Tag Archives: Foster care

putting meaning to words

photos-by-lanty-597554-unsplashSince last November, I’ve had the privilege of connecting to many other adult international adoptees around the U.S. via a podcast I hosted called Global Adoptee Talk. Some participated in my podcast and others did not. Nevertheless, just to hear and share stories was incredibly validating, and I appreciate the supportive community that we’re a part of. Unfortunately, I had to let go of my podcast before it even had a real chance to get off the ground due to increasing demands at work and the lack of time and energy I had to keep up with all of the editing/interviewing. I’m a Social Worker – anyone in the profession of social work understands what a drain it can be physically, emotionally,  psychologically and spiritually. I am always inspired, grieved, saddened, angered, and motivated by the many adoptees stories I hear – motivated primarily to elevate adoptee voices in whatever shape or form that may take. I think it’s always so important to be mindful of the fact that even though an adoptee may have a positive adoption experience, there is still undoubtedly loss, trauma, and a longing to connect to his/her cultural roots. That may mean searching for one’s birthparents or birth family or traveling to one’s country of origin, learning the language, and/or connecting to other’s who have similar backgrounds and experiences. It doesn’t go away – it may ebb and flow across the span of an adoptee’s life, but it’s a part of our makeup, it’s part of our DNA and hard-wired into our brains, literally. I don’t have time to go into how separation from birth mother is trauma, but suffice it to say, there is research that supports it.

I work in foster care and adoption, and it’s not easy as an adopted person. Whenever there is an adoption, it’s very difficult for me to celebrate because I know that it means loss first. When there is reunification that occurs with the birth family, my heart makes a little leap. It does happen, but unfortunately, reunifications are rarer.

I have the opportunity to work with some resource or foster families that are truly stellar people, and they get it as much as they possibly can without having lived it – the trauma, the loss, the necessity of keeping birth connections in the child’s life. Families are trained in TBRI, and we talk about loss, trauma, and attachment from the very first clinical interview with prospective foster parents. I don’t want to villainize every foster/adoptive family out there, as I know some foster/adoptive parents who attempt to understand the loss and trauma adoptees experience. Even so, I dare say that it’s difficult for non-adopted persons to grasp the magnitude of what being in foster care or being adopted means. And by no means do I ever want to minimize the hurt and wounds experienced by adoptees who have experienced secondary rejection by birth families, inability to connect with birth families, or struggles with adoptive parents. I experienced my own struggles with my adoptive mom, and it was extremely difficult and painful. In my work, I see things from the perspective of an adopted person, not as an adoptive parent or case manager or supervisor-my thoughts and opinions are often very different from those I work with. But this work also gives me the opportunity to educate foster/resource/adoptive parents. Not every family who comes through gets approved to continue the process for multiple reasons, and that’s a good thing.

All in all, I’m sad to let go of my podcast, but I have hopes of one day picking it back up, as time allows. I miss that connection to other adoptees. There are plenty of super podcasts out there. Right now, I’m digging a couple of podcasts related to intuitive eating, health, and nutrition. Two of my favorite adoptee podcasts are Adoptees On and Adapted. The Rambler was also a favorite, but the show closed earlier this year. All of these podcasts are available on iTunes – listen in – it’s totally worth it.

One day, I hope to work in post-adoption, like adoptee, Angela Tucker of The Adopted Life. In the meantime, there are loans to pay off, clinical licensure to achieve, and getting our daughter through college. It ain’t cheap…financially, emotionally, psychologically or spiritually. Have you ever felt as though you were in a holding pattern? This is that time for me. I’m super grateful for the international adoptees I have had the chance to connect with because of my podcast. I’m that much richer, and it’s been great maintaining those contacts. Adoptee voices are truly making their way to the forefront of discussions on adoption – sometimes, I have to step away from social media and just breathe. That always helps me re-center.

This weekend, two of my co-workers and I are facilitating a TBRI training for pre-approved resource families. It’s our first go of presenting this training, so naturally, I’m a little nervous. But then I remind myself, I’m an adopted person – I’ve lived it. The principles we will set forth are all TBRI, but I have within me the lived experience of trauma, loss, and insecure attachment. I hope to make a difference this weekend.

