many are abused. I read a book last April titled Foster Girl, a memoir by Georgette Todd in which she shares her own experiences of being in foster care.

So in the responses to the plea above came stories about other cases and some not-legal advice from a lawyer.

Just last December 2020 in the state of Texas, Corpus Christi-based federal District Judge Janis Graham Jack found the state of Texas in contempt of court for continuing to fail to comply with court orders put in place to protect children in state custody from abuse. The ruling was the latest in a nearly 10-year-old class action lawsuit over allegations of abuse, neglect and systemic failures in Texas’ child welfare system. 

The not-legal advice – I’m a lawyer but don’t know anything about this area of law (which is complex bc govt officials may have some degree of immunity from prosecution, I don’t know). I would begin by (1) googling to see if and how others have brought these suits, (2) law firms in your area who have successfully sued the state for damages, and (3) legal aid providers or maybe the ACLU to see if they can refer you to any lawyers who might be willing to take it on contingency. I’d also move quickly – some kinds of suits can only be brought for a certain number of years (but again, I know nothing about this area of law so please do not take this as legal advice!).

Another woman chimed in – I would look up recent cases brought up against the state/Dept of Human Services… Look up the law firms used… Call them or submit an online inquiry. In Oregon, you have 6 months from a qualifying event to file tort (notice that you intend to file a lawsuit) … But a qualifying event could be as minor as “remembering” a new thing. Usually these types of suits are a contingency, so you don’t pay the law firm unless there is money awarded (except if you lose you usually have pay actual costs of things like filing fees and paper copies, etc), if you win/settle the law firm takes a pre-agreed upon percentage. Law firms don’t usually take on these cases unless they are pretty sure they can win…*good luck* I hope you can hold them accountable!!!

Here is another case moving through the courts in Alabama during 2020. Alabama officials failed to protect multiple children who were abused and neglected for years while in foster care. Foster children who lived with Daniel and Jenise Spurgeon (both have been arrested and are serving time) were sexually, physically, verbally, mentally and emotionally abused, according to the four lawsuits. While the children were starved, isolated, tortured and assaulted, the lawsuits allege, the Alabama Department of Human Resources ignored signs of abuse and neglect. The lawsuits say “numerous” complaints about abuse and neglect were made to DHR by the children and others. The complaints included violations of DHR’s standards for foster homes and ban on corporal punishment, plus reports that the children weren’t properly bathed or were forced to bathe with other children.

There is an organization that does a lot of this kind of justice work. It is called A Better Childhood. They cover the states of West Virginia, Indiana, Oregon, Minnesota, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, New Jersey and Washington DC. A Better Childhood fights for children who are abused, neglected, and irreversibly damaged while dependent on child welfare systems. Their work challenges existing structures to improve the lives of children, whether they are in state custody or reliant on the state for protection. Using the power of the courts, they develop new legal theories and apply and expand existing law to reform the various states’ foster care and other child welfare systems. Then, we monitor the states’ responses to hold them accountable.

Instances of abuse for children in foster care is estimated to be as high as one out of every three children. For some more startling statistics, you can read – Abuse in Foster Care Is a Social Justice Fail.

The ENTIRE justification for the state taking children from their families is to protect the child from abuse. If the child then is put into another abusive situation or worse yet, a series of abusive situations, then the entire premise of the state’s effort to protect children has failed. The agency has failed in it’s jo, and their justification for taking children from their families is a nightmare.

Unbelievable But Sadly True

“I am a believer in ripping the bandage off the wound. This is why I believe the biological family should have 6 month maximum to get their act together or move immediately to adoption and have those children in a permanent home by 12 months.” ~ Foster Care Parent

Hummmm, if people were band-aids…. sure. But people aren’t band-aids. We have memories and psychological effects from everything, from smells to interactions. We are a little bit more complex then band-aids.

These types of thoughts are based on the information the general public hears. They also come from “stories” shared about kids languishing in the foster care system, until they are too old and considered unwanted.

The truth is that in some states biological parents are only given 3 to 6 months to “get their act together” before their children are allowed to be adopted by strangers.

Each foster care case begins with the goal of reunification. The parents will be given a case plan with things that they need to do in order to have their children returned home. Children are removed when the situation they are in is deemed unsafe. The case plan is intended to remedy any issues that are considered unsafe, and help the home become one that is more stable and safe.

