Home Safe Every Night

 

Today we have a guest blog post from Billy Cuchens, an adoptive father of children from Domestic Infant Adoption and Foster Care. He shares on an important issue to consider as a transracial adoptive family. (Heather McAnear, Post Adoption Center Coordinator)

We live a couple blocks from a Baptist church which holds bible study every Wednesday for middle school and high school students. Now that Daylight Savings has begun, we let Isaac ride his bike there and back. It seems like they don’t have a firm structure or end time, because every night around 8pm, we have same negotiation about his curfew.

I typically start by texting, “Hey, Buddy. Home by 830pm.”

Most nights he just responds, “Ok.” But tonight he texted back, “Can we make it 9?”

I respond, “Sorry. I don’t want you riding your bike home in the dark.”

“But we just started the lesson.” A few moments pass, then he responds, “Please.”

He understands I’m not suspicious that he would be up to anything. But he doesn’t understand that we’re not having him ride his bike home in the dark…even if he’s only fifteen houses away. When I was a kid, it seemed like parents were always telling us to watch out for cars or don’t talk to strangers. I guess their greatest fear was that we would get hit by a driver who wasn’t paying attention, or be kidnapped. But today, at least for Laurie and me, our greatest fear is a stranger seeing our boys alone in the neighborhood, assuming they’re up to no good simply because of race and gender, and taking action.

Isaac is thirteen years old, but he’s almost six feet tall and two hundred pounds. He’s also black. He hasn’t been a discipline problem since the day he came home. But to someone who has never met him, he could be seen as a threat.

Laurie and I try explaining our fears to friends and family, and some get it. But for the most part, people seem to think we’re paranoid. Or at least overly cautious. When the Trayvon Martin shooting happened, Laurie and I were and still are terrified the same could happen to our boys. To our family and friends, Isaac is this big, lovable jokester. “Oh that couldn’t happen to him,” they say when we share some of our fears with them. “Not to Isaac, he’s a good boy.” They don’t understand that to the outside world he is not an adorable little boy anymore.

Ultimately, we don’t need people to understand that we live in a biased and scary world. Nor do we need our boys to fully understand this either. At least not yet. Isaac has an idea of who Trayvon Martin was, but really he understands our rules simply because they’re Mom’s and Dad’s rules. As time goes by, we give him the information he needs as it comes up…stay on the sidewalk, don’t put your hoodie up, etc.  But we want him to be able to live in a world where he can still maintain the innocence of youth for as long as possible.

So he doesn’t think anything’s weird when I text him while he’s at bible study, “I’ll be heading to the grocery store and then meet you at the church at 9. I’ll drive alongside you as you ride your bike home.” When I arrive, he flashes me a big grin and waves goodbye to his friends, not at all embarrassed at how ridiculous we look as we pull out of the church’s parking lot side-by-side. We ride the three streets it takes to get home together, at about ten miles an hour, and talk about our day. Then when we get home, he takes a shower and I make him a snack. As he’s getting his pajamas on, we can hear him dancing around and singing a praise and worship song. Finally he comes downstairs in his men’s XL bathrobe, gobbles the snack I made, and gives me a big bear hug. “G’night, Daddy.”

“Buddy, I think you’re big enough for ‘Dad’ now. Don’t you think?”

“Nope,” he says. “You’re always gonna be Daddy.” Then he squeezes me harder, and buries my face into his chest. And with my face smothered in his red flannel bathrobe, I say in a muzzled tone, “Sounds good to me.”

Searching : A Personal Journey of Searching For Birth Parents

 

I grew up knowing that my mom was placed for adoption when she was an infant in the late 1950s.  My grandparents were unable to have children and worked with a private attorney to adopt my mom.  We had little to no information about her birthmother, and what little we may have had, was probably speculation at best for the reasons surrounding her decision.  Growing up, Mom never had a strong inclination to search for her birthmother.  In my high school and college years, I remember asking questions about why she hadn’t looked for her because I had a strong desire to search and (let’s be honest) meet my biological grandmother one day.   But my questions were always met with the same response that she simply wasn’t interested and she knew who her family was.  She also wanted to respect my Grandmother and feared that searching for her birthmother would crush my Grandmother’s heart and cause her to feel like less of a mother in my Mom’s life.  I deeply wish that my Grandmother would have understood that completing a search, and potentially meeting a birth family member, would have never diminished or replaced her role in my Mom’s life (or mine).

