Wednesday, December 19, 2018

ReMoved#3- Love is Never Wasted

Nathanael Matanick has done it once again!  I watched ReMoved 3 yesterday and was particularly impressed with the grief portrayed by the little boy, his mother, and the foster mother.*

I also appreciated the portrayal of the complexities of differing opinions family members have when considering opening up your home to a foster placement as well as the positive and negative affects a child could have on other children in the home.

Other observations: 8:10 killed me!

I remember in one training, our trainer pointed out that even though a child may come to your home in clothes wreaking of smoke or other not-so-pleasant odors and substances, or they may have a tattered blanket or raggedy stuffed animal which they can't seem to part with, it is imperative that foster parents are mindful that these items may be the only "connection" to home that these children may have.  Scent, in particular, is very evocative of memories and people.  What could be an innocent and well-meaning attempt by a foster parent to simply sanitize an item or piece of clothing could, in reality, "erase" the comfortable and familiar scent a child has of his home and caregivers.

* Skip this next paragraph if you don't want a possible spoiler:

I was curious to know just how long this little boy stayed with his foster family.  I was totally surprised and touched at 15:40 because I figured the foster mom was a relative rather than a "stranger" who showed she cared.

The world needs more people who show they care!

Monday, November 19, 2018

Closing Our License/Advice to Those Considering Fostering

Back in this post, I forgot to mention one MAJOR factor to consider when deciding whether to foster or continuing to foster or adopt:  The feelings of your spouse on the matter!  Of course, if you’re single, no worries about having to come to a consensus!

Fostering, like any other significant commitment or change, will definitely add stress to your marriage and affect any children in your home.  If both spouses are not unanimously on board, I would recommend waiting until the decision is unanimous.  This, of course, can be extremely frustrating if one spouse feels Gung-ho about it and the other spouse or partner is anything less than lukewarm.

Over the past three or four years I’ve talked my husband into renewing our foster care license for “just one more year”.   When I recently realized that I need more required training hours to complete in order to renew our license for yet another year and I asked my husband to accompany me to an upcoming training it led to a big discussion about the pros and cons of keeping our license open for another year. 

Let me explain something about how my husband thinks and makes major decisions versus how I think, which might help you to understand or imagine how our discussion went:  My husband has always been very methodical and practical.  He carefully weighs the risks and benefits before becoming to a decision.  He also has an MBA, which translates into him viewing things from a cost/benefit analysis.  Even when trying to decide on a place to go on vacation, he carefully scouts out the best deals and frequently uses the term “ROI”- which, I have learned, stands for Return On Investment.   His thinking is basically motivated by “What are we going to get out of it?  Is it worth it in the end?” 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to have my head in the clouds, but I am a bit more guided by what I feel in my heart and sometimes decisions based on gut feelings can’t be explained logically- or they just don’t make much sense- at least initially.  I also admit that I have sometimes been guilty of making decisions based on the premise “What do I have to give?” rather than “What will I be getting in return?” To me it just comes down to the whole principle of “Ask not what your country or (fill-in-the blank) can do for you; Ask what YOU can do for your country (or whatever).”   Although such thinking may be considered by some to be noble and altruistic, it can also be foolish at times if one is constantly in a cycle of giving and giving without replenishing the source- and by source, I mean my own health and sanity and balance, as well as the time and energy I can devote to my own children. 
My advice to those considering fostering:
If you look at being a foster parent from a cost/benefit perspective, I can tell you with much certainty that you will give much more than you get.  If that bothers you, then you may want to look into another form of service to children and families.  However, if you are willing to sacrifice and put your own gratification on the back burner, and don’t mind giving more than getting, then go for it! Please know that you will have support from others who have walked the same road.  They can buoy you up on the hard days and listen to you vent with an empathetic ear because they “get it”- they’ve been there, too.
I also firmly believe that it is not just okay, but necessary, to take a break when needed.  Don’t be afraid to take a break through respite care or support from friends when dealing with particularly demanding or difficult placements.  And absolutely, take time to grieve and heal after heartbreaking cases of reunification.  Reach out to others who have been there, because it is a loss that not everyone can understand. 
Some cynics (or even yourself) might think, “Well, you signed up to foster- you knew there would be heartache, what did you expect?”  That may be true, but your bravery and willingness to open your heart has blessed a child or helped give a family a second chance.  That is not only commendable but courageous. 
To make a long story short, my husband and I have decided to close our license of fostering through our state after 12 years.  It was an easy conclusion for my husband to make, but not necessarily easy for me to accept.  Logically I know that I will have more time to devote to my children and to my schooling and other endeavors and I won’t have to go into a full-on adrenaline rush/panic every time I see “DCFS” on my caller ID, but I also feel like I’m giving up part of my identity and, of course, I think in the back of my mind and in my heart “But what about the children?”

