Adoption Adventures

Follow Cory and Rebecca on their quest to adopt!

What You See May Be The Exact Opposite Of What You Get

Yesterday Rebecca wrote about the odd things (or simply out of our norm things that we have had to get used to) that we have seen incorporated into the “short form” profiles of children on adoption photolisting websites.  While it has been odd to see the same sorts of phrasing, gender stereotyping and the like, what has been more odd and somewhat alarming is how these short form descriptions can, in some cases, gloss over or outright seemingly mischaracterize some of the children.

Before I go further, let me set up a little bit of a background.  As previously mentioned, we have collectively tried to remain open to just about as wide of a selection of different types of kids (and their stories, backgrounds, challenges, etc.) as we believe we could handle.  We only have a few very hard and fast criteria that automatically would keep us from further considering a child.  One of those is if the child has any sort of history of animal abuse.  For those of us who know us, we are very attached to our three cats.  That alone is a pretty good reason for us to rule out kids who have a history of mistreating animals, let alone some of the behaviors that animal abuse can be an indicator for.

Does this count as animal abuse?

So, that all said, our first hand introduction to how the short form descriptions may not match up with additional data about a child came a couple of weeks back.  We had made an initial query with the caseworker for an out of state child. These initial queries are little more than internal data prompts that say “hey, highest level social work assigned to this particular child, please look at our family biography and see if you think we may be a good match for this child in question.”  If the social worker feels that the family might be a good fit (and after they have checked out the family’s home study), they will send you a longer form report on the child.  As you would expect, these longer form (from what we have seen so far these documents vary from state to state and kid to kid but are typically in excess of ten pages) documents give you a *lot* more specific and particular information on the kid.

Well, the long form data we received on this kid couldn’t have been closer to one hundred and eighty degrees away from the kid’s short form description.  Maybe we’re crazy, but if you read a description that  said “this child loves to play with the foster family’s pets” you probably wouldn’t expect to read another document that describes *multiple* incidents of animal abuse, right?  While this alone meant we wouldn’t be a good match for this particular child, there was also a lot of other material in this longer report that cut against the picture that was painted in the short form description.  Mind you, this report also made it clear just how hard of a life this kid has had – the behaviors and actions described within the report make complete sense in light of those life experiences.

The report itself, actually the first such long form report that we had received in response to any of our queries, was just a bit of a shock to us in contrast to the short form description.  We were immediately left wondering whether this sort of huge night and day discrepancy was going to be the case all of the time.  Had we made a huge mistake?  Were all the stereotypes of kids in foster care true? Rebecca was able to quickly reach out to a couple of friends who have adopted children from foster care with the question of “is this normal”?  We were able to get ourselves mentally back on track quickly once we were told by those folks that this sort of situation was *not* the norm and further had our spirits lifted once we received a long form report about a different inquired-about child later that same day with nary a mention of even frowning at a puppy (nor fire starting or choking other kids out).  This report also included plenty of very positive information about the child (while not glossing over their challenges) that weren’t touched upon at all in their short description. Whew!

The moral of the story?  Chin up, future adoptive parents!  Don’t get discouraged when you are looking through the information about available children.  Since so many of these brief reports and descriptions are written by folks who may not know the kids as well as their primary social workers, you just really have to take everything with a grain of salt.  It further demonstrates that one of your primary duties in the early stages is to obtain *all* of the information about the child that you possibly can, and to be as open about your own needs and expectations as possible with social workers.

 

 

2 Comments »

Like online dating, sort of

I’ve mentioned the AdoptUSKids photolisting website a few times already without offering more information, so let’s get right to that!

 

There are a number of photolisting websites featuring kids currently in foster care who are awaiting  “forever families.” Some of these sites are Heart Galleries, some are run by state DSS offices, and some by private agencies. AdoptUSKids is a national photolisting that features kids whose photos and bios have been submitted by social workers from all over the country. Anyone can peruse the kids’ photos and short profiles on the site, and families who have current home studies can register their own profiles on the site and gain access to more information about the waiting children. Registered families can inquire about kids online, and social workers can look through family bios and contact folks they think may be good matches for the children they represent. So it’s kind of like online dating, with a third party describing the kids rather than themselves.

