Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guest Post: Myths and Facts about Foster Care Adoption

I thought it would be appropriate for National Foster Care Month to share a guest post courtesy of Children First FFA, a private, non-profit foster agency based in California, about Myths and Facts about Foster Care Adoption:

Myths and Facts about Foster Care Adoption

Over 100,000 children in the United States are waiting to be adopted. Unfortunately, too many of them—over 22,000 of them—age out of the system when they turn 18. This leaves them vulnerable to all kinds of difficult situations and large percentages of them become homeless, incarcerated, or early parents. There are a number of myths that have persisted and that have prevented potential adoptive parents to consider foster care adoption. Here are a few of them.

Myth: Every foster child has mental, physical, or emotional issues.

While foster children have usually experienced neglect, abuse, or abandonment that was significant enough for the state to take them away from their birth families, it doesn’t mean that they are beyond help. Children are surprisingly resilient. Given a stable environment, along with the nurture and support of a loving family, they can grow into a stable, healthy adult. Yes, there may be challenges, but every child is capable of healing from past wounds.

Myth: I only qualify if I am married, well-to-do, young, and own my own home.

People of all types of socioeconomic statuses, ages, and races can and have adopted children. Single parents make up one-third of adoptive parents. People in their 50s and 60s, such as Stan and Gloria, are adopting children at increasing rates. And, while it may be ideal to own your own home, it’s not necessarily required—you only need to prove that you have the adequate means to provide for a child.

Myth: I can’t afford to adopt.

Private adoptions may be outside of your budget, but foster care adoption may cost you almost nothing. There are both state and federal subsidies for adoptions made through the foster system. These subsidies cover costs incurred during and after adoption, such as court costs, home study costs, medical benefits, and college tuition waivers.

Myth: I need to have parenting experience.

Many people adopt because they were never able to have children of their own. However, that doesn’t mean they are not able to develop the skills necessary to parent a child. If you have the right heart and the willingness to learn parenting skills, you can adopt too.

Myth: I don’t have a choice on the type of child I can adopt.

You will be able to set your preferences for the child you want to adopt. You will also be able to say yes or no to a match. Keep in mind, however, that the broader you make your parameters, the more options you will have.

Don’t let the myths scare you away. Foster care adoption is easier than you might think and it’s a rewarding experience that will change you and your adopted child for a lifetime.

Monday, May 16, 2016

This Mother's Day (Part Two)

I had a pretty good Mother's Day this year for the most part but I found that any feelings of gratitude for the blessing of being a mother competed with feelings of sorrow and empathy and even guilt.  

I felt bad for those women who sit with empty arms, such as a niece of mine who is eager to start a family but who has suffered not just one but two miscarriages this year.  I remembered back to the years of Mother's Days when I would sit- yet again- with no child to call my own.  I dreaded going to church on those days because I felt like a failure- I wasn't part of "The Club" and I just sort of wanted to become invisible so as not to call attention to what was lacking in my life.  

On Mother's Day I was also mindful of other women who have lost children, including two of my sisters.  Although my sisters have other {living} children, I know how much their buried children continue to remain a part of their hearts even if they're technically not able to wrap their arms around them or if their departed children can't join their siblings and the rest of the family at the dinner table.

It seems inevitable that children will have to bury their parents someday but the thought of parents burying a child just stings and seems so unfair.

Then there's the feelings of GUILT I felt on Mother's Day.  This is the feeling I struggled with the most. I wanted to ignore these feelings- but I just couldn't.  As an adoptive mother I can't realistically claim that my children are "my own" and that they only belong to me because I share them with their first mothers. I was happy to learn that our oldest daughter's birth mother had a wonderful Mother's Day and that she was celebrated and surrounded by her children and family.  

However, I was saddened to realize that while I get to have my youngest two children in my life and can legally be called their mother they have another mother who has lost her children.  And I use the term "lost" because her decision to relinquish her parental rights was under such different circumstances than our oldest daughter's birthmother who willingly relinquished her parental rights shortly after M. was born.

