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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Financial Side of Adoption

As a potential adoptive parent, I was intrigued by the thought of adopting a child from another country.   However, my husband was the voice of reality and reminded me that the cost of international adoption was way beyond our means.  I was disappointed but willing to try other more affordable avenues like adopting an older child in the United States.  The costs of a domestic infant adoption were also out of our reach.  Eventually we were drawn to foster care because the process is essentially free and we were willing to open ourselves to the possibility of reunification.  Now that I work in the adoption/foster care world, I am aware that there are many creative ways to fund a more expensive type of adoption.
For the record, I do not regret my journey through foster care and highly recommend it as an affordable option to others.  However, there are now some wonderful and creative ways to make the cost of your dream adoption attainable.  A quick Google search with the words “Financial Assistance for Adoption” will produce a wide variety of sources to explore.  Topics include, tax credit, loans, and fundraising.  Always ask your agency about financial resources to explore their recommendations first.  The tax credit is also a substantial deduction for adoption.  The only challenge with a tax deduction is that you must pay expenses first to receive the write off later on.   I have found that using multiple sources and ideas tends to be the best way to whittle down costs. 
As a hopeful mother, I found it very discouraging that financial barriers stood between me and the family that I wanted.  I felt like searching out a loan or holding a fundraiser just highlighted the fact that my husband and I had infertility issues.  It was the last thing on earth that I wanted to broadcast to the general public.  So I narrowed down my search by listing the choices by my comfort level.  I started by talking to my personal banking institution to find out what we would qualify for.  I also felt comfortable researching grants and applying to any that felt right.  My parents also wanted to contribute and offered us a family loan.  I felt that I would be able to pay them back with the tax refund that I had gained by using the tax credit.   Now that it is 10 years later, I think I would be more confident in looking at some creative fundraising methods such as selling homemade goods, or participating in a 5K fundraiser.
I found that researching all the different methods was the most important step that I made.  As I searched through the possibilities, I was able to pick and choose what would work best for me and my husband.   I recommend talking to others about their adoption experience too.  Don’t be afraid to be brave and try some of the more creative methods of fundraising too!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Talking to Young Children About Adoption

Even though I work in the field of adoption and foster care I still find it challenging to talk to my adopted children about adoption.  It seems to be a natural instinct for me to want to avoid the topic as an adoptive mother.  It may be as simple as just not wanting to stir a pot that isn't boiling over (yet) or maybe I just don't want to talk about the hard stuff.  Luckily, my job reminds me often how important it is for my sons to know and understand their story.  

My boys are 8 and 9 year old.  They each came to my family as foster care placements at the age of 3 months old (one year apart).  Both were considered special needs at the time.   It took about two years to reach adoption day for each of them. For one of my boys, there was extended visitation and a plan to reunite the family for almost 18 months.  My other son did not have a single visit and his parents voluntarily relinquished him.  One son was born addicted to crack and the other was a possible fetal alcohol syndrome baby.  I wish there was a perfect story of a loving birth mom who wanted better for her son to share with my boys.  Unfortunately, the real story involves robbery, drugs, alcohol, jail and death for both of them.

The lack of a special story was underlined to me last week in the office as a traditional domestic adoption took place in the conference room.  The sadness of birth mother and grandmother saying goodbye one last time was like a brick wall that the joy of the new adoptive parents kept washing up against.  It was a lot of emotion for one conference room to contain and most of us were touched by it.  As I walked by the room, I couldn't help but think once again of the sadness that my boy’s birthmothers must have experienced and my joy as I opened the door to a social worker with a baby in a car seat.  Despite the birth parent's challenges with drugs and alcohol, I want to honor their memory for my boys.  Yet, I also don't want to cause the boys pain or damage their precious self-esteem.