 

At first I was uneasy about the idea of photolistings like this since the children, themselves, aren’t assembling their profiles and electing to post them online. It seems like a huge invasion of privacy for the children. But photolistings help get more people interested in adopting, and more children adopted from foster care. So much of the life of a child in foster care is public knowledge. Is a photolisting containing general information and a photo more of a breach of privacy than the other types that kids in care experience? Although I still find photolistings problematic, they can be extremely useful tools and are helping us in our own search.

 

I’ve read thousands of these kids’ profiles over the years and two things that stand out about them are how generic and how gendered they are. Children are more likely than not described in similar terms with the same likes and dislikes–probably both as a result of the people writing the profiles not knowing the children well enough to describe them and in an effort to make each child sound appealing to a wide variety of potential parents. Perhaps for the same reasons, kids are frequently described in very gendered ways. “Jane is a real girly girl!” and “John is all boy!” are popular statements, and commonly follow sentences about the children’s interests that do not follow traditional gender roles. “John enjoys quietly reading books in his spare time. He’s also a real boy’s boy who loves baseball and construction equipment!” “Jane is a tomboy who plays softball on her school’s team. Like all girls, she also loves having her nails painted and shopping at the mall!” Now I’m not saying that John can’t love reading and construction equipment, or that Jane can’t play sports and like manicures (or that any of those things should be “male” or “female” activities). People of all ages can and should enjoy a variety of activities. But the frequency with which this formula for describing kids is used makes it rather suspicious, as if to say, “He likes to cook but don’t worry: he is a boy! He just likes this one girly thing.” It’s especially interesting when the child’s profile photo clearly contradicts their description. My favorite was a 17-year-old goth girl whose first profile sentence described her as extremely bubbly. Don’t mind the heavy eyeliner, dyed hair, head-to-toe black clothing, and scowl, people! This one’s liable to bust out a musical montage from The Sound of Music at any moment! As a former teen goth, myself, I find this treatment insulting on a few levels. Maybe some of us would prefer a kid who wants to wallpaper her room in Joy Division posters.

 

As we’ve progressed in the process and read the full profiles of several children we have seen online, it’s also becoming clear that some of those short descriptions are not at all accurate to the kids they describe. But that’s for another post…

 

7 Comments »

The Pro-Choicer’s Guide to Choosing an Adoption Agency

Although the term “pro-choice” is sometimes put at odds with adoption in popular media, being pro-choice certainly doesn’t preclude a person from being pro-adoption. On the contrary, it requires that all choices of a woman faced with a pregnancy are given equal support. Pro-choice folks believe that every woman should have access to factual sex education, reliable birth control, quality reproductive (and general) health care, sound assisted reproductive technology options, safe and legal abortion, empowering adoption choices, maternity leave and nursing support from her employer, and excellent child care for her kids. This means that any woman—from the mother of five who chooses to forgo chemotherapy rather than ending her pregnancy, to the mother of one who chooses abortion in order to devote more time and resources to her child, to the 27-year-old who wants her tubes tied because she doesn’t ever want to become pregnant, to the 45-year-old who wants to go through another round of IVF—should have access to the option she believes is best for herself and her family.

The pro-choice mantra, “every child a wanted child,” means that we also believe every child has the right to a safe, permanent, and loving home.

 

Our pro-choice beliefs were definitely in the forefront when we were in the process of choosing to work with an adoption agency for our home study. Since almost all of the agencies we found provide infant adoption services, it was extremely important to us that birth mothers who work with those agencies are given the support and respect they deserve. We ruled out working with any agency affiliated with a Crisis Pregnancy Center (CPC) and any whose website uses coercive language or inaccurate medical information targeting pregnant women, or whose services offered to pregnant women seemed geared toward limiting their options rather than enhancing them. We also wanted to work with an agency that didn’t sugarcoat the issues inherent in adoption for either birth parents or potential adoptive parents, or whose web pages for birth mothers painted a different picture of adoption than the pages for adoptive parents. (Such as those that portray birth mothers as means to an end to waiting parents, and as saints to other potential birth moms.) Agencies needed to offer some level of ongoing support—whether by referral or in house—to both members of birth families and adoptive families. We also didn’t want to work with an agency that would rule out potential adoptive parents due to their marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, or ability to get pregnant on their own. You may be seeing why it has taken us so long to get all this rolling, but we’re nothing if not intentional. Oh yeah—the agency also had to actually show they wanted to work with us by being responsive to our questions and meeting with us. (You’d be surprised…)

 

Happily, we found a well-respected agency that fit all of our criteria to do our home study. We had to travel a bit for our meetings in order to work with them, but it was well worth the extra miles to know that we supported an organization that supports our values.

