Foster Care Adoption 2010s

M&S

Marquell and Shakeria’s MARE photo listing.

Empty Nest Again

It was the fall of 2010, Alex, my baby, was a senior in high school, and I was really bummed because I was still not ready to be an empty nester.  Charlie even made the call to the agency.

Using the Same Agency

HATW already had a lot of information about our family, so we didn’t have to get all the documents again.  But, we did have to redo our home study and get fingerprinted.  We decided we wanted this adoption from foster care, so our new license was dual for both foster care and adoption.  We were told it would give us more flexibility; with the dual license, HATW could legally move children we intended to adopt into our home, and we would be the foster parents until the court date.

I’m one of those individuals who functions better if I have all the details.  If I feel like a dog chasing its tail, working with me can become difficult.  I was so grateful that the gal helping us with placements told me that from her experience, it took about 100 requests for information about children to find a suitable placement.  I was grateful to hear that, because after about 10 requests for information I was beginning to feel hard to please.  Every day I would go to the various sites from the individual fifty states and wonder why there wasn’t just one site for all children.  It seemed so unnecessarily daunting when it’s widely understood that this is a vulnerable group of children who actually need homes.  I started a spreadsheet that listed all the children and their demographics I was interested in getting more information about, so I wouldn’t ask for information about the same child twice.  The information on the various state websites is very general; you can only get more information if you have a completed home study, and your case worker/agency has to request it.

Match Party

I pushed for our home study to be done in January, because there was a “Match Party” coming up that requires completed paperwork. A Match Party is where older children are brought together with families approved to adopt; it’s supposed to be a day of fun.   We arrived early and met in a classroom of a parochial school in the Lansing area.  A worker from the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange (MARE) was there to give us directions on how the day was to run.

There were at least 20 couples and singles in that room looking to adopt.  We were told to treat the older kids with interest because many of them didn’t want to come in the first place because most people looking to adopt want little kids. (When Kohla and Marsha’s English improved, that is exactly what they told us about meeting families in Ukraine.)  Ironic how little difference there is between children of different countries.

Each family was given a game table to run and the children were to go from table to table.  Our game was a science experiment that didn’t work, so we improvised and the kids had fun anyway.

The kids were all old enough to understand why they were there and they were sizing up the adults too.  As kids left  our table, I secretly jotted down the names of kids I had interest knowing more about.  One boy in particular caught my eye, Marquell.  He was 12 years-old, very shy, sweet smile, and obviously very intelligent.  As he walked away from our table I whispered to Charlie, “I want him.”  Charlie’s immediate reaction was, “Shhh, you’re not supposed to say that.” “Charlie I can tell, he’s a good boy, I want him.”  Again I got, “Shhh.”

I thought Charlie was going to fall apart when we were approached by a 17 year-old African American girl.  She tried to sell us on adopting her brothers; they were 12 and 15.  Both of the boys could win a Michael Jackson look alike contest: one had Michael Jackson’s big Afro and the other had his short hair style. Cute boys.  That 17 year old girl had the maturity of someone 30.  She told us how important it was for her brother’s to have a home and how she had made lots of mistakes, but that she would make it with or without a home.  She told us about her dreams for her brothers, and how she was willing to step aside to see it happen for them.  Charlie wiped his face a lot and real fast when she walked away.  There was little doubt when we left that Match Party we would be adopting minority children.  We would have taken a few with us that day had we been allowed.

My Personal In-Sites

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My elementary class.

I had spent over a decade teaching an elective class in a middle school, so I had first-hand experience at working with children in the age group at the party.  Believe it or not, you can tell the first day of class how most students are going to react to your teaching style and behave in your class.  Marquell was a keeper.  We had been very clear in our home study that we did not want to accept African American children, because we live in a county with less than 3% minorities.

You can go to the local Wal-Mart store for weeks without ever seeing someone black.  We didn’t want to place children in a situation that would be that difficult for them, so now I had to call the caseworker and change the case study.  Charlie and I both noticed at the Match Party that the children we were most interested in taking home with us were African American.  There were far more minority children available with fewer emotional and other problems than other races.  Because of the size of our family, we were only approved for either 2 boys or 2 girls, what we didn’t realize until lunch time was that Marquell came with a seven year old sister.  She was much younger than we were interested in adopting, but she was real cute.  Since they were a brother and sister combination, our family didn’t qualify for them.  Our caseworker called on the children from the match party that would fit our home study and might fit into our family, but there was no match that would work for us.

