AdoptTogether Crowdfunding

It has become quite common for hopeful adoptive families to turn to crowdfunding to pay the expenses of adopting a newborn baby. The cost is often $50,000 for an international adoption, about $30-40,000 domestically. That is due to additional costs of bringing a child in from another country.

Hank Fortener, is the founder and CEO of AdoptTogether. The website says – “His family fostered 36 children and adopted 8 from 5 different countries while he was growing up. He knows firsthand how painful & euphoric adopting a child can be, and it is this experienced heart for adoption that drives AdoptTogether.”

In my all things adoption group, someone asks an obvious question – how many original moms could that $30,000 help to keep their baby, instead of surrendering it to adoption ? I agree. As a society we really don’t care enough to help families stay together.

An article in Forbes back in September 2021 highlighted the work of this organization. In that interview, Hank says – I had the idea that if we could turn crowds into communities, if it truly takes a village to raise a child, it can also mean it takes a village to raise funds to bring a child home. It did not seem fair that insurance could cover most expenses of having a baby in a hospital, but there was nothing for those who could not have a child, or chose to parent a child that needed parents. AdoptTogether was born in our hearts 2009, and then went live in 2012. The organization has helped over 5,000 families raise over $26 Million.

According to Daniel Pollack and Steven M Baranowski writing in The Imprint – Ethical Challenges Remain in The World of Private Adoptions. Adoption practices continue to challenge the ethics of social workers due to myriad conflicting interests which have existed since the practice began. Dangerous informal child care arrangements in the early to mid 1900s have been replaced by a patchwork of state and federal laws, regulations and child care practices meant to serve the best interests of everyone associated with adoption, but we continue to allow for ethically concerning “wrongful” adoptions.  

Social workers have found themselves observing or being caught up in ethically challenging adoption practices that have continued to lead to unethical family disruptions and poorly implemented adoption policies, all of which have created more “wrongful adoptions” and a continued mistrust of the profession. Disrupting family structures for the so-called “best interest” of the child is the most ethically challenging aspect of adoption and child welfare practices. The rescuing of “orphan” children from “Third World” countries has led to an increase in human trafficking and is the most blatant form of family disruptions for the sake of making money through the guise of a legal adoption.

Personally, I do not believe that crowdfunding making it possible for more families to afford to adopt improves the ethics of the adoption industry.

21st Century Children and Families Act

Whether it gets through or not, it is a step in the right direction. New legislation authored by California Rep. Karen Bass (D), would drastically change that standard: Under the 21st Century Children and Families Act, states could not even attempt to permanently sever children from their parents until they’d been in foster care for two full years consecutively, barring extreme circumstances — and even then it would be up to the states, and no longer a federal mandate. The reason that this is important is that the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) requires states to terminate parental rights when a child has been in foster care for 15 of 22 consecutive months. Granted this is just a tiny step.

“This bill is an important first step in moving away from cookie-cutter timelines that have caused devastating harm to children and families for decades,” said Kathleen Creamer, managing attorney of the family advocacy unit for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

Existing exemptions would be maintained for certain “aggravated” circumstances, such as when parents have committed sexual abuse or have been involved with the death of another child. But the legislation would free parents from the federal timeline when their custody rights are threatened due to incarceration or immigration detention — or in cases where they are actively working with the court to overcome hurdles in their lives to successfully bring the family back together. Parents are not subjected to the federal timeline if their children are placed with relatives.

Under the bill, if a state so chooses, it could eliminate all timeline requirements, except in cases involving aggravated circumstances. 

Bass announced her landmark legislation in a news release Thursday. “It’s time to update old child welfare laws,” she said. “More needs to be done to improve foster kids’ options for stability in their lives. Premature modification of parental rights too often leaves children in foster care with no legal family.”

The legislation is at the earliest possible stage, and far from guaranteed, with many elements that could lead to controversy, including strengthening the rights of prospective LGBTQ parents. The bill could also be challenged by representatives of the adoption industry, policy watchers said.

“With respect to the timelines, we’ll be looking at those proposed changes carefully and considering how they affect children and families involved in foster care, especially BIPOC children and families, given the systemic discrimination they face,” said Mary Boo, executive director of the North American Council on Adoptable Children.

