18 years ago, a child was left at Gladney’s door. I remember the day like it was yesterday. After what must have been a scary, traumatic birth, a brave woman swaddled her infant son, placed him in a crib manufactured from a box, and brought him to Gladney. We know she was watching over him to ensure he was safe and found, as several Gladney staff saw a car quickly drive off when they found the baby. It was clear the delivery did not take place in a medical facility, and the initial medical evaluation identified the signs of a difficult home birth.
In this month that honors the gift of adoption, we must pause to also honor, and to thank, the courageous birth parents who make the difficult decision to voluntarily place their children for adoption. Difficult, not only because someone else will be raising the children they love, but also because too many in our society make birth parents out to be victims. When done well, with licensed, ethical professionals, adoption can be an empowering decision, that opens a new life for the birth parents in addition to new possibilities for these cherished children.
Part 2 of a 2-part Reflection on Adoption and Foster Care:
Empowering Parents on Behalf of Their Young Children
Part 1 of the reflection on adoption and foster care addressed how to give older children a voice, when the court has determined that the child cannot be safely returned to their home. [Part One] Part 2 considers how to empower parents with young children in decision-making, in particular mothers who have struggled with drug dependency, when the state is ready to step in and remove the child. The parent may be continuing to have significant struggles with parenting a young child or may have delivered a drug-exposed infant. Often, this mother is overwhelmed and living a chaotic life, because of a chaotic childhood. People charged with helping the parent in establishing a safety plan may need to consider additional tools to help empower her, in conjunction with the usual state-system-safety-toolkit. This parent might be able to reflect on her own life, for answers in making decisions for her child. By helping her overlay her own childhood experiences and current situation onto her child’s future and allowing the parent to look at options outside of foster care, we can give the child a voice through the parent.
Part 1 of a 2-part Reflection on Adoption and Foster Care:
The Older Waiting Child
How would you define “family?” People who are related by blood or marriage is the typical first definition. But we all know that being biologically related may never lead to being in a true family relationship. How many distant relatives can you imagine currently having whom you have never met? How many of us have discovered “new” relatives after sending a genetic sample to an online DNA registry? There is an adage that states, “You can’t choose your family.” Today, I hope to challenge that notion. This is part one of a 2-part reflection on how we can more effectively give children in foster care a voice in the choice about what is in the child’s best interest.
It is past time to give adopted adults access to their original birth certificates, and the Gladney Center for Adoption is working to make that happen. As with everything else, adoption is ever evolving. Even with this evolution, everything surrounding the adoption is intended to protect everyone involved, including the best interests of the child as well as the rights and needs of the birth parents. When the child grows up and wants to search for his or her birth parents, we must continue to be respectful of the birth parents, allowing them to have some control over having their story exposed. In the new age of technology and genetic testing, limiting access to birth records does not protect birth mothers. Giving easy access to birth certificates will not only allow adopted adults to search out and possibly connect with their birth parents, it will give birth parents the opportunity to choose their next steps in a world where privacy is not guaranteed.
Giggles, excited screams, somersaults, and painted faces greeted two judges and an abundance of amazing volunteers at our Third Annual Gladney Adoption Day. November is recognized as National Adoption Month around the country, and Gladney hosted a Texas-sized celebration. Conference rooms were converted into court rooms, and our usually quiet campus became a festival of bounce houses, kid-friendly activities, fun food, and a surplus of photo opportunities.
We have continued to advocate for the belief that every child deserves a loving and caring family. Every child. Everywhere. No one can make this happen alone. It will take the larger community of committed child advocates and parents, continuing to give a voice to the often forgotten children, in order get this message to the men and women in government and in the legislature.
Gladney has been placing children from foster care for many years. In October 2018, the Gladney Center Board of Directors voted to further advance Gladney’s focus and mission by creating a task force to grow and improve adoptions from foster care. The purpose of the task force is “to create a sustainable and replicable model that places every adoptable child waiting in Texas foster care.” The members of the task force include Gladney board members, Gladney parents who adopted children from foster care, and Gladney staff, with input from outside experts in relevant fields. Gladney board member Roger Metz serves as the chair of the task force. This group begins its exciting and strategic work this month.
In preparation for the creation of the task force and its work, Gladney staff spent the summer and fall researching questions and issues affecting foster care and pulling data, information, and anecdotal evidence regarding children in foster care who are waiting for adoption. Gladney staff will continue to work closely with Our Community Our Kids in Fort Worth, in order to identify children who need adoptive homes much earlier in their legal process than in the past. Our staff are also communicating with Child Protective Services and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers from around the state who are advocating for children throughout the legal process. In addition, Gladney has begun to open lines of communication with agencies across the United States who are screening, educating, training, and offering supportive services to prospective families who want to adopt children from foster care.
The task force will begin to assess what would be the highest and best use of Gladney’s strengths and what Gladney’s primary role should be in meeting the needs of these waiting children. They will approach the issues from three directions: impacting external systems to serve children and families; constructing the best internal systems to create scalability; and ensuring long-term sustainability. Once the initial work is started, the task force will work to create strategies for success, set objectives with clear measurable goals, and provide input and evaluate Gladney’s progress against the strategies’ short, intermediate, and long-term goals and desired outcomes.
Gladney’s mission is Creating Bright Futures Through Adoption. With the work of Gladney’s board, committed staff, engaged volunteers, and collaborative partners, we hope to impact the futures of thousands of children who are waiting in foster care for a forever family, because every one of these children deserves a loving and caring family.
Every child deserves a loving, caring family, including children in other countries who have been orphaned. The adoption community-waiting families, adoptive families, adopted adults, licensed agencies, faith communities, child advocates, and support organizations-believes that connecting children with families provides the best opportunity for many of these children to live healthy, cared-for, productive lives. There are millions of children waiting, many dying, and most aging out of orphanages, with little hope for the future. And there are many thousands of families in the U.S. waiting to offer themselves to a child needing a family.