Sunday, March 7, 2010

Adopting from Foster Care: Helping Kids or Enabling Family Destruction?


We at FMF are quick to throw down the gauntlet to those seeking to adopt. “If you really want to help kids (rather than feed your own ego),” we say glibly, “you’d adopt a kid from foster care. It’s not only a humane thing to do, it’s free.”

One of our readers, Lori, took us on.
“Lorraine, WHOA there lady! I was a foster child and I can tell you that a lot of misinformation about the children in foster care is out there. It is worse than the misinformation about adoption. First, children can be placed in foster care for a multitude of reasons - poverty being the largest! Sound familiar? …

8 out of 10 families are completely destroyed and the children almost always languish in foster care because they are either too old or have mental health issues caused by the abrupt disruption of their lives.

I believe that some adoptions are good - but I also believe that we need to be realistic about all the children and parents we are talking about.”
There’s a lot of truth in what Lori writes. Adopting from foster care may simply allow over-zealous social workers to scarf up more kids. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act in 1997 relaxed requirements that states make reasonable efforts to return children to their families and required states to put termination of parental rights (freeing children for adoption in social work parlance) on a fast track. The law also continued open-ended foster care payments to states while capping family preservation funds. The net effect: increases in adoption were more than offset by increases in the number of children in foster care according to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, a non-profit dedicated to making the child welfare system “better serve America’s most vulnerable children by trying to change policies concerning child abuse, foster care, and family preservation.”

Overuse of foster care is nothing new. In the early 1970’s, as a young attorney, I represented parents whose kids were placed in the custody of the state. I saw few cases involving physical abuse. I did see lots of specious claims of neglect. Dirty dishes in the sink, unmade beds, over-flowing cats’ pans, more beer than milk in the refrigerator, kids with fevers and runny noses, all recorded by child protection workers as evidence of neglect. One social worker curtailed visits between my client and her child because the child cried when her mother left, clear evidence that visits were harmful; another kept a child in a “treatment” facility largely because his mother sassed the social worker; a third refused to place a child with her grandmother because the child would spend time in day care while the grandmother worked.

In the 1990’s I worked for a State office managing federal anti-crime grants. In its application for funds, one regional narcotics team boasted that officers called in child protection workers when the police found marijuana in a home so that the children would be placed in foster care as an additional punishment on their parents.

My husband, Jay, is a criminal defense attorney. He is appointed to represent parents in dirty house cases about six times a year. The State charges parents with “criminal mistreatment I, a felony, for each child and places the children in foster care. Since the parents face a prison sentence if convicted, they typically plead guilty and receive probation. After they clean their house, the State returns the kids. These cases are really about conduct that offends middle-class sensibilities. It would be cheaper and less traumatic for kids if the State sent in a housekeeper or a home ec instructor.

I’ve read about children starved, beaten, sexually abused, and murdered in foster homes. I’ve seen documentaries about modern-day Georgia Tanns who falsified evidence to convince judges to terminate the rights of mothers. Georgia Tann, our readers may recall, was the mother of closed adoptions and the notorious Tennessee Baby Thief who worked with a corrupt judge, stealing children and placing them with the rich and famous including Hollywood stars Joan Crawford, Bob Hope, and June Allyson.

Who’s behind all this ripping kids from their homes, putting them into foster care, and fast tracking them into adoption? Well surprise, surprise, it’s those who are getting the bucks: Corporations with contracts to provide foster care, foster parents, and adoption agencies with contracts to place the children.

All this being said, some parents cannot care for their children because of death, mental illness, incarceration, drug addiction, or zero nurturing skills. Sadistic parents, step-parents, and partners of parents exist in every community. Long term foster care is no answer for these children. Every year thousands of children “age” out of foster care with no family and no resources. Prisons are filled with former foster children.

Adoption would benefit these children who have no family. Unfortunately these children are the least likely to be adopted.

6 comments :

  1. Sadly, it is the ones that really don't do much except neglect their homes that are the ones that pay - forever.

    The ones that are true abusers often get their children back because they learned to play the game at some point in their own lives. A large number of their children are the ones that end up in prison and/or dead very young.

    Here is another little tid bit - the reference can be looked up on my blog - Just look for foster care entries - the AJCS (basically the United States Attorney General) did a study with regard to children placed in out of home, non-relative placement - the results: 8-9 of 10 will suffer some kind of abuse, neglect, or death. This was a huge surprise to me, since I sat on the Foster Care Review Board some years back (I had this delusion we could actually do something), and the statistics then were 4-5 out of 10.

    Also, that number of children "aging out" is 25,000 per year for the last 17 years, for the preceeding 20 it was 20,000 a year - so - if you were to do the math - mmmm - 825,000 children have aged out of the system since 1973. You have to note that these are not the number of children that were in foster care, only those that were never returned home for whatever reason and unadoptable (as I have said a thousand times) because why should "we get the broken ones, when there are perfectly good ones without all the hassles" that can be adopted out of the country.

    Add to that the figure of 60% +/- 20% of prison inmates (depending on current population) have been in foster care at some point in their youth. Of those inmates the highest percentage come from poverty.

    So, yes, I still think we need to really be careful when we talk about adoption. Personally, I still believe in the guardianship and using our heads....but that's me.

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  2. That's such an eye opener. Thank you for writing this.

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  3. Jane,
    My best friend is a special ed teacher. Her story to me about how adoption is so wonderful was about her neice who adopted 2 young boys each of which the natural mother specifically asked for this adoptive mom since the adoptive father was a police officer involved in the arrest for child neglect. While I realize also that natural parent abuse and neglect do exist, I feel like you that most natural families could be left intact with outside support. The Lawrence Journal World has been covering a 15 yr. old single mom raising her baby alone. It is so biased it makes me puke. I'm sure when social workers see the bare mattress in the shabby trailer home where this young mom lives with her baby boy and father, instead of seeing a capable, educational opportunity for young single mom who basically just needs encouragement.

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  4. I still don't understand who made it against the law for parents to be poor in America....
    Sick.

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  5. It's definitely enabling family destruction. As a NY resident and also in the field of families traumatized by the family court system, there are definite mechanisms which profit by creating a system which perpetuates family severation rather than preservation. A great book about the politics and the money, is Getting Beyond The Foster Care System... See more: The Future for Teens. It clearly demonstrates that foster care systems, group homes, foster families, and so on do not create a safe place for the child, and systemically create more abuse. The courts consistently refuse kinship adoptions, for example, and the bureaucratic stranglehold continues to take all power from the child, and refuses the child's wishes even when they are of age to make them themselves. It is sickening. Thank you for writing on this topic. So important!!!

    And, so right! Usually "neglect & abuse refers to poverty issues!"

    And, one last thing... if a person is rich and abuses or neglects their child, you don't see the courts going in to take the child away....

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  6. Thanks Lori, and the others who pointed out that the wealthy and those who have learned how to play the game can do awful things and not be charged with abuse.

    True, true. Keep your house clean and kowtow to social workers and the police and you can get away with murder, or keeping a kid in your backyard for 18 years.

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