Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Identity Theft and Foster kids...

Well, that was just ridiculous. It has taken me a FULL year to get K7's various government paperwork appropriately handled.  We finalized his adoption on Jan. 14, 2011.  It took 3 months for his new birth certificate to be mailed to us.  We were supposed to get a new birth certificate as part of the court fees, but after a month, our county called us and told us that since he had another birth certificate in a different state, THAT state had to issue the new birth certificate.  I said "ok" and wondered why they were telling me this.  I then asked what I needed to do and they told me "nothing."  They said that they would forward the file to the previous state for processing.  I thought all was handled and didn't worry about it.  After 2 more months, I was getting a little tired of waiting and called to find out where the birth certificate was.  I needed it in order to legally change his name on his social security card.  Turns out, the other state never received payment from my county...so they just didn't process the request.  Gee THANKS TEXAS!  After banging my head against a wall and talking with my county (who has NO idea where the money went by the way) I decided that I could afford to pay the $20 on my own and did so - it was easier than insisting that my county find the money I had already paid with the court fees that they had lost.  It took another 4-6 weeks, but I finally got the birth certificate.

Now, as an adoptive parent, I have learned the HARD way the importance of confidentiality with a child's social security number.  That said, if a child has been in foster care, there is NO confidentiality of a social security number.  Think about it, the biological family has the number - and probably the card, the many social workers that have worked on the case have the number - and possibly a "replacement" or photo copy of the card.  For tax purposes EVERY foster family/RTC/group home has a copy of the card. And, unfortunately, by the time the child is graduating from high school, their number has been used and their credit is trashed.  Here is an article on the topic.  It is a very real problem and one that I faced with K4 when she turned 18.  When she attempted to open her own cell phone account, a credit report was run by the cellular company...and she was denied based on her credit rating.  We immediately pulled copies of her credit history and were shocked to discover that at age 16, 2 years after we had adopted her, she had supposedly purchased a HOUSE in another state.  She also had a car AND unpaid bills.  Needless to say this was more than a LITTLE difficult to get straightened out.  But I learned my lesson...CHANGE THE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER of every child I adopt.  

Now, that sounds easy enough right?  Not so much.  Take for example K7, after the hassle of getting his birth certificate after we adopted him, I immediately headed to social security to have a new number and card issued.  Now, social security was willing to change his name on the card...but fought me on changing the number.  They claimed his number was safe if we changed the name.  However, I knew better.  K4's name had been changed and it most DEFINITELY was not safe.  Anyway, rather than argue with the moron at the desk that day, I told him not to change ANYTHING, gathered my papers and left.  Now, this is important, because once you change the name on the old number you CANNOT change the number later.  What needs to happen is for all ties to the old number to be SEVERED so nothing that exists from the old number will be transferred to the new number.  A couple of weeks later I headed to social security again in the hopes of getting a more knowledgeable employee.  Plus I was armed with documentation showing that in the case of abuse and identity theft, the number CAN be changed.  This was taken from social security's website.  And here is more documentation that social security CAN change the number.  The website has changed since I printed my version, however, those links should still be sufficient to get you through the process.  But, you MUST have all your ducks in a row for it to work.  For example, for K7, I had to have:  My ID (I used my passport), K7's birth certificate, adoption decree, Social Security application, a letter from the social worker stating that for the safety of the child, the number should be changed...AND because K7 was born in a foreign country, his INS certificate of citizenship.  I walked into social security and presented my case and was told "no problem."  HAHA famous last words.  As the gal tried to process the paperwork, her computer kept rejecting the request for a new number.  Not because I didn't have the right evidence, and not even because their system didn't know HOW to assign a new number.  No, it was because their system didn't know how to accept the INS certificate which showed K7's old name.  The adoption decree proving the name change was not enough evidence for the stupid computer.  So off I went...again, with no social security card.  I went home and spent HOURS trying to track down somebody at INS that could help me.  In the end, I had to pay almost $500 to INS and mail in the original INS certificate and original adoption decree so that they could take 8, yes 8...EIGHT...months to print a new certificate with K7's new name.  Really?  $500 and EIGHT months?  And I can't even tell you how many phones calls...

