Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Student Guest Post: Post-Adoption Scrutiny

by Anonymous & Anonymous

In light of recent stories, should adoptive families receive more scrutiny post adoption?

Yes. Absolutely, yes.

A Denver couple adopted Edward and Austin Bryant in 2000. By 2003 the boys had disappeared. Conflicting accounts of their whereabouts place them with relatives, in institutions or as runaways. A missing persons report was never filed. Other adopted children in the home have recently come forward, concerned about the brothers’ disappearance. There have been accounts that the brothers were often locked in trunks for days, deprived of food and rolled into blankets like burritos as a restraint mechanism. The boys were often seen covered in bruises and welts and the younger Bryant was found scavenging for food in a garbage can. Despite the boys’ disappearance, the adoptive parents continued filing the paperwork necessary to receive a $1,700 monthly subsidy from the state. Nearly a decade after their disappearance, the boys are now actively being searched for.

In Florida, 10 year old Nubia Barahona was beaten to death by her adoptive father. Four days later her body was found in the back of her adoptive father’s pick up truck parked in West Palm Beach; her brother was chemically burned, but still alive, in the front seat of the truck. The arrest warrant stated that the children were “repeatedly beaten, willfully tortured, maliciously punished and unlawfully caged.” In this case, abuse was reported, however the caseworker failed to adequately investigate. She stopped by the house four days before Nubia’s death, knocked on the door, asked the adoptive mom if everything was OK and then left without ever seeing the children. Her position was terminated.

So…how does this happen?

Unfortunately, once children have been adopted, the adoptive families are treated just as any other naturally occurring family. The state only intervenes if there are reports of abuse or neglect and it is up to the adoptive parents to seek out resources. This seems especially problematic because families who adopt out of foster care, especially older children and children with special needs or a history of abuse face very particularized problems. These are considered “high-risk” adoptions and even the most stable, loving and well meaning adoptive parents struggle as they encounter problems such as difficulty communicating, bonding, and trusting. Children can be defiant, angry, and even abusive to other children or pets. Adoption disruption and dissolution has become a growing trend.

Where is the breakdown?

Professionals have expressed concern that recent public and private initiatives to increase adoptions and decrease time to adoption might lead to inadequate selection and preparation of adoptive homes. All adoptive families are put through a fairly rigorous pre-screening process, but how effective is it? One component of the screening process is a home study and according to the Texas DFPS, “the purpose of the home study is to discuss your personal history, family interests and lifestyle, childcare experiences, the types of children you feel would best fit in your home, and your strengths and skills in meeting the children's needs.” Certainly adoptive families are putting their best foot forward at this time, so how well can parenting techniques actually be determined? The information gathered during this pre-screening process is imperative to the success of the adoption and the health and safety of the children and yet it seems as though children are often being placed for the sake of placement regardless of “fit”. A negative adoptive placement negates the state’s policy of providing permanency for foster children through a stable family environment.

The importance of post-adoption scrutiny

Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. As in the case of the Bryants and Barahonas, adoption was the worst possible thing that could have ever happened to those children. And the most distressing part is that the state absolutely could have intervened. The detective investigating the Bryant brothers’ disappearance said to the press, “I can’t even receive laptops for my department from the state without annual reports and reviews and being able to lay eyes on every single computer.” So why are high-risk adoptions that involve the distribution of state subsidies not being monitored as closely as state issued computers? Not all parents are created equal, and not all adoptive families have good and pure intentions. When children are in foster care, the state is their parent and it’s the state’s duty to ensure these children are well cared for and placed in safe, supportive environments. Pre-screening adoptive families is just not enough, there has to be post-adoption accountability.


Wendy said...

I agree. Let's just say that our postplacement visits were, to put it mildly, a joke. My husband was not present as the SW could not do evening appts and she did not require him there. She never left our kitchen table and only spoke to my daughter in saying hello--that was for both visits! Although I discussed how we were having difficuly finding PTSD care for a child of two/three, she moved on to tell me that she doesn't see the point in postplacement visits. As long as the children are adopted and sent to "good" homes, the children will thrive and live a much better life.
Basically I paid my fee (we had moved to another state since adopting so I was not using my agency because they did not have representation in my state) and got the required paperwork.
This SW was from a LONG standing and very "reputable" agency--this is not uncommon.

travelmom and more said...

My post adoption visits were the same as Wendy's A JOKE. I even asked for help finding a referral for a good family therapist who took insurance and she looked at me like I was speaking Greek. She did meet with me, my husband was upstairs working but she didn't speak to him on our second visit. My agency is a very reptutable agency and our SW only works for our agency, but her visits were never welfare checks they were only to file the necessary paperwork with China to keep the agency in good standing. We have friends whose Son suffered from severe PTSD and this social worker did nothing to try and refer them for help, they were at wits end and were desperate for help. Not being a social worker, I wonder what their responsibility is in post placement?

LilySea said...

It's not hard to believe that overburdened SWs want to close the books once adoptions are final. The stories of children "lost" in the system while officially wards of the state are telling, too.

I think that while some extra scrutiny for high-risk placements--certainly resources provided to the families--are a good idea, I have to wonder if on-going state intervention into any family is really desirable.

I'd also be curious to hear a statistic about the numbers of children killed or severely abused by their parents every year: how many are adoptive parents and how many are biological parents? What red flags get missed with biological situations?

