Power in Permanency: Foster Children Need Family

Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.
Me, about a year after being taken from my mother, 1981.

Courts in New York State made a decision this week which has spurred some debate over foster children and the idea of family. A foster child, loved by two people who lived in two different homes was made adoptable by them both.Critics of this recent case argue that one parent in two homes was not an “ideal” FAMILY.

Foster children have no real concept of an ideal family, they simply need stability and safety. They create a family through a network of friends and temporary siblings who come and go. To them there is no Uncle or crazy cousins, loving grandparents, memories of watching siblings grow. They have lost that idea by being abused or neglected and placed with strangers, temporarily. They do not need what some people argue is ideal. They need to sleep under a warm roof, with no threat in the middle of night or their safety, they want to trust that they will not be abandoned, they need protection from the “family” who abused them, and they need to stay in one safe home as long as possible. One parent, a gay parent, a parent of a different race, is the best alternative to the street, or to pedophiles and abusers.

The negative feedback this case has received in certain circles astounds me. It came to me, at about 3 am this morning, that maybe the people fighting against “alternative” permanent placement, have no understanding of American foster children and their circumstances.

Foster children in America encompass the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS of children who have been removed from a biological parent due to physical or sexual abuse, drug addiction of the parent, severe neglect or abandonment. They are then placed in temporary homes while the courts decide if the parent can be rehabilitated and the child can be reunited with real family, or that the parent should lose all rights and the child can then be adopted. Being adopted means the child does not shuffle from home to home. It means they will not end up in homeless shelters like so many other foster children. It means that the good foster parents out there can never lose the child they have grown attached to and can build a life with them. ALWAYS…adoption by a safe adult or adults increases the chances of success for the child. If that adult has a different sexual orientation, or if the new family is one stable adult and not two, it is certainly the best alternative to wading in and out of the child welfare system being passed around homes, some of which are abusive. It protects already abused children from becoming victims of abuse again. It also unties the bind that courts have over placement.

In some cases, a well-meaning parent, who maybe has and an addiction can reunite with a child. As a mother, I would want any child loved by a parent to be reunited. Sadly, however, foster children who have been physically and sexually abused are sometimes stuck in a system tat can take years to make that child “adoptable by a decent parent.”

I was taken from my mother when I was 4, she was violently abusive, had left me in a basement, had let someone else abuse me, and had been abusing other children she had. For many years I was not adoptable because of her rights. I spent a lot of time continuing the harrowing experience of seeing her, hearing her promise to change, listening to her grand plans..and looking my worst fears in the face. Eventually at about 10 years old, she lost her rights, and my last visit with her she told me she would find me. She never did. She went on with her life and off I went. The idea of family to me was a hodge- podge of healthy and unhealthy foster sibling relationships, it was an idea in my head about friends families, it was something I tried to desperately find on my young adulthood in men. I never really knew what the word meant until I had my daughter. It was my first real connection to anyone. Before then, the concept eluded me.

Foster children are always better off in one stable home, than stuck in the system. Only last month, a young boy was beaten, abused, tortured, burnt and murdered after the courts took him from his mother, and placed him with his felon father. The court thought placing him with a biological parent would be better than waiting for the mother to get on her feet or for this precious boy to be adopted. Cases like these are piled up in troves on social workers desks across America. The “idea” is long gone. It is time for people to stand up for displaced, abandoned foster children and for courts to cut through the red tape and give them the family that everyone deserves. Let them be adoptable if a parent cannot be rehabilitated. Because no one should have to make up the idea of family in their head, and no child should be left for a decade waiting for permanency.

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One thought on “Power in Permanency: Foster Children Need Family”

  1. Rock and a hard place. That must be really hard. Having a mentally ill mother, I can relate. I spent most of my life hating my mother for being such a horrible person, but when I could finally see that she really was ill, I could accept her and the things she did better. I still don’t know why some people do what they do, but I’m done trying to figure them out. None of us were ever fostered out but my sister, who is now gone, and myself used to live with relatives off and on when we were younger, long story that I’ve been working on writing a book about. My mother is who she is and she has avoided me most of my life. She tries to be nicer now that she is much older. When she became verbally abusive to me a few years back I just stopped her and said “mom, I forgive you for all you did when I was young, but I will not put up with any more nonsense.” She really tries to be civil, but it actually makes me sad to be around someone that has to actively try to control her inner demons like that. Thanks for being brave and writing about this.

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