Archive for the Category » Adoption and Foster Care «

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 | Author: mjward

Children, American citizens, are too often caught in the crosshairs of the child welfare system and immigration enforcement. Both systems believe in protecting children, but their policies often work against each other to put children in jeopardy. A report from November 2011 by the Applied Research Center, Shattered families: The perilous intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system, details the damage caused by conflicting rules.

Let’s take an example. A woman we’ll call Mariana had been working in New Mexico for six years. She had two children born in the U.S. She had separated from their father, and he had returned to their original country. After immigration officials received a tip that Mariana was working at a local factory was in the United States illegally, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers arrested her at her workplace. They charged her with being in the country without proper documentation and took her to a detention center about 90 miles away. They refused to let her make a phone call to arrange for someone to look after her children, who were in an informal daycare home. Instead ICE officers called the local Child Protection Services (CPS) and her two children, aged 4 and 5, were taken to an emergency home. Mariana was not allowed to attend the court hearing that gave CPS custody of the children.

When it was clear that Mariana would not be released soon, the children were moved to a longer-term foster home. CPS drew up a plan so that the children could be returned to her. She was to take a parenting course and visit the children regularly. But ICE did not provide such a course at the detention center and would not let her out so that she could enrol in one. Because the center was so far from where the children were, they could not visit her regularly. Besides, the atmosphere there was not good for children. Mariana’s extradition case dragged on. Time ran out. The court judged that Mariana had not fulfilled the requirements for getting her children back and terminated her parental rights. The children were placed for adoption.

Mariana was not a negligent mother. She had been raising her children well. She lost them only because she was an undocumented immigrant. The story need not have unfolded that way. In fact, both ICE and CPS believe (on paper) in keeping families together. But their policies too often work to separate them.

For example, ICE detains parents who are unlikely to disappear because they don’t want to leave their children. Instead they could be released into the community with supervision. Often detention takes place many miles from the parents’ home so that visiting is extremely difficult if not impossible. In addition, centers do not permit parents to fulfil agency and court requirements so that they can regain their children.

For its part, CPS is often reluctant to place children with relatives who are undocumented because social workers argue that the relatives may also be arrested and detained and the children will have to move again. They ignore the fact that foster homes are not permanent and that children can move from one to another. The requirements they set are often impossible for detained parents to fulfil, and the timelines are too short to allow for the length of detention. All too often, agency personnel do not contact the appropriate consulate if parents have been deported. Some also think that an American child is better raised in the United States with a substitute family than in another country with birth parents.

What can be done? Federal, state, and local governments need to create policies to protect families from separation. They need to develop alternatives to detention that allow families to stay together. Judges need to be given the discretion to consider the best interests of the children when deciding their care and custody. Parents of children, especially those in foster care, need to be given relief, including release into the community. Local authorities need to allow exceptions to the termination of parental rights for detained and deported parents. Policies are needed allowing parents to say who should take custody of their children. Agencies need to develop guidelines for working with consulates to enable reunification of families. When such regulations and policies are in place, then children need not lose their parents.


Applied Research Center (ARC). (2011, November). Shattered families: The perilous intersection of immigration enforcement and the child welfare system. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from

Pertman, A. (2011, November 8). Immigration and ‘shattered families’. Retrieved October 1, 2012 from

Monday, February 28th, 2011 | Author: mjward

There are many excuses for separating siblings. Some argue that one child (or more) in the group has too many problems to be placed with siblings. Or that the younger children aren’t bonded with the older ones. Or that the older ones might sabotage the placement. Or that foster parents want to adopt one of the children. Or that you might continue unhealthy relationships among the children. Or that they require too much attention for any one family to meet their needs. Another argument … is that these adoptions require a lot of time and effort. If sibling adoptions make so many problems, why bother keeping children together? After all, placing the children one at a time will avoid all kinds of difficulties, won’t it?

First, separating brothers and sisters is actually a form of emotional abuse. Sibling relationships are extremely important to children who have been separated from their parents. Brothers and sisters are attachment figures too. By keeping them together, we can reduce some of the distress of separation. Often two, or if they are lucky three or four, do move from place to place together. The brother or sister can become the only thing in their lives that stays the same–an emotional shield in a world of uncertainty. These children don’t need any unnecessary losses. Sibling ties are strong–many adult adoptees spend more time searching for brothers and sisters than for birth parents.

