It Isn’t Fair

It could happen to anyone . . . today’s tragic story.

I am being forced to sign an adoption agreement tomorrow. With it comes a gag order. I won’t be able to speak to my experiences as much after that. My kids were in foster care because of my ex. I’ve been ruled fit however the children have been bad mouthed so much by the fosters that they are unwilling to return home. It’s this or I have to go to trial and lose any hope of contact with them. I am only doing this at their request and at the last possible minute. I always wanted my children. I always loved and supported and kept them safe. It’s not my fault I’m poor and the system is abusive. I fought hard for almost 10 years and it was never going to be good enough for the department. I’m beyond destroyed.

I submitted yesterday. I had to go in open court today and sign and consent. The judge was patronizing. The kids refusing to come home would mean I would just by default lose in court. I asked for therapy and assessments but because the kids’ therapists said that it wouldn’t be in the kids best interest, the social worker refused and the judge refused to allow it. Anyway, an assessment would have come out against reunification. They argued that however it happened, they were damaged now so we just have to make the best of it.

As the blog author, I relate to this comment –  I cannot imagine the anguish you are experiencing. I am so sorry that this is happening, has happened and unfortunately, will happen again- to someone else.

In fact, I believe that my mom ended up adopted because Georgia Tann threatened to have her declared unfit because she wasn’t able to find a way to provide financially for her self and her baby quickly enough. Tann’s good friend, Juvenile Court Judge Camille Kelley, was certain to have done it if she was requested to.

Adding More Misery To The Suffering

Daisy Hohman’s 3 children spent 20 months in foster care.
When she was reunited with her children,
she received a bill of nearly $20,000 for her children’s foster care.

An NPR investigation found that it’s common in every state for parents to get a bill for the cost of foster care. Case in point –

Just before Christmas in 2017, Daisy Hohman, desperate for a place to live, moved into the trailer of a friend who had an extra room to rent. After Hohman separated from her husband, she and her three kids had moved from place to place, staying with family and friends.

Two weeks after living at this new address, police raided the trailer. They found drugs and drug paraphernalia, according to court records. Others were the target. Hohman was at work at the time. No drugs were found on her, and police did not charge her.

Even so, child protective services in Wright County MN placed her two daughters, then 15 and 10, and a son, 9 in foster care. County officials argued she had left the children in an unsafe place. After 20 months in foster care, her three children were able to come back home. Then, Hohman got a bill from Wright County to reimburse it for some of the cost of that foster care. She owed: $19,530.07

Two federal laws contradict each other: One recent law directs child-welfare agencies to prioritize reuniting families. The other law, almost 40 years old, tells states to charge parents for the cost of child care, which makes it harder for families to reunite.

The NPR investigation also found that: The fees are charged almost exclusively to the poorest families; when parents get billed, children spend added time in foster care and the extra debt follows families for years, making it hard for them to climb out of poverty and the government raises little money, or even loses money, when it tries to collect.

Foster care is meant to be a temporary arrangement for children, provided by state and county child welfare agencies when families are in crisis or when parents are thought to be unable to care for their children. It’s long been recognized that the best thing for most children in foster care is to be reunited with their family. While in foster care, children live with foster families, with relatives or in group settings. More than half will eventually return home. There were 407,493 children in foster care on the day the federal government counted in 2020 to get a snapshot of the population, according to a report from the Administration on Children, Youth and Families.

In 2018, Congress reformed funding for child welfare when it passed the Family First Preservation Services Act. That law tells state child welfare agencies to make it their focus to preserve families and help struggling parents get their lives back on track so that they can be safely reunited with their children. But a 1984 federal law still stands, as do additional state laws, that call for making many parents pay for some of the cost of foster care. Among the costs the federal funding pays for: shelter, food and clothing; case planning; and the training of foster parents.

Of parents who get billed for foster care: A disproportionate number are people of color. Many are homeless. Many have mental health or substance abuse problems. And almost all are poor — really poor. 80% of the families in a data analysis had incomes less than $10,000 annually. Try living off $10,000 a year. You’re in deep poverty, if you’re living off that kind of money.