So...I will get back to the story...but for anybody that actually works for INS, I just want you to know that I am a very loving and peaceful person...but you have pushed my buttons.  I HATE YOU!

Now, back to the story, last Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, I got in the mail the NEW INS certificate.  Finally.  One year to the DAY after I had adopted this kiddo, I finally had the INS paperwork and I was going to get a social security number for him...and none too soon since it is almost time to process taxes!  

So this morning, I went to social security, handed my stack of papers...again, and then crossed my fingers.  As I watched the guy type on his computer, I had thoughts of how I would keep myself from going ballistic if I didn't get my damn number THIS time.  But, less than 4 minutes from when my number was called, his magical fingers had done the trick and I was on my way out the door...FINALLY with a new social security number for my youngest munchkin.

For anybody struggling with government paperwork after the adoption, I sincerely hope this blog has proven helpful to you.  I wish you the very best, and remember, YOU are your child's advocate.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

MY kids...and I don't share well.

Ugh.  Somebody said it...again.  "Do you have contact with her REAL parents?"

Now, I understand that not everybody knows about politically correct adoption terms and to be honest, I often feel we make "way too much" of simple words.  Normally I blow off much of the emotion about adoption terminology.  But I have to admit, this one really does get me.

As I pondered WHY this one gets to me, I realized that there are a number of reasons that my stomach turns in knots every time I hear it.  The first reason is selfish.  These are MY kids and I do not share well!   Don't get me wrong, I realize my children had a family before me and I try to honor those connections.  But again, MY kids - and I don't share.  They are not my fake kids...they are just my kids, my REAL kids.  They make a real mess in the kitchen, they roll their real eyes at me when I say "you are NOT wearing that school" and they throw up REAL vomit when they are sick for me to clean up...for real.  They are real people needing real parenting.  Therefore I am the real parent.  Yes, I have been told on a number of occasions that I am a major "mama bear" and I know they are right.  I am driven to be an advocate for my children.  Trust me, they need that.

My second reason is in defense of my children.  This term implies to my child that they don't really belong in my family.  They have been abandoned, neglected and abused.  I have promised them a home with love, commitment and safety, and yet, when somebody asks them this, everything I have tried to promise them comes into question.  "If mom and dad aren't my real parents, can they give up on me too?"  I mean after all, their "real parents" did not work out so why would this "less than real" family work out?  We have had many open conversation with our kids about this term.  And in the end, the best way I have found to handle it is with humor.  I pinch myself, yell ouch, then declare that I am indeed real.

The third reason it bothers me, is because I have no good, gentle way of correcting the individual that says it.  They generally are not trying to be hurtful, and in truth would be horrified to understand the emotions that the term evokes in me.  These are good people trying to be loving and supportive.  The LAST thing I want to do is make them feel uncomfortable.

There are a lot of terms that people find offensive in the adoption community.  When we step back and look at all the groups involved, it becomes possible to see why.  Any woman that finds herself in the position of relinquishing a child obviously wants to be thought of in a positive light.  Any family that has adopted a child obviously wants to thought of in a positive light.  And therein lies the problem.  In a situation were there is loss, there has to be an acknowledgment of bad.  For the relinquishing mom, there is the loss of her child.  She may even secretly view the adoptive family as "abductors." Adoptive families have to accept that they will never have the "blood connection" with this child.  The adoptive family my feel that the birth/natural/first mother no longer has rights and therefore who "owns" the term mother can become contentious.  I think it is important to remember that "parenthood" of this child is not a competition between the two parties involved.
**note, this is a TRIANGLE

So in today's blog I want to share an article from Adoptive Families Magazine which highlights "negative and positive" adoption language.  However, I think it is important to note that "who" decides appropriate language is important here.  I know for a fact that not everybody agrees with the "accepted list of terminology" and to be honest I have to agree - they don't all make sense.  In fact, I think Denise Roessle says it best in her article regarding the term "birthparent/biological/natural/first parent" for Adoptive Families magazine.  In the end, it is important to listen to the CHILD (yes mom's on both sides of the issue need to put down their guards) and use the language the allows the CHILD to feel loved and secure.  In the end, that is what ALL parents want for their child, regardless of who is raising the kiddos...right?  Lets make the world a better place by remembering the politically correct language is not about making everybody feel bad about getting it wrong, it is about accepting and honoring that the words we choose can hurt.

