A Rare Opportunity

Adoption

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to do something most adoptive parents never get to do: I went to my kids’ foster home. For a year and half, BE and BC lived with the L family, not too far from where we live now. We’ve been fortunate enough to keep in touch with the Ls all these years, and one of the kids’ foster sisters recently invited us to a birthday party for her 1-year-old daughter.

I was ecstatic to see where the kids lived and I took a lot of photos of the house and the rooms. I did take photos of the kids with their four foster sisters and foster parents too.

I was fascinated by the people who were at the party. A good number of guests were former foster children themselves, now grown up with children of their own. The L family has been doing foster care for more than 20 years, and CL, the foster mother, estimates that she has had more than 100 foster children. I would love to interview her for this blog someday – the whole family is so unique that I just want to capture their perspective on family and life in general. Hopefully I’ll have a post on this in the future.

There were so many emotional moments for me during the party. I just felt so thankful that my kids had such a great family to take care of them. CL and I got emotional as she remembered rocking and feeding Brendan – she was pretty much his first mother. We’re so fortunate that we’re still in touch with the Ls and that the kids have such a large family of people who love them (including members of their first family of course).

fosterfamily

BC and his foster dad

Foster Care is Like Chemotherapy

Adoption

I recently met someone who works to help former prisoners re-integrate into society. I asked her what she would change to improve the system. In response, she talked about the need to provide basic things for young children, such as food, housing, and education. I’ve been interested in the importance of keeping young children with their families as often as possible, so I was excited to see how two different causes – recidivism and reducing foster care rates – could be similar. 

In July, Michigan Radio, an NPR station, ran a story about the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, which has been operating in Detroit’s Osborn neighborhood for several years. Apparently, the neighborhood has an incredibly high rate of child removal. Although the focus is on Osborn, the Center also serves families throughout Wayne County. The Center provides free legal and social work help in order to keep kids out of foster care. It receives referrals from the Department of Human Services when a child is unsafe because of some unresolved legal issue.

Vivek Sankaran, the Center’s founder explained: “In all the cases we deal with, there’s no doubt that the parent loves for and is providing proper care for the child. But there is sort of a third party that may be interfering with the parents’ ability to provide care for that child.”

Since the Center opened in 2009, none of the children it served entered foster care. And of those already in foster care, 95 percent were adopted or reunified with a family member.

In an attempt to explain the reality of being in foster care, the article’s author wrote, “Sankaren compares foster care to chemotherapy. It’s there for very serious cases when you need it, but it has drastic side effects.”

I really like this comparison because it’s shocking enough to draw attention and succinct enough to be memorable. Plus, I think it’s accurate.

It would be great to see more programs like this, and apparently, other states are looking into it.

Foster Fridays: Don’t We Look Alike

Adoption

Don’t We Look Alike, a mother/daughter blog on adoption, has introduced “Foster Fridays,” a weekly feature focusing on foster care. I’m the guest blogger for the week, so head on over and check it out!

A First Family Visit

Adoption

About a week ago, we had visit with a member of the kids’ first family, one that they hadn’t seen in years. The kids experienced some anxiety about it, both before and after our visit. Afterwards, we had a debrief about expectations and how things aren’t always exactly as we remember them. The kids are still too young to really express their feelings, but I believe that overall, the visit was beneficial. There are certain members of their family that I want to maintain contact with, because I think the kids need to know people they are biologically related to. They need to understand that both of their families can co-exist peacefully. I’m not sure what our relationship with this family member will look like going forward, but I do know that we’ll continue to explore the possibilities.

The visit was difficult for me too, but in different ways of course. During our debrief, I imagined the conversation that we’ll have when the kids are adults and they’ve found their first parents. The experience of expectations clashing with fact and memories differing widely from reality will undoubtedly be there. Maybe the experience will be more intense because it will involve their parents. Or maybe it will be easier to talk through, because as adults, they’ll be better able to express their feelings. It’s hard to imagine how it will all play out.

Apparently, several people at our visit commented that BC looks just like his father. Lately, I’ve been tricked into forgetting that my kids actually would look like their parents. This is because I’m fortunate to hear often that my kids really do look like me. I almost forgot that they really would look like their parents, more than they resemble me. It’s hard for me to admit it (and I certainly never would to the kids), but I have mixed emotions about their parents. On one hand, I respect them for being my children’s parents and I sympathize with them for making mistakes – after all, who doesn’t? But, it’s hard to forget that their mistakes hurt our kids, and other people as well.

Foster Care and Broken Adoptions

Adoption

I recently read this four-part series about broken adoptions in the U.S. foster care system. The article explains that in 1996, Congress passed the national Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). The act was meant to address problems in the foster care system, including children who were moved from one foster home to another. However, the Act had unintended consequences, encouraging quick adoptions at any cost. According to the author, states now receive bonuses of between $4,000 and $12,000 for each adoption finalized. The article goes on to explore the problem and potential solutions.

In part two, the author writes about a paper published in the Capital University Law Review, which I think offers a good solution. The author explains:

“In their report, they suggest that the creation of a national system of child welfare that pays bonuses to states not for adoptions, but for better outcomes and more stable homes, might do a better job of creating those life-long relationships that experts say are so important for the well-being of young people as they grow into adulthood.”

What do you see as the problems with foster care adoption, and what can be done to fix it?

