I Was the Child Left Behind

Thoughts of a one lovingly placed for adoption…an adoption that would not happen but rather 18 years of foster care.
 

I watched others being chosen. I was ignored.

I hoped. I waited.

Sometimes they wanted girls, sometimes boys.

Sometimes they wanted a brother and a sister under
five.

I was too young.

I was too old.

Sometimes they looked for a child who had blue eyes.

Sometimes they looked for a child who had curly hair.

They looked and whispered that I was too short.

They said I was too fat.

Sometimes I was too tall or just “Not quite right.”

I wished that someone would come see me and choose me.

I don’t have much hope anymore.

They took some away.

They took little babies.They took pretty girls.
They even took young boys.

I am not sure where they took them.

They said they go across America.

They said some even go to other countries.

When I had hope, I hoped I could just go.

That was before I knew that I was too young or too
old, or too tall or too short, too fat or ” Not quite
right.”

My hope gone. I was the child left behind.

http://www.larrya.us (my web site)

What’s It Like?

Questions of a former foster child: This blogger waited 36 years to just say HELLO to my birth mother and 40 years to do the same with my birth father. Despite this most these question have remained unswered and will forever remain so as both are deceased.

What’s it like:

To know there were shouts of joy by all when you were born?

To have a mother or father hug and kiss you because they love you?

To feel proud as you run “home” from school with your first A and share it with your parents?

To play catch, fish and other things a son does with your dad?

To be able to say “my family”?

To say “my house”?

To say “mom and dad” and know they truely are?

To hear “C’mon Son!”?

To show your dad you can ride without training wheels?

To feel it “neat” to introduce your teacher to your parents?

To share your joy of high school and college graduation with your family?

To hear your life stories from your family?

To answer, “what does your dad do”?

To share pictures of you and your family with others?

To get a family heirloom?

To say you have lived here for X number of years?

To know a “family friend”?

To hear and say “I love you” and know it is meant?

To have Thanksgiving and Christmas with family?

To not feel “attention seeking” when telling your life story?

To answer the doctor’s question…”What is your family medical history?

To answer the question…”So… where is your family from”?

To say to anyone that…”This is my family?”

Please…What’s It Like?…tell me for it is the only way I will know…What’s it Like!

Diary of an Unborn Son

May 3, 1949
I am here today though my mommy doesn’t know it; she
will feel me real soon.

Late May 1949
I am a boy! I can see now and I even have a tail in
which to swim, I love my mommy even if she doesn’t
know that I am her little boy, I am here!

June 1949
My mommy knows I am here, I can feel the love swelling
up in her. I give her a hug with my tiny hands but I
don’t think she can feel them yet, I wonder if she
knows my name is Larry, I will have to tell her that
when I see her that is my name you know.

Early July 1949
My mommy will be proud of how fast I am growing, I
have allot of space to swim around. I am very warm and
secure. She rubs her belly I can feel her warmth. I am
going to pick flowers for my mommy when I am out.

Late July 1949
She brought us to a doctor today. She can’t hear my
heart yet but I hear her tell the doctor that I feel
like a little butterfly. I have a little bit of hair;
I wonder what color of hair my mommy has?

August 1949
My mommy is sad. I can feel her crying. I give her a
big hug cuz my arms are real big now. She cries a lot
when I kick her but I am just telling her I love her.

September 1949
My mommy brought us to a doctor again. She heard my
heart, she said it sounded like horses racing. I don’t
know what a horse is but I know that I like the sound
of her heart. It makes me feel safe and warm cuz I
know that she is there.

Early November 1949
My mommy is crying again. She sings you are my
sunshine to me.I like that she makes me sleepy. I try
not to put my feet in her ribs but I am so big I can’t
move around. I wonder why my mommy is always crying,
it makes me feel sad.

Mid-November 1949
I am so big now I can hiccup. My mommy thinks this is
funny and she pats my bottom with her hand. I don’t
know why but that takes my hiccups away. She eats my
favorite food for me. I like peanut butter, I hope she
makes peanut butter sandwiches for me when I come out.
We can sit and eat peanut butter sandwiches and drink
milk. I will sit on her knee after so she can sing me
a song. I love my mommies voice.

December 1, 1949
My mommy is sad again. She told me that she my grandma
and grandpa don’t understand. Why I wonder? They will
love me like you do because I am so cute.

January 1, 1950
Mommy started to cry again. When I get out I will tell
my mommy that I am a good boy and she doesn’t need to
cry anymore because I love her, and then I will give
her a great big hug with my big arms, and she will be
better.

February 1, 1950
We went to see the doctor again, I heard her ask the
doctor to see me. I don’t know how she could see me
cuz I am in here. She saw me though and she giggled
and started crying again, boy my mommy cries lots.

February 6, 1950 morning
We went to the doctor yet again and my mommy was
talking very loudly. I wonder why she is upset, maybe
she wants to see me real bad. She is crying real hard
and it is hurting me. I think I should try to come out
now cuz maybe I am hurting my mommy and she needs to
hug me.

February 6, 1950 evening
My mommy is screaming and my mommy’s belly is trying
to push me out. I think it is too squishy in here
anyway because I am such a big boy.

February 7, 1950 early morning
I am coming out of my mommy now. Wow, its bright out
here. I am not going to cry because I don’t want my
mommy to be sad anymore cuz her big boy is here

February 7, 1950 mid-morning
This isn’t my mommy holding me, she doesn’t smell
right, I am going to cry now. Mommy, mommy where are
you? Come and get me Mommy!

February 7, 1950 late afternoon
Mommy has left me. I can’t hear my mommy anywhere. I
am cold. I am scared. Why did you leave me mommy?

(Note) My birth mother did not see me before she left; at 19, unwed and unable to provide she had been convinced it would be better to place me for adoption. She found out when I was 36 and found her I was never adopted but lived my entire childhood in foster care.

http://www.larrya.us (my web site)

Pro-Life Does NOT End at Birth!

Did the headline catch your attention? I sure hope it did! It is part of a person’s signature on a message board I belong to which I have read numerous times over the past couple of years and it had an impact on me each time I read it. It however took awhile to get it through my head the full impact it should have on me…I finally got it!.

No this blog entry is not on the subject you may think it is. Though I have my personal thoughts about the Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice; that debate is for someone else to expound upon. I am sure though that this entry will receive negative feedback.
 
I do have an issue with those who seem to think that as long as the life is begun through birth their battle is over.  They do everything they can conceive of to stop a woman from making a decision to abort her child. They provide services for women having financial, pre-natal care or other problems so the women will make the decision not to abort. They even talk to the woman about adoption if the woman is unable to provide for her child after birth.

My questions are: Where are they after the child is born? Where are they when a child is neglected, abused or abandoned after birth? Where are they when the family may need services or financial help to keep their family together? Where are they when there is a need for foster or adoptive families to care for children after they have been abused, neglected or abandoned?

This is why I headline this entry Pro-Life Does NOT End at Birth!

It is NOT enough to do everything possible to see that a child is born. It is also everyone’s responsibility to see that these children (our children) grows up in a stable, loving and nurturing home  so they may have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential as productive members of our society.

I do not wish to generalize and say no pro-lifers have come forward to meet their responsibility; as a number have. I thank them! However I believe many feel their responsibility is fulfilled once the child is born. Your (our) responsibility has just begun!

These children are our kids. They are our neighbors, our children’s schoolmates, and our family members.  They are part of our communities, and they need their communities to stand up, be outraged and be involved in helping them reach their potential and grow up into successful adults, who in turn make significant contributions to their communities.

Over 1 million children this year alone will experience abuse, abandonment or neglect. The reasons for this is wide and varied though none of them are justified.

Over 1500 children will die this year alone as a result of their abuse or neglect. Some will occur while the child is within the foster care system.

Over 700,000 children will experience a period of foster care this year alone with 519,000 living within the system for some extended period of time. There are also a number of children in foster care for which no true justification can be found except CPS removed them from their homes.

There are a total of 170,000 licensed foster care homes in the U.S. Numbers are not currently available for children or youth placed in group homes, residential treatment centers or other institutional care.

Over 120,000 children this year alone will have the parental rights of their parents terminated and be eligible for adoption. Only 20% of these children this year will be adopted. The rest will continue to languish within the system because no family comes forward to adopt them. They are considered too old, too troubled, not the right gender or race.

Over 20,000 children eligible for adoption will age out of the system this year with no family, no mentor or other tools available to them to become dependable, productive members of our society.

A recent study of young adults ages 18-24 and 2.5-4 years after aging out of the system shows:

33% will experience homelessness 12-18 months after leaving foster care. Three of ten of the nation’s homeless are former foster children

27% of the males and 10% of the females had been incarcerated (80 percent of prison inmates have been through the foster care system) National Association of Social Workers

33% were receiving public assistance
37% had not finished high school
10% obtain at least one year of college
2% obtain a Bachelor’s degree or higher
51% were unemployed
84% became a parent
40% experience alcohol or drug abuse
37% have some type of mental disorder due to experiences within the foster care system
30% have no health insurance
Former foster youth have a higher rate of suicide than the regular youth population

*Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support

I should briefly state why I have such strong feelings on this subject. My birth mother had a choice back in 1950. She was unwed, 19 years old, incapable of providing for a child; yet she was pregnant. She made the choice rather than have a back alley abortion to give birth to me and place me for adoption. She did not know until I was 36 year old when I found her that her wish of adoption never happened. I was instead placed in foster care where I survived eighteen years of sixteen moves, hunger, verbal, physical and sexual abuse as well as attempted suicide due to the sexual abuse. I could have easily been one of the statistics listed above.

I was fortunate. Despite confronting the traumatizing events as I did  I did graduate high school and college, never abused drugs or alcohol nor the face other issues confronting youth aging out of the system. Far too many youth abused, neglected or of the system are not as fortunate.

So I repeat my questions:

Where are you after the child is born and parents are in need of services?

Where are you when the federal government, your city, county or state governments decide to cut programs that would assist these children and their families and possibly keep them family together?

Where are you when these children are abused, neglected, abandoned or killed?

Where are you when these children cry out for a foster or adoptive family when they need to be removed from their homes temporarily or permanently?

Where are you when these children need mentors, teachers, guidance, etc. when they have to age out of the system due to no family coming forward to adopt them when they became eligible?

Where are you when the system set up to protect and provide for these children fail them and they yell for reform of the system that may have damaged far more than what they were taken from?

I am a firm believer in life. I believe however the ultimate decision is up to the woman, and her God.

I am however putting my actions behind my words. I am fighting for the youth once they are born so they have the opportunity I have had; to live my life to its fullest potential.

As I said many pro-life folks today are adoptive or foster parents…they are there in the fight. I thank you and congratulate you! However there are, according to so many reports, millions in the US who proclaim they are pro-life. If that is the case then there should never be a child who is never given this opportunity when for whatever reason they are removed from their homes, they should never languish in foster care for lack of a family coming forward to claim them as their own, our foster care system would be the best in the world rather than the broken failure it is today.

Pro-Life does NOT end at birth…Be Pro-Life after the child is born! We MUST ALL Assume our responsibility today!

Where is the Outrage for OUR Kids?

Yesterday (8/20/07) I was watching CNN’S program, “The Situation Room.” One segment of the program is, “The Cafferty Files.” It is a segment where correspondent Jack Cafferty describes a situation and then asks a question for viewers to respond to via Email. He then reads some of the responses towards the end of each hour of the program.

One of his segments yesterday dealt with the “Michael Vick Case and his decision to plead guilty to his recent indictment in regards to dog fighting. Jack’s question was, “What should be Vick’s punishment?”

I sat in total anger as I listened to Cafferty go on and on about his anger, his outrage and how he was appalled that someone would hold these dog fights and when a dog lost it would be killed either by drowning, hanging, electrocution or shot. One could almost see Cafferty’s bulging veins of anger in his temples and he continued to rage about the subject before finally asking the question.

The response from the public was as anger filled as Cafferty’s rant. The suggested punishment ranged from prison to things I cannot write in this blog.

Of course the media has been following this story from the start. People have responded many times in the same manner as Cafferty. When Vick first appeared in court PETA as well as many others demonstrated outside the court hurling insults and many expletives Vick’s way as he entered the courtroom.

Bear in mind I am an animal lover. What Vick did is absolutely appalling, sickening and reprehensible and he should be punished, along with his co-defendants, to the fullest extent of the law.

However as I watched Cafferty and then listened to the Emails being read I had to ask the question; “Where is the Outrage for Our Kids?”

Where is the outrage from Cafferty and the public when a child is abused, neglected or killed by parents that are suppose to provide them shelter, nurturing and love?

Where is the outrage of Cafferty and the public when in case after case those responsible for the above actions are never punished yet alone ever charged?

Where is the outrage from Cafferty and the public when our child welfare system continues to fail the youth put under their care, who may suffer as much abuse, neglect or death as with their biological parents, in a supposed system of temporary foster care? Over 12 million youth, over the years, have graduated from our foster care system.

Where is the outrage from Cafferty and the public when there are more than half a million children and youth in the U.S. foster care system today, a 90% increase since 1987 but only 170,000 licensed foster homes are available?

Where is the outrage of Cafferty when 120,000 youths have had their parents parental rights terminated and are eligible for adoption but continues to languish within the system as “legal orphans?”

Where is the outrage from Cafferty and the public when 20,000 youths each year, who may have spent years within the system experiencing numerous unwarranted moves, emotional, physical or mental damage, suddenly reaches the age of 18 and ages out of the system whether they have the tools necessary to make it on their own or not?

It appears that Cafferty and we as a society in general get more outraged when an animal is abused, neglected or killed than we do when a child suffers the same fate!

Dogs and other animals are our pets and yes they should be properly cared for and we should be appalled when actions by Vick or others happen.

Children suffering the same fate deserve so much more. These children are OUR children, whether they are of our flesh and blood or not. What happens to them will determine the future of our society as they are our future.

Every child deserves to receive stability, nurturing, shelter/food and love. We should ALL BE OUTRAGED when we know even ONE CHILD does not receive what they are entitled to but rather are abused, neglected or even killed. The outrage should not last just for a day or two when a story may be in the headlines but should be everyday as long as ONE CHILD suffers! “Children in foster care, like all our children, deserve the opportunity for a bright future,” said Jerry Stermer, president of Voices for Illinois Children. “We all share responsibility for making sure these children – who are removed from their families through no fault of their own – have the love and support they need to succeed in life.”

