“Owner Surrender”

F.G. is an 11 year old male brought into shelter by owner surrender. This male was in shelter and foster care from age 9 months to 5 years. Previously adopted by his third foster family, these new owners decided to release him in March. F.G. has recently been rehomed with one of his original foster families. Adoption is pending.

Sounds a bit like animals in pet shelters or when animals are “rehomed” through internet ads (I might be reading adopt-a-pet websites too much). What happens when it’s an “unwanted child”? Currently, in all but six states, “rehoming” a child is within the law. Adoptive parents can sign paperwork to transfer a child to another family without a lawyer or child protective services involvement. It’s not clear how often this takes place as the numbers can’t be tracked. (On the other hand, “disrupted adoptions” that occur before the adoption becomes finalized happen 10-20% of the time time.)

The First Guy has been visiting with my sister over the summer and living with her since right before our family vacation in August. He has had tremendous transition to a new family structure, new expectations and rules, new siblings, and a new school system. When asked by a therapist how he feels about his upcoming adoption, The First Guy replied, “I don’t care. I’ve been through it before.” Powerful words when an 11-year-old does not care to have a family. He does not know “forever.” It is lost and must be learned. Trust is broken and must be earned. Anger simmers and must be released. Hurt roils and must be forgiven. There is much work to be done. Yet, my sister has a heart full of love and forever is forever in this family.  This Friday, The First Guy will join his forever family.

It’s National Adoption Month. There are 108,000 children “legally free” for adoption and DTFA_2012WaitingChildren_v3A-1waiting for a “forever family” in shelters, in foster homes (some great and others not as ideal), in group homes (which are rarely ideal) and in facilities. We cannot let our future contractors, doctors, plumbers, lawyers, machinists, engineers, senators, and CEOs wallow childhood away without having a family. We cannot let children continue to “age out” of the “system” and face adulthood without family to celebrate their graduations, toast their weddings, or hold their grandchildren. Children need to know the power of love, the stability of love and the unconditional quality of love.

Consider adoption this month if you can. If you or your home is not “open” at this time, then find a way to help others make a difference. You might donate to nonprofits doing adoption work. Make a meal for a foster or new adoptive family. Advocate for changes in the systems that will help adoptions, such as tax breaks for adoptions or supporting legal fees. Do not turn your eyes and walk past. You can Be the Change in the world of a young child. Be or support a Forever Family.

Do not “Play” with adoption

The First Guy has been abandoned by four “mothers” and he has yet to reach his 11th birthday. And the last woman is the one who promised to “love and hold” him forever. You know that term – a “Forever Family” – that’s what adoptive families are supposed to be.

When The First Guy was nine months old, he was placed with his paternal aunt as his mother was running from the drug gangs. She decided after three months that she couldn’t care for an active toddler given her medical conditions and her own children. He came to our house where he fell in love with my sister – the woman he bonded with – the woman he came to believe was his mother. And yet, that’s not how the “system” works. He was returned to his biological mother for a few months until he came back into care with us at age 3 and with his 18-month old sister. Once again, his mother seemed to stabilize so he was sent home until at age 5 he was “too much to handle” and was admitted to the mental health ward. After a crazy couple weeks, the judge ruled he needed to be in a “therapeutic foster” home rather than with the woman he considered to be his mother. He lived in this new foster home, was adopted by the family, and last week was abandoned to a group home.

He’s ten. His aunt gave up on him. His biological mother couldn’t handle him. From his perspective, my sister left him (against every bone in her body but by court order) and then his forever family visited him in the group home and told him, “I’m not taking you out of here.”

You do not play with adoption. Adoption is a choice. Adoption is a commitment to a child. Adoption is a responsibility. Adoption is a heart-ache and a joy. A loss and renewal. It is messy and difficult sometimes.

But adoption matters

To the child.

Did you know that about 5 percent of adoptive parents change their mind and “rehome” the child? It’s referred to as a “disruption” (I get them all day long… “Mommy, can I have…?” “Mom, where is my…?”) It is more common with children adopted from foreign countries or at older ages. It is a combination of families not being prepared enough before adoption and not having enough support services when trouble arises after adoption. And there’s a disturbing underground aspect to it as well as investigated by Reuters.

Let me tell you – there have been some hard days since my first adoption. That moment in the court room when I pledged to love and hold this child as my own – “as if he was my biological offspring” – was an incredibly solemn moment. It sunk into my heart. I held it in my hands. Tears streamed from my eyes as I looked into the face of Super Tall Guy and said, “Yes, I promise.”

I promise to hold you when the world gets too big and the emotions rage against the confines of your body. I promise to kiss away the bloody knees and put you back on the bike. I promise to clean up after you, make you dinner, nag you until the homework is done. I promise to forgive you when you hurt, to grant justice and mercy, to mete out consequences as needed and follow all with the reminder of my love.

When I whisper “always and forever and no matter what” every night with a kiss, I mean it. My promise is sealed within my soul.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy's wooden rocking horse.

Plaque I nailed to Super Tall Guy’s wooden rocking horse.

You do not play with adoption. Treat it with respect. Children actually are not as resilient as we’d like to pretend. We only say that to make ourselves feel better. To erase our own guilt. To comfort ourselves that they will be okay – they’ll “get over” being abandoned.

Adopt because the child needs you and you need him. Take the solemn vow. Hold it in your heart. Seek help and resources when you need it. I will not judge. I know there are situations more complicated than my own and that children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are so difficult to parent and to love. But I also know that we have witnessed the damage of breaking a child’s attachment and of moving them around. We have cried and we have held on to hope. We know the focus needs to be “what is best for the child?”

The First Guy started to visit my sister this weekend. He may once again become part of our family – this time forever. We are definitely open for prayers and wisdom. This would be a whole new journey.

Always, forever and no matter what.