The system, a primer

When we agreed to this state adoption thing I had three conditions. 1. We adopt a boy (ca-ching!) 2. That he not have any profound special needs (oh well). 3. That he be “free” for adoption (no parenthetical statement needed because that’s what this post is about).

On the third point my wife was as insistent as I was. Probably more.

I’ll try to explain what it means to be “free” for adoption. It won’t be brief but I promise it will be boring.

The fear-factor class we have described in previous posts is called “Fundamentals of Adoptive and Foster Parenting.” People who want to adopt  go through the exact same process as foster parents and end up with the same license.

Foster parents work for the state. The children are in the state’s custody and foster parents are paid to keep an eye on them. The state’s goal is to get families back together and, as its employees, foster parents are required to share that goal. The big no-no in foster care is undermining any effort at reunification.

Through its Department of Health and Human Services, the state rarely intervenes in how a child is raised and only separates families when a judge agrees with a social worker that not doing so puts the child’s health or safety in immediate danger. I could get out the statistics about the numbers of complaints made to DHHS, how many complaints actually trigger an investigation, how many investigations result in action and how many of those actions involve removing a child, but trust me, the numbers would be a lot, not many, very few and a small fraction.

Intervention by the state comes at any time in the child’s life. DHHS can be called to the maternity ward or problems may not surface until the child has reached puberty or later.

All parents should sleep better at night knowing it is very, very hard for the state to take your children. The state also spares no effort trying to help the parents address whatever it was that led to the removal – addiction, anger, psychiatric illness or some combination of these and others.

The reunification process involves therapy, treatment, learning coping skills, financial help and parent-child visits involving various degrees of supervision and duration. Sometimes families are reunified and move on with their lives and sometimes they are reunified only to be separated again.

The goal in all of this is not to serve the best interest of the child, but to ensure the parents are capable of doing an adequate job.

If after many, many months, neither of the parents get to a place where DHHS and the child’s lawyer (guardian ad litem) feel the child will be safe if returned to the home, the state then may try to sever parental rights. This decision triggers a new process that involves judges and more lawyers, delays and appeals. At any time in this process both parent can agree that either they don’t want the child or don’t want to do the things they need to do to get their child back, and can sever their own parental rights.

If the state wins its case, the child is “free” for adoption.

So into a class that will explain all of this walks a couple insistent that they are only interested in adoption and, oh yeah, they want a kid around two or three years old and free of disability.

The people who knew better would hear this couple and react with an expression that telegraphed “Good luck with that.”

Do the math. If you want a kid who’s two and it takes 18 months or more before a child is adoptable,the odds of succeeding approach those of purchasing that scratch ticket that will let you tell your boss to shove it.

It behooves you to become a foster parent. Have the child in your home as this process unfolds, hoping that … oops! Remember, your job is to hope the child goes back from where they came – knowing all you know about that home.

Be strong. The process is cheap, but it ain’t free.

3 thoughts on “The system, a primer

  1. I kind of didn’t realize how screwy this all is, this Foster Care/seeking Adoption roulette. I knew the State doesn’t and/or isn’t able to look out of the best interests of children–if that were so, universal health care for kids would have been a foundational value in the Constitutions of all U.S. states, and federally as well. What the fed-folks value is great health care for rich white people. For the rest… well, we just gotta try and cut back on the hydrogenated oils, multiple versions of sodium, and oodles of spoonfuls of corn syrup those “food” corporations put into everything. (Pssst: especially foods that only poor people can afford.)

    Anyhoodle, thanks for spelling it out a bit.

    All I’d ever heard about was kids in foster care being abused by their biological parents and then by foster parents. I know of SO many cases of this. Why, in one instance, a foster child–an older boy–was brought into a home where he raped the little boys for two years. And the State that placed him, oops!, forgot to tell the foster family that the boy was a known sexual predator.

    I’m thrilled for you that the little one, the STAR of this blog, is in your able co-parenting hands. At least THIS worked out for all concerned.

    Happy trails,

    Saul P.

    • Thanks for commenting Saul.

      One of these horror stories is too many and they should be publicized and people should be held to account. But after becoming part of this world, I believe it is overwhelmingly populated by people who quietly and generously do God’s work. I exclude my wife and I from this group – our motives were quite selfish. We were in it for a kid. There are many who treat it like a vocation and they deserve society’s thanks.
      My fear is the stereotype of the foster parent – someone greedy who just found a different source of welfare, or predatory, or just plain hateful dissuades decent people from considering it. If all you know is that foster parents are bad people, why would a good person do it?

      These stories you reference simply have not been our direct experience. I don’t want to preempt any future posts, but I will say that those people we’ve met who take strange children into their homes have been decent, caring and upstanding people. In our class, which was probably more than a dozen households, no one was there because it seemed like a lucrative way to make money. To a person, everyone there wanted a child or more children in their homes, but were limited in resources or means. The people whom we have met who have foster children in their homes are some of the more amazing people I’ve come across – including the woman who did the most to get T. well.
      In her post “The Menendez Theorem” my wife talks about kids killing things. In reality a lot of that talk also dealt with children who have become sexualized due to abuse. This is something the system recognizes. Our class spent an uncomfortable amount of time on this issue. Foster care is a system and systems break down. Bad people slip in – whether foster parents or social workers and the result is children get hurt. It is terrible. In your example, if true, it is important to remember the bad person who cause the system to fail was the social worker and not the child, who was probably a victim of abuse themselves. But we shouldn’t speculate. “We” hear these stories a lot. We repeat these stories often. We often fail to remember whether the person who told us is reliable or ask whether the person who told them is reliable. Details get left out. Blame gets assigned.
      The stories we absolutely never hear are about the majority of foster families who do good and are good.

  2. I waited 77 years for this grandchild – yes, “T” is mine – by the grace of God. He is, of course, the most beautiful child known to mankind. I am at peace with the knowledge that he is parented by awesome people. I love this child with all of my heart and am blessed everyday. Thank you, God.

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