Friday, May 27, 2011

US Supreme Court Decides Camreta v. Green

FosterEema here with a legal update posting occasioned by a US Supreme Court decision issued yesterday morning. You may recall I previously wrote about Camreta v. Green, and I made a second post predicting what I thought the Supreme Court might do. So, what did the Supreme Court decide?

Yesterdays's decision, which you can read on the Court's web site (PDF), reached three conclusions. I'll share them all, even though only the first is only likely of interest to Constitutional Law geeks like me:

  1. The fact that a government official "wins" a case by virtue of qualified immunity does not deny that official Article III standing to seek appellate review of the underlying Constitutional issue in the case.
  2. In this case, the appeal is moot because the minor has left the State of Oregon and will soon turn 18, ensuring that she can never again be the subject of an Oregon social services investigation. Therefore, the appeal should be dismissed as moot.
  3. Because the subsequent events (S.G. growing up and moving to Florida) render the case moot, the 9th Circuit's Constitutional decision has essentially become unreviewable. Since the Supreme Court's general practice is that no foundational Constitutional principle should be established "by default", the 9th Circuit's decision on the 4th Amendment issue is vacated pursuant to United States v. Munsingwear.

This is (mostly) the outcome I predicted, but let me take a minute to re-state for everyone what the practical effects of this decision are.

As a practical matter, the Ninth Circuit's holding (that search warrants are required when social services workers and police officers interview a child in a school setting*) is no longer valid law. Camreta v. Green can not be cited in any other case in support of that proposed rule, and CWS workers need not assume they will always need a search warrant in this context. Since the issue remains undecided, qualified immunity may be a defense to future Constitutional claims against social workers under the Fourth Amendment. The law as it now stands is, for all intents and purposes, as it was before Camreta v. Green was decided.

However, this statement carries with it a caution for child welfare professionals. Because the Supreme Court decided the case on mootness grounds, they did so without actually considering the Constitutional issue of when a search warrant is or is not required. For this reason, while social workers need not assume they always need a search warrant to conduct a custodial interview of a child in a school setting, neither can they safely assume that a search warrant is never required. It could well be, in some future case where the appeal is not frustrated by mootness, that the Supreme Court will rule that search warrants are required in this context.

My suspicion (and, I must admit, my hope) is that social services agencies will decide that obtaining a search warrant is cheaper than fighting yet another legal battle like the one Camreta and his employer fought here. In true exigent circumstances, of course, a warrant is not required. But I've always felt the idea that any child welfare investigation automatically constitutes exigent circumstances for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment is absolute nonsense. It remains to be seen, of course, whether the Supreme Court will ultimately agree with me, but I hope they do.

At the end of the day, we're back to where we were before this case was decided: The answer to the question "do social workers require search warrants to talk to a child in school?" is a very clear and unequivocal "who the heck knows?"

* This case only reaches the Fourth Amendment issue in the context of an interview conducted in a school. In a prior case, Calabretta v. Floyd, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that (at least within the states of AZ, CA, NV, ID, MT, OR, WA, AK, HI and the Northern Mariana Islands) a search warrant was required to conduct a forced interview and search of a child in the context of the family's home. This decision was never appealed to the Supreme Court, so it remains binding law within the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is Anyone Having Trouble with Mobile Browsers?

A quick administrative note here...

I received an e-mail this morning from a reader who told me she isn't able to view my blog with an iPad.  Specifically, the page displays for a moment, and then her screen goes blank.

I've checked the blog with several mobile devices, and I'm not able to replicate the issue.

Is anyone else having a similar problem with a mobile device?

If you are having trouble, please shoot me a private e-mail.  I'd like to solve this problem, if I can.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Economics Determine a Child's Future

Last Tuesday, GB's Mom wrote about how a child's future is often determined by economics, even though it shouldn't. In her post, she wrote:

Economics should never determine a child's future. Society has an obligation to provide what each child needs.

Although I agree with this statement in principle, I think making this a reality is somewhat impossible.  I've been arguing, almost from day one, that if the child welfare system is going to remove children from their birth families, then the system owes them all the services and supports they need to be successful.  This money should come from the system, not the individual foster or adoptive parents who care for these kids, as may of these children have needs that far exceed the financial abilities of most average, middle class families.

Even if a family has the ability to pay, finding the right services can often be difficult, if not impossible.  Not all communities have excellent (or even good) mental health care providers.  Not all communities have the necessary supports for children with physical, emotional or developmental disabilities.

