Friday, September 12, 2014

Adopting A Waiting Child From Foster Care

If you have ever wondered how the adoption placement process for waiting children works (because I sure have), then I highly recommend reading this post from Attempting AgapeWhy Can't I Adopt a Young Child From Foster Care?? which answers the following questions:

-Why are there so few babies and toddlers available to adopt in foster care?

-How does a child become a "waiting child"?

-What are the placement preferences for families wanting to adopt a child through foster care?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jack & Jill's (First) Permanency Hearing

I recently looked up some synonyms for the words "permanency" and "permanent".   These are some of the words with similar meanings which stood out to me: stability, dependability, established, unchanged, intact.

Jack and Jill's Permanency Hearing was last week and although one might assume by the name "permanency" that a final decision was made on their behalf, things are just being dragged out. 

"These children need permanency in their lives" is what the attorney representing DCFS stated to the judge as he recommended that reunification services to their mother be discontinued.  "YES!" I thought.  Truer words were never spoken.  The children's Guardian Ad Liteum argued in favor of the same thing and requested that their permanency goal be changed from reunification to adoption.

I guess I'm na├»ve because before I started fostering I thought that foster care was all about the best interest of the children and protecting them and their rights.  But children who find themselves in foster care make up just one part of the equation.  Bio families have rights and legal representation as well and although it may be different in other states, the court system in my state appears to place a heavy emphasis on preserving the rights of the birthparents at all costs and emphasizing reunification above all- even when it may not necessarily be in the best interest of the children.

Although the children's attorney (their Guardian Ad Liteum/Guardian or GAL for short) and the attorney representing the state (The Assistant Attorney General or AAG for short)  and the caseworker's detailed Court Report all made a strong case towards terminating their mother's services, Jack and Jill's mother's attorney as well as their father's attorney (their dad was a no show in court) argued in favor of giving more time to their mom to finish the unmet requirements of her Service Plan.  Apparently almost a year isn't enough time.  The judge listened to their mother's pleas as well and seemed sympathetic to her tears when she reported feeling "picked on" and since the judge is the one who has the final say, mercy was granted and he gave her a 90 day extension.

Now don't get me wrong- I'm all for reunification IF it is in the child's best interest.  But when it is clearly not in their best interest [and that happens to be the case in this situation]- that's where I have issues with things. 

I expressed my concerns of the children returning to their mother's care to their Guardian Ad Liteum weeks ago and thankfully she was able to listen and respond.  But it wasn't just concern for the children that I brought up- I also expressed how nervous I am for their mom to suddenly become the full-time caregiver to her children (should the judge order in favor of reunification) because as much as she loves them, ACTIONS ultimately speak louder than words and her actions show that she is just not ready and very ill-equipped to care for two young children under the age of two.  Although I won't go into details one huge concern is how she can care for them when there's no suitable place for them to return to?  Stable housing is just one of the unmet requirements of her Service Plan which is why she will have 90 more days (after almost a year and plenty of resources have been given to her by the state) to find appropriate housing.  And by finding housing I don't mean she's living in the streets or in a shelter, but she needs to find a place to live where everyone 18 years or older residing there is able to pass a background check. 

I mentioned before how important transitioning is before reunification and to this date Jack and Jill's mother has only had one unsupervised visit with her children outside of the DCFS office for three hours.   Unsupervised visits were abruptly discontinued as a result of other violations of her service plan.  Their mom will continue having her weekly supervised visits at the DCFS Office for five hours a week which will be extended according to the progress she makes. 

One good thing to come from the hearing is that the judge ordered that Jack and Jill's mother be the only one at the supervised visits since her own mom (the children's birth grandma) was the one taking care of the kids during part of the visits that she was able to come to rather than their mom actually watching them.  Family support is great but in this case their mother needs to learn to be the primary caregiver since birth grandma can't pass a background check and is not an option for temporary or permanent care in the future. 

