Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rambling thoughts

As I start this post I feel committed to posting it no matter how disjointed it is. However, I may change my mind.

Like many of you, I have concerns about the ways in which we fail to take care of families. I believe that many of the children end up in foster care because their families did not get the help the needed when they needed it. In other words, many of their parents are not bad people who never should have had children. They are ordinary, decent people who were put into a situation I don't know if I could survive.

Those of you who do care for babies see a lot of mothers with drug problems. I take care of kids who entered foster care in middle or late childhood and though substance abuse is often part of the equation, poverty and domestic violence plays a bigger role. So very many of the kids have common themes in their histories. Their mothers were young when they were born. Their biological father usually wasn't around. The man that was around, was abusive. Their mothers lacked education and job skills and were abandoned by people who should have cared for them.* I have had four boys on permanent placement. In not one case was the parent who last had custody of them a substance abuser. Not one of them lacked the ability to be a good parent, though the lacked the resources.

My point though is that my experience has taught me that many people who have lost their children to foster care are not "people who never should have had children to begin with." Many of them are victims of injustice. Many of them would have, could have been successful parents if the world had been just a little bit different. A certain number of them never should have lost their children at all.

I've thought about that, worried over it sometimes, as I have also worried about private adoption. Though some agencies are clearly far better than others, I wonder how any agency that is funded by adopting parenting can meet the standards I would like set for them.

My mantra has been, as I know it is for many of you, that adoption should exist to find parents for kids who need them, not to find children for parents.

I have, and this is something of a confession, comforted myself with the fact that I am personally insulated from these problems. I am a citizen of this country and so share responsibility for its laws, but I have not been part of the decision to remove a child from his or her parents care. No one's parental rights were terminated so that I could adopt. All that happened before I came along.

Only now that is not what is happening. Now the court has said that Gary's parents' rights should be terminated, and a big part of the reason why is that Roland and I will adopt. That is not what I wanted to happen, but it is what happened.

My high horse just up and left me standing in this moral swamp.

And there is no Right Thing to do. I have no control over what is said to his parents and how it is said. I don't know whether, when or how the state worker will contact Gary's parents. I don't know if he will tell them that they should relinquish because we want to adopt. I'm not part of the conversation. I have no contact with his parents, and I'm pretty sure the social workers want it that way. I don't get to tell them that if they want to claim him, I will not fight them. I can't tell them how important I think they are to his life.

I'm pretty sure that the state worker will not talk to his parents the way I would want him to. The worker is very excited about being a part of an adoption ... and of a 17 year old boy! He is a specialized worker. He gets assigned teens who are going to emancipate from the system. They need to be prepared to have no one in their lives. Their foster parents don't want to adopt them. Termination either happened in the past or won't happen at all, because what's the point? But adoption is the "gold standard," he says. He wants it to happen. He wants, I believe, to have this experience of being part of the adoption of an older teen. He wants to tell his colleagues that it does happen sometimes.

When he looks at us and our situation I feel like a rare bird in the presence of an enthusiastic bird watcher.

I'm thinking, "I hope we are doing the right thing, in the right way."

He seems to be thinking, "This is SO COOL!" (I could be wrong. These are my impressions.)

It isn't a closed adoption because Gary is almost 17. He knows who his parents are. He can contact them whenever he wants. They can find him and contact him.

It doesn't come close to my conception of an open adoption because there is no conversation between us and Gary's parents. I don't get to tell them that I know they are still his parents, that I will continue to do anything I can to support his relationship with them, and that I don't want whatever happens to get in the way of that.

Being insulated by time was a comfort. I could tell myself that it happened long ago and I wasn't a part of it. Being insulated while it is happening is not. It means that I have no idea if his parents are being treated ethically. There is nothing I can do or say to mitigate ... anything.

And yeah, I know that his mother hasn't made contact with him for nearly a decade and that his father went 10 months without any contact at all. I know that in his last contact he said terrible things, including saying that he was going to initiate termination himself. (Which he didn't understand that he couldn't do.) I get that those are reasons for the current actions. But I also know that life is complicated and that isn't all of the story. I know that people make mistakes and I believe they should be given a chance to rectify them.

And I am part of this whether I want to be or not.

And it is all complicated and distressing with Evan too. He indicated in our last conversation that he wanted for me and Roland to adopt him (as opposed to just Roland) because that would keep things "even" with the other boys. In other words, he would prefer that I not give something to Gary, David, and Carl that he is not given. Now that might just be his gut reaction which he reconsiders, but it was really strange. Adopting someone who has a mother, even a far from perfect mother, in order to satisfy a narrow notion of fairness is so absurd I know how to make him understand that it is absurd.