Hohman followed the case plan set out by county caseworkers in 2018 and completed the steps required to get her children back. She went to family therapy sessions and submitted to random drug testing. She saved up enough money to rent an apartment in order to provide the children with safe and suitable housing. The $19,530 bill was just a few thousand dollars less than Hohman’s entire paycheck in 2019, for her seasonal work at a landscaping company. The debt went on her credit report, which made it hard to find an apartment big enough for her family or to buy a dependable car to get to work. When Hohman filed her income tax, instead of getting the large refund she expected it was garnished.

To charge poor families for the cost of foster care sets them up for failure. Mothers, often single, work overtime or take on a second job to pay off the debt forcing them to leave the kids alone and unattended. While it might not seem like that much to have to pay fifty or a hundred or two hundred dollars a month in foster care child support, if you are a very low-income, low-earnings mom, that can be the difference in being able to save money for first and last month’s rent on a decent apartment or not. The mom is at risk of losing her child again because of poverty. That doesn’t make sense from a child well-being, family well-being standpoint, or from a taxpayer standpoint.

Even a small bill delayed reunification by almost seven months. That extra time in foster care matters. It increases the cost to taxpayers since daily foster care is expensive. And it inflates the bill to parents. It matters because the clock ticking for the parents. They are given a set amount of time to prove they should be allowed to get their child(ren) back. Once a child spends 15 out of 22 months in foster care, it is federal law that the child-welfare agency must begin procedures to terminate a parent’s rights to the child with a goal of placing the child for adoption in order to find them a permanent home.

Today’s child welfare system also struggles with conflicting incentives. Laws meant to hold parents accountable can end up keeping families apart. When parents don’t pay, states garnish wages, take tax refunds and stimulus checks and report parents to credit bureaus. In the overwhelming majority of the people in the child welfare program, a significant contributor to the reason they’re in that situation is poverty. Abuse is an issue in only 16% of cases when kids go to foster care. Mostly, the issue is the parent’s neglect. Maybe there’s no food in the refrigerator or the parent is homeless or addicted. These are issues of poverty.

States don’t actually have to go after this money. There’s some leeway in the 1984 federal law. It says parents should be charged to reimburse some of the cost of foster care – when it’s appropriate but it does not define the term appropriate.

You Just Want To Provide Love ?

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Short on time, so borrowing this from a thoughtful person in my all things adoption group.

Hopeful foster parents, hopeful adoptive parents, and even current foster parents and adoptive parents often say, they “just want to provide love for a child who needs it.”

Let’s talk about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maybe you’ve heard of it. When was the last time you gave it any thought?

Each level of the hierarchy builds on itself. This means that until a person has their most basic needs met, they can’t achieve the next level of actualization.

Look at the pyramid in my image. See where “Love/Belonging” is on that pyramid ? And consider that when you’re saying you “Just want to provide love for children in need,” what else is missing ? I would add that the word Love is ambiguous – I love steak – for example. “Love” really has no clean definition.

People FIRST need their physiological needs met. This means they need healthy food, clean water, and somewhere to dispose of their waste in a sanitary way. How often do the former foster care youth try to report that these physiological needs weren’t met by their foster caregivers ? More often than you might want to believe. I have even read about foster parents who keep their refrigerator door locked or even some who prevent the foster children in their homes from accessing hygiene products.

Love doesn’t matter if the physiological needs aren’t met.

“Safety” is next, before love. The traumatized brain has a difficult time processing safety because the traumatized brain enlarges the size of the amygdala, which processes stress and sends signals to the hypothalamus, which produces stress hormones, which then results in the shrinking of the hippocampus, which is where every human being processes happiness.

Until you can provide for the physiological needs of a child, and for their need for safety and security, LOVE isn’t even a factor.

So why don’t you focus more on what the child’s traumatized brain needs the most ? The security and safety of family ties — i.e. family preservation, whenever possible.

Provided the biological parents are capable of providing for the physiological needs of their child (or ask yourself: Could they provide for the physiological needs of their child WITH YOUR HELP?) and can they provide for the safety and security of their children, which means they are not physically abusive. Do they have stable housing (ask yourself also, can you help them find stable housing) ? Until these are provided for the child, your LOVE is meaningless.

Focus on providing for the basic physiological needs of the child, then on their safety, and that will lead you back to ensuring that their PARENTS have the tools they need to provide for their child, if at all possible. If they CANNOT, then YOU must provide for those needs before LOVE ever becomes a factor.

