Monday, August 13, 2012

Conflicts Between Priorities in Adoption Placements

Kinship care has long been preferred for kids who can't be parented by their biological parents. Why this preference for kinship care? First, placement with a relative usually provides the child with a continuing relationship with other relatives, including siblings, and possibly including the biological parents. Second, children adopted by relatives are less likely to suffer from identity confusion than they might if adopted by a stranger. Third, kinship placement is likely to be same-race placement, avoiding racial identity issues, too.

Kinship care usually also provides continuity -- a child raised by a grandparent, for example, is being raised by someone they have likely had a relationship with for their entire life.  And continuity of placement is afforded high priority, too.

Placing siblings together is also another recognized priority in adoption placement. Splitting up brothers and sisters is considered a negative thing.

So what should happen when kids are placed with a foster family as newborns because of neglect from biological parents, and then relatives step forward and want to adopt? And what if those relatives are parenting a sibling that the foster parents sent away after one month? This story raises these conflicts among priorities in adoption placement:
 Playing in her tiny plastic kitchen area, Jada is very much in charge. "I cook," the 3 year old announces.

Meanwhile, her twin brother Julian is outside, driving his electric car around their Roswell driveway, a confidant toddler behind the wheel.

This duo is unaware of the battle over who will raise them, and their adoptive parents hope to protect them from that battle as long as possible.

"We just decided maybe this was the time to do it," Lisa Williams said of the decision she and her husband Ted made to become foster parents more than three years ago.

Their own three children were almost grown, and they said they wanted to give back.

Ted talks about the day the twins came to them. "Imagine at noon having a very normal day, and by 6 p.m., you have three children living in your house."

Jada and Julian were five weeks old when they came to the Williams family. Their older brother Jayden was 16 months old. Lisa and Ted said three children was too much, so after a month, Jaydan was moved and they had just the twins.

* * *

When Jada and Julian were 15 months old, Tina Wilson's adoptive brother and his wife, Jeffery and Elissa Wilson, came forward and said they wanted to raise them.

Ted and Lisa wanted to raise them too.

* * *

Here is an example of the twists and turns. On February 28, 2011, Fulton County juvenile court awarded custody of Jada and Julian to Elissa and Jeffery Wilson and the twins were taken from the Williams' Roswell home and were sent to the Wilsons' McDonough home. But that only lasted nine days. That's when the Williams family successfully adopted the twins in Fulton Superior Court. They went and picked the twins up that day.

* * *

Tina Wilson's attorneys at The Fulton County Public Defender's Office would not talk to us on camera, but in a statement say Jeffery and Elissa Wilson are upstanding citizens who want to raise their niece and nephew and reunite them with their older half brother Jayden.

Tina Wilson gave birth to another set of twins a year ago. Right now, she is raising them.

"So this idea that you're going to have all of the biological mother's children raised together under one roof is an impossible dream, and it's a dream for which Jada and Julian should not be sacrificed," Rugh Johnson said.

Jada and Julian are three and a half years old.

* * *

The decision of who will ultimately raise them could come any day.
So what do you think?  How should this case be resolved?  Of course, it's too late now for what the solution should have been -- child welfare authorities should have proactively searched for an in-family placement for the twins in the first place instead of waiting around to see if anyone would step forward. 

But how would you balance these various priorities now, over three years later? Would it make a difference that the kinship caregiver is the adopted brother, not the biological brother, of the biological mother? How do you factor in the fact that there was not previous relationship between these children and the kinship caregiver?  Does it matter that not all of Tina Wilson's children would be parented together regardless of what happens? But isn't it more likely that these twins will have a relationship with Tina's other children if they are being parented by Tina's brother? Does it matter that the foster parents had the opportunity to parent the older brother and rejected him?

Pretend you're the judge.  How would you rule?


Sharon said...

I don't know how I would rule. I just want to say that these scenarios are incredibly common in foster care, and one reason why some are reluctant to adopt from the system. CPS often fails to be proactive in finding/recruiting birth family placement, and so a foster family becomes attached before birth family comes into the picture. Most locals promote a fost-adopt commitment, meaning you foster while a birth family search is on, but you are willing to adopt the child if no birth family is found. While the goal is permanency for the child, it puts all the adults involved at emotional risk, and that harms the whole system, and ultimately the kids. There are no easy, blanket solutions.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of information missing from that story, like when TPR happened and why the twins didn't go to their uncle when he first asked to take custody of them. Normally, if a family member asks for custody that family member is assessed and then either approved or denied as a placement option. I'd be somewhat surprised if the state thought the uncle was a fine placement for the older brother but not for the twins, though it's possible they were living somewhere where there wouldn't be separate rooms for the boys and the girl when they get to whatever age the state mandates gender separation for kids in care.

Like a lot of these cases, even though I'm a foster/adoptive parent and I understand the tenacity of that love and the desire to keep their children in the home they think is best for them, and yet I also know that's not the job description. I will be absolutely overjoyed if we end up able to adopt Nia, who was recently placed with us, because I adore her and she's wonderful. Yet I know from the experience of adopting Mara how much grief I would have about the separation of a child from her family.

We knew that up until the day the TPR was final, any relative could step forward and try to get custody. Every foster parent knows that and while it can be hard to live with, it's just reality. It sounds like Jeffrey did just that and it absolutely shouldn't matter that he's an adoptive rather than biological relative.

I know this is a long post, but two more things. I'm appalled that the foster/adoptive family chose to make the children's faces and their mother's history part of this story. Both are things that, as foster parents, you're expected not to do and it seems like they're inappropriately flaunting their adoptive privilege by doing so, but I guess that's sort of what they want to do.

The other is that we as a culture need to do more to support kinship placements. My daughter Mara's youngest sibling lives with a non-biological aunt (mom's ex-stepsister who was raised with her as a sister, but they share no biological or legal ties now) and in our state that's enough to mean that the only option is that the child has been in temporary guardianship for four years now since birth, whereas Mara's older siblings are with their aunt (mom's biological half-sister) and are in permanent guardianship. Although both women live in poverty, neither gets as much support from the state (financial or otherwise) as we adoptive parents do and they have to rely on child support payments that rarely get made. If kinship caregivers were paid and trained at parity with foster parents, the children would be better off. This is by no means a slur on Mara's aunts, whom I love and who are doing an amazing job raising her wonderful siblings. Mara has financial and cultural privileges her siblings don't because she's living with us, but she's also missing out on some wonderful things that they have because they live as family (the two families live across from one another) and see their looks and personalities reflected back at themselves daily. We've been lucky enough to get Mara deeply involved in her family's life after a gap of almost two years before we reunited with them, which means we are also in mentoring roles with her siblings and cousins, but it's hard and sad and also good and humane and we're all doing our best. That's all anyone can do, but I don't see that perspective coming from the Williams family.