Saturday, May 14, 2011

Let's Talk Adoption...An Insider's Point of View.

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.


  1. I'm a social worker for a state agency (my kids all have developmental disabilities) but some of my kids are in the FC system, and i see this a lot. I know exactly what you are talking about and sometimes we are able to get them back with a relative but it's sad how many turn their back on their own blood. Esp because they have a special need. I have a kid who will age out in two years and will prob end up on the street. It sucks. I think your friend is amazing as is anyone who does foster care for the love of the children. I could go on about this topic, i've actually thought about fostering but i just can't right now. It's something we'll rethink when our kids are a bit older.

    My friend has two boys she adopted through foster care. They are like blood to her and she tells them this. Her oldest (thir bio) grew in her belly but the other two, grew in her heart :) Makes me smile every time.

  2. Thanks for your input Amy! Actually, I think your experience was almost the opposite of mine--my experience was that relatives very rarely said no to a placement or asked for adoptions/guardianship placements to be reversed.

    Obviously, there are some amazing foster parents like your friend, but there are also some that aren't amazing. So, I also understand why child welfare puts such an emphasis on placing with family, even very extended family that may not have a super close relationship with the child.

  3. I enjoyed reading this insight.

    I've completed social work internships in the adoption field. I think it is important to complete a thorough search for kin right from the start when considering placement.

    Although a little dated this is interesting:

    Also, I've seen all kinds of placements. Good ones with kin, bad ones with kin. Good ones with non-kin, bad ones with non-kin.

  4. I am with you on this -- cannot imagine handing a child back after taking them in from adoption.

    My husband and I have actually talked about it, and we pray about it as well from time to time. I want to be open to whatever the Lord has for us, whether that's to adopt or not.

    Thanks for writing this, I enjoyed reading it. And fun to hear about your old job, what you used to do before Liz-girl!

  5. First let me say that I have been following your blog for awhile and have truly enjoyed that you have opened your life up for all of us to read.
    My husband and I are foster parents, currently in a custody battle over our foster son. I agree with you that the FC system has its faults, but we have seen too many times where the children are returned to mom and dad or extended family and it doesn't work out.And they are displaced yet again. I feel that each case should be dealt with individually since the child is an individual. We love our foster son as if I gave birth to him. I have a stepson and a foster son and those are my kids. To me family isn't blood related but born in your heart. I hate that there a crappy foster parents out there that give the rest of us a bad name. Just wanted to give you the other side of the story from my perspective.
    Thanks for the work you did as a CASA worker, most of them are the unsung heroes of the FC system.

  6. Melissa--you're absolutely right that there are wonderful foster parents out there.

    And indeed, one of the hardest and most emotionally charged parts of being involved with CASA was that point where reunification was no longer the best interests of children, but was still the official case plan's goal.

    My point wasn't to vilify foster parents, and I hope that this post didn't come off that way. I just feel like a lot of foster parents take relative searches as a personal insult, when it's really something that's put into place to protect the kiddos and help them maintain connections.

  7. This post just made me sad and angry. It sound judgemental. As someone who has adopted 5 kiddos and had been involved in adoptions since 2005, I have to say that until you have lived with a child with RAD, who tries to kill you or your other children, you cannot possibly understand why someone would disrupt an adoption. You have a cute little baby you adopted. What about the people who adopt violent TEENS?

    And the foster system is very screwed up. NO they do NOT act in the best interest of the children. They toss them around like rag dolls until they land on my dorrstep or someone else's and we have to help these kids heal from the mess of being thrown around for years. Reunification is only good if the birth parents are healthy and that is RARE.

  8. @ Wife to the Rockstar--

    I'm sorry that you felt this post was judgmental. That truly wasn't my intention, and I tried to be clear that I haven't been in your shoes, so my perspective comes from a different sort of experience.

    I understand that teens, particularly with RAD and other Attachment disorders can be violent. I'm not suggesting that they don't need treatment, possibly even residential treatment. I AM suggesting that they be treated in the same way that biological children would be treated in that situation, and I don't know of ANY parents who have put their biological teens up for adoption due to attachment disorders or violent behavior.

  9. Biological parents give up their kids all of the time. Just visit Chask. The list their bio kids who have disabilities, emotional issues, and attachment issues all of the time. That is why adoption exists. I have three children who were older and given up by bio parents willingly. One who is disabled and that is the reason he was placed. He was "too much to handle".

  10. Thanks for your feedback Wife to the Rockstar--I've obviously had a totally different experiences and seen totally different things than you have, but I *truly* appreciate your point of view, and I *truly* apologize if you were hurt or offended by the original post--that wasn't my intent. As I said, my intent was simply to share my perspective based on my experience in this area. My frame of reference for these issues is limited to the "caseworker" side of things, and I recognize that my perspective may not be a complete one.

    Like I said, I haven't seen a biological parent put their teenager up for adoption, but I do believe you that it happens.

    That said, I STILL can't imagine putting a teenager up for adoption--biological or adoptive. I can imagine saying that I'm not sure I'm the best person to care for them and trying to get them the assistance they need, but I can't imagine just saying, "I'm done." But again, I've never been in that position.

  11. I appreciate your kindness in your response. I was not hurt or offended, simply wanted to share another perspective. I myself have not disrupted an adoption before. However, I can see how it happens. And having adopted a son recently from a disruption, I have GREAT respect for his previous family and what they went through. I firmly believe that our son BELONGS here and if it were not for their very brave decision, he would not be. He was not thriving in their home. In fact he was drowning. And so they did what was in his best interest.

    In terms of people giving up their teens... last year a state declared that anyone could leave their child at a hospital or fire station and not be charged. People FLEW their children (teens) to this state just so they could leave them. Yes, people DO give up their bio kids. More often then any of us even realize for reasons many of us will not understand.

    This is YOUR blog and of course you can write whatever you want to. I did not come here to bash you, but ratehr share another side. It is very easy to judge when we have not walked in another's shoes.

  12. I will go away, but just wanted to share a link about the story in Nebraska where parents flew in to leave their kids after they passed a New Safe Haven law...

    It really does happen.

  13. No need for you to go away--agreeing with everything I have to say it not a requirement of reading my blog!

    I'm totally okay with different perspectives, learning and growing from each other.


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