From an adult perspective, most of us look back on our childhood remembering our sibling relationships with varying degrees of fondness. Some of us feel that if someone had offered to separate our siblings from us at certain stressful times of our lives, we may have opted for that solution! However, as adults, many of us have realized the importance of our shared history ad experience and have drawn closer to our siblings. It is hard to imagine how different our lives might have been if we had been separated. From this adult perspective, we need to preserve the rights of children to grow up with their siblings whenever and wherever this is possible.

Siblings come as a set. As prospective adoptive parents we don’t have the right to take some and not others. We already have to live with the pain of the children whose parents or foster parents kept some and not others without us being the ones who are inflicting further pain…. Adoption workers who encourage separation…are helping to set families up for unnecessary trouble and to set children up for intense loss/separation problems which may never be fully resolved…. Workers should even explore the willingness of the adoptive family to take yet another sibling if he or she comes into care later. Some agencies have already begun to do this.

Sometimes children are separated because it is reported that one or more of the children has “not bonded” with somebody and is therefore not ready for placement. No one is bonded when the children come into your home! If you get a family interested in taking the five siblings, place them…, get a therapist in place, and then work on bonding. We can’t doom a child to a lack of opportunity for permanence because he didn’t bond to someone we wanted him to bond to. If a family takes a sibling group of five and three bond to them in the next twenty years, they should consider themselves lucky! To the others they have given the stability of growing up in a permanent home with their siblings. That stability is the greatest gift from adoptive parents!

Although placing siblings together is definitely placement of choice, there are some exceptions, for example, siblings who are extremely destructive to each other. Perhaps they have been separated for too long or were abusive to each other in their original home. One group of five children placed together was eventually separated when the oldest siblings tried to kill the two youngest and subjected the other children in the family to sever physical abuse. It soon became obvious that they would before long have destroyed each other and the adoptive family. Unfortunately, this was not predictable before placement as the children had never actually been together before…. The question remains, “Why were they separated for so long and then suddenly placed together with an unsuspecting family, with no preplacement work done? Why wasn’t accurate information shared? Why did the adoption worker set them up for disruption in this way?”

Such horror stories can be prevented from happening in the future. We can, through adequate education, preparation, and support, place most sibling groups together and keep them in those placements. We can help them to grow up in a stable adoptive environment which preserves their history and identity as siblings while enabling them to share in the history and identity of their adopting family.


An excerpt from M. Ward & B. Tremitiere, Kids in Batches: Placing Sibling Groups for Adoption. York, PA: Tremitiere, Ward & Associates, 1990.

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Is it better or not for stepchildren to be adopted by their stepparents? Researchers recently compared adopted and non-adopted stepchildren with children growing up in other family types. They conducted a large survey of children up to the age of seventeen who lived in married-couple households which included two biological parents, two adoptive parents, and one biological and one stepparent. They compared adopted and non-adopted children with each other and with those in other married-family types.

The most important finding was that there was quite little difference among the children. All were similar as to school achievement. Children who did not live with two biological parents did have more emotional and behavior problems. None, however, scored in the clinical range. The authors of the study believe that this shows the basic ability of children to adapt to the families they are in.

A more detailed comparison shows that young adopted stepchildren’s families are most similar to biological two-parent families. Older adopted step-children are most like non-adopted stepchildren. The authors speculate that these resemblances may be the result of the age of the child at adoption and/or the length of time between formation of the stepfamily and the adoption. They also caution against lumping together all adopted children because there are differences between those adopted by unrelated parents and by a stepparent.

School performance and emotional and behavioral problems aren’t the only aspects of family life. A whole view would consider relationships between parents and children, between siblings, and with community members. The security provided by adoption may, in the long term, also affect the well-being of children. All families have their strengths and weaknesses. Rather than looking at which families do better, it is more useful to look at the strengths of the various family forms and their challenges. That way, each family can be encouraged to build on its strengths.


Source:Stewart, S. D. (2010). The characteristics and well-being of adopted stepchildren. Family Relations, 59, 558-571.