And then I wonder how the heck I got to this place. It feels so wrong, and yet I can't leave. I can't take promises back that I have made. And I don't want to leave, and it feels right. And yes, I know that's confused, but I'm confused.

There is no moral ambiguity in me with respect to Carl and David. They are alone in the world.

And then sometimes I just want to slap myself for being so damn self-involved. Are my qualms about justice? About what is right for the boys? Or is it about my having clean hands?

So what is best for Gary? His family, for complicated reasons, decided they had no place for him. He went into foster care not because he needed to be protected, but because otherwise he would have been homeless, maybe. Though I wonder about that too. If the state hadn't been there, would he have been homeless? Would different relatives have taken him in and perhaps passed him around? There were good reasons why various relatives either could not or should not take him, but would they have just done it anyway? His younger sister, also a child of his father and not his step-mother, has also been deemed impossible to live with. Last we heard, she is living with the grandmother who was judged unable to take Gary.

But what might have happened isn't really the issue is it? There is only what did happen. His mother left his life. It wasn't a free, uncoerced choice, but it happened. His immediate family said he couldn't live with them. His extended family said, "not us either." Then his father said he was giving him up, at least legally.

And we said, "We want you."

My response to what his father said was primitive and immediate. I thought, if he is giving Gary away, then I will take him. I told Gary I couldn't imagine anyone not wanting to be his parent.

I meant it then, and I still do.

But nothing is ever that simple.

But I want it to be.

*Please understand that most teen moms are great moms. Most step fathers, and romantic partners of parents, are good people who care appropriately and lovingly to the children in their lives. And most people who are poor and/or have less education than the average are wonderful parents who provide for their children's needs. Even if it were true, and it isn't, that all the kids in foster care have mothers who were young when they had their first child, that would not mean that all or most of teen moms will have kids who end up in foster care.


  1. Thanks for sharing. It is complicated, isn't it?

    I always felt that if my foster childrens' mother was given even half of the financial support that we were given to care for them that she would have never lost custody to begin with. Of course we will never know. Paying people to care for their own children will never be a popular option.

    Of course I want there to be safely net to collect children, but I agree with you that the possibility exists that they would be better off if no government net was in place. Maybe more people need to chance to "do the right thing" (whatever that is!).

    There are so many problems and so few solutions. We can only do the best we can do, and I no longer believe that involves changing the world (or even just the U.S.).

    There...a long, disjointed comment to match your post! :)

  2. My simplest response is connected to only one part of your post. If Evan's reason for wanting to be adopted by both of you is simply "fairness" and to be "even" then I agree a lot with asking him to think about it more. But, if it's that he wants to truly feel that you are his mother, then, I don't think there's anything wrong with that. He's an adult; why can't he have 2 mothers? I know plenty of kids with 2 mothers and others with 2 fathers. I know that it's more complicated than that, because your contact with his mother is minimal. But, you have met her and it seems likely that you could do so again and tell her that you are not trying to replace her, just allowing Evan to claim his full family as family. (Of course, I've always been a person who believes in broad definitions of family, but, what's wrong with that?)

  3. I definitely think that Evan will end up with two mothers. The question is which one of us will be legally his mother.

    But I understand what you are saying.

  4. LIfe is so complicated. I agree that the foster care system is far from perfect. I agree that first families are sometimes, perhaps distressingly often, not supported in ways which allow them to remain intact. I agree that this is wrong.

    But those wrongs don't negate emotional needs for our kids. For whatever reason, there is no place at the table for Gary in his biological family. But there is in yours. And the feeling of a parent giving away a child (referring here to the conversation Gary's dad had with him last) has to be so painful. I am estranged from my father and I remember how painful the conversation was that led to that--how marginalized and helpless and unloved I felt. And I was technically an adult (just barely 18 when it happened).

    Adopting Gary means there will always be a home to come back to at Christmas, someone will always remember his birthday, and so much more. It doesn't mean his first family isn't there too if they choose to be.

  5. "I hope we are doing the right thing, in the right way."

    My husband and I have been asking ourselves this all along this case...definitely stuck in a "moral swamp" of our own.

    I too wish it could just be simpler...but nothing dealing w/ the foster care system ever is.