There are many books written on the subject of self-esteem and adoption.  All of them agree that adoptive children need to know that they were loved and were important.  Stating otherwise is implying that their genetic background is dirty and unlovable.  It is important for an adoptive child to understand their roots, good and bad, for honesty's sake too. Raising Adopted Children by Lois Melina is a wonderful book to learn more about this topic. 

My eight year old asked about his birth mother's hair when we were finally deep in the conversation.  I reported that she had long, blonde hair and his birth father had the same red hair that he also has.  He immediately said, "I don't care, I don't want hair like him."  What a funny reaction that was!  I chose to ignore the comment because I really did not know how to respond.  I wondered at the instinctual need to distance him self immediately.   The nine year old interrupted him and asked which of his birth parents he looked like.  Unfortunately, I never met his birth parents and I told him so.  I shared that I had once seen a picture of a brother who was 10 years older than he was.  His hair was dark and he was tall and thin like my son.  He accepted that bit of information in silence.  This conversation took place in the car on the way to cub scouts and ended as soon as we arrived.  I highly recommend car rides as a good place to bring up difficult subjects.  The children are strapped in with seat belts and cannot avoid or escape the topic (and neither can I). The need to keep my eyes on the road for driving purposes helps me conveniently avoid eye contact during the chat.  I admit that most of the birds and bee talks with my older children were held in my car for this reason.  

This was not the first adoption discussion we have had and it will not be the last.  Through these small conversations, my boys have a pretty good  understanding of the more positive aspects of their foster care/adoption story.  It has helped me to break up this challenging topic into short discussions with them.  It gives them time to process and absorb the new bits of information and it gives me time to process their reactions.  The hardest bit of information that I felt my youngest son needed to know early was about the death of his twin sister.  It is a heartbreaking story of neglect but led to the joy of  his placement in our family.   I didn't want him to lose this connection to her even though he has no memories of her.  Early on, I decided that I would talk about her on his birthday to give him a positive connection to her.  I always add a candle for her on the yearly cake  and try to find a way to bring up her name.  This has seemed to be a positive experience for him.  He has asked some questions but lately has begun to roll his eyes when I bring up her name.  I count this as a successful attitude on his part if the information annoys him.  It signifies that his sister's story has become family folklore and may have lost some of the sting and pain that comes with it. 

Recently, I have brought up the topic of siblings that are still living.  This is an interesting thought to both of them and they often ask questions.  I have not been brave enough to ask if they would like contact with these siblings and will face that question when one of the boys asks it out loud.  The boys are now old enough to lead the discussion in the direction they are curious about.  I like the technique of following the child's lead in hard discussions.  It allows me a peek into their thought processes and the results are often surprising.  One wanted to know if he was born in a different country and I answered no but reported that he was born in a different state.  He found that information very entertaining and it fostered an interest in Toledo, Ohio that will probably take our family to a baseball game or a museum to visit the city in the future.  It never occurred to me that Toledo would be that interesting for him.  

I realize that the most difficult discussions are still ahead for the boys as they grow up.   My plan is to keep breaking off small chunks of their story and to pass them out when I think they are ready for the information. They will need to learn about substance abuse and its effects on families on a more personal level than most kids do.  I discuss drugs and alcohol as any parent does with a child to educate and prepare them to "just say no."  If an opportunity arises, I will also add in that my son's body has already experienced the effects of a drug and see where that conversation leads us.  

Acknowledging my feelings of discomfort and repeated efforts to get over the bumpy parts are slowly but surely chipping away at the challenging subject matter.  I have enjoyed the conversations with my boys far more than I thought that I would. There are many books on the subject of talking to your adopted child and many more resources on the internet.  Here is a link to a short article that includes a few good book references .  How to Tell Your Child She is Adopted  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Foster Care on the Radio

I was shocked to visit my blog page and see that I have not posted since October.  Eeek!  Where has the time gone?  Well I have been a pretty busy lady and I have a new treat for you.  Hands Across the Water (meaning me and my co-worker Katie Tatro) and 94.3 REWIND of Monroe have teamed up to create a 30 minute radio show dedicated to foster care and adoption.  The show will air on Sunday mornings at 9:30am.  You can also listen to the show anytime by clicking on this link Radio Show.  If you like what you hear, a new show will air each month with new guests and new topics related to foster care and adoption.