Perhaps some would argue that these families should have thought about that problem before they adopted, but the truth is that often there isn't a reliable way to predict what a child will need until the adoption is finalized, and it's far too late for the family to back out.

The sad reality is, a child's future is limited by the economic means of her parents.  Even when a child hasn't been taken into foster care, her future is often determined by economic circumstance.  Poor students often do not have access to institutions of higher learning, due to their inability to pay, while wealthier students enjoy that privilege.

The economic differences aren't just limited to whether or not a child will go to college.  If a low-income child struggles in school, her family will have to be content with whatever tutoring and special-education services her district can provide.  Wealthier students, on the other hand, can be sent to private tutors, or even special boarding schools for kids with educational difficulties.

Bottom line, the services a child will receive have a lot to do with not only the parents' economic situation, but the community's as well.  If a family lives in a well-to-do area, the chances of the schools having better funding and more resources are much higher.  And too, a lot can depend on the willingness and ability of a family to secure and service debt to pay for treatments that can't be paid for in cash.

Although I think the goal of providing publicly-funded services to every child in need is laudable, I think that making it a reality is impractical.  Although the public might agree with the idea that every child should receive the services he or she needs, when it translates into higher taxes, people balk.  Most middle-class folks object to paying higher taxes to fund programs from which they do not personally benefit.

Without money, programs to provide services to troubled and traumatized children simply can't exist.

Although I'm not one to argue in favor of conspiracy theories, I have wondered why all of a sudden there seems to be such a push to get kids taken into foster care and then ultimately adopted.  Is it because it's better for the children?  I'd argue that, in some cases, it's not.  Although there are cases where a removal is necessary, there are many cases where the removal is questionable.  Could  it be that the huge push to remove kids from arguably neglectful situations is simply a cost-shifting strategy?  If a child is placed in a foster or adoptive home that makes "too much money" to qualify for publicly-funded services, doesn't the state save money by not having to pay for those services?

It's an interesting question, anyway.

Friday, May 20, 2011

More on the Physical Costs of Special Needs Adoption

In response to The Costs of Special Needs Adoption - Part IV, marythemom wrote:

Physical costs:

1. I've gotten shingles twice.

2. High stress, lowers your body's resistance/ immune system so I get sick more often (and can't afford to take the time to completely heal).

3. Scars from bites and fingernails (infected).

4. Sore muscles from the physical strain of physical restraints and holding my body stiffly due to tension.

5. Weight- RAD parents typically gain 20lbs a year - we eat to replace the love we don't get from the kids. 70+lbs. *sigh*

6. Mental health - I have mild bipolar, but only need medication when I'm under high stress... guess when I had to go on meds.

7. To try to get everything done, and probably partly as a symptom of my bipolar, I rarely sleep anymore. I stay up till the wee hours of the morning, reading blogs and other support groups, or just playing solitaire type games to destress.

8. I never go to the doctor anymore. Partly because I don't have time, but also because we don't have health insurance, because I can't get a job, because I'm home all day supervising two special needs kids.

9. And so on...

I would have included Mary's comment in my previous post, but for the fact that I'd already gone to bed when it came it.  She's absolutely spot-on with this list, and I can't really elaborate any further on what she has to say.

I absolutely understand the debilitating affects that stress and lack of sleep have on a body, and how absolutely tired my wife and I feel nearly all the time.

Thank you for sharing your list, Mary.  You are absolutely right.

The Costs of Special Needs Adoption - Part V

This week, I've focused on writing about the various costs associated with special needs fostering and adoption. So far, I've addressed the financial, social, emotional and physical costs. While I have been writing my series, Carrie over at Days of Wonder and Grace has written about the unforeseen costs of International adoption, and how adoptions can impact family income.

If you haven't stopped by Carrie's blog, please do so. Since she's writing from the perspective of International adoption, she's thought of a few things that I didn't consider.

So for today's post, and the wrap-up for this series, I'd like to revisit some of the comments that I've received.

In response to Part I, Barb in No. WI wrote:

Regarding the subsidies: We were not even told about the subsidies while going through the adoption process. We would have gone through with it regardless, but that should have been standard information. WE had to teach the social worker about it, once we found out. I'm grateful we have it, particularly the medical care.

Really looking forward to what you have to say about social costs. For us, that's been even more "expensive" that the things with a price tag. 

And Baggage said:

My daughter qualified for a behavioral subsidy but nobody told me that until I figured it out a couple of years later. The missing work thing is a big one. I worked from home when I was actively fostering, I don't think that I could do it now with a full time job. Even now, I miss a lot of work to deal with "crisis" calls from my oldest. Another possible cost is to meet the household regulations, different places have strange regulations and I've known people who have had to spend a lot of money on fences or renovations to the house because of procedural issues. 

