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July 30, 2010 permalink
For today's class the euphemisms are:
The Toronto Star writes about adoption failures. The example case is of children with pseudonyms Carl and Sarah acquired by Paula and Bryan Blatchford to be companions for their (real) teenaged daughter Hayley. The school-aged kids, both in foster care more than two years, were old enough to understand that they were stolen goods, offered to the high bidder. Only adults get away with pretending that money exchanged during adoption is for fees, not purchase price. Sample problem: "Sarah would happily take the hand of a stranger." Cause: she had been taught by her foster care experience that one adult was as good as another. After a year and a half the prospective adopters returned the kids to CAS. From comments in the story, the kids seemed to prefer the homes they were in before coming to, and after leaving, the Blatchfords.
Like an arranged marriage, an adoption is the meeting of strangers who hope to stay together forever. Sometimes it doesn’t work out.
Paula and Bryan Blatchford were happy and hopeful that day in June 2008 when they welcomed two children into their family.
“We were so excited,” says Paula, “It was our dream come true.”
Carl and Sarah were already calling the Blatchfords “mom” and “dad” after a series of visits at their foster home and outings that included an overnight stay in a hotel.
“The kids were lovely, always happy and excited to see us. Those were definitely good times,” Paula remembers.
The newly-painted bedrooms in the suburban GTA home were waiting for the elementary school-aged children — aqua for Sarah and royal blue for Carl — with bedding they had selected at Sears. New toys and clothes were in the closets and a basketball net installed in the driveway.
As soon as the Blatchfords had married the year before, they’d set the wheels in motion to expand their family. Paula, 39, a former funeral director, had a 14-year-old daughter, Hayley, from her first marriage, but was unable to have any more children. Bryan, 47, an accountant in the trucking industry, loved his stepdaughter and wanted more children.
Willing to take older children who would be closer in age to Hayley, the Blatchfords were matched with Carl and Sarah (not their real names because their identity is protected by child protection laws), who had been in foster care for more than two years.
After the children arrived, they swam in the backyard pool, ate hamburgers for dinner and visited their new school.
A lazy summer stretched ahead: private swimming lessons at home, Paula teaching Carl his alphabet, Hayley and her friends hanging out with Sarah.
Sixteen months later, they were gone.
Each year, roughly 5 per cent of the 600 adoptions from children’s aids societies in Ontario are not completed. With children over the age of 6, that number can be as high as 25 per cent.
“Everyone is so hard on themselves,” says Wilma Burke, an adoption worker with the Toronto Childrens’ Aid Society, which had 4 disrupted adoptions out of 90 last year. “When an adoption disrupts, we all wanted it to work. No one should be blamed. We should not be too judgmental.”
The first day of school, the Blatchfords got a phone call saying Carl had punched another child on the school bus.
There was continuous lying and stealing and the children never bonded to the Blatchfords. Carl couldn’t bear to have Paula read him bedtime stories and Sarah would happily take the hand of a stranger.
“I can’t believe I didn’t have a nervous breakdown,” Paula says in an interview at her kitchen table. “I felt like I was living on the edge all the time. I was getting terrible migraines. I lost 10 pounds. I couldn’t sleep.”
Last April, Artyom Saveliev, a 7-year-old boy adopted by a Tennessee woman, was put on a plane and sent back to Russia with a note pinned to his shirt from the Tennessee woman who adopted him, saying she couldn’t handle his behaviour any more. For many, the headline-grabbing case was the first they’d heard of a disrupted adoption.
Experienced adoption workers say all children put up for adoption, whether given up by their parents or seized from the home, have special needs. Abuse, multiple moves, drug or alcohol addictions and abandonment have left their mark on fragile psyches.
Some people turn to international adoptions hoping to avoid these problems, but Sandra Webb, a Cobourg-based adoption therapist, says all children put up for adoption have special needs.
Parents need experts to help and they need to ask for help early.
“Many wait too long until they can’t stand the child.”
The Blatchfords now feel they were dealing with children with attachment disorders and possibly fetal alcohol syndrome.
Paula says that Sarah “cried for her (former) foster mother every day and constantly asked why she couldn’t adopt them instead.”
Attachment disorder is caused by disruptions in a child’s life and the failure of adults to provide security and a strong bond, according to Brenda McCreight, a B.C. registered clinical social worker who specializes in the disorder. The child only knows how to survive by manipulation, control, aggression or withdrawal, she writes on her website, www.theadoptioncounselor.com. There is a keen sense of abandonment as the child grows.
The older the child is at the time of adoption, the greater the likelihood of a disrupted adoption.
“The difficulty is when they’re adopted over age 6 and when they don’t attach. It’s not because they are bad,” says McCreight, who has two biological children and 13 adopted children. “All of them came with attachment disorder.”
McCreight says people can parent challenging children given proper training, supports and realistic expectations. She suggests they attend adoption seminars and workshops, network with other adoptive parents and get therapy.
All parents who want to adopt or foster children in Ontario must take mandatory preparation training of 27 hours in a program called PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education). It is delivered by approved adoption practitioners, the same people who also conduct the home studies.
