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.

"Suffer the Children to come unto Me . . . Unless"

Some of the most heartbreaking experiences I have had as a foster parent are trying to comfort a newly placed foster child in my home as they cry out for their parents.  Nighttime is invariably the hardest time and intensifies the anxiety, confusion, grief, and trauma that these children experience as a result of being separated from their families through no fault of their own. 

If the child is old enough to ask “Why can’t I be with my parents?” or “When do I get to see mommy?” I can usually offer up a sufficient explanation since most of the children get to see their family at least once a week at supervised visits.  If the child's parent is in prison or jail or doesn’t show up to their scheduled visits, then it makes it much harder for me to offer up an explanation or appease the child.  In the case of babies and toddlers who aren’t verbal but are obviously distressed, sometimes all I can do is hold them as they cry, try to provide comfort, and just be with them in their grief.

I’ve observed that a common justification of Trump’s new Zero Tolerance Policy which has separated over 2,000 children from their families at the border since May 1, 2018 has been “Parents in the U.S. break the law every day and they get sent to jail.  Their kids go to family or are placed in foster care!” 

I have issues with this statement for a couple of reasons.  These are my concerns:

First, seeking asylum is not breaking the law, under 8 US 1158 Code.

   In order to apply for asylum through the United States Citizen and Immigration Services, you have to cross into the U.S. and THEN present yourself to an authority and start the application process.  Under the new Zero Tolerance Policy* children are separated from their family as their parents await their asylum hearing. 

Do some people cross our border and falsely apply for asylum even if they don’t meet the qualifications?  Certainly, but that’s precisely what immigration judges and hearings are for. 

I value keeping the law and keeping our borders secure, but under this new policy, asylum protections no longer exist for individuals fleeing their country (namely women and children) from domestic abuse or rampant gang violence EVEN IF they come to the U.S, at a legal entry point .   

Consider the words of a friend of a friend who does pro-bono asylum work as an attorney in Texas:  “There is not practically a legal route to come to immigration from many Central and South American countries.  The wait for unskilled persons from those countries is over 100 years long in some cases, so there is not, practically speaking, a way to immigrate legally.  Many of these immigrants being separated from their children are asylum seekers.  The legal process for seeking asylum in the US is that you show up here and then you apply, NOT application first and then immigration.  These immigrants are legal asylum seekers and they are being separated from their children while there asylum applications are processed, which can take years.  These people’s stories are devastatingly heartbreaking.  Rape.  Murder.  Gang and drug violence.  These people are risking everything to give their children a chance.”


Second,  My rebuttal to the “Parents in the U.S. break the law every day and they get sent to jail.  Their kids go to family or are sent to foster care!” argument is "Precisely- their kids go to family or are placed in foster care, they are NOT separated from their parents and sent to detention warehouses or tent cities."

As a foster parent and graduate student of social work, I am much more familiar with U.S. Child Welfare Policy than U.S. Immigration Law.  I’ve seen firsthand that even when a child is in a safe and loving foster home it is still traumatic for them to be separated from their parents.  The abundant research shows that kids do better psychologically and physically in the least restrictive, most “home-like” environment rather than an institution (and preferably with kin, if possible).  

          As for incarcerated parents, at least they can be kept abreast of where their children are and how they are doing.  If their child is placed in foster care and not in the care of relatives, they have the resources of caseworkers or legal counsel to give them updates about their children.  Even if they can’t afford a lawyer they can consult with a public defender about their rights and have due process in court hearings.

Third, children being separated from their parents under ANY CIRCUMSTANCE is of concern!

 Whether children are separated from their parents as a result of their parents fleeing the country and seeking asylum or illegally crossing the border or even being incarcerated or homeless, the children who are left behind deserve our compassion.  Period.    



Just as no child has a choice as to if they’re born into poverty or wealth, children are not responsible for the choices their parents make.  Unless it’s not in the best interest of a child, families deserve to be together.   Foster care is set up to reunify families and give them another chance to be together.   

As a foster parent it is not my job to make judgments about the parents of the children in my care (though it’s been a temptation I've succumbed to at times) but, rather, to love and care for these children as if they were my own until they can return to the care of their parents, if possible.  

