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 na├»ve 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 . . . . 




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...