Photo by Photos by Lanty on Unsplash

Past episodes of Global Adoptee Talk are available on iTunes

 

national adoption day

NADThe inclement weather yesterday did little to dampen the excitement of National Adoption Day in Maricopa County. On National Adoption Day, courts and communities in the U.S. come together to finalize thousands of adoptions of children. More than 300 events are held each year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving in November in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to finalize the adoptions of children in foster care. More than 40,000 children have been adopted from foster care on National Adoption Day (http://www.maricopanad.org/content/about-us).

The Maricopa County National Adoption Day Foundation was established in 2012. It is a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation, which fundraises, organizes, and runs the National Adoption Day event in Maricopa County each November. The Foundation’s Board Members are 100% volunteer, including all of the judges who preside over the adoption hearings.

This year, my daughter and I joined staff from the agency where I’m currently interning to volunteer at the event. It was a very early morning, as we had to check in at volunteer registration around 8:00 am. It drizzled all the way up to the Durango Juvenile Court Center in Phoenix. I got lost on the way there (typical me), so we were a little bit late. On the way in to the courthouse, we met a young law student, Kalin, who told us he was adopted. We began talking about adoption and about the policies that affect international adoption. We walked to the check-in area together. There were already what looked like hundreds of volunteers dressed in blue T-shirts hard at work setting things up as we entered the courthouse. L and I checked in. Oddly, they did not have me registered to volunteer, but thankfully had L listed. I told them that I had previously been assigned as a Court Guide, so the team leader randomly assigned me to Court #12 on the third floor. This actually turned out to be a small miracle.  L and I headed upstairs to the third floor.

After a briefing on the responsibilities of a Court Guide, L and I waited in front of Court Room #12 for families to arrive. Soon one family arrived and then another. I went downstairs to run a quick errand, and when I returned I noticed a Caucasian woman holding a little Asian girl I guessed to be around the age of one. I became curious because most kids adopted on National Adoption Day are in foster care, and very few Asian children enter foster care. I asked the woman where she adopted her little girl hoping that I wasn’t being too rude or intrusive. She replied, “from Taiwn.” No way! I told her I was also adopted from Taiwan. “I know,” she said, “I have read your blog.” What a surprise! The woman told me that she and her husband had attended our “Somewhere Between” film screening earlier this year. The woman’s husband and parents then arrived, and I immediately recognized her husband, who I remembered speaks fluent Mandarin. What were the chances of an assignment to the very courtroom where their adoption finalization would take place? We all caught up a little, and I thought about how much life had changed for the family since our film screening back in January.

Bolanders

Brian and Sarah’s daughter, Le Le, is 18 months old. They traveled to Taiwan in June 2013 to bring her home to Arizona. Le Le is absolutely beautiful. Within minutes, their attorney arrived and went over the court proceedings. She introduced herself to me, and we were soon ushered into the courtroom. I felt honored to be a very small part of the family’s adoption finalization. After the formal finalization, several pictures were taken by family and by their attorney. It was an exciting occasion, and everyone in the room was smiling from ear to ear. Afterwards, I escorted the family downstairs where a professional photographer was taking pictures of all adoptive families. Sarah told me more about Le Le’s adoption and birth mother, who they were able to connect with via telephone and also plan to keep in contact with. The courthouse had now become a sea of people, and the buzz of animated conversation filled the air. While the family waited to have their picture taken, I took their orders to be certified in the county clerk’s office. I watched as the clerk stamped and sealed their orders and then took the documents back to the family.

Meeting Brian and Sarah and their extended family made the event that more special. I am still blown away that out of all the courtrooms, I was assigned to the one where their adoption finalization occurred. Back in January when we held the film screening, Sarah and Brian were waiting to be matched with a child. Ten months later, they are now parents. I was also deeply touched by another attorney as she cried testifying before the judge on behalf of a 12-year old girl who was being adopted by a single mother. There was a mob of family members crowding the room and looking on. I’m so glad that the family has that kind of support.