A few pieces of information that really bring home the point:

A recent study has found that 12-18 months after leaving foster care:

30% of the nation’s homeless are former foster children.
27% of the males and 10% of the females had been incarcerated
33% were receiving public assistance
37% had not finished high school
2% receive a college degree
50% were unemployed
*Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support

Children in foster care are three to six times more likely than children not in care to have emotional, behavioral and developmental problems, including conduct disorders, depression, difficulties in school and impaired social relationships. Some experts estimate that about 30% of the children in care have marked or severe emotional problems. Various studies have indicated that children and young people in foster care tend to have limited education and job skills, perform poorly in school compared to children who are not in foster care, lag behind in their education by at least one year, and have lower educational attainment than the general population.
*Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support

80 percent of prison inmates have been through the foster care system.
*National Association of Social Workers

Foster youth do have the potential for greatness; just because they are a foster kid doesn’t mean they are a lost cause!

To have the above results outrage such as Cafferty’s and the public’s over the Vick case MUST BE directed towards those who abuse, neglect or kill our children as well as those  who are given the responsibility to care for those of our children who suffer these atrocities. Those responsible for such actions must be held accountable!

Foster youth are our kids. They are our neighbors, our children’s schoolmates, and our family members.  They are part of our communities, and they need their communities to stand up, be outraged and be involved in helping them reach their potential and grow up into successful adults, who in turn make significant contributions to their communities.

As a person who grew up in foster care, survived and prospered despite the system I know what confronts  youth who are abused or neglected whether by their biological parents or the system themselves who are charged with their care.

If nothing changes… by the year 2020:

Nearly 14 million more reported cases of child abuse and neglect will be confirmed;

22,500 children will die of abuse or neglect, most before their fifth birthday;

An additional 9,000,000 children will spend some time in foster care

300,000 more children will age out of our foster care system unprepared to become productive members of our socety

99,000 former foster youth, who aged out of the system, will experience homelessness.

Somewhere out there in America– right now, today — there is a child abused, neglected or in foster care staring up at the ceiling or off into the distance thinking they are worthless because the people around them don’t have the sense to know that they are worthy:

Worthy of being loved.
Worthy of being cared for.
Worth of being protected.
Worth of being sheltered from harm.
Worthy of being allowed toreach their fullest potential.

We MUST change this thinking; We’ve got to do it for this OUR child, our society and our future!

Each of us MUST be outraged, motivated and caring individuals willing to contribute to our local child welfare system as well as reforming it- if not as adoptive or foster parents, perhaps as mentors, tutors or advocates. In this way, we can all take our share of responsibility in ensuring the lifetime success of these often-forgotten and voiceless young people.

Let’s get OUTRAGED!

http://www.larrya.us (web site)

UPDATE 8/22/07

An E mail has been sent to Jack Cafferty with a copy of this blog entry. It will be intersting if he will give me the courtesy of a reply or may address the issue of OUR KIDS in one of his commentaries/questions on the Situation Room. I will update this entry if he does or does not!

2nd Update 08/30/07: I at this point can only assume that Cafferty is more outraged over the abuse of dogs than he is children since I have not even got the courtesy of a reply from him nor has he mentyioned the issue on a segment of Cafferty File since.

Something to Think About!

Child Protective Services is needed as there are parents who truly abuse and/or neglect their children. However, in a number of cases I believe they have gone far beyond their authority in removing children from their homes and caused more damage to the youth than the parents may have.

Here is a story:

INFANT DISCOVERED IN BARN, CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES LAUNCH PROBE

Nazareth Carpenter Being Held On Charges Involving Underage Mother
Bethlehem, Roman-occupied Judea – Authorities were today alerted by a concerned citizen who noticed a family living in a barn. Upon arrival, Child Protective Services personnel, accompanied by police, took into protective care an infant child named Jesus, who had been wrapped in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding trough by his 14-year old mother, Mary of Nazareth.
During the confrontation, a man identified as Joseph, also of Nazareth, attempted to stop the social workers. Joseph, aided by several local shepherds and some unidentified foreigners, tried to forestall efforts to take the child, but was restrained by the police.
Also being held for questioning are three foreigners who claim to be wise men from an eastern country. The INS and Homeland Security officials are seeking information about these, who may be in the country illegally. A source with the INS states that they had no passports, but were in possession of gold and other possibly illegal substances. They resisted arrest, saying that they had been warned by God to avoid officials in Jerusalem and to return quickly to their own country. The chemical substances in their possession will be tested.
The owner of the barn is also being held for questioning. The manager of the Bethlehem Inn faces possible revocation of his license for violating health and safety regulations by allowing people to stay in the stable. Civil authorities are also investigating the zoning violations involved in maintaining livestock in a commercially-zoned district.
The location of the minor child will not be released, and the prospect for a quick resolution to this case is doubtful. Asked about when Jesus would be returned to his mother, a Child Protective Service spokesperson said, “The father is middle-aged and the mother definitely underage. We are checking with officials in Nazareth to determine what their legal relationship is.
Joseph has admitted taking Mary from her home in Nazareth because of a census requirement. However, because she was obviously pregnant when they left, investigators are looking into other reasons for their departure.
Joseph is being held without bond on charges of kidnapping and child endangerment, and threatening a CPS caseworker when the worker attempted to take the infant from the mother.

Mary was taken to the Bethlehem General Hospital where she is being examined by doctors. Charges may also be filed against her for endangerment. She will also undergo psychiatric evaluation because of her claim that she is a virgin and that the child is from God. Psychiatrists at the hospital have told a source that they believe Mary suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

The director of the psychiatric wing said, “I don’t profess to have the right to tell people what to believe, but when their beliefs adversely affect the safety and well-being of others – in this case her child – we must consider her a danger to others. The unidentified drugs at the scene didn’t help her case, but I’m confidant that with the proper therapy regimen we can get her back on her feet.”

The Director of Child Protective Services said: “Our caseworkers are interviewing the parents, Mary and Joseph. It has been determined that they are in need of services, and if they refuse to partake of them, we will promptly bring suit to terminate their parental rights.” When asked who will care for Jesus if that happens, the Director said: “We have many suitable foster parents who already want to adopt this beautiful child.”

Mary was deeply distressed when the child was taken away by a CPS caseworker. Mary said: “They didn’t have any right to take him from me!”

A spokesperson for the governor’s office said, “Who knows what was going through their heads? But regardless, their treatment of the child was inexcusable, and the involvement of these others frightening. There is much we don’t know about this case, but for the sake of the child and the public, you can be assured that we will pursue this matter to the end.”

Something to think about!

My Eleventh Foster Home Experience

This is a chapter from my book, which is no longer in print, I wish to share. The book is available in its entirety on my web site for anyone who wishes to read.

This is the story of “My Eleventh Foster Home.” It covers a mere eleven months of my youth (from May 15, 1960 to April 16, 1961). It was the worst year of my life as least as far as my memory serves me:

The stability of four years came to sudden end in May 15, 1960, when I was abruptly removed from the Monshor’s home. I was placed in the Wayne County, Michigan Youth Detention Center. My crime: at age ten I was guilty of not having a family to claim me as their son nor a place to call home.

The Detention Center was to be my home until a new foster home was found. Here I was placed amongst youth offenders who were charged with a wide assortment of crimes. My bed, to start due to overcrowding, would be a thin mattress in the open area of the block.

I am the youngest boy on the block, as well as the smallest. Though I attempted to fight as best I could I was unable to overcome the attacks of older boys. I was repeatedly sexually assaulted.

One day after being assaulted and left naked in a cell, I felt my life, at age ten,  was no longer worth living and attempted to hang myself with a belt. I was discovered before the act could be completed and placed in an isolation cell, where I would remain for two months.

Those responsible for the repeated rapes were never charged or held accountable in any manner.

In late July, another foster home was found…the eleventh in ten years. This is the only foster home experience I have any memory of, other than the three times with the Monshors.

The two homes were as different as night and day. How this home was ever approved as a foster home, I will never know. With the Monshors I was made to feel a part of the family, whereas at this home I feel I was considered a monthly stipend.

My bedroom was a cot out on the enclosed back porch. Because this was also the laundry room it was important that I put everything away first thing each morning. I was actually allowed to sleep in the house one night, when I got sunburned. I slept on the kitchen floor with a fan running to keep me cool. I was given an extra blanket during the winter months. However, it was still cold and most nights I also slept also in my clothes to keep somewhat warm.

I was given one meal a day. This was dinner and it was expected to last me until the following night. I was not allowed to eat this one meal with the family. A plate was prepared for me to take out to the back porch to eat alone.

I was also expected to do my homework out on the porch after dinner then go to bed. The only time I was really allowed in the house was to use the bathroom facilities. I made sure I used them and would be out of the house before others began rising.

When school began in the fall I was expected to walk about a mile to and from school each day…and not through the best of neighborhoods. This was also despite the fact that both their son and daughter had cars and could have driven me to school.

I arrived at school most days quite hungry. This was in the days before school lunch programs. Here, I learned how to steal to take care of my hunger. I was going to a Catholic school and each school day started with mass. I began to arrive at mass a little later than the other students. Most left their lunches in the outer lobby. Because I didn’t want anyone else to go hungry, I would sneak around to different lunches and steal different items so I too would have something to eat during the day. I never got caught. After all these years I still feel bad about having done this.

There was a Catholic church also close to this foster home. I went to mass one Saturday morning. An elderly priest offered the mass. I was the only boy in attendance. The priest stopped me that Saturday and asked me if I lived in the neighborhood and if I would like to be an altar boy for Saturday mass. I answered yes to both questions. Father took me out for breakfast after that mass and each and every Saturday thereafter. I now had a second meal on Saturday and didn’t have to steal it.

I soon developed a habit on Saturdays where I would leave Father and find a way to run off to the Monshors to spend the rest of the day. They welcomed me with open arms. I would leave in time to get back to this home before dark. After a few weeks it was arranged with the Monshors to pick me up after breakfast with Father and then drop me back off at this home, parking a couple blocks away so no one would know. This foster family never asked where I spent my Saturday, though I would be gone all day. They didn’t seem to care.

I remember Christmas 1960 with this family. A few weeks prior to Christmas, I was taken to St. Vincent de Paul Center to get my semiannual allotment of clothes. Those clothes were what I found under the tree for me that Christmas morning; there was nothing from the family.

I do not remember ever having a tender or loving moment with this family. I was not a part of it. I was just the foster care system’s kid for whom they were providing a bed and a meal a day…that was the extent of it. I was to spend 8-1/2 months in this hellhole.

On the night of April 15, 1961, I was told to pack my paper bag, and that I would be leaving in the morning. All I could think of was, “Here we go again.”

The final insult of this foster home came on my final night there. Their son, seventeen at the time, came back on the porch late during the night. He nudged me roughly. When I opened my eyes, light was coming through the porch windows so I could see him. He was standing over me, exposing himself, close to my mouth saying, “Take care of this for me.” I remember kicking out at him and then wailing away at him. I hit him everywhere I possibly could creating noises as he crashed into things. All the time I was yelling to arouse the rest of the house.

Finally his Mother came out to see what was going on. I yelled out, with tears rolling down my face, “He tried to force himself on me sexually.” He called me a liar and said he was just checking on me.

His Mother believed him and not me. She said, “You are a rotten no good for nothing boy, a dirty little boy, a liar. No wonder no one wanted me as I wasn’t fit to have anyone to want me. Good thing you will soon be out of our house, you ungrateful little bastard.” At least she got the bastard part correct.

I sat there in stunned silence and pain with what I heard, while crying now uncontrollably. Then I had my chance. I stood up and decked her son. I got a good hit in as I knocked out one of his front teeth…not bad for a scrawny eleven year old.

Dawn was soon approaching. It couldn’t come fast enough for me; I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I remember being slapped hard across the face and told to go get my bag and get out of their house…to sit on the cold front porch until the case worker came for me. That suited me just fine! When the case worker arrived I ran for the car.

Unbeknownst to me, sometime during the fall of 1960 the court must have determined that my constant moving was proving to be detrimental and that they needed to get me out of Detroit. They realized that wherever they sent me in Detroit, I would find a way to run away and go back to the Monshors.

Maybe they just wanted to admit they had failed me.

Eleven years old and I had already been moved in and out of homes fourteen different times…eight of those moves in just the first five years of life.

Another sign of their failure was that as far back as I could remember, each time a social worker came to where I was staying…it was a “new” social worker. Seems to me first the social workers gave up on me and finally the system.

Dawn April 16, 1961, I was taken from this foster home and placed on a plane with a social worker, not having been told where I was going. After a plane transfer in Chicago, we landed in Omaha, NE and were met by a priest. It was then I learned that I was going to Father Flanagan’s Boys Home; better known as Boys Town, Nebraska. I had never been on a plane before, never been out of Detroit and now I was in some place called Omaha and I was scared to death. The picture taken of me upon arrival at Boys Town I believe clearly shows the unhappiness and fear.

I was so ashamed of what had happened that previous night that I did not share it with the social worker. I have not shared it with anyone as I have remained ashamed until now…forty plus years later. I also have never shared the experiences of the Detention Center until I wrote this book…it has taken this long to heal the shame and pain.

I always felt I needed to keep it as my dark, dirty secret. As I thought of writing this chapter, I finally came to realize I was not the guilty party that night; I was the victim and thus could now forgive myself and let it go. I still obviously remember that woman’s final words to me. I still shudder when I think of this foster home.

I have tried to get as many records from the court as I could. Most of them are stored on microfiche. What has been stated here and the previous chapter was obtained from the application the social worker filled out for my admission to Boys Town.

However, back in 1986, a then current administrator did go through some of the microfiche to see if she could find any behavioral or medical problems on my part which may have precluded me ever being adopted. She found none. She also could not find any reason for so many moves. The only thing she could figure out was that as I grew older I became less acceptable to couples looking to adopt. This problem continues to plague older, foster care children today.

I have very few vivid memories of my childhood. It mostly seems a blur to me except for what I have shared or I have been able to totally block out many experiences.

The move to Boys Town would be the fifteenth move in my eleven years of life.

My web site: http://www.larrya.us

What Happens to Former Foster Youth?

This was a speech, and later published article, delivered by Mr. Bill Stanton, former foster youth and current Board Chair of Foster Care Alumni of America.  I, as a former foster youth myself,  found it so true that I just had to share it with you. I thank Mr. Stanton for sharing his insights.

It seems like we can’t pick up the newspaper or turn on the television these days without reading or hearing about a child who has been abused, neglected or even killed by their parents. Other stories also range from a child welfare agency losing a child in the system to children being kept in cages and starved.

Many of these youth will end up in our nation’s foster care system. Some will eventually be reunified with their family, adopted or will remain in foster care for years to come. Some will experience even more aduse, neglect or other things.

Do people ever think about what happens to these children? Where will that child be five years, 10 years, 20 years from now after years of experiencing all sorts of traumatizing events during their youth?

Surprisingly, I find that most people really don’t give this a whole lot of thought except maybe for a day or two when cases hit the headlines. Abuse of children by their parents or the system is not something that we want to believe happens every second in America. We are shocked when it is reported, but most often we want to forget about it and move on with our lives.