When we got a call about a prospective placement we don’t base our willingness to care for the child based on if the parents have a clean background- in fact, the majority of the children who are placed in our home have come into state custody precisely because their parents need some extra help and resources and they don’t have a clean criminal record (most often because of drug charges and domestic violence issues).

   Children need to be cared for and nurtured regardless of their parent’s citizenship status or criminal record.   Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come to me”  NOT “Suffer the children to come to me unless their parents have tried to cross the border illegally or only if their parents have documented citizenship or can provide for them or have spotless background checks, etc.”

Fourth, when a child is separated from their parents they can suffer both short-term and long-term effects which can alter their brain chemistry and potentially their ability to form healthy attachments later in life.

I don't have the time here to recount attachment studies or go into the details of how the brain and limbic system respond to trauma, but many parents who have adopted or cared for children coming from "hard places"- environments of abuse and neglect or institutions and orphanages- deal with the very real repercussions sometimes on a daily basis, as do the teachers, social workers, therapists, or medical professionals who work closely with these children and their parents.

  If anybody thinks that separating a child from their parents is "no big deal" because it happens all the time, I think you would feel much differently after doing everything in your power to try and comfort a crying child in the middle of the night when they've been removed from their family.  

*U.S. IMMIGRATION POLICY BACKGROUND/CLARIFICATION- I am sharing these facts and sources courtesy of Michelle Martin who is a PhD and policy specialist from Cal State Fullerton: 

-The policy to separate parents and children is new and was instituted on 4/6/2018.  It was the brainchild of John Kelly and Stephen Miller to serve as a deterrent for undocumented immigration, approved by Trump, and adopted by A.G. Sessions.  Prior administrations detained migrant families, but didn’t have a practice of forcibly separating parents from their children unless the adults were deemed unfit.  https://www.justice.gov/.../pres.../file/1049751/download...

- In 1996, President Clinton passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which made unauthorized entry into the US a crime (typically a misdemeanor for first-time offenders) but under both Republicans and Democrats, these cases were handled through civil deportation proceedings, NOT criminal proceeding, WHICH DID NOT REQUIRE SEPARATION.  And again, even in cases where detainment was required, FAMILIES WERE ALWAYS KEPT TOGETHER IN FAMILY RESIDENTIAL CENTERS UNLESS the parents were deemed unfit.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

GIVEAWAY: Foster Care- One Dog's Story of Change

*To skip to the Giveaway Scroll to the Bottom*

How many fictional children's books do you know of that address the subject of children being in foster care?  There are not many out there, but I would like to introduce you to a wonderful newly published resource:


Foster Care One Dog's Story of Change was written by bestselling author Julia Cook who is not only an author but a counselor as well.  Julia's intent in writing Foster Care One Dog's Story of Change was to help children in foster care to know that they are not alone.  This is a needful objective considering that 273,539 children entered foster care in 2016 according to statistics released from the U.S. Children's Bureau.

Foster Care One Dog's Story of Change explores the ambivalent feelings of children in foster care, although technically the children are not humans but animals.  The illustrations for this book, courtesy Marcela Calderon, are darling!  Of course, I may be somewhat biased because I once had a pug and the main character of the book, a little dog named Foster, happens to be a pug.

One of the most touching parts of the books to me was when, after a caseworker removes one of the animal characters, Zeke, from his home to a safe house she introduces him to her "many friends", including a social worker, a counselor, an attorney, and a doctor who are all work together on the same team- "Team Zeke". 

Zeke describes his caseworker's explanation of "Team Zeke" this way: "She said they all wanted to help me bring my family together again."  I appreciated that description of foster care because it is truly a collaboration of professionals and volunteer foster parents and others who come together for the sake of a child.  Foster care, of course, is a complex process because although the goal is to keep families together, that is not always the outcome.

The strength of this book is that it is centered on the child in foster care and helps them to understand that whatever they are feeling throughout the process: anger, fear, guilt, or sadness- it's okay.  Furthermore, the characters in this book- children living in the same foster home headed by the loving yet fair Miss Beulah, are the greatest supports to each other.  


Foster Care One Dog's Story of Change is not only an excellent resource for children in foster care, but for other children to understand what it might be like to be in foster care.  My children who were adopted from foster care don't remember much about being in foster care since they were so young when they were placed with us but I will definitely read this book with the next child who is placed in our home.

