Thursday, July 19, 2007

We Must Do Better

A cross post from my other blog, but it really belongs in both places:

If you have a while, read this report about Aging out of Foster Care. It was most disturbing. The one statisti that is most troubling for me is that since the beginning of the collection of statistics in 1998, the percentage of children aging out of foster care without a family has gradually increased. In 1998 the percentage was 3.1. By 2005, the last year that statistics have been processed, the percentage was 4.9.

To tell you the truth, I was shocked. With the addition of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 2007 I was hoping that statistics would have been reversed. But this is not the case. Instead, the percentage of kids aging out has grown.

We have to do better than this. We have to find families for children -- even the most disturbed ones --that will make that commitment to kids that they need, regardless of the behavior of the child. States need to provide assurance that families will not come to financial or social ruin if their children need residential treatment or congregate care. Because whether a teenager is living in a family setting or in a facility, they still need advocates.

We're doing our best, but statistics are showing that our best isn't good enough and we have to do better because statistics are so troubling. I quote from the article:

Many studies have documented that the outlook for foster youth who age out is often grim:

• One in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system.

• Over one-fifth will become homeless at some time after age 18.

• Approximately 58 percent had a high school degree at age 19, compared to 87 percent of a national comparison group of non-foster youth.

• Of youth who aged out of foster care and are over the age of 25, less than 3 percent earned their college degrees5, compared with 28 percent of the general population.

It's a national issue and one that so few know about, but it affects every facet of our society. What more can you do? What more can I do? We all need to ask ourself that question.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Many times kids in the system struggle with food issues. They can range from anorexia to obesity. Some do not know when to stop eating and some cannot make themselves eat. And it all stems from years of not having enough or not knowing if you'll have enough.

Many scenarios could have taken place in the past to cause these issues. Many times, children have gone hungry, or there has just been a lot of uncertainty as to where the next meal might come from. Food stamps might have been traded for drugs, the house might not have any food it in, and the child is hungry. And so they either go hungry, or they have to find their next meal. Maybe a neighbor would feed them or they could find food in the trash bin at the fast food place down the street.

If it is a sibling group, the oldest child feels responsible to get food for the younger children. If the baby still needs milk in a bottle and is crying for it, it might be up to the 5 year old to find some milk. Either way, having enough food becomes a central issue. The survival instinct takes over and it becomes not only an important thing, but the ONLY important thing.

Fast forward ahead five years to when the child is placed in a safe, loving adoptive home where there is always enough food to eat and nobody ever grows hungry. There is breakfast served as soon as you get up, a morning snack if you aren't in school yet, lunch, an after school snack, supper, and evening a bedtime snack. The kids can look in the fridge and see that it has food. They can look in the freezer and see it stocked. They can see that the cubhoards have enough food to feed the entire family for weeks.

But even a year or two after they are placed you still find moldy cheese under their beds, cracker crumbs under the pillow, and chips shoved in backpacks. You still find a kid that doesn't know what it means to feel full and overeat until they are ill. You still have a kid who might overeat and then go make herself throw up.

Trying to behavior modify children from their food issues is practically impossible. You can consequence, take away, threaten, etc., but the issues are not going to go away. You cannot take away that basic instinct survival feeling from a child, no matter how hard you try.

Acceptance and supervision and gentle attachment will help it to slowly disappear. Maybe not completely, but the symptoms will lesson. Have patience, remember the whys, and help them heal, regardless of how long it takes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Case File is Not A Fortune Teller

I am reposting this from my personal blog because I think that it has some value here.

This morning Cindy posted a very helpful post about the severely disturbed older adopted children. It reminded me of some new words that I've started to say lately to parents who are thinking of adopting children.

When they state their fears, I ask them to go down the road of that fear and ask themselves if they will survive. Everyone's fears are different -- fear of a child ending up in jail, or of a child dying, or of a child growing up to return to their birth parents. Or maybe the fear is that they will raise a child who will become pregnant as an unwed teen or "come out of the closet" as an adult. Whatever our worst fears are, we have to face them.