Stop talking about what you think is right, and learn what’s ACTUALLY needed, if you truly “care”.

Love isn’t enough. It’s the middle of this pyramid.

Many adoptees cannot reach the level of “esteem” because their trauma has not been addressed and even with therapy, will likely be with them, whether they are conscious of it or not, for their entire lifetime.

Colorblind Idealism

There seems to have been an evolution among some citizens in the United States to realize that racially colorblindness isn’t really the answer to racism. In the evolution of adoption and in an attempt to get some children in foster care placed in stable homes, transracial adoption was seen as the answer. As some of these adoptees have reached adulthood, they are increasingly speaking out about why growing up black in a predominantly white community and school has proven challenging, even difficult for them.

Recently The Washington Post had an article by Rachel Hatzipanagos that focuses on transracial adoptees – I know my parents love me, but they don’t love my people. A few years ago, there was a Medium piece – The Myth of Colorblindness by Rosa Perez-Isiah.

For adoptees, their adoptive parents couldn’t see and rarely talked about the racism they experienced. Classmates’ racist comments about their hair and eyes were dismissed as harmless curiosity. America’s racial dynamics were explained in the language of “colorblind” idealism. 

In her Medium piece, Perez-Isiah says – Colorblindness is the belief that we don’t see color or race, that we see people and that we are all the same. These beliefs are widely held by well intentioned people, including educators and school leaders. These are idealistic beliefs and there are a number of issues with this ideology. Colorblindness negates our diversity, race and culture because we all see color and we all have biases. When we identify as colorblind, we are suppressing our authentic views and in the process, perpetuating systemic racism. Race matters and it has impacts on opportunities, education and actual income (as well as its future potential). Colorblindness oppresses people of color. When you fail to see color, you fail to acknowledge the current narrative, a system of injustice for many non-white people.

Cross-cultural adoptions have been debated for decades. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers took a strong stand against the adoption of Black children by White parents. Several years later, the federal Indian Child Welfare Act was passed to address the wave of Native American children being separated from their tribes and placed with White families.

The growth in transracial adoptions from foster care in recent years has far outpaced the growth in same-race adoptions and transracial adoption is now 28% of all domestic adoptions in the United States. More recently, the national conversation about systemic racism (driven by George Floyd’s death in 2020) has cast a new light on interracial adoption and prompted transracial families to confront the unspoken cultural divides in their own homes.

For adoptees, there is a transracial adoption paradox. Growing up, they experience many of the privileges that come with Whiteness because of their adoptive parents. When they then enter the school system or move out of the family home to live independently as adults later in life, they’re confronted with the reality of being perceived and treated as a racial minority. Not so subtle is the experience of white students putting their pencils in the hair of a Black student and marveling at the way the texture makes them stay in place.

When adoption agencies take on a color-evasive approach with hopeful prospective adoptive parents, they signal to these white parents that race does not need to be a significant factor in their decision-making. Then, by extension, it is no surprise that these adoptive parents might not think that the race of their adoptees is a significant factor in raising their child. Often these parents naively hope their support will make up for racial difference, even when they acknowledge there are challenges in raising a child of a different race.

From a transracial adoptee – “I believe that a lot of people think that adoption is this beautiful, magical, straightforward process. And also when they think of adoption, that they are centering around this “White savior” image and focusing on adoptive parents more than adoptees. And/or birth, biological parents — those two seem to get left out of the narrative a lot. I also believe that adoption from a birth mother, birth parent perspective can be very intense, very complex, very emotional. And I believe that we need to lean in and listen to adoptees and birth parents more.”

Today, many adoptees have their DNA tested, either at Ancestry or 23 and Me. For an adoptee that was raised white, it can be an amazing experience to discover their father is Black and see somebody that looks like them, finally a true racial mirror. One mixed race adoptee notes – “I think a lot of White people think that they have a good handle on race … and have what they would call a ‘colorblind’ kind of mentality. But I don’t think they understand that when you say the word ‘colorblind,’ what I hear is ‘I see you as White’.”