In response to that question- which is not necessarily rhetorical, I have three children in my home who need me now more than any other children need me at this point in time.  And besides that, it’s not a contest to see how many children one can foster or adopt or how many years of experience one can accumulate- it’s about helping one child at a time.  Just think of it: If even half of the homes who are eligible in the United States would go through the training and foster just one child- what a difference it would make in the lives of those children!

Going back to the whole “Return on Investment” concept which I mentioned at the beginning of this post, even if our family hadn’t been able to adopt two of our children from foster care, the lessons we’ve learned, lives touched, and, I think, most importantly, the qualities and character we’ve developed, have been more than worthwhile.

Yes, I am a bit sad about not renewing our license for yet another year, but I am also starting to fill at peace about it and even some relief.  I don’t want to think of it as cutting all ties to fostering forever, but rather, taking a much-needed break and a bit of a different path.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Adoption: Heartbreak and Hope

Over the past year or so I’ve considered myself lucky if I’m able to write even one post a month on this blog.  Since there’s a few weeks remaining of November, here is my somewhat obligatory post during National Adoption Month.

Adoption has undoubtedly been a huge blessing in my life, but it’s not always necessarily a sunny subject.  I think the complexity lies within the fact that I am the beneficiary of somebody else’s grief and loss. 

I came across this quote this year and I was impressed with how many big and complicated feelings of mine it so accurately and succinctly addressed in just one sentence:

                Mother’s Day is a bittersweet day for me for that exact reason- I am vividly reminded that I am not the only mother my children have and I feel a bit of guilt as well as awe that I am the mother who gets to raise them.  Mother’s Day also brings up pangs of sorrow and memories of the years of alienation of being a childless woman.  Seven years actually goes by fairly quickly in retrospect, but when you’re in the middle of it, waiting seems like forever.

                When I take myself and my feelings out of the equation and consider my children and their feelings about being adopted and any issues they will deal with concerning their identity and history, I can’t help but acknowledge that as loving and stable as our home is, my children lost their first families and are the only ones in the adoption triad who had absolutely no choice in the matter of being placed with our family.   I can only wonder if this will bring up anger, sorrow, or resentment for them in the future.

My pre-school aged daughter (our youngest child) has been bringing up her birth mother quite a bit this year.  Incidentally, I remember the pre-school years as being a very pivotal time for our oldest daughter to bring up questions about babies in tummies in general and specifically about her adoption and her birth mother.  I know of an LCSW who has counseled a lot of children currently in foster care or adopted from foster care and she has observed that other common ages for children to bring up questions or have issues with their first families and their identities is 9 years old and 14 years old- I thought that was interesting.

My oldest daughter expressed sadness and disappointment to me when she was a preschooler, about not being able to come from my tummy.  Fast forward six years and I had a deja vu moment when my youngest daughter was playing with her dolls (or doing some activity that made her think of babies) and she commented to me something to the effect of, “Remember when I was in your tummy?”  I had to gently remind her that she never came from my tummy.  It was so interesting for me to see two totally different reactions to the same information.  Our youngest daughter immediately became angry rather than sorrowful, as our oldest daughter did.