National Adoption Day was a memorable event. The children who were being adopted were adopted for the right reasons – they needed loving homes and families due to neglect, abandonment or abuse. For these families, the waiting for finalization is over, but the adventure will continue on.

at the heart of adoption

Heart_ExtraSmallI’ve been interning since August at an adoption and foster care agency that specializes in placing children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned with foster and adoptive families. It’s been interesting. I think what I’m gaining the most at this time is a broadening perspective on adoption. In the past, I’ve been primarily concerned with inter-country and transracial adoption, especially adoption from Asian countries. At the agency, I’m learning about the foster care system and families who want to either foster or adopt children under the care of child protective services (CPS), otherwise known as the foster care system. It’s a very different institution than that of international adoption in many ways. However, in other ways, it’s similar. The similarities between international adoption and the adoption of a child  through CPS are primarily that children have been traumatized and need permanency and adoptive parents need education and support.

It’s been interesting, too, at the agency to encounter different views on adoption. For instance, some have difficulty comprehending why people would adopt outside of the U.S. when there are so many children here in foster care who need loving families. I don’t share that same attitude, however, the number of children in foster care in the U.S. is tragically high. In Arizona alone, one of the highest-ranking states of children in foster care, there are approximately 15,000 children in out-of-home care. On the other hand, it was estimated in 2005 by  UNICEF that there were over 132,000,000 children identified as orphans, children who had lost one or both parents, globally (sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean). UNICEF statistics do not include abandonment or sold and/or trafficked children, and I’m sure that number has increased over the years. According to data released in 2003, an estimated 8,000,000 boys and girls worldwide lived in institutionalized care (http://www.orphanhopeintl.org/facts-statistics/). Alternately, according to the latest available figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there are about 123,000 orphans in America (http://www.orphancoalition.org/new/foster-care.php). The U.S. population is around 317,023,906 (U.S. Census Bureau). Any way you shake it, the number of orphans and children in out-of-home care world-wide is staggering. It’s an enormous issue of social and political concern.

Within child welfare circles, we often hear the phraseology, “in the best interest of the child.” But what does that mean exactly? Essentially it means that the health and safety of the child physically, emotionally and psychologically come first and foremost. I say that because I think that there are misconceptions about adoption. It is a way to expand families and is an option for couples who have experienced infertility, but, more than anything else, adoption should be for the child, not the adoptive parents. In other words, the motivation for those seeking to adopt should be to care for a child who has, through no fault of his or her own, come into adoption due to the circumstances of abandonment, relinquishment or maltreatment. That is and should be at the heart of adoption.

Adoption is often an exciting endeavor for families, yet there are many risk factors to consider beforehand. Most adopted children have experienced trauma and may have difficulties with bonding and attachment and/or problems with behavior and emotions. It’s a fact. As an adoptive parent, are you prepared to handle such challenges long-term? Are you willing to go above and beyond BEFORE the adoption to educate yourself on issues of race and culture if your adopted child is of a different race and ethnicity? How will you handle rejection, bonding and attachment difficulties, caring for a child with a physical and/or psychological disability? What tools and strategies will you equip yourself with  to help your adopted child face racism and discrimination, and how will you as a family respond? What opportunities will you seek to help your adopted child stay connected to his or her birth culture, and how will you respond to your adopted child’s curiosity about his or her birth family? How will you foster open communication with your child so that he or she feels comfortable approaching you about such issues? Most adoptive parents I talk with are unprepared for the task of raising a child adopted internationally, or taken by surprise by some of the challenges they’ve experienced, and some parents I’ve spoken to who have adopted children through CPS express similar sentiments. Parenting in and of itself is obviously a difficult task, but parenting an adopted child has special challenges. Proactive is always better than reactive.

November is National Adoption Month. Adoption provides permanency, love and stability for children who have been orphaned, relinquished or abused. But, what is disturbing is the naivete surrounding adoption and the lack of substantial support for adoptive parents post-adoption, at least for those families who have adopted children internationally. I’m happy that stricter policies have been put into place for inter-country adoption to ensure ethical practices by adoption agencies. But so much more could and should be done to educate adoptive families pre-adoption and support families post-adoption. It is my hope that positive changes will continue to be made legislatively for international adoption and that adoptive parents will proactively seek education and support both pre- and post- adoption.