Some examples of what a case plan may include an alcohol or other drug abuse assessment, counseling, periodic drug testing, therapy, parenting classes, mental health assessments, home visits, even a change in residence if that is deemed necessary, the parent must secure a job or prove dependable income, etc.

How long would it take you to get your act together – if you were dealing with addiction or alcoholism, lacked the privileges a lot of people take for granted, had generational poverty, heck generational experiences with foster care placement ? What if you had lost EVERYTHING, your home, every penny you ever possessed ?

There are former foster youth who are now parents. Some are third generation foster kids. There are generations of a family line that have all spent time in foster care. It’s sad. Trauma is so hard to heal, especially with no support.

Thankfully, reunification does happen. It could take a mom almost two years to completely turn her life around. She might have to face up to some pretty difficult stuff. Some of these successful efforts will go on to help other parents make it through the requirements to reunification with their children, just like the successful person did.

Languishing isn’t the right term for most cases. There are kids who languish in foster care but it’s the older kids and teens with no real permanency goal in their case plans. They will eventually “age out.” A baby being with a foster parent for six months isn’t languishing.

People who say what the foster care parent at the beginning of this essay said are ignorant. Many hopeful adoptive parents turn to foster care with an intention to be able to adopt a baby. Many foster parents can’t even get their own situations together when a placement comes into their home in six months or a year’s time. There shouldn’t be a time frame for the biological parents. People who want to adopt should get the hell out of foster care.

And consider what happens to the older kids the foster parents don’t want to adopt ? Do they believe only babies come into foster care ? What about the 12 year old ? Are they going to adopt the 12 year old ? Most likely – no. They only want the babies.

And it has been shared that some states actually do a better job in supporting family reunification after a disruption like this. In ARKANSAS, the state gives biological parents 12 months. If need be/ if the parents are “progressing”, an extension can be granted. Many parents take as long as 12 to 15 months to complete everything the state requires of them to become compliant in every way.

It is said that ARIZONA or TEXAS are not good states to find yourself in this predicament. Termination of Parental Rights and subsequent adoptions are having to be reversed because the department in charge of protecting children is not doing their jobs properly.

Case in point, this case in ARIZONA. It ended in lawsuits that undid the adoptions. The state had to pay the family $25,000 x 2 kids. Yet, the parents did not get the help they needed. Sadly, 2 years later, the kids were back in foster care. The grandma now has permanent guardianship of her grandkids. These children were adopted, then un-adopted, got to go home to their parents, then ended up back in foster care. The state basically forced permanent guardianship on the grandmother – it all happened very fast (though not adoption). Then, thankfully, the state stepped back out of it again.

This is our foster care system at work or not working.

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.

 

Regrets When Things Change

So today’s story goes like this – I had a baby June 30 was going to place her for adoption with a relative in Texas. Decided I’m no longer going to place for adoption and told her I was coming to get her. (Cause according to our agreement I can request the return of my child at any time) It was a agreement for non parent adult caregiver. Well she basically sent me a text saying no and wasn’t going to give her to me didn’t think it’s in the best interest. And was going to file a restraining order And somehow I was lying to her and she feels like I used her. I had originally asked her to take baby cause I wanted her to stay in the family. I hired attorney but I’m just scared and worried cause I’ve never been to court for anything and I don’t know what to expect and some how they have “I’m not able to properly care for her” but I take care of my other kids every day. So I just don’t understand and didn’t it expect it to be like now a custody battle. (She has a lot more support and money then me as she knows I’m a single mom.)

She adds – Everything was fine till I told her I wanted to parent. Actually at first everything was fine with me coming to get her, my relative was mad/hurt but wasn’t putting up a fight. Then come last Wednesday, I got a text saying NO and I wasn’t in the best interest of my own baby and some how I lied to her this whole time and had other people tell her I can’t care for her etc.

I actually believe she just doesn’t want to give her back and she trying to scare me to back off, thinking something going to happen to my other kids, if I don’t win my baby back or something. She blocked me from everything she trying to let the time frame past to where I can’t do anything and my rights can be taken away.

