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13May

Identity Lens / Identity Lends

All of us see life through a lens. A lens that we adjust to bring our life picture into—or sometimes out of—focus. At least it’s something I noticed when working registration at a recent Adoption Center matching event.

As families, youth, and their workers arrived at registration, what struck me first was the blend of timidity and hope in their faces. It stands to reason that there would be so much raw emotion on display. The kids—even those who have attended previous events in the hopes of finding their forever family—certainly have hope, but until the ice is broken, most start the day with cautious reserve. Perhaps they start out adjusting their lens to blur the picture of their expectations.

They might have asked themselves how much of their identity they need to share with these families and how to share it. And yet the families probably wonder how, in such a short amount of time, they can most effectively teach the kids about who they are and what they have to offer.

One consolation: no one needed to worry about revealing their “identity” with regards to adoption. But I can imagine it must not be like that in everyday life.

What goes through the minds and emotions of the youth in care? Who are they? How do they see themselves? How do they identify themselves? With what do they identify? They might not admit to classmates that they are in foster care or talk with their peers about their hope of being adopted. And even the families who have chosen the path of adoption may have had to quietly wrestle with infertility or bias to come to that point, and therefore not freely speak much about their “identity.”

So this silence begs the question: through what lens do they see themselves? How do they identify themselves?

Security officers ask to see our proof of identification at the airport or public building. Through the lens of what they see when they look at us and the identification we provide, they either stop us or allow us to pass through.

But ID “lenses” give limited information—descriptions of our eye and hair color, whether we need corrective lenses, our birthplace or our address. Our ID might have our signature and possibly an impossible un-likeness of ourselves that we would rather cover up with our thumb and a slight of hand (or is that just me?). Such “identification” does not suffice when we want people to know something more about the real us. For that, we use words or labels that often bridge our association with someone—something—we have in common.

When we are young, we might proudly (or perhaps despairingly) claim, “I go to pre-school” or “I am in kindergarten” or “I am a middle school student” and later might exclaim with a bit more confidence that we are a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior, a graduate student, or even a Ph.D.

Growing, becoming new people, accepting ourselves and others does change us. Those changes become part of our identity. And, through sharpening the focus of our identity, we inadvertently add new lenses—such as patience or tolerance—through which we see our self and our world.

When we identify as “being” something—a member of a club, association, fraternity, or group—we are provided yet another lens. By sharing our identity lenses, we hope to give others a way through which they will know more about us without the need for a lot of explanation.

What about a child in foster care? A teen who has been in the limbo of foster care for many years? What descriptive words would they use? How easy would anyone find to identify one’s self as “a potential adoptee” or “a waiting child.” Those words are an identity lens that does not show a complete picture.

Waiting children are like everyone else: identity is somewhat tenuous. How much do any of us explain about the real “us?” How much do we need to explain? I am sure it is much more comfortable to stay with identifiers like our favorite sports teams and what we want to be when we grow up. And that is a great beginning.

But each of us also wants to go deeper with some people. Our adopted daughter says whenever she meets and discovers the person is an adoptee—whatever their age—she feels an unspoken bond. She adjusts her identity lens based on the common thread. My own identity lens? For over a quarter of a century I have looked at life through the lens of an adoptive parent. Like our daughter, I feel an unspoken commonality (and, I would have to say, relief, in not having to explain but rather having the joy to share stories) when I meet other adoptive parents or adoptees. It is a bond in which there is a silent knowingness.

Perhaps that is what the youth and families attending felt, too. These events give them the chance not to have to explain everything. Their ID badge, as it were, was simply being there. By the end of the event, there was so much more hope and much less timidity in the faces of the kids and the families (and even on faces of the youth workers). It seemed like during the activities of the day, everyone had adjusted their lenses. Some probably even had the joy of sharing their stories with each other. Maybe this is a point as a lesson for us all: how much we look through our life “identity lenses” and base our reaction to and treatment of others on what we see?

Identity lenses can help us sharpen our insights from both our uniqueness and our differences, and help us know ourselves better by discovering our points of wonder as well as our points of fear. But we should realize they can also block us from getting to know someone better when we use our lens of prejudice for certain labels or categories before we probe more deeply.

“Identity lenses” len(d)s us chances to discover our tolerances but also to be evermore open, accepting and loving. We need to remember that we can choose the shutter speed and when to sharpen or blur the focus and even when we use a close up or wide-angle lens.