Other places to access the link to the new radio show include:

Hands Across the Water on Facebook

Monroe County Coalition for Foster Care

Both are great pages for keeping up-to-date on issues related to foster care and adoption.

For live streaming of this wonderful radio station 94.3 REWIND visit the website at MPACT.

I promise to return soon with a new blog post.  Hang in there!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Adopting Outside of Birth Order

There are a large number of studies done about birth order.  Many of them focus on how placement in the family affects behavior and personality.  The first born is often labeled as a leader, while the last born is often more socially oriented.  The middle child is the negotiator or mediator of the family.  Most of these studies agree that the order of birth is a critical factor in behavior.  However, adoption and foster care tend to turn all of these studies upside down because children arrive in different ways and at different stages of life.  Family roles are redefined with each child who enters and leaves the home.  Most people who attend my training classes want to know how this will affect their family.

I will start with the negative effects because these are probably the most well known facts.  The general rule of thumb is to allow a family to grow into each developmental stage.  If a family has no children then it is recommended that they adopt an infant.  However, this assumes that the family in question has no experience with children of various ages and does not consider life experience.  The concern here is that a new parent will not know how to care for a child who is 10 or 15 years old.  Many people have occupations working with children or have an extended family with many cousins or nieces and nephews to learn from.  If you feel confident and have some experience with older children then this risk can be minimized in the long run. 
Another risk factor that should be considered is the affect on children already in the home.  A child coming from foster care will have an unknown list of behaviors resulting from a traumatic past.  This creates an immediate risk.  Questions that should be asked up front should center on a child's ability to interact with other children and any past history of sexual abuse.  Children who have been sexually abused have a higher risk of becoming an abuser themselves. Or may just act out sexually in inappropriate ways or ways that are way beyond their years.  Children adopted from other countries will have many of the same issues as foster children.  Learn as much as you can about the child before accepting placement or bringing the child home.
Plan on a child of any age having some sort of affect on the children already in the home.  This is a life changing event for all family members.  A parent should be on the lookout for signs of stress, acting out or difficulty in school in both the new child and children already in the home.  

With the negatives consequences out of the way, we can jump to the benefits of bring a child in the home of any age.   I will be honest and state that my oldest child had a great deal of difficulty with any age child I brought into the home.  He responded the best to the tiny babies that arrived and so obviously needed love.  He was 12 years old when we began fostering and I did not feel comfortable bringing in a child older than he was.  He has always been the boss and leader of his siblings and I knew that bringing in an older child would be a significant blow to his identity.  Understanding and knowing your children well is a major component of success.  Our first placement was an 8 year old girl.  She was the same age as my second son and this is called twinning.  My oldest managed to accept her into the family pretty well.  My daughter took on a mothering role right way that was pretty fun to watch because she was only 10 herself.  My twinned up son had a more complicated relationship.  He liked to play with her and did not mind sharing his toys.  However, he felt quite funny about acknowledging her at school.  He was able to share his Dad's affections pretty well, but did not enjoy sharing his mother.  Jealousy was a common issue for these two.   For the entire length of her stay, it was a complicated relationship.  
I have had more relationship success with the teenagers who have made their home my own.  The larger age gap seemed to be an easier hurdle for the younger children to accept.  My teenager placements often take on the role of caregiver for the younger children.  Through helping out with younger children, they have found peace and understanding of how a healthy family works.  My younger children have always been willing to seek out the attentions of a teenager and hopefully get them to play a game or help them grab a sandwich.  I have seen both sides benefit from the relationship.  My younger children, who are 8 and 9 years old, quickly developed an understanding of people living with us and then not living with us.  They are able to voice their likes and dislikes of an older child by saying things like, "I don't like how she bossed me around or he always played football with me."  My experience has been that a child who is a similar or close age to my current children is easier for me to parent but harder on my children.  A larger age gap seems to leave more of the family roles in place and an older child is free to create their own identity within the family.  

