Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘foster care’

I Used To Cry

Mulatto: Daughter of America by Florencia LaChance.
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans.

61I3yFhCTTLOur oldest daughter moved in to our foster home when she was fourteen, and like Florencia, became emancipated at sixteen. She survived a similar childhood as Ms. LaChance, with her biological family. Working through years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, is not easy for anyone, at anytime. In Mulatto: Daughter of Americathe author describes one terrible instant after another. With self-determination, and the help of others, she makes it to college, motherhood, and a successful career.

Florencia’s worst, ongoing perpetrator, was her step-father Jim. He beat her, sexually assaulted her, and demeaned her in every way possible. To top it off, she was growing up in Maine, where people of color are rare and far in-between. “So many kids against me. I used to cry. Run and cry. It was too much – the abuse at home and then coming to cruelty at school. I was always, in Maine, the ONLY black person in any school or town I ever went to. In the whole school!” Shame and not belonging became deeply ingrained in her psych.

Along her journey, Florencia gets support and care from her older brother, Joey, and from different friends and mentors, including: Aunt Beatrice and Uncle Royal, Danielle Hardigan, Melody, and the Goodmans. She becomes a ward of the state, and is cycled through various foster homes for two and a half years. When she finally gets to Boston College, against all odds, she is confronted with how to make a living, raise her son Joshua, and simultaneously go to school – exhausting in and of itself.

Mulatto: Daughter of America is sadly a story that still takes place throughout our country. Abuse (in all forms) is pervasive. Though we think we’ve come a long way, by talking about it and confronting it publicly, it continues to fester in homes everywhere. Like our daughter, who went to University of California, Berkeley, and now has two children, Florencia LaChance is an accomplished technical grant writer and project manager, with insight into her childhood, and the ability to write about it for others.

Immigrant Families Divided

From New America Media and Nation of Change.
by Marjorie Valbrun
30 January 2012

Foster Care, Uncertain Futures Loom for Thousands of Immigrant Children.

More than 5,000 children of immigrants are languishing in state foster care nationwide because their parents were living in the United States illegally and were detained or deported by federal immigration authorities.

These children can spend years in foster homes, and some are put up for adoption after termination of their parents’ custody rights. With neither state nor federal officials addressing the problem, thousands more are poised to enter the child welfare system every year.

“They can be dropped into the foster care system for an indefinite period of time,” says Wendy D. Cervantes, vice president for immigration and child rights policy at First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. “This causes severe long-term consequences to a child’s development. It has a negative impact on the country as a whole and a direct impact on taxpayers. The fact that these children have parents means they shouldn’t be in the system in the first place.”

A recent report by the Applied Research Center (ARC), a national racial-justice think tank, found that when immigration enforcement methods intersect with the child welfare system, consequences for immigrant families can be devastating and long-lasting.

Jailed or deported parents are prevented from reuniting with their children, and parents held in immigration detention centers are penalized for being unable to attend hearings in family court. They are also penalized for not meeting court-ordered requirements for regaining custody of their children. The requirements are impossible to meet from jail.

In addition, detained parents often aren’t aware that they can request that their children be returned upon deportation, placed with relatives in the United States, or allowed to return to their home countries. Parents unable to speak, read or write English, let alone understand complicated legal rulings, are often uninformed of their legal rights or where their children have been sent. They often don’t have lawyers to help navigate the child welfare system.

“Immigration policies and laws are based on the assumption that families will, and should, be united, whether or not parents are deported,” the ARC report states. “Similarly, child welfare policy aims to reunify families whenever possible. In practice, however, when mothers and fathers are detained and deported and their children are relegated to foster care, family separation can last for extended periods. Too often, these children lose the opportunity to ever see their parents again when a juvenile dependency court terminates parental rights.”

Encarnación Bail, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who is in a prolonged fight to regain custody of her son, has confronted many of these obstacles.

She lost custody of her infant son, Carlos, in 2008, a year and a half after she was arrested and jailed by federal immigration authorities during a raid of the poultry plant where she worked in Cassville, Missouri. Awaiting deportation, she spent two years in federal detention, first in a local county jail in Missouri and then in a federal prison in West Virginia. During her imprisonment, relatives caring for Carlos gave the baby to a local couple who were childless.

After a county court terminated Bail’s parental rights on grounds that she had abandoned the baby, the couple adopted her son.

