Something I Wish I Didn’t Know

It’s Christmas, and I’m a sucker for all the holiday specials on TV. One of my staples for years has been the annual show devoted to happy, poignant stories about adoptions of children who are languishing in foster care. Something horrendous has happened that makes it impossible for them to remain within their birth families.

The show has kind of an odd format that alternates musical guest entertainers with personal adoption stories. Families have been picked to showcase and they each have a taped segment that tells their heartwarming tale of children finding parents and parents finding children. These families are shown in the audience as well, all dressed up and shiny, proving that adoption is a happily-ever-after totally satisfying event. Much is made of the large number of families who are inspired to adopt after each Christmas broadcast. It’s a wonderful thing, of course.

I have spent many years on the inside of the process of adopting foster children, first as a foster mother and then as a CPS caseworker in the foster/adopt division. Here’s what I know: not all (or perhaps even most) of these adoptions are perfect matches with perfect outcomes, as shown on TV.

Remember that I said that something horrendous has happened in the life of every child available for adoption out of foster care? Through my own very personal experience I have seen cases, over and over again, of children who are victims of sexual assault, the breaking of bones, the bashing of heads, the submersion in boiling water, the stabbing of an infant, exposure to drugs in utero, emotional abuse beyond imagining, abandonment, and so on. Just think of something illegal and cruel and painful and stupid, and know that people are doing it to kids in your city right now. Oh, and there’s neglect. This one doesn’t get the press of the others, but chronic neglect probably does the deepest psychological hurt of all because it is ongoing, not an event that occurs within the context of better times.

So the truth is these children, even the infants, have suffered severe damage that will be part of who they are for their entire lifetime. They cannot help but bring it all with them when they are placed in their much dreamed of “forever family.” That courageous family will be called upon to deal with the difficulties that accompany the child, such as extreme anger and other acting-out behaviors, attachment disorders, running away, psychiatric treament/hospitalization, failure in school, testing of boundaries and love, genetic susceptibility to drugs and alcohol, threats of physical harm to family members, and on and on. And it seems that every developmental stage of the child reveals new evidence of the damage done.

Some families have the exceptional strength and devotion and perseverance and endurance and love to see it through. Others don’t, and adoptions fail. A failed adoption, in which the state agency may be forced to take back conservatorship of the child, is nobody’s fault, but everybody feels the shame and the blame and the deep sadness. More damage is done, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that adoptions can be spectacularly successful, and they make great and hopeful stories. With all my heart, I want all foster kids to be blessed with that. But the truth is, if one of my adult children were to ask me about the wisdom of adopting a foster child themselves, I would strongly advise against it. How sad is that for everybody?

I know what I know and I so wish that I didn’t.

Blessings.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 23rd, 2011 at 12:58 pm and is filed under Things to Think About. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

4 Responses to “Something I Wish I Didn’t Know”

  1. I, Rodius on December 30th, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    And this is why we considered, and rejected, the idea. I don’t think I’m strong enough for more… I don’t know what to call it. We’ve got plenty of it already, though.

  2. I, Rodius on December 30th, 2011 at 7:23 pm

    And this is why we considered, and rejected, the idea. I don’t think I’m strong enough for more… I don’t know what to call it. We’ve got plenty of it already, though.

  3. Martha Bailey on November 27th, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Interesting..but adoption at birth is usually successful..isn’t it?

  4. Martha Bailey on November 27th, 2012 at 10:10 pm

    Interesting..but adoption at birth is usually successful..isn’t it?