Sunday, November 25, 2018

Review of the Movie "Instant Family"

Yesterday I went to see "Instant Family" with a friend of mine. This movie was timed to open during National Adoption Awareness Month, and brings much needed awareness to the children in foster care, some of whom are available to adopt.

As a former CASA/G.A.L. for my local juvenile court, I was very interested in seeing how this movie portrayed the system, foster/adopt training and support, the realities of kids biological parents, the courts, and adoption in general.  (I tried to take notes in the pitch dark and wasn't very successful 😍).  My husband and I have gone through foster-to-adopt training three times. We briefly were emergency foster parents in the 90s.  And of course, we are also kinship adoptive parents to a now-teen via a private adoption.

I had read two reviews (one negative and one positive) before viewing it myself.  My rating is 7.5 out of 10 as I believe it will educate the general public about the plight of children in foster care.

**************************Spoilers to follow************************************


Based on a true story of writer/director, Sean Anders' and his wife, a couple, Pete and Ellie, adopt a sibling group of three through foster care. I had heard the movie described as funny-it's actually listed as a "comedy"; however, I found it more of a feel-good movie with  tear-jerker moments (I cried a handful of times).

The parts that were supposed to be funny generally took place at the couple's foster-to-adopt support group.  The two social workers leading the group were opposites -- one was more of a sugar-coater and the other more of a straight shooter.  I really liked the straight shooter -- she seemed to really "get it".  

At times, it felt like the script was trying too hard to get laughs.  For example, often the support group members would laugh at each other's expense, not providing the support one would hope to find. The family dynamics of the parents' extended family also seemed a bit hostile, with jealousy and competition being shown as humorous.  If nothing else, it was realistic. We all have family members who are far from supportive. Unsurprisingly, the family members warm up toward the end.

The movie did a good job of showing the complexity of parenting traumatized children, in addition to the struggles with visitations; however, you are left feeling like everything worked out wonderfully at the end. Hollywood loves happy endings.   The kids get adopted and become a bonded family.  Although all seems well, the birth mom and her relationship with the kids is left open.  There are many unanswered questions.  What does shine through is that these kids now have the stability of two parents and an extended family who love them.  

The saddest reality I got from the movie was the dismal stats on kids who age out of the foster care system. In one scene, Ellie is perusing kids on-line who are available for adoption and she tries to get her husband to have a look but he refuses, because it's so sad to see those faces.

I have mixed feelings about the photos on-line of kids who are available for adoption.  I think it's sad to post their photos; however, it is also likely necessary for families to be able to get to know (albeit briefly) from a bio and to visualize in advance their family.  In the movie, what the couple actually visualized turned out to be different than who they ultimately ended up with, which is kind of cool.  They were charmed by a teen, and when they realized the two younger siblings came with her, they were taken aback at first.  They probably did not picture themselves with a sibling group; however, they eventually embraced the idea.  I will admit the idea of the adoption picnic (one of which my husband and I have attended and is shown in the movie) is uncomfortable. Again, probably necessary, yet sad.

I read some reviews of movie-goers and some of the critiques are as follows:

*too much foul language in the movie and exaggerated corny humor
*not accurately showing the true struggles of foster kids (i.e. pharmaceuticals, therapy, rotating caseworkers)
*not a movie for foster children to watch as it may re-ignite trauma for them

Things where the movie could have done better are as follows:

*not showing a truly supportive support group. I would have liked to see more empathy, listening and validation in the room and less wise-cracks from across the room. I did like the one scene at the support group where they cut string in an exercise to understand what foster children lose when they are moved to a new home.  

* showing the kids at the court hearing with their biological mother.  That doesn't happen in my state -- not sure if it happens in California, but I would doubt it.  Just a bit of extra drama for Hollywood and extra trauma for the kids if it actually happens that way.

* the movie vilified the biological mother. She appeared one-dimensional and undeveloped, which made it hard to empathize with her.  If we knew more about the biological mother's history (other than 'she's on drugs"), it would have helped us to better understand why the children were in care and to understand the struggles of the children better.