3 Comments »

What’s this “home study” business about?

In addition to the cost of adoption, people often have huge misconceptions about the home study that agencies do of/for families wishing to adopt. The home study involves criminal background checks, lots of paperwork, references, discussions with a social worker, minor medical tests, and a walk-through of your home.  To some people this may sound like a burden. Considering what children living in foster care have gone through, we welcomed the scrutiny. The home study is used when you inquire about a child that you hope to be matched with so that their social worker can determine if your personality, lifestyle, and situation is compatible with the child’s. The more information that your social worker knows about your family, the more accurate your home study will be and the better the chances of a successful match with a child.

 

The first part of our home study involved a field trip to the courthouse to get fingerprinted for our FBI background checks. We also met with a social worker from our agency to learn more about the process. As we waited for our FBI checks to come back (a process that, depending on the volume at the time, can take up to 12 weeks), we started working on the paperwork involved in the home study. We had to compile financial information, get doctors’ notes, take TB and HIV tests, and write a lot of essays about our lives, among other things. We were also requested criminal background checks from our county.  (I should say here that although our own medical and financial histories are pretty boring, having a medical condition or low income does not preclude a person from being approved to adopt.)  Through the written essays and discussions with our social workers, we talked about our own lives and how we came to the decision to adopt, as well as how we would work together as parents.

 

Our final meeting with our social worker was the home visit. As everyone who has been through it told us it would be, it was completely anticlimactic. We talked for a bit in the dining room and then showed our social worker around our house. It was just as if we were giving a friend a tour of the house. Contrary to popular belief, a family hoping to adopt does not need to have a bedroom picked out, decorated for a potential child, and baby proofed for their home visit. There needs to be a bedroom for the child, but it doesn’t need to be move-in ready by any means. (Gun owners will need to show that they keep their firearms in an appropriate safe, inaccessible to kids.) The purpose of the home visit is primarily to prove that the way you’ve presented yourself and home is accurate and to ensure that there aren’t major problems in your house that would make it unsafe for a child.

 

After all the paperwork, documents, and meetings, our social worker wrote up our actual home study. It’s thirteen pages, which is the condensed version of everything we submitted plus the social worker’s recommendations. It all took time but wasn’t nearly as invasive as the many doctors’ appointments our pregnant friends go through.

 

So that’s it! The home study is a time commitment and requires a lot of self-reflection and envisioning the future. But those are really things that any potential parent should be taking the time to do.

 

Here’s a more thorough explanation than we’ve provided of what goes into a home study, along a fancy video.

No Comments »

You Know It When You See It

I can’t let the first full day of this blog go by without putting some sort of post up here.  Is the phrase “fair and balanced”?  Or is that something else?  Anyway, Rebecca has certainly made a lot of good general points about who we are, what we are trying to accomplish and some of the parameters we have placed on our adoption search.  She’s always great at that – this is certainly no exception.  I just wanted to get a little of my local flavor in here as well.

 

If you know me, it’s no secret that I am an, um, enthusiast when it comes to record collecting.  The overall collection constantly is finding new additions – those titles you expected to add to the shelves and those that you see with no premeditation and just know that they need to come along for the ride.  As any seasoned record nerd will tell you, this bug can bite you anywhere at any time.  It can be at the friendly neighborhood mom ‘n’ pop independently owned record store over a new copy of something that you just never realized you need.  It can also be at that local used book store that happens to carry a scattershot assembly of used vinyl where truly no day’s offerings are the same as the prior day’s.  Despite your best laid plans the whims and chemistry of the day can help guide you in a direction that you never expected.

