Wednesday, November 16, 2016

"You Don't Have to be Perfect to be a Perfect Parent" PSAs

November is National Adoption Month and this year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, AdoptUSKids, and the Ad Council have teamed up to create a PSA campaign encouraging prospective adoptive parents to adopt older youth* from foster care

*older youth and teens have lower adoption rates than younger children, and they often wait longer to be adopted.  Currently, of the 5,560 youth photo-listed on the website as available for adoption, 43% are between the ages of 15 and 18 years old. Source:

(Incidentally, adopting an older child from foster care is something I really want to do when the time is right for our family!)

These clips are not only humorous but I, for one, think the tagline is reassuring: "You don't have to be perfect to be a perfect parent."

Take a look at the newest clips:

(I also happen to be allergic to cats- much to the chagrin of my kitty-loving daughters- so I related to the mom in the second clip.)

 To see more PSAs and real stories and experiences from foster adoptive families check out adoptuskidsYouTube channel.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

When Someone Else Takes Care of Your Child

The other day I sat down at my computer to jot down a couple of “notes” of instructions for my sister and sister-in-law regarding my children’s sleeping and eating schedules, among other routines.  You see, I will be entrusting my children into my family’s care for a couple of days while my husband and I are on a short weekend getaway.  Because of this, I want to make things as easy as possible for my children’s caregivers as well as for my precious babies. 

My husband walked into the room while I was in the middle of typing intently on my keyboard and asked, “What are you working on?” 

“Instructions- for when we’re gone,” I explained.

My husband scoffed and said something to the effect of, “Why don’t you just show them where the kids clothes and pull-ups are and they know where the food is.”  He was joking- but only partially.

“THAT is why you’re not a mother!” I retorted.

Even if it were just for a day or two there is MUCH more information to be shared with anybody I would trust to watch my children than just what to have them wear or what to feed them.

“Don’t you think it might be helpful for them to know what time M. has to be at her bus stop in the morning?  Or what time to wake the kids so that they have enough time to get them ready and fed in order to even get out the door on time in the first place?”  I began building my case.   “Or what time to put them down for bed?”  I added, with a bit of sarcasm in my voice as I stated the obvious. 

Although I stopped verbalizing my list of necessary information to my husband I couldn’t help but mentally obsess over if I had left anything crucial out as I studiously looked over my “notes”:

Did I mention exactly what comfort items Jill needs at bedtime and naptime to fall asleep?  Check.  Did I mention not only what homework M. needs to get done before playdates or screen time but how to get her motivated to get it done?  Check.  Should I mention the fact that Jack is a picky eater so they know to just fix him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if he turns up his nose at dinner?  No- M. can just fill them in on that information- she’s helpful like that. 

My “notes” of instructions eventually turned out to be 845 words.   I think you get the point.

This experience of passing on “instructions” on how to care for my children to others served as a great reminder to me of a few things, namely:

1.       Perhaps I can be a bit of a control freak when it comes to making sure my kids are cared for.  But you know what?  I’m okay with that.  Better to err on the side of providing too much information than not enough.

2.     It’s not that I don’t trust my sister and sister-in-law with my kids because I absolutely do- otherwise I wouldn’t leave them in their care.  (After all, they have 11 children and 3 grandchildren between each of them and are both terrific mothers and grandmothers.)  My concern is not if they are capable of caring for children, I just want to ensure that MY children have as easy a transition as possible while I’m away from them.

3.      Three days is the longest I can go without my children.  My husband would prefer our getaway to be much longer but the separation anxiety is just too much for me to handle.  (And, incidentally, I’m talking about MY anxiety being away from my children- not the other way around!)

As a foster parent, perhaps the most important thing I was reminded of was:

4.      Think of what it would be like to have a child legally removed from your care and be sent to live with not just with kin but complete strangers!  Can you IMAGINE the stress, anxiety and LOSS OF CONTROL?  That is precisely what birth families with children in foster care must go through.  They must be praying that their child’s foster family is, in the least, decent.

If I found myself in the situation of having my children removed from my care and placed into the care of strangers I would be worried sick about my kids. My worry might even border on paranoia- What if this foster family isn’t taking care of my child?  What if they’re just in it for the money?  What kind of home and neighborhood do they live in?  Sure, they may have passed background checks and licensing requirements, but what if they appear presentable on the outside but are mean and terrible on the inside?

 And then to add in the possibility that my parental rights to my children could possibly be stripped away and this family of strangers could potentially adopt my children (if they’re a fost-adopt family).  Horrific!

I think it’s IMPERATIVE for foster families to put themselves in the shoes of the bio families of the children in their care.

A few things I’ve done as a foster parent to ease any fears of the bio parents of the children placed in my care are:

1)     Reassure them that I’m not here to “take” their kids from them, but to take good care of them until they can be placed back in their care.

I can usually tell if this is even an issue for bio parents in the first place based not only upon the CPS or ongoing caseworker’s report of the parent’s reaction to the removal and investigation and/or by the body language of the birth parents or the way they interact with me the first time we meet.

2)    Ask them if there are any routines their child is used to which might make it easier for them while in my care.

I admit that, depending on the background of the case, #2 is a tricky one as children coming from backgrounds of neglect may not be used to any specific “routine” or regularity when it comes to being fed or having a set bedtime or even being bathed or dressed in clean clothes on a regular basis. 

Wouldn’t it be easy if foster parents had a “list” of instructions regarding the child’s bedtime and feeding routine, food preferences or allergies, likes and dislikes, etc.  It is particularly challenging to care for a child when they are a baby or non-verbal and it’s just a guessing game as to how they like to be held or comforted or what foods or formulas they do best with.  One advantage to fostering older children or sibling groups with an older child is that they can at least tell you what they’re used to or the older sibling can fill in helpful information about younger siblings.

