Sometimes, a comment comes across as so discriminatory that it cannot be ignored. As I lay on the couch last night, half asleep and watching reruns of “Dr G., Medical Examiner,” I experienced one of those moments. An off-hand comment on the show hit me in such a way that I took advantage of my DVR to rewind and copy the statement, verbatim, to discuss.
In this particular episode, an adoptive couple was being accused of abusing their five-week-old son. The mother had taken the child to work with her, where he was being watched in another room by a babysitter. At some point the child, who was fine when they came in, let out a horrible scream. The babysitter said that nothing had happened, but as the mother held her son she could feel his head suddenly swelling. She rushed him to the hospital, where it was found that he had two skull fractures. Children’s Protective Services stepped in. The mother passed a lie detector test. The father (who wasn’t even present at the time of the incident) showed some deception in the first lie detector test, but passed a second with flying colors. A full investigation was done over the course of weeks (during which the father was not allowed around the baby). Their daughter, who had been adopted five years earlier, was subjected to a complete body scan. No indications of any prior abuse were found.
At the completion of the investigation, CPS called the mother and asked for her to come down with the baby so that she could fill out one last piece of paperwork. When she arrived, two police officers forced the baby from her, then escorted her from the room. She was told by the CPS worker that they were going to ensure that the adoption was not finalized. The child was placed into foster care.
The producers of the show obviously made an attempt to be fair in telling this story(although Dr G’s findings were that it had been a complete miscarriage of justice, done by people who chose to ignore significant portions of fact). They had a representative of this CPS agency who appeared several times throughout the show. It was during one of these appearances that he made the statement.
These were not biological parents, these were people who were looking to adopt this child. What we try to do is keep families intact, and in a situation where the family is not really a family at that point, it’s handled a little bit differently.
The emphasis, obviously, is mine. The idiocy, however, was completely his. And his co-workers’. And an entire system’s.
I have mentioned before that I completed the certification to be a foster parent while doing my adoptive homestudy. I have also mentioned that we considered pursuing foster-adoption but decided that the situation wasn’t right at the time. This statement pretty much encapsulates why we didn’t feel that the situation was right. And, I suspect, it is also why some people are so anxious to see a day when all adoptions are done through CPS.
From the very first meeting we went to when we were looking into foster-adoption, it was openly stated that the primary objective was to maintain biological ties. To keep a child with its “real” family (even if that included placing the child with family members that it had never previously met). Every attempt would be made to “fix” the problem adults in the situation. If that couldn’t be done (and the adults had a year and a half, which did not have to be consecutive time) the child should be placed with extended family, if at all possible (and even if this meant putting the child in the same situation that originally contributed to the issues that shaped the parent’s problems–I have seen this happen first-hand). Adoption outside of biological ties was the absolute last resource. Because, after all, those aren’t “real” families.
The fact that this particular CPS worker was openly stating that this particular situation would have been handled differently if it were a biological parent absolutely made my blood boil. But it didn’t surprise me (well, it surprised me that he would admit it so clearly for national consumption). Why does DNA allow for such a double standard? Does a child, taken from the only parents it knows, feel less pain if the biological tie is absent? Is abuse somehow not as bad if delivered by a “real” parent?
So many children languish in foster care. So many will age out without ever finding a permanent family to guide them through life. And the fact is, the older a child is, the more likely he or she will meet this fate. I’m not saying that some families don’t deserve a second chance–people can and do change. But there comes a point where adults are allowed too many chances, and the children are being hurt on too many levels. Physically, emotionally, and hurt in their chances of permanency. The longer it is allowed to go on, the more damage is inflicted and the less chance that it will ever be overcome (this applies to ANY abusive parent, biological or adoptive–there are screw-ups everywhere).
I once helped a family in a last-ditch effort to keep their little girl from being removed from the home (another child had already been taken out). Seven and a half years later, every time I hear any updates on that child (who, at twelve-years-old has already attempted suicide), I am overcome with the knowledge that, though well-meaning, we did something wrong. I truly believe that she has been permanently damaged by her circumstances–circumstances that I helped to keep her in. It is a devastating thought.
So, is biology what makes a “real” family? I don’t think so. Of course, maybe that isn’t even the most important question. Truthfully, this is an issue that goes far beyond the realms of adoption. Over half of my nieces and nephews are being raised in divorce situations. They all have “biology.” And, in some cases, things are mostly ok. But, even with biology, some of them have a serious lack of stability from one parent or the other. And, much like the kids under the care of CPS, I just don’t think that the most important thing for them is “biology.” Stability rates way higher.
I guess what it comes down to, for me, isn’t how “real” the parents are, just how real their parenting ends up being.