Another transracial adoptee suggests – “I think first acknowledging that your child is not White is, like, a huge step for a lot of White adoptive parents is to, like, see outside. Because a lot of parents see their child as, this is just your kid. They don’t see them in racialized terms. But in seeing them in that colorblind way, you are not protecting them. You are not preparing them to grow up and be an adult.”

Adoption is a trauma. Every adoptee has a different response to their trauma. Often it takes therapy to understand what was experienced as a pre-verbal infant and more importantly, how it continues affecting the adult adoptee. Therapy can help an adoptee get over feeling defective simply because they were given up for adoption. It can require learning that babies are placed for adoption for a number of reasons and that none of those reasons have to do with the baby or the value of that baby regardless of their skin color. The adoptee, not the adoptive parents, needs to be the center of their own life and story. Much of the narrative around adoption centers on the adoptive parents and frames their actions as selflessness and saving a child.

One Black adoptee admits –  I longed, and continue to long, to understand why I needed to be adopted, why I needed to be shipped across the country, why I couldn’t stay in the South, why I couldn’t stay with Black families, why I couldn’t have stayed with at least my biological extended family.” And though I am white and my mother was white too, this is a universal need in adoptees. My mom’s genetic, biological family was in the rural South and she was taken by train from Memphis to Nogales Arizona by her adoptive mother. For a long time, my mother believed she had been born in Memphis, a belief her adoptive mother was also led to believe by Georgia Tann, until birth certificate alterations made clear my mom had been born in Virginia which just made my mom believe she must have been stolen from her mother because things like that happened with Georgia Tann’s adoption practices.

Sadly, the saviorism of white adoptive parents is just so prevalent. Unfortunately, there is a deep-seated belief that white people can take care of Black people better. I have been learning a lot about this in overall society by reading White Tears/Brown Scars by Ruby Hamad.

I end today’s blog back where I started with the issue of colorblindness – Why is the colorblind narrative popular? The Medium piece notes – it is easier to identify as colorblind than acknowledge differences that make us uncomfortable. This is easier for people to handle, especially in schools where we may lack the information and guidance to have difficult conversations about race. Another reason is simply not knowing…you don’t know what you don’t know. Many people also repeat what they’ve been taught and fail to reflect or question those beliefs. In the end, we don’t realize how harmful the myth of colorblindness can be.

Adoption is a challenging situation regardless – add in racial differences and it becomes doubly so. It takes courage and practice to shift from a colorblind to a color BRAVE ideology.

A Huge Disappointment

The author of this book has completed Day 1 of a 2 Day conference on trauma. His book had previously been recommended in my all things adoption (which includes foster care) group. It is impossible to accurately convey how disappointed those who view the first day’s live event are with this man’s perspectives. I just signed up for free as there is still Day 2 to go this day and then, there are supposed to be recordings, if one misses the live event. Here is the link – The Body Keeps Score.

From the registration site –

Dr Bessel van der Kolk presents his signature presentation on treating the imprints of trauma on the body, mind, and soul.

He claims – “I’m presenting this training to serve as both a guide and an invitation—an invitation to dedicate ourselves to facing the reality of trauma, to explore how best to treat it, and to commit ourselves, as a society, to using every means we have to prevent it.”

Dr van der Kolk shows you how to apply proven methods and approaches like neurofeedback, EMDR, meditation, yoga, mindfulness, and sensory integration in your clinical practice — so you can experience the satisfaction of helping even your toughest client heal from deep-rooted trauma.

Some comments from my all things adoption group after watching Day 1 –

There were some horrific comments about foster children being dangerous and difficult and burning houses down. Not as specific cases. Foster children in general.

Of the 8 or so hours, I can probably boil the helpful info down to about 3 sentences and none of them are new.

Assumptions that all adopters are very nice and that any problems with adoption trauma must be due to the first mom drinking during pregnancy. I’m exaggerating. But not by much.

He also said that combat veterans with PTSD don’t benefit from Prozac because they’re too invested in blaming PTSD for all their problems. He also claimed that Prozac always works for everyone who isn’t a combat veteran.

Therapists are victims and powerless, that DSM is “a piece of sh*t”.

He also thinks everyone should take tango lessons and that it would solve their trauma better than therapy.

I hope people only ever access his works thru pirating and only to laugh at him and that his empire crumbles under his feet.