Today, there are more than 12 million adults in America who “graduated” from the foster care system. We hardly hear about these individuals. A high percentage of youth leave foster care with many troubles and end up homeless for a time, in mental-health hospitals or in prison. However some former foster children move on in life overcoming the damage of their youth becoming successful and have families.

So why don’t we hear about the successes? Is it because those foster children, now adults, were programmed not to talk about their experiences in foster care?

Go back in time to the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s, and think about how families were structured. What happened in the family was supposed to stay in the family. When things got so bad that a child was removed from the home, it was a thing of shame. It was a stigma.

As a child, I certainly didn’t want to tell anyone you were a foster child. I can recall this first hand. Growing up in foster care in the 1950s and ’60s, I didn’t dare tell anyone I was a foster child. If anyone found out, I was ostracized. Parents wouldn’t allow their children to play with me because I was “the foster kid.”

Teachers often reacted in one of two ways. They would either immediately label me as the “bad” kid or they would pity me or not challenge me. Either way, I was an outsider.

So it is no wonder that you don’t hear about foster children who have grown up, have families and are successful. Even as adults, many of us continue to observe the rules of the past and remain silient and voiceless.

This is a travesty. We – who have been there, done that – can offer so much to the children who are now in foster care and expose the broken system that was responsible for us.

Today’s foster children are often still labeled, and most don’t dare let people know they are a foster child.

I for one have decided that I will remain silent no more….I will not be voiceless and forgotten. I do this not for my sake as I have been able to move on with my life and been successful. I however care about the youth in the system today still dealing with many of the same issues I did all those years ago.

Six years ago at the age of 51, I received a call that my biological mother passed away. She had given me up me a second time 3 years earlier after a 12 year strained reunion. My first emotion was not grief. My first thought was, “Wow, I guess I really am never going home,” and because of this, my first emotion was sadness.

Think about the benefit foster children could have if we “alumni” of foster care stepped forward and spent a little time with abused and neglected children. Think of the impact we could have if we were the people they look up to because we lived through what they are living through.

Maybe it is time to stop thinking of ourselves as “former foster kids” but rather as “foster alumni.” We really have so much to offer and should take pride in what we survived. We need to give this generation of foster children the hope that so many of us didn’t have.

We need to also speak out to the general public of what a foster care experience can really be like. There are yes good expertiences but unfortunately there are numerous bad experiences as well especially for those who spend year after year within the system and end up aging out without the tools necessary to make it on their own.

There are so many organizations that are looking for volunteers to reach out to foster children. Organizations such as Foster Care Alumni of America http://www.fostercarealumni.org/ is such a national organization. Many communities also have orgranizations as well.

Through our experience as foster care alumni, we have paved a path to success. Now, let’s guide the next generation of foster youth down that path so that they can set the example for future generations.

So, next time you hear the question: What happens to foster children when they grow up?, stand tall, speak out and let people know that some of the leaders in our community are foster care alumni.

Family Medical History…What About Adoptees?

Former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona in 2005 began an initiative to encourage supposedly ALL Americans to learn about their families’ health histories. This would be a way of promoting personal health and preventing diseases.  He has even collaborated with others to offer a new web site and free computer program to help families collect and record this information.

Dr. Carmona stated, “The bottom line is that knowing your family medical history can save your life. Millions of dollars in medical research, equipment and knowledge can’t give us the information family medical histories can.

However, how are the millions of adopted across the country who have their records sealed suppose to obtain the information that Dr. Carmona says could save their lives?

Many question why adoptees search for their birth family or at least information about them. Most of those who question come from people who were raised by their birth parents. They knew their heritage. They had extended family to share their lives. They knew of potential medical problems that might arise in their lives.

They have little to no understanding or appreciation for those of us who have gone through life, without any of the above or the void it left within us. They do not know what it would be like not to have any of the above.

Through the first thirty-two years of my life I did not care about birth parents, family, heritage, medical history or any of that stuff. I had enough issues involved in just growing up and making something of myself, without having to spend time contemplating that bigger picture.

I should note, to this point of my life, I did not know even the names of my birth parents.

1982 changed all that!

I suffered my first heart attack. I still remember the doctor asking, “What is your family medical history?” I was embarrassed when I had to respond “I do not know!”

I am one of the fortunate ones. I was not adopted, but was placed for adoption at birth. I rode the merry go round of the foster care system for eighteen years. After my heart attack and embarrassment of not being able to answer doctor’s questions I began searching for the answers.

Even as one who was not adopted, many closed their doors and records to me during my search. I can only imagine the extreme difficulty adoptees have in getting the answers which could save their lives!

I know adoptees who have been searching for years, without success, to find the very basic of information; a birth parent name. This is due to he laws concerning adoption still on the books in many states.

I have known adoptees, even when the release of medical information about family could have saved their lives, were refused their request for information. This is wrong and has absolutely no justification.

Every child, at some point, questions who they are, where they came from and so forth. Most are able to have the answers easily provided by a parent or other member of their family. Adoptees or many children of the foster care system, such as I, do not have that available to them. For adoptees in particular, of my generation, it is denied them by law. We are expected to go through life never knowing the answers to those questions. Many are even ridiculed for entertaining such questions.

Why, when millions around the world who were raised by their birth parents do genealogical research to learn more of themselves and their heritage is it considered normal? When an adoptee or person in my situation does the same it’s considered abnormal? Seems hypocritical to me!

I now know my family medical history. This, however, came about only after eight long and costly years of searching for my birth family before the days of Google, etc.

My search was, in comparison to adoptees, relatively easy despite the length of time it took.

My search had its ups and downs. My initial search to just find the information needed to locate my birth Mother to get medical information, took four years. It would take another four years before I would find and meet my birth Father. They have both since passed away. During that time, I learned how to be a detective; to ask questions, which to most would have appeared stupid. I even had to learn to lie to just get the information I wanted.

I found my birth Mother, my birth Father as well as siblings. None were very cooperative in answering my questions about family health, heritage or genealogy. If they had been, it might have saved me sixteen more years of research.

My search went far beyond my original intent. The question is; WHY? Why did I go beyond the original intent of getting simple medical information? Why did I want to find my birth Mother? Why did I ever want to meet her? Why did I want to know my roots? Why take twenty years spending great amounts of time, energy and money researching my family history? Why look for living members of an extended family?

I searched for the answers to all those questions because I am like any other normal individual. More importantly, I had the right to know! I searched first for information; then to fill a void in my life. I would like to think if the search had ended with just information, I would have been satisfied. Of course, knowing all I do today, it might not have been. Each person searching needs to know when enough is enough for them.

I have found most the answers to my questions. The void that was in my life has been filled. I now feel I am a whole person; I know who I am and where I came from. I am now in the position that children raised by their birth parents are in. I no longer have to feel different or abnormal. I found far more information about my family genealogy than I ever expected to. I found and met members of my extended family. I can now see in pictures family resemblances and say…see I belong! In learning about my great grandparents, aunts, uncles and Polish people as a whole, I learned, in so many ways, why I am the person I am today.

This is why I and others search, the desire to be made whole. The desire to know, that even when your birth parents may reject you…you still are a part of a family and a heritage. I had a good life prior to beginning my search and have done well during the search. The end result of my search just has made it better.

Since the 1970s, some states have opened up their adoption laws, opening Adoption Registries. Many adoption agencies now enter into open adoption agreements. However, in many cases, the adoptee is at a distinct disadvantage if they choose to search for their birth parents or any information that might identify who they are.

Though things have improved in the past twenty or so years, much more needs to be done. Most state Adoption Registries require both the birth parent and the adoptee to grant permission for identifying information to be shared with the other party. If consent is not given or if nothing is on file indicating either way, any requests for information will be denied.

Current laws, even with updates, still play havoc for those adoptees from the 1930s, 1940s and even 1950s. In many cases, the birth parents or adoptee, do not know the new laws regarding Adoption Registries. Also, the birth parents or now adult adoptees have passed away. Even in death, information cannot be given. In most cases, the law that supposedly was “in the best interest of the child” has become, “best interest of the birth parent, dead or alive.”

I firmly believe ALL have the right to know who they are, where they came from, family medical history, family heritage and genealogy, no matter the circumstances under which they came into this world.

To those who are not adoptees, or from a situation such as mine, I ask you; “Knowing all that you know today about yourself, family, family medical history…how would you have liked to have all that information kept from you? Would it leave a void in your life? These are the conditions under which adoptees are expected to live. In truth, you know you would not like to live this way; why would you expect an adoptee to be any different from you?

To birth parents, I have a message. We understand, in most cases, your decision to give up your child was made only after a great struggle within yourself. We know what a painstaking decision it was that you made. We know you made that decision because of the love you had for your child, and that you wanted what was best for him or her. I ask that you continue to act in the best interest of your child, who is now an adult and no matter how good a good a home they went to, or how well they have done in life, may still feel incomplete. PLEASE, file information with your respective state Adoption Agency from which your child was adopted. Give your consent to have it released to your child when they reach adulthood. Let them fill the void within their lives. Without your consent this information will never be made known to them.

Adult adoptees, who search for answers, do not mean you any harm. They do not want to disrupt the lives you have since built for yourselves. They just want and need answers to questions to which only you can unlock the door. Even if you do not wish for any type of relationship with your child, provide the information that would allow them to be whole.

My search was satisfied when I was able to sit with my birth Mother and find out the true story of my birth; the gut-wrenching decision she made to give me up, and why; my true Polish heritage and the vague medical history that would allow me to better care for myself.
I would have been satisfied if she had just provided me these facts in a letter and not agreed to meet me. I would have had the basic information I desired.

The fact she agreed to meet me, despite how our relationship turned out, was above and beyond what I had hoped for or expected during my search.

Twenty years ago, I knew nothing of my birth mother, my heritage or my family medical history. Today, I know more than I had ever expected to be able to know. Even though I feel I have had a successful life to this point, it is only today that I can declare…I am whole! I finally have a sense of belonging, of knowing who I am. I am finally proud of who I am, where I came from and of those within my family who came before me. I am proud to be able to proclaim my heritage is
Polish!

This is why I searched. This is why anyone would search. To any adoption agency employee, state Adoption Registry employee, or more importantly, birth parent who may read this…allow adult adoptees to have the thrill I have had. Allow them access to the information they may need or want to fill in the blanks in their lives. Allow them to become whole! This is vitally important for adoptees of earlier generations. They need the information while it might still be possible for them to meet the birth parents whom for whatever reason, had to give them up. If the birth parent or adoptee is already deceased, then the adoption records should be opened without question.

My question now to Dr. Carmona is, “Will he join the battle for open records?” He sees the importance of ALL to have their medical history available to them. Does he truly believe ALL or will he allow millions to continue to have the doors to this information closed to them?

Dr. Carmona addresses only one of many reasons adoption records should be opened to adult adoptees. There are numerous other reasons. However, if one’s life can be saved through family medical information or diseases fought or even prevented…this should be enough reason to open the sealed vaulted doors.
  
It is OUR information locked behind the vault doors and we have a right to it!

For those privileged to have their family medical information and wish to organize it, print it out and have it added to your doctor’s records for you; you may download it at: http://www.hhs.gov/familyhistory.
The program is called “My Family Health Portrait.” 

My web site: http://www.larrya.us

Example of Failed Child Welfare System

Recently a program called “Kids Count” released their report of each of the state’s child welfare system, in particular foster care.

 Below is an example of a failure…the state of Michigan. I selected this one to share since it is the state in which I grew up in foster care. Though not surprisingly, yet I astounded,  problems sighted were the same problems I dealt with  as a youth in its system…and I aged out just short of 40 years ago.

I don’t take credit for the article below…it appeared in Wednesday’s August 8, 2007,  issue of the Ann Arbor News entitled; “State System Creates too many Orphans”

  

Michigan is making orphans out of too many children. It’s an unintended consequence of laws passed in the 1990s making it easier for judges to terminate parental rights.

The ambitious goal was to quickly get abused and neglected children into stable, permanent homes. The reality has been thousands of children becoming wards of the state, then languishing in foster care for years before aging out of the system. Lawmakers need to revisit, and revamp, laws that have doubled the number of orphans in the state since 1994.

Michigan had 2,972 legal orphans 13 years ago. Last year there were 6,292, not including the 536 who aged out of the system because they turned 18. The latest Kids Count in Michigan report released in July found almost 28,000 state children received foster care services in 2004. It rightly calls on lawmakers to re-examine the foster care laws.

Foster care was never meant to be a permanent situation for children taken from their parents. But each year, hundreds of youngsters who’ve been in the system for years, age out of foster care without ever having a permanent home.

A report by the state’s Foster Care Review Board in June said the growth of state wards and increasing case loads for foster care workers might partially explain why some children have been abused or died in foster care. Gov. Jennifer Granholm is seeking funds to hire more than 250 workers to find permanent homes for children in the foster care system.

While the state must be zealous in protecting children by removing them from abusive or neglectful homes, it can not be overzealous in permanently cutting parental ties, especially with older children. The sad fact is that once children reach age 11, there is little chance of them being adopted out of foster care. Three quarters of the children adopted from foster care are taken by age 10. That means options other than adoption are needed to find permanent homes for older children.

Recommendations from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which does the Kids Count study, include programs such as permanent guardianships, which allow children to maintain legal ties to their parents while being raised by someone else. Michigan ought to try such programs. They have been used with good effect in other states. Guardianship programs can provide financial assistance commensurate with adoption assistance, allowing children who can’t go home to live permanently with relatives, foster parents and other adults, without being adopted by them. Another suggestion is to let judges create temporary legal guardians for foster children. That leaves open the possibility of a reunion if parents rehabilitate themselves.

Those ideas could be good options for older children, who often don’t want to permanently cut ties with their parents.

Michigan already is trying the “Family to Family” approach to foster care, which aims to keep abused and neglected children with their families when it can be done safely, with relatives or at least in their home communities. Research funded by the Casey Foundation says children are less traumatized by removal from their families if they are not also removed from their schools, neighborhoods and other supports that are familiar to them.

At any given time up to 19,000 children are in foster care in Michigan. Too many of them are spending years in the system without being returned to their families or adopted. For our children’s sake, the state must find better options.

So how many more years do the youth lanquishing in foster care in MI as well as the other states have to wait for change?

My web site: http://www.larrya.us

Child Welfare System Reform-Part Four

Adoption from Foster Care Reform

A child has justifiably been removed from their home, parental rights have been terminated, the child is within the foster care system…it is now time to consider needed reforms to the adoption system.

As with CPS and foster care, adoption MUST be done with the best interest of the child as the one and only priority.

If a child has been matched with the best possible foster family with potential adoption in mind and the family wishes to adopt the child, the adoption process should be expedited to allow the child to establish a permanent family, obtain stability in life and be removed from the quagmire of the foster care system.

If the child has been placed, though best matched, with a family not interested in adopting, immediate matching with a potential adoptive family should begin. The child should remain with the current family until such a family is found.