11May

NJ-CARES

My name is Kyana and I am a recent addition to the National Adoption Center family. I was brought on as a Recruitment Team Lead Facilitator to work on a grant, NJ-CARES, in collaboration with New Jersey’s Office of Adoption Operations. NJ-CARES’s purpose is to provide intensive-child-specific recruitment to children waiting to be adopted in New Jersey’s foster care system, in fact we are working with those who have been waiting the longest in foster care. The grant is using the teaming process, meaning each child has all of his workers (therapists, case workers and other professionals) come together to identify suitable permanence providers. My role in the project is to lead and facilitate Recruitment Team Meetings on a monthly basis to identify arenas in which to profile youth, recruit potential adoptive families and to secure a permanent team for the youth. I hope that through this project, New Jersey’s longest waiting youth in foster care will have a better chance at finding a “forever home”. While I am aware that this will be a challenging task, I am excited to be a part of the mission to better service youth in the foster care system. The National Adoption Center is excited to be able to provide new recruitment techniques that will help children in foster care find their forever families. Look out for future updates on how the grant is going as we work hard to find ways in which to decrease the number of children waiting for permanent, loving homes.

7May

Stan Hochman Compassion for Kids Award

On April 23 the National Adoption Center held its annual Celebration of Family gala. Although the Broadway-themed evening raised $150,000 to support our mission of finding adoptive homes for children in foster care, it was bittersweet since we said goodbye to longtime friend and supporter Stan Hochman who passed away on April 9 after a recent illness.

Along with his wife Gloria, the Center’s communications director, Stan was very much the public face of the Adoption Center. He was always at our events, always championing “the cause”. He was our in-house auctioneer, raising tens of thousands of dollars for our vulnerable children, and used every media opportunity available to tout NAC and the important work we do. A sportswriter for more than five decades for the Philadelphia Daily News, Stan epitomized the spirit of volunteerism. According to his daughter Anndee, Stan died while wearing a baseball cap for the Miracle League, a charity for children with mental and physical disabilities, one of the many causes he supported.

Thanks to Stan, thousands of children have found their forever families. It is for that reason that we renamed our Adoption Hall of Fame Award the Stan Hochman Compassion for Kids Award. He will be sorely missed, however his legacy will live on.

1Apr

Effects of Foster Care on Children

Foster care is supposed to be a temporary solution whereby the child is adopted by a loving family or is reunited with the biological family once the situation is deemed safe. But the average child remains in foster care for two years, often being shuffled from one home to another. Some children are never reunified or adopted, and the effects are damaging:

1) Foster children are more likely to become victims of sex trafficking
Given their need for love, protection and their often impaired development of social boundaries, foster care children make easier targets for sex traffickers. According to California Against Slavery (CAS):

  • In 2012, studies estimate that between 50-80% of commercially sexually exploited children in California are or were formally involved with the child welfare system
  • 58% of 72 sexually trafficked girls in Los Angeles County’s STARS Court in 2012 were foster care kids
  • The most common age for children in the sex trade is 11-13 years for boys and 12-14 years for girls

Source: California Against Slavery (CAS) Research & Education

2) Foster children are more likely to become homeless, incarcerated and/or rely on government assistance
In 2012, 23,396 youth aged out of the U.S. foster care system without the emotional and financial support necessary to succeed.

  • Nearly 40% had been homeless or couch surfed
  • Almost 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime
  • Only 48% were employed
  • 75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs
  • 17% of the females were pregnant

Source: AFCARS Report, No. 20, Jim Casey Youth

3) Foster children attain lower levels of education
While one study shows 70% of all youth in foster care have the desire to attend college, nearly 25% of youth aging out did not have a high school diploma or GED, and a mere 6% had finished a two- or four-year degree after aging out of foster care.

Source: Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth

20Feb

Discrimination in the Foster Care System

According to Dorothy Roberts, professor at Northwestern University's School of Law and author of Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (2002),
“The number of black (and Latino) children in state custody is a national disgrace that reflects systemic injustices and calls for radical reform.”

Following is an excerpt from PBS Frontline “Race and Class in the Child Welfare System” by Dorothy Roberts

According to federal statistics, black children in the child welfare system are placed in foster care at twice the rate for white children. A national study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that "minority children, and in particular African American children, are more likely to be in foster care placement than receive in-home services, even when they have the same problems and characteristics as white children" [emphasis added]. Most white children who enter the system are permitted to stay with their families, avoiding the emotional damage and physical risks of foster care placement, while most black children are taken away from theirs. And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services, and are less likely to be either returned home or adopted than any other children.