I guess my worst fear would be that one of our children would kill Bart or I. Certainly carrying myself down that mental road is not something that I like to do often, but sometimes I let myself and I realize that even so, it would eventually be OK. The person killed (the lucky one) would be in heaven, enjoying a stress free eternity with God. The person left would eventually be OK. I have a big faith in a bigger God and I know that God's love and strength would sustain me, that forgiveness would not be easy, but would come, and that in the end, after it was all over, we would be OK.

One of Kyle's turning points was the first time he threatened to kill Bart. In a sinister voice, very sinister for an 11 year old, he angrily said to Bart, "Some day I might have to kill you." To which Bart responded, "and if you do so son, I will die loving you." I don't think he ever seriously threatened to do it again.

Part of the reason we have arrived at this point may come from the fact that some of our biggest fears have already come to pass. We have already had a child in prison, two different children in the psych hospital, and a "Child in Need of Protection or Services" Petition filed against us. Our children have accused us of abuse, we have had our lives threatened. Many of our fears have come to pass and ... we're OK.

Pre-adoptive parents often want a crystal ball. They want the child's file, or the caseworkers, or the therapist, or a teacher to tell their fortune and promise them that everything is going to be OK. That none of their worse fears will come to pass.

But the truth about life is that we do not know the future and we can't know it. Every day, every step is a risk. I learned from the rebellious choices of my brothers that even when parents do everything right from conception to age 18, each person's freedom of choice determines their future.

So now when I go through paperwork with a family who is considering a child, I tell them to expect the worse. I suggest to them that there is no way to predict the outcome of any human life, but that they should expect life to be hard. I tell them about the behaviors they can expect.

I am completely convinced that any person can parent any child -- they just have to be willing and decide how much of their quality of life they are willing to give to the cause.

I quote Pat O'Brien

I often get asked the question “what kind of people will offer their home permanently to a teenager?” My answer is always the same. I always say “any and all kinds of people who, after a good preparation experience, are willing to unconditionally commit themselves to a child no matter what behavior that child might ultimately exhibit.” Teenagers need first and foremost at least one adult who will unconditionally commit to and claim the teen as their own. Any thing less is an artificial relationship. Teenagers need unconditional commitment before anything else constructive can happen.

This is the key. Claiming the child and knowing that you will never give up on them. They might not always be able to live with you, but regardless of what happens, they will never cease being your child. And if you can make this commitment, which you can, you can keep it.

Monday, July 2, 2007


One of the things I noticed soon after becoming an adoptive parent to older kids is that it appears that they can't tell the truth no matter what.

Having parented them for ten years now, I ahve noticed that sometimes lying isn't lying as we know it. We use the word "liar" to describe someone who intentionally deceives. Sometimes I think we need to use different words.

For children who have developmental disabilities or have organic brain damage due to pre-natal exposure to drugs or alcohol, they really cannot remember. It seems almost impossible for those of us with "regular" brains to beleive, but they really do not remember things. Even things that happened just a few minutes before don't pop into mind when they are asked.

The challenges, as these kids get older, is that they realize that they are SUPPOSED to remember. The response, "I don't know" when the question, "Where were you this morning" is asked they realize is not acceptable. They might remember a little bit, but they don't remember it all. And so they fill in the details. And sometimes what they come up with is so rediculous that we can't believe it.

So, when we here a story our fully functioning brains send messages to our appropriately functioning emotions like, "How stupid do you think I am to believe a story like that?", or "If you're going to lie, at least make it believable" or, "I am going to so ground you and teach you to become an honest person?". And we become angry and it doesn't take long for us to really work ourselves into a fury.

Another piece of "lying" is self-protection. If as a small child I learn that if I admit to wrong doing, I will be beat nearly unconscious, my initial instinct is to deny any involvement. It's a learned behavior and very hard to unlearn because it is at the very center of the individuals desire to keep themselves physically safe.

Rethinking "lying" as parents, will keep us more sane, more compassionate, and more stable. Because the idea behind lying is the concept of deception, which may not be the issue at all.