Once that family has been identified and a thorough check has been done as required of foster families are required to undergo, a slow transition to move the child to this family should begin. One can begin with visits; overnight stays, etc. until all parties are comfortable and then the child should be moved to this family.

A reasonable period of transition and bonding should follow prior to commencement of adoption proceedings beginning.

Prior to adoption, a document should be prepared by the responsible agency, detailing once again, all information that was earlier made part of the record concerning birth family and child. Again this document is prepared under the threat of perjury.

The document should be signed by both parties and made part of the permanent record after copies are made available to both parties.

The adoption process can be very stressful for potential adoptive parents, whether from the public or private sectors. Support groups should be established to allow potential adoptive parents to come together in support of one another . They can discuss the process, the stresses, and what to expect in the first few years, etc. This, I believe, would be quite helpful in making the adoption a success.

Adoptive families, who for reasons of their fault, fail in their adoption (IE: child removed at their request, have alleged charges of abuse or neglect) not only MUST face the same process or criminal as biological parents, but they also must be placed on the National Registry so they may not move to another jurisdiction and attempt to adopt more children.

Other than a foster placement and adoption at an age where the child does not understand what is happening, or if proved not to be in the best interest of the child at the time, adoptions should be open as much as possible. The degree of openness should be left to the comfort level of the adoptive parents and can change over the course of years that follow.

Federal adoption subsidies must be enforced in all states. There should be not a question of whether or not you receive it, but simply “Here, your children qualify, sign this form.”

Children need to know their roots. A major change I would make in adoption law is for OPEN RECORDS. Any adopted youth upon reaching the age a majority MSUT have access to their original th family if they so desire.

Every child, at some point, questions who they are, where they came from and so forth. Most are able to have the answers easily provided by a parent or other member of their family. Adoptees or many children of the foster care system, such as I, do not have that available to them. For adoptees in particular, of my generation, it is denied them by law. We are expected to go through life never knowing the answers to those questions. Many are even ridiculed for entertaining such questions.

Why search? Why not leave the past alone? What do you hope to gain from your search? These were just a few of the questions asked of me during the course of my search. Most questions came from people who were raised by their birth parents. They knew their heritage. They had extended family to share their lives. They knew of potential medical problems that might arise in their lives. They had no understanding or appreciation for those of us who have gone through life, without any of the above or the void it left within us. They do not know what it would be like not to have any of the above.

I searched for the answers to all those questions because I am like any other normal individual. More importantly, I had the right to know! I searched first for information and then to fill a void in my life. I would like to think if the search had ended with just information, I would have been satisfied. Of course, knowing all I do today, it might not have been. Each person searching needs to know when enough is enough for them.

This is why I searched. I had the desire to be made whole. The desire to know, that even when your birth parents may reject you, you still are a part of a family and a heritage. I spent thousands of hours and dollars during my search, and I was only a foster child never adopted. Thus, I was able to obtain my original birth certificate. These expenditures of time and money should not have been necessary.

Agreements made while a child is a child should not be allowed to hold once the child reaches the age of maturity. Adoption records should be opened.

Twenty years ago, I knew nothing of my birth mother, my heritage or my family history. Today, I know more than I had ever expected to be able to know. Even though I feel I have had a successful life to this point, it is only today that I can declare…I am whole! I finally have a sense of belonging, of knowing who I am. I am finally proud of who I am, where I came from and of those within my family who came before me. I am proud to be able to proclaim my Polish heritage! This is why anyone would search.

Why, when millions around the world who were raised by their birth parents do genealogical research to learn more of themselves and their heritage, is it considered normal? When an adoptee or person in my situation does the same, it’s considered “abnormal”? Seems hypocritical to me!

I firmly believe ALL have the right to know who they are, where they came from, family heritage and genealogy, no matter the circumstances under which they came into this world. It is THEIR information locked behind vault doors and THEY have a right to it!

As i stated at the beginning of this series; I do not claim to know all the problems of our child welfare system nor do I claim to have all the answers. I DO know our current system is broken and youth are paying the price today and we as a society are and will continue to pay for this failure.

I have attempted to lay out many of the problems I see about the system. I have gone a step further and also attempted to provide some potential solutions as it does no good to just say what is wrong and not provide some answers.

We desperately need to begin a dialogue within society and demand reform of those responsibe for this failed system. 

I hope this may be the start!

Child Welfare System Reform-Part Three

Foster Care System Reform

CPS has been addressed. If all the proposed reforms of this program have been implemented and enforced there should be a large reduction in the number of children needing to be placed in the foster care system.

Only after a neglect case has been fully investigated, parents refuse or do not complete the Family Service Program made available to them and all efforts for potential kinship care have failed should removal from the home and placement in foster care for the child be considered.

When abuse (physical or sexual) has been alleged, found by the police to have merit, the alleged offender has been charged and all efforts were made to allow child to remain in home or kinship care should removal from the home and placement in foster care be considered.

In any case all the efforts made must be full documented under threat of perjury and said report goes before a judge for initial determination of child removal to foster care.

Once a removal determination has been made by a judge, reviewed by the review committee and found to be in compliance with all policies, procedures and laws should the child be removed.

Removal from one’s family is a traumatic experience for any child, no matter the conditions they were removed from. Immediate counseling MUST be provided to ALL children who is of an age of understanding to realize what is happening to them. This service should be provided until it is deemed no longer necessary.

Neglect and abuse situations should be handled differently in some areas while the same policies should be implemented in others.

NEGLECT CASES:

ALL workers involved in disposition of a case should have full training not only on procedures, policy and law but also impact of their decisions as to how they may affect the children. The training MUST be

completed prior to their being able to make decisions in a case on their own. There also must be ongoing training while they are employed by their agency (public or private).

NO foster care worker should have a case load more than twenty families at any one time. More cases do not allow the worker to devote the necessary amount of time and work in assisting the family and child along with their other responsibilities.

Adding administrative staff to do necessary paperwork would free up social workers to actually do what they have been trained and hired to do.

States have been reducing workers in this field as they have been in education. They say it is necessary due to budget issues. States can either fully fund prevention programs, assistance programs now or we as a society will pay later with destroyed families, children in juvenile hall or prison.

Families are the backbone of our society. Children are our future. Destroy either one of them or our society will pay a very heavy price…spend the money now!

Though impractical, it would be nice if ALL involved in the child care field (judges on down the line) would have to be parents themselves or foster parents for a period of time before they are able to make decisions regarding children. It is hard enough to parent a child with no baggage but you get a child who has been neglected, abused or exposed to drugs and that is a totally different world. Then you get a worker that is fresh out of college and thinks that what they learned in a book is the way of the world and the kids pay. Textbook learning is not the “real” world!

A child should be moved as little as possible while in the foster care system. Constant moves only prove detrimental to the child.

ALL potential foster families who have completed their necessary training, home studies and background checks should be placed within a software program. Data should include, but not be limited to, age of children willing to foster, number of children, whether they will take siblings of one gender or both genders, gender of children, race of children, special needs of children, willingness to foster/adopt or not.

ALL children entering the foster care system MUST also have their data entered into the data base. It should include reasons for foster placement, age, gender, special needs, single or part of sibling group, race.

Every effort MUST be made to best match the children to foster families on the initial placement to reduce moves for the child. This should include the potential that the child may at some point be made eligible for adoption.

Some counties currently use a rotation system for placement. That is, they simply call the next agency of their list and given them a period of time to place or call the next agency. Agencies have been given financial incentives for placements.

This MUST be totally abandoned. Children are not a commodity. Agencies should not be given incentives for just finding a bed available rather than finding the “best” placement. Placements MUST be determined by matching the best potential foster parents to the children needing placement.

If any incentive is to be offered it should be to states for reducing the number of cases in their foster care system by either keeping the family together due to in home services offered, successfully reunifying families or by adoption when appropriate.

Emergency placement may be necessary at times and just a bed found. These should be done as rarely as possible and for as short of a period of time as possible.

Foster parents MUST be made an active part of the team making decisions in the best interest of the child as long as the child remains a part of foster care.

At the time of placement a fully detailed case plan for potential return of the child to its parents MUST be developed. It MUST state what MUST be accomplished by the parents, the assistance that will be provided to accomplish the plan; a clear date of completion of said plan MUST be established. I propose ONE YEAR. The parents must have it clearly stated to them in the document that they will have one opportunity to fulfill their established plan.

Failure to comply with the plan during the course of the one year or failure to complete the plan in the established time is automatic grounds for termination of their rights. The parents must know their child will NOT be allowed to remain in limbo or subject to instability due to their actions or inactions. This agreement MUST be side by both parties in the presence of a judge and becomes a part of the permanent record. Compliance with the case plan should be reviewed every ninety days, or sooner if warranted.

At the time of placement with a foster family a document of facts will be prepared by the placing agency. It will include, but not be limited to, reason child has been placed, history of the child including medical, any behavioral, physical or mental special needs of the child, case plan established and agreed to by the parents, services to be provided the child while in care.

This document is prepared under the threat of perjury charges. Both the agency and foster family sign the document and it is made a part of the record, after the foster family and agency are provided copies.

All services to be provided to the child while in case MUST be provided with the needs of the foster family as to place, time etc.

Every effort MUST be made to keep siblings together, if not possible, arrangements must be made to allow siblings to visit each other while in care.

The foster family cares for the child twenty-four/seven and payment for their providing this service MUST reflect this service. Foster families should NOT be expected to go into their personal funds to provide this service. Foster families also should NOT expect this payment to provide them their source of income to the household.

When a parent(s) have completed their case plan and a determination has been made to reunify the family it should not be rushed. A probationary transition period should be established to slowly allow the biological parent(s) to transition to having the children back in their home. We want the reunification to be successful and not have the child returned to foster care. The reunification should go slowly with continued full services available to the parent(s) to assist them during this period.

The family should continue to be monitored for a period of at least one year after full reunification and assistance should also be offered during this time.

The parents may have difficulties along the way, as long as the parent(s) show continued attempts to parent their children in a healthy, safe setting they MUST be supported.

However, if the parent suddenly goes back to the way things were before the children were removed and the children’s well being is once again put at risk…removal proceedings may be once again with the goal of parental rights being terminated.

Children cannot be allowed to be placed in a situation where they become a ping pong ball going back and forth between their home and foster care. This is extremely detrimental to the child in numerous ways and cannot be allowed.

A parent(s) who has been proved neglectful deserves a second opportunity to prove they are capable of being a parent. This does not mean third, fourth etc. chances.

Reunification is great when it can successfully happen. However, reunification at any costs should not be the objective. At some point one needs to realize that some are not capable of being a parent and have parental rights terminated for the sake of the children.

Children placed within the system due to allegations against a parent(s) of physical or sexual abuse need to be handled slightly differently.

At the time of their placement only criminal charges have been lodged and kinship care was found not to be a viable option.

The parent(s) must be assumed innocent until proved guilty.

If a parent(s) are found to be not guilty after a jury trial the safe return of the child must be carefully considered. Is it in the best interest of the child to be returned to a home where these charges were alleged but not proved beyond a reasonable doubt?

It is possible something did occur though not meeting our standard of guilt. It is also possible that the alleged offender pleads guilty to a lesser charge.

A “case plan,” if necessary, will need to be set up and followed prior to the return of the child or the child can be safely returned immediately after case disposition.

If a parent(s) are found guilty of the charges alleged against them, termination of their rights should begin immediately. No parent found guilty of such charges should be given a second opportunity to commit such indefensible actions against their children again. TPR should occur and the child made eligible for adoption period!

If the parent(s) are involved in the court system due to other alleged crimes not involving the children but resulting in the child being placed in foster care, due to kinship care not being a viable option, and said parent(s) are found guilty of those charges presents yet another dilemma. What were the charges and what is the length of sentence given?

Conviction for a crime of violence (IE: murder) should be grounds for immediate termination of rights and child made eligible for adoption.

If for other crimes that requires a period of incarceration the case needs to be carefully reviewed. How long is the sentence? Is the parent after incarceration willing to set up and comply with a case plan for reunification? Is the parent willing to do a voluntary termination of rights?

I think the key determination needs to focus on length of sentence. How long do we as a society expect a child to remain within the foster care system while awaiting a parent to begin their responsibilities of parenting. How long to we expect a child to remain in limbo in an unstable environment?

I am of the firm belief that any sentence beyond one year, with an additional one year time period to fulfill a case plan warrants termination of rights by the parent (s).

We must put the welfare and best interest of the child above and beyond the rights of the parent(s)!

There is another category of children that may come into foster care. These are those that have been abandoned, orphaned or placed for adoption at birth all without a viable kinship care option available to them.

These children have the least number of available options for permanency available to them. Immediately upon placement every effort MUST be made to find an adoptive family for them…this should be given every consideration when placing with any foster family.

Finally, a number of children placed within the foster care system, either with a family or other setting, will for a number of reasons, age out of the system despite the best efforts made.

A more complete comprehensive program of after care must be made available to youth aging out of the system.

Statistics bear out that far too many former foster children do not complete their education, have no resources to advance themselves, end up in dead end jobs, on drugs, mental and emotional problems or in prison.

Consideration should be given to raising the age for aging out of the system to 21. Extensive “life” prepartion programs would be provided for youth ages 16-21. Some counties and states do offer this but this type program is among the first cut when their is a budget crunch.

Children without the necessary resources are doomed to failure.

We cannot allow these, now young adults, to become the throw away of our society. They, probably far more than many others, deserve an opportunity in life and the resource for them to attempt to achieve it. We cannot guarantee their success…but we can provide them the tools necessary for them to do the work to make it possible. 

Part 4 of this 4 part series will address adoption from foster care.

The Basic Foster Care Facts!

A few people have written stating I don’t know the “true” story about foster care and I should study it more. They also state basically the system is doing well though they do have problems that arise from time to time and one of their problems is a lack of funding.

Well I will lets the basic fact about foster care speak for themselves!!

Basic Foster Care Facts: 

There are more than 523,000 children and youth in the U.S. foster care system, a 90% increase since 1987. 53% are male and 47% female. The average age of a child entering foster care is 10 while 40,000 infants enter the system each year.

The U.S. spends $22 billion dollars ($5 billion from the Federal government and the balance from state/county governments) to provide services for children and youth in foster care. This averages out to $40,000 per child.

120,000 children and youth a year have had TPR (terminate parental rights) occur and are eligible for adoption but continue to remain in the system due to lack of adoptive families

The average stay in the foster care system is 33 months. However, 33% will spend 3-5 yrs in the system while 26% will spend 5 yrs or more.

* Children have on average three different foster care placements. The longer a child or youth remains in foster care the more moves. Frequent moves in and out of the homes of strangers as well as new schools can be profoundly unsettling for children, and it is not uncommon to hear of children who have been in 20 or 30 different homes or 5 to 7 new schools. Many have been separated not only from their parents, but from their siblings.