These cases are harrowing, but I am suspicious that adoption gets more media attention because it's easier for people to believe that adoptive families aren't as loving as biological ones.

Wendy said...

I agree that the state systems have overworked, underpaid, and not fully staffed departments, BUT the private agencies that I used (we had two due to our move) were far from overworked and had the time to complete and detailed home study and postplacement, they choose not too. It is all about keeping accrediation.

Anonymous said...

When my partner and I were trying to adopt an older child from foster care, it was rare to read a file that didn't include some abuse or neglect in a previous foster or adoptive home, though all the children had had problems within their birth families as well.

I know I feel much more hostility to the foster family who didn't treat my foster-to-adopt daughter Mara as well as they could have (though their behavior was not criminal) than I do to her mother, whose negative impact was more significant. If we're being paid and certified, we need to be held to a higher standard. That includes some scrutiny, especially in situations like those quoted in the post that include ongoing subsidies from the state.

Wendy said...

God do I need to proofread. Sorry about the incoherence.

DannieA said...

if not more adequate post-placement visits, then for goodness sakes some kind of ongoing resources for life services available through the state/county.

I belong to my county's post adoption monthly resource meetings in which they have information and actually do set up appts. or refer families for therapy or whatever if needed. I thought this was nationwide, but I guess not.

Since my daughter's SW lived down the street I received last minute visits with her going through my daughter's room and looking around...while sometimes it was inconvenient, it really wasn't about me...glad someone at least took time to peruse around.

Anonymous said...

I think there might be less abuse in some adoptive families if the money motive (for adoption from foster care) were removed. There have been some notorious cases of people who adopted multiple children from foster care for the stipends. These "parents" had no interest in actually nuturing and loving the children; they just wanted the monthly checks. I know the stipends are supposed to help with extra expenses that are incurred by these families, but it might be better if any special expenses are paid directly from the state to the provider.

Reena said...

I absolutely think it is a good idea for SW to check-in more frequently with post-adoptive families. Especially those families adopting children who are reportedly higher risk placements.

However, if these visits are going to be nothing more than what others are describing-- there is little point at all. Adoption agencies and States really need to step-up in terms of at least having a list of resources for adoptive families in need of support.

China is going to start requiring more post placement reports-- right now they require two, one at 6-montsh and one at a year post placement. The new rule will require additional postplacement reports at 1-month, 2-years, and 5-years post placement.

China is now making it somewhat easier for families to adopt-- families can now adopt more than one child at once provided that one of the children is either older or has a more significant medical need.

IMO, children who fit this definition require more attention from their new family-- there are more resources to be sought, more energy required, more stress etc. I don't see how this rule change is in the best interest of the children.

Our youngest daughter does have a medical consideration. Personality-wise, she is wonderful and we don't feel her medical situation is much of a big deal. But (always is), there are still more doctor's appointments, therapies, etc. Caring for her does require more energy. I could not imagine the first months home with her while also trying to bond with another newly adopted child.

This is not to say that some families cannot do it-- but it something that folks need to think about and I don't know how well families are being prepared for the realities.

I am hearing more about families having a difficult time post adoption and not being able to find helpful resources as well as hearing more about dissolutions. Just my own observations-- far from any kind of statistical research.

Von said...

Many tragedies have occurred.No home study can be done effectively when large sums of money are involved and the self interest of an agency.
Isn't it time childen's safety and future were put first in America?

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with some of the comments here. We're adopting a special needs child from the foster care system. It's been a joke. We've been asking and asking our SW for information, and she sugar coats it. (We just found out some true information) I actually think she has zero idea of what she's talking about as she hasn't kept up to speed with the case prior, and apparently doesn't care to learn about it. Trying to get a hold of her has been a joke. Trying to get her to sign off on things has been a joke. I was told she's 'overworked'. But I've also been told she has 6 kids on her caseload. SIX. Is that really 'overworked'?? The state needs to hire someone who wants to look out for the best interest of the child, not someone who just wants a paycheck.

Anonymous said...

It's been said time and again-- there's no money in post placement... which is why many social workers spend less time w/ a family than an avon lady selling lipstick.

Anonymous said...

we adopted a special needs child last year. i called the agency for some help. we were supposed to have a 6 month and one year post placement and i still haven't heard from the agency. probably because we paid for the visits upfront.

Brooke Randolph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brooke Randolph said...

Thank you for this article and everyone for their comments! As the Director of Support Services at a (not large, but growing) private agency, I am committed to ensuring that our post-placement visits are not a "joke" but a time to check in with the family, provide essential education review, and connect families to additional resources - not to mention ensuring that the children are Thriving. Many of my team do have much on their plate, but they would not be on my team if they were not committed to the best interests of children. It is also so refreshing to me to hear parents who want more out of post-placement visits. Unfortunately, I generally hear more complaints (Why do we have to do this?) then people who appreciate the importance of continued connection, follow up, education, and support. Know that at least one agency is reading your comments and putting them to use in designing and evaluating our programs.

Birthmom said...

One anonymous commenter said, "The state needs to hire someone who wants to look out for the best interest of the child, not someone who just wants a paycheck." I couldn't agree more. I don't understand how you walk away from a child you know (or least have a gut feeling) is in danger. How do you live with yourself knowing you were the SW that could have saved that child's life? The fact that these jobs don't pay much should be evidence enough that if you want the job done well it must be done by someone that has a true passion for children and will strive to do everything in their power to ensure that the child is taken care of in every way the child deserves.