Friday, December 4, 2009

Pieces of String to Short to Save

Chutzpah, a Hebrew word meaning “someone who has over-stepped the boundaries of accepted behavior with no shame” according to Wikipedia. An example of chutzpah a Jewish friend told me is a man who murders his parents and begs for mercy because he is an orphan.

Chutzpah abounds in the fantastical world of adoption. Well endowed (silicon-enhanced?) country singer Tammy Cochran tells of a near tragedy in her short life:
"I started adopting a child back in 2005 and ran into some difficulties pretty quickly with that adoption …. My facilitator got arrested for some illegal activities that she participated in. It kind of put all of our adoptions in jeopardy -- with everyone that was working with her on adoptions at the time."
Determined to have her child, Tammy persevered. According to “The Boot” (a website for country music fans with pages on such subjects as “Best Cheating Songs” and “Best Flat Broke Songs”):
“The adoption, which was supposed to take about nine months, took two long years to become finalized....
'It was a huge emotional roller coaster. I was home here in Nashville. At that point, my adoption was completely in jeopardy. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to bring my son home. I was very upset, obviously. I wrote this song 'Half the World Away.' It's kind of a lullaby-type of song pouring my heart out. I wanted to let this little boy know that I was going to wait for him as long as I had to wait for him. It just expressed what I was feeling at that time. And it honors the birth mom that had the courage to let her baby go.’
Honors the birthmother? Please. And that kid is Tammy's because she paid big bucks to a crook even though she never laid eyes on him?

And then there is mattress peddler Sleep Country USA, using foster kids for PR. Sleep Country asked for donations of pajamas for foster kids this summer. With winter approaching, it switched to requesting used winter coats. Now, it wants toys for Christmas. I’m sure foster kids feel good, going to Sleep Country with “foster kid” stamped on their foreheads to collect their pajamas, coats, and toys. And what are those foster parents doing with the money the state pays them to take these kids in? Surely they can afford $5 pajamas from Target, $20 coats from Wal-Mart, and a few toys from Toys R Us.

Hey, Sleep Country, why don’t you give pajamas, coats, and toys to kids who really need them, those from poor families whose welfare grant is about a third of what foster parents get?

Speaking of foster kids, The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department recently adopted a rule waiving camping and day use fees for foster families who adopt a foster child until that child turns 18. These fees range from $5 for day use in a state park to $24 for parking a RV.

An earlier rule gave families with foster kids free camping. Foster parents screamed “unfair” when they lost this perk if they adopted the kid. So, now they get to keep it. The whole thing sounds like the brainchild of someone who works for the OR Parks and Recreation Department who has kids from foster care, because it is so off the wall. Either the family has its own resources to care for the child, or they are receiving subsidies from the state. Either way the family can afford $24 to park its RV, which cost many thousands of dollars in the first place.

This fee waiver raises the question of how families prove they are eligible. (“See the wacky kid tied down in the backseat? We just adopted him.”) Perhaps the Department of Human Services will mail a park pass along with the amended birth certificate.

And because adoption-related stuff never fails to catch my eye, this last one, an ad for Chili’s restaurant ought to win the tastelessness of the year award “I want my baby back!” screams the ad, followed by “baby-back ribs, that is.”


Ron Blankenbaker, a long time columnist for the Salem, Oregon Statesman-Journal used to include what he called “Pieces of String” – short, telling nuggets – in his columns. The phrase comes from a story he recounted about children going through their deceased mother’s belongings. In the attic, they found a large bag filled with strings labeled “Pieces of String too Short to Save.”

If you have other short snippets of adoption related stories, please add them here so we call all enjoy them.

14 comments :

  1. What a sad tale to tell about the state of humanity. The baby theif crys to her many fans about a child she as never seen. The multiple abuses of mind in commercial advertizing. The rediculous beliefs held by the general public regarding the truth about adoption.

    Personally, I would love to interview the woman who was on the news tonight. She chose late term abortion because of her own mental health issues and her inability to give another child up!

    For all those right to lifers - stick a sock in it! You are the ones that won't adopt in this county - you might get someone's broken dolly! I could never abort a child, but I sure would not want to be the one telling another woman that she did not have the right to make a choice for herself.

    So much bologna, now wonder I don't eat it.

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  2. I'm sort of confused. I thought FMF supported foster parenting. I have no idea how much FPs get in the US but if I had a foster child I might be ecstatic about the PJs or the winter coat depending on a whole bunch of variables like how much the child had grown suddenly or when in the season it was (snow can catch you off guard here) or how badly the child needed the item. I'm not sure if the children are stigmatized directly by such a campaign, no more than going into a second-hand store which we have done heaps of times.

    Yes, they could fund-raise for someone else. But they chose foster kids. How is choosing your charity bad?

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  3. Yes, I join Osolomama in confusion on this point. Often when international adoption comes up, mothers here say adopting domestically from foster care is a better choice as foster kids really need permanent homes.

    Why would it upset you that a charity is helping foster kids or foster parents? It seems to me like a decent thing to do. There are other charities that help poor kids in general, I do not see anything wrong with one that targets kids in foster care.