Things I felt were positive about the movie:

*it was honest in it's portrayal of shifting motivations of why people adopt and how they see themselves as parents.
* the movie explored the myths involved in parenting "other people's kids" in a scene at dinner where the extended family openly discussed their misgivings about adoption in general. (Later, these same family members are really shocked at how 'normal' the adopted kids are.)
*I enjoyed watching the changing relationships between parents and children and how strong the bond became toward the end of the movie.  It's a process and it doesn't happen overnight.
*I also loved the part when Pete's mom shared her own personal story to help the couple understand their oldest daughter who was afraid of love.

My favorite part about the movie is the awareness and call-to-action it brings to the plight of foster kids.  A quote by a former foster child, Noel Anaya:

"Walking into court for my very last time as a foster youth, I feel like I'm getting a divorce from a system that I've been in a relationship with almost my entire life. It's bittersweet because I'm losing guaranteed stipends for food and housing, as well as access to my social workers and my lawyer. But on the other hand, I'm relieved to finally get away from a system that ultimately failed me on its biggest promise. That one day it would find me a family who would love me."

To me, the movie serves as a call-to-action to prevent kids entering the system in the first place.  There are things you can do in your own family and in your local community to help children.  Adoption is only one piece of the equation, albeit the most celebrated in our society.   Not everyone will be in a position to adopt; however, there are other things you can do:

*Parent a child while your relative/close friend gets back on their feet
*Become a mentor to kids in your community
*Become a CASA/Guardian ad Litem in your community
*Support non-profits like the Adoptee Rights Coalition and Adoption Network Cleveland that do legislative work. 
*Support non-profits that have active support groups like  Adoptees Connect.
*Support your local kinship program or develop one like Ali Caliendo did in Las Vegas, Nevada.  
*Provide respite for foster parents formally or informally
*do a church fundraiser for foster kids so they can have proper luggage or bags to transport their items (instead of black garbage bags)
*Adopt a family at Christmas and provide gifts
*support family preservation groups like FP365 and Saving Our Sisters.

You can also go to the movie website for information on how you can become eligible to foster and/or foster-to-adopt the many children waiting for homes.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

9 BETTER Ways to Celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month


Flipping the Script on a mainstream National Adoption Awareness Month article. It has lots of advice about adoption. I just picked this one at random called "9 Ways to Celebrate National Adoption Month" and re-wrote it.

1. Retell Your Child’s Adoption Story to Them. How about you allow your child to tell his/her own story? Buy them an art pad or journal to draw or write their adoption story as they see it. Provide them lots of photos and information so they can make sense of their Chapter 1. Include their birth story.

2. Spread Awareness Through Social Media. The article advises to share your family’s adoption story. We don’t need more adoption stories via the eyes of adoptive parents. We need more #adoptee stories.

3. Watch Positive Adoption Movies With Your Family. Watch This is Us instead. Or better yet watch, "A Girl Like Her" by Ann Fessler. Or any documentary produced by an adoptee or birth parent. My favorites are by Jean Strauss.

4. Read a Book Together That Promotes the Values of Adoption. Read adoptee memoirs.  Also, how about donating to a non-profit that helps keep kids in their families instead. Locally, I would recommend Brigid’s Path.

5. Donate Time and Money to a Local Organization that Supports Adoption. Donate time and money to non-profits that support kinship families.

6. Write a Thank You Letter (Yes, the article actually advises you write a letter to the judge, social worker or anyone involved in your adoption!). Instead, write a letter to your legislator supporting adoptee access to original birth certificates. The article also advises thanking your child’s birth parents. It is more important to honor your commitments to your child’s birth parents.

7. Celebrate Your Child’s Heritage. The article has some celebratory advice about incorporating your child's ethnic heritage. However, why not go all out and celebrate your child’s heritage by buying them an Ancestry DNA kit? (It's on sale currently for $59.00.) Even minors can take the test under a protected profile. Also encourage genealogy by starting your child's first family tree on Ancestry.

