Marilyn Monroe was in and out of foster homes for most of her childhood

Goodness gracious, life can change so quickly sometimes. It wasn’t two months ago that I wrote about the challenges of giving up biological motherhood and how TheScott and I were starting classes to become foster/adoptive parents. Well… those classes are over. We have most of our paperwork in, we just had an exit interview, and we’re on schedule to be certified within a month! In fact, our caseworker told us that the end of school is a great home-shuffling time, so we might be taking in children as early as May or June.

*breathe…. breathe… breathe….*

So far the process has gone as smoothly as anything bogged down by governmental red tape can be expected. We took six weeks of classes, most of which were focused on overcoming trauma and on behavior management techniques for children dealing with trauma. As a teacher for eight years, I already have encountered some of the heartache children go through, but still it’s sobering. The instructors kept reiterating how much of a child’s negative behaviors are either learned or are a coping mechanism.

Some startling facts I learned in the classes include…

Eddie Murphy and his brother lived in foster care for a year before being reunited with their mother

  • In the state of Texas (where The Princesses hail from) there are 36,000 children “in the system” at some level. About 6,000 of those have had parental rights terminated – i.e. they’re up for adoption.
  • There are very few infants in that count. Many are sibling pairs or groups (I’ve seen groups of up to 6). Quite a few have medical needs, some caused by neglect or maltreatment (such as Shaken Baby Syndrome) and some are in the system because their parents refused to (or were incapable of) taking care of their special needs adequately.
  • Poor and minority children are overrepresented. There are almost no children from wealth in the system because abuse in high socio-economic circles is under-reported, and when it is reported those parents can afford a good lawyer.
  • Attachment between adoptive parents and children is a challenge, but is less so than people seem to think, provided you know some basic trauma recovery skills (humans are social creatures and this works in our favor here). True RAD* as opposed to “insecure attachment” which can be overcome, is rare in children from The States.
  • Most foster kids have a thicker psychiatric profile than they deserve and many are over medicated. There are several factors going in to this, but an unfortunate amount of it comes down to foster children don’t have the same level of advocacy as other children, Medicaid pays for all the treatments (i.e. doctors are less likely to get pushback for prescribing), and foster parents get a larger stipend the more documented medical issues their children have.**
  • The statistics  are bleak for children who age out of the system without being adopted. Over half experience homelessness, nearly a third will spend time in prison, a quarter won’t graduate from high school, and only 2% will graduate from college. One of our instructors said that by the age of 20, eighty percent of the children who aged out of the system without being adopted will be either homeless, in prison, or dead.
  • In the US, once an adoption is finalized the biological parents have zero rights and cannot take the child away from you ever; in the eyes of the law, adoptive parents are equal to birth parents.

Babe Ruth grew up in an orphanage where his father placed him at age 7.

Despite the sometimes gloomy material, each class sent TheScott and I home more sure that we wanted to be adoptive parents. There are too many children in my state (yours, too) who need homes. We want a family. That’s not hard math. In fact, I encourage anyone who’s ever thought about fostering or adopting to think about it a little more seriously. At least learn more about it; there is a lot of misinformation out there, most of it painting a far more bleak picture about the experience of being adoptive parents than reality.

One of the strange things about adopting is, unlike birth parents, we get to pick a lot of things about our children in a way that almost feels checklist-ish. We have choices in everything from age to race to gender to IQ to which medical, psychological, and emotional needs we are and aren’t willing to cope with. TheScott and I are pretty flexible. We want two children (which they call a “sibling group,” though we were pretty clear that group = 2, not 2+) we don’t care about gender or race, and we’d like children between the ages of 3 and 8 (bonus for post-diaper). We’re not organized enough to handle serious medical needs, but on meds is fine. Apparently our “checklist” makes us easy to match up, hence the good chance we won’t have to wait long.