"Politically Correct Adoption Language"
Positive Language...............Negative Language..................................My preference
Birthparent................................Real parent.............................1st parent, birth parent ***
Biological parent.......................Natural parent..........................1st parent, birth parent ***
Birth child..................................Own child.....................................child.  I don't differentiate.
My child.....................................Adopted child; Own child...................again, my child
Born to unmarried parents......Illegitimate..........................honestly this one doesn't come up.  "unwed" maybe?
Terminate parental rights........Give up..................................TPR or terminate parental rights
Make an adoption plan.............Give away.....................................relinquish
To parent....................................To keep............................................to parent
Waiting child ..................Adoptable child; available child....honestly, these are all bad to me.  no child should 
                                                                                                                       have to wait for a family.
Biological or birthfather...........Real father................1st father, birth father, biological father
Making contact with.................Reunion......I don't see what is wrong with reunite.  I think both terms are fine.
Parent........................................Adoptive parent......I AM an adoptive parent and I don't mind being described
                                                                                                        as one, however, to ME I am just a parent.
Intercountry adoption..............Foreign adoption..........REALLY?  International/Foreign adoption is fine.
Adoption triad...........................Adoption triangle.........Triad is 3 sided...therefore it is a  triangle.  who cares?
Permission to sign a release.....Disclosure ...................I don't understand why this one is an issue.
Search...................................Track down parents.....We have always used search...but isn't that tracking down?
Child placed for adoption.......An unwanted child.....I agree, because UNWANTED is not accurate.  I WANT them.
Court termination......................Child taken away....Don't see the difference.  My children WERE taken away from their 1st family. 
                                                                                                      We can't gloss over the truth.
Child with special needs............Handicapped child....I hate labels.  We all have special needs.
Child from abroad......................Foreign child....never been an issue in our house.  Again we talk of international
                                                                                              adoption, but once they are adopted in THIS country they are 
                                                                                             citizens so this seems irrelevant to me.
Was adopted...............................Is adopted...this one I get.  "Is" is present tense.  "Was" is past tense.  I don't 
                                                                                          adopt my child everyday and since our family is truly "forever" my   
                                                                                          children WERE adopted at one time and won't be adopted again. 
                                                                                          They are just mine...and I dare anybody to imply  otherwise.  

Again, MY kids...and I don't share well.

***Birth parent is fine, birth father is fine, birth mother is fine...just PLEASE do not shorten birth mother to BM.  It is just plain rude to refer to my child's life giver as a bowel movement.  Thank you, I will now step off my soap box.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Picture is worth a thousand words

I admit that I am on a bit of a rant here today.  You see, I have recently started organizing all my pictures. Trying to put together a chronological account of each child's life.  For some of my kids, this is fairly easy.  For some of my kids that joined our family a little later in life...it is proving to be impossible.

K1, K2 and K3 have it pretty easy.  They have been with me since they were born, so I have hundreds of pictures to document their lives.  Even K7 will have the majority of his life documented since he came to us at age 4 and we have the orphanage pictures, referral pictures and a few pictures from the 3 years he lived with his first adoptive family.  For K4, K5 and K6, it is much more complex.  K4 was 14 when she joined our family and we have worked very hard to locate her pictures.  My husband even had the nerve to walk up to K4's biological family's front door and knock once!  He happened to be on a business trip in that city and took a chance that they would answer the door.  They did and he asked for pictures of K4.  We got a baby picture, a couple pictures from when she was about 5, and her 3rd grade school picture.  We felt like we had hit the jackpot with that baby picture!  K5 has no baby pictures.  Since she came to us at age 11, we will have hundreds of pictures to use for her high school graduation of growing up in middle school and high school, but nothing of babyhood or the elementary years.  K6 had brought with her a newborn hospital picture and what looks to be her kindergarten or 1st grade picture.  She was 18 when we adopted her and those are the only two pictures we have.

