Adoption Adventures

Follow Cory and Rebecca on their quest to adopt!

A Long Pause

First, an update on the kid we previously mentioned. After spending another day out with him, we hosted him for the weekend at our place. Throughout the entire process, he was told that we were only babysitters providing respite care so his foster mom could run errands or go out of town. We tried to plan a combination of fun things to do, but also have enough real-world home time to see how we’d all get along on a typical weekend together. It became clear over those days that he needs a different kind of structure than we can give him in our home, and a different kind of family in general. The first two times we got together, he was really on his best behavior and probably showing us what he thought we wanted to see. But as we spent more time with him and his true nature and personality came out, we found that he needs to be reminded pretty constantly of how to act in order to keep himself and those around him safe, except for when he’s entranced by a video game or other project that he’s into. He’s also very persistent about trying to get what he wants (which he’s had to be in order to get through 5+ years in foster care),

i don’t know what these things are

and needs extremely clear-cut, black and white rules with no deviations from the plan.* That alone we maybe could’ve handled, but he’s also dissimilar to us in lots of ways. He really only lights up when he talks about guns, for example, and we’re not a gun family. He also has expressed a strong interest in going hunting, which we would obviously never support. We felt like it would be cruel to not only have to constantly correct his behaviors, but also tell him that his interests aren’t acceptable in our home. I think he’d do very well in a military or law enforcement family, or one that has a ton of rules and is into hunting and eating steaks and whatnot–which is clearly not at our house. So, that’s how that whole story wrapped up.

 

One thing we’ve found along the journey should not be a shock to most folks: the foster care system in the US is underfunded, understaffed, and presents a whole lot of challenges for people on all sides of it. Let me first be clear in saying that I do not fault social workers and others trying to work in the best interest of children in this. Many of the tasks that some people see as hassles that come with the system are very necessary. We have been more than happy to do the background checks, the home visits, the medical tests, the interviews, and otherwise share personal information. It’s the duplicated procedures and the drop-off in services that happens after a prospective adoptive family completes all those tasks that are hard to deal with. Not being an expert on the history of all of the policies and procedures within the system, I can only surmise that policies were layered on top of one another over a span of many years, and not changed even when redundant policies were created, or funding cuts caused some of them to become nearly impossible to implement. For example, our county department of social services expended staff time and resources to train us to become adoptive or foster parents. However, there is no longer funding to pay for social workers who partner with prospective adoptive parents in the county, and without a social worker it’s very difficult to navigate the entire process. For example, without a social worker, a prospective adoptive parent or family cannot access nationwide databases of adoptable kids, since most social workers will only talk with or transmit information on children to other social workers. So, essentially, we’ve gone from being able to proactively inquire about any child in the US and having any adoption social worker in the country be able to contact us to having our home study sitting in a county office where only a handful of local social workers representing kids can see it. What that means for us is this: should a child become legally free for adoption in our county, and if our abilities and preferences match that child’s needs, and if their social worker sees our home study and thinks we might be a good match, we may get a call one day. That’s a lot of “ifs,” in case you didn’t notice, so we’re not holding our breaths.

 

As far as where that leaves us, we’re still sorting that out. A good portion of the reason we wanted to become parents through adoption was because we wanted to give a child or children in foster care a permanent family. That’s a different motivation than the type that it takes to go through the infant adoption process, where there are more potential adoptive parents than babies that need forever homes. We’re not necessarily ending our journey here and–as we’ve always said–we’ll be happy however this whole thing shakes out. But, we are looking at our future more realistically and realizing that we don’t need to factor a child or children in when making immediate or a-few-months-away life plans, as we had been doing.

 

*I realize this sounds like normal kid behavior. That’s primarily because I’m using much softer language for the purposes of this blog than the professionals who have worked with him do. Rest assured, we wouldn’t expect a child who is never demanding or who doesn’t ever try to game the system. 😉

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Slow(ly) Creep(ing)

Not too long ago Rebecca posted some information on our first meeting with a prospective adoptee.  What’s been going on since then you may ask?  Well, some additional interaction with that same child (hereinafter, the “Kid”) and some slow creeping of the process.  Here’s a bit of an update as well some information of how this stuff seems to run.