8. Join Local Events That Encourage Community Participation. You can do this as an adoptive parent by going to a conference where you will meet birth parents and adoptees, and hear their stories.

9. Educate Yourself and the People Around You About Adoption. (i.e. “promote adoption”). Educate people around you about your own personal experience of being adopted, ways to keep families together (i.e. #kinship, legal custody, etc.), and supporting families who foster-to-adopt. Educate that adoption should be the last resort after all efforts of keeping families together have been explored.

Friday, November 2, 2018

National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM) Day 1 (Flip the Script)




November has arrived and with it an Ohio monsoon on the first day of National Adoption Awareness Month (NAAM). I debated whether to write anything. No time for blogging much these days so I will say a few things you may have heard before.
Being adopted does not define me as a human being yet it has limited my choices as a full, equal US citizen. It has limited my knowledge of who I was born to and who my ancestors were because of outdated laws created in an era of secrecy and shame. Being adopted in the US has limited mine and my children’s access to important and potentially life-saving medical history and even limited my entry into organizations like DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) which require a paper trail of ancestry to join.
I have spent many years writing and asking people to listen to adoptees Instead of adoption professionals who financially benefit from the industry or adoptive parents who host morning shows.
Adopted people should be the focus of NAAM. Professionals in the field of child welfare should be researching us, interviewing us, reading our anthologies/blogs/memoirs and looking closely at the stats of our long term outcomes instead of asking us how our adoptive parents feel about us searching (If I had a nickel...)
Small inroads have been made. Communities have been formed and word has spread:
WE are the experts. #flipthescript #NAAM2018

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Parenting Your Kids' Kids - Considerations and Seeking Support


September is National Kinship Care Month.  
"National Kinship Care Month provides an opportunity to urge people in every State to join in recognizing and celebrating kinship care giving families and the tradition of families in the United States to help raise children…” 

What is Kinship Care?
Kinship care refers to the care of children by relatives or, in some jurisdictions, close family friends (often referred to as fictive kin). Relatives are the preferred resource for children who must be removed from their birth parents because it maintains the children's connections with their families.

If you care about family preservation, then kinship care should be high on your list of causes to support. Most kinship care happens outside of the child welfare system, which leaves families without support and education.  It is of the utmost importance to create new supports for these at-risk families, as the numbers of kinship families are growing (approximately 4% of families are kinship). Studies have shown that licensed and educated kinship families are safer and more stable than licensed, traditional foster parents.  However the reverse is also true: unlicensed and uneducated kinship families are less safe and stable.  Education is key.

Keeping a child in his/her own family is some of the most important work that family members do, mainly under the radar, with little support. Today, I wanted to discuss some of the challenges of being a kinship caregiver and stress the importance of reaching out for support. I have recently been planning a new support group for kinship families in my local area that I hope to get off the ground in the next month or so.  I will update you as that information becomes available.  

PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
One of the biggest differences between kinship caregivers and other non-relative caregivers, is that most of the time, kinship caregivers do not have much time to plan ahead when a child comes into their care.  That is because a child can literally be dropped in your lap without notice.  It is important to get very honest with yourself about whether you and your immediate family members are in a position to parent this child.  Are you in the middle of a divorce or a health crisis?  If yes, is there someone else better equipped within the family to parent the child, even temporarily?  Could you become better equipped through foster-to-adopt training and some family counseling?

When you become instant parents, reach out to local agencies and churches for support in receiving food, furniture, clothing, and to locate a support group in your area.


Ali Caliendo began Foster Kinship in Las Vegas, Nevada because she felt passionate about helping kinship families.  The daughter of a closed-era adoptee and a new foster-to-adopt parent, she understood that the current support available to kinship families is lacking.  She has tried to fill the gap in Las Vegas, Nevada by opening a non-profit that focuses on kinship families.  Her website is helpful in understanding the issues and for directing people to resources.  Her podcast is outstanding! Have a listen! Here is a helpful list of resource available to kinship caregivers in most states. 

