I am going to call this my High Horse article, written with my Adoptive Parent hat on. Having adopted three times, all teens, I have experienced a lot.
Tonight on Facebook I saw a post about two good organizations that have lost funding to support their foster care adoption work. These organizations are You Gotta Believe, a New York based group that focuses on teen adoption, and the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC). NACAC is an international organization comprised of many who have walked in the shoes of foster care adoption and all they do focuses on support the parents and the kids. Both organizations speak from a true voice, and both advocate tirelessly for what I call ‘forgotten children’ – children growing up in the system with the feeling that no one wants them.
So, my high horse tonight comes from a comment on the post about these two organizations losing funding, for which I will share below:
(Name Withheld): “How about restore money to foster children so they can heal and become productive adults. Farming these behaviorally challenged children off on unsuspecting potential adoptive parents is a recipe for disaster…My second placement was a failed adoption. I get calls all of the time, in fact, just last week about one of these adoptions gone wrong. Adoption is great if done right. And I haven’t seen it done right too many times. Usually it’s the state trying to get rid of the children on unsuspecting [adults]. And oh, yeah let’s talk about when these children that have been adopted need services. Unless it’s pre-written into the adoption contract the adoptive parents can end up paying thousands of dollars out of their pocket for a child that they didn’t cause the damage to. Out of the goodness of their heart their just trying to help”.
When I read ‘productive adults’, I knew the rest of the post wouldn’t be any better. As an adoption advocate, and someone who founded, and ran an adoption organization focused on teen adoptions, and who walked the walk, the term ‘farming’ I personally found sad, and quite frankly, offensive. Unsuspecting was another term that I find hard to imagine if anyone reads about foster care adoption, or trauma, or child abuse and neglect, or attends pre-service training. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know the world isn’t perfect but stereotyping anything raises my hackles.
I will flat out say adoption is not easy. I worked in the field. I advocated for families to adopt, and I lived serious challenges every day I would not wish on anyone. But unsuspecting. No, I was not.
I had no idea how bad it would get, and I had seen it over and over again. I anticipated I would deal with a set of issues, and wham; I had a whole different set. There is a logical part of your mind that knows the whys and wherefores, and then the emotional part that lives in the chaotic environment every day.
Was I completely prepared? Heck no. How can one prepare for certain things? I have friends with biological children that have challenges. One has a daughter that has been in and out of an eating disorder clinic, how do you prepare for seeing your 15 year old at 85 lbs and dying?
I have another whose child committed suicide. How do you prepare for that? You don’t. You do your best every day and honor the commitment you made, and realize that it may take years for things to get better.
Quite often, it is the parents who have unrealistic expectations that fail. The parents that think a child should be grateful for being adopted, or those that want to add to their family through adoption. Those are the wrong reasons to adopt an older child, and especially a teen from foster care. You adopt a child from foster care to give them a chance. Foster care adoption is about the kids, not about you as an adult and your needs. Your truly have to find your selfless person (and believe me, it is so hard some days).
Unconditional love is a term I have heard for years. It is a term that sometimes I questioned. Love at times was hard. However, I will say the term commitment is something I never wavered on. I promised these kids to be their mom forever. There were days I didn’t think forever was that far off, as I was not sure I would even get out of bed. There were days I wondered how I would survive all of the chaos. There were days I realized I was the worst parent, and there were days I found the ability to empathize, and put myself in the children’s shoes. That is what brought me back from giving up to being strong.
I wasn’t the one who ate dog food off the floor. I wasn’t the one left at a shelter at Christmas. I wasn’t the one who had a foster father molest them. I wasn’t the one who had 3 other families promise to be there, forever, who gave up and sent them back to foster care. My kids experienced that, and not together as siblings, all three had very different experiences and backgrounds. And they all tested me in very different ways. And even in their 20s, there are still challenges, especially social. (Baby steps…)
‘Farming off kids’…It serves no one to ‘farm off kids’. It doesn’t benefit the children, the families, and it doesn’t benefit the system in any way.
I know that case workers do not become case workers because they want to farm off kids. They believe in the kids and making a difference. They are young, many aren’t even parents themselves. We as the potential adoptive parents need to look at the big picture, through everyone’s eyes. Blaming the system, blaming the kids for a bad experience is one way to absolve guilt I am sure. But to be true to all involved, no one knows 100% what any person, to include children in foster care, will do in certain situations. It is an ongoing learning process. I can write a list a mile long of all of my mistakes, many of the challenges I had may have come out different if I had acted different.
I know when I talked to potential parents I would hold up my hands about a foot apart, and say, the kids are on the left, the parents on the right. Most parents think they are going to save the child, heal the child so the child will move more to the right to meet the parents where they are. Nope. The parents have to go all the way to the left and meet the child where they are, and then slowly, hope to move somewhere in the middle.
Adoption really is about the child and it is the parents that have to do so much adjusting. You may not be able to go to your neighborhood picnic. You may get a call from the school because your son told the class he wanted to be a porn star when he grows up. You may have people who don’t want to be around you anymore. Those are things you can learn from other adoptive parents, and foster parents as well. The community of those who have experienced it learn humor can conquer chaos.
For potential adoptive parents, the best advice I can give is do your research, talk to others, and make sure you are all in and can weather many storms. Know what your deal breakers are, which isn’t easy without a lot of soul searching.
I know my friends with biological parents cannot give their kids back, so why is it so easy to give back children in foster care?
I will emphatically say that we all need help, and resources, and systems that understand. We, the adoptive parents, live it every day. The system has a lot of improving to do to support families’ post the judge banging the gavel. We all need to ban together and help build this system. With 400,000 kids in foster care, they need us to not give up. Let’s not tear the system apart. You have to support the families to be able to ultimately help the children.