The next Permanency Hearing is scheduled for November- the week before Thanksgiving to be precise.  Three more months of attachment and prolonging permanency for the children.  By that point Jill will have spent all of her life with our family (14 months) and Jack will have spent 14 of his 25 months of his life with us.  My head and heart hurt when I think about the trauma these babies will go through if they are removed from our home and the conditions they will be returning to make me very nervous.  I try not to think about it and just focus on the time we have with them now.

As frustrating as the results of the recent hearing have been, the other good thing to come out of this first Permanency Hearing is that since no more extensions can be given (the judge was just as well as merciful) at least in three more months we will know one way or the other if Jack and Jill will be staying or going.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Fost-Adopt Roller Coaster Continues

I laughed when I saw this cartoon and it reminded me of fostering:


The emotional roller coaster of Jack and Jill's case continues with ever more unexpected twists and plunges.  Two short weeks ago I shared the news that Jack and Jill's father had decided to relinquish his parental rights.  I even expressed my concerns and speculations by saying:
 
 Is it possible that Jack & Jill's father has come to the realization that he is not in a good position to raise his children and that even if their mother's rights are terminated they would be adopted into a loving stable home?  I don't know what is going through his mind but I think it's sad that he just stopped coming to visits without formally saying goodbye to his children.  Then again, maybe it would be too painful to have to say goodbye.

Incidentally, a few days after writing that particular post I asked the caseworker if Jack & Jill's father had any plans of coming to any more visits with the children or of formally saying goodbye.  The caseworker then shared a text with me from their father which answered a lot of my questions.  In the message to her he basically said that he knew that Jack was bonded to me as was evident by the way he would come to me after visits or when he needed to be comforted and that he knew I was taking good care of Jack as well as Jill.  Because of this, relinquishing his rights was an easier decision to make.  I felt better about things- not just for their father's sake but also because I was fast forwarding 15-20 years and thinking about if we did adopt Jack & Jill I could tell them that their first father did in fact love them and care about them very much.

So the past couple of weeks my concerns have been focused on their mom and with the kids returning to her care.  I even contacted the GAL and expressed some of these concerns. 

Then just a few days ago I was in the lobby of the DCFS building with the kids and their caseworker waiting for their mom to arrive for their visit.  Their mom arrived but so did their dad- just a few steps behind her.   Long story short: Their parents got back together and the permanency hearing is just a month away. 

That should be a good thing right- a family coming back together?  I wish I could say that I am overjoyed for them but I've fallen into the trap of "US vs. THEM" thinking and have had to remind myself that it isn't a competition between my family and Jack and Jill's parents. 

I was also extremely humbled when the thought came into my mind "Heavenly Father loves her (Jack & Jill's mom) as much as he loves you."   And then when I came across this thought just yesterday I knew that it wasn't just a coincidence but that God was trying to teach me something.

 
I know that LOVING rather than judging is the right thing to do- but sometimes it can be so hard!
  
POST-SCRIPT:Jack & Jill's parents stayed together less than a week before breaking up again.

Monday, July 28, 2014

LDS Family Services No Longer Doing Adoptions

A Little Background:  LDS Family Services is the agency we went through for our first adoption.  I've written about them here and  here.  Overall our experience with LDSFS has been positive- especially when our family was involved with the adoption advocacy group Families Supporting Adoption, which was sponsored by LDS Family Services but which has (sadly) dissolved over the past couple of years.  Thankfully, another advocacy group, United For Adoption, with the same purpose as Families Supporting Adoption is quickly gaining momentum.

Last month as I was grocery shopping my phone buzzed and I got a message from a very active member of the LDS Adoption Community referring me to a news article announcing that LDS Family Services would no longer be doing adoptions.  Even though I've known that this would be coming for a few years now, I still felt very sad to learn that it was now "official". 
 
My husband and I feel very fortunate that we were able to use LDS Family Services- a social service agency administered under the direction of our Church- for our first adoption because it greatly subsidized the costs for us to adopt a child.  I know that for many other LDS couples, adopting through LDS Family Services is the only possible way they were able to afford to adopt a child.  Adopting through LDS Family Services is 10% of a family's gross annual income- not to exceed $10,000 whereas other private adoption agencies can range anywhere from $25K to $40K. 
 
