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“Foster-adopt” as a case study in the problems of adoption language & information hiding (BBBP part 1)

I’ve often mentioned how blogging here on Baby Love Child comes up against certain difficulties tied to how this so often amounts to some version of “coming in in the middle.”

In order to write a piece, I must first back up and try to lay out some of the inherent assumptions and pieces of information crucial to getting to what it is I’m really trying to write about. These next two posts, then, are a result of having to write a few core pieces that later posts will inherently rely upon.

Prior to writing about some of the latest subsidies and adoption bonuses coming from the government, I needed to first kind of put together two sort of  basic building blocks posts (BBBPs) that contain some of what I consider to be bedrock when looking at those expenditures.

In this “part 1″ I want to focus on the imprecise nature of some of the language being used and some of the assumptions conjured up by such as adoption language and the assumptions that can arise as a result of such are core problems in trying to write about so many of these topics.

It’s not merely that we don’t have enough words for the complexities all being lumped together under a single turn of phrase, it’s that we don’t even have a word in the English language for that lack of words to deal with those complexities. Thus it becomes critical to tease apart pieces of terminology in an effort to explain what it is one really means.

I’ve already written about how legal definitions of words like “orphan” in inter-country adoptions often have absolutely nothing to do with the lay assumptions words like “orphan” conjure up.

But what about words like “adoptions out of foster care?”

Again, such are more often than not assumed to be some kind of universal form of altruistic action.

As if on cue, the listener’s heart warms and the word “awwww” is almost audible, it’s practically a Pavlovian response at this point, what with the shopping mall photolisting displays, community events (see my post How not to spend a Sat. afternoon: wiffle ball, face painting, “waiting children”, and the local bomb squad for example,) race car child marketing, and local TV news spotlights on kids made available to the adoption process. (No one gives a second thought to the privacy issues involved for the kids themselves.)

The images internally summoned are almost always those of an older child, “in dire need of a home, a family,” that has likely “bounced around the system for years.” More often that not the assumption is that of a non-”caucasian” child, the kids “left over”, the kids “no one else wanted.” Any adopter willing to take on such should be up for sainthood, right?

Not so fast.

These days, an “adoption of out foster care” may also be nothing more than merely another path to a state incentivized,  subsidized, and tax credited infant adoption of just another “white” newborn.

While other kids do languish in the system for years, (some 20,000-30,000 of them aging out every year, never reunited, never adopted, nearly half of them ending up homeless on the streets) “white” newborns are also coming through the foster-adopt system with all the monetary benefits to would-be-adopters and societal cache “foster-adopt” otherwise entails.

A child in foster care simply means their parents do not have custody and the state has made provisions to care for the child that a transfer of guardianship has taken place and if the child is available for adoption that transfer of guardianship could be made permanent .

Some parents may come to later regain custody of their children, others may sign away or have their parental rights stripped from them, but a newborn or baby-dumped abandonee may be in the foster system just as much as any of the older kids one all too often assumes to be “the foster kids.”

“Adoption” may mean adoption by other family members, such as grandparents adopting their grandchild. Or adoption by others already a part of the child’s life, such as a friend of a friend or a coach.

But it can also mean adoption by total strangers with no preexisting connection to the child.

This is what we have to start talking about, particularly in terms of the kids passing through the state legalized child abandonment, or so called “safe haven” or “baby Moses” schemes. As most of these baby dump programs legally mandated to only accept very young children, when these kids enter the foster system, they may be newborns or extremely young infants. They too, can be compiled into those foster-adopt statistics, but clearly are not the same as a kid who has been waiting for more than a decade.

When using any of these terms, it can be important to actually parse out what one actually means.

More often than not, the language simply breaks and the realities of what lies behind the “average age” statistics begin to hide certain realities taking place at both ends of the scale, both baby-dump newborns and aging out adults.

Utilizing “one size fits all” broken language then, can serve a purpose of hiding critically important information in plain sight. Newborn adoptions out of the foster system can be right there, right under one’s nose but completely hidden in the statistics.

Some baby dump laws are set up such that the termination of parental rights comes later after first going through a hearing. Other states have set themselves up such that the act of abandoning the child itself becomes almost a de facto termination of parental rights, such that parents end up from that point forward having to petition to regain their rights. This fast tracks the kids for adoption.