* Children in foster care are three to six times more likely than children not in care to have emotional, behavioral and developmental problems, including conduct disorders, depression, difficulties in school and impaired social relationships. Some experts estimate that about 30% of the children in care have marked or severe emotional problems. Various studies have indicated that children and young people in foster care tend to have limited education and job skills, perform poorly in school compared to children who are not in foster care, lag behind in their education by at least one year, and have lower educational attainment than the general population.

* Children died as a result of abuse in foster care 5.25 times more often than children in the general population. 2.1 percent of all child fatalities took place in foster care. While this may seem like a relatively low number, we must consider the contrast in population between children in the general population versus children in foster care. In 1997, there were nearly 71 million children in the general population (99.6%), but only 302 thousand in state care (.4%) in state care. As state care is supposed to be a ‘safe haven’, the number of fatalities should be less or at least equal to what it is in the general population of children. By this standard, there should have been less than .4% of child fatalities occurring in foster care, however, there was 5.25 times that amount. (31 states reporting)
*Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support
There are a total of 170,000 licensed foster care homes in the U.S. Numbers are not currently available for children or youth placed in group homes, residential treatment centers or other institutional care.

In addition to the 523,000 children and youth in foster care there are another 2.4 million children and youth being cared for by grandparents or other relatives known as kinship care.

20,000 youth will age out of the foster care system. Age out occurs at age 18.

The following are the results of a study conducted in 2004 with young adults ages 18-24 and 2.5-4 years after aging out of the system:

33% will experience homelessness 12-18 months after leaving foster care. Three of ten of the nation’s homeless are former foster children
27% of the males and 10% of the females had been incarcerated (80 percent of prison inmates have been through the foster care system) National Association of Social Workers
33% were receiving public assistance
37% had not finished high school
10% obtain at least one year of college
2% obtain a Bachelor’s degree or higher
51% were unemployed
84% became a parent
40% experience alcohol or drug abuse
37% have some type of mental disorder due to experiences within the foster care system
30% have no health insurance
Former foster youth have a higher rate of suicide than the regular youth population

*Casey Family Programs National Center for Resource Family Support
The highest ranking federal official in charge of foster care, Wade Horn of the Department of Health and Human Services, is a former child psychologist who says the foster care system is a giant mess and should just be blown up. He’s most critical of the way foster care gets funded by the government — billions that goes mostly, he says, to keeping kids in foster care. There are little or no provisions for treatment, prevention, family support, or aging out — just for supporting things as they are. He wants to rethink foster care on a national level.

This sure does not sound like a story of success of the foster care system!

I’ll continue my series Child Welfare Reform over the weekend.

http://www.larrya.us (my web site telling my story)

Peace! 

Child Welfare System Reform-Part Two

CPS (Child Protective Services) is addressed first since this is where one’s entry in the system generally occurs today.

Imagine an unsuspecting parent answers a knock at the door to find an agent of the government who wants to obtain answers to allegations (which may not be shared with the “suspect”) made by a shadowy, anonymous source, without even so much as a “Miranda warning” being offered.

The unexpected and uninvited government visitor may wander throughout the home — without any presentation of a search warrant! — officiously opening cupboard and refrigerator doors or may demand that any children present be stripped naked so they might be “examined for possible injury.” (The agent may even intend to take photographs of any alleged “injuries.”)

Throughout this Kafkaesque ordeal there is the implicit (or perhaps explicit!) threat that any refusal to “cooperate” may result in the sudden removal of any and all of the children into the care and custody of Big Brother.

I’m not at all sure that “the system” recognizes just how traumatic a CPS investigation may be for a family.

Sure, there are families that are “wise to the system” (perhaps because of frequent contact with it), but that’s not true of everyone. Quite honestly, ANY FAMILY may suddenly be subjected to an encounter like the one described above.

There does NOT have to be any actual abuse or neglect, only a “credible allegation” (as deemed by often arcane bureaucratic standards) that such problems MAY exist. “Grudge referrals” — false allegations which are intentionally made for various malicious purposes, such as to hurt one parent during a custody dispute — do occur.

For sake of comparison, how many “suspected terrorists” or other “suspicious individuals” might be locked up if the forces of Homeland Security were allowed to play by the same rules? Quite a few, I suspect!

The above is a reality not a myth of today’s CPS system. Today (in 2007) one can become involved with CPS based on anonymous phone calls.

The definitions of “abuse and neglect” have become so broadly defined that almost anybody could have such a charge made against them.

At first CPS contact, a parent enters a distorted mirror image of what our legal system is supposed to be. Everything is backwards. There are no Miranda warnings, yet everything one says will be used against them, and perhaps even some that one hasn’t.

The accused have little or no rights where people charged with crimes are given the full spectrum of rights under our legal system. Parents must be given the opportunity to defend themselves under the same conditions an alleged criminal is allowed. If they cannot afford an attorney, one should be provided them.

One of the other criticisms, of which I have many, I have of the CPS system is the all-too-frequent dearth of information that parents are given as to how “the system” operates.

I think the resulting ignorance (which I think is not deliberate; CPS doesn’t intend to run roughshod over the parents, it just can’t be bothered to consistently explain to them what is happening and WHY) causes a great deal of unnecessary anxiety and fear. (I also think such an approach is stupid and shortsighted, because it needlessly alienates the parents, making the experience even more difficult for all involved.)

I believe, before a CPS worker makes that first knock on the door, a document stating the reason for the investigation, rights of the parent(s) completely stated (including the right not to allow CPS agents into their homes) along with detailing the procedures CPS will follow through the investigation and disposition process. This would include services available to the parent(s) if said allegation is proved. A declaration of understanding the document and one’s rights should also be a part of the document.

This document should be presented and explained before entry into the home, if the parent(s) chooses to allow entry. If entry is allowed, the document must be signed by both parties. A copy given to the parent(s) and a copy also becomes a part of the permanent record.

The accuser can choose to remain anonymous, which makes little difference, as one has no right to know who is accusing them. The confidentiality of the reporter is guaranteed by law. The parent is presumed guilty and must prove innocence.

Anonymous reporting should be abandoned. A reporter should be required to give a signed statement of their charges. They need to be advised that the accused have the right to face their accusers. They also need to be advised that intentionally false or unsubstantiated reports could result in perjury charges brought against them.

This would be extremely helpful where there is domestic violence or disputed divorce custody issues involved.

The case worker has up to three days after the removal to get what is often a rubber- stamped court order for an emergency removal – yet another subjective concept -from a busy and overburdened system that doesn’t devote much time to a real consideration of individual circumstances. In addition to the purely arbitrary nature of that initial removal, the CPS worker pays no consequences for a wrongful removal, not even if a child is hurt or killed while in state care.

There are no uniform codes or guidelines used across the country for determining removal of a child from their home. Each locality, county and state defines in their own fashion when CPS should be called, how CPS determines if removal is necessary. There appears to be no enforcement mechanism in place to see that CPS follows the guidelines of their specific area.

Once a child becomes a part of the foster care merry-go-round via CPS; it is extremely difficult to get off, in some cases it never happens.

Far too many children become just a pawn within a system they do not understand. They are moved at will, they are lost, subject to abuse far worse than may have occurred within their own homes…a number of them tragically get off the merry-go- round only through death, painfully suffered through the system that was to protect them!

Yes, children are dying while within the system. The circumstances surrounding a child’s death become more wrenching with examination. But dwelling on them misses the larger point: the children abused by CPS are not merely the fault of “bad” caseworkers. They are not restricted to one state. The bodies of dead children demand we ask: is CPS harming…not helping…children?

Some would suggest the abolishment of CPS. I believe this is unrealistic and not necessary. Critical reform however is direly needed in order to not only protect the children but also many innocent parents as well.

We need to first give a clear and concise definition of abuse and/or neglect (maltreatment) to be standardized across the country.

Maltreatment/Neglect definition: An act or failure to act by a parent, caretaker, or other person which can result in physical abuse, neglect, medical neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm to a child.

Poverty, low income, lack of formal education or other things that may fall in this definition does not automatically define neglect and warrant the child being placed at risk and removed from their home.

Many times when there is a dirty home, little food in the home, or children dirty may just mean the parents need knowledge of programs that may be available to them or assistance in helping them be better parents. This can be accomplished while children remain within the home.

Neglect should be charged only when an extended period of time neglect is proved and no attempt to improve the situation has been made by the parent(s).

Beneficial services should be provided or arranged by the child protective services agency, social services agency, and/or the child welfare agency for the child/family as a result of needs discovered during the course of the investigation.

These services should be home based with the child remaining in the home.

Home-Based Services: In-home activities provided to individuals or families to assist with household or personal care and improve or maintain adequate family well- being. May include homemaker chores, home maintenance, nutrition and meal planning, and household management services.

Many communities also have Family Support Services which the family should be referred to for assistance. These are community-based preventative activities designed to alleviate stress and promote parental competencies and behaviors that will increase the ability of families to successfully nurture their children, enable families to use other resources and opportunities available in the community, and create supportive networks to enhance child-rearing abilities of parents.

Any issues that may be having an affect on the parents being able to capably care for their children need to be addressed. That means, medical, mental etc. It is not good to just supply training, food etc. if the parent has problems that need to be resolved.

Children, due to allegations made against parents are interviewed. This occurs whether the allegation is neglect or abuse in one fashion or another. All interviews should be conducted by appropriately trained individuals, independent from CPS or foster care and accompanied by an independent witness. ALL interviews MUST be taped (both audio and video). The purpose of the witness is to verify the interview has been fully taped; that is the tape started at the beginning and at no time during it course was it shut off until its conclusion.

When a determination of neglect has been made, after fully complying with all laws, policies and procedures, a plan of action for both the parents and appropriate agencies assisting the parents in fulfillment of the plan, should be written and agreed to by the family and responsible agency.

Parents need more input into the services they are offered and these need to be scheduled around work schedules not the other way around as they are now in a very arbitrary manner.

The family should be closely monitored for a period of time (90 days) to see if they are taking advantage of services being offered. If they are; reviews then might be conducted once every 90 days for a period of one year. If the family continues to progress during this period their case then may be closed.

If a family does not take advantage of programs and services offered anytime during this process, then a case of willful neglect should be filed.

We, as a society, must be extremely careful when we say we are “saving” the children. If “saving” the child is going to do more harm to that child then removal should not occur.

For instance, in neglect cases where supervision might not be optimal, removing the child doesn’t always have to be the only answer.

The psychological damage a child suffers in being ripped from the only family he’s known, his home, his/her siblings with no contact allowed, his community, his school, his pets, his friends…is a CERTAIN damage. It WILL happen…do what degree might vary but there WILL be damage.

The borderline neglect situation he would be “saved” from however, is uncertain.

Yes, there is a risk…but to remove the child because of a risk only to inflict certain damage to that child would be like amputating a limb for a wound that MIGHT cause a fatal infection.

More time, money and effort needs to go into in-home services, and children should be placed in foster care only as a last resort.

Investigators seem to remove children so quickly sometimes that foster/adopt parent have even felt guilty, like they are ‘trafficking’ in orphans-of-the-living.

I’m not sure that the trauma caused by the removal is really in the best interest of the children, some of the time.

I also believe that there are some subtle prejudices that influence the removal of children from their homes. Most of the social workers are middle-class college graduates.

Underlying some of the removal decisions is the unexpressed belief that they are “saving” this child from a life of lower-class poverty, by placing the child in a “good” home, one that more resembles what they themselves think of as a good family.

What they need to realize is that poverty and lack of education or job prospects are not indicators in and of themselves that the parent cannot provide the love and meet the child’s basic needs and teach her right-from-wrong.

CPS or other workers involved in a case also MUST be held accountable for their investigations and disposition of cases. If they perjure themselves at any point of a case, been negligent in their responsibilities or their actions result in harm or death to a child; they must be held accountable up to and including criminal charges.

Physical abuse needs to be defined as an attack on a child resulting in physical damage to the child. It should not include reasonable discipline. When a charge of physical abuse is made it should be turned over to the police as is every other crime.

They, not CPS, should investigate and determine if there is enough evidence to come to the reasonable conclusion that abuse may have occurred. If they determine this, then the alleged abuser should be charged and given the rights accorded an accused criminal.

Drug and or alcohol abuse should be considered as possible physical abuse activities to the child. If the accused is involved in drug use or sales criminal charges should be placed against them.

Alcohol abuse is considered an illness and if determined to be a problem; services should be offered to the person involved. Refusal of services can be used as grounds for putting a child’s welfare at risk.

If the physical abuse jeopardizes the health and welfare of the child or puts the child at further risk of abuse by remaining in the home, then and only then should a child be removed at least temporarily from the home.

Sexual Abuse: A type of maltreatment that refers to the involvement of the child in sexual activity to provide sexual gratification or financial benefit to the perpetrator, including contacts for sexual purposes, molestation, statutory rape, prostitution, pornography, exposure, incest, or other sexually exploitative activities. The same rules as applied to physical abuse also apply to sexual abuse.

If one is alleged to have physically or sexually abused a child, they, not the child should be removed from the home. If it is a single parent home, then the child will need to be removed for their safety.

If it is determined a child must be temporarily removed from the home the first option of placement to be considered must be kinship care. The child or family should NOT be allowed to suffer damage due to the actions of one member of the family. The alleged abuser may have done wrong…not the child or rest of the family.

Only after the option of kinship care has been fully explored and found lacking should a child be placed with a foster family. ALL attempts for kinship care MUST be fully documented under threat of perjury charges before going before a judge to decide removal of a child from their home.

NO child can be removed from their home, school etc. without a documented report going before a judge with potential perjury charges if proved false. A judge should be available twenty-four/seven to make these determinations as potential cases can occur at anytime of day or night.

In the next day or so I will specifically address Foster Care Reform as Part three of this series of entries. 

Child Welfare System Reform-Part One

I have spent a number of blog entries outlining what I feel are the problems related to the foster care system, including CPS. I have spoken in generalities as to what I would do to reform it.

This will be but PART 1 of a 4 part series. In this entry I will give an overview of reform for the entire system, PART 2 will be Child Protective Services (CPS) reform, PART 3 Foster Care Reform and finally PART 4 will be Adoption reform in general and specifically adoption from foster care.

I believe having been a child within the foster care system from birth until age eighteen; I have an expertise on the subject that cannot be gained through a textbook.

After much consideration I would like to lay out the details of the actual reforms I would like to see advanced. The reforms are comprehensive in a number of areas. However, I would not pretend to know all the problems of the system, nor would I have the audacity to presume to have all the answers. This is not intended to be a complete answer.

It is my hope that this, and the blog entries to follow will begin a much needed intelligent dialog on not only the need for reform but also looking at potential solutions.

To admit there is a problem and continuing to complain about those problems is not enough…it is time to proposing solutions and begin demanding action.

