How Reliable Is A Home Study? Amber Garrott / Amber Jo: Example Of Its Flaws

*Update: In a shameful attempt to disguise who she is, assumedly because of this blog post, Amber Garrott has changed her profile picture and name on Facebook. She is now “Amber Jo” and her profile can be found HERE.*

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When an expectant mother relinquishes her child for adoption she is assured that she is giving her child a “better” life. In America, every family that adopts a child must obtain an approved home study from a licensed social worker or case worker. According to the government site Child Welfare, the home study has 3 purposes:

• Educate and prepare the prospective family for adoption

• Evaluate the capability and suitability of the prospective family to adopt

• Gather information about the prospective adoptive family that will help a social worker match the family with a child or youth whose needs they can best meet (applicable to adoptions in which public child welfare agencies are involved)

For private or domestic infant adoption, a home study can be conducted through a private social worker, not a licensed state worker (think foster to adopt).

Because of the home study process, expectant mothers are assured that every step has been taken to assure this is a suitable and capable home for their child. It is often what is given in lieu of an expectant mother conducting her own research into the family. Most expectant moms don’t have the luxury (or aren’t given the chance) to inspect a prospective adoptive family’s home, obtain their social security numbers or other information to run a background check, obtain medical information from a doctor who provides a physical to assure the prospective parents are in good health, or to interview friends, neighbors, or family members to get a feel for what kind of parents they would be. The home study is supposed to take care of all of this.

How reliable is a home study?

Certainly home studies are very thorough. The technical aspects assure that there are no obvious red flags. Home study criteria will vary from state to state, agency to agency, social worker to social worker. While some things are requirements in every state, such as a background check, other things go above and beyond the minimum requirements and are instituted by the person or organization conducting the home study. A huge component of passing a home study will rely on the judgment of the social worker conducting the home study. This person will get a feel for the family and make a recommendation based on information they have obtained from family and friends, home visits, and the general feeling they get from the prospective adoptive parents. Regardless of all of this, however, home studies are not iron clad or fool-proof. Social workers are human beings and, let’s face it, some just aren’t good judges of character. Also consider that while someone has no history of abuse or neglect, it does not mean they don’t have the potential for it once they are charged with the care-taking of raising another human being. Yet, the home study is the expectant mother’s assurance that their child will be raised in a suitable and capable home.

I am not asserting that all adoptive parents are abusive or neglectful. In fact, I’d say that the majority are not. Just as the majority of natural parents are not. However, according to studies, adopted and step children are more likely to be abused by their adoptive or step parents because of a psychological phenomenon known as the “Cinderella Effect.” This study asserts that biology naturally inclines one to not abuse their own offspring. In reported cases of child abuse, according to the National Center for Health Research, 85% of abuse victims were abused by a biological parent and 1% were abused by an adoptive parent. While those numbers seem to scream that it is safer to be adopted, that knee-jerk reaction would be false. You must take into consideration that less than 2% of the population is adopted while 98% of the population resides with at least one biological parent. Another thing to keep in mind is that not all cases, maybe not even most, of abuse and neglect are actually reported. These statistics back up my assertion that most parents (adoptive or natural) do not abuse or neglect their children.

Biological parents don’t require a home study to keep their children, so why should adoptive parents be held to a higher standard?

If we are talking about placing a child in a permanent home, as a conscious decision, it is of the utmost importance to make sure that child is in a safe, loving, capable, home. Many children who are adopted have already come from situations of abuse and neglect and those children who are adopted at birth, as a conscious decision made by an expectant parent, should have the same standards applied to their living situation if they are not to stay with their natural families. An expectant parent, facing a crisis situation, does not likely have the resources to investigate a family of her choosing to make sure they are safe for her child.  For those mothers who didn’t have the luxury to choose a family or who were forced to give up their child, they didn’t even know who to investigate to begin that process. The home study is supposed to be the golden crown. The thing that assures everyone that this child will have a “better” life and be loved, cherished, and protected.

So why do we keep hearing about abused adoptees ? Because it’s not fool-proof. Because it is subject to the expertise of social workers and their judgment of character. Because it is flawed. Unfortunately it is the best we can do. Because of that, expectant parents that are considering adoption should know that it is not fool proof so they can make a sound and informed choice about the fate of their child. When contacting an adoption agency they will be reassured that the families they are shown are all safe, competent, loving and have an approved home study!!  They are not told that home studies are not always concrete and that they can only cover so much territory.

I am, by no means, judging parents who suffer from mental illness, or other issues. Some of these parents do very well with the right support system in place. However, if you want to give your child a “better life” then you probably wouldn’t want to consider someone with a mental illness or addiction problem raising your child. Especially if your reasons for giving your child up, in the first place, were because of your own addiction struggle.