    As to "Baby-back ribs" that seems quite a stretch to find offensive, unless you have soft spot for baby pigs. This post feels a bit Grinch-like.

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  4. I'm puzzled by Osolomama's and Maryanne's remarks that contributing to foster kids is contributing to charity.

    Foster parents do not need additional funds. They are fully compensated for the cost of taking care of the kids. State payments are based on the cost of food, clothing, utilities, wear and tear to furnishings, transportation, and the like. Foster parents get an additional initial payment for clothing and toiletries when the child first arrives. Foster parents also get medical care for the children and counseling and other special services as needed. If the children have behavior problems which can be quite mild, the children may be branded as "special needs" and the foster parents get additional payments. If the children have disabilities, foster parents get additional moneys from a separate funding stream. Some foster parents make a profit off the kids although states discourage this.

    It is stigmatizing to foster children to be the objects of "charity." It's bad enough to deal with losing their families but then have to deal with false pity in Sleep Country ads is cruel.

    The children who DO need help are the children whose families are on welfare or whose parents earn very little. Welfare families get about 1/3 of what foster parents get per kid.

    Apparently, Sleep Country-USA doesn't find any PR value in helping kids on welfare.

    Foster parents have a lot of political power which is why they get free camping. Poor families who cannot afford park fees don't get any help.

    The irony of all this is that most of the kids in foster care are there for neglect, not abuse, and much of the neglect comes from being poor. For example children are placed in foster care because their parents didn't pay their garbage bill for lack of funds and the garbage has piled up. Parents in such situations are often charged with criminal neglect.

    In no way do I encourage keeping kids in foster care. While many foster parents are dedicated to the children's welfare, there is abuse in some foster homes, abuse that would not be tolerated by social workers if perpetrated by natural parents.

    Many children are put in foster care who could be kept safely in their own homes. Often they are removed from their homes to punish parents for some minor transgression like smoking pot. These children may be returned to their families but it is damaging to them to be removed.

    States do too little to help parents care for their children and keep them in their own homes like providing training, drug treatments, and so on.

    Having said this, I know there are children who cannot safely return home or have no home to return to. I encourage people considering adopting to take these children rather than take children from foreign countries. The record for children who stay in foster care is poor. The separation from their families and the upheaval in foster care often results in behavioral problems. The kids progress to group homes, facilities for delinquents, and eventually to prison.

    I encourage everyone to look at the research of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform which documents the many problems in the child protection system. www.nccpr.org

    Back to Sleep Country-USA and the State Parks, they should give aid where it is needed, to children on welfare or low income families. While this may be also appear to be stigmatizing, it is no more so than Thanksgiving boxes or Fire Dept Toys and Joys programs and at least these kids have their families.

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  5. Oregon, which keeps statistics on why foster kids go into care, records that the top 4 reasons for reasons for going into care are parental drug abuse, parental alcohol abuse, parental physical abuse and child behaviour (affected, no doubt by reasons 1 - 3). Personally, I don't think $14 a day is a lot. And if it's given freely, it is charity, despite the fact that foster parents are helped by the state.

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  6. I still say giving to foster kids is a charity and decent thing to do, just as is giving to kids on welfare. They are KIDS. However screwed up the foster care system is, and it is a mess, how does giving something to children in foster care hurt anyone? Does it make the foster care system any better not to give Holiday gifts to foster kids?

    As to "stigmatizing", the kids certainly already know they are in a sad situation. How is getting some Christmas gifts from the mattress company making that worse? If charity is "stigmatizing", then it has to be across the board, don't give anything to any disadvantaged group and they won't know they are disadvantaged!

    To make blanket statements about foster parents getting "enough" from the state, with all the cuts going on now in all sectors, is as mean-spirited as saying that welfare mothers get "enough". In either situation a little extra can't hurt.

    This is still a very Grinchy post. Bah Humbug!

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  7. At this web address one can get more info about the Sleep Country campaign:

    http://www.sleepcountry.com/Page.aspx?nid=13

    It looks like they are mostly aiming to support specific charities that already work in this area but will also fundraise. Yes, it would be disappointing if someone were crass enough to set up a come-on-down-and-get-your-charity-coat depot, but there are other ways of getting things into people's hands.

    Are you using your example of a child being removed from the home because of a failure to pay the gas bill as typical of the reasons children are generally removed to care? I know there are some cases in which children are unfairly removed, but your argument is reducible to one single claim, that parents are always good people who put their kids first. Sorry, I don't buy it.

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  8. Osolomama,

    Oregon foster care rates are much higher than $14 a day. The lowest base amount is over $600 per month and it goes up depending on the age of the child. At one time the base amounts were lower but many foster parents got more than the base by contending the children were "special needs." The state increased the rates and clarified the definition of "special needs" so that the base rates went up for all children and some foster parents lost the special needs money to which they were not entitled to.