Let me first address the system overall. I feel the system is broken beyond repair in its current format.

I believe it has created a national crisis in child welfare. It can only be addressed on a national level rather than individual states or counties.

A national emergency must be declared and the system must be placed under the control and enforcement of the federal government. I know some with cry foul, that this is a states rights issue. The federal government has given states far too many opportunities to correct their programs and they have failed. Meanwhile families and children continue in the quagmire of the system as it is known today.

There are no national standards, codes, procedures that the states must comply with. These must be established for CPS, foster care and adoption just as they have been for eligibility for other federal child welfare programs.

I feel it needs to be federal because we are talking about humans. Humans (the children) should be treated the same way in Oregon as in Maine as in Kansas.

You see, all states should be on the same page regarding how children are treated when they are taken away from bios, how their parents should be dealt with and what needs to happen to them regarding reunification with their children, if possible. If not; how those children can be adopted by a family that wants them.

Imagine losing some of your basic legal rights — things you take for granted — simply because you have left one state and entered another.

Perhaps you find yourself suddenly taken into custody by an officer of the law and placed – against your wishes and despite your protestations — in a “secure facility” where no one bothers explaining what has just happened to you. (Nor what may happen next!)

Imagine the political uproar if adults were submitted to such arbitrary treatment — say, in New York but not in New Jersey, or in Ohio but not Indiana – for what is considered an offense in one state but not another. Wouldn’t there be a chorus of outrage that long-cherished principles such as “equal protection under the law” were being violated?

Why, then, is it acceptable for the treatment of children to vary so arbitrarily simply on the basis of the state they happen to live in?

Don’t they have certain basic rights as citizens of the United States of America? Or are they truly nothing but second-class citizens, too often to be neither seen nor heard?”

Let’s use driving laws as a basis for seeing how ridiculous a hodge podge of laws are regarding CPS, foster care and adoption. They are the same laws in every state; stopping at a red light, the meaning of yield, speed limits in residential areas etc. Can you imagine driving cross country, each city, county or state having different basic driving laws and having to know ALL the different laws??

How much more important are our children and the laws that affect them and their future?

Therefore I propose: Congress MUST improve its role in the system. They, through the legislation MUST establish uniform codes, policies and procedures that hold states accountable for the treatment of children in their care.

Enforcement and accountability are of primary importance. There are some laws on the books today that just sit there non enforced and no one is held accountable. Besides perjury which is addressed in other chapters.

States MUST be held accountable for their actions whether on a state or county or local level. Federal tax dollars go to the states for their child welfare programs. If states or those under their jurisdiction have it proved they failed to comply with any portion of legislation finally passed, a price should be paid. States should loose a degree of funding, put on probationary status for close monitoring. If the state or those under their jurisdiction continue to be in non compliance the MUST step in and completely take over their CPS, foster care and adoption programs.

Just as judges, social works and others will be held accountable under my proposals dealing with these specific areas; so to MUST the states. They MUST follow the law!

These reforms do not conclude that all CPS or foster care workers are bad. A number of them do their job very well and in the best interest of the child.

However, they many times do not have clear policy, procedures etc. laid out for them. They can also vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The reforms laid out are many times for their benefit as well as for the families and children affected by the current child welfare system.

A National Federal Registry MUST be established for ALL involved in CPS, foster care and adoption. A Federal registry would have a person’s record and could be checked by any county or state prior to their being able to be a probate judge, CPS or foster care worker, biological parents who had children justifiably removed, foster parents or adoptive parents. If any of the above persons move from one county or state to another their record will follow them giving them less opportunity to fail a child again. They cannot ‘escape’ to another jurisdiction and continue the cycle.

Placement on this national registry MUST only be done after a final disposition has been rendered by a court. The court should be the only entity allowed to enter persons on this data base.

ALL those involved within CPS, foster care and adoption MUST be required to undergo training, beyond their degrees, in child welfare.

Training should not only include policy, procedure, the law etc. but must also include how their decisions impact families and children. Attempts should be made to include former foster children and parents within the training curriculum as they were the ones who lived within the system twenty-four/seven…they are the true experts.

Training would be at their initial employment and will continue at an on going basis…failure to comply would be grounds for termination.

A psychological review should also be required. Today far too many people enter this field with their own “baggage.” This review would determine if this baggage would hinder their doing their assigned job in a fair, just manner without preconceived notions. It would also determine if they actually have the capacity to deal with the great stress they will be under.

We need to make sure the right people are in the job, present ongoing training and support. Far too many workers leave the field after a short time due to stress, burn out or should not have been in the field in the first place.

A “review board” comprised of persons independent of the system should be established. This could be on a county level. The board should include people from the public not associated with the system. IE: company leaders, religious, teachers, physiologist not employed by the system, attorneys familiar with child law, former foster children and/or parents.

This panel will have NO CONNECTION whatsoever with any agency dealing with child welfare. They must be independent and report strictly to the courts when wrongdoing is found on the part of any worker.

Terms should be established for their service not to exceed two/two year terms. This will allow for their not getting burned out or too close to those within the system. A funding mechanism needs to be found so the review board is fairly compensated for their work.

There reviews should not only include individual case review but also an ongoing review of the system as a whole. They should have full subpoena power.

In the articles that follow, a specific plan to reform CPS, foster care system and adoption will be laid out. It is my firm belief that child welfare will not truly be in the best interest of the child unless ALL THREE sections are reformed at the same time. They all play an integral role in child welfare, reforming one area and neglecting the other two would lead us down the road to further failure…the children cannot afford to allow us to travel this road any longer.

To me, all the reform details I outline will need to be made part of legislation passed by the United States Congress. This will insure uniformity across the country. The legislation will also need a strong enforcement mechanism to go with it.

The next entry will address in detail reform of Child Protective Services (CPS).

Road to Despair & Hopelessness

Imagine you’ve been in foster care most or all of your life. Among all the other disappointments you’ve had to deal with, you’ve had no parents, you have been moved time and time again and few adult mentors were available to teach you what you need to know in order to live successfully on your own – like how to manage money, where to find a job and why you must never, ever give up.

Effects of our present foster care system are disastrous. Children are moved from one foster home to another, their school attendance is disrupted and health care needs often go unmet.

Each move a child experiences is another loss-of friends, school, and surroundings-and another rejection for the child. Without consistent moral guidance, without a positive self-image, and with no cause for hope, the child becomes a fertile soil for failure and hopelessness.

Nearly 75% of children experience more than one family foster home placement during their time in out of home care system

One out of every ten children in the current foster care system can expect foster care to be permanent care, given that they will spend more than seven years in the foster care system
 
23% of foster children will have two placements

An additional 20% will experience three to five placements

7% of foster children will experience more than seven placements
Some children in foster care are even exposed to abuse or death by those responsible for their care.

Estimates of children abused while in the foster care system are approximately 7,500 per year

“The incidence of neglect, physical and sexual abuse or children in the various foster care systems is feared to be significantly higher than the incidence in the general population” -TIME MAGAZINE, November
2000.

During a recent two-year period, one foster care child died on average every seven and a half weeks in the state of Arizona.

In Georgia an astounding 433 children have died while in state care over the last several years -A Critical Look at the Foster Care System- How Safe the Service?

I could present facts from states across the country; hopefully you get the picture from the few I sight.

Some states have “independent living transition services” programs that are suppose to be the path that leads older foster children to self-sufficiency. But for too many of these programs for foster teens, the program is still proving to be a dead-end.

The picture grows even bleaker as teens age and leave foster care – as all must, ready or not – at age eighteen. Former foster children who attend school or college may receive a monthly “road to independence” scholarship, while those not in schools qualify only for transitional help. Many however are being shut out by spending caps, declining allocations and administrative neglect.

Each year more than 20-25,000 youth reach their
eighteenth birthday and age out of the foster care
system, this means an end to ongoing support and
guidance of caring adults -NFPA (National Foster
Parent Association)

No wonder so many former foster teens end up on the streets. Compared to other teens, former foster youths are fourteen times more likely to be homeless, six times more likely to go on welfare, and three times more likely to end up in the criminal justice system – as victims, if not defendants – according to a many studies.

The long-term costs, in human as well as financial terms, are obvious. When will state leaders realize that they will either pay now or pay later?

Look at a few facts about how many children leaving foster care, which John Q. Public is paying for through your tax dollar, without the support network necessary for them to succeed:

Perhaps the most distressing study of all, conducted recently in New York City, consisted of interviews with so-called “street kids.” It was found that an astounding 90% had been in foster care prior to winding up living on the streets.

According to a survey by the National Association of Social Workers:

20% of children living in runaway shelters come directly from foster care.

40% of foster care children that leave the system go on welfare

39% of the homeless youth in Los Angeles County are former foster care children

Many leaving foster care ill-equipped for life on their own often end up homeless or permanently dependent on welfare services

80% of prisoners in Illinois spent time in foster care as children

Connecticut officials estimate 75% of youths in the state’s criminal justice system were once in foster care

Foster care currently constitutes .003 percent of the population, but 17% of the people in prison are former foster care children

I do not justify aging out of foster care as a reason for one committing crime. Each person must be held accountable for their actions. I do however question how many of these youth would have ended up traveling down that road if proper care had been provided during their youth.

Children placed in foster care, REGARDLESS OF THE REASON, are definitely at higher risk of developing alcohol and drug problems, homelessness, criminal activity and ending up a hopeless failure.

WHAT CHILDREN NEED:

According to most childcare experts, children need four things:

1) Connectedness; “children need to feel that someone is there for them and they are a part of someone’s life”

2) Continuity; a sense of continuous belonging with another person

3) Dignity; all children are worthy of respect caring, love, thought, and courtesy

4) Opportunity; children need an opportunity to grow and develop- need to be able to explore and express their capabilities-access to quality education, recreation, and leisure appropriate to their developmental levels

Foster care was intended to be temporary care, but one out of every ten children, over 60,000 of all current foster care children, can expect foster care to be, in effect, permanent care, given that they will spend more than seven years in the system. For all too many children, foster care will also be unstable care.

Problems associated children entering our foster care system today or with young adults aging out of the foster care system:

*Instability caused by numerous moves
*Emotional or mental problems not addressed
*Lack of a proper education due to constant moves
*Lack of a support network to help them succeed
*Homelessness
*Joblessness
*Unwanted pregnancy
*Drug and/or alcohol addiction
*Crime and incarceration
*Death

My friends, this is the “Road to Despair & Hopelessness.” This is the failure of our foster care system…not in the past, but today!

We must demand reform. We must demand that those responsible for the system be held accountable. We must demand our tax dollars not continue to be tossed down the drain of failure.
 

Thousands Await Adoption

Nationwide almost 519,000 children are in foster care. While think-tanks do studies and politicians debate, almost 123,000 children are stuck in foster care—and the system that’s supposed to help them find permanent homes isn’t working very well.

Thousands of children are stuck in foster care—children waiting to be adopted but who face myriad challenges. They need, as well as hope and pray, for loving families to adopt them.

These are children who have been abused, neglected or actually given up by their biological parents for adoption. Yet they are languishing in foster care. They have already been declared eligible for adoption but no forever family is available for them.

They are the “legal living orphaned” of the world.

From data I have been able to gather from across the country; the number awaiting across the country as 2004 ( last year data is available) ends will be approximately 123,000 children.

Thousands more will be added to the ranks during the coming year. The vicious cycle goes on and on!

There are a number of reasons in nearly every state why children remain in the foster care system for extended periods prior to and after them being made eligible for adoption. I will not address the reasons of prior to at this point as my concern at the moment is for the children ready and waiting for adoption.

Some of these children have been waiting for years while continuing to languish within the system. Some, in fact, will actually age out of the system. They will be cast out into the world to make it on their own. In many cases they will have no immediate family or other support network to assist them. Approximately 60% of them will end up without a high school diploma, taking a deadend/low paying job, doing drugs or abusing alcohol. Worse yet … a number of them will end up in prison or even dead.

Thousands of children continue to have the innocence of their youth stolen from them. Many are doomed to a life a failure before their lives really have had a chance to get started.

Though each of us are responsible for the decisions and actions we make in our lives and must bear the consequences of them, I wonder if, in many instances, those decisions or actions would have been different for many of those aging out of the system if it had not been for their foster care experiences.

At the same time, adoption rates have gone up in recent years, states Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families in the Department of Health and Human Services. Still, he said, more must be done.

“There continues to be unfortunate barriers to adopting kids out of foster care,” he said. There are a number of reasons as to why this is true.

Two of the most commons reasons stated are:

* Forty-seven states say they have trouble recruiting adoptive parents. This is particularly true for children who must be placed in sibling groups, who are older, who have behavioral problems or have other special needs.

* Families are reluctant to adopt children from state foster care systems. They have a poor view of children within this system. A growing number of kids go into the foster care system and never get out. And the worst is the misconceptions of the foster care system and the belief that only bad kids end up in foster care.

Many people think of foster children as messed up ghetto kids who are looking for just the right benevolent parents who are willing to devote their lives to helping these special needs children.

This perception does explain the reason so many people who want to adopt normal children choose to spend their life savings for lawyers and private adoption agencies, rather than taking advantage of the immense adoption systems, set up and run by so many government agencies. Some even will look internationally as thousands of our children continue to languish within the system here at home.

However, that perception and subsequent reaction only creates more problems. Every year, thousands of children are either abused or abandoned by their birth parents, (who are not really parents but merely womb donors and sperm donors) and subsequently end up in foster care. These are usually wonderful children who only need love and caring to have a fantastic and normal life.

Most children are in foster care absolutely through no fault of their own except being born to parents unable or unwilling to care for them in the fashion that they have the right to expect!

Many children come into the system initially at an early age, and without the problems they have by the time they are finally (if ever) adopted. The longer they are in the system, the more problems they are likely to develop. Yet the length of time a child is in the system continues to get longer. The only thing they get better at is moving. Most foster children can pack everything they own in the world (toys, clothes, and all their worldly possessions) in today’s “paper bags,” and usually do on a regular basis.

The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. The more problems they have, the worse the reputation that foster care kids get. The worse the reputation foster kids have, the fewer the number of people who adopt them. The fewer people who adopt them, the longer kids have to stay in foster care. The longer kids are in the system the more problems they develop. And so on, and so on!

Please dispel the myth that kids placed in foster care are somehow ”bad children” who are to be blamed for their situation. The overwhelming majority are there simply because were so horribly abused and neglected.

When I speak of problems within state foster care systems, I am speaking of the system itself…NOT foster parents.

Foster parents, to me, are very special people in our society. They provide a temporary refuge for those of considered society’s “throw away kids.”

I do know that being a foster parent takes a very special type of individual.

Foster parents take kids into their homes for short or extended periods of time. They attempt to provide the nurturing, care and love that has been deprived us.