The court sent an official letter to Bail informing her that the couple was caring for her son, but the letter never reached her and was returned unopened to the court. When a formal adoption petition did reach her, Bail was stunned. With the assistance of a prison guard and an English-speaking visitor from Guatemala, Bail wrote back that she did not want her son put up for adoption and wanted him placed in foster care until she was released. She also requested visitation with Carlos. She never received a response from the court and she was never informed about the custody hearings.

The Guatemalan government learned of her case through news reports and intervened on her behalf, prompting the American government to put the deportation order against her on hold and grant her temporary legal status allowing her to stay and work in the United States while she continues a legal battle to regain custody of Carlos.

“I’m very sad, I very much want to be reunited with him,” Bail said through her lawyer. “I suffered an injustice. I’m the mother of Carlos and I was worried for Carlos during my entire detention. I was always thinking about him and I never gave my consent for his adoption.”

The Obama administration now says it is no longer targeting immigration enforcement activities on undocumented workers, such as Bail, and is instead focused on seeking out and deporting immigrants who have committed major crimes. However, immigrant advocates say that federal immigration agents, state law enforcement agencies and local county police departments participating in federal immigration enforcement programs do not follow that policy uniformly.

In fact, the government deported more than 46,000 parents of children with U.S. citizenship in the first half of 2011, according to the ARC report.

“It’s clearly un-American to take kids away from loving families,” says Rinku Sen, president and executive director of ARC. “It should give Americans real pause about what we’re engaged in. We need to take a very hard look at these policies and practices.”

Hispanics make up the majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States and, as a result, children of color born to parents from poor countries in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean are affected disproportionally.

What’s clear, say immigrant advocates, is that racial bias toward Latinos and other people of color play a significant role in separating children from parents and relatives.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

This Is Us

From The New York Journal of Books

This Is Us: The New All-American Family
by David Marin
Reviewed by Gabriel Constans

“It was no mystery why California had 98,000 children stuck in foster care. There were not 98,003 because I was stubborn.” Thus proclaims the proud single father David Marin, who adopted three young siblings and lived to tell about it. Not only do he and his children survive, but they also thrive.

If This Is Us: The New All-American Family were simply another ill-fated personal memoir about someone who believes his or her life story is worth sharing but has no storytelling chops to make the read worthwhile, it would have gone quickly to the bottom of the “to read” pile or been dumped in the recycling bin.

Lucky for us all that Mr. Marin has not only withstood the tribulations of parenthood, racism, and ignorance, but also is a fantastic writer who knows how to tell a tale that is equal parts heartbreaking, confusing, honest, and inspiring. This guy can write.

Here are some examples of his adept use of metaphor. “There were small mammals with more parenting experience than me.” And, “I wanted to help them before their pain metastasized, like mine, from memory to rebellion, permanently roosted in their psyches like the beaked shadow of a dark-winged bird.”

This is the story of a single professional man who gets fired for going to adoption classes (and later wins a lawsuit against the company that did so), learns about the frustrating and mind-boggling social service system in California, and proceeds to fall in love with three young children who have been through the ringer.

In spite of his own perceived inadequacies as a new parent who continually steps in one mess after another, he learns the ropes. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, it is the inadequate and inept social services system that presents the greatest obstacles—not the biological mother nor the trauma the children have experienced that reflects in their behavior making them impossible to place in a foster home for any length of time.

Frustrations with county classes moved, postponed, or canceled altogether; court dates changed again and again; a distant relative coming out of the closet at the last minute; or prejudice from some county social worker with a chip on her shoulder about a single father adopting children of an apparent different race—all are grist for the mill in Mr. Marin’s winding road to final adoption.

At one point, while thinking of his own father, he says, “He was the Hispanic father of pale kids. I was the pale father of Hispanic kids. We were a human anagram.”

There is a telling moment in this story when the author is finally made privy to his children’s records and he sees what has (or hasn’t) been done to protect them and/or support their adoption. He says, “My Kafka transition from an observer on the wall to a fighter on the floor took just a few moments—I would protect my kids, not with Social Services, but from them.”

Read the rest of the review at The New York Journal of Books.

Family Survives Adoption Process

Keep your eye out for this book – This is Us: The New All-American Family by David Marin. It’s set to be published in September by Exterminating Angel Press and it’s not only good, but also frustrating, emotionally overwhelming and inspiring.