I am not a big advocate of not doing something because a study says that it is a bad thing to do.  Each family is different and each set of parenting skills are different.  My children have benefited greatly by the experience of fostering and adopting.  All of them (even the adopted ones) have developed a sense of compassion for children in need.  They have all become kind and considerate people who can easily see challenges in other people's lives.  I do not believe I could have taught them this value just by pointing it out or showing it on television.  My last word of advice in adopting or fostering out of birth order is to be aware that more challenges will pop up down this road as compared to staying within the birth order.  As always, keep your eyes and ears open for trouble and seek out professional help if you are struggling with this challenge.  

Friday, October 3, 2014

What is a Match Party?

One of my favorite aspects of my job at Hands Across the Water (HATW) as a foster care recruitment specialist is hosting the HATW information table at special events.  I have been to all kinds of events at many different locations (in Michigan).  I love the opportunity to speak to people about foster care and adoption.  It also has the added benefit of saving my family from hearing one more foster care related story from me.  It is truly my favorite subject and my family has learned to be prepared for a detailed answer if they are brave enough to ask a questions.  

Last weekend, I attended the Kinship Festival which is a yearly event for the Michigan Adoption Resource (MARE).  It was located on Belle Isle which I had never been to before.  I was amazed by the beauty of Belle Isle.  Here is a picture of the beautiful building we occupied for the day.

 Kinship Festival is just another name for a large match party.  Here is MARE's definition of a match party.  "Match parties are unique events that provide prospective adoptive families the chance to interact face-to-face with many of Michigan's waiting youth.  It allows them to see past the labels, diagnoses and case histories that mask the personalities of each child.  They also provide the children a chance to enjoy a fun day filled with various games and activities."  True to the definition, there were plenty of things for children to do at the Kinship Festival.  The Detroit S.W.A.T Team came to visit with their equipment and there were several large bounce houses and slides to play on.  Lunch was geared toward the children's tastes with a hot dog cart, chips and fruit. The most successful match parties are the ones that are designed for children to have fun and not be nervous about attending.

I find the concept of match parties to be very interesting because the idea can make a person feel a little uncomfortable.  Underneath the fun children's event is the primary focus of allowing potential adoptive families to take a look at the children available.  Honestly, it seems a little strange and may someday be in a history book in a chapter right next to orphan trains of the 1800's.  However, I recommend that we put aside the uncomfortable feeling for a moment and really take a look at what a match party is all about.

When a family chooses the path of foster care or adoption there is an interesting ride ahead.  The family must choose the characteristics, level of disability, race, age, and gender (and many more) of their future child.  This is often done on a black and white form full of check boxes.  On the MARE website are photo listings of the children available in Michigan.  Almost every state has them if you search the Internet a little bit.  With each photo is a short biography followed by a list of impairments or disabilities.  That is not to say that all children available for adoption have disabilities but the children are categorized to help a family sort through the list a bit.  Can you see how this process removes the emotional side of adoption?   A match party brings back that element that is so wonderful of seeing a child for the first time.  It brings back that tug on the heart string that has brought a family down the adoption or foster care path to begin with.  A family can only learn bits and pieces about a child from a biography on a website.  Visit the this website to view photo listings of waiting children to see an example of what I am talking about:  MARE Website  

After reading a few photo listings, I am sure you can see why seeing a child face to face is important.  Match parties are not meant to be meat markets for children.  MARE works hard to protect the children who attend.  In order to attend, you must have a completed home study and be approved by an adoption worker.  There are specific guidelines to follow when approaching a child at a match party.  Asking personal questions about a child's background or disability level are big no-no's at a match party.  A match party is a place to quietly observe or to gently interact with a child by asking non-invasive questions.  This is your chance to get to know a child in a friendly atmosphere.  

