Friday, July 25, 2008

Conversation on Photolistings Continues

Two comments I want to share. One is from Janine in Australia:

As I mentioned in Torina's blog comments, here in Australia there are no photolistings. To 'entice' permanent carers we have occasional media efforts featuring a 'poster child' which is usually followed by a rush of interested callers, who are directed to information sessions, and then onto training (with lots dropping off along the way, of course). Again, I don't know how successful we are at placing older or special needs kids compared to you in the States, so how do we know if these photolistings are really needed?
I have no answer for this. In some, perhaps most, places the photolistings are out of date and incomplete. That would bother me not at all if there were an efficient and more private system for matching potential carers and and adopters with children. If the photolistings are the main way that people who can provide traumatized children with homes get connected to those children, then the fact that they are not current means they fail to meet the only criteria that justifies their existence.

I think it is good for US citizens to become aware of how things are done elsewhere. We tend to think that our way is the best way, or certainly the only feasible way, without even knowing what is done elsewhere. Imagine though a country in which there is no private adoption at all, in which every mother who is considering placing meets with a social worker whose job it is to help her get resources so that she can parent her child. Adoption exists as an option, but promoting it is no body's agenda. [update: See Sassy's comments below for more information on Adoption in Australia.] [Also note: if it didn't make Sassy's comments irrelevant, which is rude, I would probably delet the second part of this paragraph. The issues in infant placement overlap but are not the same as the ones in child protection.]

Of course, as we talk about the lack of resources for private matching, or keeping the photolistings updated, I will want to talk about our unwillingness to provide families, particularly young mothers, with the help they need long before the situation has deteriorated to the place where removal of children is an appropriate response. That though is a conversation far too big for me right now. Feel free to discuss.

Bacchus in his comment provides a challenge:

This was my least favorite part of adopting. Knowing there was a code to listings and trying to decipher it. There were times we were drained from reading these. I hate the fact that kids are reduced to innuendo.
Thanks for posting these. If I can challenge people to truly get these, if you have bio kids.. describe them in terms of an adoption listing. It is amazing how it reads.

The level of anxiety I feel about doing this I think is partly an indicator of the level of why the photolistings bother me so much. Can I bring myself to do it?


Brian is a fun-loving kid with a wacky sense of humor. He loves animals and recently has started baking for fun. He enjoys cartoons and is a great mimic. He will amuse and confuse you by quoting lines from his favorite shows at unexpected times. Brian loves animals and assists in the care of his current family's dog.

Brian goes to a school that focuses on artistic expression, which has helped him significantly. He enjoys art and recently acted in the school play. Parents who will support this activity, which includes making a commitment to get him to appropriate schooling, transportation to and from rehearsals, and attend performances is very important. Brian tests above grade level in most subjects, however his school performance and grades do not reflect his full potential. A family with patience, who can help guide him to develop better organizational skills and focus would be a great asset to Brian. Brian also needs a family who understands anxiety and can accept how this has been exasperated by multiple losses.

Brian does take medication which helps him control his emotions. It will be important for any family to ensure that he remembers his. Brian sometimes has difficulty expressing himself, but an art-based therapy program has been very helpful. Brian responds best to a firm but gentle parenting style. Brian is very sensitive to the needs of other children, and gets along very well with younger children. His new school has helped him to develop better relationships with his peers.

This gentle young man has amazing potential. Do you have the patience, structure and creativity to help guide him to adulthood?

Yeah. That was fun. (Can you hear the sarcasm?) I think it is accurate, and yet it doesn't seem to capture who he really is, you know? Does it make him sound like a fragile emotional wreck? He can be. He has made amazing progress over the past year, but long-time readers know there were times when I was torn with trying to figure out if I was giving too much attention to his anxiety, thereby rewarding it, or failing to adequately address it. If he needed a family to care for him, they would need to know that, but this description paints a picture of a kid who is and is not Brian. It is a character from some TV movie who does not have the complexity and reality of the kid who is Brian.

I have read photolistings of children whom I already knew a couple of times, most particularly Frankie and Ann. In both cases major issues were stated in ways that sounded like little quirks, or problems that are probably in the past. I still have Ann's six-year-old profile on my refrigerator mostly because I love the photograph. It shows the smile I almost never got to see. When I look at it, I see the young woman she should have been, but wasn't. The profile lists things she likes, including animals. It claims, I believe falsely, that she is ready to form a long-term relationship with an adult and understands that this will take work on her part. There is no mention of dangerous behaviors or problems she may have with siblings. Then it says, "[Ann] sees herself as open-minded and wants to share her sense of humor with a family that eats together and plays together." I don't doubt that she saw herself that way, but I don't think that was accurate.
It goes on, "She may struggle with forming anything deeper than a superficial attachment, so a willingness to focus on [her] needs will be important qualities for her adoptive parents. if you know about insecure attachment and its causes are are willing to wait for [Ann] to return your love, please call..." For a while I was seeing "insecure" or "superficial" attachment for a while, but I think too many people figured out that that was code for reactive attachment disorder.
I would have written:

Ann, having grown up in a foster home with difficult older girls, does not have an understanding of healthy sibling relationships. She has a strong need to dominate people around her, and will bully children her age or younger. She has on occasion escalated to physical violence when arguing with her foster sisters. She would do best in a family no other children or perhaps an older, understanding sibling who can help her learn positive interactions. Ann forms attachments to animals whom she feels she can trust. Though like any child she needs help remembering to care for their needs, it is important there there be a pet as that may be the only relationship she will have that will feel safe to her. Ann is an expert at triangulation. If she is adopted by a two-parent family they will need to be skilled at avoiding this and other manipulations. She can and often is very critical of the behavior of others including her caretaker.