Let me guess he said adoption trauma isn’t real lol Most people think that children when adopted are clean slates, and our minds and bodies can just start over but that’s not even true, even for babies.

He spent AGES showing a video and talking about how traumatic it was for a non adopted child to be away from his mom for a day or two while younger sibling was being born. But oh gosh if it’s adoption, then adopters are very nice people and are absolute saints for putting up with difficult adopted children.

A lot of people are just uneducated and adoption trauma doesn’t exist to a lot of the world.

He also made a comment that assumed all foster children are correctly and justly taken from their families because they’ve all been abused by their first families.

A questioner asked should I skip reading the book ? The answer was – the book itself is great. Just not the adoption aspect, but overall.. worth a read!

His bigotry made me unwilling to financially support his business.

As an adoptee my response to him is: how f***ing dare you assume all adoptees are difficult and dangerous and all adopters are saintly and amazing for putting up with us ? How dare you, you overprivileged white man, one who feels entitled to say that colonizing wasn’t that bad and China is a miserable place to be ?

He is drunk on his own power and has no capacity for critically thinking through his bigoted views.

I have read the book. The book is not all about adoption, in fact, if I was describing the book I wouldn’t even discuss that part. It is about the bodies physiological, neurological and biological response is trauma. It is a very important way of understanding regarding why people respond they way they do. It’s been a while since I read it but I’m sure there are some generalized and probably offensive statements for adoptees but overall it’s extremely helpful in understanding how trauma effects all the multiple systems of the body.

I was told flat out by a Guardian ad Litem that my children needing glasses was due to my drug use during pregnancy. Never mind the fact that I’ve never had a drug problem, never failed a drug test and was drug tested during, before and after my pregnancy… Couldn’t be that every member of mine and my husband’s family needs glasses and sometimes children just have vision problems. It must be drug use (meant sarcastically).

Keep in mind that over 50% of psychological research cannot be replicated. (Over 50% actually according to a top scientific journal – Nature magazine.) While therapists can be beneficial, there are a lot of quacks who present as authorities in the field. Some of the most well-known people in the field can be the most problematic such that their work cannot be replicated, but they ride the coat tails of their notoriety and most people don’t know how to keep them accountable.

Just a note, that 50% number is not quite accurate and most of the psychology quacks aren’t the ones actually doing research. There have been a lot of critiques of that article since, including the kinds of studies they chose to try to replicate and the conditions under which they claimed replication failed. I’m not saying it isn’t a problem, but that article almost certainly overstated it.

I’m a PhD in psychology. We have a giant problem with public communication of our science.

Someone suggested the book – The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Nadine Burke Harris MD. From a review at NIH website – Hans Selye, a Hungarian-born physician, developed the concept of the General Adaptation Syndrome as the first neurohormonal model of physiologic stress implicating pituitary and adrenal function in the etiology of many chronic diseases, and the associated sickly appearance of those suffering. claimed the physiologic life is fundamentally a process of adaptation to the totality of one’s experience, with real health and happiness being the successful adjustment or adaptation to those ever-changing conditions. Failure to adapt to the stress burden resulted in disease and unhappiness. In 1985, Vincent Felitti, MD, Chief of Preventive Medicine at Southern California Permanente Medical Group, San Diego, added mightily to Selye’s work with his findings of the profound, destructive, multi-organ system consequences of adverse childhood experiences. Nadine Burke Harris, MD, discovered Felitti’s pioneering work later, yet immediately understood the potential power of its lessons if implemented in her pediatric practice. She describes well her newfound understanding of the pathogenesis of ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and the excitement of potential, effective therapeutic interventions. The Deepest Well is the story of how Burke Harris transformed herself into a champion persuader of truths difficult for others to hear, and a better clinician.

Bessel van der Kolk was booted by The Trauma Center (which he helped establish) because of his issues. The Boston Globe from March 7 2018 – Allegations of employee mistreatment roil renowned Brookline trauma center.

This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest (I’ve met Bessel before and my old boss worked under him at the Boston Trauma Center when he was in charge… he went down with Me Too NOT because he’s a sexual predator, but because he’s such an a**hole that he got more or less ousted from the PTSD community). It’s really a shame because his work is SO important and good and foundational in the complex PTSD world but he’s such a horrible person it overshadows it a lot of the time. I didn’t realize his what views were re: adoption etc, but I did know his insane levels of narcissism and his general tendency to bully.

