As this is National Adoption month, it’s a good time to look at how Washington’s foster care system might work harder to facilitate, rather than hinder, the chance for thousands of kids to have good, safe, permanent homes.
Local television and newspapers recently reported the release by Department of Social and Health Services of the Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee Report, which describes the horror, and in some cases, death, that too many adopted children experience in their “forever homes.”
Mary Meinig, committee co-chair and state ombudsman, said that adoption “is supposed to work and be forever. These kids experience terrible, terrible abuse. We promise these kids safe homes and we put them in homes where they are tortured . . . this (report) is a call to arms.”
Becky Smith, spokesperson for DSHS Children’s Administration, described the report as an indictment of the private and public adoption system, giving Washington a “B” grade. Based on this report and my experience adopting my son from foster care, I give it an “F.”
In 2009 I adopted a troubled 10-year-old foster child from Tacoma who refused to shower. I didn’t want my new son to be the “dirty” kid at school, so I forced him to stand under warm, running water. His screaming, tears and defiance only strengthened my resolve to teach him good hygiene, but it also gave me pause.
The state resisted giving me all his case files, though I was entitled to them. I finally got them, quickly discovering my son had been abused by having high-pressure hoses sprayed in his face. It was clear why he panicked in the shower.
Why was the state reluctant to share information any successful adoptive parent would need?
Adopting an older, neglected, abused foster child is hard. For a single parent like me, it can feel impossible. Yet the rewards to the child, parent and society are far greater than the inevitable challenges, which included weaning him off overprescribed psychiatric medications and taking legal action against the state to receive adoption support resources.
But I was successful. My son is now 14. His behavioral issues are a thing of the past. He hasn’t been suspended from school. He (mostly) passes his classes and he is the light of my life. I can’t imagine loving a child more if I had raised him from birth. I would give my life for him.
Why was I successful? I was blessed with a talent for advocacy; understanding family, friends and co-workers; and an undeniable conviction that adopting my son was my most important task in life.
What is wrong with our foster care and adoption system? Why is it fundamentally broken? Among other challenges, it often lacks common sense.
For example, if I had adopted a child from Russia, the Russian government requires a six-month, one-year, two-year and three-year post-adoption report. Yet our state’s adopted foster children don’t get similar protections. Why are there better post-adoption protections for a Russian-born child than for our own foster children?
A few months ago, Pierce County Juvenile Court officials invited me to a reception to celebrate my book, “One Kid at a Time,” the story of my son’s adoption from foster care. The room was filled with local judges, CASAs (court appointed special advocates), court workers and attorneys who were eager to hear success stories and share creative ideas to improve the system.
There is reason for hope. Both of Washington’s gubernatorial candidates – Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee – have said that improving adoption oversight is a top priority. Two of the most prominent national foster child advocacy organizations, CASA and The Casey Foundations, are based in Seattle and have relentlessly advocated for years.
We already spend an enormous amount of money on the current adoption and foster care system. The financial and human resources we need to create a better system already exist.
So what is the solution?
We need to start using our resources wisely and create more success stories like mine and Danny’s.Jake Dekker is the author of “One Kid at a Time” and Danny’s dad. They live in Whatcom County.