We chose foster-to-adopt, which means we’ll get children whose parental rights haven’t been revoked yet (i.e. permanently severed the parent’s custody), but when/if they are, we get “first dibs” on the kids. (Weird, huh?) Foster-adopt instead of matched adoption (with children whose parental rights have already been revoked) is choosing from a larger pool of children and so matching happens faster. Because we’re seeking to adopt, our agency will try to match us up with children whose parental rights are likely to be revoked. It’s kinda odd being on the end of hoping parents lose the right to raise their own children. It’ll probably be less odd when we see the paperwork which explains exactly why the parent might be losing those rights. (In Texas, foster and adoptive parents have full disclosure on what our children have been through.)

If you've seen The Blind Side, you don't need me to tell you the story of Michael Oher. What an amazing man.

So now comes the waiting and hoping. The planning and wondering what we’ve gotten ourselves into and how we’re going to figure it out when we don’t know what we’re doing (probably the exact same thing biologically expecting parents feel). We can’t start prepping a room yet (other than making sure it’s empty and clean) or buying clothes and other things they’ll need and probably not have (children often arrive with a trash bag containing all their worldly possessions) because we don’t know age or gender. We don’t even know if we’ll need two rooms or one (depending on whether they’re the same gender or not, they’ll share a room or not). I’ve started asking random questions like, “How will I get them into a good preschool if I don’t know when they’ll be here or how old they’ll be (or if they’ll even need preschool; they could be 5 and 7)?”

And then, of course, I’m wondering other things, like how do I talk to my kids about faith? How do I deal with ancestor altars when they have different ancestors than I do? (I’m thinking about setting up a second altar next to the family one so that children can use both, but I’d love to hear how other people handle this.) How do I deal with prejudice (religious, racial, etc.) at school? How do I explain to the children that TheScott and I have different faiths, and that’s okay? How does everyone in the family deal with them making choices about what to believe without judging or feeling slighted? How do I show them something that’s so important to me without slighting another faith or making them feel pressure to do things my way?

I plan on putting together a naming ceremony after they’ve been officially adopted (probably nine days after). If anybody has any good resources for that, I’d appreciate it. It’s going to be different, as it’s for children not babies, but from what I’ve read that seems like an appropriate thing to do if the children want it, too.

Ah, nerves. Pagan parenting, here I come. Anyone out there have any suggestions for good resources? Books? Websites? Ways to calm the heck down?

John Lennon was raised by family, but not his parents (technically, that's still considered fostering).Â

* RAD (Reactive attachment disorder) is a condition in which a child does not have the mental wiring to attach to or feel empathy for another human being. It’s caused by severe neglect in the first few years of life, but it’s proliferation has been exaggerated (several people brought it up as a reason not to adopt when TheScott and I first started talking about it). RAD happens to children in those awful orphanages overseas where they are left in a crib and not touched for the first three years of their life. But it has to be literally not touched or have other severe and continued communication/relational breakdowns, like the Russian case where babies mouths were taped shut. Children of “run of the mill” neglect or who have been in and out of several foster homes can be fearful of attaching as a self-protective mechanism, but that isn’t RAD, that’s learned behavior that can be changed with time and love. RAD is physical problem with brain construction that occurred when touch deprivation caused the usual synaptic connection to go umade.

** Legally, foster parents are raising children who belong to the state, so in addition to having free daycare, free health insurance, and a host of other monetary perks, we’ll be paid a monthly stipend to take care of children’s financial needs as long as we’re classified as foster parents. Technically the money is for the kids to buy clothing, food, school supplies, and attend extra-curricular events, etc, but unfortunately the negative stereotype of people who get into foster parenting for the money, is all too real, which just makes me sick. Almost every week our case workers had another personal story about dealing with this.

+ Krishna with his followers (I hope I’m translating the title right!). According to Hindu mythology, Krishna is the eighth incarnation of the god Vishnu and the writer of their holy text the Bhagavad Gita. He was born to the Princess Devaki while she was in prison, and was smuggled out to be fostered by a  family of cattle-herders.