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Many Canadian Aboriginal children adopted by American parents in Pennsylvania, as we have seen in Parts 1 and 2, fared poorly in their adoptive homes. Costs were heavy for both the adoptees and their adoptive parents. Interpersonal difficulties were accompanied by school dropout, substance abuse, running away, and criminal activity, if not premature death. A number lived in unstable or abusive relationships. More were unemployed or earning wages that kept them in poverty. Criminal records reduced life prospects for some. Costs for the adoptive parents are exemplified in a letter one father wrote in 1984: “I won’t say that adopting two special-needs Indian kids was the worst mistake of my life, but there are times when I think it ranks close….I have succeeded in removing a great deal of joy from my life.” In a number of cases, families faced the continuing dependency of adult children. Some were helping parent grandchildren; others were looking for suitable treatment settings, for example for children with fetal alcohol syndrome.

Why did this group experience so many difficulties? We can’t explain the results with any certainty, but can only suggest possible causes. First, was the group of Aboriginal children placed in Pennsylvania a high-risk group? The fact no homes were found in Canada may indicated that these children were especially troubled or came from backgrounds with many problems. Unfortunately pre-adoption records from Canada were incomplete and did not consistently report on the child’s living situation, history or levels of the mother’s nutrition before the birth or her substance abuse. We do not know how many had been abused or experienced multiple moves among homes. Both of these can increase children’s problems in fitting into a new family. Some adoptees appeared to have fetal alcohol syndrome because a number of case records indicate parents’ alcohol abuse.

Second, in their adoptive families, children had little contact with other Aboriginal individuals. The families, who lived mainly in rural and small-town settings, were relatively isolated from each other. Thus attending a centralized support group required some effort and commitment. The incentive to go to meetings may have been low because parents tended to downplay the importance of racial identity. In addition, there were few Aboriginal adults in the area who might provide healthy role models. Problems within families may have increased because of children’s copycat behavior. But that scenario does not account for the similarity in problems experienced by widely separated families.

Third, adoptees were at first received well in their schools until behavior problems led to disciplinary clashes. Academic difficulties led to loss of academic eligibility–a number were fine athletes–and further reduced good feelings about school. Many dropped out. The most disaffected became involved with substance abuse and criminal activities. Problems of this sort are also common among non-adopted Aboriginal American and Canadian children and adolescents. Both poverty and colonialism have been blamed for contributing to these difficulties. While poverty was not a factor in the adoptive families, children were subject to stereotypes prevalent in society including the nature lover or noble red man; the dirty, sneaky, savage redskin; and the militant who wields a tomahawk against hated whites. These stereotypes were present in the American school system (and presumably in wider society) throughout the adoptees’ childhood. It appears that many of the adolescent problems reported by the parents were an attempt to act out the stereotypes–returning to the Northern wilderness, engaging in promiscuous or criminal behavior, and striking out violently against family members or themselves. Yet these behaviors failed to provide the adoptees with entry into their culture of origin. Many who returned to Canada were unable to fit easily into Aboriginal communities because they had lost their language and traditions.

These adoptions are a sad page in child welfare history. There are things we can learn. Why did some children have relatively few problems in their new homes? How many of the troubled adoptees did find a measure of success in their adult lives? How can we improve adoption practices to avoid any such difficulties in the future?



Ward, M. (1995). Native children in non-Native homes: An analysis of adoption outcomes. Paper written to demonstrate proficiency, PhD Program, Te Union Institute, Cincinnati, OH.

Tremitiere, B. T., Ward, M., & Polesky, G. G. (1996, October 28). Native Canadian children in American homes: Parents’ perceptions of outcomes. (Unpublished paper)

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 | Author: mjward

Several provinces placed Aboriginal children for adoption in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. Manitoba, the last to stop this practice, declared a moratorium in 1982 out of concern over the problems experienced by these children. Since then, there have been continuing reports of difficulties. The official inquiry into placement practices of Manitoba agencies found that a number of children whose adoptions had broken down were coming before the courts on criminal matters. Later accounts have suggested that adoptees were subject to physical and sexual abuse, committed serious crimes, and/or suffered severe psychological damage. However, there had been little follow-up of these young people.

One agency that placed many Aboriginal children from Canada in the United States was Tressler Lutheran Services in Pennsylvania, finding homes for 206 such children between 1974 and 1986. Of these, 14 came from Saskatchewan in the early 1970s, the remaining 192 from Manitoba from 1974 until 1982. Following the 1982 moratorium, adoptions of Aboriginal children involved only re-placements following disruptions. All children were adopted by Caucasian families.

