Fix It, Please

Today we have a post from Peace Tree Contributing author, Lori Hahn.

Fix It, Please

Ya' know, Madonna and Angelina didn't have to travel all the way to Africa to adopt. In 2005, there were 513,000 children “in care” in the formal foster care system. This does not include all of the informal family foster situations that existed. That number is probably close to the same. So, that’s a lot of kids, right?

So, what happens to those kids who ended up “in care?” Their chances, statistically, are pretty grim. They are more likely to have suffered severe abuse, are more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty, go without adequate healthcare, become drug/alcohol addicted, suffer from mental illness, and become pregnant themselves. Once parental rights are terminated, after sometimes years of reunification attempts, these children are often placed up for adoption.

Here’s the really hard part. All over the country, human services and private adoption agencies who assist the states and counties placing these children in adoptive homes, have to find a way to “market” these children to prospective parents. Among other methods, there are adoption picnics (which potential parents and kids both attend), professional photography sessions (where the kids’ natural beauty is revealed in B&W), and by information via website descriptions that are often accompanied by a very cute picture of a single child.

What they haven’t told you is that even those children classified as having “minor” problems are going to be tough on the average parent. And, that single child is often part of a sibling group they hope to place together. To make the children attractive, substantive facts are often left out and parents end up walking into something ill-equipped or uninformed. The State has kids—they need to place them—what are they going to do?

I was a foster parent--and I wanted to adopt more eventually. My adoption experiences and the problems those children experienced made me feel quite competent to take the next step. After going through the training and orientation, consulting foster mentors, and after having poured over mountains of information to prepare myself, I was still unprepared for what happened. I ended up with two siblings—one following the other a couple of months later—and had to coordinate visits with yet another sibling located in another foster home. My parental exuberance knew no bounds at this point.

Details of their tenure in my home aren’t really important. I did my job—getting them through a myriad of issues, struggling to find resources within an overworked, understaffed agency, and helping them finally receive the termination of parental rights they needed to start life anew. But, it was a job—and a hard one. I never had a social worker come to my home, never received additional training or information once some significant issues were identified, and pretty much ended up in a heap of blubbering goo the day they were moved to therapeutic care, which took me months of advocacy to get for them.

The other day, an acquaintance asked my advice about fostering/adopting older kids. Even now, after all the years have passed since my experience, I still remember the pain etched in their faces and the pain that wracked my entire body when they left. I sat down with this acquaintance, I laid out the potential scenarios, and I showed her how to identify the buzzwords in the website descriptions so she’d know what questions to ask. I spoke to her about the courts, the social workers, the adjustment problems and inability many of the children have to attach. I gave her a list of books to read and recommended foster support folks with whom to speak. Mostly, I let her know that far from being "easier than having another baby,” it was going to be an experience that would test the strength of her marriage and her family in untold and unpredictable ways.

I don’t regret my tour of duty. In fact, once mine are grown and gone, I’d be open to fostering queer teens who might need some help transitioning to adulthood.

My fervent desire would be that instead of pouring kajillions into the war machine in Iraq, perhaps we could just take a teeny, tiny portion of that tax money and expand the ability for our weary old social services system to ensure its charges and the foster/adoptive parents receive and continue to receive the services and support needed to create the best chance for ultimate success for these kids. Increase pay for social workers to identify and investigate abuse and monitor placements, hire more of them, create more therapeutic facilities and staff them appropriately with the medical and psychiatric professionals it needs, provide mandatory ongoing training and respite services for foster parents, and provide a solid way to help teen foster kids who are going to “age out” of the system set themselves up for success. Maybe, we can stop this endless cycle dead in its tracks, once and for all. Now, wouldn’t that be a good way to start the New Year instead of sending thousands more of our troops to Iraq?

Visit Lori at her home blog Hahn at Home

Peace y'all


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