As Barb and Baggage both pointed out, it's not uncommon for adoptive families not to know about the adoption subsidies that are available when they adopt special-needs kids.  I'm not sure why this happens so often, whether it's because the state is simply trying to save money and "forgets" about this resource, or if workers in other areas are so used to adopting out healthy, white infants who aren't eligible for the subsidies that it slips through the cracks.

In any case, for those interested, here's more information about adoption assistance subsidies.

In response to Part II, Lisa replied:

You nailed it! The undermining of our parental authority was/is astonishing. I am constantly amazed at the lengths even strangers will go to to make my child happy - at the cost of well, EVERYTHING. I resent the person for intruding and acting like they know my child (hint - nobody REALLY knows the kid besides the parents). I resent my child for putting me in this position where I look hostile and unreasonable.

I have grieved for lost friends, family members and lack of support from our community at large.

I think that people tend to believe the worst when it comes to adoptive/foster parents. When there are constant complaints from the child, the other adults take the stance of, "where there's smoke, there's fire" - no matter what the facts are.

Frankly, I find the cost a bit too steep.

 As I mentioned in my post, I think the social costs are often more "expensive" than some of the financial, emotional and physical costs we pay as parents.  Lisa is absolutely spot-on when she says people like to believe the worst of foster and adoptive parents, especially when there are constant complaints from the child.  People do assume "where there's smoke, there's fire," even in the case where a child has been proven to tell false tales.

I know many families, ours included, that have gone through the pain of investigations that were sparked, in whole or in part, by false allegations made by a child.

In response to Part III, Tara - SanitySrchr wrote:

I can definitely see where the emotional toll is brutal. I know how hard it was to just go through the process to get licensed. It was a flurry of excitement and defeat and excitement once more that ended in an explosion equivalent to that of a nuclear bomb. It's a complicated ordeal to foster and/or adopt.

I think to some extent parenting any child can be somewhat of a roller coaster ride. I think for those of us parenting special needs kids, though, that ride can be way more extreme than the typical ups and downs of parenthood.  Most parents of "typical" children don't regularly deal with rages that last for hours, threats of physical violence, theft or property damage.

Averagethinkagain said:

The emotional cost on those of us with children who are from the system or not ours biologically is greater than many people can imagine or want to imagine.

Our son was so far behind educationally when we got him that it was scary. Getting him on track educationally requires me to stay at home and homeschool him (the schools in our area are nothing to brag about), and slowly guide him along.

Financially, it costs us more than we could imagine. He qualifies for insurance through the state due to his emotional/mental health needs, but little else.

Mentally? Some days it's draining. Some days it's not. It's a coin toss.

Emotionally? Some days I want to cry, especially when he rages. Some days I think he can help it, other days I wonder if he could help it if he tried. I just don't know.

His birth family. His biological mom causes many of his rages, and is a trigger. She calls non-stop, then she doesn't call for weeks. When she does call, he feels like the main reason she calls is to interrogate him regarding us (The Parents). No one in his family even bothered to call him this year to wish him a happy birthday for christ sakes.

At the end of the day though, they are just our kids (we have two). They may not be ours biologically, but we try not to look at them that way. We love them, and that's that.

For those who judge us based on how we see things, or how our children effect us... Until they walk a day in our shoes and actually experience the child(ren) we have in our homes first hand (and not go just off a rant, a release, a post, or whatever), I really think they need to keep their mouths shut.

"Until they walk a day in our shoes..."  I think this is a hugely important thing to keep in mind.  It's very easy to believe, after reading some of the war stories from people who are parenting special needs kids, that one could somehow do better in similar circumstances.  One of the first blogs I read was authored by a parent who had children suffering from FASD.  I had a hard time believing that kids could possibly do some of the things those kids did.

But now, I know better.

They absolutely can do the crazy things foster and adoptive parents blog about, and it is unbelievably difficult to live with.  It's easy for outsiders to criticize, and a lot harder for them to offer a struggling family any meaningful, real help.

This concludes my series wrap-up (there were no comments on part IV) on on the costs of special needs adoption.  What I'd like people to take away from this series is that it's very easy to go into a special needs adoption wearing rose-colored glasses.  People like to believe in happy endings, and don't always realize the full extent of a child's needs.  That problem can be made worse by social workers who don't always accurately or completely reveal the depth or breadth of a child's needs.