The agency provided on-going support services following adoption finalization, including groups for both adoptees and parents. Thus staff had contact with many families and/or heard how they were faring. Agency personnel came to believe that families with Aboriginal adoptees were reporting an unusual number of problems. Calls came from widely scattered families who did not know each other, telling of similar difficulties with their children: severe acting out, seemingly complete unconcern about their adoptive families, and leaving their homes, often heading north. In view of continuing reports of difficulty in these adoptions, families were contacted in 1994 to learn both problem levels during the children’s development and level of adaptation in early adulthood. This followed a similar follow-up that occurred in 1984 when the children were younger.

Information for the 1994 study came from two sources–agency records and interviews with the adoptive parents. With the assistance of a student on summer placement, Dr. Barbara Tremitiere of Tressler Lutheran Services located parents who had adopted a total of 100 Aboriginal children (53 families with 52 males and 48 females). About one-fourth of children had been adopted before age six; half between six and ten years; and one-quarter between 11 and 15. This group contained many of the families interviewed in 1984. Dr. Tremitiere conducted telephone interviews with parents using a guide with both closed and open-ended items. The interviews covered the history of the placement, the types of problems encountered during the developmental years, the ages at which these occurred, and the adoptee’s present adaptation. The severity of problems was based on parents’ reports and may therefore have shown some bias.

In 1994, most of the adoptees had reached adulthood. There were five deaths: one boy had died of natural causes; another was killed accidentally after his return to Canada; two boys, who did not know each other and whose parents had believed they were doing well, committed suicide; and a young woman was the victim of a serial killer. Most of the survivors were in their twenties. Most grew up in two-parent families. Over three-fourths of the children lived in homes with other Aboriginal children. About one-third of the families had four or more children.

Most of the 95 surviving adoptees were in touch with their adoptive parents. This included some who had returned to Canada. A number had resumed contact after an extended period. For about half the contact was frequent. Most parents knew where their children lived. Children who lived at home, more females than males, were less likely to have serious difficulties than those living out of the home. The majority of those at home were either in school or had graduated from high school. They were not necessarily free from problems; one family, for example, had just made arrangements for their pregnant daughter and her boyfriend to move in with them. Parents had no information about the living situations of 30 of their children. The others were evenly divided between stable and problem environments (e.g., involving substance abuse, criminality, or violence).

Nearly half the adoptees had experienced some difficulties involving identity issues. There was a significant jump in such issues in adolescence. Problems also tended to be more severe during these years. Perhaps as a result of problems in school, educational levels were low. Only a third had graduated from high school, with 8 percent having some college. For one-fourth there was no information, largely because they were no longer in contact with their parents. Although problem levels declined in late adolescence and early adulthood, a high proportion of the adoptees continued to experience difficulties. Indeed, parents rated the general adjustment of fewer half their children as satisfactory. Surprisingly, there was no correlation between age at adoption and the presence or degree of problems. This finding may reflect the fact that problems were so pervasive that any advantage coming from early placement eventually disappeared. The 17 adoptees who experienced no major problems were mainly female. Ten were in families with other Aboriginal children who did have problems.

Staff at Tressler undertook a follow-up study of other adoptees placed transracially during the same period as the Aboriginal children. All parents had a similar background. Analyses showed that Aboriginal adoptees fared much worse in all areas than African-American, Vietnamese, and Korean children placed in Caucasian homes.

Why have Aboriginal children had more problems in their adoptive families than others placed transracially and internationally? While there are no clear answers, possible explanations are explored in “Canadian Aboriginal Children Adopted by American Parents. Part 3: Why the Problems?”


Holtan, B., & Tremitiere, B. (1966), August). Looking back: An outcome study of Canadian Indian, Vietnamese, and Korean adoptees. Paper presented at the annual conference of the North American Council on Adoptable Children, Dallas, TX.

Kimelman, E. C. (1985). No quiet place (Final report of the Review Committee on Indian and Metis adoptions). Winnipeg: Manitoba Community Services.

Tremitiere, B. T., Ward, M., & Polesky, G. G. (1996, October 28). Native Canadian children in American homes: Parents’ perceptions of outcomes. (Unpublished paper)

Sunday, January 16th, 2011 | Author: mjward

During the 1960s, child welfare departments in several provinces, especially western ones, became concerned about the well-being of Aboriginal children. Few services were available to protect them from neglect or abuse. Parenting was defined by standards of the majority white community and many Aboriginal families didn’t measure up. Many children were removed from their homes. The great increase in Aboriginal children entering care during the 1960s until the mid-1980s came to be known as the “Sixties Scoop.” The scoop produced a dilemma. There were many children in care needing homes. There were too few Aboriginal foster parents to care for all of them. So they were placed in non-Aboriginal homes. There were too few adoptive homes in their provinces to take in all these children. Thus many were placed in other provinces or in the United States.