Another one says, I met him at an International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies conference as well, in 2012 or 2013, I remember him being rude, though I had no idea he had any specific views about adoption in particular.

I’m so very disappointed to hear this. I read his book and it was so very eye opening for me. His work seems so foundational to the study of the affect of trauma on people. It is so very disappointing and even more frustrating.

Guardianship is a Better Plan

In my all things adoption group which includes foster care issues, the preference is for guardianship rather than adoption to preserve the identity and original family details for the child involved. In some states, it is an uphill battle to have such a situation considered a permanent forever home because it is still a relatively new perspective for reforming adoption.

Today’s story –

In trying to explain to the post-Termination of Parental Rights child we are foster care givers for, that we want to give him the security of a “forever home” without the identity fracture that adoption can bring, we are failing. Though he is not at the age of consent, he is plenty old enough to have several friends who have been adopted as older children from foster care, and he really wants to be “adopted.” Having been through so many foster placements and told so many times that people “didn’t want to adopt him”, the fact that we do (or did until we discovered this better way) has been a big thing for him. We can’t seem to find a way to communicate that we want him to have everything he thinks adoption is, without changing his birth certificate, etc. He is protesting that we can adopt him but not change his name at all (which was always the plan – and, yes, that is true). I’m really stressed about doing this right, and honestly every therapist we have spoken to can’t seem to understand why adoption might not be best.

The Dept of Health and Human Services seems to be willing to work with us either way (adoption or legal guardianship) but the caseworker is also having a hard time understanding how this is better for him- and I worry she is thinking we are having second thoughts in terms of our commitment to him – which is NOT the case.

I admit, I’m scared of losing him back to the system, if we mess too much with the permanency agenda. He was in some truly horrible homes and my heart breaks thinking about him ever being vulnerable to that again. Extended family doesn’t want to get involved right, now though we are determined to keep the communication open, and want to go the legal guardianship route, in case they ever are ready to be more active.

How do we communicate all of this, in a way that doesn’t hurt, because so far it’s clear we are hurting him and he doesn’t understand because of my failure to communicate it! Another thing that is bothering him is that he considers our biological children to be his siblings and he wants them to be his “real siblings” , and he thinks we need to adopt him to make that real. He is so beautifully clear that we are NOT mom and dad – he has those already – but I think because our biological children are so much younger and he’s seen them from birth and onward, so that he really has a sense of being their big brother.

Some thoughts about this situation –

Everyone’s experience is different. My husband is a Former Foster Care Youth who aged out of the system. He always wanted to be adopted because that was his validation that he was *wanted*. The family he mainly grew up with finally adopted him at age 25 but he still keeps his original name. His birth certificate hasn’t changed. Maybe that can be an option? He is adopted but keeps his name and if his biological family comes forward, he can still have a relationship with them as well.

Also this – There’s nothing stopping you from letting him have a relationship even if he is “adopted”. You also need to explain to him what adoption means to you. Family is not a piece of paper, it is the people that take care of you, and his siblings are his siblings now. Maybe explain that he already is family and in your mind he is adopted ?

You can do other things to make him feel like he has a permanent placement with you, as you work through the pros and cons of the adoption conversation.

The child is in the 8-10 age range and so, these ideas were suggested –

1) have a sit down in which you express to him how much he means to you and how your meaning of family won’t be impacted by legality or adoption. A written letter or something to that extent would be nice, and having your biological children (if they feel similar to you, which I hope they do) also write letters to express to him that he’s their brother !

2) Give him a goal age for adoption, so like if he still wants to be adopted at age 16 or whatever feels right.

