On Wednesday, Lizzy and I stopped by my old workplace to say hello. I don't know that I've ever explained about my old job on the blog before, and some information about what I used to do will probably help give the context for this post. When I worked, I worked for a non-profit called CASA--Court Appointed Special Advocates (aka Guardian Ad Litem). Essentially, CASA volunteers are appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of children whose families are involved with child welfare. Sometimes those children are in foster care, sometimes they are still with their parents in residential drug and alcohol treatment, sometimes they are placed with their parents at home and are just being monitored by child welfare. CASAs have full access to all the case information and visit the child at least once a month. Then, they make recommendations to the judge about their physical, educational, emotional, and medical needs. Since CASAs are not state agencies, they aren't bound by any sort of bureaucratic red tape, and truly are able to advocate for the kiddos.
While at CASA, I oversaw about 35 volunteers and their cases, which worked out to be 80-100 kids. For some time, I was also in charge of all the children who were waiting for a CASA volunteer (technically, it's written in the statute that every child involved with child welfare is appointed a CASA, but there weren't enough CASAs to go around, so we had to triage the cases). Needless to say, I saw and read all sorts of horrific situations.
Anyway, when I left CASA to stay at home with Lizzy, I had the privilege of training my childhood softball coach to take over my position. She had been a long time foster and adoptive parent, and between her biological and adoptive children, she had seven kids. On Wednesday, I asked her how everyone was, and she gave me updates and then told me that she was just about to adopt three more kids--kids that she had been a CASA for many years ago--because their adoptive placement disrupted.
Disrupted....the word does not even begin to adequately describe the situation, which is that the adoptive parents gave the children back. I know. Let me tell you, I was *shocked* at how often I saw adoptive placements "disrupt" during my time at CASA. I truly had no idea how frequent an occurrence this was.
Even typing this now gets me all sorts of fired up about the topic. I suppose that maybe I shouldn't judge until I've been in their shoes, but I just CANNOT fathom a situation in which it would be acceptable to give back a child that you've adopted. It infuriates me.
Anyway, because of the frequency with which adoptive placements "disrupt", child welfare has increasingly begun to look to placing children in relative placements (even very extended relatives) over stranger foster care....because the cold hard truth is that I can't think of a single instance in which I saw a relative adoption "disrupt". This is not a popular thing to say, but this is something that has been documented often by child welfare--relative adoptions "disrupt" far less frequently than non-relative adoptions.
The searching for very extended family is often a point of contention for foster parents who are looking to adopt, and of course, I understand why--it's easy to be concerned that the "apple doesn't fall far from the tree." It's easy to be worried that the family will hand the kids right back to the parents as soon as child welfare is out of the picture. It's easy to be frustrated as a foster parent about having to hand over a child that you've raised, loved, and want to be part of your family forever. It's easy to wonder why that third cousin didn't step up to be a foster parent from the beginning.
However, after working at CASA, I also understand why child welfare does it. First of all, when child welfare does extended family searches prior to finalizing adoption, it's not uncommon to find healthy family that has absolutely no idea that their relative is in foster care. Perhaps the extended family unit didn't have much contact with the child's parents due to their drug use. Then, when the child was put into foster care and the parents were asked to identify relatives, the parents were too embarrassed to list their cousin Susan (she was always so judgmental anyway), and so child welfare wasn't aware that she even existed, or that she'd be a potential placement resource.
I recognize that from a foster parent's point of view, it's HARD. It's frustrating. It's infuriating. But please understand that child welfare's heart is in the right place--they are simply trying to protect these kids who have already been through SO much from being let down by yet another set of adults who may promise that they'll be there, and then don't follow through.
If you're a foster parent reading this, it isn't my intention to insinuate that you would treat a foster or adoptive child as anything less than a biological child. It isn't my intention to insinuate that if things got rough that you'd give your adoptive child back. It IS my intention to tell you that this very thing happens often enough to make your stomach turn. It IS my intention to plead with you to try and have some patience and understanding with the search for extended family, as hard and as frustrating and as emotionally charged as it is.
Most of all, I just hope that I'm able to bring another point of view to the table, and that you'll accept it for what it is--just my point of view based on my experiences.