After receiving a question about adopting out of the foster care system, and in light of it being National Adoption Month, I decided to answer it here on the blog.
What do you think about adoption in situations where the child has been removed from their home and is in foster care and can’t go back to their birth parents?
I recognize that there are many extremely difficult and heartbreaking situations with children in the foster care system. And this is a crisis not just here in the U.S. but in many other countries as well. Because of this I appreciate the heart of those who are willing to go through foster care training and become foster parents in order to help children during these awful transitions. And I appreciate those who want to further provide for children in the foster system through adoption.
But I am just not for it.
There Should Be More Oversight on CPS
There is too much unjustified removal of children from their parents. There is widely documented corruption by Child Protective Services (CPS) across the United States, even by former insiders. And where I live, in Georgia, anyone can call in an anonymous complaint to the Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and cause an investigation to be opened. Anonymous callers are encouraged to share their identities so they can testify if a case goes to court but are not required to do so.
I’ve known parents (with extremely adoptable young children) who have packed up and fled the state rather than be at the mercy of an anonymous DFCS tip. And wonderful people live with the nagging realization that they could appear to do or say the wrong thing (or worse, tick off the wrong person) and risk a lengthy legal battle and the permanent loss of their children…into the waiting arms of a foster-adopt family.
In any other legal arena in the United States, a person has the right to know who accused them but that is not the case with Child Protective Services. The accuser can remain unknown to the parent throughout the entire legal/illegal proceedings.
DFCS in Georgia claims (on their website) that they will ask reporters a series of question that include things that are completely subjective and open to misinterpretation (including lifestyle observations, parenting and discipline methods, career choices, income, reactions to child behavior, etc.) This is exactly the type of subjective opinion (via an anonymous lie) that led to more than 400 children being removed for two months in 2008 from a polygamist sect in Texas and the harsh public criticisms that followed after the police raids on that compound.
DFCS in Georgia also advises that they will ask for information about mental health – an arena in which a lay person, in any other legal scenario, would be deemed completely unqualified to testify.
Even if parents can afford to hire an attorney to navigate the legal system and regain custody of their children, temporary removal can cause deep emotional distress and psychological harm to a child.
CPS routinely places children in situations where they are neglected and abused by strangers and the problems these children faced in their own families (be it “filth,” “neglect,” “harsh discipline,” “medical neglect,” and any number of subjective reasons) are then compounded.
Many state agencies receive government funding for each child placed in foster care. And CPS worker receive bonuses based on how many children are placed in the foster care system. Survival of a family at risk should never be tied to a dollar amount. Either the children need to be removed or they don’t.
Each adoption out of the foster system, in its current state, helps this broken system continue.
Adoption and Foster Care Should Be Separate
Fostering should never be a channel to adopt and children who go into foster care should not be placed with families who want to adopt. This creates a legal conflict of interest when the foster parents become attached to the child but then are the ones who report about the emotional well-being of the child and who monitor the child’s visits with the parents. But it is one that is routinely allowed.
The foster system should be kept completely separate from adoption and a child who has been placed in foster care should be removed from the foster system entirely and put in a different system where each adoption prospect can be reevaluated independent of the original case worker(s) evaluation(s). An agency that has the authority to remove children from their families should be required to put all of their efforts, training, and resources into knowing how to do this one job accurately.
Both the child who is being taken and the family who is losing the child deserve the attention of an agency that is focused on nothing else but the evaluation of the current situation (not what to do with the child down the line). They also deserve the secondary oversight of a completely unrelated agency before a final and irrevocable decision is made.
Whether a child is surviving or “thriving” in a foster home should have no bearing on a child’s eligibility for adoption. Nor should any actual or perceived attachments or adjustments made by the child or foster family during the fostering period be a measure against which the biological family is later deemed fit or unfit. The decision should be based solely on the child’s original situation and how it has or has not improved. Not how much the foster family loves/wants/needs the child or does for him or her or how the child has “adjusted” to the foster/adopt situation.
Fostering with the hopes of ultimately adopting the child is missing the point of fostering, which is (I thought) helping a family by taking care of a child until such time as his or her parents are again deemed fit to manage that care themselves. I would like to see more people who are willing to care for children (even indefinitely) without having to first permanently revoke the rights of the parents. They can do this by becoming the legal guardian of the child and leaving the door open for restoration of the original family (whether that be in the forseeable future or years down the road).
Every time I talk with someone about this, the discussion usually shifts to what’s best for the foster family. (Because most arguments for permanently removing a person from their home, lineage, nuclear and extended family, family friends, and in most cases even his or her home state or general geographic area, usually don’t hold up.) The things pointed out include how much a foster family willingly and lovingly pours into someone they adopt as their own, and who would want to put so much time and money into someone who could just end up going back to their own family?
And that’s when they realize I’ve stopped talking because they’ve just made my point better than I could.
What’s best for the foster-adopt family just doesn’t have that same altruistic ring to it when we’re talking about helping the desperate children of the foster care system. Because yes, we want to help them…just so long as it’s good for us too. The sacrifice has to be rewarded. With ownership (which is what it basically boils down too).
Not Every Situation is Hopeless
Even the worst situations are rarely permanent. Parents get better paying jobs, they finish their educations, they marry each other, they move into nicer homes and neighborhoods, they get better meds, they grow up, detox, and dry out.
The default should not be that a (probably) transient situation is met with an extremely permanent resolution (adoption). And I understand that there are always exceptions, extreme cases, and impossible situations, so I’m referring to the overall foster-adopt program, not that one horrific example we can all come up with.
In the meantime, every effort should be made to reunite families. If at some point a parent or relative becomes ready, willing and able to care for the child, the child should be returned to the family. Or at the very least, that should be an option that is available to both the family and the child, regardless of how long the child has been in foster care.
It is my hope that, with new legislation (brought about by those who work tirelessly to this end) and stronger advocates in place for keeping families together, more of the funding that goes to foster care and foster care adoptions would go toward helping the parents who have their children taken away in the first place. And that those who must have their children removed temporarily (even if that means for years) do not permanently lose them.
Thank you so much, reader, for your question. I’m grateful to each one who has reached out to me with a heart to genuinely understand, even if we have not agreed. Adoption has proven to be a difficult subject to be on the “wrong” side of even with family and the closest of friends and I appreciate the challenges that have helped me hone my thinking, read more, and know when to speak and when its best to just listen.
My goal in writing about adoption is to be a voice for the mamas who are missing their babies, not to discredit the kindnesses of good people who have chosen to foster adopt.