3)    Refer to their child as “your child” or specifically refer to the parent in front of the child as “your mommy” or “your dad”, etc. 

This might seem like a no-brainer but I had one caseworker specifically thank me for treating and referring to my foster daughter’s parents at visits and meetings as precisely that- her parents.  This caseworker had noted that a few foster parents would specifically say things like “Come to mommy!” to their young foster child, with outstretched arms in the presence of their foster child’s parents at the close of visits.  I was repulsed to hear of such disrespect.  Regardless of the reasons a child comes into care or what allegations have been made against the child’s parents, they are still, in fact, the child’s parents until a judge deems otherwise, and that needs to be acknowledged.

4)     Give the parents pictures of their children- especially if a special occasion is coming up like Christmas or Mother’s Day.  Bio parents may not have the greatest track record of caring for their children, but they do, in fact, love their children and when foster parents are willing to pass on pictures to them (whether just a snapshot or professionally done) these pictures of their children are sure to be treasured.

I recently attended a conference with a FABULOUS keynote speaker, Donna Foster (yes- that’s really her last name), who is a former foster parent and currently trains foster parents and child welfare professionals.  At the conference, Donna not only discussed fears that bio parents might have but suggestions of what foster parents can do to build better relationships with bio families.  Refer to this write-up for some of Donna Foster’s wisdom.

To read about some additional suggestions of ways  not only foster parents can build a relationship with their foster child’s parents, but ways that social workers can encourage such relationships, enlarge the following  charts which were taken from the Annie E. Casey Foundation website:

 I think we can all agree that every parent wants what’s best for their child and it can be tough to have someone take over parenting your child- whether that be for a couple of days, several months, or forever.  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Impact of an Addicted Parent Infographic

-In 2012, drug or alcohol abuse accounted for 31% of the cases of children being removed from their homes and placed into foster care.

-There are 8.3 million children currently living in a home with a parent who suffers from an addiction.

These are just two statistics shared in the following infographic produced by JourneyPure Emerald Coast drug rehabilitation programs.  To view the infographic refer  HERE.

Although the statistics presented in the infographic and the cycle of addiction in general seem very disheartening, to me the most hopeful part of this infographic is entitled, "What you can do if you suspect a child is being neglected or abused by their addicted parent?" 

And if YOU are a parent battling addiction, please know that you are loved and that there is help.

Alcohol Hotline
(800) 331-2900
Al-Anon for Families of Alcoholics
(800) 344-2666
Alcohol and Drug Helpline
(800) 821-4357
Alcohol Treatment Referral Hotline
(800) 252-6465
Alcohol & Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 729-6686
Families Anonymous
(800) 736-9805
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Hopeline
(800) 622-2255
Poison Control
(800) 222-1222
National Institute on Drug Abuse Hotline
(800) 662-4357
Cocaine Anonymous
(800) 347-8998
National Help Line for Substance Abuse
(800) 262-2463

Saturday, September 10, 2016

THIS is Why Foster Care is Necessary

When I saw these haunting photos this week of a 4-year old boy's caregivers passed out in their car, leaving him helpless in the back seat till help came, it made quite the impression on me.

Some of my initial thoughts were:

1)  Poor Little Boy.

2)  When I read "overdose" in the headline which accompanied the pictures of the corpse-like countenances I immediately wondered, "heroin?"

After reading the accompanying article my suspicions were confirmed- "Yes, heroin."  So sad.

Apparently when paramedics arrived on the scene they were able to administer Narcan to the adults before they were transferred to the hospital and consequently arrested.

After reading the article I dared to venture into the comments section.

Some readers were upset that Narcan was administered, basically asserting that the caregivers "deserved to die" for placing a child in such grave danger.

Many other readers came to the defense of the unconscious caregivers stating that it was unfair or unethical of the cops on the scene to publish such photos on their department's Facebook page.  Yet other readers were concerned that the photos were an injustice to the four year old boy and could cause psychological damage to him further down the road when he becomes aware of them- which leads me to my next thought:

3)  I have a hunch this little boy is already deeply aware of the collateral damages addiction can wreak on a family.  This is most likely not the first time he's been in this type of a situation but- Thank Goodness- it is the first time it has come to the attention of someone who is in a position to intervene.

As for the East Liverpool, Ohio's Police Department, I am in agreement behind their motives for publishing the pictures as expressed in the following statement:

“This child can’t speak for himself but we are hopeful his story can convince another user to think twice about injecting this poison while having a child in their custody. We are well aware that some may be offended by these images and for that we are truly sorry, but it is time that the non drug-using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis.”

4) Yes, the truth can be uncomfortable, disturbing, and downright ugly but it NEEDS to be exposed, especially when innocent children- or those who cannot advocate for themselves- are at risk.

I am certain that there are many social workers, judges, guardian ad liteums, therapists, medical professionals, teachers, and foster parents who feel much the same way as the Ohio Police Department does when they stated, "it is time that the non drug-using public sees what we are now dealing with on a daily basis.”

These individuals and professionals deal with the consequences of addiction on a daily basis and want so desperately to bring awareness to the reality and tragedies addictions bring to society including tearing families apart and creating orphans out of far too many children. 

