Friday, October 26, 2012

Co-Parenting Book

I googled the term co-parenting and was surprised to come across an e-book, Another Mother: Co-Parenting with the Foster Care System by Sarah Gerstenzang.  It immediately interested me not only because it was about foster parenting, but because the author was a social worker in graduate school at the time she and her family decided to foster.

I already pulled a few pertinent quotes from the book in this post, but now that I’ve read the whole thing I’d love to share some of the things I read which really resonated with me-  (which I’ve CATEGORIZED for easy reference and bolded the parts which I could relate to.)
During Gerstenzang’s  last year of graduate school she interned with a prevention program in New York City intended to help parents whose children were at risk of entering foster care through parenting classes and counseling and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, among other services.
“When reading files and meeting clients, I was overwhelmed by their stories, which almost always included poverty, little education, few family or social supports (or at least not positive ones) and often a history of being sexually assaulted.”
Shortly after she finished the internship and after becoming licensed, she and her husband asked to be put on the list to provide foster care.  At the time they had two young children, a boy and girl, ages six and eight.  She described her mixed feelings like this
While excited about our new venture, I also felt somewhat predatory waiting for another parent to stumble so that we could pick up the pieces.  I felt that I knew too much.   These birth parents weren’t evil monsters- (or most of them anyway) they were unlucky people who had difficult lives.  I also knew that children almost always want to be with the parents they know, regardless of how they are treated.  I wrestled with my ambivalence.  What is really best for these children?  How bad do parents have to be to justify taking their children away? 
Gerstenzang further wrote about how social class and culture affect those involved in foster care, by first comparing the demographics stated by an Australian social worker with similar demographics in the U.S.:
“Brenda Smith, an Australian social worker has written that in her country ‘the majority of foster children come from the most socially disadvantaged and stigmatized families, particularly those headed by mothers, and are mostly cared for by upper-working class foster mothers and supervised by middle-class welfare workers.’
This is true, too, in the United States, where except via the professional roles of lawyers or social workers, foster care rarely touches the middle class.  The first time I took Cecelia (her foster daughter) into the agency medical office, the doctor asked what my husband and I did for a living   (Her husband is a lawyer and she was in graduate school)  She then asked why we chose to become foster parents.  The real curiosity in her voice made it obvious how unusual we were.
The people I know who can’t or choose not to have birth children have adopted through domestic private adoptions or internationally, at a cost of $15,000 to $30,000.  The majority of children in foster care are placed with and sometimes eventually adopted by working-class people in their own neighborhoods.    A conundrum that would nag at me over the next months was why middle-class Americans showed little to no interest in these children (aside from shaking their collective heads at the occasional horror story in the media) but would go to so much trouble and expense for children in other countries.  (I’ve wondered the exact same thing!)  I wondered if it was race, class, the bureaucracy , the stigma of U.S. foster care, or the excitement of a foreign language and culture?  Ignorance?  The discomfort of being too close to the reality of the child’s birth family?  (Understandable- I’ve been guilty of making that a concern.)
It is hard to discern the cause of this phenomenon, which involves such complex and emotional issues. Of course, many people are simply desperate to adopt, and it is understandably appealing to them to go to poverty-stricken countries and adopt young children where there is virtually no chance of ever having contact with the birth family.  Distance and race must also have something to do with it as there are healthy African American infants who are adopted by Australians and Canadians each year.  However, others adopt for humanitarian reasons-something I have considered, as it is so hard to read about the intense suffering of other people, especially children.  Why don’t these people ever become foster parents or adopt one of the thousands of children in foster care who are already freed for adoption in the United States?  Then they could send the thousands of dollars they would save to other countries to aid many children instead of just one.”
I thought that last idea was BRILLIANT.  However, by agreeing with her I am not necessarily judging others for adopting internationally versus domestically because I think some people feel “called” or drawn to adopt from a certain country or race or culture (or even to adopt children with specific disabilities and medical conditions) just as others feel the call to foster.  It’s such a personal decision and it is my hope that any family or individual who makes such a decision would have an outpouring of support from others rather than judgment and criticism heaped upon their heads.
I will save my thoughts for the rest of the book (mostly about race & fostering and adopting) for another post.


Maggie said...

I have thought all of the same things about adoption through foster care vs. international adoption. Like you said, not to judge those who adopt internationally - but really out of curiosity.
How many more children could we adopt if we did it through a free adoption process (domestic foster care) and were able to put all that money toward adopting MORE kids!

All that to say - the book sounds really interesting, thanks for sharing!

Sunday Koffron Taylor said...

Really great post Mary, it is really a lot to think about. Sigh!

Unknown said...

I adopted privately, domestically, not internationally, but I can imagine the reasons people have for choosing international over domestic foster. Examples:
- Younger children tend to be available internationally, while most children free for adoption via foster care are over 8.
- I remember reading an article in our local paper about how at least 50% of calls from people inquiring about foster parenting are never returned by CPS. A private agency is probably going to be better about calling back.
- Kids in foster care here may not have families, but they probably have enough food, shelter, and medical attention. The same cannot be said for children in other countries.

Those are just some thoughts off the top of my head.

Ariane said...

We adopt domestically and pay between 30-35,000 for each child (I have never seen a baby for 15,000 except through LDSFS). We have chosen this over foster care because the purpose of adoption is to find forever families for children. The goal behind foster care seems to be to help birth parents so that their children can be reunited with them. We haven't felt ready to go down that road yet. Adoption is super expensive, but I didn't want to choose foster care just because it was a cheaper route.

When I listened to Elder Oaks talk from last conference I was moved to tears from the first couple words to the end. It is hard to hear about so much suffering and I felt moved to want to do something like I do whenever I hear about children suffering. My friend who has also adopted felt the same way. My mom and sister though didn't have the same reaction. They enjoyed the talk, felt sad for children suffering in the world, but didn't feel moved to action. Sometimes I wonder if we were given infertility so that our hearts would be open to harder situations.

Mary said...

Ariane- My husband had some very similar observations about Elder Oak's address and his call to ACTION on behalf of children!

"Sometimes I wonder if we were given infertility so that our hearts would be open to harder situations". Your statement rings true to me. Infertile or not, I've always been concerned with child welfare issues, but as I've said in a previous post, if I were to have a household of biological children there's a chance I wouldn't have the room (literally and perhaps figuratively) for foster children in our home.

Mary said...

Good points, Robyn. Our biggest obstacle to adopting a legally free child from foster care is AGE since we prefer (at this point in time at least) not to adopt out of birth order. As with many couples who have considered adopting internationally our biggest obstacle is PRICE. I'm always impressed with families who make great personal sacrifices or organize fundraising efforts to finance the high cost of private adoptions.