Children removed from their homes following allegations of abuse or neglect remain in foster care while their parents address the issues that landed them there, issues typically arising from extreme poverty. Under family and dependency court oversight, local child welfare systems must mitigate the circumstances that led to the child’s removal into foster care, offering the parents therapy, anger management, parenting classes and drug treatment, as well as the time necessary to overcome situational crises such as homelessness or illness.

Charles Redding barbecues for his two children last Easter at the home of a relative in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The family is now in dependency court fighting to stay together.

But that time is often not enough. The pandemic has brought heightened scrutiny to the “cruelty” of federal timelines. Parents such as Charles Redding of Minnesota have fought to regain custody of their children when circumstances are stacked against them to no fault of their own. Redding, for instance, had emerged from jail with no computer to attend court-mandated hearings and online classes, and the local center where he needed to go for drug testing suspended services. Earlier this year, Redding’s two children sobbed through a virtual court appearance, imploring a Hennepin County juvenile court judge to give their dad more time to secure stable housing for them to live together.

David Kelly, a former official in the U.S. Children’s Bureau, called the bill introduced this week “a critical, long overdue step toward justice for families,” adding: “I hope it proves a galvanizing moment for realizing the family children need most is their own.”

Bass is a longstanding champion of children and parents caught up in the foster care system — families who are disproportionately Black and Native American. She is among those emphasizing that the bar for reunification is often too high, and the impact of permanent family separation too damaging to continue the federal standards as they currently exist.

“The changes that I’m proposing today focus the foster care system on the child and the idea that children should be at the center of our efforts,” Bass stated. 

Her legislation would require that before moving to terminate parental rights, states must describe the steps they took and services they provided to help keep a family together. It would also mandate data collection on the accessibility and availability of those services. 

Shanta Trivedi, director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore said that while states are already required under law to provide services under a “reasonable efforts” standard, the proposed law will ensure that protocol is followed for every family.

“This puts teeth into the ‘reasonable efforts’ requirement that were previously absent,” Trivedi said. 

The bill has another key element: It adds sexual orientation, gender identity and religion to federal nondiscrimination protections that previously only included race and ethnicity. Under the proposed law, states and agencies they contract with could not “deny to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or a foster parent” based on those additional factors. The provision would directly challenge laws in nearly a dozen states that permit faith-based providers to exclude members of the LGBTQ community by following religious ideology in choosing which foster and adoptive parents, or even which youth in foster care, they will and will not serve.

The legislation proposed by Bass retains current legal requirements that adoptions cannot be delayed to match children with families of the same race, gender, culture and religion. But it instructs states to consider such factors if that is requested by the child or their birth parent.

When the Adoption and Safe Families Act became law decades ago, nearly a third of all foster children had been in the system for at least three years. The timeline was designed to push those cases in the direction of adoptions or guardianships so that children didn’t languish with uncertain futures. 

Since then, adoptions from foster care have more than doubled — from 30,000 in 1998 to 66,000 in 2019. Over the past decade, federal statistics show that the number of children awaiting adoption has also increased, by more than 20%. 

The attempt to rewrite ASFA comes at a time when some are pushing for its outright repeal, including Jerry Milner, the Trump-era head of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. Along with Kelly, his former deputy, Milner now leads a consulting group helping state and local systems interested in significant reforms of their child welfare systems, including the strengthening of family bonds so children can avoid permanent family separation. 

Critics of the current timeline that pushes for termination of parental rights after 15 months describe it as arbitrary and unjust to the families who mostly come from communities of color where daily life and the weight of historic and systemic injustice can bear down on home life. Advocates for parents say the federal timeline also penalizes people in recovery for substance abuse or seeking treatment for mental health challenges — complex healing that can take time and involve relapse and setbacks. 

In a February 2021 op-ed, Creamer and Chris Gottlieb, co-director of the NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic, described the social context around the original law: “Passed in the wake of the now-debunked ‘crack baby’ scare, and at the same time as nefarious federal laws on crime and welfare, it reflected the racial and class biases that were ascendant at the time and that to this day continue to inflict harm on children, youth and families.” 