This year my youngest daughter seems to be trying to reconstruct her story- and not always with accuracy. I listened to her one night recount a short narrative: “My ‘other’ mom was really nice and would always feed me bottles in this house when she used to live here.”  I had to bite my tongue and was thinking to myself, “The caseworker would have to prod your ‘other’ mother to pick up her newborn baby during her supervised visits!”  Of course, I didn't say that out loud, but kept my thoughts to myself.   Then I reminded my little girl that her “other” mother never lived in our house and that I picked her up from the hospital and brought her home a couple of days after she was born.   
It’s hard to give specific answers to the question of “why?” when my kids ask about why they don’t live with their first families.  Each situation has different backgrounds but we always make it a point to let our kids know that even though they are not with their birth mothers, they are loved by them very much.  I want them to know, more than anything, that their adoptions are in no way equated with abandonment or rejection, but rather, born of great love. 

It’s a little more awkward trying to explain things to my youngest two who are birth siblings.  I try to be as age-appropriate as possible and use the word “sick” (as in having an illness) to describe why their first mother wasn’t able to care for them rather than using the word “addiction”.  As they get older I can give more details as appropriate.

My little boy, now in kindergarten, hasn’t seemed to bring up adoption as much as his sisters do.  I don’t know whether that’s because he doesn’t think about it as much or just because he doesn’t verbalize it.  I did have an experience with him recently where I was cuddling with him- at his request- and I couldn’t help but think that we were making up for lost time bonding with each other since, unlike his sisters,  I missed out on the first year of his life.  I honestly don't know the extent to what he went through in his early life. "I wish I could have been there for him from the very beginning." I thought to myself.  Although it was a tender moment it also brought up some disappointment and a little bit of anger inside of me.  Such is adoption- beautiful and miraculous while heartbreaking at the same time.

Monday, September 24, 2018

How Do You Know When You're "Done" Fostering?

The last week of summer which morphed into the first week of school, we watched a six-month-old baby boy in our home for a foster family who went out of town.  I was actually surprised that our RFC called to ask us about watching a baby because we've gotten rid of most of our baby things and I had to borrow a Pack-N-Play so that the baby would have somewhere to sleep.
 It was a lot of fun for our kids to have a baby in the house to dote upon, but I'm starting to feel too old for middle of the night teething and feedings and lugging car seats around.  In fact, when I got information from the baby's foster mom, including visitation times and locations, I realized that I'm literally old enough to be this baby's grandma as his mother is certainly young enough to be my daughter.  It's not that I necessarily consider myself to be "old" in my 40's- I'm just not "young" anymore and I think since I have younger children people assume that I'm younger than I am.
 During a middle of the night feeding, I calculated (with the help of this blog) that this is the 20th foster child to come into our home and the 11th baby.   This caused me to do a lot of reflecting and I found myself asking, "Am I done yet?"  "Do we keep fostering?"  I wasn't sure if I was asking myself or asking God- or perhaps both, but those were the questions on my mind.
Some additional questions helped me to come up with some answers, or at least to fine-tune how I felt about things:

"What was your purpose or motivation for fostering in the first place?" 
"Do you still have room in your home?" 
"Do you still have the energy and health?"  
"Do you still have the same passion for fostering as when you first                              started?"  

As for motivation or purpose, some people foster to adopt and others foster simply to foster- because they know there is the need and they want to help children.  Both are worthy purposes.  In our case, we felt "the call" to open up our home to children not knowing what the end result would be but hoping it might end in adoption.  We ending up being able to adopt a sibling group placement after nine years of fostering.  And after that miraculous adoption was finalized it was a very tempting possibility for us to say, "Okay- we're done.  Someone else can take a turn now."  But something kept us from closing our license.  Maybe it's just because when you've done something for so long it becomes a part of you or maybe it's because we know all too well that there is a shortage of good foster homes.  

As for the answers to the other questions: "Do you still have the room?"  Some families may have the desire to foster or to keep fostering but they can't because there literally isn't room- they are filled to capacity for their license or they don't have the space for a child.  As for our home, it might be a little crowded but we can make room for one or maybe two more children.  "Do you still have the energy and health and motivation?"  Hmmm- that's debatable and not anything necessarily new to consider as both my physical health and motivation wax and wane.  I think at this point in time my biggest concern is "How will bringing more children into our home affect the children already in my home?"  