One woman in the group replied – I wish we could start a list of people who would take a baby temporarily, no paperwork to help moms out. I’ve done it before, had a baby for 90 days while mama got the help she needed and handed her the baby back. No Department of Children and Families involvement and when people asked – I would say I’m helping a mom keep her baby. I’m learning that sometimes moms feel they cannot parent at that moment and just need some time and can parent once help is given etc.

Another woman chimed in – I would love to be a fictive kin “grandma” to help young women get on there feet. My kids are young adults and helping families connect with resources is what I do for employment. Occasional baby snuggles or getting to see happy families would be an extra bonus (my work is done over phone/internet).

Someone added – If you only signed a temporary guardianship the law is on your side.

If you are unfamiliar with a Texas Authorization Agreement for Nonparent Relative or Voluntary Caregiver, this law allows any adult caregiver to be authorized to provide TEMPORARY CARE for a child.

Failure by the voluntary adult caregiver to return the child to the parent immediately on request may have criminal and civil consequences.

So further advice is this – Copy your signed agreement and show up at the local police department the lady lives in and tell them she’s refusing to give you your kid and based on what you signed you have every right to get your child back. They may say it’s a civil matter BUT this document should show them regardless you have the rights to get your baby.

The woman replies –  I called her police, they won’t help.

The other woman providing advice (and I agree, it is VERY IMPORTANT to make a STRONG CASE of demand at this point !!) – Honey – SHOW UP. Physical presence means a little more. Print this document. Type a paper or hand write it if necessary saying you hear by REVOKE all authorization previously given. Show the police. Ask them to make a copy and open a file. Dress appropriately and speak respectfully and calmly to the officers and chances are – if they see this document – they should aid in getting her back.

Someone else added – Did you try to file a kidnapping report using your document ?

She was told this situation is not considered a kidnapping.

She counters –  My copy of the agreement is not signed by a judge.  She was supposed to file her copy.

Yet another person notes – If she didn’t file it in her county, she has even less legally to stand on in this situation.

The distraught mother adds – I called her county clerk or court and they said they didn’t see anything but that the lady didn’t know much about this form. The woman in possession of her daughter said it has to be revoked by a judge.  The mother wants to know – how do you get something revoked, if it was never filed ?

Supportive responses come – The court clerk would most likely be looking this up by the person’s name. If there’s nothing filed, there’s nothing for them to find under their name.

I think there is a very high likelihood they’re lying to you about it having to be revoked by a judge in order to make it feel too difficult and insurmountable to have kiddo returned to you.

Frankly, I think they’re lying to you about all sorts of stuff. I’m so sorry. This is entirely bullshit.

Be very careful about who you trust to help you care for your children.  Even with the best intentions and “protections” too much is at stake to take chances with someone so precious.

Blossoms in the Dust

Not having a Netflix dvd available in our house last night, for the second time, I watched this dvd that my brother in law (an avid classic, old tyme, movie fanatic) suggested when I shared with him all I was learning about my family’s adoption stories.  Not long ago, I actually met online a woman who was adopted through Edna Gladney (not the woman herself but the organization that continues to this day).  My oldest son asked if the text that appears with a patriotic musical background has held up well since 1941 and I told him not really.

It is a feel good story and I did enjoy the historical scenes of life in a different time period which is usually what I enjoy most in any really old movie.   It tells the mostly true but fictionalized story of Edna Gladney, who helped orphaned children find homes and began a campaign to remove the word “illegitimate” from Texas birth certificates, despite the opposition of “good” citizens. The movie was well-received in it’s 1940s time period.

When the film premiered at Radio City Music Hall, Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote “There is a shade too much of shining nobility in this film, too often tiny fingers tug deliberately on the heartstrings. And the dramatic continuity seems less spontaneous than contrived. The career of Mrs. Gladney is drawn out over a tedious stretch of time. But it is an affecting story and one which commands great respect … As pure inspirational drama with a pleasant flavor of romance, ‘Blossoms in the Dust’ should reach a great many hearts.” I find that an accurate assessment.

I am ready to GIVE away FREE my dvd copy of Blossoms in the Dust.  If you would like to receive this (given the flaws acknowledged above), you can email me at dhyemm@hughes.net.  Please put “Blossoms in the Dust” in the subject line.  I will respond as soon as I see your email.  I generally monitor it often.