In 1978, I asked provincial and territorial child welfare authorities for figures and policies concerning the placement of Aboriginal children, especially in non-Aboriginal and out-of-province families. In 1963 in Manitoba, 12 percent of adoptive placements were of non-Caucasian children. By 1977, the proportion had nearly tripled to 35.6 percent. Most Aboriginal children were not placed with Aboriginal families, since only about a dozen were available in any one year. Children who were placed outside the province consisted mainly of older children, sibling groups, and children with other special needs. In 1977, 41 children were placed in other provinces and 65 in the United States. There was, however, no information on race or ethnicity of these children. Several hundred Aboriginal children went to the United States before a moratorium was imposed in March 1982.

One agency involved with the placement of many Aboriginal Canadian children was Tressler-Lutheran Service Associates in central Pennsylvania, which was located in a rural area with no Aboriginal families. From 1972 to 1981, two social workers placed between 200 and 250 Aboriginal children aged from infancy to fifteen. Most were Canadian, the majority from Manitoba. Most were referred through two agencies and principally through two adoption workers. The families had received good adoption preparation and had continuing support from the agency, including therapy if needed.

The placements were flawed from the beginning. During the ten years, immigration regulations changed sharply and sometimes suddenly. At the beginning of the period, these children could cross the border freely; by the end they had to go through regular immigration procedures. As a result, some children placed in the earlier years encountered problems through a lack of proper documentation. Some were never made American citizens. There was also a lack of background information about the children. Only later did the Pennsylvania agency learn that many were related to each other and that siblings and other relatives had been separated.

The atmosphere at the time also played a role. Families truly believed that, given enough time, love and good nutrition, a child would do well. People did not know then about fetal alcohol syndrome or about hyperactivity. Parents also believed that racism did not exist for their families. From 1972 to 1986, the agency placed over 2000 children, over half across racial lines. This included about 200 Vietnamese children, who were placed in about six weeks and about whom there was no information.

The first clue the agency had that the Aboriginal adoptions were in trouble was through what came to be referred to as “the phone calls from hell.” The pattern was similar: during early adolescence, an adoptee would head north of the border, often in a stolen care or even bus, with no particular destination planned. Not until about thirty had done so, was there a framework in place to enable their return to Canada. A letter in 1984 from the Manitoba Department of Community Services informed American agencies of the possibility of repatriating children to their birth families and/or home communities.

This letter prompted a telephone poll in which parents and available children were interviewed. The survey contacted 64 families who had adopted 107 Aboriginal children, who were then aged 6 to 24 years. The children, twice as many males as females, had been placed at ages from infancy to fifteen (one-fourth were under 6 at placement, half aged 6 to 10, the remainder at 11 to 15 years). Most (91.6%) had come from Manitoba. Parents rated one-fourth of the adoptions as negative. Their level of acceptance of problems was unusually high, however, because of the pre-adoption training they had received. One fourth had sought therapy. Among preteens, no particular problems were reported. Among teenagers, the two prominent problems were difficulties in interpersonal relations and failure to attend school. Many of the children reported as having problems decided to emancipate themselves from their adoptive families. Two males had committed suicide. Both had been reported as doing well before they shot themselves. One verbally and physically assaulted his mother before his suicide. Two others had died, one of natural causes and the other in a traffic accident in Winnipeg. Four were known to be in jail. Eighteen had been re-placed into other homes from their original adoptive ones.

Because many of the adoptees were not yet adolescents, it was important to learn how they fared as adolescents and young adults in their personal development and family relationships. In 1994, a second survey was conducted. This is reported in “Canadian Aboriginal Children Adopted by American Parents. Part 2: How Did They Fare?”


Sinclair, R. (2007). Identity lost and found: Lessons from the sixties scoop. First Peoples Child & Family Review, 3(1), 65-82. [Online journal]

 Ward, M. (1984). The adoption of Native Canadian children. Cobalt, ON: Highway Book Shop.

Ward M., & Tremitiere, B. (1994, May). Broken dreams or promise kept? Canadian Indian children in American homes. Paper presented to National Adoption Conference, Calgary.