The Search Continues

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Hidden talents will appear after adoption. Marquell, the dancer and rapper.

Within the next few months, we continued to call on children found in the listings, but I couldn’t take my mind off Marquell.  I kept pulling up him and his sister’s picture in the MARE website.  My mother was living with us, and so were three of our children, but the two oldest decided to move out which opened another room and we were now able to adopt a brother and sister.  Charlie and I discussed hard adopting Marquell and his sister, Shakeria.  She had a number of issues we weren’t sure we could handle, but I called doctors, specialists, and in one case, a book author – he was flattered.

Charlie finally gave his approval to meet with Marquell and Shakeria’s case worker in Lansing, so there we were in a conference room with our case worker from HATW and their case worker from Lutheran Social Services.  We still had reservations.  Charlie finally ask me, “What are you going to do with a black kid in this county?”  It really was a good question, I’m not good at taking much crap from people.  I guess it was a wait and see.  We extended the invitation for Marquell and Shakeria to join our family, and their case worker, Scott, and our case worker called it a match.

Foster Care vs. International Adoption

I cannot tell you how many people (who’ve never adopted themselves) like to point out that there are children available in the US.  My response to them is always pleasant, but the same, “Oh, you’ve adopted?  Tell me about it.”

At this point, it took about 7 months, which was longer than our first international adoption from start to completion.  In Ukraine, there is the National Adoption Center (NAC).  All adoptions throughout the country go through this center.  In the United States, everybody and their brother owns an adoption agency with children available, or in their foster care program.  Those children may be coming available soon, but there is no way to know country wide.  The US has no real organization for available adopted children, so the children are placed at a real disadvantage, and so are the families wanting to adopt them.  The websites loaded with pictures of available children typically have hard to place children because they are not Caucasian or in some cases are the cute little Caucasian children that will burn your house down while you sleep, with you in it.  Love does not fix that kind of inner rage; immense counseling may help, but few Americans are willing to pay for the necessary counseling for these children in the Foster Care system; it’s extremely expensive.

Waiting to Meet

We are now waiting for Scott to tell Marquell and Shakeria that they have a family interested in them.  By now, I had found Marquell on Facebook, so I weighed in to say hello and see if he remembered me from the Match Party.  He said he did and told me he had a girlfriend, so I knew the news of moving to the sticks wasn’t going to be great news for him.  It was a few weeks before Scott had a chance to meet with Marquell and Shakeria.  Scott said that Marquell was visibly upset, but Shakeria was ready to meet us pronto.

Talking to Former Teachers

Teachers have magnificent in-sites into children.  I don’t care what country you are working with: Ukraine or the USA.  It doesn’t matter if you like the teacher or not, if he/she has been teaching for any length of time, they can probably tell you as much about the child as the case worker, and the information will be regarding something other than just family information.  The teacher will be able to tell you the child’s learning style, if they were able to make friends, attendance, what kind of student and their class behavior, and hopefully a load of things you never thought about.

Also, take a look in the child’s CA60; most people don’t even know it is available, but it is your child’s school history – what’s referred to by school outsiders as the “permanent record.”  You cannot be denied access to the file if the child is in your custody; you may have to make an appointment.  It’s filled with good information you should know; our youngest qualified for special education but it was unknown to even the case worker; Lansing schools buried it, and our local school didn’t bother to look until I asked to see the file; be proactive.

Birth Families

We have chosen to embrace the birth families of all our children, as much as possible, especially sense our children are older and have already established relationships. Besides, birth families are not the enemy.  We regard them as extended family to all of us.  All of our children have siblings they have not grown up living with including our birth children.  So, extending the family to include relatives of our adopted children is actually easier, because as an adult my husband and I don’t personally have baggage with any of their relatives.  I look forward to meeting with their twin brother’s monthly, and while the kids are playing their grandmother and I have a wonderful time together; I consider her a friend.  Our children also like to go and spend a weekend with one of their maternal aunts; it’s a wonderful way for them to continue their family ties, feel a part of their black culture, and give us a break. Yes, a break from kids is always a nice benefit.

Foster Adoption Meeting

Another week went by before we got together for the first time, but I had talked to Marquell via Facebook a couple of times.  I had learned a few basic things about him and where he went to school.  Scott found out from Marquell that he liked Chinese food so that was the arrangement; we’d take them out for a Chinese dinner.  We arrived at the foster mother’s house a few minutes early and she wasn’t home.  Their foster mother raced up about fifteen minutes late from taking them out to eat pizza.  Shakeria was wearing a pizza stained shirt as she peeked at us from behind her brother who was less than pleased to see us.  Charlie whispered to me, “Don’t look too excited; he’s not happy we’re here.”