I admit that at times I may have had an attitude similar to some of the readers who were outraged by these photos and demanded that the caregivers of this little boy be locked up forever.  However, experience has taught me that the caregivers of children who are placed into foster care are victims as well.  In my personal experiences as a foster parent, 95% of the children we have fostered came into care as a direct result of a family member's addictionWhether one views addiction as a disease or a choice is secondary to the fact that these caregivers need help and support; hence, my overall thought to summarize how I feel about these photos is:  

5) "THIS is why foster care is necessary."  And there are two reasons why I believe this:

A) foster care is not only necessary to keep children out of harm's way- [after all, shouldn't the top priority of foster care and social services be to protect the most vulnerable of individuals: at-risk, abused, or neglected, children? It seems like a no-brainer!]

B) foster care is also necessary to give families another chance to stay together.

A huge part of foster care is about family preservation.  Believe it or not, but foster care is not just taking kids away from their parents and "giving" them to another family or haphazardly placing children in institutions when they can't be placed in a family setting.  

Unfortunately, sometimes things have to hit rock bottom before families can actually get the help they need or before a child's suffering can come to light.  

For example, let's give this little boy's caregivers the benefit of the doubt.  Let's imagine that they both have the desire to get clean but for whatever reason- perhaps cost-prohibitive treatment options, being born into a family of drug addicts, or overwhelming feelings of helplessness- they just don't see sobriety as a realistic option.  For their sakes- AND MOST IMPORTANTLY FOR THE SAKE OF THIS YOUNG CHILD- law enforcement involvement is honestly one of the best things that could happen to them.  

Perhaps I sound too idealistic in my view, but if law enforcement gets involved then consequences must be faced and since a child is involved then social services will most certainly become a part of the solution.  While law enforcement can ensure that individuals "pay" for or are accountable for their actions, judges and social service workers can mandate and provide options for families to get their children back into their custody by way of required drug testing and/or drug treatment, counseling sessions, mandated parenting classes, vocational or educational training which helps secure not only employment but proper housing.  In this way, what might appear to some addicts as hitting rock bottom and losing everything is actually an opportunity to accept help and become truly accountable for their choices and a chance to get sober.  That is certainly not to say that it is an easy path.

I'm thinking of one foster mother in particular who shared the brutally honest viewpoint of the birth mother of the children placed in her care.  This birth mother was an addict who was so committed to getting her children back into her care (after losing them to the state's custody more than once) and yet so realistic about owning her addiction that she stated, "I wanted DCFS to take my kids because I knew that having my kids taken from me was the only way I could remain motivated to stay clean."

Children who are removed from unsafe homes and/or families enslaved by addiction are not the only victims.   Unfortunately, the children are often the ones left to deal with THE BRUNT OF THE UGLY CONSEQUENCES of addiction!  It's so unfair.

I'm aware that, as hard as at can be to imagine, this four year old boy who has been removed from his family and placed into state custody is probably crying at night for his daddy and mommy or grandma and grandpa (I'm unsure what their exact relation to him was as I read a couple of differing accounts) and there is a foster parent out there trying to comfort him and explain that he is "safe" now.  

That same foster parent is probably struggling with feelings of anger and resentment at their foster child's caretakers for allowing the situation to escalate so far while simultaneously trying to remain calm and offer comfort to their foster child in their new, unfamiliar environment.  

The mind-boggling concept for some to understand is "How could this little boy miss the people who neglected him so?  After all, now he's {hopefully} been placed in a safe and loving home and is cared for by people who have had their backgrounds and home environment thoroughly checked and who have undergone sufficient training to care for children coming from such situations.  So why on earth would he miss his former caregivers?"

The answer is simple: Because they are his family.  And as I've mentioned, foster care is about helping families stay together when possible.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Check out

Do you have an interest in adoption?  (I can't help but figure you do if you happen to be reading this right now).

Do you also have an interest in Pinterest?  Keep in mind that my definition of "interest" is a fairly broad one that includes a mild curiosity to a sporadic hobby to a full-blown pinning addiction.

If you answered "yes" to both questions above then check out which is basically PINTEREST FOR ADOPTION- with articles, videos, images, memes, and even quizzes all relating to adoption. is extremely user-friendly and just like Pinterest, you can spend as little or as much time on it as you would like. 

Simply choose whatever perks your interest from the top menu bar underneath the header, by clicking on the articles featured on the home page, or narrow your search to find something specific by using the Search Box in the upper right hand corner:

Then Click the Turquoise "Read More" button:

Don't have time to read something in its entirety?  No problem- that is precisely what bookmarking is for!   Not only is it easy to search for content on by tags but it is extremely easy to bookmark and share content by clicking on one of the social media sharing icons at the bottom of each image or article:

If you are extra ambitious and happen to blog or advocate for adoption and would like to share YOUR work on simply click "SHARE YOUR STUFF" on the menu under the header as submissions are always welcome for review by the moderators of!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Guest Post: DNA Testing-Unexpected Results

PREFACE: In my last post I wrote about how knowing one's family medical background and one's ethnicities/heritage are information one shouldn't take for granted.  Unlike my children, who are adopted, I have much easier access to my family medical background and information about my ancestry.  I have learned not to take such information for granted. 

Some adoptive parents may feel threatened or even invalidated when their children want to explore their biological roots.   Although I understand where that concern is coming from and recognize it as valid, I believe that adoptive families must respect the wants and needs of their adopted family members- even going so far as to advocate for them.  I personally believe that EVERYONE should have access to who they are and where they came from- yet for many that knowledge is almost impossible to come by- "almost" is the key word here.  DNA testing is one possible solution to tracing unknown roots.

 I am more than aware that adoption is created from loss and that reunification with biological family does not always have a happy ending.  I can't speak for birthparents for the obvious reason that I've never been in their situation but I can speak from my experiences as an adoptive mother and as mentioned, I can advocate for my children's rights to know where they came from. 

