Something I read today on an adoption forum I frequent prompted some thoughts that I feel the need to get out. Before I continue I would like to emphasize again that my experiences with adoption have been in regard to older child adoption through foster care. I believe that domestic, newborn adoption is a very valid (though currently also very corrupt) option for some expecting parents. I also believe that those parents should not ever be pressured into making a decision in ANY direction. The decision should only be made by the parent(s), hopefully in an environment of honest support (as in we'll get you through this time NO MATTER which road you choose). Having clarified that I'll go on with what this post is really about...the foster care system.
A friend of mine is working with a young girl currently in foster care. As part of her job she has become aware of some of this young lady's home situation and it's not good. She honestly believes in keeping the family together whenever possible but wonders where that line should be drawn. I've been real close to this dilemma lately because of the situation with J and L and some things that went on with the case. I really feel that families should be kept together as much as possible but I still feel that the interests of the children should come before the family (which really most often reads as the adults in the family). The adults don't need protecting but the children in these situations do. As I mentioned before this pertains only to parents in the foster care system. An expectant parent who is considering placing a child for adoption for whatever reason DOES deserve and need the protection, support, and resources to make any decisions about their options.
It infuriates me that in these cases the children pay the price of preserving the family at all costs. At what point do we say the family is not worth the cost of a child languishing in care for far too long or returning to an unsafe situation? I'll admit I don't know the answer to this, at least in part because I'm too close to this problem. I honestly know that J and L can NOT go home because I believe the things they've told me and I know the history there (which extends far beyond even just the 2 of them). Can these parents really change? How many chances to seriously mess up and with how many children should these people get? How long should parents get to work out their problems while their children wait, wonder, and worry in care? When is enough enough already?
Like I said before I don't have the answers. I wish I did for the children's sake (and yes for the family's sake). What I'd like to see is all the help possible provided to these parents so that they can keep their family together. The only reason for removal of children should be that the resources provided do not alleviate the problems OR if the situation is so problematic that the child(ren)'s safety is not assured. Oh wait! This IS what's supposed to happen and when it works it's wonderful. The glitch in this policy is this: there are parents who can't or won't use the resources to honestly change. I think if it gets to the point (for either reason I mentioned) that children need to be removed, the parents should have to work hard and fast to prove that they can safely parent these children. 12 months or more seems too long in my opinion, especially when considering that most of these families have been offered services that could keep their family together for quite some time BEFORE the kids were removed. If the parents can't successfully learn to parent with those supports before the children are removed they shouldn't have much time after. They should have some time, yes, because actually realizing how close they are to losing their kids can force them to get it together. I think though that if that's going to happen it'll show relatively quickly in the parents' actions and cooperation.
What about severe cases? "Aggravated circumstances" cover what counts as reasons to remove children and not have to work with the family to reunify. The problem? I've seen first hand where this is totally ignored and children suffer for it. It's supposed to protect the children in dire situations but how can it do that if it's not used because people are trying to maintain family? Some people might argue with the use of "aggravated circumstances," citing "preserve the family at all costs" as a basis for that stance. Preserving the family is a very admirable and necessary goal but as I've said before I disagree with that mantra when it's the children paying the price. My stand on this issue is that if parents have gotten to the point where the conditions for "aggravated circumstances" are met, they probably don't deserve more time anyway. I say probably to acknowledge that there are exceptions to this (but believe they are probably few and far between).
There is a price that the children in foster care pay no matter what happens (issues from time spent in care even if they return to a good situation, returning to a bad situation, or issues from losing the parents forever even if it was the best choice among horrid options). It's time adults stop using the all holy family as a blanket defense to avoid the consequences of THEIR actions that put the children in the situation in the first place. It's time to put the kids, not family, first. The family is not a living person, children are. THEY are what matters. Yes it's important to consider the pain and issues that arise from losing family but only by looking at what is best for the children in each whole situation can we say whether that family should be preserved.