Many times they do this at great emotional and financial expense to themselves. Most are not fostering for the money, but for the love of the child. They often feel as abandoned by the system as do many of the kids. They should not also go bankrupt in the process.

I, for one, believe foster parents are the spine, backbone and HEROES of the foster care system. They may never get a medal or an award. However, you will be able to know that many of your kids of today or kids of yesteryear became something…just because of YOU!

I write today not as a social worker, judge or other part of the system. I write due to my own personal experience.

I am a product of the foster care system. I was placed in it at birth and was moved fourteen times by age eleven. I had no behavioral problems or other special needs, however, I was never adopted and aged out of the system.

I was one of the fortunate ones. I may be an adult now, but I have fought every inch of the way to be where I am. I had to go without food, sleep on an unheated porch, be sexually assaulted, attempted suicide at age 10 and live through many other things that are not important now … I made it.

That is why I am who I am today. Trust me when I say, take nothing or no one for granted. I never gave up, because I wanted to be better. I had few advocates in latter years in the system that used to tell me; “They cared about me, I was worth something and that I must always remember that.” You have no idea how many times I had to keep repeating that to myself in mind and heart when I finally heard it until I believed it.

I was on my own at eighteen and I have made my share of mistakes, but that is OK…I hope I learned from them. With the help of a few, I was able to overcome, in time, the damage that had been done to me.

One never fully leaves the system. It remains a part of you throughout your life. Much of it remains deep within us never to be revealed to others. We, many times, keep it inside so as not to have to relive the heartache and pains of our youth. But they still remain a part of us. It can play a role in our ability to have loving, trusting relationships with others.

For many it plays a determining role in decisions that will affect them throughout their lives.

Today there continues to be a constant flow of children aging out of the system who are not as fortunate as I was. Children are very fragile. They want to be loved so badly that they will do whatever they are told just to cope. Inside they are dying. They are not able to form who they really are. How could they?

If you really want to know what a foster child thinks, look into their eyes, the story is right there.

Do you know how many times as a child I just wanted a hug and someone to smile at me, look me in the face and tell me I was worth something and I was going to be OK and maybe they loved me … as their own son???

If we as a society expects children to grow up to be mature, productive members of society, they then must see that each child is given the appropriate tools needed to achieve that goal. Instability caused by moves, inability to trust those responsible for your care only causes reaching the goal extremely more difficult if not almost impossible for some.

We must remember that these kids are our future. They need time and nurturing to develop as people. We must be cautious and inform them in terms at their level of the things that are affecting their lives.

This is a subject very close to my heart. There is so much to be said and done. I pray for the system and do what I can.

My point for writing this piece is to get each of us to look at these children even look at your own children. Love them, talk to them, hold them, look in their eyes, let them feel secure. I don’t care if your a volunteer, advocate, friend, family…you are a human being and all these kids really want is love and security! Don’t you ??

All I ever wanted as a child was to have a stable, nurturing, loving home and a Mom and Dad to call my very own!

Each of us are responsible for children, whether they be our own or not.

We must come to the realization that as a society this is our responsibility, not just the government’s. If we can build football stadiums and spend billions of dollars on a war, surely we can take care of our children.”

I ask you to consider becoming an adoptive parent or parents. The rewards will be numerous. You do not need to be rich to adopt, you do not need to be married. Character, love and stability are the most precious commodities you have to offer a child.

Help a child in need, give them a home, love, nurturing. Though some will be difficult due to special needs or problems that developed during their stay within the system…you can watch them grow and mature into productive, law-abiding citizens you will be proud to call your son or daughter.

They need you! Only you can offer them the tools needed young in life for them to be all they can possibly be.

A child is waiting for you!

Having been a child whose life was impacted negatively by the foster care system; I do hold myself accountable to do all that I can to change the system that harmed me and continues to harm thousands of children yearly.

I will continue to campaign to help kids in the system. The first is to try, whenever I can get an audience or a willing ear, to speak and write on the subject. I implore anyone who believes in children having the right of a caring, loving, nurturing home and “real” parents to join me in this fight… Please consider adopting a child in need of a forever family!

All it takes is one person to make a difference in their lives, somebody they can turn to in the critical points. Will you be that one person or couple?

Should Gays/Lesbians be Foster/Adoptive Parents?

When dealing with the subject of child welfare, whether it is Child Protective Services, foster care or adoption, one cannot sidestep this issue. I also realize for a number of people this is a very controversial subject. I further realize that for some the answer would be an immediate and resounding NO! I have never been one to avoid controversy nor accept the answer of no when the logic behind it does not have sound reasoning to go with it.

I ask you to look at these scenarios below and determine which situation would be in the best interest of the child.

• A child is in the home of its biological parents. They are neglectful and abusive.

• A child is removed from its biological parents home due to abuse and neglect and is placed within the foster care system. The child is moved from home to home numerous times with no reason ever given.

• A child, having been removed from the home of its biological parents, after several moves within the foster care system, is placed within an institution until reaching the age of eighteen. At eighteen its cast out onto the streets and told, “You’re on your own.”

• No heterosexual couples apply to adopt a child in foster care. However, a stable gay couple comes forward shortly after being placed in foster care wishing to adopt the child. They have the financial resources to provide for the material needs of the child and can also provide a stable, nurturing, safe and loving home.

Which scenario have you decided is in the best interest of the child? It is my hope that at least the majority reading this will decide the fourth situation is in its best interest.

The first and fourth scenario did not happen to me. However, the second and third did.

I was placed for adoption by my nineteen year old unwed mother at birth. She believed this would be best for me considering her personal circumstances. I was placed instead into two institutions for the first year of my life. This was followed by eleven different foster homes over the next ten years. While in various foster homes I would be verbally, physically and sexually abused. I would even need to learn to steal food after being restricted to one meal per day in one home. Finally I was placed in yet another institution. I would remain in this institution until I aged out at eighteen. Fifteen moves and abuse by the age of eleven definitely were not in my best interest nor would it be in the best interest of any child.

The final institution I was placed in was Boys Town, Nebraska. It turned out to be a pretty good place for me, though I believe until this very day that it was not in my best interest. When I left at eighteen I was not ready to be out in the world on my own.

As a child, if a family had come forward and allowed to adopt me, I would not have cared whether they were heterosexual or homosexual. I desired only to have a family, someone to actually call me son and someone to actually say they loved me!

Gays and lesbians, other than whom they may love, are no different than heterosexuals. They have the same wants and desires as anyone. They go to work, pay their taxes and contribute to their communities. Many of them also wish to be parents, whether it is foster parents to children in temporary need of a home or adoptive parents to give a child a forever family.

Some argue that having gay/lesbian couples or singles foster or adopt children will lead to the child being turned gay or lesbian. Some say this is putting a child at risk for sexual molestation.

Let me attempt to respond to those two charges.

I am of the firm belief that absolutely no one is turned gay or lesbian by another person. One is born either heterosexual or homosexual. If one’s environment while growing up can determine one’s sexuality then I should be heterosexual. Each foster home I was in was headed up by a mother and father. Each taught me what right and wrong. Each was a Roman Catholic home that believed one being homosexual was wrong. This is also what I believed growing up. I played sports, I dated girls, I did everything one would expect of a growing heterosexual youth. It took years of struggling with my sexuality which ended with a suicide attempt at age twenty for me to realize and accept who I was and that I had been born this way.

Can anyone reading this tell me when they made the decision that they would be heterosexual? No you cannot! Being heterosexual came naturally to you. It was not a choice. Neither being a male that is gay a choice made by me. It came naturally to me and I just needed to realize it and accept it.

Over the years I have known gays and lesbians who have been foster or adoptive parents and the children, now adults are heterosexual. It is who they are! Thus the first argument of a gay or lesbian can steer a child to be homosexual is pure hogwash!

The second argument of children being at risk of sexual molestation is just as false. Has it on occasion happened? Yes it has. However, if on examines the statistics, one will find that the overwhelming number of sexual molestation, whether straight or gay in nature, are being done by heterosexuals.  It was supposedly heterosexuals that raped me as a youth while in foster care…not a homosexual!

Whether a child is sexually molested by a homosexual or heterosexual, the molester should be arrested, prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law if found guilty. I have no sympathy whosoever for sexual molesters in any way, shape, form or sexuality!

However, stable, caring, loving and nurturing gay and lesbian couple or singles should not be denied the opportunity to share their lives with a child in need of a family just because of their sexuality. They have the same capabilities a heterosexual has to offer a child.

Today three states ban homosexuals from adopting children strictly based on their sexuality. Unfortunately there seems to be a trend in other states to seek laws to ban in their states, including my own former state. I have found few states that will not allow homosexuals to foster as well. However, though few states currently have laws on the books banning there appears in many to be unwritten policies to do everything possible to put obstacles in the path of homosexuals to foster or adopt. Current laws banning adoption must be overturned and the efforts by other states to ban must not be allowed to pass. The obstacles placed by states must be removed. No child should be doomed to a childhood of no home or family based on the parent(s) sexuality.

There are currently only 175,000 licensed foster came homes across the country; this is despite the fact that there are 523,000 youth in foster care, 120,000 are currently available for adoption but continue to languish within the foster care system and 20,000 youth will face aging out of the system with the support system of a family. There is a nationwide demand for foster homes and adoptive families yet one segment of our society is discriminated against becoming foster or adoptive parent(s)…even if it is an unwritten policy.

Now do I believe in family values and the family unit? Yes I do! Yes it would be nice if every child could be raised with a mother and father in the home. However, I do not agree that only a heterosexual couple with children can be a family. Neither do I believe in what many believe what many call family values as they define them. Is it a family value to allow a child to remain with an abusive or neglectful biological family? Is it a family value to allow a child to be shuttled from one foster home to another? Is it a family value to not attempt to have a child adopted but rather placed in an institutional setting? Is it truly a family value to deny a child a stable, safe, nurturing, loving family simply because only a gay or lesbian couple (single) comes forward to adopt?

I believe the answer to each of these questions is NO!

A child needs a family. A child needs to know he or she is loved, cared for and nurtured.

Gays and lesbians can offer all of this just as easily as heterosexuals.

The decision as to whether gays or lesbians can foster or adopt should be based on the same criteria as heterosexuals. Is the person or couple capable of providing a safe, stable, nurturing and loving home for a child? Can they pass a background check and home study? If the answers to the above are yes then they should be allowed pure and simple. They should be held accountable for their actions just as heterosexuals…no more and no less!

If we as a society care about children half as much as we say we do, then we will act in the best interest of the child whether that means placement with a heterosexual or homosexual family. I would have gotten on my knees every night as a child and thanked God for a family to have called my very own and who would have called me son, heterosexual or homosexual!

The family value that should count: is the child being placed with pa person or people that will provide all that is necessary for him or her to grow up as a good and decent productive citizen. There are far too many children today needing a foster or adoptive home for us to be so close-minded and prejudiced to deny any segment of our society the privilege of caring for children. As a nation if we truly believe children are our most valuable asset, then we cannot leave any child behind and we must always act in the best interest of the child.

Let one’s actions deny them parenthood, not their sexuality!

My Story in Newspaper

I was fortunate that during August/September 2004 a reporter and photographer spent several hours with me to prepare articles sharing my story in my then hometown nespaper, “Midland Daily News.”

To my surprise when the articles appeared they were on the front page of the October 3, 2004 (Sunday) front page on top of the fold. The newspaper has a subcription of 42,000.

I have placed them on my web site, there is a link at the bottom of the first  page leading to the 2nd article.

 The URL is: http://www.larrya.us/midland.html

Since I am still receiving E mails almost 3 years later from the articles I thought I would also share them on my blog.  

Story of My Search for Birth Parents

I shared the story of my youth in foster care in the entry entitled, “One Child’s Horror.”

Throughout my twenties, my concern was about my career, my life partner and the things any normal twenty something would be concerned about.

I laid my childhood and adolescent years aside and hoped they would be memories of the past. I had hoped that those memories would stay locked up deep within me, never to reveal to anyone the heartaches they had caused. However, my life was soon about to change and never be the same again!

In May, 1981, I was supposedly a very healthy man of thirty-one. The night before my life changing event, I had jogged my usual three miles through the streets of Brooklyn Heights, NY; had eaten a healthy dinner and went to bed early enough to get the rest I needed.

The next morning I did my usual exercises before getting ready for work and felt great as I left for Manhattan. When I arrived at work, I had a meeting and suddenly found myself grabbing my chest and collapsing to the ground. I had suffered a massive heart attack, the first of three heart attacks.

Until that day I had not spent any time in the hospital since early childhood…for eye surgeries and to have my tonsils removed. One of the routine questions doctors ask is “What is your family medical history?” I was quite embarrassed and turned red faced to have to answer the question with an “I don’t know.” When I returned to health, I went on with my life and thought no more of the episode.

In the spring of 1982, my partner and I decided to travel to GREECE for vacation. I needed a passport to do so, and to get it I needed my birth certificate. I knew where I was born…so I applied for it from the state of Michigan. In a few weeks it arrived. I was not ready for the impact this little piece of paper would have on my life until this very day.

On the certificate, I saw the name of a birth mother for the first time in my life… ROBERTA ADAMS. To see a mother’s name blew me away. Could the story the Monshors had told me so many years ago be untrue? Could this name be made up by the nuns that supposedly found me in a dumpster? I continued reading the content of the certificate. It listed the hospital I was born at. It listed a home address for her. It gave her age of nineteen at the time of my birth, even gave a birth date! It even gave her place of birth. No father was listed. Finally it indicated I was her first born. The nuns just could not have made all this information up. For the first time since the Monshors had told me “the story” so many years ago, I had the sinking feeling it was untrue!

I made the decision at that moment…I must find this woman! I had to find out if in fact she was my Birth Mother. The questions began!!!

Who is this woman? Why did she give me up for adoption? Is she alive? Does she think of me? Where is she? I remembered my heart attack of a year earlier and questioned what is her medical history? Is her or her family’s medical history impacting me?

THE SEARCH BEGINS

Upon my return from Greece, I began the search to get a few answers to those questions. Little did I know of the process I was about to enter into. I went to the hospital where I was born…PROVIDENCE HOSPITAL in Detroit, Michigan. They would not release any records of the birth. I went to Catholic Charities, whom I was a ward of until my eighteenth birthday…they would not release any records…they said…”Forget the past, it doesn’t matter.”

I tried various organizations for almost three years, but to no avail. I scoured books that had to do with adoption and foster care for clues as to how I could do my research…again no answers. I thought I was at a dead end and would never have the answers I was looking for. I had already spent thousands of dollars and hours too numerous to count; all in vain I thought!

Finally, in late 1985, the first big break I needed in my search came. I wrote to BOYS TOWN, where I had spent 7 1/2 years of my youth, asking if they through their records since I had spent over seven years their in my youth, could help me. They indicated since I was now an adult, I could have a copy of my records from my days at BoysTown and sent them to me. What a treasure chest!