Even when a child's needs are known, life has a way of creating surprises.  Sometimes kids do much better than predicted, while others do much, much worse.  I think the most important thing any family can do is to go into this process with eyes wide open.  It's very easy to get caught up in wanting to do the right thing, only to realize later that perhaps one's good intentions have created a less-than-desirable end for everyone.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Costs of Special Needs Adoption - Part IV

This week I've written about the financial, social and emotional costs of special needs adoption.  In today's installment, I'm going to talk about some of the physical costs, which are often completely overlooked.

There are four ways special needs children can take a physical toll on parents.  The first, and probably the most obvious, is the toll one pays dealing with a child's schedule.  The constant shuffling between psychiatric, educational, medical and dental appointments can wear a parent out.  I remember at one point we had thirteen meetings a week scheduled for our child, including the extra-curricular activities that were supposed to be "fun."

We were exhausted.  Trying to juggle our child's schedule, our work, and our own personal needs was impossible, so our needs fell to the bottom of the stack as our work and our child took priority over everything else.  The word tired didn't even come close, and the first year after we became foster parents we were sick with every cold and flu bug that our kid brought home from school.

The second physical price parents of special needs kids can pay is when they have to manage a child's troubling behavior.  If a family struggles with a child's emotional or behavioral problems, the inevitable emotional roller coaster that goes with it can be exhausting.  Keeping one's emotions in check, trying to stick to therapeutic parenting techniques, and managing one's own hurt, fear and disappointment can wear out even the most determined parent.  Although the behaviors themselves can be emotionally wearing to the point of causing physical exhaustion, physically dealing with them can be tiring as well.  If a child's behaviors are severe enough, one might find themselves in the position of having to give restraint, or defend against a physical attack.

The third physical cost is that which is created by simply caring for the child.  This is especially true when one cares for a child with a physical disability.  Children who require mobility assistance, diaper changes, or help bathing and dressing don't stop growing.  A kid who is easy to lift and move around when he is five can become just as large and heavy as an adult by the time he is a teenager.

Having done physical home health care back in my late 20's for a man with cerebral palsy, I can attest to the fact that this type of care can be very physically demanding.  At the time, I was young and strong, and I found creative ways to get him in and out of the bathtub without a lift, or off the floor without help.  The job was made more difficult because there wasn't funding for another aide, so I never got a break.  I worked for this gentleman, day after day, week after week, month after month, with no days off.  After a while, I started to develop chronic back pain, which numerous visits to the chiropractor didn't help.  Eventually, the daily stresses of caring for him became too much.  I had to quit.

Parents don't have the option of quitting. 

Finally, caring for special needs can be especially stressful, and stress can create a huge physical toll in and of itself.  Stress can cause a variety of physical and emotional ailments, and dealing with it 24/7 with little or no respite can wipe a body out.

The reality too, especially for the kids with higher needs, is that it's very hard to separate out all the different costs that parents might pay for their special needs children.  Financial and social difficulties can lead to a parent's emotional struggles, stress, and physical illnesses.  Even more troubling is that there really isn't a way to predict ahead of time what a child's needs might be. 

For those that want to take on special-needs kids, I strongly suggest that you do it while you are still relatively young and strong.  It's much easier to deal with the financial, social, emotional and physical challenges earlier in life because there's more years ahead during which you can bounce back.  It's much easier to deal with a financial crisis when you have more earning years ahead, and it's much easier to deal with the social, emotional and physical challenges when your body and mind is more resilient.

Next up: Reader Comments

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Costs of Special Needs Adoption - Part III

Earlier this week, I wrote on the financial and social costs of special needs adoption.  Today, I am going to cover a topic that I find difficult to write about -- the emotional costs of special needs adoption.

For me, personally, the emotional price of our adoption has been far greater than the financial and social costs combined, though the three are closely tied together.

Sometimes, it can feel as though fostering or adopting special-needs children is like riding five separate roller coasters at the same time.  Each coaster peaks and valleys at different places along the track, and one can easily feel torn to pieces by the conflicting events and resulting emotions.

The first, and most obvious, roller coaster is the one parents ride as the case unfolds.  With any given child, cases can take any number of twists and turns.  If the child is placed as a foster child, parents rarely know how long he will remain in their home.  Will he remain through the holidays? for his birthday? through the end of the school year?  The uncertainty frequently creates an emotional wild ride, as families make plans, then cancel or reschedule them, based on the outcome of their child's case.