It is a rigorous program designed to prepare parents for adoption and, with the requirement of “get to know you” visits, set the stage for success.
This doesn’t always happen.
Many parents and social workers in the adoption field argue that there should be no difference between adopted and biological children when it comes to permanency — once the child comes in the door they belong to that family no matter what. No changing your mind.
That’s not facing reality, says Sandra Scarth, president of the Adoption Council of Canada.
“It’s like an arranged marriage. We are putting people together who don’t really know each other. You want it to work, but it might not.”
A former social worker who herself adopted a child who’d already experienced a failed adoption, she says it is wrong to demonize parents in these cases.
“The thing is so sad. I’ve helped families that have had adoptions disrupted. They are a mess and feel badly about themselves.”
The Blatchfords felt defeated. Like failures. And they agonized over the effect this might have on the children.
“I just felt guilt, so much guilt,” says Paula.
At the Peel Children’s Aid Society, where there were two disrupted adoptions out of 42 last year, adoption worker Dawn Tracz says it’s a complex and emotional situation, and that’s why nobody likes to talk about it.
“As a worker, I invest a lot in an adoption and when it disrupts I get upset. Also, no one goes into this saying I’ll make a life long commitment and then back out. It is difficult.”
Encouraged by children’s aid workers to “give it time,” the Blatchfords went to counselling. The family got the message that “we’d have to change, not the children,” says Bryan, who was unwilling to accept the behaviour.
“If I stole something at work, I wouldn’t have a job,” he says. “The only rules we had in the house were no lying or stealing and respect others.”
Paula struggled for ways to deal with the stealing and impulsivity. She searched Carl’s backpack and pockets daily for items he took from schoolmates and insisted they be returned. Sarah constantly lost everything from clothing to Paula’s camera without worry — nothing appeared to hold any value to her.
Many of Paula’s tactics were frowned upon by her adoption workers such as declaring certain areas of the house, which contained money or valuables, off limits or putting a bell outside the boy’s bedroom door so she could tell if he was leaving his room.
The backyard swimming pool and the busy nearby highway were dangerous for Carl, who was impulsive. Three months into the school year, he walked away with another child.
Paula rushed to the school in a panic, but Carl had already been found at another child’s home miles from the school along a busy highway. He wanted to watch TV.
The advice she got from their counsellor was to keep the children under constant surveillance.
“I was always waiting for the phone call from the school,” says Paula. When she thought of her life, post-adoption, “I felt disbelief with a little bit of horror.”
Hayley increasingly found herself vying for her parents’ attention. She was “close” to moving out. “They were making my life hell,” she says of the children.
At first she was angry with her parents, but ultimately softened because “they were treating my parents like crap.”
The house was in a constant uproar and Bryan started working late to avoid the chaos.
It was a far cry from the glowing reports the Blatchfords received from the foster parents, Paula says. “The way everyone talked, we were winning the (adoption) lottery.”
When the school principal raised concerns that Carl couldn’t appreciate the consequences of his actions, Paula’s research lead her to believe that there was fetal alcohol damage. The couple had been very clear from the beginning that they weren’t willing to tackle brain damage.
While a 2009 provincial study on adoption titled Raising Expectations reports 4 per cent of children up for adoption are known to have fetal alcohol syndrome, it also says this is a vast underestimation of the true numbers. Mothers aren’t always forthcoming about their alcohol consumption and effects may not show up until the child is older.
When their adoption worker suggested preparing the paperwork to made the adoption final, the Blatchfords asked her to wait. They kept postponing the paperwork, hoping the children's’ behaviour would improve.
After much soul searching, the Blatchfords decided they weren’t equipped to parent Carl and Sarah. One night in September 2009, Bryan told children’s aid, “We’re done.”
Today there is little trace of the children in the Blatchford home. One bedroom has been painted over and made into a guest room, and the other is used for storage.
But there is a photograph showing Bryan and the children at a family wedding.
Hayley is standing a bit off to the side, but both Carl and Sarah are encircled in his arms. In those early days the family took many holidays together and there was hope.
Paula, although “relieved” at the decision to end the adoption process, still agonized over how the children would feel when social workers told them they’d be going to a new family.
Carl cried a little bit but the girl was calm. A week earlier, she had told Paula “I don’t think I want to stay here.”
Paula was prepared to pack for the children but, when they returned from their first trip to the new family, they eagerly packed for themselves.
“You’d think they were going to Disneyland,” says Paula, who was surprised by the response but glad as well. “They were happy to go.”
She is allowing her story to be told because she thinks people need to understand the challenges of adoption. She admits she had “blinders on” when she first met the children and wanted to believe the best.
“It’s not been our finest hour,” she says. “But not all adoptions work. It’s not all rosy. It’s a story that needs to be told.”
On that last morning in late October, she made their lunches, jam sandwiches and crackers and cheese.
With a brief “bye,” the children were out the door to school and they never came back.
“As soon as the door closed, I was a mess. I cried all day. I didn’t do anything for a week. I slept. I was mourning.”
To this day she still cries for the children.
“Oh yes, I loved them,” she says sadly.
Source: Toronto Star