3) look up legal benefits to waiting to adopt (like for where I live, if you wait until after age 14 you get all sorts of government assistance with schooling etc, that you don’t get if you’re adopted before age 14, even if you’re in the system for years like I was) to let him know the pros and cons of that

4) do things that FEEL permanent for him (if you haven’t already). Let him paint his bedroom walls whatever color he wants. Pick out some furniture. Make things “his”. That will greatly help his sense of agency in this situation. Talk about the future a lot, in specific detail. This is what middle school you’ll go to. When you’re x age your bedtime goes to x time. Next summer we should do x activities. Etc. Just make him feel heard and like you’re not ignoring what he wants entirely, you’re just wanting to make sure it’s the best thing for HIM, since it’s such a permanent decision

From a Former Foster Care Youth – I was a teen in foster care and adoption never even occurred to me BUT I aged out and was all alone. It was really scary and I would have given anything to have had someone who was ‘mine’ to go back to when I needed it. Instead I got into a lot of unhealthy relationships looking for a parent figure. Please sit down and explain adoption to him. The permanency of it and that you will forever belong to him but it means that his past will be erased. And that the birth certificate will look as though he was born to you, even if not true. And that it will legally sever the relationship with his siblings and biological family. Then explain guardianship and the pros and cons of it. Please be candid and honest about all of it. Ask him what he wants. But honestly… only do this if you actually will be ‘his’… even when he goes through the toughest part of his teens and tries hard to push you away in any and all ways possible. Because he will. As a much older adult now, I’m glad that I still have some connections to my family. It’s complicated but… it’s mine.

Plus this sad story – I stopped wanting to be adopted at around 6ish. The thought of losing my “real’ family” was not an option for me, even that young. Even if I did not really know them. Instead I went thru 75 placements in 20 years. As a former foster care youth, I wish I had been more open to being adopted. I aged out and had to deal with the reality of life on my own. I wish I had someone to fall back on and made some really bad choices, including some that ultimately cost me several of my own children.

And here is a downside to guardianship – Your biological children are your next of kin, and with permanent guardianship he is not. They have automatic inheritance rights and he would not. If you and your husband die, your children will go to family or whomever you have dictated, but guardianship ends upon death, so he would go back into the same foster system he was in previously. Some of these issues can be addressed through estate planning but some can’t so long as he is a minor.

Regarding the above perspective – here’s experience

I am a former foster care youth (that was kinship adopted) and I am also an adoptive parent. I try to tread lightly, so my adoptive parent voice does not out run my former foster care youth experience. I was 9 years old when my grandparents became my sole caretaker and 10 before they got guardianship. They both battled health issues, and it became abundantly clear that there needed to be a “permanent legal bond” or things could go terribly wrong, which would put me back in foster care. I was legally adopted at age 11, after requesting it. I would have been devastated, if they refused. It would have been yet another rejection.

What Do You Expect ?

A comment was shared that read – “I would love to know what you expect for people who don’t want their child to do ? Trash can or abortion ?”

One reply – As an answer to “what would you expect…?” I would simply say that I expect any woman who is choosing to continue a pregnancy would be offered resources FIRST to ensure she feels capable and supported in the “default” choice to parent. If an expectant mom (and dad, if he’s in the picture/available/found) truly and genuinely refuses/chooses not to parent – then options can be explored, starting with the least traumatic. I expect good humans to not take advantage of someone else’s hardship, or encourage/manipulate an expectant parent to permanently separate from their child due to lack of resources.

Another reply – The separation of mother and child at infancy changes how your brain is hardwired because the child is put into a fight or flight mode and grows knowing that as it’s baseline of emotion for life. So yes, literally a lifetime of trauma. I am a functioning adult in spite of the trauma of being handed to strangers at 5 days old.  The trauma can be managed. I think you can learn to coexist with it. But I don’t think it ever heals and goes away. It’s always there.

Another – I’d remind the poster that the number of babies that are found in dumpsters / trash cans are few and a unique situation. Let’s focus on vulnerable young girls/women who seek an adoption agency due to many reasons – mostly resources and money – creating fear and panic. This is the primary reason mothers and newborns are separated. It is money / profit focused (agency & attorneys) swooping in to “help” the expectant mom see how worthless she is and how magnificent the 30-40 COUPLES competing for her baby are!!!!

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.

Curiosity

From an adoptee – My son recently asked to talk to my birth mother and I’m not sure how I feel about this. I don’t plan on ever having them meet, but we’ve been talking a lot about how I didn’t grow in Grammys belly and that I grew in somebody else’s belly, and I think he’s curious. I’m not sure why he wants to talk to her. I think part of me doesn’t want to hurt my adoptive parent’s feelings, and part of it is that I don’t want him to be made to feel the way I feel or felt (abandonment issues).

