Saturday, November 21, 2015

ROUND TABLE: National Adoption Day

Today's #FlipTheScript Prompt: 

November 21 is designated as National Adoption Day to raise awareness of the more than 100,000 children in foster care who are in need of a permanent home.

If you were once a foster child or once lived in an orphange, talk about your experience with either foster care, orphanage care, or adoption.

For everyone, when (if ever) do you think permanent adoption is the best option for a child in foster care or an orphanage? Do you think too many children are placed in foster care/orphanges, and if so, why do you think this is? Do you feel there will always be a need for adoption for some children. Why or why not? What would you like to see change in terms of helping children in foster care/orphanages find permanent homes?

Cathy Heslin: I am not from foster care, but for the first time, I have come to see a connection that I had been blind to before. Let me start by saying that I may say some things that are insensitive or clueless. If so, forgive me, and inform me. I want to learn and ignorance precedes understanding.

I saw a movie last night where a character was an adult who grew up in a good foster home ("Short Term 12" - great movie). There is a scene where he gives his foster parents a toast, and says he never called them "foster parents" just "mom and dad." It made me curious why it is so different in infant adoption. The adoptee doesn't say "adoptive parents," it's just "mom and dad." Instead, in infant adoption, the original parents have the tacked on designation of "birth" or "first" parents where in a foster situation they are the "mom and dad."

It made me realize for the first time that adoptees ARE foster children. Before I get attacked for being insensitive, let me explain. I know we were not taken away from our first families and that instead it was a careful decision of relinquishment, but there is more similarities than I recognized before.

Many of us were children in need of a home due to poverty OR lack of support and resources. Foster situations are more complicated, but the need is the same - a child in need of a home other than its original family. The big difference, really, is age. We were infant adoptions. Foster situations are more often children. Infants are desired. Children - not as much. I realize that the difference in designation between how society treats adoption and how it treats foster situations is because, with infants, it supposed to be that there was no difference in a family other than the original one raising a child. Everyone was supposed to pretend that it was a family, same as if by birth. But it's a different family than a family of birth. And I think it would be better to acknowledge it.

Amanda: I was placed in foster care at three days old and left my foster placement for my pre-adoptive placement almost 5 months later. I know little of my time in my foster home. My foster mother was a physician. She didn't know my legal name, so she named me "Sarah" and let me use her last name. I have one medical record from my unsealed state where I had her last name. My adoptive parents weren't allowed to meet her. Before my file left my foster home, my foster mother slipped my birth statistics inside on a small sheet of paper. She wasn't supposed to do that; but, I am glad she did. Although, I wouldn't read it until I was an adult and a mother myself. It's the only thing I have from her.

Too many children are placed in foster care and orphanages. Most "orphans" have at least one living parent or extended family who could care for them, but can't due to broader systemic issues such as poverty, sexism, and a lack of access to health care. Poverty is a factor in the U.S. as well; however, we face issues where marginalized groups, such as kids of color, are disproportionately represented in child welfare. Kids of color, for example, are more likely to enter the child welfare system and less likely to be reunited with original family than white children. Overall, kids are displaced from their homes and adopted into new ones because bias--who deserves to parent and who doesn't--is a big problem.

There will always be a need for kids to receive new homes and caregivers. What I would like to see happen is that full legal relatedness is offered to kids in their adoptive families, if they want it, without erasing their original identity or legal relatedness to their original families or their ability to be connected to their original families. Neither guardianship nor adoption entirely fit this bill legally, which means the wheel does need to be reinvented in the best interests of children. We need a child-centered adoption that prioritizes how a child might feel about how their information, families, and identity are handled, and sets that child on a developmental trajectory to feel supported by those decisions across their lifespan.

julie j: As a foster alum, a few of the many areas that need improvement are:

1) Sometimes children are wrongfully taken from their families & put into the system when they really do not need to be there. Other times, children (from both natural & adoptive families) who could use another care taker are not removed and they remain in danger.
2) All records of their childhood time spent in foster care should be made available to them as adult adoptees upon request. Currently, that information is permanently forbidden.
3) It should be noted that the real goal of foster care is supposed to be TEMPORARY care for a child while their family works on getting whatever help it needs to benefit their family unit upon reunion. It's not supposed to be a source of providing children for other people who want to adopt. I suspect that's exactly why too many children around the world are placed in foster care or orphanages. More sincere community efforts need to be made to strengthen & preserve all families both before & during crises.

For the children who are unable to return to their natural families, we should expand the care options from the primary two of foster care or adoption, into something that better serves children. The biggest problems with those two being that the constant, new placements of temporary foster care are not ideal, and children adopted shouldn't have to lose anything else in addition to what they have already lost in order to have a chance at permanency.

True, there will probably always be a need for some children to receive some form of alternate care during part or all of their childhood; however, that need not be adoption as we know it. I really like Amanda's suggestion of children keeping connections to their original families. There really is no need (and never was) to pretend children of any age are blank slates nor to try to keep their origins secret from them, nor to decide for them to permanently sever their relationship to their roots. Those are practices that do not serve children/future adults well. My suggestion is a permanent, legal guardianship arrangement for putting the child's interests first.

Lynn Grubb: I feel that children should only be legally adopted when there is no family member or close friend of the family who can raise them. Legal adoption is not the only option. Legal custody is also an option which keeps the child's identity in tact. I do believe there will always be a need for adoption, but I would like to see the practice of adoption change to include keeping a child's original identity in tact.

I cannot speak to orphanages; however based on my prior guardian ad litem experience, I do believe that there are children in foster care that should not be. There are usually family members that are available; however, are sometimes ruled out due to issues like the relative being at risk for allowing a parent around the child. I think some child services go too far in trying to police family interactions by keeping children in foster care. I believe all children have a right to be raised by their biological family if there is a parent or relative that is capable and I don't believe poverty is ever a good-enough reason to remove a child. If no parent or relatives are available, then adoption should be considered but is not always appropriate, necessary or wanted in the case of older children.

Soojung Jo: I was designated as an orphan at age 2 so I have no memories of the time. I was accepted as an orphan although I had a family actively trying to get me back, including my own mother, uncle, and aunt. In this case, clearly one child too many was placed in an orphanage.

Rebecca Hawkes: I was adopted as an infant. I may have been in a foster placement for the first three weeks of my life, but I obviously have no memory of that time, and I also have no record of it. As an adult, I have connections to foster care through my family and my work. I echo much of what others have said above. We need to do more to as a society to support original families. Many such families could stay intact and even thrive with the right kind of support. Also, though I don't at all argue with the necessity of keeping children safe and removing them from homes that are clearly abusive or unsafe, I'm also aware that perceptions of safety can be influenced by cultural and other biases. Are we doing enough to work against those biases?

Once children come into care, it is important that measures be in place to prevent them from bouncing from foster home to foster home, or from repeatedly being returned to original family only to be removed again. But as others have mentioned, adoption is not the only form of permanency. There are indeed many cases where permanent guardianship is a preferable choice, especially for older youth who can speak to their own preferences for adoption versus guardianship.

I would also like to see an end to the practice of amending birth certificates as part of the adoption process. It is no small thing to permanently and irrevocably alter someone's legal identity and erase the record of his or her connection to original family. That this is something that is done to minors without their full knowledge or consent is highly problematic.