I was asked to review this book for The New York Journal of Books and am glad to have the privilege to do so. Without saying too much at this time, let it suffice to say that this is not only a story about a single man adopting 3 young children, but also about a broken Social Service system and someone who had the guts and determination to stay with it and go into the unknown, not only for the children, but because it began to define who he was and what he stands for.

We’ve had friends trying to adopt some siblings for over 2 years now and they’ve been put through the ringer (literally). Many of the instances described in this book ring a familiar bell, as they have experienced similar set-backs and bureaucratic back-stabbing that has no place in the process.

Don’t forget the title, This is Us.

Adoption: It’s About Time!

“Be all the parent you can be – adopt!”

“If you want to change the world, become an adoptive parent.”

These fictional adds proclaim the reality and need, across this country, for people to become adoptive parents and provide homes to children who are currently living in foster care, orphanages or state run institutions. Newborns, preschoolers, adolescents and teens are waiting for security, love, commitment and yes, sacrifice. Parenting requires the endless sacrifice of one’s ego, vanity, time and selfishness, whether it’s through adoption or birth! It’s not for everyone. Some people don’t want it and some can’t hack it.

Parenting puts you on the front lines of changing society. Teaching children how to live with the reality of emotional pain and loss, in the context of a secure and safe environment, is one of the greatest gifts we can provide future generations. To do so not only heals the wounds of abandonment, abuse, and betrayal, but also helps prevent additional pain, violence and acting out as our children become adults.

I think the title that comes closest to describing the experience of parenthood is, “The Agony and The Ecstasy”. Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It can be a long, arduous, painful journey that requires us to take it one day at a time. Yet the rewards and the joy are far greater than any pot of gold at the end of a rainbow! Your heart can overflow with love and pride when you see your child grow, make a new discovery or accomplish something they never thought possible.

Becoming a parent quickly removes any pretenses or misconceived perceptions and expectations one may have previously held about parenthood and oneself. It puts a mirror to your soul and makes you look honestly at your reflection.

Since the age of sixteen I knew I wanted to have children and created a lot of convenient images and fantasies of what that would be like. When, at age twenty-six, my first child was born and the reality of how much attention they needed hit me full force (night after night of interrupted sleep and demands), I fell into months of postpartum depression. The reality that I was now responsible for another person for the rest of my life ran me over like a runaway crib!

As my daughter grew older and we had another child, two and a half years later, my heart for them both was filled with all the love, wonder and compassion I had expected, along with the unexpected. The next hurdle was learning when and how to say “no” or “yes”. It wasn’t as easy as it had sounded in the books!

Then, when the children were about five and seven years old, another unexpected event took place. I got divorced. We had just adopted a five-year-old boy through the county, before our divorce, so I had to go back to court and adopt our son as a single parent. Luckily, in our area of the country, this situation was not a problem for the county adoption agency or the courts, but it was a problem for me. It was exhausting! Luckily I met an incredible woman and eventually remarried. Though she made sure to not act like a substitute mother, she was and is an incredible support and is now called “Mom” by one and all.

After navigating divorce, single parenting and the adjustments of a new family, I thought I would never have another child, birth or adopted, but once again we were called or I should say “asked”, if we would “take in” another child. We said yes, having no idea what we were in for. That’s when our foster daughter moved in to our home. She was fourteen years old at the time. If I’d thought it was difficult learning how to parent the younger children as they grew, it was nothing compared to the needs and circumstances of an abused teenager. But, with the help and support of friends and family and the county foster care programs social worker, we all made it through with, as they say, “flying colors”.

Because every human being is different, children offer a unique insight into human nature and how we come to be who we are. There are some that need and want more limits, structure and guidance and others that need physical and/or emotional care and attention. Some are shy and withdrawn, while others won’t stay put and talk up a storm! Sometimes you need to be with them every minute and at other times you need to let them go and explore the world on their own terms. What they (and we) all have in common, is a need for unconditional love, presence and safety.

If you cannot or have not, physically had a child and/or you already had a birth child or two, I strongly encourage you to consider adoption. The challenges of bonding, dealing with previous losses, conditioning and fears are sometimes different then those of birth children and sometimes the same, but the attachment and love you feel for them (whether they physically come through you or someone else) is just as powerful, awesome and fulfilling.

The new add campaign says, “Parenting. It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure!”

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