 

This is pretty much the same set of “guidelines” we are using in deciding on who will ultimately come into our live and forever family.  From what we have been able to tell so far, the foster system is full of all sorts of amazing kids. So many great options to explore!  Ultimately, though, we will be narrowed down to those kids whose case workers feel we offer a good match.  From there?  Well, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if my first post on here didn’t touch on records and the law in some sort of nerdy fashion, so here – ultimately with us and the kid(s) that come into this house to stay it’s going to be a you know it when you see it sort of situation.  No, I’m not talking the Justice Stewart variety here.  I’m talking more of the thumbing through the “new arrivals” section of a record store and seeing that one LP that you weren’t thinking of when you walked in the store but you instantly know that you will be taking home with you.  For me, this first happened when Rebecca pointed out the profile of a young lady in Oklahoma named Amanda around thirteen or so months ago.  That was the moment when I knew that this was the right path for us to take at this particular time.  Now, Amanda is presumptively off in an awesome forever home continuing to rack up geography bee medals.  It also happened for me last week when we found a rad youngster in Alabama about whom we have further inquiries.  Will this be a situation where both Rebecca and I agree?  We’ll see!  I guess that’s part of the exciting side of this whole situation and seeing just how the dice will tumble.

 

Now back to this new Endless Boogie LP…

2 Comments »

Fact!

Know much about foster care in the US? If not, fear not! Just strap yourself in and get ready for some fast facts:

 

  • Approximately 107,000 kids in foster care right now are ready and waiting to be adopted. These are children who are legally free for adoption–not waiting to possibly be reunited with their birth families.
  • There are all sorts of waiting children in foster care–from all races, backgrounds, ability levels, and family situations.
  • The average age of kids in foster care is 9.
  • Kids don’t come into foster care because they’re “bad.”
  • Many children come into foster care because they were abused, neglected, or abandoned by their birth families.
  • Adoption from foster care is inexpensive or free and includes tax credits and oftentimes continuing financial assistance.
  • You don’t have to be rich, married, straight, old, young, experienced parents, child-free, in perfect health, a stay-at-home parent, or own your own home in order to adopt.
  • Becoming licensed to adopt does not involve an extreme amount of time or effort.

 

No Comments »

High-fives in the morning, good vibes at lunch, and humorous support all weekend long

Our morning alarm clock is set to NPR, which often notes the sponsorship of programming by the Annie E. Casey Foundation—whose work includes support for children in foster care—right around the time that we’re waking up.

 

Founder of Wendy’s Dave Thomas, who was an adoptee, started the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in the ‘90s with the goal of making sure every child has a permanent and loving family. You’ve probably seen some of the Foundation’s posters in Wendy’s restaurants, or bought coupons for Frostys to give out at Halloween that help fund the Foundation’s work.

 

 

 

At home we like to listen to internet radio stations, which have PSAs rather than traditional advertisements. On weekends, they almost exclusively run PSAs for adopting shelter pets (yay!) and the “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent” ones from AdoptUSKids.org. They’re funny PSAs that remind listeners being  superparents isn’t a requirement of adopting kids from foster care.

Perfect Parent Video: Ice Cream

 

It’s nice to be reminded that although we don’t know many people personally who are currently going through the process of adopting from the US foster care system, we’re part of a community working to make kids’ lives better.

No Comments »

What’s your “type”?

When I first contacted a well-regarded agency in our state about adopting, I was surprised at the response. I got the following e-mail:

 

Thank you for your inquiry. Please share with me some information about your family so I can answer your questions about our programs.

 

1. what race child to you hope to adopt?

2. what are you and your husband’s ages?

3. do you have any children in your home?

4. what are your heritages?

 

We didn’t end up working with that agency, but since then have been asked to fill out several questionnaires asking what age, race, gender, physical ability, health and sibling situation child we’d be willing to adopt. Although I understand that there are many, many kids waiting to be adopted in foster care and these questions are designed to narrow the field of potential family/child(ren) matches, it’s still a challenge to do so. A love of animals isn’t tied to a particular race, just as an interest in learning new things isn’t an age and enjoyment of music isn’t determined by gender. Do most people have a physical description of the child they want so clearly in their mind that they can fill these out easily? Perhaps having that is like visualizing a goal in order for it to materialize? If so, I guess I visualize a kid in one of those creepy, face-covering unitards. I mean, if a three-year-old little red-haired girl named Francie pops up, I’ll know she’s ours. Other than that one improbable circumstance, our and a child’s interests and temperament seem far more likely to determine a successful match than some of our/their other characteristics.

