Fostering Hope or Adopting a Demon

On the road to hell’s good intentions, issues with more sides than D&D die, and weighty sacks of emotional crap.

I am terrible at titling things. Let’s just put that out there now.

I’m also tagging this with a Trigger Warning, not because it’s a collection of short stories by a man who should know better than to call a book that, but because it brings up topics that can cause a number of emotional responses ranging from rage to reliving a personal hell. Tread carefully.

Moving on:

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about this asshat, who, though he claims he had no idea he was handing his adopted daughter over to a pedophile, still gave away a child in a manner similar to how I got rid of my last car. Rehoming an old Civic for $600 is one thing. Rehoming a six-year-old in exchange for a job — which may not be the exact way this went down, but it’s close enough on the surface for argument’s sake (from the report, it seems he was hired by the school the month following receiving the two girls) is a whole other despicable matter.

Except, in many states, it’s no more illegal to rehome a child than to rehome a Civic. (And you have to fill out more paperwork on the car.) It becomes a loophole through which children who already fell through cracks find themselves pushed, sometimes by well meaning people and sometimes by malicious criminals.

How does a well-meaning person come to give a way a child? And how do we know if this particular family falls into well-meaning or malicious camp (or the adjacent Camp Bad By Proxy)? Stay with me a moment. See, many states don’t have a requirement that parents wishing to adopt should foster the child or children for at least a year first. Some states require this only in cases involving interstate compacts (transferring foster children across state lines for purposes of foster and adoption). Many potential parents, especially those whose only experience with children comes from their own or well-mannered and well-adjusted children of strangers, don’t want to foster first. They want to jump right in and prove to the potentially-adopted child that they mean well and they want to give the child or children a forever home. Except, unlike the unruly German Shepard mix you didn’t realize might need special training to not eat your couch, you can’t drop your “forever home” child off at the local pound to be euthanized. In some states, however, you can (legally, anyway) drop them off at the house of a pedophile and plead ignorance.

(Before we move on, don’t drop your dog off at the pound to get killed. Don’t adopt what you’re not prepared to take care of whether it’s furry or not.)

Now, yes, this particular family claims ignorance (lack of knowledge, not stupidity) of this pedophile’s tendencies. While this may be true on the surface, let’s be real. In almost every instance of someone wanting “off-the-books” children — who have very likely suffered abuse or trauma (and a high percentage of foster/adopted-after-infancy children have) and also are likely to have emotional or mental health complications — without additional financial or emotional support, that person’s up to no good. For every oddball saint, plan on at least a hundred sinners.

Look, we even offered support for the rehomed Civic. It had a few minor mechanical issues and the husband helped the new owner troubleshoot and fix them. Not to mention that I probably could’ve gotten at least another two hundred if I’d taken it to a used dealer instead. Even rehomed cars sometimes require a little support.

Which brings me back to the idea of fostering first. In most, if not all, states, foster parents are required to go through a basic certification process. Sometimes this involves classes, but at the very least it typically involves a background check, fingerprinting, and a home visit. After child placement, there should be regular home visits, re-certification classes periodically, and support at least by phone should issues arise. This isn’t always the case as we’ve all seen in news reports over the years and it doesn’t solve all the problems, catch all the people with bad intentions or bad coping skills, and it doesn’t provide all the necessary support, but it’s a baseline. It’s a starting point. And it’s often more than what’s provided in cases of outright adoption.

When I worked in correctional education, I saw more than a few horror stories of the foster care system. Again, all the supposed safeguards don’t always ensure children are safe. And sometimes children need more support than foster parents and the system can provide — and too often that leads them into the justice system and a lifelong cycle of catch and release or worse. There were children saved by the foster system and those abused by it. There were children who would leave a group home they even admitted was safe and “pretty cool” with “nice people who treat you right” only to go back to a pimp, a parent who abused them, a relative who sold them, a drug habit they couldn’t or wouldn’t kick, etc.

When we fostered my niece, a child who used to beat her grandmother when she was nine, we had to take classes, fill out a mountain of paperwork and worksheets, and pass fingerprinting and background checks. The social worker in charge did home visits once a month and was generally available by phone if we had problems, but she didn’t usually have a solution. The state-provided mental health care was meeting with a doctor once a month who asked “How are you? How’s school? Are you listening to people?” and wrote scripts for more pills. For a hundred dollars, out of pocket, every other week, we could pay interns at the local university psychology program to talk to her for an hour, but the interns never seemed capable of discerning the manipulative behavior from the actual behavior. Then, the overnight guy at the local mental hospital the cops took her to (after she threatened them with a knife), also thought she just needed more pills. She’s a good lesson in why fostering first is a good idea. Children come with baggage they don’t always unpack immediately and when they do, sometimes it’s terrifying — especially if you have the time, energy and money to deal with it.

A family I know through work adopted a child to join the two they already had. When the child was diagnosed with a pair of mental health disorders, they did research to find the best treatment. And the state said, “we can offer you this to help,” which was roughly 2% of the total cost of treatment. Without support from the community, the family would have had to choose between going broke or getting substandard care. (Incidentally, their daughter is doing well.)

I met one child through my last job who had been arrested for molesting his foster brother. He was young and seemed out of place even in a room full of young boys. One of the other kids asked him what he was in for, as the kids often did. Even though he’d been advised repeatedly not to talk about his case, he shrugged back at the other boy, “I was just showing my new brother how to play.” Which is to say, everyone from the social worker to the detectives to the correctional staff and state psychologists could guess what that meant, but it didn’t stop the cycle until after it had rolled over another victim.

Which is to say, I understand what it’s like to go into a situation with the best intentions and find yourself drowning in a system that’s been underwater so long, it’s grown half-assed gills. I understand the systems, patchworked and overworked, have flaws.

What I don’t understand is why, if you are a state representative, someone with the power and influence to suggest changes, to push for better laws or just speak out about the need for more support or training or funding or SOMETHING, why you would choose to just hand a kid off to strangers like a back-alley dope deal instead. Unless, of course, you were more concerned with your image than the children you legally agreed to guardian. And, you know, image is all that matters these days. Right?

(Please tell me I’m not right.)