Simply put, in light of such legal developments, foster-adopt ain’t what it used to be, but our broken language hasn’t changed to fit with the times.

I have somewhat of a personal stake in some of this on multiple levels. To name just one, I was a foster-adopt kid, but I was in a foster home only very briefly before being placed with my eventual adoptive parents.  Once placed, (as is normative,) there was a period of adjustment prior to the adoption finalization. The key being, I was in my eventual adopters’ home long before I was six months old, (what with being a “white” newborn and all.) Yet when I say I was adopted out of a foster situation, that comes laden with all the assumptions everyone consistently makes about kids in foster care.

Both in the late 1960’s and now, let me assure you, (speaking generally here) “white” newborns hardly have wait around for long.

Then there are programs such as the baby dump mess being marketed directly to vulnerable populations and the linguistic implications to the consequences of such.

Due to these laws origins, coming out of the adoption industry as they did, both as an effort to increase the supply of available infants to adoption and as a means by which to undermine the growing adoptee civil rights movement, we are beginning to see a new set of foster-adopt kids, those I’ve affectionately termed the dumplings. They are those deliberately legally abandoned, passed on to the foster system, and ideally passed through the foster-adopt system, on into families looking to adopt a newborn.

We need new language to even begin to speak coherently about these newly constructed legal realities.

When one starts looking at for example, Judges doing large number of adoptions clearing kids out of the foster system what some of us are finding more and more of are “white” infants if not outright newborns, who were “in the foster system” for a mere blink of an eye. Foster-adoption adopters basically getting the kid almost at birth, receiving all the subsidies and cache for doing a “foster adopt” but in reality, this being nothing more than yet another path to a (healthy?) “white” newborn adoption.

When foster-adopt becomes just another means by which “white” infant adoptions can be shoved through the system, this time with everyone cheering it on and assuming such is purely an altruistic gesture, it’s the kids who ultimately lose.

States get credit and outright federal subsidies for clearing kids out of their foster care stats via adoption, Judges get to do media friendly mass adoption days, adopters get their newborns, and it seems so many of those involved in the process gets their proverbial pats on the back, if not government checks.

Meanwhile, parental rights and families ties are being severed, young kids are being made available to the adoption process, and older, less desirable and less marketable kids age out and graduate to homelessness, one study for example, found “Three out of ten of the United States homeless are former foster children.”

The realities for kids in the system and aging out are pretty grim. to name just a few:

In a study conducted in Philadelphia by Johns Hopkins University it was found that; among high school students who are in foster care, have been abused and neglected, or receive out of home placement by the courts, the probability of dropping out of school is greater than 75%.

56% completed high school compared to 82% of the general population, although an additional 29% of former foster children received a G.E.D. and an additional 5% of the general population.

42.7% completed some education beyond high school.

20.6% completed any degree or certificate beyond high school 16.1% completed a vocational degree; 21.9% for those over 25.

1.8% complete a bachelors degree, 2.7% for over 25, the completion rate for the general population in the same age group is 24%, a sizable difference.

These are the kids being left behind while those self congratulatory pasts on the back are being passed around.

Government subsidies originally designed to get kids adopted out of foster care are not going towards those who will eventually age out, they’re ending up in the pockets of those cherry picking infants and newborns out of the foster system.

Why is that?

Simple, the exact same terminology is being used for kids in both circumstances.

If what was intended was to provide financial incentives to provide permanency for kids who have waited for years, legislation needs to be crafted to say exactly that.

But so long as the the imprecise and “one size fits all” language is the way we speak of these issues, those who are able to use the system to get what they would have otherwise paid top dollar for will instead receive subsidies for doing what they would have done anyway, and the kids most in need will continue to fall off the edge.


Those gaining from the broken system the way it now stands have no interest in building terminology and policies that more accurately reflect what’s actually happening.

If changes are going to come, they’re going to have to be constructed by those of us convinced that dealing with the realities actually matters. Once constructed, the educational process on the back end of that would be a monumental task, all the more so in that some of those in position to implement those changes have no interest in seeing those changes occur.

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