This isn't really how I picture our kid.

To be sure, I know we don’t live in a race-neutral society where white grownups adopting and raising children of color can just pretend that racism doesn’t exist or not recognize that there have been issues historically with children of color being put into care to be raised by white people. But it doesn’t make sense to rule out entire races of children before knowing anything else about them as individuals just because there are special considerations to keep in mind with transracial adoption. Likewise, the age of a child in foster care might indicate that they require a more “experienced” family. Or it might not. A four-year-old who has lived in 12 different homes and doesn’t have the capacity to understand what’s going on may need more specialized care than a 14-year-old whose parent recently passed away. Our personalities and lifestyle may be more comfortable for a child who looks nothing like us than a kiddo who could be a tiny vision of one of us, but is a deeply religious football fanatic who loves going hunting.

 

So, we’ve tried to stay as open-minded as possible going through the home study and child search process. We’ve put a few parameters on our search based on our own ages, parenting (in)experience, and lack of medical knowledge, but otherwise would prefer to make potential match decisions based on who would best fit into our family, and who we would be most fit to parent.  Time and social workers will tell if our method is a good one or completely naïve. (I’m guessing it will be some of both.)

1 Comment »

Why?

It’s human nature to wonder why people make the choices that they do, but it’s good etiquette not to ask about people’s personal choices about their families. What a pickle! We know that people are curious about why we—or anyone—may want to adopt, so we’re including this handy section to explain:

 

Cory and I first talked about adoption a few days after we started dating in 2001. Cory was in law school in Chapel Hill, I was in DC trying to find a job, and we e-mailed each other frequently. While we were in separate states, we took the time to share our hopes for the future. Neither of us knew for sure if we wanted to ever have children, but I said that if I did become a mom one day, I would want it to be through adoption. Adoption had treated me very well in the past (I was adopted by the ideal family for me when I was two months old) and it’s a legacy I’d like to share with my own child or children one day. Cory agreed that it’s not DNA that makes a family, but the love that people share and the way they care for one another. We married a little over two years later in January 2004 and grew our family with the addition of cats rather than people.

 

Over the years we talked more about having kids and realized that while both of us think babies are delightful, we think of ourselves as better with toddlers and older children to infants. (But we have it on good authority that humans are only babies for a few months, versus being non-babies for most of their lifetimes.) And although we have no reason to think we could not give birth to a darling fleet of pasty, dark-haired, allergy-prone, nerdy kids, we would be just as happy to adopt those indoor kids. So why not grow our family while getting kids out of foster care at the same time?

 

We went to an informational meeting on adoption and foster care (which turned out to be entirely about therapeutic foster care) in 2008 or ’09, and I would regularly peruse the AdoptUSKids.org website to find out more about children living in foster care. Last year while looking at the site, I stumbled across the profile for young Amanda in Oklahoma, whose photo showed her proudly holding up the medal she won in a geography bee. I showed her profile to Cory, who was immediately smitten. Although we knew that Amanda most likely wouldn’t be in foster care for much longer with a photo like that, we decided the time was right to get ready for kids and began working with a private agency to begin the adoption process. So although our hopes to adopt may be news to some folks, we’ve been planning for this for years.

 

So, to recap, we do want to adopt from domestic foster care because we see doing so as a win-win for us and a child. We do not want to adopt because we’re obsessed with the Jolie-Pitt family (well, we may be a little obsessed, but that’s not why we’re doing this), because my eggs and uterine lining have formed an anti-implantation pact in response to my years of pro-choice activism, because we’re horribly concerned about me losing my girlish figure or Cory gaining sympathy weight (time, gravity, and delicious doughnuts prove those things happen anyway), or because of either organized or disorganized religion.

 

And in case your “Why?” is about why we’re keeping this blog, it’s twofold. We want our friends and family to be able to keep up with where we are in our own move toward adoption (and opted to wait until after our home study was completed before posting anything), but we also want to demystify the process of adopting from foster care and challenge common misconceptions people have about it. Who knows? Adopting may be your calling, too.

 

 

Would you trust these people with a child?

How about these people?

4 Comments »