Both the American and British foster systems initially seek, in my experience, to enable birth parents to regain custody of their children. There are cases in which it seems clear to me that there is no hope for parents to change the circumstances that caused them to lose access to their children, but I am no professional. I’m just a mom, and being a mom, I’m glad that foster institutions do their due diligence to understand and help the entire family instead of jumping to conclusions.
In case you’re unfamiliar with foster care, it is the institution of placing a child temporarily within a family that has been vetted and trained to care for them. These children have had to be removed from their own families because of neglect, abuse, homelessness, or some other condition that makes living with their birth families dangerous to them. Obviously, no one would want a child to be taken from their family temporarily, much less permanently, without a degree of certainty that the home context is, in fact, harmful.
I appreciate the effort that goes into helping birth parents become the parents their kids need. It’s the best thing for both parent and child to address the root problems that landed the child in foster care. Taking a child from his or her parents permanently is not a decision to be made lightly. Not only can it harm the child, it doesn’t help any future children that might be born into the same family.
In the case of my relative, the one whose son I hope to adopt, I was extremely impressed by the array of services that were put at her disposal in the UK. She was offered parenting classes, employment seeking assistance, housing assistance and counseling of several types. The local authority provided her with 30 hours of free childcare per week, and a health visitor ensured that her son, 3-year-old Alan, got appropriate medical attention.
Unfortunately, these services weren’t enough to change things enough to make the home a healthy environment for Alan, so he was taken into foster care. He continues to attend the same childcare center as when he was still living with Mom, which provides some deeply necessary continuity for him.
I wish Alan could have come right out of his mom’s home into mine. In fact, his mom supported that option over him living with an unknown foster care provider. However, his social worker pointed out that this was where my living in the US became a problem. If Alan were living with me in Texas, it would be impossible for them to evaluate his mother’s interactions with him in the UK. They weren’t prepared to do that until every potential care provider within the family had been evaluated. I wasn’t prepared to move with my kids to the UK. After all, doing so would disrupt the biggest assets I have to offer as a parent: stability and a solid support network.
So, despite the fact that I’m the only family member prepared to adopt Alan, he remains in (non-kin) foster care. By all accounts, his foster mother is quite wonderful, but his stay with her is, by definition, temporary. My daughters and I are dying to become his forever family, but we wait for a number of parenting fitness evaluations to be completed. We’ve waited several months, and there are months left to go.
The other day, I was speaking to Alan’s grandmother on the telephone. She lives in the UK and gets to visit him weekly. She asked why I was taking so long to take Alan into my care, and I reminded her that we were waiting on the British social services apparatus to complete its work.
“I don’t understand why he can’t just stay with me,” she grumbled. “Why does he have to live with some stranger? I’m his grandmother. She’s [Alan's foster mother] just doing it for the money.”
That last sentence got under my skin, but I chose to address it later in the conversation. It will be a topic for another day here at Adoption.com.
I chose my words carefully. “I was under the impression that your evaluation was already due. Have you heard anything about the findings?”
“They said I was unfit,” said Alan’s grandmother, “but I don’t understand why he can’t stay with me just until you can take him!”
There lay the crux of the issue. A big contributor to Alan’s placement in foster care was his birth family’s lack of understanding. They didn’t understand how their choices were harming him. They don’t quite understand why he was taken away. They don’t understand that they need to make some very deep and real personal changes. Without this understanding, I can’t see how reunification can be a real option, which is why I’m hoping to adopt.
Seeking to kinship adopt puts me in an awkward position. I am part of Alan’s birth family. I also hope to be his adoptive mother. I see both sides of the story, and I have, in short, taken sides. I recognize that, by choosing to advocate for Alan and by applying to become his mother, I am choosing not to continue to advocate for or help his biological parents and grandmother. In trying to “save” him, I’m giving up on them. I’m kind of glad that the Atlantic Ocean will lie between us. It’s going to be– already is– awkward enough.
I have tried. I have tried my very best. Starting when my relative told me she was pregnant, my ex-husband and I tried to mentor her. We even had her visit for a couple of weeks and tried to encourage and model healthy parenting behaviors. Sadly, even my 5-year-olds observed that my relative “isn’t very motherish.” I’ve spoken to his grandmother about my concerns over the years, and she was the one to finally seek the assistance of their authorities out of a concern for Alan’s well-being.
I don’t understand, either. I don’t understand why my family– Alan’s family, our family– can’t just put this innocent child first, take a long hard look at themselves, and fix the problems.