Friday, October 08th, 2010 | Author: mjward

Every family has rules. Some are stated clearly like, “You must be home by nine o’clock on a school night.” Often, however, the most important ones aren’t put into words. These involve the way children and adults are treated, the ways disagreements are settled, and many other patterns of interaction. For example, in one family, members may argue loudly when they disagree about chores or curfews. Once the matter is settled, relationships continue as before. In another family, some individuals may become very quiet, go along with a parent or partner, but carry a festering grudge.

When an infant is adopted, he or she learns the unspoken rules of the family just as a child born into the family will do. The situation is quite different in older-child adoption. If children have lived any length of time with their birth families, they will have learned a particular mode of interaction. Often this is dysfunctional. That is, it leads to problems in development or social relationships rather than to healthy growth. One example is the child, usually a girl, who has become a parent to younger siblings because the parent is not providing proper care and affection. The development of all the children, including the parentified child, may be warped because a young teen or preteen does not have the maturity to be a substitute mother. Once children enter the foster care system, they temporarily join other families which have their own patterns of interaction. When they join an adoptive family, these children have their own mixture of unspoken rules learned in multiple families.

When they move to an adoptive family, older children experience culture shock. That is, the rules of interaction they have learned don’t work well in the new family. They are at a loss as to how they should behave. In an article published some time ago*, I describe some of the phases of adjustment to the new family culture. The first is the “tourist” phase. When a person visits a new country, they may be fascinated by the strangeness of the surroundings. In adoption, this corresponds to the visiting and honeymoon period. There may be difficulties in communication. For example, one of our adopted children had a very limited vocabulary, although she officially spoke English and we could not be sure she understood what we were saying. Often the tourist phase is short-lived. The second phase involves hostility and aggression. Children have to learn to live in their new family “country.” Old rules may not work. New ones need to be tested. One of our sons was very aggressive. On one occasion at a public beach, he launched into a string of profanities when another child took his water toy. I was grateful that he used words rather than fists. At least it was a small step in the right direction. It is useful if parents put the most important rules into words. That way they help children learn the new family forms of interaction. Both parents and children, old and new, will probably benefit from a support group such as one designed for members of adoptive families. The third phase is resignation. The children decide that they are going to stay with the family; so they might as well put up with it. They may grudgingly accept the need to tell their parents where they are going and with whom. The need for support still exists. Finally, children come to accept the customs and ways of their new family. Now will come a sense of stability and self-worth as they learn all the family cues to interaction. The child will be at home.

Culture shock is not a one-way street. Parents also experience it. As they learn to care for their new child, the most successful ones incorporate some of the child’s “foreign” ways into their own family interaction and give up some of their old norms. That is, they move toward the child. One of the simplest ways this happens comes with new food habits to accommodate the children’s tastes. The adaptation process is more extreme if a sibling group joins the family because they reinforce the patterns of behavior they have learned in their birth family as well as foster families they have shared. The weight of numbers matters.

When adoptions are the most successful, parents and children share the unwritten rules. These rules provide a platform from which young people move into adulthood.


* “Culture Shock in the Adoption of Older Children,” The Social Worker/Le Travailleur Social, 1980, Vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 8-11.

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010 | Author: mjward

What is a displaced child?

According to Claudia Nelson*, this is a child who is available for adoption and fostering. But her definition is far too narrow. The term could also refer to the influx of children from Cuba during the Cold War through what was known as “Operation Pedro Pan.” Displaced children include the Lost Boys of Sudan, or children languishing in orphanages in a third-world country, or children left behind when their parents are deported.

Eight of my children were displaced. That is, they were moved from their birth families to ours by way of adoption. First a baby girl, then five brothers aged five to thirteen, and finally two sisters, eight and twelve. They all lost contact with their birth families during their growing years within our family. As adults, some looked for and reconnected with birth relatives. Yet their development was forever altered, for the better or worse, by the rupture of biological ties.

There is a different kind of displacement connected with adoption, the loss to the extended biological family of one of its children. Customary family links are broken and replaced with new ones within the adoptive family. Often this loss is keenly felt. Within our extended family, one young mother-to-be chose to place her baby for adoption. Her mother spent the weeks before the birth in repeated crying jags over the loss of her first grandchild, and a sister demanded, “How can you give away my niece?”