As I began working on organizing all these photos, I really wanted to try to fill some holes for my "later in life" kids.  I had the brilliant idea of contacting the schools and asking for pictures from teachers.  One counselor tracked down one elementary class photo.  sigh  Not exactly what I was hoping to achieve.  So I once again hit the phone and the internet in search of ways to get old photographs.  It seemed to me that archived pictures from photography studios for the schools were the way to go!  I immediately contacted Life Touch, the only studio I knew of that did school photos only to find out that they purge their images annually.  REALLY???  With the ease of digital pictures and ability to archive WHY would any company do this?  I truly do not see a reason to not archive school pictures for 10-15 years.  I just bought a large external drive to archive my entire life and have barely made a dent in it's capacity so I know this is not an unreasonable idea.  I did track down another company, Inter-state, which does school photographs and they apparently purge after 2-3 years.  Still not great, but better.  In fact, I was able to order K5's 4th grade picture!  She doesn't know yet and I am hoping that it will be a wonderful surprise for her.  Of course, what she wants more than anything is her baby pictures.  If only hospitals would archive baby pictures...  Well, maybe they do!  Perhaps I should call the hospital were she was born...
There is now a big push for foster families and adoptive families to maintain "LifeBooks" for children in foster care.  I think this is a wonderful idea...but is doomed to fail simply because not everybody is willing to put one together...and as I am finding out, it is nearly impossible to track down those important childhood photographs.  For instance, K5 lived with a foster family that intended to adopt her for 5 years...and we were only able to get 3 pictures of her, and to be honest, they aren't that great and look like they were all taken in the same year, maybe even the same month.  Perhaps the 1st month she was with them and they were all still in the "honeymoon" stage.  My next step is to visit individual schools, pray they have a yearbook and take a picture of whatever I can find.

So today...I am thankful for my camera.  The camera I use nearly every day to document just about every moment of my children's lives.  I might not be able to replace their early childhood photos...but I can make sure that from the moment they cross my door, they have hundreds of photographs to look back on and remember...

Monday, January 9, 2012

Life at our house

This is a short blog today.  

People are always asking what it is like to live at our house.  With this many kids running around, I am sure that our family time looks a bit different...or more chaotic...then the typical american family.  And that is ok because I believe that family love is essential and time spent together is more important than a sparkling clean kitchen.  My husband bought me a sign a few years ago that is PERFECT!

The truth of the matter is, my kids are only with me for a short time.  I don't want to look back on their childhood and say "wow, my house was clean."  I want to look back and say "WOW!  We had SO much fun that year."

Actually, there is a lot of noise in my house, but it is sometimes full of yelling, frequently full of the sounds of TV, video games and/or music.  Then there is the constant sound of the dishwasher running (usually 2x a day) or the washing machine and dryer (most days...all day long), but most importantly there is the wonderful sound of laughter.

Here is a video that shows a typical evening in my house when all the kids are home.  Here is a video of a dinner out.  K4 and K6's birthdays are in the same month so Hard Rock Cafe set up a little competition for them.  Or, how about this video just getting a hair cut... Yes, this really is typical of my kids.

Although, it is a bit crazy, hectic, messy and loud sometimes, (loud enough that grandparents tend to stay at hotels now when they visit) I know that I am giving my children the best gift I can give them.  A happy childhood with siblings that they love to spend time with and connections that will last them a lifetime.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Importance of Connections

I am certain you have heard of siblings being separated in foster care.  Frankly I am amazed at how many times the topic comes up and "non-adoptive" families comment about how outrageous it is to separate kids.  On one hand I agree whole-heartedly...and yet on the other hand, I understand why it happens.  I have adopted children that are separated from their birth siblings and half siblings.  For one of my children, the birthmother was raising one child and realized that she couldn't give another child the type of life that she deserved.  This mother made an adoption plan and I won the lottery.  Nobody really questions if this was "right" because it is just the way it is.  But if social services separates the children, somehow it is wrong.  Honestly, my daughter and her birth sibling don't even know each other.  My daughter knows she has an older biological sibling, but to our knowledge, her sibling does NOT know about her.  Certainly, when she is 18, if she wants to locate her birth family we will help her.  Although at age 11, she just shrugs her shoulders and says she isn't interested in meeting them.  When I speak with her, she admits that she is curious about them, but that they are strangers to her and so she sees no reason to meet them.  I certainly see her point, however, my experience with my older adoptive kids indicates that we should keep that door open for K3.

