Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Child Abuse Statistics Infographic

An Infographic from Instant Checkmate to share in conjunction with National Foster Care Month:

Child Abuse in America Infographic

What statistics surprised you the most (or the least)? 

One statistic which I thought would be slightly higher is that "30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children."  As a foster parent I've witnessed firsthand how cyclical abuse and neglect tend to be.  More power to those brave individuals who are willing to break the cycle!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Abandoned Babies & Safe Haven Laws

This morning I read the following headline:

I immediately became deeply disturbed on so many levels and was even more affected after seeing the baby boy's face as he was crying out in an accompanying video clip:

Here's some of my thoughts about this little baby's discovery and rescue:

1)  Although child abandonment can happen in any country, this particular case came out of China where child abandonment and infanticide rates are prevalent because of strict government restrictions on the number of children a family can have, gender preferences for babies (namely boys being preferred over girls), or a baby being born with a disability.

2)  Poverty is another big determining factor in child abandonment, but this child was found in a particularly wealthy province which makes it so much harder to fathom.

3)  News like this is especially hurtful to learn about when I'm aware that there are thousands of couples who would give anything to have a baby (including depleting their savings to undergo expensive and invasive medical treatments to no avail, or who have suffered miscarriage after miscarriage) and/or those who have been waiting and waiting for the opportunity to be a parent- something which seems to come so easily and effortlessly to others.

4)  Thank goodness for those who are able to provide homes to abandoned babies and children- versus the alternative of these babies being institutionalized or growing up in orphanages.  On a related note, I'm sure there are other foster families out there between placements who heard about this baby boy and thought, "If only this would have happened in our area- we would likely be receiving a placement call today!"
5) If this baby were in the U.S. where Safe Haven Laws exist, perhaps his parents could more easily explore options other than abortion or abandonment without fear of incrimination.

6)  Discarding a child in a sewer pipe.  A sewer pipe?  The implications are that this baby is no more than waste . . . refuse . . . something to be flushed away.  Not in God's eyes.  The following scripture reference comes to mind:  "Remember, the worth of souls is great in the sight of God."

7)   Not only do Safe Haven Laws save the lives of innocent babies but they are a great resource to pregnant girls and women who may not have the support or even the awareness of options available to them.  This may be especially true in cases where women prefer to be anonymous for fear of being disowned by family members if their pregnancy is discovered, when they or their baby are at risk of being harmed, or in cases of rape and incest.

8)  Thankfully, Safe Haven Laws now exist in every U.S. state and organizations such as Project Cuddle help birth mothers find alternatives to abandoning their babies. 
9)  There are safe and hopeful alternatives to child abandonment, including adoption!

(Although I'm not a fan of the "give your baby up" phraseology the founder uses in this clip, Project Cuddle and similar organizations are very worthwhile nonetheless.)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Learning from Foster Adoptive Families

My husband and I have fostered and we have adopted, but up to this point we have never adopted from the foster care system.  So . . . What do you do when you would like to foster-adopt but have never done so?  RESEARCH!  And by research I don't just mean learning the requirements of how foster adoptions work in your state, exploring any potential behavioral or emotional issues that might arise in adopted children who have been living in foster care, learning what resources are available to your family for post-adoption support, but by reading about other's firsthand, candid experiences of foster adoption.  Which conveniently leads me to my next paragraph . . .  
Although I'm terribly behind on my blog reading, within the last couple of weeks I've been able to catch up on a couple of blogs of foster adoptive families.  A couple of observations or things that stood out to me from their experiences were:
1)  Even though there is celebration when a foster child becomes an "official" member of a family through adoption, there is also tremendous loss- not just on the part of the children who are losing their biological family (no matter how "dysfunctional" or unsafe a family may seem to be, family is family!)  but also on the part of parents whose rights have been terminated and who lose custody of their children.  
Think of it this way:  If birthparents who willingly place their children for adoption and get to choose their child's family suffer great loss and grief, just think of how hard it would be to have your children taken away from you because a court of law terminated your parental rights and deemed you unfit to be a parent and now perfect strangers will be raising your children as "their" children.  
2)  Even if you don't agree with your adopted child's bio family and their lifestyles, you can still show compassion for them- [or at least acknowledge their loss as a fellow human being.]
This is why I was so impressed with two foster mothers who both shared similar feelings of compassion for their children 's birthparents at recent termination trials. 
 One mother's words of this experience:

"If you find it impossible to have compassion for birth parents in a situation like this – if you just can’t connect with them and empathize – go to a termination trial.
They are just people.
Thrown into the pool of life in the deep end, head first.
Usually with no support system.
Usually having grown up without role models.
A life most of us cannot even relate to."

Another foster mother shared her feelings about attending the termination trial of her soon to be adopted children's birth mother:

"it was really hard to sit in the room and have the judge declare parental rights terminated.
the kids' birth mother was devastated... it was hard to watch her fall apart.
she is a kind woman that has lived a really hard life.
it was hard to sit through their entire life story and hear all the sad details over again."
When I first started fostering I saw things in a black and white way:  Foster parents were the "good guys" sent to rescue children from their broken homes and their "bad" parents who had messed up.  I've since been reminded- again and again- that nobody is perfect and that we all do the best we know how.  When you foster a child, you are not just helping the child but you are providing a service to their family as well by being a support or resource for them until they can get back together again. 
On a related note, the more I've learned about our foster children's parents and family backgrounds the more I realize how lucky I am to have the support system I have of family members, friends, and trusted neighbors who could, if necessary, step in and help out with my children if I ever needed their help.  Not everyone has that kind of support.  If you do, be grateful and don't take it for granted.
3)  Although open adoption with bio parents is not required, in some cases it seems helpful for all parties involved to keep the lines of communication between bio parents and siblings or relatives and adopted children somewhat open (if possible).  This, of course, is a very tricky matter and each situation is going to vary.  I'm still trying to learn from other families how to find the balance of "moving forward" with your new family and not discounting or ignoring the adopted child's family of origin.  It seems it would be preferable for many foster adoptive families to sever ties altogether with their child's bio family- especially when adopted children have already suffered greatly because of their bio parent's choices.