Especially disheartening is the fact that I recently discovered that Jack and Jill's birth mom would be spending Mother's Day in jail.  So this Mother's Day while I was showered with sloppy kisses and hugs from little arms around my neck and dinner my husband lovingly prepared which included chocolate cake for dessert far bigger than my head, I couldn't help but think of another mother sitting in a lonely jail cell left to think of all she has lost including her children- "our" children.  It was depressing to think about and really put a damper on any celebrations.

I know that this is a bit of a downer of a post, but I think it's needful to be aware of those mothers who experience loss of the dream of a child or their actual child- which loss is certainly likely to be magnified on Mother's Day.

I'm not suggesting that Mother's Day should be cancelled or anything at the risk of hurting anyone's feelings because Motherhood is SO worth celebrating!  However, we can be a bit more mindful of women and mothers who have experienced (and will continue to experience) loss. Obviously, because of the way my children came to be a part of my life my feelings gravitate towards birthmothers in general and specifically the birth mothers of my children.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

This Mother's Day . . .

Just posting two things that REALLY resonated with me and touched my heart this Mother's Day Weekend:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Garbage Bag Suitcase GIVEAWAY WINNER!

According to Random.Org, the Giveaway WINNER for a free copy of the memoir Garbage Bag Suitcase is . . . 

 Comment #6 (I didn't count Shenandoah's comment):

CONGRATULATIONS, Suzanne!  I'll be contacting you shortly.

Thank You to all who entered- it is fun to read about how foster care or adoption has affected your lives (or maybe it hasn't necessarily, but you were looking for a good read!)

It also occurred to me that the title of this post is something of a misnomer as the winner of the Giveaway didn't actually win a Garbage Bag Suitcase, but a book by that title!

Q:  When should a garbage bag be used as a suitcase?
A:  Hopefully, NEVER!  Which is why I am  always pleased to hear about organizations such as Together We Rise and Case For Character which work to ensure that no foster child has to use a trash bag to store their belongings when they are removed from their home.

Thank you again, Shen, for sharing your story and to JKS Communications for providing a copy of your memoir to my Giveaway Winner.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Garbage Bag Suitcase Book Review and GIVEAWAY

I recently finished reading a memoir sadly yet appropriately titled Garbage Bag Suitcase  written by a woman who suffered a childhood of neglect and abuse because of her parent's drug addiction and alcoholism.

Of her early childhood memories Shenandoah Chefalo recounts,

"Already I was wishing myself out of being raised by my parents. When they were home, I spent most of my time locked in my room, hiding, talking to imaginary and stuffed friends.  I daydreamed about becoming an orphan, and being taken away to live with a real family." (p. 27)

Not only did I want to take young Shenandoah under my wing and into my own home as I read about what she experienced as a child, but I also felt compelled to show some extra compassion and affection to my own children while reading her memoir.

Eventually Shenandoah got her wish of living with a family who offered her the safety, security, and calmness she was not able to experience with her own family.  As a young teenager Shenandoah spent a summer with her mother's older sister and a cousin close to her age in their California home.  Of the normalcy and routine of her new home environment, Shenandoah noted:

"In their house, schedules ran like they did on the TV shows that I watched and had longed to be a part of, like Happy Days and The Brady Bunch.  There was a dinner with a set dinnertime, and a standard bedtime with lights out.  Conversations included things like, "How was your day?" and "What did you do today?"  

These things, the questions, which absolutely irritated Michelle [her cousin] and made her feel like her mom was being overprotective and overbearing, made me swoon with delight.  Somebody who cared about what I was thinking and doing?  Someone who was thoughtful enough to put food on the table for me every day?  Sign me up!" (p.59)

Unfortunately, living with her cousin and aunt only offered a temporary refuge.  Shenandoah had returned "home" from her trip to California with essentially no home to go to and no parents to care for her as her mother had {once again} abandoned her.   Staying with her birth father or step dad were not options either.  After a short stay with her grandmother, Shenandoah entered the foster system when she was 13 years old- by her own choice nonetheless!

