Friday, November 2, 2012

Why I'm Conflicted About NAAM

The official purpose of National Adoption Awareness Month is to focus attention on the needs of foster children who are awaiting permanency in adoptive families. This is a good place for our attention to be. Such children do need our care and support. 

I would be able to be more enthusiastic about a month devoted to adoption from foster care if there were also a month devoted to family preservation. But there isn't. And herein lies the difficulty for me.

I do believe that there are children in the system who have reached a point where adoption is an appropriate goal, and certainly preferable to the alternative: bouncing from foster home to foster home or residential center to residential center until aging out, without support, at age 18.

But I believe that we must also ask ourselves if we are doing enough, as a society, to strengthen and support vulnerable families before they come into crisis. Are we doing enough to keep kids out of the system in the first place? I'm not talking about leaving kids in severely dysfunctional families and turning a blind eye to abuse and neglect. I'm talking about making sure families have the tools they need to function and thrive. Spoiler alert: the answer is no. This is not an area where we place our resources or attention.

Adoption is an dramatic measure that severs the child from his or her roots; it is not without costs, for the child or the family. We do not truly serve the needs of vulnerable children when we focus only on getting them adopted out of foster care without looking at the factors that land them there in the first place. So as we turn our attention to adoption from foster care this month, let us remember that though adoption and permanency can be a life-changing and even life-saving option for a child in the system, the truly wonderful thing would be if there was no need for it at all.

7 comments:

  1. " doing enough, as a society, to strengthen
    and support vulnerable families before they come into crisis. Are we
    doing enough to keep kids out of the system in the first place" That is the key isn't it? Well said!

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  2. Andy stole my line......well said well said well said!!!

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  3. I didn't know that was the purpose of AAM. Well put.

    I think it should be about awareness in general. I wrote a teeny, tiny post on it but I see it as an opp to share and listen to stories/experiences from all people involved in/touched by adoption....

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  4. I agree with Andy..and you. While I think that there needs to be a refocusing of NAAM on adoption from foster care and NOT on domestic infant adoption (where it is currently), I also think that focus needs to be extended to supporting families in need so that kids don't end up in foster care in the first place.

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  5. One of the reasons to have a National Adoption Awareness Month is to recruit more foster/adoptive parents, since there are still so many children in foster care who are "waiting" to be adopted since the rights of their birth parents have been terminated. In this country, there is a large number of those waiting children who age out of the system every year, to generally very poor outcomes.

    We don't need to recruit families for reunification; those families already exist. So, while there would be a nice symmetry to Family Preservation Month, I'm not sure that it would serve much of a purpose. Maybe to nudge government agencies to provide more funds and services for family preservation?

    Also, I'm not sure that most foster/adoptions are "closed" in the usual sense, unless you're only talking about adoptions of very young children. Any child in foster care who is old enough to remember the name of their birth family is not in a "closed" adoption---perhaps temporarily if the foster/adoptive family or birth family wants no contact. But the avenue is there for openness in the future.

    And many foster/adoptions grow out of foster care, where the foster family facilitated visits (often several times a week) between the foster children and the birth family. So, again, not "closed" in the usual sense.

    While I know that there are adoptions---international, domestic newborn, and foster/adoptions---that should never have occurred, there are thousands of children in foster care in this country who desperately need second families, not only for the remainder of their childhoods but for the rest of their lives.

    I'm raising two teens who spent a combined 10+ years in foster care while attempts were made to reunify them with *any* members of their birth/first families. That was about 10 years too long for my children, and they suffered trauma from their time in foster care as well as from the abuse/neglect of their first families.

    But for both of my children, "there was no there there." Not a single member of their birth families, in the end, could care for them. Well, to be more precise, *wanted* to care for them.

    My oldest daughter, 18, is now looking around at the members of her birth family (most of whom she knows very well because both of our foster/adoptions are open), and is starting to ask me, "Why not her?," "Why not him?," "Why not them?" In some cases, I have answers that make sense to her ("They already had 5 children" or "They were dating then, yes, but he was still in high school, and she was still living with her mother"). Questions about other family members, I can't answer. Except, perhaps, with the complex facts: that she was one of seven children born to a drug- and alcohol-addicted single/teen mother who had other mental health issues, and whose problems---and children---were overwhelming to those who loved her.

    There are no easy answers for lots and lots of the extended families who cannot/will not raise the children of their family members who cannot care for them in a safe, healthy way.

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  6. Dear Marriane,

    Thank you for your comments. I don't have as much time as I would like in the moment to respond as fully as I would like, but I would like to explain that, for me, there is an important distinction between reunification and family preservation. Please read this if you have a moment: http://www.rebeccahawkes.com/2012/02/what-i-mean-and-dont-mean-when-i-say-i.html

    Your point about most foster adoptions being closed is well taken. I had written that after recently reading that somewhere recently, but I don't actually know what the statistics are. I will change the wording to "some" or "many." I actually am aware that many foster-adoptions in my area have at least some degree of openness, and our local department of children and families certainly encourages that.

    As I state in the post, "I do believe that there are children in the system who have reached a point where adoption is an appropriate goal, and certainly preferable to the alternative: bouncing from foster home to foster home or residential center to residential center until aging out, without support, at age 18." That's why I adopted my daughter from foster care and that's why I speak publicly to groups of prospective foster-adoptive parents encouraging them to adopt. But I'm also seeing effective family preservation programs in my area struggle to maintaining funding, and I consider that extremely short-sighted.

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