 Meet Amber Garrott

Amber engaged with a first mom in a forum that had nothing to do with adoption. A first mom expressed her regret about the adoption of her child when the adoptive parents failed to follow through on promises made and, after 11 years, still had not told the child she was adopted. Amber felt the need, as a proclaimed adoptive parent, to dismiss this first mom’s lived experience and correct her.

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In addition to being dismissive and correcting the first mom, Amber also seems proud that she has cut contact off with her child’s natural parents. I certainly understand keeping children away from people, no matter who they are, who are unhealthy, but the way Amber presents herself and her story rubs me the wrong way. I couldn’t figure out exactly why until I began reading more of her comments.

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In response to the first mom taking issue with her proudly proclaiming she cut off bio parents.

You certainly do, Amber. I don’t disagree. But I still sense something is amiss.

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Well, that’s a low blow. I’m not sure why Amber didn’t expect what came next. A mother expresses her grief and regret and, right away, Amber decides she needs to defend adoption instead of sympathizing. Then she adds insult to injury if you read between the lines.  It’s a common scenario. All first moms are either saints or sinners, depending on what you’re talking about. You’re a “selfless, brave, saint” for giving your child up to have a “better” life or you’re a dirty sinner for not taking responsibility and parenting your child.

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6 months sober before relinquishing, then 3 months after relapse. Hmm. Maybe the trauma of relinquishing her child was too much to bear ? I’d like to also point out that Amber has pictures of her and her child’s first mom as recently as 6 weeks ago on her Facebook page. *EDIT – Amber has contacted me and asserts her pictures with whom she calls her “babysmomma” are not her child’s first mom. She has also now deactivated her Facebook page.* First mom, in one of them, looks like she’s sipping on something intoxicating.   Way to go, Amber!  If your child’s first mom is an addict then why are you feeding her margaritas ?

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Another low blow. I’m sure there’s more to the story that’s not being told, too. But not by the first mom. Amber is ALWAYS honest and open with her child’s first mom. Remember that.

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Because if an adoptive parents breaks promises it must ALWAYS be the first mom’s fault.  Because they would never just do it because they’re insecure or had no intentions of keeping promises to begin with, right Amber  ?

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And here it is.  Straight from the horse ‘s mouth. This is in response to the first mom saying her child has no idea she’s even adopted. YOU LOSE THAT RIGHT TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT WHEN YOU SIGNED YOUR RIGHTS AWAY. Remember that when you’re considering adoption.

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I thought agencies and attorneys were supposed to protect those expectant mothers, no ?They’re supposed to help them make an “informed” choice. Let’s see what else Amber has had to say about herself.

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A “smidge ” domestic violence ? She couldn’t stop herself ? Holes in the wall from her ? Son needs to go back up for adoption ?  Yet she has the nerve to judge other women, including her child’s first mother. This is what passed a home study.

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But I thought her child’s first mom was the drug addict ?

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Her husband had her put on a 72 hour psych hold  ? She should win mother of the year ! This child is surely getting a MUCH better life than he would have with his first mom.

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Let’s revisit her reasoning for cutting off the first parents. She had good reason, remember ?  She’s very honest with her child’s first mom. Maybe Amber should consider cutting herself off – with good reason. Did you catch that her husband’s a cop ? Is that how she passed a home study ? Is that why she gets away with it ?  The only “police department” page that Amber has liked on her Facebook page is that of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Louisiana.

I will reiterate, I am not claiming that all or most adoptive parents are abusive, drug addicts, or unstable.   What I AM saying is that expectant parents, considering adoption, need to understand that, like Amber said,  you should educate yourself a little better before making such a life-altering decision. I sure know that if I knew that my child could have got parents like  Amber, I would have run the other way.

INFORMED CONSENT is NOT what agencies, social workers, attorneys, prospective adoptive parents, the media is giving you.  Anyone whose livelihood relies on adoption (see, their job, their income) is not going to give you these ugly details. It is up to you to decide if you can live with this risk – if you’re okay with this being the potential outcome.  Your child, unfortunately, can’t decide for you. They have no choice at all.

 

 

 

 

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Top 5 Things Not To Say To A Birthmother

Here we go again. Another blog post about what NOT to say to a birth/first/natural mother. Right? Wrong. I’ve seen them done a few times. The lists. What not to say to an adoptive mother. What not to say to a birthmother. What not to say to an adoptee. I can’t speak for others in the adoption community, but I can speak from a personal place as a first mom. While some things on these lists ring true with me, there just wasn’t one that truly felt all-encompassing or “complete.” Some even had things included that just grossed me out. So, in true Letterman style, here is my top FIVE list of things NOT to say or do to a first mom.