If reunification efforts are being made, even if a family is hoping for the child to return home, they are still difficult to watch.  Rarely the path to reunification is straightforward.  Birth parents are not always successful in jumping through the hoops laid before them.  Although it might seem easy for a birth parent to comply with the typical requirements to get sober, find a job, seek counseling, attend parenting classes and maintain appropriate and safe housing, it is rarely that straightforward*.  They try, fail, try again, and sometimes give up.  Social workers and courts give them more and more time, and the wait becomes frustrating for everyone.

It doesn't matter whether a family is hoping to adopt or hoping for reunification, because it's the not knowing that makes things emotionally difficult.  How do you plan your life not knowing whether you'll be packing up a child's belongings, or making a forever home, days, weeks, or months from now?

The second roller coaster is the one that follows the child's progress.  It doesn't matter if the child is considered special needs because of educational, behavioral, mental health, medical or orthopedic concerns, because the ride is the same.  Parents have to locate and fight for appropriate services, many of which are hard to find and even harder to fund.  Once the services are in place, parents often find themselves holding their breath as their child struggles through the maze of educational, behavioral, mental health and medical interventions which are not always successful.

The third roller coaster is the ride connected with a family's finances.  Although wealthy families can usually afford needed services, and low-income ones qualify for free programs, it is the middle class families who really suffer.  Parents wonder, worry and struggle to pay for programs and services for which they are "too rich" to qualify.  The stress of trying to secure funding or to manage insurmountable debt to pay for expensive interventions can be huge, since most middle class families don't have a vast bank account upon which they can draw.

The fourth roller coaster follows the emotional highs and lows that accompany the social costs of special needs children.  Professional relationships can be undermined, personal ones strained, and even marital relationships can implode under the sheer weight of a child's problems, if they are severe enough.  At the times when families need the most support, they can find themselves dealing with both the practical consequences of not having resources to fall back on, but the emotional ones as well.

Finally, the fifth roller coaster is the most difficult ride of all.  This is the one that follows the ups and downs of the child's emotional development and his relationship with his family.  If a foster or adoptive child has serious emotional, behavioral or mental health challenges, parenting him can often not be very much fun.  It can be incredibly difficult to like a child who rages, tantrums, damages one's home or property, or becomes violent.

Parents who find themselves struggling to like or bond with their foster or adopted kids can find themselves wrestling with an array of difficult emotions.  Society teaches that one should always like and love one's children, and parents who don't end up feeling guilty.  They may desperately want to like or love their child, but because of outbursts and negative behaviors, it can be incredibly difficult to build that bond.  Guilt and shame can make them feel like failures, and the grief of not having the family they had hoped to build can be overwhelming.

Speaking from my own personal experience, I have found the emotional costs of special needs adoption to have been the most difficult to bear.  I feel like our family has tried to do the right thing, only to realize that perhaps it wasn't the right thing to do after all.  We've tried to build a family, but more often than not it feels like we have failed. I am disappointed, not only for myself, but for my child as well.  It's clear that we all hoped that the adoption would have resulted in a happier ending than what we've seen.

And perhaps, with some of the emotional, mental health and behavioral challenges our child is facing,  the reality is that her ending simply can't be as happy as we'd like.  It's a bitter and disappointing realization to arrive at the conclusion that even if our child had been placed in the perfect family, she would still be struggling with educational, emotional and behavioral problems.  Her life was unnecessarily made hard, and it grieves me to no end.

Next up: The Physical Costs of Special Needs Adoption

* And this assumes that the social workers are acting in good faith, which doesn't always happen.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Unforeseen Costs of International Special Needs Adoption

While I am writing my series on the costs associated with domestic special needs adoption, it seems my series has inspired Carrie, over at Days of Wonder and Grace, to write a similar series about the unforeseen costs of International special needs adoption.

Although I don't have any experience with International adoption, I thought Carrie's post had some valuable information, so I thought I should give her some linky love.

If you stop by, tell her you came by way of my blog, will you?

The Costs of Special Needs Adoption - Part II

Yesterday, I covered some of the financial costs that arise from fostering or adopting special needs children.  I had a number of really excellent comments, which I plan on writing about later in the series, so if you don't normally bother to read comments, it's worth backtracking and taking a second look at that post.

Today I am going to examine some of the social costs that come from fostering or adopting special needs kids.  For many families, this is the one area that can be hugely "expensive."  Although it's often  easy for people to say, "it's only money," when it comes to the extra financial expense of special needs adoptions, it's a much different thing to take a cavalier attitude about the relationships one has with friends, family, co-workers, and community members.

What makes the social costs so high is that most families do care what people think of them.  Although there's often an immediate social bonus when one mentions that one is a foster or adoptive parent ("you must be a saint for taking in those poor children") that social bonus can vanish once people discover that the children aren't the angels they assumed they would be.