I think, for the most part, having other children come into our come has been an enriching experience for my children.  But I also know that I need to meet my own children's needs before I meet the needs of any other children- that's where my first responsibility lies.  And even though I have "just" three kids (because I'm aware there are much larger families out there!) giving each of them the individualized attention they need and chauffeuring them to lessons and practices and appointments keeps us busy enough.

Unfortunately, I still don't have a definite answer to the question of "Am I done yet?"  "Do we keep fostering?" but we did decide after our last respite placement that we will no longer be fostering babies.  If we do decide to keep our license open for another year we will be focusing on older children (at least school-aged) or respite placements.  In the meantime, I'll be focusing my efforts on our three children and graduate school and my internship and trying to find some occasional time to volunteer in my children's classrooms.  I think that's plenty to keep me busy for now.  

Friday, June 22, 2018

Reuniting Families and Fostering Immigrant Children

I expressed my concerns over migrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border in my last post, but I guess I'm not done because I have a few more concerns:

Concern #1: How are all of the children who have been separated from their parents going to be reunited with them?

June 20th's Executive Order will put a stop to separating families at the border but how will all of the families who have been separated be "put back together"?  It is my understanding that the U.S. government does not have any concrete plans to reunite these families.  However, I was pleased to learn that some businesses are taking a stand to prevent further separations:

-United Airlines, American Airlines, and Frontier Airlines are refusing to transport babies and children ripped from their parents; you can read about it HERE

It's refreshing to hear about businesses, organizations, and people making proactive efforts to reunite families, especially when there is so much heartache and debate surrounding this issue.  Maybe I need to take a break from watching the news or getting on social media- which leads me to my next concern:

Concern #2- Can we please stop politicizing children and come together regardless of our political party affiliation or loyalties and seek solutions for these children? 

I see the wisdom in Governor John Kasish's recent statement when he said, "This is a humanitarian crisis, so let's put politics aside, bring everyone to the table, and craft a real way forward."

I am not only concerned, but disturbed when people are more concerned about proving which administration's policy "created" the problem in the first place, rather than coming together to create solutions for these displaced children.  I think a good question for anybody who feels passionately about this crisis, including myself, should ask themselves is, "Where is my passion/anger/outrage coming from?  Am I more concerned about proving that I'm "right" or am I actively seeking solutions for displaced children or secure borders? (or whatever your biggest personal concern happens to be.)  

Perhaps I'm too idealistic or moderate, but I, for one, don't believe it's simply a dichotomy of "safe borders" versus "humane treatment for immigrants".  Both are valid concerns and not mutually exclusive.  Historically, administrations from both major U.S. political parties have enacted legislation to solve these problems.  Sometimes the legislation has been effective and other times it has created unintended consequences and more problems.

Some examples of major immigration legislation include the Flores Settlement Law, signed by Bill Clinton in 1997, which required unaccompanied minors who arrive in the U.S. to be released to their parents, a legal guardian, or an adult relative.  If there are no relatives available then a government agency appoints an appropriate adult to look after the child.  Although that particular legislation related to unaccompanied minors (versus minors traveling with family) such legislation focused on "family first".

In 2008 George Bush signed an anti-trafficking statute, The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection, which required unaccompanied minors to be transferred out of immigration centers within 72 hours.  The purpose of this bill was to protect immigrant children being brought over to the United States by sex traffickers and to provide such children a full immigration hearing (to decide if the child qualified for asylum or not).  As worthy and needful as this legislation was, it actually backfired and caused an increase in unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America (notably Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador where poverty and gang violence and crime are rampant).  This is because immigration cases are so backlogged that it could take years for a case to be heard.  In the meantime, these minors would be in limbo in the U.S.  

Fast forward to 2014 when Barack Obama tried to keep families together who crossed the border illegally into special "family detention centers".  This was a worthwhile goal but the unintended consequence was that it violated the policy of keeping children out of jail-like settings (even if they are with their parents).  A federal judge made the ruling and as a consequence, families were released into the United States pending notification of their immigration hearings.   This began the immigration policy sometimes referred to as "Catch and Release."