Two of my own grandchildren have been placed for adoption. The first, “Caleb,” was born into a stormy relationship. His mother’s addiction doomed him to fetal alcohol syndrome. He was apprehended by child welfare authorities because he was neglected during his mother’s drinking jags. Any hope of return was shattered when his mother lost to a serial killer. I received some updates of his progress along with photos before his adoption was finalized. Now nothing. Just a big hole where he should fit into the family.

Caleb’s half-sister, “Katy,” had an on-again, off-again, mother who moved far from my son, Katy’s father. Eventually child welfare personnel took Katy into care and, in time, she found an adoptive home. With the encouragement of her new parents, I have contact with my granddaughter. This consists of the occasional letter or postcard as well as birthday and Christmas gifts. Now and then I also receive an update from her mother on how she is doing. The picture isn’t all rosy. Katy is now a teenager with an early history of inconsistent parenting and emotional abandonment. She bears the scars, but her parents are helping her develop into a competent young woman. There isn’t a “Katy-lack” as there is a “Caleb-lack.” We don’t have a close relationship, but there is no gaping hole.

Most adoption literature, understandably, is concerned about the impact of adoption on three groups of people. Birth parents, especially birth mothers, have been one focus. The adopted individual and his or her history and adjustment have received a great deal of attention. More recently, researchers have looked at the impact of adoption on the new parents. Usually missing from the discussion is the extended family. The relatives of both the birth and adoptive parents feel reverberations when a displaced child finds a place in a substitute family. Adoption is not only for the parent alone or the nuclear family or the child. It takes place in a web of relationships.


* Little Strangers: Portrayals of Adoption and Foster Care in America, 1850-1929, Indiana University Press, 2003.

Monday, March 29th, 2010 | Author: mjward

Many teens in foster and group care age out of the system without any close ties to adults. The rights of their birth parents have been terminated and no permanent families have been found for them. Follow-ups of these young people have found that many have trouble making their way in adult society without the practical and sometimes financial support of caring adults. One sixteen-year-old, when asked why she wanted to be adopted when she was on the point of becoming independent, said that she wanted a father to walk her down the aisle when she married and grandparents for her children. Families don’t stop being involved once a person turns twenty-one or some other specific age. They are lifelong.

The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) has described barriers to the adoption of older children and teens. Some involve agency and governmental regulations and policies. These include goals that deny permanency to young people such as independent living, sometimes known as emancipation. Some adoptees are denied services they might receive if they age out of care, such as help with post-secondary education or training in skills for independent living. (All young people can benefit from such skills.) Some American states allow children as young as ten to opt out of adoption completely, rather than say yes or no to adoption by a particular family. Then there are limitations placed on people who can adopt, such as a social worker who knows the child well, a single parent, or a same-sex couple. Some barriers arise from adoption practice. For example, there is a myth that teenagers are unadoptable. Social workers may fail to work with either the young person or prospective parents to help them overcome their fears about adoption and any misinformation they might have. Placing teens in group care and institutions limits them from building connections with adults who might adopt them. Most older children are adopted by foster parents or other individuals they have come to know and trust. Finally, there is a lack of post-adoption services to meet the teen’s (and therefore the family’s) sometimes complex needs which arise from previous damaging experiences.

NACAC offers several recommendations to make it more likely for teens to find permanent homes. First, focus recruitment on the individual rather than use a general approach. Second, the youth themselves should be involved in their own permanency planning. For example, they may be able to suggest an adult they are close to, or describe the kind of home they want, or say which birth or foster relatives they wish to remain in contact with. Third, only consider real permanency as a goal, rather than something like independent living. For example, return to the birth family might be first priority, followed by adoption by a relative or non-relative, then guardianship. Fourth, provide needed services. These include independent living training as part of the effort to find permanency, and adequate services after adoption to support the new family. An important approach is concurrent planning. At the same time, there should be a search for relatives who can provide the teen with a safe and nurturing home, an intensive search for adoptive parents among people who already know the young person and among strangers. This might mean using publicity like listings of available children. NACAC, for example, regularly features older children, usually teens, needing adoption in its newsletter, Adoptalk.

Finding homes for children may start at the point they enter care. One strategy some agencies in Canada, the United States, England, and New Zealand use is family group conferencing. In this, agency personnel, extended family members, and other individuals important to the child, such as therapists or teachers, meet to plan the best possible care for the child. Often relatives can suggest a family member who can provide a good home. If that is not possible, members may cooperate to help a child move quickly to adoption. Thus children may not become teenagers in the care system.