I am delighted to hear from the perspective of someone who has been adopted as they share their unique experience with DNA Testing.  Wayne Fagg is a former neighbor of mine and an adoptee who  will be guest posting about his incredible journey of discovering his birth family and unraveling his heritage through DNA testing.

Unexpected Results by Wayne Fagg

Our family consisted of my Mom and Dad and seven children. On its face it was not that unusual a situation. However, I was the first of six children adopted by my parents, following the birth of their daughter 4 years earlier. I was born May 30, 1961 in Santa Monica Hospital. What follows is the brief story of how I uncovered my birth parents, all from spitting into a vial.

While I was in Utah visiting around the 4th of July 2015, we were fortunate to be invited to my brother John’s house in Heber City. As John and I were talking, he mentioned to me that he had taken the DNA test a few weeks earlier. Apparently he had received it as a gift for Father’s Day. He told me it would reveal ethnicity—the idea had a certain appeal to it, although it has been fun over the years to claim everything from Greek to Italian to Spanish….

So, sometime in August I received the vial from Ancestry, spit some of my precious saliva in it and sent it off to be tested. Around 4 weeks later I received an email telling me my results were in. I logged into my account and it pulled up my DNA makeup:

            Location                                             Percentage

            Great Britain                                      36%
            Scandinavia                                        33%
            Europe West                                      10%
            Ireland                                                6%
            Finland/NW Russia                          6%
            Czech Republic                                  3%
            Italy/Greece                                       2%
            European Jew                                                2%
            Iberian Peninsula                              1%
            Pakistan/India                                   1%

So, there it was. I thought that that was it. However, things changed about 2 months later when someone asked me about the breakdown of my percentage of European ancestry and I went back to the site. There, for the first time, I saw a button marked “View All DNA Matches.” So, I clicked it. And, then I found information for which I was not prepared.

Ancestry gathers the DNA information of people who match and group them together in segments ranging from Close Family to Second Cousins to Third Cousins and so on. Pretty interesting. Most of the information is guarded by usernames and while some users have shared pedigrees, others have not uploaded that information. My eyes were drawn to that first line, where there was one name listed under the “Close Family” segment: olgakarcher.

Who was this olgakarcher?

I decided to do what anyone would do when given a name these days and wanted to have some information: I Googled it—then I searched Facebook. I ran the name Olga Karcher and came up with two hits. One was an older lady in San Diego and the other, a friendly face in Reno, Nevada. I sent a message via Facebook to them both explaining that they were my closest DNA match on Ancestry and I’d love to compare notes. Olga Karcher from San Diego was silent. Olga Karcher from Reno responded. She got back to me and said that she had her DNA results and didn’t see my name anywhere.

So, that was that. This was Thursday night. Somehow the results had been skewed.
Until I woke up Friday morning and she sent me a message entitled “OH MY GOSH!” And, this was her message:

Hi. This is Olga Karcher---THE previous Olga Karcher that you contacted on Facebook! I've been thinking and thinking about your situation, and the Ancestry DNA that just didn't match mine. AND THEN I SUDDENLY REMEMBERED---thank GOD!!---I had my husband Stephen Karcher do a DNA test last year and printed out the results and never looked back at his profile/neither did he. Honestly, totally forgot about it. YOU ARE HIS COUSIN!!!

So, he was born in Santa Monica in 1964. His Mom was Carol Anna Clayton Karcher and his dad, Robert Karcher. As she exchanged information with me, it became apparent that dates and places were lining up, but something was missing.  And, it was missing until Olga wrote me and said, “I think we are wrong. I think you are his half-brother.” His Mom had died in 2003 but his Dad was alive, so they wrote him an email on Friday night, November 6. He didn’t respond until late Sunday night.

Here is the text of that email:

Dear Steve and Olga.  
Carol and I first met in Santa Monica around May-June 1962 to the best of my recollection.  Around Thanksgiving 1962 we became engaged and began to talk seriously about getting married. 
Carol told me at that time that she had given birth to an infant son previously whom she had given up for adoption.  As I recall the adoptive parents were Mormon and were either living in Utah or planning to move to Utah.  
I think Carol always harbored feelings of guilt for giving up her infant son and wished  to have some contact with him.  The adoption agencies have provisions in place to make it extremely difficult for biological parents to locate/contact their child once it has been given up for adoption. 
The basic facts seem to fit:  Born in Santa Monica in 1961 at SM Hospital.  Resident of Utah.  And I assume he has a birth certificate or some other documentation that identifies his birth mother by name.  Based on the available information, I think Wayne’s credentials as a family sibling are certifiable and you guys have an older half brother Steve. Congratulations….Gramps  

Stunned. That’s what I was.  The only information I had been given by my Mom, Ellen Fagg, was that her cousin who had volunteered at the Santa Monica Hospital had known I was up for adoption placement and that the birth mother wanted a Mormon family.

Carol Anna Clayton was 22 when she gave birth to me.  Single and unwed, she had been raised by a single mother and wanted a different life for me. Her life after was a mixed bag. She gave birth to four sons, two whom are Greek Orthodox priests. They all converted to Greek Orthodoxy after their oldest son, Stephen and his wife, Olga did so in the early 1990’s.

She was tall, 5’10 and thin, with dark hair, some moles and a habit of puckering her lips together when she concentrated or read. She was born in 1938 in Santa Monica and graduated in 1955 from Santa Monica High School. She suffered from depression and was a functional alcoholic and also smoked a pack of Marlboros everyday. She died of breast cancer in 2003.

Her family, including her daughter in law, Olga, has been very nice and given me information and photos. They understand that I have awesome parents, great siblings and my own wonderful family and I am not looking for replacement parts. This is putting pieces of a puzzle together.

