Thursday, July 12, 2012

Go Ahead, Make Sense Out Of This

Let me tell you a little story about crazy deciding to do something even when it seems crazy because crazy just might be the right thing to do.

That was clear wasn't it?

In foster care land there are a number of solutions when a child gets removed.  The family can get back together.  That's honestly a win in a lot of ways.  The courts can set up some kind of compromise of guardianship where parents get to "keep their rights" but someone else is doing the bulk of the life living care giving day to day parenting.  Then you have the sort of ugly option where a court takes away a parent's rights to their child.  We call it a TPR, termination of parental rights.  It's basically a court saying we're sorry, we don't believe you're really ever going to pull it together enough to be the full time life parent of your child and waiting around and giving you more and more chances to prove us wrong and pull it together is not good for your child.  We think the harm it does your child, this waiting and wondering and confusion outweighs the slight chance that you'll figure it out and make it happen.  It's pretty bleak when you get to here.  There is yet another option we all call a voluntary.  It's a situation where a parent can see that the family getting back together isn't really going to happen, a TPR trial is looming large, the odds of them "winning" at trial is low to nothing and they decide to voluntarily give up their rights to their child.  They essentially admit that they can't be the parent and it would be better for their child to be adopted by a family that is more stable and permanent.

Now, none of this is clean and easy or simple.  None of it just happens.

With a TPR decision the parents no longer have any right or claim to their kids.  That means no phone calls or letters.  No photos or school up dates.  No gifts or meetings at parks.  It means the "new" parents, the adoptive parents don't have to tell the kids anything about their first parents.  Not names or locations or what happened.  They don't even have to tell the kids they are adopted.

Reality is, most of these kids will know they're adopted right up front.  They will not be "sheltered" from the truths of their lives before the second parents.  A lot of the second parents allow some kind of extended contact after all is said and done even though none of it is required.

The next bit of reality is that a voluntary is almost always negotiated out like a divorce custody arrangement.  The first parents will bargain.  I'll give you a voluntary if you allow me...

It's complicated.  They want to be able to send and receive letters, phone calls, build a relationship up to be able to visit again in the future.  They want photos and to give gifts.   They want these rights with good intentions.  The second parents want to protect the child but also give them their first parent too.

So how do we walk these lines?

We trade you can send letters for I give you the right to be my kids tooth fairy.  We trade you can call someday and talk to your kid for I get to be the one called mom.  We trade them you can send a birthday gift or Christmas present for I get all those firsts and significant life moments.

All the while we are trying to make our family unit the primary unit.  At the same time we are preserving their truth.

We make these compromises all the while in the back of our minds feeling a tiny bit confident that it's all just wasted efforts.  Sometimes a first parent will actually take advantage of these arrangements for a short while, usually all these compromises are given and made in sadness on both parts knowing none of it will ever be used.  The first parent is making all these arrangements as a part of trying to cope and handle their loss.  Almost all of them make all these deals then just sort of fade away.

We make all these compromises hoping the child will always be ours.  That 18 will come and not bring with it that need to know their first parents.  We live with the nag in the back of our brain and the pit of our stomach that they won't one day run off to the family that lost them and never look back at us, the family that loved them.

So is it crazy for the second family to make all these deals and bargains with the first parents when the law doesn't require anything of us?  Kind of.  Is it crazy for us to allow if not even lightly expect or encourage this contact with the first parents after a group of people made a decision--not lightly I might add--that this is not what's best for the child?  Maybe. What about the Christian factor of it all?  Grace and love and all that.

What about the reality that some day, or in my house pretty much every day, someone asks about their birth family and their story?  Just like your birth child loves to hear the story of the day they were born or what they were like as a baby, some of my kids want to hear everything I might know about their black hole mystery of a past.  What about that?

What about the truth that their first parents love them even if they can't parent or raise them?

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