Effects of Foster Care on Children

Foster care is supposed to be a temporary solution whereby the child is adopted by a loving family or is reunited with the biological family once the situation is deemed safe. But the average child remains in foster care for two years, often being shuffled from one home to another. Some children are never reunified or adopted, and the effects are damaging:

1) Foster children are more likely to become victims of sex trafficking
Given their need for love, protection and their often impaired development of social boundaries, foster care children make easier targets for sex traffickers. According to California Against Slavery (CAS):

  • In 2012, studies estimate that between 50-80% of commercially sexually exploited children in California are or were formally involved with the child welfare system
  • 58% of 72 sexually trafficked girls in Los Angeles County’s STARS Court in 2012 were kids who had lived in foster care
  • The most common age for children in the sex trade is 11-13 years for boys and 12-14 years for girls

Source: California Against Slavery (CAS) Research & Education

2) Foster children are more likely to become homeless, incarcerated and/or rely on government assistance
In 2012, 23,396 youth aged out of the U.S. foster care system without the emotional and financial support necessary to succeed.

  • Nearly 40% had been homeless or couch surfed
  • Almost 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime
  • Only 48% were employed
  • 75% of women and 33% of men receive government benefits to meet basic needs
  • 17% of the females were pregnant

Source: AFCARS Report, No. 20, Jim Casey Youth

3) Foster children attain lower levels of education, even though one study shows 70% of all youth in foster care have the desire to attend college,

  • nearly 25% of youth aging out did not have a high school diploma or GED
  • and a mere 6% had finished a two- or four-year degree after aging out of foster care

Source: Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth

19Feb

State of African-American Children in Foster Care: Discrimination and a Bleak Future

With this post we are beginning a series of articles about racial inequalities in the Child Welfare system. Once we illuminate the issues, we will be convening a conference to address those weaknesses.

Unfortunately too many children are abused or neglected by their biological parents. When that occurs, we expect that the child welfare system will remove these children from harm and place them into safe and loving foster homes. While some children are placed with loving foster parents, given the broken state of many of America’s child welfare systems, other children are simply transferred from one harmful situation to another.

This should be alarming for anyone, but considering that African-American children make up a greater percentage of children in foster care, the effects of a broken child welfare system impacts the African-American community even more severely.

Also, child welfare services remove black children from their parent’s homes at twice the rate of white children. But should all of these children be taken from their biological families in the first place? And does poverty play a role?

Statistics on African-American Children in Foster Care
• In 2012, about 640,000 children spent time in U.S. foster care
• In 2012, more than half of children entering U.S. foster care were young people of color
• 26% of children in U.S. foster care are African-American, double the percentage of African-American children in the U.S. population

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau, “Trends in Foster Care and Adoption (FFY 2002‐FFY 2012)”

3Feb

Intensive Child Specific Recruitment Project

For the first time in well over a decade, the National Adoption Center has received a federal contract for an Intensive Child Specific Recruitment Project. Partnering with the State of New Jersey, the project has four objectives:

• To identify youth in the New Jersey child welfare system waiting the longest for an adoptive home and develop an understanding of the issues that have delayed permanency
• To reduce the amount of time that children wait for an adoptive placement
• To reduce the number of older adolescents who emancipate from care without an adoptive family
• To create an integrated model of successful intensive recruitment that has been rigorously evaluated

This project, if successful, will use a team approach and create a replicable model to secure permanent families and supports for our longest waiting children, in New Jersey and around the country.

28Jan

I Can’t Help But Wonder

My brother-in-law has terminal cancer and is living five minutes from his home in a reportedly beautiful and gracious hospice center. Nevertheless, he fights for the chance to go home, preferably not to die, but rather to live.

He is a trooper and a man of conviction. While cancer has overtaken his body, he is oh-so-alive in his mind. And, in his mind, he will continue that state as long as humanly possible. Why, you ask? I had that same question.

I can’t help but credit that, at least partially, to the love of his own brothers and sisters, my sister, and his mom and stepdad. For the past several months, my sister and his mom have tag-teamed 12-hour vigils—never leaving his side. His brother and sisters have also stayed overnight to help with shifting his position in bed, replacing ice packs, or whatever was needed.

He was diagnosed seven months ago. Young and (we thought) healthy and strong, we didn’t think his body would be ravaged so quickly. While visiting my family last summer, I remember watching his mom (who battled lung cancer and had surgery soon after his diagnosis) lovingly make his favorite meals—while she still could, and he could still enjoy them—even though she was tired and it must have been hard. When we offered to help, she would have none of it. Happy to recreate family memories through meals and give my sister a well-needed break, there was seemingly nothing she would not do for her son.