So, now the remaining question was, who is my birth father? The DNA results showed two names that could be my 2nd cousins and so I reached out to them and they offered vague responses without naming names of certain uncles and such, all of whom are older and have families. There was someone who might be able to give me a clue: Carol’s only sibling, a sister, Ruth, who was 5 years younger than Carol and who graduated from high school the year I was born. The problem was that Ruth was estranged from her family and had been removed since the early 1980’s. Emails and phone calls were placed and on Tuesday I was given a phone number, and on Tuesday night I called Ruth.

Ruth lives in a small town in Indiana. She explained how shocked she was to hear my voice. She told me some things about Carol. Apparently, because this was the early 60’s and unwed pregnancies were better not seen, Carol was sequestered in an old motel in Malibu that a friend of the family owned and there she waited out the term of her pregnancy. She shared some other information and then I asked if she at least knew the last name of my birth father. She said she knew his whole name that he had been a neighbor those for most of their childhood and was the same age as Carol. His name was George Duvardo.

So, armed with that I went back to my contacts on Ancestry and one of them responded that George was his uncle. Last night I spoke with his younger sister and leaned about him. Born George Carlson, his dad died before George was born in an accident and George was subsequently adopted by his Mom’s husband, Frank Duvardo. He was Catholic and she was Mormon. George had been ordained a priest, but that was the extent of his participation in the LDS Church. He had two children from his second marriage, a boy and a girl. An athlete in high school playing varsity basketball and football since his freshman year, he went on to play football as a wide receiver/tight end at University of California Santa Barbara. He was 6’4. George died in 1998 at the age of 60 from a heart attack.

Interesting note. George’s mom is Jeannie Sellers. She was born in Charleston, Utah, (Wasatch County up near John and Amy), the daughter of Archie Sellers and Eliza Murdock Sellers. Eliza Murdock Sellers was the granddaughter of Joseph Stacy Murdock. See

So, there you go: Pieces to a puzzle. Information about health history. Ethnicity confirmed. But, at the end of the day, my name is Wayne Fagg, son of Floyd and Ellen and brother to Diane, Pam, Kathy, Robert, John and Mark. Like I told Olga, “I have great parents and siblings. I’m not looking for a replacement family.” What I do have is a greater extension to my family. For that I am grateful.

I encourage you to have your DNA tested. Be prepared for the results, both unexpected and unusual.

Wayne Fagg
6060 Camden Court, Cumming, GA 30040

George Deloy Carlson Duvardo at 55.
Wayne Fagg at 54.

WOW- Right?

  "They understand that I have awesome parents, great siblings and my own wonderful family and I am not looking for replacement parts. This is putting pieces of a puzzle together."

Those lines are my favorite part of Wayne's story.  Rather than negating or distorting his identity (or marginalizing his family) the discovery of his birth family has been a great gift which has enhanced his identity, given him valuable medical information, and expanded his sphere of family.

Don't Take Knowledge of Your DNA for Granted!

From the time she was very little, many people have told me that my oldest daughter shares many of my mannerisms and facial expressions.  Although we do share certain traits or even looks- as parents and children  often do- she doesn't have my hair color or eye color.  She definitely gets those from her birthmother. 

My youngest children happen to both be blonde, blue eyed, and fair-skinned- like me- yet they don't get that from me either.  My little boy not only shares my sensitive skin, but a sometimes overly sensitive and cautious spirit, and a propensity to allergies and autoimmune issues with me.  His little sister, on the other hand, has always been much more carefree and impulsive by nature.  And when I use the term "by nature" I mean it quite literally as I can see much of her birthmother's personality in her: wanting to do whatever is the most fun or adventurous at the moment despite the consequences that follow. 

I was able to get to know the birthmother of my two youngest children over the course of a year and a half when they were in our care as our foster children.  I knew our youngest daughter's medical history from the beginning since we brought her home from the hospital as a newborn.

However, there were some questions about my son's first year of life and medical background to which I didn't have answers.  There have been more than one assessment and a few medical questionnaires/exams for my son where I honestly couldn't answer all the questions on a form or from a health professional, such as "Does this child have a family history of deafness?"  "Was this child full-term gestation at birth?"  "Was the birth vaginal or Casearean?" 

I would have to leave a big question mark for the answer or hesitantly answer, "I . . . don't know." because I honestly didn't know.

In fact, I don't think it was until my son had been living with us for almost a year as our foster child that I was able to learn about his birth history from his birthmother.  Unlike his preemie sister, it turns out that he was born full-term (overdue, technically) and yes, it was a vaginal delivery.  I felt a little intrusive for asking such personal questions but it was a necessity.  You see, when Jack was just a toddler he ended up in the hospital after a couple of visits to the E.R. to be treated for a somewhat rare and potentially serious (but fortunately very treatable) autoimmune disease.  Although Jack's birthmom was always invited, she rarely showed up for his other doctor's appointments and medical check-ups.  However, the gravity of the situation really scared her and she did all in her power to be by her baby's side during his time in the hospital.

The first couple of days that Jack was in the hospital a team of doctors were trying to assess his symptoms and come up with a correct diagnosis.   Something was definitely wrong with him- it was just a matter of finding out what it was so that he could be properly treated and find some relief.

The team of doctors and interns would speculate and debate about a diagnosis: "It could be this, but then again, it could be this."  Nothing could be done but more tests, more observation, and more waiting.  With all the uncertainty it was extremely helpful, and I might add, quite a relief, to have Jack's birth mother and birth grandmother be at the hospital when they could to help fill in the gaps about questions regarding his family medical history since I sure couldn't.  Sure- after working with them for over a year I would have been able to tell the doctors about my foster son's birth parents social histories, mental health histories, heck- even their criminal backgrounds-  but as far as complete family medical histories- which was precisely what was needed at the time- I just. didn't. know.