Incidentally, I chuckled to myself when I read the title of one article announcing the recent changes:  "Mormon church drops adoption business".  Adoption is not, nor has it ever been, a "business" for the LDS Church.  The word "business" implies that money is made but the truth is that the Church loses money on each adoptive placement through LDS Family Services. 
 
Because LDS Family Services falls under the administration of Humanitarian Services/Welfare Services of the church the first explanation I heard about why Families Supporting Adoption (FSA) and adoptions through LDSFS would be coming to a halt is the costliness of adoptions.  From a cost/benefit analysis adoption is a very noble cause but could $25,000 be spent to benefit more than just one family but perhaps an entire village or community through projects such a building wells to provide clean drinking water or to build a school or start a farm in an underdeveloped area?  In other words, what would be most beneficial to the greatest amount of people? 
 
The second reason I heard for LDS Family Services stopping adoptions is simply the fact that less women are choosing to place their children for adoption.  This is evident by the number of prospective adoptive couples signed up with LDS Family Services (or any adoption agency for that matter) in contrast to the number of unwed mothers who choose to place their children for adoption.

On a related note, not all expectant parents who go through LDS Family Services for support choose adoption, nor are they required to do so.  Some, like a high school friend of mine who became pregnant shortly after we graduated from high school, choose to parent but still receive support from the agency.  (I know this because I accompanied her to a support group on one occasion).   Basically it is the role of LDS Family Services to provide resources to single expectant parents and help them explore their options but they will respect and support whatever decision is made- whether that decision includes to parent or to place.  This is exactly what David McConkie, the current group manager for adoptions for LDS Family Services, said in another article:  "We are trying to expand our services to that group [single expectant parents] and let them know that whatever their choice, we will help them as much as we can to be successful- whatever their choice may be."
 
Of course there has been speculation that LDS Family Services is getting out of adoptions because they don't want to feel "forced" to place children with homosexual parents against their religious conscience, as has been the case with other religious-based agencies such as Catholic Community Services, but none of the articles I read or any of the spokespeople for the agency cited that controversial issue as the reason for this shift in focus.
 
So what does this mean for adoptive couples who have been waiting to adopt through LDS Family Services?
 
Well, the good news is that the changes didn't go into effect immediately when the announcement was made, but will take effect at the end of this year OR when a couple's Home Study with LDS Family Services expires.  Hopefully this will give at least a couple of months for many of the roughly 600 prospective adoptive families to come up with alternative plans.  Since LDS Family Services will no longer be a child-placing agency they will no longer be doing home studies for adoptive couples but they will continue to provide counseling to adoptive couples. 

Services to expectant parents and birthparents will basically remain unchanged.  It is my understanding that LDS Family Services will continue to offer support and counseling as they always have, but since the agency no longer does home studies of adoptive applicants they will refer birthparents to other reputable adoption agencies.   Birthparents will still have access to profiles of prospective LDS adoptive couples online through the itsaboutlove.org website. 
 
Speaking of which . . .  just for fun  I looked up our profile on itsaboutlove.org this morning and discovered that after five and a half years of waiting to adopt this time around with LDS Family Services our family made it to the TOP 15 of couples who have been waiting the longest to adopt!  That is, out of 561 families currently listed on itsaboutlove only 2% have been waiting to adopt longer than we have.)  Too bad it's not a contest to see how long you must wait to adopt because Top 2% sounds pretty impressive if I do say so myself! 

By the way, I can personally vouch for two families in the "Top Ten" who have been waiting to adopt longer than we have- Jo is my childhood friend and I met Doug and Marianne at an adoption conference four or five years ago and instantly liked them.  Any child would be lucky to be in either of these families.  Seriously.
 
One major advantage of having to wait more than five years to adopt is that it gives you more time to explore other options and save up money.  Because of this, our family has continued to stay licensed as a fost-adopt family through our state and we have not entirely given up inquiring about waiting children.  We feel fortunate to be able to be signed up with two other adoption agencies in addition to LDSFS including Premier Adoption and Forever Bound Adoption which was founded by Steve Sunday, a very reputable adoption professional who has had over 30 years of experiences heading adoptions with LDS Family Services and who currently sits on the Board of Directors of Utah Foster Care.

