Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My Top Ten Frustrations with Inquiring about Waiting Children

It’s been about three or four years now since I first started searching through profiles of Waiting Children in the U.S. foster care system as part of our family’s attempts to domestically adopt another child.  Although I’m not sure of the exact number of children we’ve actually inquired about, I can easily recount some of my frustrations from the process:

10) Hearing back from the caseworker after making an inquiry only to be told “That child (or children) has already been placed.”  Then why is their profile still online with no mention of that fact?!
 9)  Most of the times you can tell (but not always) if a child is in a wheelchair from their profile picture or because “moderate to severe physical disability” is part of the search criteria or information.  We do NOT have a wheelchair friendly-home so at this point in time inquiring after any children in wheelchairs is out of the question.
8) Age Preferences- Our family really likes babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.  In fact, I sort of feel like “pre-school age” is my specialty.  However, the majority of Waiting Children under three years old can be considered “medically fragile” due to conditions such as Shaken Baby Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, or various Birth Defects. I admit that such extensive medical needs such as changing colostomy bags and g- tubes or suctioning out little lungs and airways so they don’t aspirate seem a little overwhelming to me.  No judgmental or hateful comments, please . . . unless you’re perfect!
With age being a big factor, we’ve learned to broaden our horizons a bit about what age of child we would consider adopting or would be a good fit for our family which leads me to my next frustration . . .
7)  Falling in love with a profile or at least thinking “Hey- this could work” only to learn or read in the fine print “This child must be the youngest in the family.”   Shoot- that’s not gonna work!
6)  Being drawn to a child from another state only to learn that they must remain in or near their home state (in order to keep in contact with relatives or siblings).  If they are from a neighboring state, then things could be worked out but if they live on the other side of the country, then not so much.
5)  I did have the experience a couple of years ago of being particularly drawn to a sibling group from a neighboring state.  When I inquired about them (I was pretty persistent and there were many inquiries) the caseworker finally got back to me and gave me a lot of good, useful information but it also dashed any of my hopes of adopting these kids.
Useful information #1 the caseworker shared with me: These children had already been adopted but were coming from a disruptive placement.  As soon as she said “disruptive placement” I admit the first question out of my mouth was more-or less “What’s wrong with the kids?”  She proceeded to tell me that the adoption disrupted because their former foster/adoptive parents had sexually abused them; hence ALL of the children in the home had to be removed.  That made me very upset and angry.  Why do people like that get to adopt or foster- isn’t that why Background Checks and Interviews and References are a part of the screening process in the first place? 
The second useful piece of information the caseworker shared with me was this:  Because of the circumstances of the disrupted adoption, these children needed to remain in their home state so that their new adoptive family could be monitored very closely.   Very understandable.
4) ICWA cases
Most of the time (but not necessarily always) you can tell right away from a child’s profile picture or from the information listed under Ethnicity/Race that a child is Native American*.  Sometimes I’ll come across a picture of some beautiful golden skinned children and I immediately think “They’re Native American- don’t even get your hopes up high!”  I envision all of the drama and turmoil surrounding the Baby Veronica Case and sure enough, after reading further through their profile information and narratives I am told “Only families with proof of belonging to a federally recognized Native American tribe will be considered” which automatically rules our family out. 

*A few times, however, I have come across a child or children with skin as white as can be and you would never know they are American Indian until reading: “This child belongs to the _______ Tribe; only Native American families should inquire.”
3)  “Sugarcoating” behavioral or emotional problems of the children.  The same caseworker who gave me more info about the sibling group I mentioned in #5 also told me something very straight forward which I had actually suspected but I greatly appreciated her truthfulness in confirming the truth to me.  She said that from her experience many times on adoption websites the children’s issues are “sugarcoated” or minimalized.  This topic came up because I knew that the children I was inquiring about had some behavioral and emotional difficulties but I wanted to know more details about the extents and specifics of their issues.

I don’t know about you, but if I read, for instance, that a little girl likes playing with Barbies or listening to Justin Beiber I might think, “Well, yes, that’s nice-  BUT . . .  if they’re leaving out important details such as the fact that she’s sexually reactive or has major reactive attachment disorder than I don’t care how much she likes playing with Barbies or listening to Justin Beiber, I need to be armed with as much information as possible so that I can be prepared to meet her needs and effectively parent her- even if that means knowing the unpleasant facts.” 
2)  Inquiring about a child only to receive word (by phone or e-mail) “Your family has not been selected for this child.”  Or even worse . . .

1)  Never hearing back from a caseworker at all.  In my humble opinion, at least a “Thank you for inquiring” would be nice to hear even if there is no intention of placing the child in my home.

As I mentioned in Reasons #9, #8, #7, # 6 and #4, oftentimes it can be disappointing to learn all the facts about a child’s background when doing so makes you realize that the child wouldn’t be a good fit for your family after all and you want nothing more than to adopt a child.  However, it’s better for everyone involved (prospective adoptive parents, caseworkers and adoption professionals, and especially the child) to have as much information up front as possible.
It’s also good to be reminded that the purpose of Waiting Child Photolistings and Websites is not so much for families to find children to adopt but for children to find the right family and permanent home for them.   

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Power of Words to Harm or Heal

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the power of words.
Perhaps that is because my "Love Language" is words of affirmation and I find myself a little more sensitive to not only the words people speak as a reflection of how they treat others, but the way in which they speak those words.

Although this is a topic which is not exclusive to fostering, I have visibly seen the hurt and SHAME in at least one of my foster child's eyes as a result of obvious verbal abuse he had been through.  

I happen to strongly disagree with the adage "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me."  I believe that the damage left behind by words is REAL.  I believe that words have the power to sting and cut as deeply as a knife or, conversely, serve as a salve of healing.
With those thoughts in mind, here are some more useful reminders about the power of the words we speak- because wouldn't you agree that it's easy to be polite and speak kind words to strangers, but much more challenging to refrain from raising our voices in moments of frustration and impatience to those closest to us- including our spouses and children?

In the words of Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D: (I LOVE this)
On a related note and in a much broader application,  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said:
 "Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be."