Although it's absolutely unfair, parents are often judged by the way their children behave.  If their kids are rude, disrespectful, throw public tantrums, get in trouble at school or in the community, steal, lie, set fires, or are cruel to animals, outsiders frequently believe that these shortcomings are due to a failure in parenting.  Most people simply do not understand that these children were damaged before they were placed in their foster or adoptive home, and no amount of good parenting (at least in the short term) will fix all behavioral problems.  If a child has intellectual or mental health issues, there's no guarantee that those problems will ever be cured completely, if at all.

In addition to being judged by outsiders, parents often have to contend with well-meaning outsiders trying to give advice.  It's very common to find oneself on the receiving end of good-intentioned, but completely unhelpful, suggestions.  People will say things like, "that kid just needs a good spanking," "you are being too soft on the kid," or "you are being too hard on the kid, lighten up!"  They don't understand that just because discipline technique x worked on their kids, that it won't work equally well on a special needs child. (Parents of biological children with special needs, such as kids with Asperger's Syndrome, experience this too.)

Once confronted with not-so-helpful advice, parents often find themselves with several problems on their hands.  First, if the suggestion was made in front of the child, parental authority has been undermined by a well-intentioned outsider, and a control battle with the child can often ensue.  Even if the suggestion was not made in front of the child, the parent still has to find a graceful way not to accept the advice.  People don't always take kindly to rejection of their meant-to-be-helpful suggestions, which further increases the social costs for the parent.

Not only does one become a "bad" parent because one has unruly children, one becomes even worse for not following helpful advice.

If the disapproval of others and unsolicited "assvice" from strangers isn't difficult enough, one frequently has to deal with people who simply ignore one's parenting rules.  These well-meaning friends, extended family members, teachers or other professionals think that they know best, and try to treat the child as if they were "normal."  This type of undermining can come in the form of privileges or activities that a child isn't normally allowed, or in some cases, the breaking of a family's dietary rules.  It's easy for outsiders to let a child do (or eat) something "fun," when they fail to realize their actions could have an affect that lasts for days.

The trouble caused by people who undermine or ignore a family's rules is huge, but worse, it undermines whatever relationship might be in place.  The well-intentioned outsider feels resentment because the family is so strict and doesn't allow their child to have a "normal" childhood, and the parents feel resentful that their boundaries weren't respected.  Often, what were formerly strong familial and communal ties become strained, as the resentments and lack of understanding perpetuates the problems.

Unfortunately, the social costs that can come from special-needs children aren't just limited to what outsiders see.  Often, the problem is made worse by the children themselves.  The reality for most foster and adoptive parents is that it isn't a matter of if there will be a false allegation made, it's really a matter of when and what kind.  Even if a family is lucky enough to escape a child welfare investigation, a child's complaining about his or her foster or adoptive parents is enough to bring them down in the eyes of others.  People want to believe children, and they often forget that  kids, especially those coming from traumatic backgrounds, will lie.

It's not at all uncommon for children who have spent time in the foster care system to manipulate adults.  They will pit adults against each other in acts of deceit, manipulation and triangulation, and they'll sit back and watch the drama unfold.  They will create discord between parents, teachers and professionals, painting their parents as unreasonable, cruel or unfair.

And the outsiders believe them.

What's worse is that as the number of allegations (whether investigated or not, and whether substantiated or not) increases, outsiders start to wonder if there really is something wrong with the family in question.  Surely their child wouldn't complain so much or behave so badly if the parents were doing a good job.

Once one's reputation as a "bad parent" starts to circulate, it's only a matter of time before friends begin dropping off of one's social calendar.  Social contacts can dry up, respite providers disappear, and even trusted friends will sometimes find reasons not to return phone calls.

Eventually, a child's problems can reach the point where the social price ends up trickling down and affecting their social life as well.  Although the child may be charming and well-behaved with strangers, stories of the "nutbar" parents circulate, and the "good" parents stop allowing their kids to socialize with the children of the "bad" ones.

Once a family's social supports start to dissolve, couples find themselves in an increasingly difficult position.  Troubled children are often masters at pitting one parent against the other, and it's not uncommon for parents of special-needs kids to find themselves in conflict with each other, or even filing for divorce.

Now it's only fair to point out that these social costs (just like the financial ones I described yesterday) don't affect every family so severely that their entire social network collapses and they file for divorce.  However, it can and does happen, and people fail to consider the possibility ahead of time. I'm also not trying to say that you should never adopt a special needs kid.