After graduate school, I started working in the field of adoption.  I was so amazed to see some of the advances that had been made towards sharing information in adoption – sending pictures, having visits, collecting genetic health information, etc.  As levels of openness in adoption have increased in even the last decade, I have often pondered the circumstances surrounding my mom’s placement. Who was her birthmother and what circumstances did she find herself in that made adoption her best option?  What became of her life and did she ever have more children?  Do I have aunts and uncles out there? Equally as important, I desperately wanted her to know that she made a good choice for my Mom and that she has had a good life.   And then, of course, I had other practical questions like, any chance you’ve had cancer or some other major hereditary disease we should be on the lookout for?

Starting Our Search

The day eventually came that Mom felt comfortable starting the search process.  She began by signing up on the State of Texas’s Central Adoption Registry.  Many states have a website where birthmoms, adoptees and biological siblings can voluntarily register and if a match is found, the state facilitates contact (with a little bit of pre-meeting counseling for all parties).  A short time later, Mom received a letter in the mail in response.  This letter informed us that her records were matched with her birthmother’s and that her birthmother had passed away.  The end.  No name.  No date of death.  No identifying information that would tell us anything beyond the simple fact that she was no longer here (and my dreams of meeting her were crushed). I had always pictured two outcomes from signing up on the registry – either being matched (with a living person) OR knowing nothing (because her birthmother or siblings had not signed up on the registry).  It didn’t occur to me that we would be matched AND we would know nothing further.

Our next step was to have a judge sign a court order to unseal Mom’s adoption records, which are maintained at the Bureau of Vital Statistics (BVS) in our state’s capital.  I thought this process would be like climbing Mount Everest blind folded.  I shared our situation with a friend who is an adoption attorney and he had the right connections to make this happen quickly.  He was able to do a little bit of research for us and within days a judge had signed off on an order!  He mailed it to the BVS office and we waited for a response. And we waited a little longer.  And, sadly, we are still waiting now.

I know there are other methods we could use to continue the search.  A simple Google search yields 11.2 million results for “searching for birth mother” with promises from companies to find birthparents in 3 easy steps.  For our family, we are working through the channels and at the pace with which we are most comfortable.  In my longings to have my questions answered, I have to remember that while this is my history, this is my Mom’s story.  I don’t want to press and pursue beyond her comfort level.

Things to Consider when Searching for Your Biological Family

  1. If you are thinking about searching for your biological parent or child that you placed for adoption, start with signing up on an adoption registry in the state where the child was born. While there is a small fee in some states to do this, these sites are legitimate and a simple way to be available in the event someone is searching for you too.
  2. The options for searching are growing. Court orders to unseal records may be granted or denied.  And, if granted, they still may not yield the answers you’re looking for (as in our case).  There are companies for hire and support groups alike ready to help you search.  We have not engaged in this process so while I have no recommendations to make, I caution you to do your homework on these companies and understand any fee structures before engaging their services.
  3. Have some fun with your DNA. This past Christmas, we purchased a DNA kit from Ancestry.com and learned a little more about Mom’s ethnic heritage.  It didn’t produce direct answers, but I was surprised by the excitement I felt at knowing a little more about where this side of my family comes from.  Another company, MyHeritage is also involved with DNA testing, more specifically to assist in matching biological families.  Currently, they are offering free DNA kits to those who apply and qualify through April 30, 2018.  As stated above, I caution you to do some research here too.
  4. For those of you who may have an open adoption, I would implore you to do what you can to keep the lines of communication open with birth families. Relationships between birth and adoptive families can certainly be challenging to navigate and may change in their frequency over time. However, having direct access to a birth family member who can answer questions an adopted person may not have until decades later (or, ahem, perhaps even the adopted person’s child!) is an asset.  Please know that I’m not encouraging you to maintain close contact if it puts a child in danger, or if someone is not making healthy choices.  But, if the environment is healthy, do what you can to maintain this relationship.
  5. For those considering adoption, I encourage you to work with a licensed agency. If my grandparents had worked with an agency (which I realize were not as common then as they are now), I wonder if documents might have been on file with them.  In our state, agencies today are required to maintain adoption records.  In the event they close, there are policies and procedures in place for the transfer of these records. An adoption agency will be a much easier entity to contact if information is needed.  Plus, they are also required to gather genetic health information from birth families, which is a valuable tool for you and your adopted child to have.  Adoption agencies can also help you navigate through birthparent relationship challenges that may arise.