Does the concept of a match party still sound kind of odd?  Regardless, I recommend attending at least one match party as part of the adoption and foster care journey.  The experience is priceless and you may find a child who has been waiting to become part of your family forever.    

Monday, September 22, 2014

Multiple Foster Homes or Disrupted Placements

We have all heard the stories from former foster youth who grew up in the system.  Their stories often share the same common problem of growing up in multiple foster homes. More than two homes is bad in my book but there are stories of children who are moved five or more times during childhood and finally just aged out of the system.  What causes a caseworker to move a child so many times?  Who are these foster families that keep rejecting this child?  Is the foster care system so bad that it cannot find just one home for one child?  The answers to these questions are not easy to find.  It is too easy to say that the foster care system or foster family failed a child once again.  It is also too easy to say as a new foster family, "I will never send a child from my home."  

I have had a specific child on my mind for about a month now.  I was at a meeting that included several foster care agencies and one of the agencies was looking for a home for a child.  In professional lingo it is called a placement request where agencies collaborate on locating an appropriate foster home for a specific child.  This child is three and half years old and needs to be transferred from his current foster home to a new home because of behavior issues.  Further information reveals that he is part of a sibling group of four children and he needs to be separated from his siblings, again because of behavior issues.  The newest foster home will be his fourth foster home.  The foster mother side of my brain is already shouting, "For heaven's sake this child is only 3 years old, how bad can his behavior truly be!!!"  This happened quite a while ago and I do not know if a home was found for this child.  However, this child has continued to creep into my thoughts.  He has remained in my brain long enough that I discussed him with my husband.  Discussing a child with my husband is a really big deal because when I went to work in this field I promised him that I would not bring another child home.  We have five children and are very happy to say that our family is complete.  However, my husband does understand the very real risk that I may not be able to resist temptation.  Hopeless cases are the worst kind of temptation for me, but I am just built that way.  Most people are not.  

So what happened in this small child's life that brought him to this place?  Obviously, abuse and neglect by his birth family brought him into the foster care system.  But why three foster homes, with a soon to be fourth?  My innocent mental shout about this child's behavior is not a fair judgment on those previous foster homes.  Most people think of behavior problems as tantrums, hitting or something similar.  However, a child affected by trauma can bring bad behavior to new levels that are hard to imagine.  Some of the most challenging behaviors that I have seen are bed wetting every night for months, hurting a family pet, hurting or battling with another child in the home or even acting aggressively toward a foster parent.  It should also be said that rarely does this bad behavior mean one isolated incident.  It occurs frequently and corrective action seems to have no effect.  Providing a loving home for a child with these kinds of challenges will test even the most seasoned foster parents.  Can a foster family that has tried everything under the sun to help a child and had no success be blamed for giving up?  

One of the points that are taught in PRIDE classes is that the safety and health of your own family needs to come first above the needs of a foster child.  This is a hard concept to wrap the brain around until it has been experienced.  I had a foster daughter that was the same age as my biological son.  I thought "twinning" them would be no big deal.  I could not have been more wrong.  Our family spent a year trying to adjust and work out the differences with no success.  The mother in me would have adopted her in a heartbeat but it was not what was best for my son.  So I let go.  It is now 10 years later and I still carry thoughts of her in my head.  I am sure that I made the right decision for my family but at what cost to her?  The intricacies of foster care are a tangled web of choices by all parties involved.

There are some very appropriate times to request that a child be moved from a foster family.  Here is a list of possibilities.  If the foster child is physically threatening to a family member and all attempts to change the behavior have failed.  If the foster child has sexually abused another member of the household or has been behaving in an overly sexual way towards others.  If the personalities in the household are not getting along over an extended period of time.  In all of these cases, an agency will recommend counseling or other services for the child and possibly the family too.  An agency does not move a child unless the need is great enough.  A foster family can also choose to continue the placement.  I recommend that you find a support group to attend and learn as much about the child's condition as you can.  The rewards of succeeding with a very troubled child are astounding and amazing. 