K4 has many half siblings.  She even lived with them for a short while.  Connecting with bio family was, at times, an obsession for K4.  One that to be honest, I couldn't understand.  Well, I guess I understood to some extent, but at the same time, I wonder why the people that hurt her are still so important to her.  My daughter needs closure, but I am not sure what that looks like for a child that was beaten and abandoned.  She needs to know that her siblings are safe and she wants to know why things didn't work out for K4 but did work out for her siblings.  She wants her birth mother to admit she was wrong and apologize.  She wants them to love her and accept her...and maybe even a piece of her held on to a fantasy that life with them would be better than life with us.  Regardless, we tried very hard to help her connect with her biological family.  It was a hard road filled with many disappointments.  I think in the end, K4 is learning on her own where she "belongs" and more and more that seems to be with us, the family that loved her through the hard times and helped her become the woman she is today.

K5 has only 2 half siblings that we know of.  We believe they live with their father, who has no connection to K5.  K5 keeps a picture of them on her desk.  She often says that she misses them and worries about them.  Although they probably don't remember her at all, she remembers them and it certainly impacts K5's emotions at times.  I know she would love to reunite with her siblings, and we have even asked social services to contact us if they ever have information...but I suspect we will never hear anything.  Why did social services separate her from her siblings?  It is simple, her mother's boyfriend had rights to her siblings but no rights to K5...and he apparently saw no reason to work with social services to gain those rights.

K6 has many siblings.  Her attachment ability is definitely impaired so her response to half siblings and foster siblings are definitely similar.  Her pull to be near her birth siblings and stay in contact with other people from the foster care system was far stronger than her attachment to us, her adoptive family - in a different state.  I suppose this makes sense given the fact that we adopted her at age 18.  In many ways, we would never be "the family she grew up with."  It is hard to compete with that.  In the end, she was emotionally driven to return to her birth state to maintain those connections.

K7 may or may not have birth siblings.  As an international adoptee from an orphanage, we may never know for sure.  However, connection for him seems to be coming from a different source all together.  From the moment we met him it was clear that he was fascinated by asian features and would light up whenever my K4 (age 21) would stop by home for a visit.  Even on our daily errands, I would see him wave and smile to other asian families.  Recently I had K7 and K5 with me on some errands and we stopped at a "Good Times" to indulge in hamburgers and fries for lunch.  As I was paying for our food, K7 and K5 ran ahead and got their sodas from the dispenser.  After paying, I headed over to get my drink.  In my periphery field of vision, I noticed a family.  The mother glanced at me and I had a strong feeling that she must know me from the way she looked at me.  I started pondering where I might know her from but simply could NOT place her face.  I sat down with my kids and enjoyed my meal.  K7 had pretty much finished his food and was a little on the wiggly side.  About this time I noticed that the mom I had noticed before was not sitting at her table, and instead there was an adorable asian boy about the age of K7.  He must have been hidden from my view by his mother's body previously.  I glanced at K7 and realized that the two boys were playing a typical game of "fast food booth peek a boo" with each other.  I chuckled out loud as I realized that his mother probably didn't look at me like she KNEW me, but rather looked at me like she knew our family dynamics!  Just about then, the other mom walked by my table and I said something about "I think our sons have eyes for each other."  She smiled and introduced herself and we immediately started chatting about our adoption stories.  She commented about how hard it is to connect with other asian boy adoptees and how nice it is to be connected with families "like ours" that help normalize adoption for our internationally adopted children.  I feel so blessed to have met her and her family and once again believe that God had a hand making sure we met on that day.  We exchanged emails and hope to maintain contact for the boys.  They had so much fun running around the restaurant together.

As humans, we have strong desires to be with other people "like us."  For some of us, it is the people that we share the most memories with, for others it is about being with the people we in which share genetics or at least look like us, and for some of us it is about connecting with people that understand our unique experiences and share similar experiences.  Sometimes it is a close personal friend that can listen with an understanding ear not because they have experienced the same things...but rather because they love you.  Each of these connections have significant importance in our lives and should be honored and respected appropriately.  I believe that when we are NOT connected, we struggle more with depression, anxiety and anti-social behavior.  Somehow connections define us, make us ok, gives us strength and helps us push forward in our lives.