Knowing your family medical history is not only helpful but can literally be a life-saver in some cases.  Unfortunately, parents with adopted children don't always know their child's family medical history if the adoption is closed and/or if the child's birth parents and relatives are deceased or cannot be contacted. 

One possible solution to such a dilemma is DNA testing.  The technology is WAY above my head and I am baffled about all of the discoveries that can be made about someone simply by analyzing their spit in a little tube!

I loved this clip which I saw just this month:

DNA Testing not only reveals a person's ethnic heritage, but also gives clues to which medical conditions they may have a predisposition towards.  Because I'm not adopted, I have always known my family medical history (or at least been in a position where I can simply ask my mom or dad which diseases or ailments run in our family OR learn that info from another family member).

Consider this example:

"Mary- if you ever find yourself in an emergency room with crippling pain- maybe even so bad you think you might be having a HEART ATTACK- be sure to tell the doctors that you have four sisters and a mom who have all had their gallbladders removed."  

That was my sister's advice to me years ago after undergoing surgery to have her gallbladder removed.   And since my sister is a nurse as well she used the occasion to educate me about the risk factors for gallbladder problems- the Four "F"s: female, forty, fat, and fertile.  I still remain the only one of my mother's daughters who hasn't had to have my gallbladder removed (Knock on Wood).  I joke that it is because, unlike my four sisters, I don't share the risk factor of being fertile.  I guess you could say that is one instance where my infertility has actually worked to my advantage.

Perhaps I will never have gallstones as my mother, sisters, many cousins, and a few nieces have- but it's good to be aware that it runs in my family just in case it does happen.  My mom has always told us that any stomach problems we may have- including gallbladder problems, acid reflux, indigestion, polyps, and, unfortunately, stomach cancer, come from her side of the family.  I have my dad, on the other hand, to blame for my sinus and allergy problems.   Thanks a lot, Dad!  

But it's not just medical conditions or strictly biological traits that I have inherited from my parents. Just as I have blue eyes like my dad I've also inherited his love of books and learning.  Although it's hard to tell if it's a matter of nature or nurture I'd like to think that I get my love of children, the ability to see humor in situations, and the natural ability to make others feel welcome and at ease from my mother.

Aside from knowing one's medical family history discovering one's ETHNICITY and HERITAGE is another miracle of DNA testing.  Both of my parents happen to love family history so I am fortunate to have access to copies of their numerous genealogy charts, family histories, documents and a few pictures which have been passed down through the generations. 

As for my heritage, I have always been particularly proud of my Scottish lineage.  When I hear bagpipes- I kid you not- I feel a physiological change take place inside of me and I'm immediately filled with a sense of both pride and reverence.  I am also proud to be English, Welsh, and Manx.  (And here's a confession in case anyone's not familiar with the term "Manx"- I didn't even know where the Isle of Mann was until my dad taught us about one of our revered forebears and his life's experiences.)

Much of my ancestry is what some might characterize as boringly British (don't get me wrong- I love the British Isles- and am particularly fond of English literature and history, but it just seems like Brits are just so WHITE and un-exotic).  Therefore, I was ECSTATIC to learn through my father's research on his lines, that I have African heritage (albeit South African) and even a very teeny-tiny small percentage of Bengal Indian in me!

I know these parts of my identity and can celebrate them because they've been passed down to me.  But not everyone- whether adopted or not- does know their heritage or ethnicity.  Once again, a solution to this is DNA testing.

Although I've never taken any DNA tests before, I know that offers DNA testing kits for $99 which is less expensive but perhaps less extensive than DNA testing from 23andme.  I have also heard that offers half-price specials around the Christmas holidays and have known of more than one adoptive parent who has bought a kit for their child for the sole purpose of discovering their ancestry.

DNA Testing or tracing your family history through research are definitely something to look into for anyone who wants to discover their roots!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Another Respite Placement

This month we did respite care for two different sibling groups.  I wrote about the first group here

The second sibling group was a brother and sister as well- the older sister was 7 years old and her younger brother was 2 years old which means that for a couple of days we had two 2 year olds, one 3 year old, a 7 year old and an 8 year old under one roof.  Speaking of which, I saw this and it seemed extremely accurate to me:

While I'm on the topic of kids and summer, is it just me or are kids less heat-aware as children and much more heat-sensitive as they age?  For example, begging to go outside at the absolute HOTTEST time of the day.  "Do you not realize it's burning hot right now and you could be indoors playing where it's cool and air-conditioned?"  I have thought that or said it out loud to my kids when they beg to play outside at noon on summer days.  Needless to say, most of our outdoor ventures during the summer are early in the morning or in the late afternoon or evening but NOT during the middle of the day.

Back to this sibling group: I will refer to the girl as "Kari" and to her younger brother as "Zeke". Two-year-old Zeke reminded me of a little stocky caveman who used only a few words and many grunts to communicate.  He was pretty easy to care for as long as he was fed and had something to keep his attention.  I think he was able to settle in well in large part because he followed his older sister's lead.  And she was not shy.  At all.

Like her brother, Kari was somewhat stocky in her stature as well so she appeared to be much older than her seven years- perhaps ten or eleven.  In fact, my oldest daughter who is over a year older than Kari and average in her build looked downright petite when the girls played together. 