Searching for birth family is a unique and personal journey.  There is not a one-size-fits-all search process that works for everyone.  Our family has learned a lot about each other in this process and have grown closer as we have experienced both excitement and grief in searching for Mom’s birth mother.  We may never know this side of Heaven who she is, but we know that she made a loving decision for my Mom and we will always honor her for this.

 

What To Do If Your Agency Loses Accreditation

 

 

Today, six Hague accredited agencies lost their accreditation to do international adoption.  In the first 3 months of 2018, eleven agencies (representing 7% of all Hague accredited adoption agencies) have lost their accreditation.  In light of this alarming trend, we wanted to give some insight and advice to people who find themselves in this difficult situation.

First, be aware of what a “case transfer plan” means.  When agencies have their accreditation revoked, refused, or expired, the State Department always sends an email to prospective adoptive parents stating,

“When an agency’s or person’s accreditation or approval expires, they are responsible for transferring cases and records.  Families working with [the agency] should contact the agency directly with questions about case or record transfer. We also encourage families to review the information published by the Council on Accreditation about selecting a primary provider/adoption service provider and the accreditation/approval requirements.  The Department of State does not review or approve case transfer plans and has a limited role in their execution. We do, however, communicate with foreign Central Authorities and competent adoption authorities about the accreditation status of agencies and persons and case transfer plans, as needed.”

It is important to note that the case transfer plan does not mean any agency is required to accept your case. Agencies are becoming more reluctant to take client cases from other agencies, even when they have a case transfer plan in place.  There is fear that if the prior agency had any difficulty supervising cases, and this led to the loss of accreditation, then the new agency may have similar problems with supervision of the case.  Your agency will want to know the following information before agreeing to take your case:

  1. Are you matched with a child?
  2. What circumstances led to that child being orphaned?
  3. Can you give a copy of the official referral?
  4. What type of investigation, done by whom, has substantiated the child’s orphan status?

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any of the money you have paid will transfer to any other agency.  Our agency has acquired the files and cases of dozens of agencies, and we have never received a penny from other agencies as a result of a case transfer plan.

But the arrangement of a case transfer plan does indicate that another agency has communicated with your agency, and expressed a willingness to review your case and consider taking you as a client.  So the agency with the case transfer plan should be your first choice in your effort to continue your adoption plan.

Second, you are entitled to a refund for post adoption report fees that you may have pre-paid.  But you are probably not entitled to a refund for any other fees.  Adoption fees are generally billed when services are rendered, and are not held in trust, nor are they refundable.  But if your agency required you to pay for post adoption reports which have not been completed, you are entitled to a refund for those fees.

Third, you may be able to receive a courtesy fee waiver from your new agency.  Although this is not a requirement, agencies often try to mitigate the difficulty of having your agency lose accreditation by offering to let you come into their program at the same fee-phase where you currently are at.

Fourth, you are likely to need an answer for “why” this is happening.  It is a complicated question with several answers, and therefore it is difficult to channel the blame in any one direction.  International adoptions have been on the decline since 2004 and agencies which have not diversified to offer many types of services are finding it difficult to stay in business.  With the projected 300% increase in the cost of accreditation for agencies under IAAME, many agencies who have already been operating in the red for several years in a row cannot envision a viable future under the new accrediting entity. Sometimes agencies lose accreditation due to alleged violation of specific Hague standards.  Agencies can fight those allegations in court, but since they are ultimately fighting the Department of State (through the accrediting entity), is often more realistic to just forfeit accreditation.

Fifth, there is a difference between losing accreditation and going out of business.  It is possible that your agency will allow you to switch to another adoption program besides international.  For instance, they may allow you to switch to domestic, foster, or embryo adoption.  As a courtesy, they may even offer to waive part or all of the fees as a result of this change.

Finally, although the word “journey” is often associated with adoption because the experience can be difficult, long, and frustrating, it’s helpful to recognize that many people have been on the same journey with many detours but ultimately God put together the family that they had dreamed.  My wife and I accepted the referral of two girls who then changed their minds and decided to stay in permanent foster care.  Next we accepted the referral of a girl who was placed with a distant relative instead.  We were sad and frustrated, but we knew God placed adoption on our hearts and He had a child in mind for us.  We later adopted a girl from a different country than we had originally intended.  While we know God doesn’t cause bad things to happen on purpose, we do know that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

If you would like more information on the current crisis in inter-country adoption policy please see www.SaveAdoptions.org.  There you can see several articles about the events that have led to the rapid decline in the number of adoption agencies and adoptions, as well as sign a petition asking the White House to address this issue.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President