I asked my 10 year old, who has never been in foster care but who has had many foster siblings over the years, to read this book and tell me what she thought about it.  At one point as she was reading she looked over to me with a look of concern on her face and pointed to the picture on the page she was reading and referring to one of the characters explained, "He's been there for two whole years . . . that's why he's crying."  


(Mind you, this particular child can not stand to be away from her parents for more than 2 or 3 days at a time so reading about being separated from family really affected her.)

When my daughter finished the book I asked her what she thought.  These were her words:

"It's good.  It tells you what foster care would be like- you can feel lots of different things." 

I followed up with the question, "How did it make you feel?" and her answers included,

"I felt sad for them being away from their parents. I felt like if I were to go into foster care I would know what it feels like." 

Foster Care One Dog's Story of Change reassures children in foster care, helps to build awareness and sympathy in children not in foster care, and also includes some helpful tips for foster parents and educators on the last couple of pages.  Some of the most effective, in my opinion, are Co-Parenting Matters, Teamwork Matters, and Reassurance Matters.


For more information about the book: www.fostercarestorybook.com

I am eager to spread the word about this book and will be giving away two free copies of Foster Care One Dogs Story courtesy of National Center for Youth Issues to two lucky people.

Giveaway starts 4/12/18 and ends 4/19/18

There are two ways you can enter this giveaway through Rafflecopter:

1) Leave a comment on this blog post telling me where you're from.

2) Visit Adoption & Foster Care: My Personal Experience's Facebook Page and tag someone in the comments who would be interested in this book.

That's it!  Two possible entries available and the winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and announced on 4/19/18.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Helping Others Understand Adoption

I have a friend named Judy.  Judy is both an adoptive mom and an LCSW and I don't think she's even aware of this, but I've heard her say two things regarding adoption that have always stuck with me.  I'd like to pass them on in case they're helpful to anybody else. 

The first example:

Judy recounted how she heard someone once tell her "But I just don't understand how you can love a child if they're not biologically related to you?"

Judy's calm but oh-so-wise response to the woman who expressed this concern was:

Judy:  Do you share your husband's genes?

Woman: (Somewhat puzzled) Of course not!

Judy:  But do you love your husband?

Woman:  Well, of course!

Judy:  But you don't share any genes with him- how can you love him?

Woman:  Oh . . .


That simple explanation was enough for this woman to "get it" and understand something she didn't quite relate to previously.

The second example is not something that Judy actually said but that one of her adopted daughters has told people in response to the question:

"How long have you known you were adopted?"

Her daughter's similarly rhetorical reply is "How long have you known you were a boy or a girl?"  In other words, when something is never questioned or hidden but just explained as an obvious fact, then there is no sudden "A-ha" moment of realization because it's as natural as having a belly button- you don't question how it got there- it's just always been there.


I share those examples in the hopes that they might be helpful in explaining adoption to others or in reassuring any prospective adoptive parents out there that if you share with your child that they were adopted from the very beginning, it just becomes a part of who they are, which can be beneficial in preventing less identity confusion or resentment from not knowing later on in life.

Social Work & The "This Is Us" Superbowl Episode

I admittedly only watched about five minutes of the Superbowl this year- but I was glued to my T.V. during the infamous This is Us Superbowl episode and gave strict instructions to any who were within the sound of my voice that there would be NO INTERRUPTIONS while I watched.  It was an  intense episode, to say the least.

One of my first reactions upon seeing Rebecca receive the news of Jack's death in the hospital was:  "Where's the hospital social worker?  Someone get her a hospital social worker to talk to- STAT!" (Beginning next fall I will be getting my practicum hours in a hospital setting- so, there's my plug for medical social work.)


My absolute favorite scene and new development was when Randall was talking to a distraught Tess.  He asked her how she felt about fostering and the way the writers presented things I thought for sure the Pearsons would be getting the little boy shown at the beginning of the episode as a  new foster placement (and I believe there was a hint of him in a previous episode as well).  But they didn't because, come to find out, Deja was back and TESS was the little boy's social worker in the future.  She ends up working with foster children- how cool is that?! 

The fact that they showed Randall as an old man made me wonder, "Will there be a This Is Us spin-off in the future- for the next generation- or will it continue to have multiple seasons?"

