Thursday, April 16, 2009

Pick me, pick me!

Remember when we were kids, and had to choose up teams for in gym class for dodge ball or capture the flag or some other competition? No matter who was named "captain" by the teacher, there were those highly athletic kids who got picked first--they gave the team a better chance of winning. Then the popular, if unathletic kids got picked--maybe they wouldn't help skill-wise, but socially you had a better team if they were on it. And then down the skill and social ladder it would go, always with those few awkward unpopular kids left looking at the ground, toeing the dirt with their shoes as they waited for their fates to be decided. Who would be the last this time? Who was the least-wanted kid there? Through the whole process, those of us not near the top rung would be chanting in our heads, "pick me, pick me!" No one wants to feel like they are only chosen because there's no one else left.

There have been a few articles in the news sources lately about adoption. China, once the most popular foreign source of American adoptees, has created stricter rules and hence lowered the number of children adopted by American families. Other countries have done or are considering doing the same. Madonna recently attempted to adopt another child from Malawi, but was unsucessful. Though I often think about adoption, these news items have brought it to the front of my consciousness, enough to stop me in the midst of checking e-mail and Tweeting to blog about it.

Often people on the pro-life side of the abortion debate cite the fact that so many couples are just waiting for babies to adopt domestically. Those same couples often end up turning to countries like China, Russia, and Guatemala, spending tens of thousands of dollars to bring home a baby. 

A baby. A little one, usually under a year old, sometimes, if the timing and coordination are right, as young as 8 weeks. These are the top-round picks in the adoption world. White American babies go first, then healthy infants from abroad. 

The kids left looking at the ground, desperately pleading inside, "pick me, pick me?" Older kids in the American foster care system. 

These are not the kids that get the sympathy vote like those in foreign orphanages, who often tend to generate the "look I'm helping this poor child have a life s/he couldn't ever have had in her/his own country" feeling. (Note: I am not against international adoption, but feel the need to call it like it is).

The fact that these children are available for adoption through the foster care system largely means something went seriously wrong. Yes, there are some who are orphans with no other family to care for them, but the majority have been removed from their homes and their parents' rights have been terminated by the state. For that to happen, generally those kids have been through major neglect or abuse or both. 

So not only are they not cute babies, but they come with baggage. It takes special people to bring these kids home to their forever families, and it's not easy.

But those kids just want a chance, want to know they're not the least-wanted kid in the world. Some of them don't learn that, and age out of the foster care system at 18 (some states have wisely extended that deadline to 21 to continue to provide support to young adults). 

I often go to AdoptUsKids  and look around. It's a list of kids in foster care, most of whom are or will soon be available for adoption. It's not a pick-your-own catalog, but an attempt to find family matches for these, often the most difficult kids to place. According to one report, in fiscal year 2006 almost 127,000 kids were waiting to be adopted out of foster care. 

Look at their faces. Who wants to be the one to tell them, month after month, year after year, that they were not chosen?

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  1. If the child is of color they have an even harder time being adopted as they age. You know it really makes me sad to think about those children year after year waiting for a family to embrace them. This is why I have said despite the fact that we claim to love and support children, we don't,
    I have been thinking for quite some time about adopting a little girl but they make the process ridiculous and the expense is extreme. I often wonder how many families that could support a child over a series of years just don't adopt because they cannot save up the initial cost. Yes, I know that raising a child is expensive, as I have two but you pay for it little by little and not in large sums. If we just lowered the fees for adoptions how many working class families would consider this option?

  2. Renee, that is absolutely true. I decided dealing with the racial/cultural/ethnic factors would make this post far too long and so left it out, but it is a big part of why a lot of these kids are waiting.

    There are resources to help with adoption costs, particularly for kids in foster care, with special needs, or other "hard to place" situations (like sibling groups, for example). The Dave Thomas Foundation ( is a good place to start, as is your local DCYF. However, I do think that if they lowered the fees it would be more accessible to people who have the love and desire but not the money in one lump sum.

    And yes, I've heard the process can be grueling, but think about the kids you have already--if you had to do the same for them, would it be worth it?

  3. Beth, what an insightful post. I have been a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for foster children, and I have seen first hand, these children, and the life they were lifted out of. Its such a struggle for them to find a sense of normalcy. It really does take quite a patient parent to give these kids the love and attention that they deserve.
    The question that you raise putting our own children in the situation, would it be worth it to give them a forever home, and when you look at it that way, the money excuse is eliminated, because I would think that parents would do anything to keep or to have their children kept with them.
    Its definitely food for thought. Thank you for your thoughts and your wisdoms.

  4. I somehow found your blog through Twitter and just read for the first time. What a thought provoking post. I'll be back for sure.....