Kari not only looked older than she actually was but in some ways she also seemed more mature and responsible than most children her age by the way she watched over her little brother (parentification, anyone?), helped clean up around the house, and made sure that all of the kids shared their toys with each other or used good manners.  However, I was reminded that she was still a 7 year old when she would want to show off for me and clamor for my attention- whether it was performing a song she made up on the piano or doing a trick on the trampoline or showing me how she arranged stickers to decorate a piece of paper. 

Children of all ages need attention- not just younger ones with their constant "Look at Me!"s  "Watch What I Can Do!" but children in middle childhood and tweens and teens as well.  I think they just "ask" for it or "perform" in different ways.

I don't know a whole lot about why Kari and Zeke came into care but I do know that the reason they were placed with the foster family they were placed with is because they had adopted Kari and Zeke's half-brother.  With that in mind, I thought it was interesting when, during a moment of playing "doctor" (Kari grabbed the Fisher Price Dr's Kit from our toy room and insisted that I be her patient as she measured my blood pressure, gave me shots, and listened to my heart), Kari handed me a baby doll and announced, "And now you just had a baby.  And you get to stay in the hospital with your baby for ten days!"

ME: Ten days, Wow!

I must have been smiling or had a funny look on my face because she immediately looked at me and asked, "Is that how long you were in the hospital with these kids?"

After verifying that "these kids" were my children since only one of them was in the room I answered,

ME:  No- they didn't come from my stomach in the hospital (although I did bring two of them home from the hospital as newborns) because they were adopted.

Kari's face remained stoic.

ME:  Do you know what that means to be adopted?

KARI:  Because their mom couldn't take care of them?

ME:  Well, no- not exactly.  M's birthmother (I was nodding in M's direction as I spoke) could have taken care of her but she wanted M. to have a mommy AND a daddy so she chose my husband and I to be her parents.

M (Interrupting excitedly):  Isn't is cool how my birthmom's name is on my bike?!

ME:  Yes.  And how that was the name of the horse you rode that time we went horseback riding, too?  True stories- we thought that was serendipitous in both instances considering M's birthmom doesn't have an unusual name but it's not an overly common name, either.

I went back to explaining to Kari . . .

ME:  But my other children's birthmom couldn't take care of them.  So they were in foster care . . .

(as soon as I said "foster care" I wondered what feelings it would produce in Kari but she looked unfazed)

ME: . . . and that's why we were able to adopt them. 

Kari went back to playing with the doctor's kit.  I thought it was interesting that when I brought up adoption in the presence of a foster child with a half sibling who had been adopted, Kari  immediately associated the phrase "adopted" with birthparents not being able to care for a child.  Sometimes that's the case but many times it's not.   Many times a birthparent would be able to care for a child and they might make an exceptional parent (or they already may be an exceptional parent if they have children) but they want to give their child something more than what they can currently give them- whether that be a two-parent family [as in the case of our daughter's birthmother] or a life free of poverty and domestic violence and the effects of addiction [as in the case of our youngest children's birthmother.]

One last thing I'll add about an advantage to fostering a sibling group with a younger and an older child: It was very helpful to have Kari's help when trying to decipher Zeke's cave-man language as well as being able to ask her about his food preferences or what worked well to calm him down when he was upset, etc.  

Friday, June 24, 2016

Our First Teenager

I recently did something as a foster parent that was a FIRST for me.  I got out of my comfort zone and expanded my horizons with the last placement we took- in large part due to the fact that it was a respite placement of two siblings- and I knew that it would be for less than a day.  

We've done respite for other foster families before so that wasn't new to me and we've taken sibling groups so that wasn't new to us either, but it was the ages of the children we recently watched in our home which was a first for me.  I feel most comfortable caring for babies, toddlers, and pre-schoolers and my protective husband most assuredly feels safest not bringing any children in our home who are older than our oldest child (who is almost nine).  However, since I knew that this respite placement would only be for an evening I said yes to a sibling group of two- an eleven year old and a thirteen year old.  Did you catch the suffix of that last age?  A TEENAGER!  I said "yes" to having a teenager in my home despite having no experience ever parenting a teenage before.  

I tend to be somewhat cautious so I admit that I did have some concerns as I imagined the worst possible scenarios that could happen as a result of having two older children whom I had never met before- strangers, essentially- into my home for a couple of hours with my younger children of approximately 9, 3, and 2 years of age.  

-What if the kids swear like sailors or use especially vulgar language?  As a grown woman, I can handle that, but as a mom with young children in the home I know for a fact that my 2 year old is like a little parrot eager to repeat whatever new word or phrases she hears- especially if the result is ensuing laughter or extra attention.

-What if the kids bully my children because they're just "acting out" domestic violence they're used to?   Or worse?  Again, since I knew this would be a very short-term placement I was placated by the fact that all of the children- my own three and these two foster children- would be under my supervision and in my sight THE ENTIRE TIME they were in our home.  This was an assurance for me because I  know that things can happen in just a matter of minutes.  Nevertheless, I felt confident enough that if I were to witness something my Mama Bear instincts would kick in to preserve my children's safety which is top priority and hopefully I would have the restraint to separate the actions of any perpetrating children from the child themselves and not go ballistic.

-What if the kids talk back to me or sass?  If they do, they do and I can handle it.  Of course I may be muttering something in my head like "little ingrates!" or a passive aggressive, sarcastic "You're welcome for me opening my home to you!" while trying to keep calm on the outside but I'm a grown woman and I can handle it.

Those were my worries and concerns before taking our first placement of "older" children.

Here's what actually unfolded:

I will refer to these children as "Chloe" and "Cade".  Although Chloe and Cade were, in fact, siblings, they were polar opposites in personality.  11 year old Cade practically flew out of the car his foster mom was driving and started tossing a football around on our front lawn and made himself right at home.  His older sister, however, was much more reticent and waited in the passenger seat of the car for a minute or two before feeling comfortable enough to even come to the porch.