As for the update, the Kid was on spring break last week so we were able to steal him away from current foster parents’ house for a day.  It was a work day so that largely meant a lot of one-on-one time between Kid and Rebecca – Putt-Putt, video games, basketball, etc.  I caught up with them for lunch and then again at the end of the business day for dinner (and some more basketball) before he had to go back home.  The day was fun and gave us an additional bit of insight into his personality (and I would presume the same for him into our lives and personalities).  The situation is still odd – there is no outward discussion of the fact that we are prospective adoptive parents.  We have been presented during both meetings as individuals who are providing respite foster care.  That said, Kid has probably started to assemble some guesses as to what is really going on given our ages, the fact that we don’t have any kids and, most importantly, the fact that Kid is smart.  Would we spend some more time with him?  Certainly!  It is just a matter now of trying to schedule that time.

Kid’s social worker is fantastic to work with and is very patient at making sure everything is a great fit for him.  In addition to our schedule being slightly odd, everyone is kinda checking along with Kid to make sure he wants to keep hanging out with us.  Forget the fact that we’re interested – we’re not the most important parties here!  All of this checking back and forth between us, Kid and everyone in Kid’s orbit (social worker and other supportive individuals like guardian ad litems) create some clear and natural delays.  It all makes sense in its own way and we’re still along for the ride.

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Hello, Stranger

After years of talking about adopting and learning more about foster care adoption, many months of paperwork and background checks, and weeks of parent training, we got to spend a day with a real, live kiddo who’s looking for a family this weekend. We went to the local natural science center in the morning, called a meeting of Pizza Club for lunch, walked around the neighborhood, and played some football in the afternoon. It was awesome and it was weird.

 

Daaaaang

There really aren’t other times that a grownup or two hangs out with a single child with absolutely no relation to them. Not a relative or neighbor, not your child’s friend or one of several children in a class or scout troop. Just a random child who knows nothing about you, although you know many personal details about her or him. And it’s all under the guise of babysitting to give their foster parents a little time off, because telling a kid that s/he’s on some kind of interview would only make things weirder.

 

Despite the odd setup and some lulls in the conversation, we had fun and were totally exhausted by the day’s end. Some non-identifying highlights from the day include:

  • The child repeatedly saying “daaaaaang” under his (ok–the kid’s a he) breath when we got nose-to-nose with giant tortoises at the science center
  • The rocks & minerals section of the science center being referred to as his “favorite part”
  • His spot-on guinea pig impersonation
  • His desire to throw the football with Cory for an hour even though football is not at all Cory’s strong suit (which he’ll tell you himself)
  • His gentleness with the cats, who sweetly put up with being meowed at by a small human for long stretches of time

We had fun, he had fun, and we’ll see where it goes from here. As with everything in the world of foster care, situations and circumstances can change rapidly so we’re trying not to get our hopes up (or freak out at the thought of having a kid all of the sudden, for that matter). As always, we’re taking it day by day. And Saturday was certainly a good day!

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“Baby Blues” with an Elementary Schooler?

First off, thanks to so many folks for their support and encouragement of us during the whole, long adoption process! I know we’ve been slack with our blog updates, but things are moving along well and we’ve talked with several social workers about kids both near and far. (Well, not too far. All have been in the contiguous United States.) We’re happy with the progress and know that our family will grow if and when the time is right.

 

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption recently posted an interesting article about post-adoption stress in new moms. An earlier study found that both new mothers and fathers may experience depression or other not-so-elated feelings after the adoption of a child due to a few reasons including unrealistic expectations and lack of support. It’s a good reminder that no matter how folks become parents, they all face many of the same challenges and need similar types of support!

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Bouncing back, and a little money talk

Last week was a tough one, but we’ve had some very promising conversations with social workers since then and are feeling much better about our options for adding to our family. We’re learning to take individuals’ comments in stride and keep our focus on learning as much as we can about adopting and parenting rather than getting bogged down in the details. One of our goals for this blog is to add to the positive side of the adoption discussion and, although there will be some setbacks, it’s still entirely worth it to pursue adoption.