4)  This is a continuation of my first observation, but important enough in itself to be considered separately. . . Children who are adopted by their foster families will experience loss (which will vary depending on their age, developmental level, and how long they have been in foster care) and these children may have conflicting feelings of guilt or disloyalty for loving their foster family and having to say goodbye to their family of origin.  As with all loss, this loss needs to be acknowledged, as uncomfortable as that may be.

One mother who adopted her daughter from foster care when she was nine years old, was respectful of her daughter's feelings when she shared:

"She's glad she's with us now, but becoming part of our family was terrifying and stressful for her.   Big "gotcha day" fanfare just doesn't seem right.  We didn't acquire a new couch.  We added a traumatized child who had been through the ringer to our family.  A child.  With big feelings about what happened to her, most of which were not happy at the time."
5) Apparently Paperwork still doesn't end after an adoptive placement.  Dang-It!  There is still much to go through to get children applied for Medicaid, into different kinds of therapies, treatments, and even school programs.

FOSTER/ADOPTIVE FAMILIES:  Is there anything else you'd like others to know about what to expect when adopting from the foster care system?  Please share your experiences by leaving a comment!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review: Too Hurt to Stay

I was contacted by TLC Book Tours to write an honest review of Casey Watson's book, Too Hurt To Stay,  in exchange for a copy of the book.
Casey Watson (a pseudonym) is a specialist foster parent in the U.K.  She and her husband provide care to children who are particularly hard to place, or as she describes in this book "the ones everyone else had given up on" (p.80).   Watson's inspiration for fostering was that she worked with troubled kids in a school setting which must have been good preparation for choosing to work with particularly troubled children. 
As a grandmother in her 40s with no other children in her home and a supportive husband, Watson has an ideal home for providing one-on-one attention and care to the type of children who come into their home.  Their goal as foster parents is to provide what some might call "specialized" or "therapeutic" foster care by using a point system based on rewarding good behavior and choices with privileges.  The ultimate goal of such a behavior modification program is to have the children in their care make enough progress to return to their "regular" foster homes or to be returned to their family's care. 

Too Hurt to Stay is the true story about an eight year old boy, Spencer, who asks to be put into care by social services.  What kind of a kid would ask to be in care?  How bad would a child's home life have to be to do that?  Those were my first thoughts when reading the beginning chapters.  And my curiosities and concern for this little boy deepened each time Casey's caseworker shared additional information with her about his case:  Spencer is the middle child of 5 children and his parents claim that he is "abnormal" and "born evil". . . (yet they don't have any problems with any of their other children which made me a bit suspicious.)
As a foster parent I also have to admit that I thought it was quite ironic that Casey was thinking about "taking a break" at the time she received the call about Spencer.

Although this book is a true account and chronicles Watson's experience fostering one little boy, it almost could have been classified as a mystery because I wanted to know, as did Casey, if this little boy she was caring for was simply acting out on learned behaviors from a troubled home (nurture) or if he might actually be a true sociopath (nature).   The most disturbing parts of this book for me to read were not so much about Spencer's troubling behaviors- specifically lying, stealing, running away, and hurting children and animals, but his reaction when he was "caught"- he would either deny things altogether, shift the blame to someone else, or when he couldn't lie his way out of a situation he seemed to show no guilt whatsoever for his actions. Just as eerie was how polite he could act so shortly afterwards or before any of these incidents occurred.
I really wanted to give Spencer the benefit of the doubt- especially since he was just eight years old- and I believe that there's always a reason people act or react the way they do, but I was also quite terrified that he might actually be a sociopath.  Having said that, it is not until the end of the book that we learn more details of his family life and some of the puzzling aspects of his case and history slowly begin to fall into place and make more sense. I admit that I was a bit surprised at how things turned out and it just goes to show that situations and people aren't always what they seem.
I couldn't help comparing this book and the author to Cathy Glass and her books as Watson and Glass are both experienced foster carers in the U.K. who write about their experiences under pen names.  I think I prefer Cathy Glass's writing style a bit over Watson's- although I can't quite put my foot on why- but I found Watson very easy to like and I admire her tremendously for being willing to open her home to children like Spencer who need such specialized care. 
Although this book was a worthwhile read, I would caution others who aren't familiar with fostering from jumping to the conclusion that every single foster child is going to display all of the behaviors Spencer showed.  Please keep in mind that Casey Watson specifically requests to work with children who have significant behavioral or emotional problems and that foster parents are able to choose which kinds of age groups, past traumas, or disabilities and behaviors they feel comfortable with. 
As a foster care provider, I personally wouldn't be able to say "yes" to having a child with Spencer's behaviors in my home (at least at this stage in my life) as he could be a danger to my own children, so I applaud Watson and her husband -and others of you out there!- who go through the training and whose families and homes are a good fit for these children so that they can have just that- a home setting and support while they work through things rather than having to be placed in an institutionalized setting.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

My Name is Mommy . . .

I waited a long time to be a mother, and now that I am one these comics/graphics/memes seemed extra funny to me:
I'm so grateful to be a mom. . .
And it's all because of a Birth Mother.