    Regarding reasons for entering foster care -- your data is flawed because it is based on initial reports which often are incorrect. Social workers exaggerate the reason for removing children to justify their actions. The most common form of drug abuse is marijuana which can be dealt with in other ways than by traumatizing children by taking them from their families.

    I really encourage you to read the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform website. Another good source of information is "Of 'Sluts and Bastards'" by Louise Armstrong.

    Simply put, the American Child Welfare system victimizes the poor for being poor. The system caters to the powerful substitute care and adoption industry lobbies.

    And asking for donations of pajamas, coats, and toys, Sleep Country is exploiting the public's perception that foster children need charity.

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  9. I want to add in case it wasn't clear: Sleep Country is not providing foster children with anything. It is simply using them as a gimmick to get people into its stores. The pajamas, coats, and toys are provided by the public.

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  10. Jane,

    If there were a Sleep Country near here, I would be going down there now to contribute a toy or a coat. I still do not see why you hate this kind of charity so much.

    My impression of foster care in not so much a "powerful lobby" as generally lower income people themselves trying to help kids in their community. Nobody gets rich from taking in foster kids. That's right up there with the "welfare queen" stereotype.

    Yes, there are bad foster parents, abusive ones, but there are also bad and abusive natural parents and adoptive parents. No group is immune or perfect.

    The website you advocate is just as much a special interest lobbying group group as any foster parents group. I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle between the agendas of the two groups, both of which are supposedly about kids but really are about what different sets of adults want.

    As to drug abuse being "only" pot, have you ever seen a long-term, smoke all day pothead, and would you really want to leave a child with that person?

    Just as every prisoner in jail insists they are innocent and got a bad deal, so do parents whose kids were removed, including those who were removed for real and serious reasons, not just for being poor.

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  11. You are right—the base pay has gone up, though the rate I had seen earlier was only a few years old. Still, $21 wouldn't leave much room for non-essentials like tutoring, sports, or lessons.

    I am still puzzled about the reasons for children going into care because screening-in and screening-out occurs before the child ever reaches foster care. For example, let's look at how it worked in 2001, because I can find those figures at the Child Welfare League

    Total reports: 2,672,000
    Total reports accepted for investigation: 1,789,000
    Substantiated: 587,0561
    Placed in foster care: 290,000

    That's why it looked to me like the breakdowns presented in the DHS report would have not been “initial reports”. Thanks for the reference and I will look into it.

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  12. Osolomama,

    The $21 per day is for very young children. The amount goes up as the children get older, topping out I believe, over $800. The additional amounts should cover sports' fees and so on. Keep in mind that many foster parents still get "special needs" payments on top of the base payment.

    I don't contend that foster families live high on the hog -- only that I don't think Sleep Country should use these kids as a come on to get people in their stores. And if they are going to collect stuff it should go to the truly (but less sympathetic poor.)

    I don't trust the data states report regarding why they put kids in foster care. "Substantiated" doesn't mean they have proved neglect or abuse in court, only that the case worker (who may not be a trained investigator) believes that something happened.

    I represented parents whose kids ended up in foster care and I was shocked at how the case worker reports diverged from the facts. My husband defends indigent people on criminal charges and he sees many cases where the allegations of child abuse are totally bogus. Meanwhile, the parents are in jail and the kids are in foster care. Often the charges are eventually dismissed and the family is reunited but what a waste of resources to say nothing of the damage to the family.

    Another aspect of all this is that there are not enough good foster homes. Consequentially, states like Oregon who put a lot of kids in foster care end up putting them in undesirable, in fact, often very bad homes. So even if parents are less than perfect, it is better to try to rehab them rather than remove them.

    I'm glad you're going to take at look at the nccpr website. This project grew out of the many lawsuits against states for incompetence and worse in child welfare. Several states, Florida, Washington, Illinois, probably more, are under court orders to clean up their act.

    In fairness to case workers, I should add, often the only tool in their chest is a hammer so they treat every problem as a nail. States don't fund in-home services, drug treatment, and so on, so they err on what they believe to be the safe side, foster care.

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  13. Jane, a couple of points arising from your post. Regarding families who are indigent, on the NCCP site, it gives a figure of approx 30% of kids being removed for homelessness. That is shocking. The thing is that on the Oregon DHS doc, it confirms that 26% of kids were removed for homelessness. Like Maryanne, I feel that the truth does like somewhere in between. Do I distrust all the DHS statistics? No. When I see confirmation like that, it makes me think they are approaching accurate reporting. The more important issue is that number; it is terrible and indefensible in the richest nation in the world.

    Second, your comment about Sleep Country. So you don't believe in corporate philanthropy? Ever? Because they are raising money on behalf of multiple charities and giving away 100% of it. Maybe you should call them and tell them their focus is misplaced.

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  14. Wow. Keep telling someone that a mattress store isn't doing any charity themselves but getting other people to bring in the coats and such, and they'll keep telling you the mattress store's being charitable til they're blue in the face. I sense a lot of not-listening going on here.

    I've been the recipient of charity and it is always humiliating, no matter how much worse off I would have been without it.

    Maybe you have to have been there.

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