LEGAL AND FINANCIAL CONSIDERATIONS
There is funding that is available to kinship families who become foster parents and/or legal guardians to the child in their care.  Many benefits are temporary and will depend on the income of the family, although talk to a caseworker at your Job & Family Services about opening a child-only case.  Many kinship families struggle financially and will need to reach out for as many resources as they can find.  Start with internet research.  Also, calling a child's school, church, or by reaching out to a Kinship Navigator program in your town is a good place to start. Area Agencies on Aging for older adults can also be a good resource. 

When you adopt your relative, you become ineligible for many of the resources available to non-adopted kin.  However, one benefit is that your family is protected legally from a change of custody (adoption severs the rights of the biological parents and makes you and/or your spouse, legally the parents). Adoption will waive any rights to child support.   You may become eligible to receive the adoption subsidy, which is a tax credit that reimburses you for your out-of-pocket adoption fees (attorneys fees and filing fees).  The child may also become available to receive social security if one of the kinship adoptive parents retires while the child is still a minor. 

It is important when making legal decisions, to seek legal counsel from a certified family law specialist and/or ask for referrals from friends and family members who have used an attorney they can recommend.

How ACE's affect a person over a lifetime
TRAUMA CONSIDERATIONS
Not living with either of your biological parents is a trauma.  If we do not support traumatized kids, they are at risk for repeating the trauma in their own families and for early death (see graph at left).  The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE's) survey can help you understand what kind of trauma are common in at-risk families.To take the ACE test, go here.  The higher your score, the more trauma you have experienced.  Trauma-informed training is very important for kinship families in order to successfully parent children in their care.


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. They may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. 

EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
It might sound trite, but put on your own oxygen mask first.  Self-care and support are key in being a successful kinship family.  Support groups, family therapy, or receiving respite care for the child(ren) in your care are very important for you to stay balanced and healthy while raising your kin. Reach out and ask for help!





Saturday, September 8, 2018

Back on the Birthfather Rollercoaster Awaiting DNA Results


Benjamin Bratt, actor whose mother
is Peruvian
Peruvians are the
 smallest percentage
 of Latinos in the U.S.
I am trying to keep my mind busy while I await the results of an Ancestry DNA test in order to solve a life-long mystery. An excellent candidate has been found that fits a large part of the description of my biological father, including mine and my son’s DNA results.  However, in many ways this candidate may not fit.  Let me share with you why.

I have a significant amount of outright conflicting information:  from the non-ID the adoption agency kept, to interviews with friends and family, it has felt very similar to crime stories where the investigators profile the murderer and try and create stories from the evidence at the scene of the crime.  

Problem is, similar to criminal cold cases, there are many possible scenarios and memories that have become more convoluted over the years as time has gone by. We are talking about 50 years ago. Many of the people from that time period are dead or can’t remember details.

Here is what I know for sure:

I was conceived around St. Patrick’s Day March of 1965.  I was born December of 1965 and relinquished at birth for adoption to The Cradle of Evanston, IL.  My maternal birth family, located in 2006, had roots in a suburb of Chicago, several generations marrying in this area. Big fish in a little pond, the search team has found all sorts of documentation of my family being the opposite of what you hear today about families who relinquish children for adoption.  1965 was during the middle of the Baby Scoop Era and white, unmarried women who were middle or upper middle class just didn't keep their babies without severe consequences to their reputations and future.

My maternal birth family had money and status, which partly explains why the identity of my biological father has been a closely-guarded secret amongst the inner circle of my birth mother and her friends.
The Cradle Adoption Agency, still in business. This is Nina, a
social worker who located my birth mother
in 2006 standing in the museum section of the agency
Illinois is where my search team has focused their efforts over the last several years.  I was directly told by my birth mother I was conceived in a particular place in Illinois. In 2012, while in Chicago for an adoptee rights event, I got reacquainted with a friend from high school, Denise, who now lives close to my birth family roots.  Denise, my husband, Mark, and I took a walk back in time while visiting cemeteries and the properties owned by my maternal birth families back in the 60’s.  This field trip, along with obituaries and other research at the library, helped me to understand the context of my maternal birth family in the 1960s.