  6. Huh. You've got me thinking.. I've always seen adoption as something between younger kids and foster/adoptive parents, where the trial has already decided that the parents cannot parent the child and therefore they're eligible for adoption (including open adoptions). I've never considered this kind of situation, where the parental rights are terminated (even if they already were for all intents & purposes, now it's legal and binding) just because an adoption is pending...
    I think part of it is that here (maybe where you are too?) it's so damn rare to have a kid become crown ward (ward of the state? what do(es) you/the US call it?) in the first place that it's... somehow simpler.
    And yet, always still so complicated. I think every adoption is done at a loss to someone else - hell, even fostering for me is the same, my joy for someone's loss.
    I still think good on you for at least debating all this. Truly.

  7. Ugh. I didn't explain myself very well... sorry.

  8. Roztime,

    It isn't rare here, at least for kids in the system.

    Could you explain to me what being a crown ward means? All the kids in foster care are in the custody of the state, and the ones that I typically meet, who have been in care for a long time, are wards of the state.

    So I am curious and wanting to talk about this, but we need to figure out what our terms mean.

  9. These are the kinds of questions I've been thinking about so much lately. It's easy (somewhat) to say that we're interested in older black boys because that's where the biggest need is and because no one believes that black boys are going through TPR at higher rates because there's a waiting population of prospective parents, but there's no way to separate it from the racism and classism in the foster care system and I can't figure out to what extent we're being complicit in that. It's very hard to talk about this because almost no one wants to listen or to have a complicated view of something they want to see as unmitigated good. But I've been feeling extremely tangled lately.

  10. This kind of ambivalence is so central to foster care, though, isn't it? Often, what's best for kids and what's best for their parents are at odds, at least by the time their kids end up in care. The question is really who should we be most concerned about doing the right thing for?

    I'm glad you're still thinking about it and that you're still determined to adopt Gary, because as you mention, it's not what might have happened but what DID happen. Many times that's how I reconcile my participation in foster care and adoption. Is it the way things SHOULD have been? Maybe not, and that's what bothers me about people who talk about kids being born in their heart, and God sending them children that were (inconveiently located in another woman's womb but) meant to be theirs. Is it the best way things COULD have turned out given what has happened? Maybe so. At least I hope.

  11. I'm really bothered by something here...our state focuses on "shared parenting", which is like open adoption but only for foster care. In shared parenting, the foster family and bio family become like one extended family. For instance, my foster kids grandparents are in the hospital- so we send flowers to the hospital for them. They keep us updated on what's happening. We celebrate holidays/birthdays together at visits. At bio fam visits, we're a part of it, at least for part of the time, so that we can discuss what's going on with the child(ren), how they would handle discipline issues, how we handle them, what's going on. Just like you would if you were raising your niece/nephew because their mom/dad couldn't, regardless of the reason.

    Its a very open process- if the kids get sick, I notify DHS who notifies the parents (due to our particular circumstance, the court has forbidden direct contact between the kids/foster family and the bio fam unless supervised by DHS but that is not the norm. The norm is open communication via phone or IRL). We talk to the siblings (placed elsewhere for their own needs) regularly on the phone and whenever we can get together (they are placed more than an hour in one case and more than 3 hours away in the other).

    We encourage the bio fam to do what it takes, we give them tips on getting it together, so to speak. It works fantastic! The kids thrive- there's very little disconnect between bio fam and foster fam in terms of knowledge, so the kids can't play one off another. We don't agreeo n everything, so some things are challenging, but becasue we all know each other, we're more inclined to work together and respect each other. It certainly rules out the competition, because we're all on the same team.

    I'm really surprised that this isn't happening with you guys. Its especially important with older kids from what I've seen- it gives them the physical safety and security of the foster family but continues the emotional and psychological bonds of the bio fam that give internal security to the child. From what I've seen, it also encourages 100% participation in the child's life. Some of the families (again, we're court ordered to the contrary right now) even attend church with the foster fam's. Sports activities are open, etc.

    And I don't know this from personal expereince, but a fellow foster mom and friend said they do this same thing in Texas and have for years and it really facilitates the open adoption process if the court decides not to reunify for any reason. In fact, this friend actually helped reunify three of her foster kids (sibs) before she moved near us, then got a phone call 2 years later from the bio mom letting her know that she had lost her kids to DHS again and wanted to know if my friend would not only take them but adopt them so they'd have permanency. The foster fam was able to be a part of an extended family, which worked great for the kids and the bio fam.

    I know our county had not begun shared parenting when we started (it was mandated in some nearby counties but not in this one), but I simply asked if we could. DHS was hesitant but agreed to try it if the bio fam agreed, which of course they did. Most bio fams would love to be included in all the little details of daily life for their kdis, but current DHS policies and laws prevent that.