Here's the clip which warmed my heart:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Relicensing

Tomorrow our licensor is coming to do a walk-through inspection of our home as we have decided to renew our foster care license for another year.  It's funny because when we first started fostering we would cross our fingers to get placements where there was a high likelihood of us adopting them, but now, twelve years later, and with three permanent children to call our own in our home, our preferences have changed.  I think this is the first year where we've told our licensor and RFC that we are interested in fostering but not necessarily adopting.

The first obvious consideration in deciding whether to open up our home to more foster children or not is physical space.  Our family is growing and kids take up space-especially as they grow!  We currently have room for two more children in our home & cars but we're starting to feel a little cramped.

Another important consideration in taking a placement is what ages would work with the kids in your home.  At this point in time my husband and I both feel more comfortable with not disrupting the birth order of our children.  Because of that, we prefer children no younger than our youngest and no older than our oldest.  I miss caring for babies and toddlers even though they are a LOT of physical work.  However, one advantage of fostering babies and younger children is that cribs and toddler beds take up a lot less space in rooms than "big boy" or "big girl" regular beds.  I think I might actually cry when we get rid of the last spare toddler bed in our home. 

I have also recently learned that beginning next fall I will be working twice a week to get hours for my LCSW license.  This has necessitated arranging day care for our two youngest children when I'm not at home- something I've never had to do before as I've been able to stay at home during the day.

Because of this new development, I think it would be best to take foster children who are at least in 1st grade. Although it's not impossible to be a foster parent who works full-time I think it would be difficult to do so, especially with younger children, because foster parents have to foot the bill for their day care (at least in my state).  Besides that, the time needed to take kids to weekly visits with their bio family and court hearings and lots and lots of doctors appointments or other appointments if they have special needs or need therapy or early interventions.- can really add up. 

Case in point: I was going through some old papers and forms of Jack and Jill's (my two youngest children who were adopted from foster care after being in our home for over a year) and I calculated that in between the both of them I took them to 26 medical appointments- including early intervention/speech therapy- during the 16 months that they were in our care before being adopted- including at least one trip to the E.R. and a hospital stay at a children's hospital.  Those appointments did not include weekly visits with their birth family, team meetings, or court hearings.  It would be very difficult to arrange time off of one's work to attend all those appointments, visits, and meetings.  I was able to do it because I was a stay at home mom at the time.

Honestly, as I've remembered how time consuming weekly visits and regular check-ups are for children in foster care I start to get a little discouraged about taking any more placements.  Isn't our family busy enough with appointments of our own?!  

I know that for a lot of people the biggest fear they have about fostering is reunification and while that can be a very painful process, lately I've found myself having much more pragmatic concerns.  As we've debated whether or not to continue fostering I have found myself worrying more about the sheer physical time and energy it takes to transport a child to appointments and visits and court hearings.  We've already dealt with the pain of saying goodbye to foster placements before- some cases are much harder than others- but at this point any reluctance I have to taking any more foster children in our home is simply the devotion (time, energy, and love)  it takes to be a foster parent and to advocate for a child.

We got a call earlier this month about a little boy the same age as our little boy who needed to be placed.  The story of how he came into care is one that left me shaking my head and thinking, "Its just not fair what some kids have to deal with in life."  After getting more info on his case and realizing that his placement might be more of a temporary than permanent situation as kin were in the process of being tracked down, my children and I were allowed to visit this little boy at the temporary shelter he was staying at for the purpose of seeing if he would be a good fit with our kids and into our family.

Unfortunately, it became very evident at the visit that this little boy was overwhelmed and resistant to "coming home" with our family.  [Even though the transitional worker made it very clear to him that we weren't there to "take" him but just wanted to come and hang out for a bit].  Perhaps if I were by myself without my kids this little boy would have felt more comfortable- or maybe not.  Whatever his reasons, this innocent little child had already been passed around and suffered too much disruption since initially being placed into foster care a few short weeks ago.  Although we were willing to take him into our home, the team of case workers and other staff felt it would be best, given his response to meeting us, if he could go to a home where he could receive more individualized attention (perhaps less children in the home) as well as a home which would be open to adopting him in the case that a placement with kin didn't work out.

I hope that little boy gets placed in a home where he can get the care he so badly needs.  In the meantime, it inspired me to be a little more nurturing and attentive to my own children.