When I was in L.A. last month for the National Conference of State Legislators, my roommate, an experienced DNA search angel, said I needed to take a different approach in this search.  She gave me some specific search ideas that had not been focused on before and specifically told me to look at Ohio.  When I arrived home, one of my search team members had come to a similar conclusion and was hot and heavy on the trail of an international student named Julio who was in college a couple hours away from my birth mother, in Ohio, where I have lived for 50 years.  My birth mother went to college in Ohio and graduated the same month I was conceived.  However, by then, it was believed the family (yes, oddly, the entire family moved to Ohio during my birth mother’s 4 years at university) had already moved back to Illinois. 

Flashback to several years ago:  I had a long-awaited phone call with my uncle, who sadly, passed away before I was able to meet him.  He shared with me the following words . . . .

“Your father’s name was Julio.  I am 95% sure he was from Bogota, Colombia.  When my sister became pregnant, he fled back to Colombia.  My family was very upset.  You are my niece and I love you.”

Thank God for my uncle.  He confirmed a similar story by a friend of the family who was interviewed.   

About a month ago, the search team started digging into Ohio and this new Julio candidate.  I got a membership to Newspapers.com and the search team went to work.  We found an unbelievable amount of information on my maternal family and Julio in Ohio.  Julio (sadly, deceased) was from South America and came into the U.S. at 18 and went to college in Miami, FL.  He then transferred at approximately age 20 to a college in Ohio where he was a part of a fraternity, played and coached soccer and majored in Chemistry.  Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com told the story of his marriage, divorce, return to South America, and his children. They settled not far from where I currently live and if this is our guy, I have 5 known siblings.  It’s a lot to take in!! 
DNA results show that my father was likely Peruvian

Trying to find this needle in a haystack called “father” has been nothing short of a roller coaster.  Something I would have never anticipated being completely naïve to reunion and the adoption community when I met my maternal birth family in 2006.  Silly me! I thought my birth mom would just tell me the truth!  12 years later, I have learned that I am in good company.  Between false naming of fathers on birth records and adoption records, to outright claiming no knowledge of who the father is, this seems to be a common theme in the adoption community. 

During this search, there have been huge ups and huge downs.  One down I can speak about now was a guy named Julio P. that the team researched for a very long time who was from Bogota, Colombia and attending a university where one of my birth mother’s friends attended.  We felt certain he was our guy.  Also deceased, he had three living daughters in the U.S.  One of them tested and we were not a match.  That was the biggest low. After that, I took about a year break from searching at all.  Searching for a birth parent is emotionally draining and when you have a busy life, a family and a career, it’s easy to get sidetracked into the vortex that searching creates.  One nugget of info leads to another one and on and on you can follow these leads until you end up spending 6 hours on your computer and ignoring your family (yes, been there, done that).

As you can see, this search has taken on a life of it’s own and I have been recently jotting down bits (with the hopes of a possible memoir) focusing on the twists and turns of this search over the last 12 years.  There are so many heroes in this story . .  .from Greg who reached out to me at Family Tree DNA and did the initial legwork at the library and interview process in Illinois to Gaye who has finally convinced me based on my DNA results that I am Peruvian, to Regina who is like a dog with a bone – there is literally nothing that girl can’t find.  To Zack, who has been on this rollercoaster with me, digging up leads for me and other adoptees of unknown parents since 2006.  Bridgett, who creates stories in her head about possible scenarios – stuff I don’t come up with even in my dreams.  So much talent and such giving spirits!  