Under the proposed legislation, a 24-month timeline was selected to align with the Family First Prevention Services Act, a 2018 law that overhauled the federal child welfare system to decrease reliance on group homes and emphasize foster care prevention. But as it is currently worded in the Bass bill, states could choose not to abide by the two-year timeline — the legislation as written uses the word “may” — not “shall” — while continuing to receive federal funds for the children who remain in foster care. 

“We are hopeful that this is just the beginning of making sure that states have the flexibility they need to embrace and uphold family integrity,” said Shereen White, director of policy and advocacy for the national nonprofit Children’s Rights.  

Child welfare policy consultant Maureen Flatley, who helped craft both the original Adoption and Safe Families Act and Bass’ new bill, said the additional protections for parents would not only help more children reunify with their families, it could reduce the number of young adults who leave foster care alone and disconnected from stable housing, income or a support system. 

Flatley said while the timelines can succeed at creating a greater sense of urgency around permanency for foster youth, roughly 22,000 youth still age out of foster care each year with no legal family ties. Meanwhile, many of their parents may simply have needed more time to complete court-ordered service plans.

“By maintaining those family connections and those relationships, we may be able to mitigate and limit the number of kids who are aging out alone,” Flatley said. 

Under the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act, states have received financial incentives to push foster children along the adoption path, despite critics’ objections. Bass’s bill does not address adoption incentives, instead taking aim at timelines that lead to the termination of parental rights — a critical first step for children to be adopted.

Still, even staunch detractors of the existing law applauded Bass’s attempt to update it through a social justice lens. 

“I don’t know what the chances are for passage, but the fact that we can even have this discussion shows that the racial justice reckoning finally is reaching child welfare,” said Richard Wexler, an outspoken foster care critic and executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. “If it passes, it will improve the lives of, ultimately, millions of children.”

Thanks to The Imprint for this blog.

Why Do I Care ?

I was searching my heart for a topic for today’s blog. I’ve been reading a book and recently the topic was treating Borderlines. I once knew someone slightly who lost her children and described her diagnosis with that as the reason. I didn’t think too much about it at the time but due to my reading, I understand her personality better now. I also know that adoptees often suffer from a wide range of mental health issues. So I googled Adoptees and Borderline Personality Traits.

I am going to link this sad article for you because there is so much there. I actually care and have learned a lot more to care about since uncovering my adoptee (both mom and dad) parents origins and adoption stories. While I will be forever grateful I didn’t end up adopted (because it is a minor miracle I did not), I care about all things adoption and an extension of that has been caring about foster care youth and often, foster care does lead to adoption. That is the background of the story I will link for you here.

Dark Enough: When Adoptive Families Struggle

The subject of the story is Rebecca who was removed by Child Protective Services (CPS) from her natural mother when she was 6 years old. CPS did initially try a kinship placement with Rebecca’s maternal grandmother but a few months, it became clear that their grandmother was unable to meet the children’s needs. There were 3 girls. Rebecca went through multiple foster care placements but eventually was reunited with her 15 month old sister Alina, when Rebecca was 7, in that separate foster home. The 3 girls had been sent to separate homes after their stay with the grandmother. Rebecca and Alina were then placed in a foster to adopt situation.

Rebecca’s adjustment has been difficult, to put it mildly. By the middle of eighth grade, her adoptive parents began to suspect that Rebecca was afflicted by Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Though both RAD and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder were both ruled out, her adoptive mom felt frustrated and defeated. Everyone was telling her this child was normal when she knew something was terribly wrong. CPS referred them to a psychiatrist who found symptoms of PTSD, major depression and anxiety, as well as poor coping skills for stress – and one surprise (which based on behaviors was not surprising at all) – Rebecca displayed an attachment disorder specific to father figures. Rebecca was able to develop an attachment to her maternal grandmother and to her adoptive mother but had severe difficulties with the adoptive father.

Rebecca’s new attachment therapist Cheri diagnosed her with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). BPD is not curable, but it can be understood and managed. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD sufferers have an unstable self-image and their actions display that uncertainty about how they see themselves. Unsure of their worth, they will go to extreme lengths to avoid real or imagined abandonment. They also feel victimized by the world and have great difficulty taking responsibility for their actions. Therefore, by the very nature of the disorder, BPD sufferers are blind to their role in the troubles surrounding them.

The article is worth reading in full.