Chloe's foster mom seemed a little embarrassed about Chloe's hesitancy and apologized on her behalf but I said, "Oh- no problem at all."  especially since I had read the two or three brief sentences she had texted me a few hours earlier in response to my question, "So is there anything I should know about the kids?".  She replied that they were pretty much "normal kids" but did mention the fact that her teenage foster daughter is very quiet until she feels safe with someone.  Given what little I knew of the children's background and as somewhat of an introvert myself, that seemed just fine with me. Some people get uncomfortable around people who are too quiet or reserved, but I understand the need for space and privacy.

After the kids got here we spent part of the evening playing in the backyard and part of the evening indoors watching TV and playing X-box.  It was entertaining to watch my oldest daughter, who is somewhat of a tomboy, interact with Cade- they got along great.  Chloe took a couple hours till she warmed up to us and if anything, the kids were overly polite- I practically had to beg them to have some pizza and breadsticks which I bought before their foster mom brought them over.  I kept asking, "Are you hungry?  Please help yourself."  They both replied "We're fine." several times until I finally asked an hour or so later, "Are you sure you're not hungry?"  Cade explained that he didn't want to eat anything because it was "rude" to eat at other people's houses.  I explained that since he was a guest in our home and I was the one who offered him the food that it wan't rude at all.  Fortunately, they finally appeased and ate.

Cade was easy-going and talkative but I think the most that ever came our of Chloe's mouth was, "Is it okay if I put my feet up on the couch while I rest?" as she was laying down on one of our couches. "Totally!" I reassured her, since she had already taken her shoes off.  Then when she fell asleep (or perhaps she was just feigning sleep- who knows) I brought her a soft blanket to cover over with in case she wanted it.

Really nothing eventful happened during that time that Chloe and Cade stayed with us and that's actually a good thing.  No cussing, bullying, back-talking or even eye-rolling.  They were both good kids.  I was a little surprised when they left and Chloe turned to me and said, "Thank you for being so nice to us." because I wasn't being nice- I was just being regular.  I wondered if she had experienced something less than ideal in a previous foster home.

Although I was curious about the kid's background I didn't want to pry too much.  I did casually ask, "So how long have you been with your foster family?"  If I remember correctly it had been for several months so I had no idea if their case was headed towards adoption or reunification.  Chloe did mention with some discouragement in her voice, "We usually get moved about every six months." Again, I was curious but I refrained from inquiring and just said something like, "Wow- that would be hard.  I wouldn't like that."

So that was my first experience with "older" foster kids in my home and it went just fine.  I felt silly for worrying so much beforehand.  Of course, it was such a short time period that there probably wasn't even time to have a "honeymoon period" come to an end.

Less than a week later my RFC called and asked if we would be able to do respite for Chloe and Cade again- this time for five days while their foster family was on vacation.  Although I wanted to say "yes" my husband (the practical one in our marriage) reminded me of obligations we would have during the week that would make it difficult to take two more children into our home so I had to say "no".   And of course I felt guilty afterwards.  I didn't feel guilty so much because I felt that there was nobody else who could take them in, but because their foster mom specifically requested for me to do respite for her again because the kids felt comfortable being in our home and I know that Chloe would have to go through the process of being put in a stranger's home- yet again- and having to adjust accordingly.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Guest Post: Myths and Facts about Foster Care Adoption

I thought it would be appropriate for National Foster Care Month to share a guest post courtesy of Children First FFA, a private, non-profit foster agency based in California, about Myths and Facts about Foster Care Adoption:

Myths and Facts about Foster Care Adoption

Over 100,000 children in the United States are waiting to be adopted. Unfortunately, too many of them—over 22,000 of them—age out of the system when they turn 18. This leaves them vulnerable to all kinds of difficult situations and large percentages of them become homeless, incarcerated, or early parents. There are a number of myths that have persisted and that have prevented potential adoptive parents to consider foster care adoption. Here are a few of them.

Myth: Every foster child has mental, physical, or emotional issues.

While foster children have usually experienced neglect, abuse, or abandonment that was significant enough for the state to take them away from their birth families, it doesn’t mean that they are beyond help. Children are surprisingly resilient. Given a stable environment, along with the nurture and support of a loving family, they can grow into a stable, healthy adult. Yes, there may be challenges, but every child is capable of healing from past wounds.

Myth: I only qualify if I am married, well-to-do, young, and own my own home.

People of all types of socioeconomic statuses, ages, and races can and have adopted children. Single parents make up one-third of adoptive parents. People in their 50s and 60s, such as Stan and Gloria, are adopting children at increasing rates. And, while it may be ideal to own your own home, it’s not necessarily required—you only need to prove that you have the adequate means to provide for a child.

Myth: I can’t afford to adopt.

Private adoptions may be outside of your budget, but foster care adoption may cost you almost nothing. There are both state and federal subsidies for adoptions made through the foster system. These subsidies cover costs incurred during and after adoption, such as court costs, home study costs, medical benefits, and college tuition waivers.

Myth: I need to have parenting experience.

Many people adopt because they were never able to have children of their own. However, that doesn’t mean they are not able to develop the skills necessary to parent a child. If you have the right heart and the willingness to learn parenting skills, you can adopt too.

Myth: I don’t have a choice on the type of child I can adopt.

You will be able to set your preferences for the child you want to adopt. You will also be able to say yes or no to a match. Keep in mind, however, that the broader you make your parameters, the more options you will have.

Don’t let the myths scare you away. Foster care adoption is easier than you might think and it’s a rewarding experience that will change you and your adopted child for a lifetime.