She has a brother who has been adopted by another family. His parents have concluded that Ann is not a safe person for him to be around. She will need parents who can help her deal with this grief and loss.

Ann has reactive attachment disorder and in the past has escalated to behaviors dangerous to herself or others when her foster family tried to adopt her. She will need a parent or parents who understand this dynamic. She has never physically injured a caretaker, but she is capable of spewing verbal venom and using language you would not expect a twelve-year-old to know. She seems to respond best to an approach in which caretakers allow her to wear herself out while refusing to engage in argument.

Ann can also be very affectionate, often seeming like a much younger child. Though this could also be a part of the attachment disorder, those who love her feel they get a glimpse of the girl she should have been and perhaps with time and patience will have a chance to become.

If you have the ability to withstand verbal abuse in private and public places and respond without escalating yourself, you may over the course of several years develop a level of trust with Ann, although you should be prepared to take satisfaction in having provided her with a safe place to grow up, even if she never seems to respond to or even believe in your affection for her.

Should it have said that? Would it have been a violation of her privacy to be that honest? Ann was old enough to read her profile herself. I doubt she would appreciate such truths being shared about her. And I guess I don't think they should be -- at least not in any way that can connect these words to her in real life. She deserves more respect for her privacy than that, but I also think this is what anyone who might consider adopting her really needs to know.


  1. I couldn't work out if you were alluding to it or not, but Australia has no private adoption. All adoptions are done through the state and while birth families can choose, they choose from the state's selection, not the broader community.

    As I've mentioned in my posts about the local infant adoption program in my state, the social workers are intensely clear that they are there for the birth families and the birth families only. Adoptive parents are an inconvenience to them and they are fully prepared to knock any family back that they don't particularly like. As a result there is a shortage of families for local adoption.

    It might sound like a good idea and I do think it's great for the majority of birth families, but it means that if the birth parents know someone who they would like to adopt their baby it is almost impossible, if not illegal, to make it happen.

    Also, while our adoptions are 'open' you are not allowed to exchange last names, addresses or phone numbers and must only meet at neutral prearranged meetings (up to 4 a year). That's hardly 'open' compared to the American system (as I've read about it).

    Another difference is that in the US you can bring your adopted baby home from the hospital. In Australia the babies remain in foster care for 3 - 12 months before placement. The majority never go home with their parents and instead go straight to foster care until it's legal to place them. That's a long time for a baby, and I think that would be more traumatic for the baby too.

  2. Sorry for the novel. :/

  3. I just wanted to add (because I haven't said enough), that I think your version is the one that Ann's possible adoptive parents would *need* to read. I don't think it would be fair to them or Ann for it to say anything different. But that should be private information.

    I find it really disturbing the way personal details are posted up under photos as advertisements for children. I don't know if the cost of that is worth it to place those children, but it seems very wrong to me.

  4. Sassy,
    I did know about these rules or structures in Australia, but certainly not the lived experience of it.

    I'm torn about putting babies into foster care instead of immediately with adoptive families. The positive side of that practice is that prospective adoptive families should rarely or ever go through the heartbreak an adoption they hoped for doesn't happen. It also provides sufficient time to be really certain that the mother and father want to place.

    But I know there are down sides to it too, and I agree that one of them would be the repeated disruptions of attachment. Another potentially could be a patronizing attitude towards parents who have made up their minds.

  5. By the way y'all. I'm leaving early tomorrow morning. The last time I put up a post about adoption reform there was a great deal of discussion. Feel free to converse, but please be respectful and if I'm not responding it is because I am off-line!

  6. I have enjoyed your blog as a silent lurker for a while now. I am the adoptive parent of 4 children, 1 international, 1 DSS, 2 thru a private agency. My DSS adoption was supposed to be a sib group. I was a victim of the 'code' words and sadly the second sibling left our home after only 5 wks. I love her, I am still in frequent contact with her, but it was impossible to keep the other kids feeling and being safe with her level of needs. I wish that if the write about about her could not have been more honest that the social workers had been. Sadly, they weren't and we all experienced a very traumatic removal.

  7. I just had to comment. I called about a girl whose photolisting said that she wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up.

    The SW asked if I had children or pets. When I said yes to both she told me this would not be a good fit. This little girl (8) has molested animals and children and killed a few small dogs.
    What an accurate description, eh? :(


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