Off to the Chinese restaurant we went.  Obviously, they were not hungry, but Shakeria wanted a number of items off the buffet.  She sat at the table trying out all kinds of names on us, “Mama, daddy, mom, dad, etc…  Scott said you are interested in us.”  Marquell looked sick.  He had brought an award from school along with him, and showed it to us.  I knew from his middle school website that there was an award assembly coming up and I asked him if we could attend.  “Yes, you can come.”  I could barely hear him mutter it, but it was enough to encourage me to find out more about it.  I went home and called one of his teachers and talked to her.  Just a brief snippet of what she said, “Marquell told me he might be getting adopted.  Would you make sure he has a ride to the assembly, he doesn’t always make it to things?  If you do make it, please introduce yourselves, I’d love to meet you.”  All good information.

Adopted Child School Advocate

Prior to adopting, I called our local high school and explained we were adopting minority children, how many black children did they have on campus.  I was told nine.  They must have all transferred out, because when we enrolled Marquell into the high school and Shakeria was enrolled into the elementary they were both the only full black children in their respective school.  It was apparent immediately that Marquell wasn’t doing very well.  Someone tried to tell me that this school was more difficult than Lansing Schools, so I went and took a look at his CA60 and he MEAP tested quite well in Lansing; all kids in the State of Michigan take the same test, so school difficulty wasn’t his problem.  Comparing MEAP testing scores school to school, Otto did comparatively well to our local middle school especially if you consider Otto was a poor predominately black school.

What I did see visiting Otto was far more excitement about students among the staff; I wasn’t seeing that locally.  Locally I saw a few really poor staff extremely more concerned with themselves than with students.  So after a hair pulling contest with the administration, we placed Marquell into the local Christian School; he’d already made some friends there by playing on their basketball team.  There were 35 students in the 7th – 12th grade.  Alex attended that school too, and he graduated.  English acquisition was very difficult for Alex.  Marquell’s attitude and grades quickly improved.  The attitude between staff and students was far more congenial.

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Shakeria as safety patrol.

The Wall of Shame

Shakeria’s academic’s quickly improved in elementary school.  We were told while in foster care, she’d refuse to do her work.  We didn’t see any of those problems with her.  She would come home from school and sit at the kitchen bar and do her homework right after school.  She was a loner at school which bothered her teacher, but it didn’t bother Shakeria, so we weren’t worried about it.  Within a year and a different teacher, she began crying over homework.  We discovered during one of her crying bouts that the school had a Wall of Shame.

“The Wall,” as staff and administration called it, was for naughty kids and kids who didn’t get their homework completed.  Shakeria had been already tested and it was determined that math was a real struggle for her, but that didn’t matter. If she didn’t get the massive homework done she would be required to lose recess and lunch time plus stand at the wall.  The wall was on the playground in full view of all the other students there – total humiliation.  Some teachers and playground administrators would only take away a minute or two and others would remove an entire recess. Being the only full black student in the elementary it forced her to really stand out; she had almost no friends and by then she cared.  We put a stop to “The Wall” for Shakeria, and within a year transferred her to the same Christian School as Marquell.

Parenting Problems

The primary problems we have had with all of our children is in dealing with the schools.  I’m not going to bash public school teachers, because I walked in their shoes for almost two decades.  If you think you can do better, go to college, spend $100,000, make next to nothing compared to your investment, and go at it.  These people are severely overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated.  They have my prayers, but as the parent, I’m responsible for my children’s education.  It’s important that I talk to teachers, help with homework, find out how much homework is expected, and then cut it off.  This year, Shakeria is expected to do 1 hour a night.  After she has worked for one hour, she is done.  I don’t care how much other work she has not completed.  I sign her planner and state what she’s finished in her hour.  Kids need exercise, play, and fresh air more than homework.

I’m very disappointed with the new legislative one size fits all education; Shakeria does not have the ability to do sophisticated mathematics.  As a matter of fact, that is what she spends her hour on every night.  It’s disheartening.

We have been blessed with great kids.  We adore them all, and they have been wonderful additions to our family.  If you haven’t yet read about our Ukraine adoptions, you may find them interesting too.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28 KJV.

 

Please leave your comments here.  Thank you.


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