Our first meeting of my Peruvian cousin and her husband  (2017)
Recently, I was blessed in matching with a Peruvian distant cousin at 23 and Me, who lives in the same city as me!  Our families have met and she has become a friend and beloved cousin.  She was ultimately the one who reached out to the current DNA tester (a family member of Julio).  I have been blessed with so much support and love from the adoption community (and beyond).

I’m fortunate I have a very loving and supportive spouse, Mark.  He has listened to these scenarios and provided insight and advice over the years, even before I found my maternal birth family.  He has made difficult phone calls to family and friends that have rubbed people the wrong way, many times.  But, he is my hero! Of all people (and not adopted), he understands through our family journey the deep need to know where you come from, not only for me, but for our kids, and our future descendants.  It matters.  A LOT.

Stay tuned . . . . 




Saturday, July 14, 2018

You Have No Idea What You Are Talking About!

Today a friend, a public blogger, posted that adoptive parents sometimes tell her she has no idea what she is talking about.  My friend is a first mother and an adoptee . .. meaning she experienced the relinquishment of her daughter, in addition to her own personal reliquishment.  (Let that sink in for a moment).

She was raised by adoptive parents whom she has publicly shared that she loves deeply. She is generous and kind with her hard-won wisdom, yet there are people raising adopted children who believe my friend has nothing helpful to bring to the table.  I have asked myself why people would say this to her.

The first answer that comes to my mind is that they resent that she now stands for family preservation.  She is not out promoting adoption left and right like Evangelical Christians normally do.  She is not shouting from the rooftops that babies need more adoptive parents.  She is saying that babies need their own mothers.  Is this really a radical idea?  How many of you biological parents reading this blog would be willing to surrender your own child to another family?  I have a suspicion the number would be very few (looking at statistics, I know the number is very few).

As a public blogger myself, I have always known that there are going to be adoptive parents and others who choose to cover their ears when it comes to the tough truths of how adoptees experience adoption.  You can choose to read only adoption-positive blogs if that suits your reality better.  However, it really just perplexes me that parents who went out of their way to bring a child into their home, would not want to be educated by people who have actually experienced what their own child(ren) are experiencing. Even when it entails reading and digesting the hard stuff.

As a parent, I seek out resources quite regularly to help me understand my child better.  She has unique circumstances besides being adopted and I regularly read articles, books and talk to people who have experienced her particular circumstances to better learn how to parent and support her.  Isn't that what good parents do?

How is closing our ears and hearts making us better parents?

How is telling an adopted person, "I'm sorry you had a bad experience, but my child is different" ok?

A bad experience does not necessarily mean we don't have something to offer.  I've had lots of bad experiences in restaurants. Haven't you?  I find that these experiences then help me to inform others about opportunities to improve service, training and food quality. (no I'm not a restaurant manager, just a person who loves to photograph and talk about food).

Did you have a bad experience in high school with bullying that taught you many lessons?  How about a bad experience at summer camp?  Bad experiences are life lessons that we can share with others.  If I can save someone else the pain and misunderstanding I learned via the School of Hard Knocks, then it makes me happy to be able to do so.

If I say  "I experienced a closed adoption negatively", it does not mean I am automatically indicting mine and other adoptive parents from the era of my adoption.  It is a call to speak about why and how I believe closed adoption damaged me and others I know and how we can do adoption better (or not at all!).

People seem to be a bit sensitive to learning information that, frankly, they need to hear if they aspire to being good parents.

Babies do need their own mothers. This is not a new idea.  What is new, in our culture, is promoting  adoption as somehow SUPERIOR to biological parenting (it's not) and then shooting the messenger who points this out.

Don't attack people or dismiss people who bring difficult information to your awareness.  Ask yourself, "what can I learn from this information that is bothering me?"  Are there some places in your psyche and heart that may need re-examination?

Denial is powerful.  But it doesn't make you a better parent.  And it's doesn't help your kiddo one iota.




Review of the Movie "Instant Family"

Yesterday I went to see " Instant Family " with a friend of mine. This movie was timed to open during National Adoption Awarenes...