    DO you think Gary's caseworker would allow contact? It was my understanding that unless there is a proven safety issue of the parents (like associating with terrorists, ongoing threats of violence or retaliation towards the kids or something) or unless the bio fam specifically didn't want contact, that the child has the right to have contact with their family.

  12. Stacie,
    I started to write a whole post, and maybe I will later. What I want to say that the desire to keep me out of this is not about not wanting what you describe. That is what we all hoped would happen with Gary's family in the beginning. Of course it didn't, but it isn't because a social worker or anyone else didn't want to happen.

    In this particular process I am not hearing anything from anyone, and I think the social worker prefers it that way, but that is because he hasn't done it before, doesn't really know me well and so can't predict how I will behave.

    Either that or he is just busy and keeping me up to date on this isn't high on his priority list.

    The agency worker doesn't hear squat either.

  13. That sounds extremely aggravating. From what I've discussed with others, we've just been really blessed with a great placement and workers who are comfortable enough with the system that they can flex to best help the families.

    The thing that pisses me off so badly (enough that I'm thinking about going back to school and attending law school to try to work on it) is that the children in foster care are treated worse than prisoners of war. They literally have no rights- in many ways, their identities as they knew it stop existing the moment DHS steps in. DHS severs contact with all family, rather than picking and choosing, foster fams aren't trained in dealing with bio fams so they just avoid the issue, leaving the child in no different situations than if we suddenly were snatched off the street and placed in a prison. Foster kids have no rights of their own- not of expression, not of choice, nothing.

    Its very frustrating. I think I'd like to believe there must be "reasons" why Gary's fam has walked away, and that those "reasons" could be resolved if they were better included in his life, but I think the ickiest thing of this whole situation is that the truth of it is an ugly fact that most of us don't want to face.

    Some people only want kids while they're cute or sweet or cuddly. Some people only want kids while they are still "in love" with their child's other parent. Some people only want kids that are easy or convenient.

    Not most, but some. And it makes me wonder if in this case, this is true.

    Regardless, Gary is very blessed to have you guys.

  14. "The question is which one of us will be legally his mother."

    Does he have to lose one to have the other? I'm pretty sure that around here adult adoption doesn't require termination of parental rights and I know that (in my jurisdiction) you can definitely have two legal mothers.

    If he has to terminate his legal relationship with his mother, then, I really begin to understand your concerns. What a short-sighted system!

  15. Same sex partners are not allowed to adopt together where I live. I don't believe there is actually a low against it, but the couples I know of have not been able to adopt together.

    There won't need to be any action to terminate parental rights, but Evan would get a new birth certificate and it would have her name or my name on it, not both.

    Of course, I have never had to prove that I was my mother's daughter. There would be nothing that would prevent him from claiming us both, but technically, only one of us would legally be his mother.

  16. I think it would come into play in the issue of medical next of kin- you do at times have to "prove" (through birth certs etc) that you have legal right to make decisions.

    Of course, if she saved a copy of his old birth cert, and you have a copy of the new one, you could really confuse the hospital.

  17. "Evan would get a new birth certificate and it would have her name or my name on it, not both."

    That's sad. Around here it is possible to have more than 2 names listed on a birth certificate in situations like this. Good luck figuring out the right path.

    I'm also saddened that same-sex couple aren't allowed to adopt have said that you're in the reddest of red states, but, it still makes me sad.

  18. It makes me sad too.

  19. Thank you. I know this is long after you wrote this post, but my partner pointed me to your journal as an example of someone who has struggled with a lot of the same issues I'm worried about in fostering and adopting.

    None of it is easy, I would guess. But your honesty in your own challenges in the path you walk is really realy useful for me. So, selfishly; thank you.

  20. SO sorry, I totally forgot to check back after I wrote that comment! The legal term Crown Ward is when the judge maks an order terminating the rights of the bio parents (or anyone else) and deems the child to be a complete 'child of the state', for lack of a better explanation. If a teenager or older child is made a CW, then they're likely to either be CW with access, meaning if it were Gary with CW w/access, his parent's rights would be terminated legally, but he would still have access (usually unsupervised and for such as weekends or holidays etc). In those situations, you can have the child either live long term in a foster home, or be adopted but still keep the open access.
    If you have an infant or toddler made a CW, they're usually made CW without access for purposes of adoption - then you have a straight forward, typical adoption. BUT, you can have these be CW with access too, or you can have them made legally CW without access but the adoption agreement include openness (which isn't enforceable in court, but is left to the adoptive parents to figure out).
    We don't have anything calld TPR; it's included in the Crown Ward decision by the judge.
    Whew. Did that explain it or just confuse you more??


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