This change in LDS Family Services adoption services is not the end of the world for our adoption hopes but I know that other prospective adoptive couples going through LDS Family Services have been absolutely devastated by the news that LDSFS will no longer be a child-placing agency.  My heart truly goes out to these families.  In answer to the question I posed earlier: what does this mean for adoptive couples who have been waiting to adopt through LDS Family Services?  These families who have been using LDS Family Services must now find another adoption agency or pursue an adoption with a lawyer but no agency involvement (which means they'd have to network like CRAZY to find a birthmother who is in a position to place a child).  Or they could always pursue foster adoption through their state, look into domestic adoption, pursue infertility treatments (if that is an option for them and if they haven't already exhausted their financial resources and/or health in the process, that is) or simply give up.  None of these options will be easy.


Because I'm slightly biased in favor of providing foster care regardless of if the outcome is adoption, I did offer up this piece of advice in an online forum to any who find themselves in such a position:

"For any hopeful adoptive couples out there who may not be able to afford the costs of a private agency outside of LDSFS and who have ever considered it, I would strongly encourage you to look into FOSTERING or FOST/ADOPTING THROUGH YOUR STATE which is not only FREE but more importantly can make a huge difference in the life of a child! Here's the link to a downloadable Prospective Foster Parent Packet from Utah Foster Care: http://utahfostercare.org/beco.../prospective-parent-packet/ and here is a link to finding more info about fostering in other states: http://www.adoptuskids.org/.../state-adoption-and-foster...."
 
Any other thoughts on the changes with LDS Family Services and adoption?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Relinquishing Parental Rights of a Child in Foster Care

This is what I wrote about the status of Jack and Jill's case in this post:

" it seems like there is literally some new development in the case every. single. week."
 
Last week we learned of another major development in the case:  Jack and Jill's father has decided to relinquish his parental rights, which means IF the judge rules in favor of reunification the babies will be returning to the care of their single parent mom who must use her minimum wage earnings to put them in subsidized day care while she works.  (No friends or relatives have been approved to provide temporary or permanent care to the babies which is a big reason why there hasn't been any opportunity for unsupervised or extended/transitional visits in a home environment outside of the DCFS office.)  Transitioning is SO important- not just to the children whose needs should come first but to birth families as well! 

My biggest concern is that if the children are placed back with their mom it will be too overwhelming for her to care for them because she's just not used to it.  I've said it before but playing with your kids for a couple of hours a week during a supervised visit is VASTLY different than caring for them 24/7- especially considering the fact that she will have such limited support.  What a tough situation to be in.
 
To the credit of Jack & Jill's mother, she has been able to keep a job the last couple of months and she always shows up to their weekly supervised visits.  However, after ten months she has yet to find housing nor has she started on another major requirement of her Service Plan which could realistically take months to complete.  
 
The Permanency Hearing is only six weeks away and although the caseworker and the children's Guardian Ad Liteum will not be recommending reunification with their mother since she has completed less than half of her Service Plan Requirements, I will not be surprised if the judge (who seemed rather lenient towards birthparents at the last hearing I attended) will offer an extension rather than terminating parental rights.
 
Another note about relinquishing parental rights:  I hate to say it, but I think financial responsibility is one big factor in Jack and Jill's father's choice to relinquish.  He will no longer have to legally provide financial support to his ex-girlfriend (the children's mom) or the children.  Nor will he have DCFS "on his back".   
 
I have only had one other foster child who had a parent relinquish their parental rights and it was not the first time this parent had done so.  It was also only after he knew his child would be adopted by relatives which makes me wonder: Is it possible that Jack & Jill's father has come to the realization that he is not in a good position to raise his children and that even if their mother's rights are terminated they would be adopted into a loving stable home?  I don't know what is going through his mind but I think it's sad that he just stopped coming to visits without formally saying goodbye to his children.  Then again, maybe it would be too painful to have to say goodbye.