Fostering Love: highlighting how adoption and foster care challenge the definition of a traditional family. (Lydia Guo)
Fostering Love: highlighting how adoption and foster care challenge the definition of a traditional family.

Lydia Guo

Fostering Love

With the Family First Prevention Services Act passed in February to promote families staying together, members of the ICCSD community share the impact adoption has had on adoptees and adoptive family members alike.

December 21, 2018

From “The Fosters” to the “Annie” remake, adoption is portrayed more and more often as a sensationalized portion of media pop culture. However, these stereotypical Hollywood images do not encompass the entirety of an adoptee’s story. Dramatized productions often distort reality, as outlets portray adoption as either a horror story or fairy tale.

As a result, many misconceptions about adoption and the children involved spread, with the adoptees’ perspectives often ignored.

“I think something that gets left out a lot is that adoptive parents have always held the microphone,” said child and family therapist and City High alumnus Olivia Louko. “They’re adults, so people listen to them whereas adoptees, their stories stop after they’re adopted. They’re just the baby who was adopted and has a good life now. If we don’t seek out and listen attentively to adoptees, then we’re not getting the full picture of adoption.”

There are millions of people around the world who have a story to be shared but are often overshadowed by the logistics and motivations behind their adoption. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), over 440,000 children were in foster care in 2017 in the United States alone.

However, while there are many cases of children entering the foster system, adopting children from foster care is typically treated as a last resort in the United States, according to Louko. Instead, the priority of many child welfare systems, organizations created to ensure the safety of children, is the reunification of children with their biological family.

In my view, it’s wrong to remove children from their families unless it’s the last resort, because to raise them outside of their family carries with it all of these issues that can become harmful.”

— Olivia Louko, Child and Family Therapist

“The biological family should always have the priority to raise the child,” Louko said. “In my view, it’s wrong to remove children from their families unless it’s the last resort, because to raise them outside of their family carries with it all of these issues that can become harmful.”

Following the goal of reunification to prevent these potential detrimental situations, on Feb. 9, the United States government passed the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFSPA) as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act.

“In the past, most of the funding [the federal government] gave to the states for the child welfare system came after [the] removal of children from the home,” said Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services Jerry Foxhoven. “This act says, ‘Let’s put more money upfront to prevent removal,’ and the federal act then allows for more federal dollars to come in if we spend it on preventing the removal instead of removing first.”

The mission of FFSPA is to prevent as many children from entering the foster care system as possible by focusing on keeping families together. Some of the services provided to achieve this include offering federal reimbursement for both mental health prevention and substance abuse treatment, as well as training in a variety of parenting skills.

But what happens if staying together is not a possibility?

How It Works

In a place filled with metal cribs and crying kids, caregivers scramble from room to room attending to the cries of children ranging anywhere from infants to teenagers. All of them are orphans, awaiting their fates and hoping to be taken in by a loving family.

The Immigration and Nationality Act defines orphans as children who, due to the “death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents” have lost contact with their biological parents. They may also be considered orphans if an “[unwed mother or surviving parent] is unable to care for the child properly and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.” These children enter into orphanages, institutions dedicated to caring for children as they wait for permanent adoption placement.

The adoption process varies depending on the circumstances of the adoption and the agency handling the case. This is especially true if the adoption is done domestically or internationally, as the two processes differ.

There’s two types of adoptions that can occur. One of these adoptions is from DHS [Department of Human Services], where the parental rights have been terminated by the state because the parents haven’t been able to get their act together. The other type is … private adoption, and those are where people either voluntarily give up their rights or it might be a foreign adoption.”

— Jerry Foxhoven, Director of the Iowa Department of Human Services

“There’s two types of adoptions that can occur. One of these adoptions is from DHS [Department of Human Services], where the parental rights have been terminated by the state because the parents haven’t been able to get their act together,” Foxhoven said. “The other type is … private adoption, and those are where people either voluntarily give up their rights or it might be a foreign adoption.”

One of the differences between domestic and international adoption is that international adoptions are usually closed. In addition, if families are adopting internationally, they must fill out an orphan petition to be approved and apply for a visa, since internationally adopted children are considered immigrants in the United States, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Orphanages remain one of the most popular systems for adoption. According to UNICEF, there is an estimated 153 million orphaned children around the world. While these establishments remain in use worldwide, the United States have ceased orphanage usage in favor of the foster system.

The foster care system encompasses foster homes which typically only have a small number of children, sometimes only one, living with a single family who is in charge of their well-being. Historically, orphanages were overcrowded and children were kept in poor living conditions. As child protection and U.S. adoption policy laws began forming, traditional orphanages quickly faded. By the 1960s, the foster system became a government-funded program, according to American Adoptions. However, the foster system is far from perfect.

“With regards to issues that you see with foster care, and even with adoption, is that … there is such a shortage of foster parents who are adoptive parents that a lot of times, the adoptive parents or foster parents aren’t great parents, so there is a large number of issues that arise,” said Juris Doctor (J.D.) attorney-at-law Tucker Kraght.

In addition to not having experience with caring for an adoptee, many children in the foster care system come from difficult circumstances such as mental, physical and emotional abuse that may have resulted in trauma. This is often difficult for foster families to handle, especially if they do not have access to appropriate resources.

“[Fostering is] difficult to begin with, and … foster care can sometimes exasperate that problem because foster care parents aren’t necessarily always prepared to take on some of the challenges,” Kraght said. “There’s an understanding in society that foster care is this thing that you do because [someone] likes kids and wants to be helpful, but they don’t understand that they’re taking on the legal responsibility … for another human being’s life. … They’re creating a bond that’s meant to last a lifetime, if not longer.”

With regards to issues that you see with foster care, and even with adoption, is that … there is such a shortage of foster parents who are adoptive parents that a lot of times, the adoptive parents or foster parents aren’t great parents, so there is a large number of issues that arise.”

— Tucker Knight, Juris Doctor (J.D.) attorney-at-law

According to Foxhoven, some other problems with the foster system include not putting enough money into preventing family separations, leading to children having to be removed from their homes, as well as the uncertainty of having a permanent, stable family potential adoptees can depend on.   

“It can get really complicated, and a lot of times it’s a process that is stressful and understandably, has a lot of emotional complexity,” Kraght said. “At the end of the day, the impact on the children … should be minimized as much as possible. If anything, it’s the safety of the child and the best interest of the child that always comes first.”

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