Sunday, January 16, 2005

#6 - A Family's Worst Nightmare

Michelle Malkin petitions prayers on behalf of little Evan Parker Scott. I would add that the adoptive parents in this story need those prayers as well.

I am an adoptive father. I have also been a foster father, and it is an experience that I never again wish to have.

I should qualify the following remarks by stating that both of my adoptions were relatively trouble free. We had heard all of the horror stories but felt strongly that we needed to adopt. In both cases we were successful, although we had to wait until our daughter was 18 before we could legally make her ours. She agreed, of course, but the State of California had a policy that it's cheaper to emancipate any child over 15 than it is to grant an adoption to a loving family.

The wisdom of bureaucrats.

My experiences as a foster parent were closer to the horror stories that one often associates with both foster care and adoption. To be (for me, anyway) succinct, we accepted a 2-1/2 year old boy whose mother had no mothering skills whatsoever. He had been badly neglected while his mother went on drug binges with various boyfriends. She was herself profoundly deaf and could never, therefore, hear the child's cries. Also, she was severely learning disabled. It simply never occurred to her that she should check on her baby every few minutes to make sure he was alright. Social Services intervened when the toddler was discovered wallowing in soiled diapers eating snack food he had pulled out of the cupboard. The boy had serious behavior problems, but I felt it was something my family needed to do.

The mother had visitation rights, but the visits were never pleasant. They were civil enough, because she was always on her best behavior when she visited, but the boy lapsed into his worst behaviors after every visit. After a couple of years, my family had to admit defeat and petition Social Services to place him in a different environment. Last we heard, that family wished to adopt him. I've never been clear as to whether they did.

After we had the one boy for about a year, this mother had another baby. This time, Social Services didn't even want her to take the baby home from the hospital. I had to go to the hospital with Social Services and collect the baby. I felt a little like a thief in the night, but this boy was the sweetest, most even-tempered child I'd ever met. The whole family instantly fell in love with him. So you can guess what happened.

The mother wanted her children back. I suspect her own mother was partially responsible for this desire, or, perhaps, deep down one of her instincts finally kicked in. Subsequently, the courts and the State had decided that if she would hold a job, get an apartment, and take "parenting classes" of which they approved, she would be given the chance to have her child back. It was probably too late for the older child, but the younger one was still in a foster home. My foster home.

I won't get into the details of the court sessions, the conversations with Social Services, or the trauma I put the family through by agreeing to become the boys' foster family in the first place. Suffice it to say that I have chiselled the following list in stone in a place that will forever color my view of foster parenting:

1. Foster care is only for those who are emotionally tough enough to deal with heartbreaking disappointment on a regular basis. If you become attached to the children, your heart will break. Frequently.

2. Do not expect the State or the courts to weigh the interests of the child over the "rights" of the natural parents. Ever. Unless the parents have proven themselves to be abusers or murderers, the courts will almost always come down on the side of the biological parents. Prepare for this the moment you agree to foster the child.

3. Adoption is considered by the State to be a last option, to be attempted only when all other legal options are exhausted. You will become exhausted going through all of those legal options. Your chances for success, based on my own unscientific data, are less than 1%.

To this day, I admire those who choose to be foster parents for the right reasons. I will also continue to believe firmly in adoption. In reading some of the background information in Michelle's post, let me point out a couple of things:

1. If you are a single parent and initially give up custody of the child, make that your final decision. Changing your mind later will only harm the child and destroy what very well may have been that child's best chance for a normal life.

2. It is far easier for you as an adult to deal with gut-and-heart-wrenching grief than it is for a baby or toddler.

I've seen far too much of the inner workings of this state's social care programs to ever trust them again. I have to speak in blanket generalizations here because they need to be judged as a whole. I recognize that there are good people trying to work the system, but the system itself is fundamentally flawed. The children become bargaining chips, while loving parents are forced to sit and watch the machine ruin the lives of everyone involved.

I can offer no fixes because I'm not that smart. I can only say that I sympathize completely with the Scott family, and wish them a happier life to come. If they have the energy and strength to pursue the appeals, bless them. If not, help them heal.

There but for grace...

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