Avoiding Talking About the Child She Has Lost to Adoption Altogether.

Okay, so maybe this isn’t what not to say but it sure is what not to do. Some people truly don’t know how to approach the subject and don’t want to say the wrong thing. Instead they choose to not say anything at all. Even though we have been through a tremendous loss, we still want you to acknowledge our child. We want you to ask questions about them. Even if we have no information, whatsoever, we want to be asked. “Have you received any new pictures of [insert child’s name here]? How are you doing this time of the year without [insert child’s name here]? What do you think [insert child’s name here] looks like now?” It’s really quite simple. Living in a world where you are the only one who acknowledges your child’s existence can be miserable and lonely. Just because they are out of sight does not mean they are out of mind. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s an ambiguous loss for us. There really is no closure. By asking us questions about our child, you acknowledge our pain, acknowledge our child, and open the door for further conversation if we feel up to it. If you don’t know what to say, just say so! “I’m not really sure what to say, but I was wondering if you wanted to talk about [insert child’s name here].” Even if the answer is, “I’m not really ready to talk about that” we will be over the moon that you asked. Really, we will. When people bring up our children in casual conversation it affirms to us that they do exist. They are real. We didn’t dream it up. Sometimes those are the only things that get us through the night.  Furthermore, for some women, it was a shameful thing to have a baby that was then lost to adoption. Many were ridiculed, sent away to be hidden and give birth, and chastised. Talking about their child, as a normal, positive, everyday thing, helps them to break those barriers they have battled their whole lives. It helps them to see themselves through a different set of eyes. Not the eyes that passed judgement and condemnation. Yes, talk about our children. Please do.

Don’t Withhold Personal Stories of Grief For Fear of Making Her Feel Bad

No one likes to be tiptoed around. Sometimes people can be super aware of the “adoption situation” and feel bad sharing their own loss stories. Sometimes their personal loss, they think, can pale in comparison to the first mom’s loss. This may be true sometimes but, as human beings, one thing we are great at is empathizing with each other. Sharing stories of personal loss with one another will sometimes find you at the beginning of a road called “healing.” Sometimes others are further in their journey and can offer some great advice or encouraging words. And sometimes being able to be the one to offer the encouraging words assists in your own personal journey of healing. Don’t be afraid of her grief (shoot, don’t be afraid of yours). Know it is a normal part of life when there is a loss. Know that tremendous learning can be gained from it as well as compassion, empathy, kindness, and understanding. Don’t rob each other of these opportunities. Open the door of grief together. Explore what’s inside and walk with each other on that path.

Avoid the Cliche Comments

“You can always have more children.”

“It was part of God’s plan.”

“What you did was brave and selfless.”

You know, all the things you’ll see pouring out of rainbow-colored lips on every “feel-good” adoption story you’ll ever read online. But here’s the deal. 1) Some women can’t always have more children. It’s called secondary infertility and it’s prominent among first moms. Even if she can have more, it doesn’t take away the pain of the one she lost. 2) You aren’t God and you don’t know His plan. And even if it was part of His plan (which I wholeheartedly believe 99% of domestic infant adoptions, done the way they are in America, are not) does that make her pain less? 3) It’s really not that brave when you have no other choice. Imagine standing at the edge of a cliff. The drop is 200 feet. Someone pushes you. You survive the fall. Someone tells you that you were brave to choose to jump off that cliff. Huh? You didn’t choose to jump, you had no choice, someone pushed you. That’s kind of how adoption works. Anyone who truly had any choice, at all, would have parented their child. No one wants to give away their child and go through this grief. They had NO CHOICE. And selfless? Well, it’s a horse a piece. It can’t be selfless because that means parenting a baby is selfish. Still….does this make her grief go away? Do not invalidate a mother’s grief from her adoption loss by throwing out the cliché statements that run a muck in the adoption world. It doesn’t help. Instead say, “I’m sorry you are hurting. No one will ever be able to replace [insert child’s name here] and I am sorry for that. Your circumstances were really crappy and that really sucks.” Validate their grief. Give them permission to have these feelings by affirming it to them. It DOES suck. It WAS crappy. And you ARE sorry they are hurting, right?

Who?

This one probably irks me the most. “Who?” When you openly say something about your child such as, “[Insert child’s name here] started horseback riding lessons last month! He’s doing really well!” If a first mom is talking to you in this context, about her child, it is going to be assumed that you know of the child she is talking about. Your response of, “Who?” says to her that you don’t care enough to remember her child’s name just because she isn’t parenting them. This will also make her less likely to openly discuss her child with you in the future (see my first list entry). Whenever I get this response I have to then say, “you know, the child I gave up for adoption.” Saying those words cuts like a knife. Usually it’s the only way I can make people understand who I’m talking about. Then I become a little angry at them. Come on, really? You don’t care enough to know who I’m talking about? I know I don’t bring her up much, but how long have we known each other? Please….at least remember her child’s name.