Once they become older in care or enter they system as preteens or teens, they require a more intensive effort to find them families. The Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition in St. Louis, Missouri, has developed an Extreme Recruitment program which has had unusual success. Those involved plan a concerted strategy along several lines. A private detective helps locate at least 40 family members. Others will look into the child’s relationships with teachers, pastors, and the like. Staff reach out to groups likely to adopt like churches or adoptive parents’ organizations, and featuring the child through local media presenting available children. At the same time, they prepare the young person for adoption. Perhaps the child needs to move to a foster home from an institution first. They look at the youth’s mental and physical health needs. The team meets weekly over 12 to 20 weeks to assess their progress and to plan tasks for the next week. Once a safe and suitable family has been found, the agency provides a roadmap to adoption leading to placement of the child and finalization of the adoption. The success rate of this program far exceeds that of mainstream agencies. Within its first twelve months, the agency matched 42 of 60 young people with adoptive families–three times the matches in one-third of the usual time. Many youngsters were placed with relatives, including an older sister, an aunt and uncle who had not even been aware of the children’s existence, and grandparents.

Many agencies do not have the staff to conduct such intensive searches for adoptive families. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption gives grants to public and private agencies to hire adoption professionals who will aggressively look for homes for waiting children. The money for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids comes from customers and staff of Wendy’s restaurants and other fund-raising partners. Recruiters are now working across Canada, in all fifty American States and the District of Columbia. The program has helped more than 4000 children find adoptive homes. Some of their stories are featured on the website for the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption .

The goal needs to be to provide every child with a permanent family.

Saturday, March 27th, 2010 | Author: mjward

The numbers are daunting. In the United States in 2008, about 123,000 children in foster and group care were awaiting adoption. But only 55,000 were adopted during the year. The older the child and the longer the time in care, the less likely was adoption. According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, more than 28,000 youth aged out of care in 2007. That is, they became adults and left the child welfare system without a permanent family. Some few kept up contact with foster parents or other carers, but many had no important ties with adults. In fact, nearly a third did not even feel emotionally connected to either of their parents.

In contrast, over 90 percent of mainstream youth aged 18 and more than two-thirds of those between 19 and 24 lived with their families. Once they move out, they still rely on parents and other relatives for advice and practical help. For example, grandparents often provide daycare for grandchildren. Or children request a temporary bailout when they have financial problems. For example a single mother asked her parents for fifty dollars to help her buy food after she’d been laid off.

What does this mean for the young people aging out of care? How do they compare with others? Figures from both the United States and Canada show that “graduates” of the care system are less likely to have completed high school, let alone have any post-secondary education. They are more likely to have low-paying and part-time jobs or to be on welfare. Early pregnancy is more common among former foster children. So is substance abuse, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol or marijuana use. More have also been convicted of a crime. Mental health problems are also more common among those aging out. Thus the life prospects for many are poor. For them, adjustment to adult life is very challenging.

Not all problems can be blamed on foster care. Children who enter the system are often neglected, abused, or even abandoned by their parents. Some suffer from their parents’ substance abuse through fetal alcohol or drug effects. Thus they enter foster care with serious strikes against them. Some children are also damaged by the foster care system. This is especially true if they move frequently. Children do best if they have stability in their lives. Moving around breaks attachments and subjects kids to different sets of rules and expectations in each home. Eventually they don’t know who they are or what standards to follow. More important, they do not have secure emotional ties to any adult. Some are abused by substitute parents or by other children in care. Many end up without a clear sense of who they are and their place in the world.

There are programs offered in some areas that help young people move from the care system to independent living. They may receive services such as help in completing an education and finding a job. They may also learn basic skills like money and credit management, personal hygiene, housekeeping and nutrition. The practicalities of foster and group care make such skills difficult to master. For example, they are provided housing and food. They may be able to control their clothing allowance, but this is not universal. They may not decide when and what to eat or standards for cleanliness. Some agencies provide semi-supervised living, where a social worker or other counsellor helps the teen approaching independence manage apartment life and advises on job search strategies. But once the young person ages out, professional support usually disappears. There has been little research on how effective programs like these are. But some follow-ups have found that those who have received training like this are more likely to hold a job, less likely to go on welfare or end up in prison, and more likely to build a healthy social network.