Foster families are all created differently and each experience is unique.   The thought of a child with extreme behavior issues has chased many potential foster families away because of fear.  Not all foster children have extreme behaviors. I have often been surprised by a family who seemed to be tailor made to handle a particular child. I admire those who choose not to give up and I understand the heartbreak and grief of those who need to make a change.  There are no black and white rules when it comes to children in foster care.    

The foster care system is working hard to address the issue of multiple placements.  There is now collaboration between state social services and private agencies to increase the chance of finding a home that fits a child's needs.  Placing a child in a home that is good fit right from the start is an important piece of the puzzle.  In the three year old's case, the caseworker is looking for a home with no other children or pets.  Everything that is known about the child's behavior will be disclosed and services put in place to help both the foster family and the foster child.  Will all of this make for a loving home for this child?  No one knows, but we do the best that we can.  Watch for the stories from foster youth who have found their forever family, or stories about the family that never gave up on them. Those stories are out there too and keep the hope alive for foster families that hope to make a difference in a child's life. 

Here is a link to a blog that I really enjoy.  I hope you will too!  Never a Dull Moment

Friday, August 1, 2014

In the News

Because it is Friday afternoon, I do not have a lot of deep educational thoughts on foster care today. However, there is a lot happening in the news in the world of foster care.  I thought that I would share a few articles and news stories that have crossed my desk lately.  News of the foster care and adoption world can often span the range of emotion, from anger to sadness, or joy and amazement. So read at your own risk.

The biggest topic in the news right now is the large number of children arriving in Texas from Central America.  Here is a link to a general article:

What is interesting to me about this one is the short news item above the immigration article that discusses the fact that there are some immigrant children who have long been placed in the Texas Foster Care System and can reach up to the age of 22!  I am glad that Texas has found homes for many of these children but I am puzzled as to how they have done it.  Here in Michigan, finding foster parents is a full time job. Obviously this problem has been growing quietly for several years down in Texas.

I really love the personal stories that former foster youth share and here is a link to one I found on Facebook:

Warning!  This one ends in a cliff hanger.  But what I like about this story is the many sides of foster care that it showcases.  Her story touches on loving foster parents, the importance of keeping siblings in contact and together, and her own emotions.  It is so hard to read the emotions in the minds of young children who are placed in our homes.  It causes me to wonder what thoughts would be written by the children who have left my home.  I hope more than anything that they know how much they were loved.

Of course there is always a story about the tragic death of child.  I don't mean to gloss over this with humor in anyway.  I can't help but read things like this even though I know that it will just torture me.  Every time I read about the death of foster child my mind just screams why, why why!!!  There is an Eiffel tower size pile of rules and regulations designed to keep children safe.  Yet these incidents keep happening.  I include this article to encourage anyone who has ever considered becoming a foster parent to sign up.  Michigan needs loving, intelligent, and thoughtful people to help care for all of these children.  Here is the link:

I would like to end on a positive note because the business of helping children is a joyful one.  I really enjoy following Dr. John DeGarmo on Facebook.  He has written several books about foster parenting that focus on the basics.  I have not read all of them but I enjoyed, "The Foster Parenting Manual: A practical guide to creating a loving, safe, and stable home."  I root for anyone who is practical and down to earth in the world of foster care.  This wonderful picture is from his Facebook page at:

Photo: What you are doing IS important! What you are doing DOES matter! Thank you for doing the little, and big, things for children in foster care. Share if you agree!
 Dr. John DeGarmo says, "What you are doing IS important! What you are doing DOES matter! Thank you for doing the little, and big, things for children in foster care. Share if you agree!"