Promising Babies in Six to Nine Months

Adoption

In a recent report, NPR explored how the Internet is changing adoption. The reporter interviewed a prospective adoptive couple, a traditional agency, and a non-profit to learn more about this trend. Apparently online agencies are often unlicensed and make improbable claims such as the one mentioned in the title of this post. The report clearly makes the claim that online agencies are a big problem. But, it’s obvious that online agencies aren’t the only problem.

In my opinion, the whole system is an issue. For example, the commoditization of babies doesn’t help. The prospective parents that were interviewed began to seek a birth mother online after they learned that their wait through a traditional agency would be longer than three years.  Here’s how they described their efforts to become parents:”Essentially, we’re just putting together this marketing campaign to sell ourselves to a birth parent.”

Of course, traditional agencies aren’t  innocent in this commoditization earlier. The report described one traditional agency this way: “the brick-and-mortar agency in Maryland that’s lost business to Internet providers.” Why is adoption considered a business?

I think that many people choose a baby over an older child due to their fears about the “issues” that older children supposedly bring with them. In a previous post, “The Future of Adoption,” I wrote that I think adoption can be changed (in part) by dispelling people’s fears about the unknown and the different. If you’ve never consider foster care, or adopting through foster care, please check out this “Debunking the Myth” document that shares some of the facts about foster care.

On-campus Resources for Foster Children

Adoption

Michigan continues to make big improvements in the state’s foster care system, and the latest one involves college. Michigan Radio recently reported that The Michigan Department of Human Services has given out seven grants to local universities. The grants will be used to pay on-campus coaches who will work with students from the foster care system.

“These students all have experienced various things coming through the foster care system, and when they walk onto college campuses, we wanted them to have the kinds of supports that other children might have,” said Director of Children’s Services Steve Yaeger.

The next step after high school – usually college or work – can be daunting and it’s hard for many of us to imagine going through it without the support of our families. I’m glad to see that the state is making an effort to put former foster children on somewhat equal footing.

Extending the Adoption Tax Credit

Adoption

I love the New York Times, and I was excited to recently see an article in the publication about the adoption tax credit. The paper’s “Room for Debate” section asked five people to answer the question, “should the adoption tax credit be renewed?”

Becky Fawcett, the co-founder and executive director of helpusadopt.org, advocated for the tax credit because, “the average adoption costs $30,000, and many families simply can’t afford that without help.” I couldn’t help but feel angry after I read Becky’s post. Why is money such a factor in adoption? Why should babies be bought and sold? And why are some babies worth more than others? Anyone who knows me won’t be surprised at my solution: foster care. There are thousands of children in foster care who truly need families and the cost of adopting these children is negligible. Visit your state’s adoption resource exchange and see if you don’t feel the desire to add to your family.

Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, a birth mother and blogger at Musings of the Lame, explained why birth mothers should receive a tax credit: “the current credit is a form of parental discrimination based on class and economics.” I tend to agree with Claudia and feel that families should be kept together if at all possible. If you agree, consider visiting the Adoptee Rights Coalition Web site to find out how you can help. (Claudia is an organizer with the Adoptee Rights Coalition).

Joe Kroll of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), argued that the tax credit should be refundable because it “would ensure that more families of modest means can provide homes to vulnerable children.” Naturally, I agree that support should be given to those who adopt children through foster care, since these children tend to be the most vulnerable. If you’re unable to adopt or become a foster parent, consider making a donation to the NACAC.

Kevin Ost-Vollmers, a Korean adoptee, wrote that including international adoption in the tax credit hurts families because “the international adoption market is still questionable. Help keep foreign families together, and provide aid to troubled adoptees.” Kevin’s solution is to divert money spent on international adoptions to support families in those countries. He references the Korean Unwed Mothers Families’ Association as an example of an organization engaged in this work. I certainly support keeping families together and agree with Kevin on this.

Finally, Jessenia Arias, a blogger at The Not So Secret Life of an Adoptee supports the tax credit because “foster children deserve a place to call home, but the high cost of adoption deters many families. The adoption tax credit is one of the most important resources for them.” I agree with Jessenia that foster children deserve a place to call home, but as I’ve mentioned before, the cost of foster care adoption is very low. It’s usually providing for these kids’ special needs that is expensive. So, while I agree that adoptive parents (through foster care) need financial support, I differ with Jessenia on the reasons.

When I started this new series, the Future of Adoption, I questioned whether or not I wanted to go through with it, simply because it seems impossible to change the system. So, I decided to start with small steps. If you’re interested in this too, please consider following one (or more) of my suggested “action items” above. And if you have your own suggestions, please share them in the comments.

Savior or Saved?

Adoption

Most adoptive parents I know hate it when other people treat them like a hero, simply for becoming parents through adoption. We strongly dislike the implication that we “saved” our kids. That’s why a new advertisement designed to recruit foster parents in Detroit caught my attention.

My kids were adopted through foster care, so clearly I support foster parents. This campaign is meant to attract foster parents who are local, so that kids can stay close to the neighborhoods that they’re used to. I strongly support this idea as well, because it’s clearly in the kids’ best interest.

However, I take issue with the phrasing of the ad. It says, “I save neighborhood kids. I’m a foster parent.” The last thing adoptive and foster parents would ever say is that they “saved” anyone. In fact, many of us are more likely to say that our kids saved us. Have you seen this ad? What do you think?

Adopting Older Children in Southeast Michigan

Adoption

Metro Parent is a popular monthly parenting magazine in the Detroit area and we recently did an interview with the publication about older child adoption. Check it out!