Shenandoah first lived with another aunt who was a foster parent before eventually moving into another foster home an hour away in a small and unfamiliar farming community because her aunt thought that home and family would be a better fit for her niece.  As with the many other moves Shenandoah was forced to make in her life, she was accompanied, once again, by her garbage bag suitcase and her stuffed animal and best friend, Love Bunny.

I wish I could tell you that Shenandoah was welcomed into a loving home by a wonderful family but that was not the case.  In fact, her foster family is the exact type of family that gives other foster families (the rest of us!) a bad name.  She recounts her next move this way:

"I assumed that families or couples who were taking in foster kids would be top-notch.  Surely someone who had gone through vigorous training, underwent state background checks, and had a caseworker checking in on them regularly would be the greatest parents of all.

     What I hadn't realized or taken into account was that the system is broken,  There are hundreds of thousands of kids in care, and very few options on where to place or even house them.  Caseworkers change monthly, sometimes more frequently.  I lost count of the number of caseworkers I had after receiving three different ones in the span of two months.  Just when I thought I could trust one to share what was really happening in my life, a new one would take over.  My fear of abandonment amplified with each change.  Because the family who was chosen for me had three children of their own, and other foster kids, it was clear that I was not there for them to dote on me like the long-lost daughter they had always wanted.

I had one purpose I soon discovered, and that was to help pay the bills.  I had become a paycheck."  (p.74-75)

Evidently there are foster families that take children into their homes just for the money.  Sad, but true.  When Shenandoah got a job at a grocery store her paycheck didn't go to herself but to her foster family to cover "expenses".  That fact alone speaks VOLUMES about the character of her foster family.

I think it is essential as part of the screening processes for foster families prior to becoming licensed to require proof (by paycheck stub or tax return) that a family can support themselves without having to rely on any public assistance or from using monthly reimbursements meant to cover the costs of caring for their foster children. 

I was heartbroken for Shenandoah when she was hospitalized following a very serious car accident and she was left to recover in the hospital for three weeks pretty much by herself since her foster family didn't bother to stay with her.  To make matters worse, during her recovery in the hospital she received a card from her estranged birth mother reading, "This could have turned out much better if you'd had died!"

WHAT?! That alone tells you all you need to know about what kind of care (or rather, lack of care) Shenandoah received in her youth. 

As though I weren't disgusted enough with Shenandoah's second foster family I was furious to read about how they continued to ask her for money even AFTER she left their care and was trying to support herself in college through working and student loans.  This leads me to some good news:

Shenandoah aged out of the foster care system and I don't know about you, but when I hear the term "aging out" dismal statistics come to my mind, including high rates of homelessness and incarceration.  Although Shenandoah aged out of the system she beat the odds- not only did she go on to college but she became part of the 1% of foster children who actually graduate from college! Today she is a successful businesswoman and Life Coach who volunteers with many organizations. Shenandoah is also married and has a daughter.

To learn more about Shenandoah Chefalo Click HERE.

Shenandoah has shared her story not only to inspire others who have been through or find themselves in a similar experience- but she has the desire to create an open and honest discussion about what it's like to be a child in the foster care system.  Not only does she address the challenges and disruptions that youth in foster care face but in the second half of her memoir she presents possible solutions.   (That is another topic worthy of a separate blog post!)

I would love for a copy of Garbage Bag Suitcase to get into the hands of a social worker or foster parent.  Better yet, I would love to get a copy into the hands of a youth in foster care!  For that reason, I am sponsoring a Giveaway for a free copy of this book which will be mailed directly to the winner from the publisher.


-Entries limited to the U.S.
-To enter, simply leave a comment on this post with your name (your first name will suffice)

BONUS ENTRY:  SHARE about this giveaway on social media and comment where or how you shared

A random winner will be selected by RANDOM.ORG.  I will contact you and get your mailing info for your FREE COPY of Shenandoah's memoir, Garbage Bag Suitcase.

This GIVEAWAY has OFFICIALLY STARTED and will end April 22, 2016 at midnight MST.