By now I’m sure you’ve at least heard about the State Representative who gave away or “rehomed” his adopted children. The media has skewered him and painted him as someone who would happily hand over adopted children to a rapist while benefitting monetarily and protecting his political career. While it’s easy to vilify him and what appears to be his reprehensible behavior, I’m not going to do that, because his impossible choice is the impossible choice of many adoptive parents. His just resulted in media exposure, which frankly I’m glad about, because now we can discuss how impossible choices are not acceptable, especially when they surround our children.
So how does one find him or herself in the impossible choice of keeping children in the home who are a danger to yourselves and the other children in the home or giving them to a rapist? I’m going to explain that in a few easy steps.
1. Have good intentions, but very little information. This describes Representative Harris, me, and I’m guessing the majority of foster/adoptive parents in the US. While I’m a huge advocate for people becoming foster/adoptive parents, it is a total crap shoot. Any of us could be Rep. Harris. I have friends who have been faced with this exact same situation, and I nearly was. Here’s how this works. When you complete paperwork to become a foster/adoptive parent, you literally complete a “checklist” of what you will or will not accept in a child. It is potentially the most surreal experience of my life. It felt like a match.com profile, except for children, which is just disturbing. Instead of “I will accept a divorced person, but not a smoker,” I was making split second decisions like “I will accept an AIDS baby, but not a suicidal, sexually abused,14-year-old.” Below is an actual checklist from the State of Ohio. I’m not picking on Ohio – theirs is the only form I could actually find online. In fact, kudos to Ohio for actually having this stuff available.
As most adults don’t have the background to understand what accepting or not accepting kids with any of these identifiers into their home means, they have no business completing this document, because it is basically meaningless.
The super frustrating part about this document is that the agency who is handling your foster/adoption only has to note the “known” circumstances of the child’s case, which in my experience is the tip of the iceberg. There are several reasons for this. First, like most other state agencies, state welfare agencies base their contracts on cost. So, the therapists who get paid to provide mental health services to foster kids don’t get paid all that well and usually don’t stay with their employers all that long, and I don’t blame them. They get some experience and then springboard to the next job where they hopefully receive a better wage. Consequently kiddos in care might have a different therapist every three months. That’s not long enough to build a relationship with already traumatized, mistrusting children, much less understand what the kiddo has gone through or make a diagnosis. Secondly, foster care employees are under tremendous pressure to place a lot of children, so they’re often not completely truthful, which I can also understand, though not defend. Our child welfare system is broken, for lots of reasons, and this is one of them. Telling a potential foster parent “well, they act out sexually on pets in the home, but thankfully not each other or adults,” is not good marketing. I realize that sounds harsh, but it’s reality. Lots of kids who need homes and not enough homes means people lie.
2. Live in a country where the mental health system has failed. I honestly don’t know all the details of Representative Harris’ case, but I know enough to know it’s a lot like every other case I’ve heard about. Kids in the system, kids like my kids, have very complicated mental health needs, and we just don’t have the system to deal with them. I’m guessing Rep. Harris’ kids have some form of Reactive Attachment Disorder, the same diagnosis as my kids, and there are very few places one can find services for RAD kids. I’ve written a lot about RAD on this blog, so I’m not going to belabor the point, but simply put, in what I was always taught was the greatest nation in the world, no one should be told their children are a lost cause, and there’s no help. I started this blog, because as resourceful and tenacious as I am, I couldn’t find help for my kid. That’s not a situation anyone in the United State of America should find themselves. I fly a flag every day, and I want to be proud of my country. How we treat our mentally ill children in this country does not make me proud.
2. Not be a gajillionaire, nor care to be imprisoned. So, when multiple psychiatrists tell you you can’t welcome your kid back from the psychiatric facility into your home, because s/he is a danger to others, and your insurance will no longer pay for inpatient care, you basically have three options. 1. Pay for inpatient psychiatric care out of your own pocket, which for most of us would result in bankruptcy in about three months time or less. 2. You can “give back” the kid to the State, which means you will likely incur criminal charges for abandonment and at a minimum will pay child support to the State until the child is 18-years-old. 3. You can “rehome” the child, hopefully to a family you trust who is equipped to deal with the child. These families are few and far between, and this is very risky as the Representatives’s story obviously illustrates. Below is a friend’s story in her own words.
The state actually preferred that we re-home our child. We did try three different private placements that we set up on our own. In order to get support from our state’s human services agency, I filed a VPO against my child. Ultimately after three different hospitals recommended it, we left her at the hospital on release day. That was the only way we could get our state’s human services agency to help with placement.
So, while you’re being appalled at the story of how this man gave away his kid to a rapist, imagine all the other families who are potentially doing the same thing. The above options are not really options – let’s find one that works for the child and the adoptive family, or better yet work with biological families before they traumatize their kids to the point that their kids would like to stab us all in our sleep. I know that’s wild and crazy, but a girl can dream.