On the application form filled out by Catholic Charities twenty-four years earlier, they listed not only my mother’s name but my father’s name ROBERT IRWIN MARX; my maternal grandparents JOHN & SARAH ADAMS and two aunts DORIS & FRANCES. They gave a description of my birth parents and what they were doing at the time of my birth, as well as that of my grandparents. I could not believe all that I was reading.

I also saw for the first time that my last name should have been PIECHOWIAK and my heritage is POLISH. I quickly remembered all the Polish jokes I told during my school days and even adulthood.

I knew now that YES, I had a family out there somewhere and I had my OWN heritage. But this was only the beginning…how do I find them??? I was determined they would be found!

I lived in New York City at the time. They have a great research library and I spent week upon week devouring records with no results. Finally, I decided, on a whim, to check DETROIT phone books going back to the time of my birth, which the library had.

I did not find my birth parents, but found my grandparents. I tracked them in the phone books. My grandfather had a unique way of listing his name, from 1950 thru 1971. Suddenly they were gone. Had I reached another dead end?

On a second whim, I decided to apply for a Michigan death certificate for my grandfather…in the event he had died. Three weeks later came the envelope bearing the seal of the state of Michigan. Indeed, he had passed away. The certificate listed the funeral home and I called them. I was in for the shock of my life!

The funeral home agreed to send the obituary notice to me. I couldn’t wait, and asked them to read it over the phone. My birth mother was alive, at least in 1971. My aunts were also listed as survivors. Suddenly they stated ROBERT, MICHAEL, CLAUDIA, SHERRY…grandchildren of my grandfather…children of ROBERTA…I had BROTHERS AND SISTERS!!!

It was a race back to the phone books which had provided the answer before. Scouring all the phone books from cities the survivors were listed from, almost came up empty.

An aunt from TUCSON, ARIZONA was listed. Tense feelings began in the pit of my stomach…should I call her? Would she remember anything? Would she tell me anything if she knew the answers? It took over a week to work up the courage to face what I might face and make the call.

THE CALL TO CHANGE MY LIFE

Doris is the aunt that lives in Tucson. It was a Saturday night that I sat down to call her. She answered on the third ring (yes, I remember the details)…”Hello.” I stumbled for words.

Finally I asked her a bunch of “do you remember” questions. After letting me ramble questions…she asked very clearly…. “ARE YOU ROBERTA’S MISSING SON?”

I said “YES, I am Larry.”

The tears began to flow…the spine is tingling as I write and recall this experience all these years later. “Yes, your mother is alive…you have brothers and sisters…your mother has been waiting for this phone call for over 36 years” were her next statements.

She then told me the story of my birth and my placement for adoption; not the reason for it. The tears overwhelmed me as I heard the story for the first time…I sat in stunned silence and let her speak and the tears flow.

After a long period…my next question; the important one… “DID SHE THINK MY MOTHER WOULD WANT TO TALK TO ME?” “Yes,” was the immediate reply. Doris wanted to be the one to break the news to my mother and asked for my phone number. She indicated it might be a few days before my mother called, as this would probably put her in total shock.

My partner and I went to dinner later that evening. When we arrived home, there was a message on our answering machine; “LARRY, THIS IS YOUR MOTHER…I WILL CALL BACK…I CAN’T BELIEVE AFTER ALL THESE YEARS YOU HAVE FOUND ME!” Needless to say, more tears followed. I don’t know how many times I listened to that message that night before we decided to go to bed. Less than a half hour after calling it a night, we were startled by the ringing phone. My partner answered the phone and could only say: “LARRY, YOU WANT THIS CALL!”

That phone call will always remain private with me…it was and is, the best phone call I have ever received. My mother and I spoke for almost 4 hours that first night. We talked about everything but why she gave me up…I wasn’t ready to hear the answer. We ended the call by agreeing to write, do phone calls and hopefully someday meet. I wasn’t ready to meet…it was ALL happening too fast for me.

The search had begun to find a family medical history and have a few questions answered. Now I faced; did I want to face the woman, no matter what the reason, who gave me up at birth? I did not know.

THE MEETING

My birth Mother and I continued to write and talk on the phone for a few months. Finally my partner and I decided it was time for us to meet.

I invited her from Pontiac, Michigan (only forty-five miles from where she lived when I was born) for an ALL EXPENSE paid trip to New York City, knowing she would not be able to afford the trip herself.

I knew the meeting would be difficult for both of us, so I arranged a suite for her at a nearby hotel. This way, we both could spend some time alone to collect our thoughts and feelings. She accepted the invitation.

May 24, 1986…a day never to be forgotten by me. Newark International Airport…the day has arrived…36 years, 3 months and 17 days after I was born…I would meet the woman who gave me life. To say I was tense or nervous would be putting it mildly. I arrived at the airport hours before the flight was due to arrive.

I brought with me 36 long stem RED ROSES, one for each year of life I had thus far been blessed with.

Should I call her mother? Should I hug her? What should I do? Let nature takes its course was the only answer that came back to me.

The plane taxis to the gate…there is no turning back now. There she was (I had an old photo of her that she had sent) walking down the ramp. We shake hands, then hug…I call her ROBERTA; not mother.

After getting her settled in her suite, we strolled down Fifth Avenue for a while. I took her to lunch and Central Park. As the day began turning to evening we went back to her hotel suite.It was time to hear the answer to the question that had yet to be asked or answered…WHY?

HER STORY

My father was her next door neighbor. He had fought in World War II as a MERCHANT MARINE and had returned to live with his folks. They had a date…..I was conceived on that date! My father wanted nothing more to do with her. He had gotten what he was after.

My grandfather, being a strict Polish Roman Catholic, would not allow her to remain in the house and sent her off to a home for unwed mothers (SARAH FISHER HOME) and told her “not to bring that bastard child home with her.” She had two choices, either give birth and having no place to go…give me up for adoption and return home or have a back alley abortion.

She gave birth in the early hours of February 7, 1950, and saw me only briefly before they took me away. She went home to go on with her life, but was never able to forget the baby she left behind, and hoped that one day I might look for her.

She hated her father for what he had forced her to do and even though I learned he had been dead 15 years, the remaining hatred was still obvious.

She didn’t realize that I was never adopted, but rather moved to various foster homes until eventually being sent to Boys Town. She thought I may have gone to Vietnam and been killed.

We both shed many tears that evening in her suite. I told her she made the only choice she could have made and was thankful she had not chosen abortion…for selfish reasons of course! We talked, cried, talked some more that first day deep into the night…we had over 36 years to relive!

She stayed a week in NYC. I treated her to Broadway shows, and we toured all the sites of Manhattan and Liberty Island.

During that time, I learned other things. It became obvious very quickly she was an alcoholic. She told me of my youngest brother’s drug addictions; my one sister’s fancy for a different man each night, though she had two children. She also told me of the brother and sister who made it. In short, within the week she was in NYC I became even more thankful for her giving me up for adoption, for Boys Town and the life I have had.

A few months after our initial meeting, I took a trip to Pontiac, Michigan to visit her and also meet my half-brothers and half-sisters for the first time. Two brothers and a sister, after meeting me, told her they wanted nothing to do with me, as I wasn’t their brother, but a stranger and it was best left that way. One sister (Claudia) did reach out and we had developed a warm, loving relationship over the years.

While on my visit there, my Mother took out several photo albums to show me. She didn’t realize how painful it would be for me to look at pictures of her past holidays, family events and the likes. Though I was thankful she gave me up, I did not want to see pictures I could have and should have been a part of.

Our relationship over the years following the initial meeting was strained at best. We had never developed a mother/son relationship. Of course, I had not expected that, since at 36 I did not need a mother to raise me. She remained an alcoholic in denial.

The relationship we had developed would be destroyed Christmas night 1998.

I share the story of this event in then entry entitled, “Final Letter to My Birth Mother.”

BIRTH FATHER’S SEARCH STORY

I did not begin a search for my birth Father until I had found my birth Mother. I purposely chose not to do so until then. Though I had his name, I felt I had enough on my plate just searching for my birth Mother.

During the initial meeting with my Mother, I had asked her about my Father. Other than telling me that he was the next door neighbor and agreeing the name I had was correct, she provided no information. I would have to attempt to find him by myself.

It was back to the NYC Library once again to scour the phone books for Detroit from 1950 through 1986. There was not a single Robert Irwin Marx listed, nor was it listed in any other variation.

During my earlier search, I had learned many things about searching for someone. Thus, with the above result, I did not feel like I was at a dead end. I tried various other resources but each produced the same negative result.

I was down to my last avenue and I thought it would be a just shot in the dark. I had earlier checked the Polk City Directory for 1950. I had found my grandfather’s listing, but did not see a Marx listing. The listing given for my grandfather’s neighbor was a Clarence/Ruth Weikert. However, if I was to believe my Mother, my Father was her next door neighbor.

I decided to write to the Wayne County Board of Elections, my last resource, to see if my Father had registered to vote. I gave the neighbor’s address as his.

Three weeks later, an envelope came from the Wayne County Elections Board. Bingo…I had hit pay dirt. There was my Father’s name, date of birth and address, as I had submitted it, and his Mother’s maiden name: Ruth Goode. Ruth had obviously married Clarence Weikert. The question arose as to why was my father’s father named Marx? I didn’t waste too much time on that question at the moment, as I figured if I found my father I would get an answer then.

I remembered the company listing for Clarence Weikert in the Polk Directory. I checked with the Detroit phone book for 1990, (four years had passed since this search began) to see if the company was still listed. It was!

A simple deduction by me concluded that Clarence had long since retired from the company, but maybe they could provide me with a little information.

I took time to make up a story for my calling and placed the call. Yes, Clarence had retired and according to their records was deceased. They could give me the phone number of his daughter that was listed on their records as the person to contact in the event of an emergency. I gladly took the phone number.

I took a few days to sort through my thoughts and approach before making the call. I remembered the awkwardness of my call to my birth Mother’s sister four years earlier.

Finally the call was made. I babbled some story about doing genealogical research; a partial truth. After asking Judy several general questions about family, I asked her about her brother Robert. Why was his last name Weikert and not Marx?

She indicated that her mother remarried after Robert’s father ran off when he was a child. After confirming that information, I determined it was time to tell Judy the truth.

I simply said, “I was looking for Robert in particular.”

Her reply, “OH MY GOD! ARE YOU WHO I THINK YOU ARE?”

“If you think I am Robert’s son, the answer is yes,” I said.

She repeated, “OH MY GOD!”

After we got a few more OH MY GOD’S out of the way, we began an hour conversation. She asked my name? I asked how she knew about me and did my father know?

She said it was family conversation many years ago and that yes, my father did know about me. Judy was close to my mother’s age when I was born, she remembered my mother going away in late 1949. Her mother told her it was because she was pregnant and that her brother was the father.

The Weikert’s and my Grandparents being neighbors, were close and shared family information. My paternal step-grandmother also shared with them when I was born, my name and that I was being placed for adoption.

I continued general conversation, asking questions about my father and then came the key question. “Would my father acknowledge my existence and would he talk with me?”

She felt that he would not deny I was his son, but could not answer if he would talk with me or not. She and my father had not communicated with each other for a couple years, due to a family quarrel. She felt the best thing for me was to call my father directly and proceeded to give me his phone number since, it was unlisted. She also gave me his address in case I decided to write him instead.

I made the decision that I would not wait for the mail, but would call him. After working up the courage for a few hours, I placed the call. It seemed the phone rang forever. Finally a woman’s voice answered. I asked if I could speak to Robert and was told to hang on. The heart raced and hands trembled as I waited.

Suddenly, “Hello.” It was my Father. I responded with, “hello, is this Robert?” “Yes,” came the reply. I made an instinctive decision to not beat around the bush. “Robert, if you’re not sitting down I suggest you do so for what I am about to tell you,” I said. “I’m okay, go ahead,” he said. “Robert, THIS IS YOUR SON LARRY CALLING,” I blurted out.

The silence was deafening. “Robert, did you hear me?” I said after waiting a few moments. “Yes, how did you find me?” was his reply. Without saying it directly, he was acknowledging I was his son!

I needed to hear directly from him that I was his son! “You know you have a son named Larry,” I asked. “Yes, I do. Did my sister Judy help you find me?” he answered. He seemed more concerned about how I found him, rather than the fact that I did find him and it was his son talking with him for the first time in forty years.

I told him of the search for Roberta, my birth Mother, which had concluded fours years earlier. He asked a few general questions about her. I then told him of the past four years of searching for him and how it had all fallen into place just a few days earlier.

He seemed shocked by what I was able to do. He asked a few questions about me. It did not turn out to be the type of first conversation I had with my birth Mother. It seemed somewhat distant and cold. I chalked it up to the suddenness of this being presented to him. I felt we might just need some time.

We agreed to communicate further through letters and maybe one day plan on meeting. With that, a thirty minute or so conversation was over. I did not have the elated feeling I did when I hung up from my birth Mother for that first time. I felt somewhat numb and out in the cold.

We did keep our commitment to write each other. He wrote his first letter to me a few days after our conversation. Though more feelings were expressed in it, it still seemed to be rather general in nature. I do still have his first letter, though it is beginning to fade with age.

My Father and I met one time. In the spring of 1992, I was on a business trip to Detroit and called him. I asked if we could finally meet. He was hesitant, but finally agreed and gave me directions to his home in Taylor, Michigan.

He greeted me at the gate and we went around to the back patio. He introduced me to Angie, who then went into the house. I can’t honestly say I have any feeling about the meeting. He appeared cold and distant as he had since I found him. The fact that I was there in person, didn’t seem to cause any change in him. I stayed only an hour, as I did not feel comfortable. During the time there, I was not invited into his home nor offered any beverage or anything.

At least I could say I met the man, who because of sperm, was my father. He did not fill the role of father or even friend in the way most would understand the terms.

After my meeting with him, our letters became less frequent. Part of it I know, was due to the cataracts he had in both eyes, making reading and writing difficult, I also believe it was partially due to his wanting to keep a distance between us.

My Father had cataract surgery performed in April of 1994. On July 24, 1994, he suffered a heart attack and died. Though I sent condolences to his sister Judy, I did not feel the need to attend his funeral. Aunt Judy and I have maintained erratic communication in the years that have followed. She is the only one on my father’s side of the family to do so. I have never met her or any other member of my Father’s family. Angie, his wife, died just three months after my Father in October, 1994.

It is amazing how history has repeated itself in my family. My birth Father came from a broken home. His father had deserted his mother when he was a young boy. His Mother later divorced his father and remarried…he had no memory of his birth Father.

My birth Mother also came from a broken home. Her Mother deserted her Father shortly after her youngest sister was born. My Mother had no recollections of her Mother.

Despite what both my birth parents faced as youth themselves, they repeated the same destructive cycle. How unfortunate for them and for us kids that they brought into the world.