 

In addition to calls from a social worker who saw our home study and thinks we may make a good fit for a child she’s trying to place in a permanent home (it’s nice to feel wanted!), I spoke with a representative from the agency we went through for our home study to talk about possible options with them. The latter social worker reminded me how financially feasible adoption truly is–even infant adoption. While adoption from foster care is free or very low-cost, domestic infant adoption through independent agencies can run in the $15,000-$30,000 range. Now those are big numbers! However, there is tax credit available in the US ($13,360 per child in 2011, though that can go up or down in future years), there are grants available, some agencies offer a sliding scale for their fees, and many employers offer some amount of financial reimbursement for adoption expenses.

 

It’s also easy to forget that biological children don’t come cheap. We’re paying over $200 per month for the privilege of having a maternity rider on my health insurance policy, and the hospital bills for women who give birth without excellent insurance can quickly run into the multiple-thousands of dollars. One round of IVF paid for out of pocket can be the same cost as an infant adoption through a private agency. So just looking at an adoption agency’s fee for services can be overwhelming when you don’t consider the big picture: babies can be super expensive no matter where they come from!

 

While we’re talking money, it’s an especially big pet peeve of mine when people group all forms of adoption together and write them off in a single, broad stroke by saying, “Adoption is way too expensive to even consider.” Adoption’s not for everyone and there are plenty of good reasons why folks may not want to or may not be in a good position to adopt. But to imply that every form of adoption is financially out of reach for most people is completely untrue. Again, adopting a child from foster care is, in many circumstances, absolutely free. And if that child is considered to have “special needs” (if they are slightly older, part of a sibling group adopted together, or are a child of color, for example), they often qualify for ongoing financial support and Medicaid even after they are adopted. They may even qualify for educational grants depending on their age. In these regards, adopting a child from foster care can mean that child costs less money your biological child.

 

So next time you hear someone say that any form of adoption will bankrupt a family, set ’em straight!

 

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MAPPing it all out

We’re currently in our second week of “model approach to partnership and parenting,” or MAPP, classes through our local department of social services. We were warned by folks who have gone through the classes that they’re very useful, but are partially designed to scare the daylights out of would-be foster and adoptive parents with worst case scenarios. That seems reasonably accurate so far. It appears we’re the only people in the class who are aiming to adopt rather than foster, and much of the class content (such as examples) makes the assumption that class participants are on track to foster. At any rate, it’s giving us a good understanding of what children in foster care have likely gone through and what kinds of emotions and behaviors they may express because of their experiences.

 

The classes have us doing a good deal of paperwork–some of it being homework and some being home study stuff. We already have a home study, but since DSS is planning on doing another one anyway, I guess we’ll get to be doubly approved.

 

 

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Rejects

We’ve been inquiring about kids for a few weeks now and have been hearing back from their social workers for almost as long. As avid/casual/one-time readers of our blog know, we’ve gotten the thumbs-up from several social workers so far and have been gently turned away by some others. Several folks have asked how it feels to be rejected by social workers, so here it is:

 

Sometimes being dumped by a social worker feels absolutely great! (Well, great with a tiny tinge of what-could-have-been sadness.) Those are the times when a social worker calls to tell us that the child we’ve inquired about is already in the process of being adopted. This was the case with the little girl in Alabama that Cory mentioned a few posts ago. Her new foster mom immediately fell in love with her, so it turns out she’s already living in her forever home! It’s hard to feel too disappointed when someone you hope the best for gets just that (and when it comes even sooner than it would have if they had come to live with us).

 

We’ve also been turned down outright by social workers for not being a “good match” with a child. Those situations haven’t been as happy as when a child has already been matched with their new family, obviously, but I still don’t get down about it. If a child’s social worker—who knows a whole lot more about them than we do—believes we wouldn’t fit together well, I’m going to trust their judgment. Some people might see that as a person saying that we aren’t capable of providing a child with a better life than they had in the home they were plucked out of, or that we’ve been classified as completely incompetent to parent any child. I see it as social workers recognizing that these kids have been through some really bad situations where grown-ups have repeatedly failed them, so they deserve the best possible family match in the future. We certainly don’t want a kid that would be better off with another family to be placed with us for the sake of our egos. Who would that be serving?

 

So we’re choosing to remain optimistic about things and not take rejections personally. It helps that we have also been sent several kids’ profiles by social workers who have specifically sought us out as a good potential match for their children. It all evens out in the end and, as always, Doris says (sings) it best:

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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…

 

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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.

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