NPR has an article about whether curiosity is a positive or negative feeling. Curiosity is a complex emotion. Is it a painful reminder of what we don’t (yet) know ? The object of curiosity’s desire is information. Surprisingly, one of the factors that affects the balance of negative and positive is time. Curiosity arises when a person notices a gap in her knowledge. The gap induces a feeling of deficiency, which in turn motivates her to fill the gap. Curiosity comes in two flavors: deprivation — a strong but unsatisfied need to know — and interest — information-seeking that’s motivated by anticipated pleasure. When our curiosity will not be satisfied anytime soon, we focus on not knowing, on the information gap itself, and this is largely negative.

One commenter to the original post told this story of her experience. My children, 6 and 8, met my birth father’s family this summer. Long story, but they didn’t know about me and we connected via Ancestry after my birth father passed away. I met him many years ago, but he didn’t want a relationship and kept me a secret from his family. I had to explain a lot of very complicated things to my children in an age-appropriate way when we all met, but I felt strongly that they needed to know their family and learn about their grandpa they never got to meet. It was heartbreaking at times, honestly – “we had a grandpa that we never got to meet? Why didn’t he want to meet us?”

Learning about my parents origins (both were adopted) was like this for me. My grandparents were all deceased, so I will never get to know them. In my case, I was heartened however to learn that for 3 out of 4 of my grandparents, they were aware of my parents existence. Of course, their mother were but they also told their own families as did one grandfather. My parents were not secrets in these lives. However, one of my grandfathers never knew about my dad’s existence. I’ve been a bit of a surprise to his Danish and immigrant extended families as they didn’t know he ever had any children. From what I know, my dad was so much like him, they would have been marvelous fishing buddies – the pity of it all. For me, it has been interesting to know that my biological grandparents were people with lives that were taking place, while our lives were completely unknown to them or for that matter, their lives were never known to us either.

I appreciated this suggestion regarding how this woman might talk to her son about the mother’s biological mother – “I grew in her belly and not Grammy’s belly. That is a little confusing, not just for you but also for me, too. You’ve said you want to talk to her, but that feels confusing to me because I love Grammy very much and love you very much. Can you explain why you would like to talk to her? What would you like to say? Would you like to ask her questions? Could we write a letter to her with everything you want to say, and we can save it for later?” Including an interesting theory – if he’s as young as I’m imagining, his questions are likely a reflection of worries or concerns or interest for himself, not you. So he might be wondering why HE didn’t get to grow in someone else’s belly, like you did, and why he doesn’t have a biological mom. He might feel left out because you’re mom, so you’re normal for him, and not being adopted is abnormal in his little world.

I also totally get the truth of this comment (as the child of adoptee parents) – No one should pretend the adoption only affects the adoptee and not her/his children.

There is a complication – the original poster has a minimal relationship with her biological mother on Facebook. She does have major abandonment issues and her biological mother saying once – that she couldn’t wait to have grandchildren but then she said, “not your kids, your sisters.” She goes on to say, I’m certain she was just trying to protect her heart and possibly prevent losing me because of my adoptive parents. Such situations are so very complex and it isn’t always clear what the motivation for some casual remark was.

Her son said that he just wants to tell her that he likes peanut butter and jelly. One practical and realistic suggestion was – send her a one-sentence text or FB messenger message saying, “[Son who is 6 yrs old] asked about you and wanted to tell you that he likes peanut butter and jelly.” Maybe don’t tell him you’re doing this. See if/how she responds. See how you feel about her response or lack of response. And then decide what to do from there.

One woman shared her own complicated adoption situation and then suggested – I think you should be honest with your son (in an age-appropriate way) about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, in part so he knows he’s not wrong for having natural curiosity about or wanting a relationship with his biological grandparents.

Another story from experience – My daughter (12 years old at the time) decided to do a DNA test to find the “rest of her heritage.” I already knew of my biological mom and didn’t like her, but I allowed it. I thought she’d get some pie chart about her cultural background. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine she’d find my biological dad. I’m glad she did because it filled in a lot of gaps. But at the same time, I now have a lot more issues due to secondary rejection. Even so, I don’t regret it. It’s her history just as much as mine. It just sucks how badly it affects me. I’ll be fine though as I’m learning how to cope through therapy.

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).