Friday, May 05, 2006

To adopt or not adopt?

Lionmom has a recent post about adopting S. She asks for input, discussion. I decided to share my thoughts about adopting some teenagers.

I take kids who have already decided, with their social worker, that they will not pursue adoption. That relieves me of the tension that Lionmom is experiencing. Each of my boys have been in different places. Carl was placed into orivate foster care by his mother and was never a ward of that state (that no longer happens). We think about doing an adult adoption some day, but while he was with it not adopting him always felt right. I think for him it meant that he could love me without feeling like I was trying to replace his real mom (who, you may remember died when he was 14).

David had been put up as Wednesday's Child twice. The first time he and his brothers were nearly adopted. The second time he insisted that his younger brothers be put up without him because, he said, there was no way they would be adopted if they were saddled with a 15-year-old gay brother. His brothers found an adoption placement (which failed), and when he was not adopted he went into the permanency foster care program.

Evan was 17, his mother went to prison, and is simply not available for adoption. I have spoken to his mother once on the phone and she thanked me for taking care of her son. I think she really appreciates that Evan refers to me as his aunt.

So that's why I never have to think about it.

Here is why I am happy doing foster care without adopting.

First, Lionmom says, there is the money. We don't like mentioning that because there is the stigma of people who supposedly "do it for the money." (I am going to write a post on that issue soon, but will try not to get distracted here). I try to explain to people that I get reimbursed for expenses, I do not get paid. When we don't have a foster kid in the house we have less money coming in, but also have fewer expenses. There is not a significant difference in our life style.

But what if I had Evan and did not have the financial support? Well, our monthly budget would have been tighter, but we would have been okay. When he reported his addiction he would have been able to go to a local detox and then our insurance would have paid for an outpatient program: no flying to LA for a fantastic, small, safe 60-day residential program. No one would have found a lesbian counselor who specializes rehab counseling for families. Certainly we could not afford for both he and I to be going weekly for as long as we expressed the need to do so.

Each of the boys at one point or other the boys have needed services which I could not afford even if I could find them.

And then there is the emotional support. I don't seem to do need it as much as I used to, but with the first two boys I had days where I needed to talk to social workers...over and over again.

There is a third issue that has not been a factor for me, but I have seen in it kids like E. & Ann. Both of these girls have reactive attachment disorder.

I don't know E's history, but I know Ann's. Her first four years are filled with stories...she was the victim of the most severe sorts of abuse. She was witness to bloody, life-threatening violence between people who should have been caring for her. She was a coerced member of a nearly-successful family suicide attempt. I have read a lot of files, hers is the one that most makes me want to throw up, curl in a ball, and curse God for allowing this world to continue.

Ann is unadoptable. For some reason the state keeps putting her back up for adoption. Since she is in so many ways a wonderful, very bright child who initially seems charming she keeps getting placed. But being loved or feeling love makes panic alarms go off in her head. When my friend "Mandy" tried to adopt her when she was seven she at one point grabbed the steering wheel of the car while they were on the freeway. When they talked about it when she got older her behavior escalated to dangerous levels again. In the past couple of years she has been placed in at least two different adoption placements. The last one that I heard about lasted six weeks.

I am convinced that what Ann needs is to be put back in the permenancy program forw hich I work. She needs to be allowed to decide that she will not be adopted, that she can be accepted just as she is and not be asked to feel more love and trust that she is ready to feel.

We want to believe that adopting the children will make them feel safe. Now, finally, they will believe we are here forever. They will relax. Except that there are stories like E. E threatened suicide if she was sent back to her adoptive parents. The adoptive parents were pressured into terminating the adoption and when they agreed E announced that she knew they never loved her. If they had they would have fought harder.

But fighting harder does not always work either. Claudia and Bart's recent experiences give testimony to that. (See "Never a Dull Moment" and "A Whole New World" on the blog roll).

Dear God, how do we parent kids like Ann, and E., and Claudia and Bart's oldest? Do we offer them security, but hold them lightly. Do we say, "I will always love you and will always be in my heart, but I will not try to tie you to me. I know that will make you feel panic." Or do we take that legal step, promise forever, cut ourself off from support and commit to legal ties? Will that make the child feel safe or feel caged?

I feel like I should not post this. Surely Lionmom could use more encouraging stories than this. I do so hope she gets them.

Letter to Lionmom: I am NOT trying to convince you one way or the other, really. I just have this peculiar place in the system. Given the kind of care I do, I see the failed adoptions. I know how difficult this decision is.


  1. I'm not bothered by what you wrote. As is often the case these days, I could have written it as well.

    S has Reactive Attachment Disorder. Our first years together were spent with her constantly mommy shopping and pushing us away. Often violently. We knew then that it was not the time to adopt her. For people not living in the crazy world of RAD, that probably sounds worng - a child has attachment issues, then adopt them and make them feel safe. But kids with RAD need to feel like they are in charge. And getting them to bond with you at all is like torture for them. So, adoption often sets up a power dynamic where they feel they must make it fail to survive.

    I won't get into RAD 101 here beyond that. It really makes little sense unless you have lived it.

    Thank you, Beth, for articulating it objectively.

  2. The girls are wards of the court and I am their legal guardian. I had the choice beween fostering them or guardianship.

    Since I'm also great-granny, the guardianship makes more sense even though the stipend is considerable less.

    There's far less interference and their medical care and their school lunches are paid. The thinking of the court is that I am required to care for them - not finance the care (although of course we do). I know they won't be moved without a court hearing as opposed to foster care which sometimes depends on the whim of a social worker here.

    I could adopt them easily enough and in CA there is money available for the legal costs and a stipend in some cases. I don't know the details but it does happen. I haven't done it because it's such a final step and I'm trying to leave the door open in case some miracle occurs.

    It's not a perfect solution but it seems to be working.

    Sorry - this stopped being a comment and became its own post on someone else's blog.


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