I can’t help but wonder, without the love of family, where he would be. My talk with him by phone a couple of weeks ago spoke volumes with the points he didn’t mention. Having been a hospice volunteer myself, I asked him if he was ready (to go). He vehemently said, “No! No! I am most definitely not ready to go.” He is fighting to extend his life as long as possible to be with those he loves and who love him.

He is someone who is all about family. And, clearly, his family is all about him.

As of Christmas, there is no cap on meds to make him feel comfortable. He is now at the point that he pushes a button to receive higher and higher doses of pain medication about every 10-15 minutes. But the love of this son for his wife, his mom and dad, and the rest of his family is stalwart. What is obvious: he wants to stay—for them! Giving love back to them as long as he can for the gifts of love he receives now and has his entire life.

Death – transitioning – is best done in love, with one’s loved ones. It is not something one associates with adoption. But, in perspective, it has a role.

I cannot help but think about the thousands of children and teens waiting to be adopted. If they age out of the system, while they could certainly marry and have their own families, were they faced with such a situation, parental love—perhaps in the form of meals made from scratch and heart or 12 hour vigils and bedpan duty—would be missing.

Come to think of it, life is best done in love, with one’s loved ones, too. It is the small moments of being together—in fun times or bittersweet moments—that comprise the not-thought-of parts of reasons to adopt and build a family through love.

Our (adopted) daughter said she talked with her uncle recently and told him how happy she is to know him, and thanked him for the sparkle and the genuine love and laughter he brought to our family. She recounted how blessed she felt that we shared our lives. In saying good-bye, she wanted him to know the fabric of family certainly extends beyond his nuclear one.

But having a nuclear one is important.

Adoption, in its purpose and greatness, does change lives. I can’t help but wonder if relating this would get others to think about the small, subtle and perhaps unspoken and unimagined ways that adoption—the building of family—for life and even for death—is the gift of a lifetime/ultimate gift.

12Jan

Get to Know Your Leaders

As we begin a new year, we encourage you to take a few minutes to learn a little bit about your Congressional leaders and their stance on adoption. Now is a great opportunity to begin building a relationship with your two Senate offices and your district Representative. Each office has Congressional staff who handle domestic adoption and child welfare or foster care issues. Sometime this month, make time to do a five-minute phone call (to your 2 Senators and 1 Representative) to find out who that staff person is and introduce yourself. You are a valuable resource to them – don’t miss the opportunity to make sure they know who you are! Call their office, introduce yourself as a constituent and ask for the staff that handles these issues. To find contact telephone numbers for your U.S. Senators click here. To find contact information for your U.S. Representatives click here.

The two primary Committees with jurisdiction over foster care/child welfare issues include the Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, Human Resources Subcommittee. Senate Finance Committee Chairmanship will be led by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and the Ranking Member will be Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR). To find a full list of Senate Finance Committee members click here. In the House, the full Ways and Means Committee will be chaired by Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Representative Sander Levin (D-MI) will remain as Ranking Member. The new Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman will be Representative Charles Boustany (R-LA) and Representative Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) is expected to continue as the Ranking Member. To find a full list of House Ways and Means Committee members click here.

Remember…your voice counts!
11Dec

PARENTAL SEXUALITY - guest blog

The sometimes volatile discourse surrounding the right of or appropriateness of gays and/or lesbian adults to adopt children yearning for permanence and forever families triggers, for me, memories of my “family secret”…a secret hidden at great emotional cost to me, my brothers and my mother. This secret undermined our financial security, sense of personal safety and was a crippling embarrassment. Our father’s alcoholism was, then, seen a disgrace rather than diagnosed as disease. Given the choice I’d take gay any day!

Were my parents loving and devoted? Yes…still no family is without difficulties and uniqueness. Adults who embody integrity, love, acceptance, stability, commitment, honesty, openness and candor are the bedrock of a civil society. Individuals embracing some or all of these attributes make superb parents and role models. Sexual preference may be descriptive but it is not defining of sound parenting.

Prejudice and intolerance are THE purgative anvils of a dysfunctional society,. These two often level irreparable harm to children and putrefy our humanity.

My own family is blessed with one adopted son among our three children. He is mixed racially – the rest of us are not. At age 3 he was often asked by children, “How come you don’t look anything like your mom?” His favorite answer, “Different strokes for different folks.” Those who are accepting count to him. Unaccepting people don’ t count.

Parental sexuality doesn’t count to children. Caring, courageous, loving parents are the wind beneath their children’s wings. This very wind gusts-away questions of sexual preference.

contributed by Kelly Wolfington, NAC Board Member

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