I use these examples to show that if one asks the question "Whose fault is this- the Republicans or  the Democrats?" you will not get a simple answer.  It's much more multi-faceted.  Both parties, under different administrations, have tried their best to deal with immigration and detention issues.  My hope is that policy makers can look into bipartisan and evidence-based practices in an attempt to discover what has worked and what has backfired and what policies or legislation will cause the least harm to children and families.

Concern #3- Reunification of displaced children and their families should take priority over adoption.

 The catchphrase and hashtag for advocates of not separating families at the U.S border is "Families Belong Together."

I am pro-family reunification IF it is in the child's best interest.  I am also pro-adoption provided it is done ethically.*

I've heard comments and concerns from those both within and outside of the foster and adoption community about how to go about fostering or possibly adopting an undocumented child (with parents or unaccompanied).  I have inserted myself into at least one of these conversations with the same information I shared back in this post:

 Which leads me to the question of:  What happens to children who are separated from their families at the border?

If I'm understanding the process correctly, These children are placed into the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) who then turns them over to their Office of Refugee Resettlement whose job is to place " unaccompanied alien children" in the "least restrictive setting that is in the best interests of the child." while the parents of the children await prosecution of federal misdemeanor charges or until they can be united with a relative or placed in a foster home.  ORR has shelters throughout the United States which are run by non-profit organizations.  
  Each state has different ways of handling things but in my state the largest agency which places refugee children into foster care does so only after an extensive search for relatives has taken place- which could take years.  Because of this, most of the children available for placement are older rather than the babies and toddlers currently detained in "Tender Age Shelters"

  I'm aware of other agencies in states like Michigan, Texas, and California who place children in more of an emergency foster placement until family can be located.  And for any who are looking into fostering an unaccompanied alien child (I'm not a fan of the term "alien" but that's the legal term), here is a snippet of FAQ page from ORR:

Concerning ethical adoption practices and displaced children, I couldn't agree more with this statement made today from Chuck Johnson, CEO of National Council for Adoption, concerning Children Being Held at the Border:

"Children who are unaccompanied or have been separated from their parents or guardians at the U.S. border are not—nor should they be considered—candidates for adoption by American citizens. This is consistent with National Council For Adoption’s long-held position regarding the adoption of children in times of crisis, such as war, earthquakes, and other catastrophic natural or man-made disasters in which children are separated from their families.
"Adoption is only a possibility for children for whom parental rights have been terminated or for whom there is clear evidence that they are orphaned. Based on NCFA’s understanding of the status of these 2,000+ children, few, if any, meet these criteria. For those who would be eligible for adoption, there are a number of options that could provide them with permanent, family-based care. NCFA has always supported a continuum of child welfare outcomes that prioritizes (in order) family preservation, adoption by relatives, and domestic adoption in a child’s native country all before intercountry adoption options are considered. It is paramount that the identities of these children be clearly ascertained and who and where their parents are is verified.
"Our hearts are with these children and we hope that those involved in determining their futures will act with integrity, care, and compassion."
If YOU have experience advocating for or working with agencies that foster children from other countries please leave a comment or message me so that I can learn more as we seek for solutions for these vulnerable children!

 * In the event that anybody wants to leave a nasty comment or send me hate mail, save us both some time and read this first:

 I know there are anti-adoption/family preservation AT ALL COSTS critics who could make the argument, "But you've adopted- your kids didn't get to stay with their first families!"  To which I would reply, "Yes- I have adopted.  The birth mother of our oldest child went through an agency through her own free will and placed her child for adoption because it was important to her that her baby be raised in a family with a mom and a dad (among other things).  It was important to us that the agency we went through provided counseling to expectant parents considering adoption both pre- and post-placement.   

Our younger children were adopted through the foster care system after their mother relinquished her parental rights a year and a half after they were placed in our care.  During that year in a half they were in our care as foster children we supported the plan for reunification with their family and both biological parents were given more than one chance, with services provided, to get their children returned to their custody.
In addition to the children we have adopted who are no longer with their first families, we have been a resource to many other families (the majority of our foster children) in caring for their children while they work to get them back.