Just know that, if you do, there can be consequences, they may be profound, and you need to be prepared.

Next up: The Emotional Costs of Special Needs Adoption

Monday, May 16, 2011

Administrative Note: Blogger Problems

Just a quick administrative note...

As I mentioned in Friday's post, Blogger has been having problems.  I've noticed a few other writers complaining about similar difficulties, so this problem hasn't been confined to just my blog.

FosterEema spent a few minutes researching the problem, and discovered that Blogger Buzz has reported they have been having problems since Wednesday.  As of Sunday (5/15), most of the problems should be resolved.

Unfortunately, just prior to Blogger having their problem, I was in the process of re-organizing some of my content.  The combination of my changes, plus Blogger's technical problems, caused a number of posts on the blog to disappear, reappear, and disappear again.  Not fully understanding at the time that my blog's difficulties were being caused by Blogger's malfunction, I went ahead and yanked everything except for the first two posts until I could figure out what was going on.

So, my apologies to those of you who are using feed readers, as I'm sure this has been especially confusing.

I do plan to republish my content for those who have been asking.  I'll be re-categorizing some of my posts, adding tags and cleaning up typos, so this will be a process that will unfold over the next few days and weeks.

Again, my apologies to those of you using feed readers.  Thank you for your patience, and I hope that Blogger's technical difficulties will be sorted out shortly.

The Costs of Special Needs Adoption - Part I

This week, I will be writing a short series about the costs involved in special needs fostering and adoption. Although many costs are pretty obvious, there are others that prospective foster and adoptive parents might not consider ahead of time. Some of these things we were made aware of before we started fostering, but many we didn't learn about until it was too late.

In today's post, I am going to discuss the financial impact of fostering or adopting special needs children. It is important to realize that kids, even one's own healthy biological children, can be costly. The costs involved in feeding and clothing a child can sometimes be surprising, even for the most thrifty and clever families. It is important to realize that the foster care and adoption assistance stipends offered in most states aren't enough to decently feed, house, and clothe your average kid. Subsidies are especially lacking for younger children, and generally aren't enough to keep the little ones in diapers or formula.

So, if one is planning to foster or adopt, one needs to be prepared for the fact that the subsidy money won't cover all out-of-pocket expenses. Although many parents may think they are prepared for this, sometimes they find themselves taken by surprise.

This problem can often seem worse when a child is first placed. It is not uncommon for kids to arrive with nothing more than the clothes on their backs, but initial clothing vouchers and stipends are often late in coming. For an unprepared foster family, this can create an unexpected burden on the family budget.

When one is parenting a special-needs child, there are often many costs that go far beyond what one would expect. Children with physical, intellectual, or emotional problems often can require an unexpected number of medical visits, therapies and other interventions, not all of which are fully covered by the provided state-sponsored or any private insurance the family might have. Although the more seriously affected kids might qualify for difficulty of care subsidies, even those aren't always enough to cover medical supplies, medications, insurance co-payments, respite, or the cost of residential care.

Although direct, out-of-pocket costs can often be unexpected, it is the hidden financial costs of fostering and adopting that can be a larger surprise. Prospective parents generally have an idea of the direct costs they will face when they foster or adopt, but they do not always realize that fostering or adopting special needs kids can have a big impact on a family's ability to earn an income.

The biggest impact a special-needs child can have on a family is in terms of scheduling. Many kids have multiple appointments per week, including trips to court, therapy, medical appointments, parent/teacher conferences and birth family visits. Most, if not all, of these appointments will need to be scheduled during business hours, and will require a parent to take time off from work. The number of appointments can seriously interfere with a parent's ability do his or her job, making it very difficult for a two-income or single-parent household to maintain its standard of living.

Even when one has an understanding boss, it still can be hard, especially if a parent is dealing with a child with emotional or behavioral problems. Bosses and clients tend to have a limit to the number of times they can expect sudden absences because of family crises. Once in a while can be forgiven, but woe to the employee who has an extremely difficult child.

Self-employment can help with this problem, but even that has limits. Most self-employed people still need to meet their customers' obligations. It can be very tough when one finds themselves participating in intensive in-home therapeutic interventions that can take up to as much as eight hours per week. It is extremely hard to keep up with work when one is running around from appointment to appointment, many of which can be emotionally exhausting.

In addition to interfering with one's ability to work, special-needs kids coming from overseas orphanages or the domestic foster care system frequently come bundled with emotional or behavioral problems. In addition to the expected costs of therapy and medications, it is not uncommon for kids to steal or deliberately destroy things of value. Parents do not expect to pay for serious damage done to their home by their children. Some kids will slash tires, punch holes in walls, shatter windows, break furniture, or deliberately urinate or defecate in places other than the toilet.

In some cases, not only will kids destroy a family's home, but they will do damage to the neighborhood as well. Parents can easily find themselves paying for damages to their own home, and for damages done to the property of others. Although foster parents often enjoy limited liability from the damages their troubled kids might do to others, they are rarely reimbursed for the damages their kids cause to their homes and property.

Part of the problem with fostering or adopting special needs children is that one rarely is given full information about a child to be able to properly plan for these costs. More often than not, a family doesn't realize the extent of a child's needs, and the costs associated with those needs, until they are already committed. By then, it can be too late, sometimes because an adoption has already been finalized, and sometimes because a disruption would be too painful for everyone involved.

Next up: The Social Costs of Special Needs Adoption

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Common Consensus Is...

First an administrative note: It seems Blogger has been having some difficulty, and I haven't been able to get in and manage content for a good chunk of the day.

Next up, it seems I've attracted the ire of a number of unhappy folks who have sent me some pretty nasty comments and have posted a few threats. Okay people, I get it. You don't like me.


I'm sorry that you don't like me or what I have to say. I guess my question to you is this -- if you don't like me so much, and don't like what I have to say, why are you still reading my blog?

That being said, I thought I'd share what the consensus (at least among some of my readers) seems to be...

This video is NOT safe for work. Don't play it in front of the little ones, either.

Okay, fine. Everybody's voiced their opinion. I got it. Enough already.

Back to regularly-scheduled content next week.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XXV

I'm sure that this is old news for some folks who are good about following current events, but since I'm not sure this story has received much in the way of national news coverage, it's worth sharing.

From Michigan radio:

Plan would require foster children to shop for clothing in thrift stores

Foster children in Michigan would use their state-funded clothing allowance only in thrift stores under a plan suggested by State Senator Bruce Caswell.

Caswell says he wants to make sure that state money set aside to buy clothes for foster children and kids of the working poor is actually used for that purpose.

He says they should get "gift cards" to be used only at Salvation Army, Goodwill or other thrift stores.

Although I can understand that the plan is designed to a) reduce costs and b) ensure that foster children actually receive the clothing to which they are entitled, it's a dumb idea.

I've already written about foster children using garbage bags as luggage, and I think this plan is yet another way that foster kids will be forced into feeling like second-class citizens. If the only place they are allowed to shop for clothing is at a thrift store, that tells the child that they aren't worth anything new.

That's a crappy place to be.

Even within in-tact families, many kids grow up feeling that wearing hand-me-downs from older siblings is a source of shame. Although some kids look forward to wearing their older brother or sister's cool shirt, many younger kids feel a certain amount of resentment that the older children get the new stuff and they don't.

How is a foster child going to feel, especially if he or she is living in a home where the biological children get new stuff?

Again, I think this is a place where the foster care system fails kids. It fails to recognize that these children have feelings. Putting a child in foster care shouldn't further traumatize a child. If the state is going to assume the role of a parent, it should assume the role of a really good parent, and that means things like a good education, proper services and new clothing.

Now I'll admit that not everything we bought for our own child was new. She's received a lot of new clothes over the years, from us, from friends and from our relatives. She's also been given quite a few nice hand-me-downs from friends, and we've made a few trips to the secondhand store. Danielle's clothing consists of a mix of stuff, most new, some not.

Now I don't think that taking a foster child to shop at a used clothing store is inherently bad. Going to a thrift shop is like a treasure hunt, in that you never know what you might find. Sometimes, you find vintage clothing. Sometimes, you find brand new, name-brand items with the tags still on them. Sometimes, you find nothing at all. It can be an interesting and fun adventure.

But my worry with Michigan's plan is that it would force kids into a position of using thrift stores for everything, and that just feels lousy. Who wants to wear secondhand underwear or socks, for example?

Although I understand Senator Caswell is all about saving money for the state, I think the plan is a bad one because it fails to recognize the emotional impact it will have on the kids who fall under the policy.

I think a better plan would be to do what our state does: twice a year, foster parents receive a check for x amount of money, which they can spend any way they like. It's not a lot of money, and many foster families end up dipping into their own pockets and spending more than what the clothing allowance provides. If the state is worried that parents aren't spending the money properly, then perhaps they should just require that the parents show receipts to prove what was purchased.

So if we are going to improve the foster care system, politicians need to recognize that these children are human beings with thoughts, feelings and emotions, and not simply numbers on a spreadsheet.