You Gave Him/Her a Better Life

You don’t know that. No one knows that unless they own a crystal ball or can time travel. The outcome of one’s life compared to the potential outcome of a potentially different life is something we, as mere humans, are not privy to. Even if that weren’t true, would you like me to tell you that you should have given your children up for adoption so they would have had a better life than what you’re giving them? Maybe they would have been better off with someone making $200,000 a year instead of the measly $70,000 you’re pulling in. Are you divorced? Your children would have been better off if you had given them up for adoption. Then they would have had a two-parent household. Oh! I know! It’s never too late! You should give your children up for adoption so they can have a better life. Do you see how asinine that sounds? Saying “You gave your child a better life” is probably the most cruel things you can say to a first mom. It reaffirms, to her, all the things the industry told her. She wasn’t good enough and her child is better off without her. In most situations, this simply isn’t true. Instead of saying, “You gave your child a better life” how about just not saying anything at all.

#ShoutYourAdoption

Unconditional Love

A love that will stay and persist without limits, without prerequisites. No matter what. To show unconditional love is to put yourself aside for the well-being of someone else. A sacrifice of one’s self because of this love. To voluntarily endure pain, hurt, disappointment, and more in the name of this love. To put someone else above yourself.

-Astrid

This is my definition of unconditional love.

Unconditional is defined as “not subject to conditions.” Love is defined, by man, as “an intense feeling of deep affection.”

Furthermore, God defines love as patient and kind, free of envy, boasting and pride. It is not dishonorable, self-seeking, or easily angered. It also keeps no record of wrongs. It rejoices with TRUTH and does NOT delight in evil.

If you are a believer in God then you know that you are required to try your best to love one another in the way he has described, unconditionally. However, let’s take the layman’s view and assume you don’t HAVE to love EVERYONE unconditionally. You are free to just “love” people, no qualifiers required.

If I asked you how you were supposed to love your child, based on what I’ve written above, what would you say? Unconditionally, right? Of course. That’s how we’re wired. It’s how it’s supposed to be. We are supposed to love our children in a way that puts their needs above our own. Even if it hurts us. Isn’t that what it is all about?

The act of giving my daughter up for adoption was not selfless. I cannot say that it was because to claim that would be to imply that parenting my other children (all unplanned and coming at times that could be considered “crisis”) was selfish. And it wasn’t. However, when I relinquished her, it was because I was willing to suffer a lifetime of pain or never knowing who she was if that is what she wanted. If she never wanted to speak to me, ever, in her life, I was okay with that so that I would not cause her any emotional pain. Yes, it would hurt deeply, but I love my daughter so much (all of my kids really) that I would take that hurt so they didn’t have to. Wouldn’t we all? Wouldn’t we all take our kids hurt in a heartbeat if we could so as not to see them suffer? Of course we would, if we could.

What if you could? What if you COULD take that hurt away and make it a little better. What would you do?

What if you are an adoptive parent of a teenager. What if this teenager of yours is having a REALLY rough time emotionally? So they’ve asked to send their birthmother a letter. You let them write the letter and many things that are said in the letter hurt you. It’s only human to face insecurities. However, you know that sending this letter and hoping for a response back would be something to help a little with the healing of your teenager, even if it hurts you. Even if the thought of losing the child you’ve nurtured from infancy was almost too much to handle. Would you be willing to let your child continue to suffer and hurt so that you could make yourself feel more secure about your place in their life? If you answered “yes” then you do not love your child unconditionally. You do not love them selflessly. You are not willing to sacrifice yourself for them. Regardless of how many late nights you have stayed up with a sick toddler, regardless of how many bedtime stories you have read them, regardless of how many recitals you have been to. None of that stuff defines the true meaning of being a parent, a mother, a father.

The very definition of motherhood should be unconditional love. As a birthmom, I am willing to love my child unconditionally. I am willing to accept her for all of her faults and for all the things she may do that would make me feel bad. I will love her no matter what and do what is best for her. I will live with an unbearable grief for the rest of my life because I thought I was giving her a “better” life, even if that turns out to not be the case. My actions were in good faith at the cost of great personal pain and sacrifice, at the very high cost of great personal pain of my other children and family members. I did all of this because I loved her so. I let her call someone else “mom” because of this. Because I loved her and thought I was making the best choice I possibly could then.

It baffles me beyond reason how a person would not be able to do the same for their adopted child in return. Why they wouldn’t be able to suck it up, swallow their pride (“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”) and help their child heal. Not leave their child thinking they have been rejected and ignored. Are you that insecure that you would sacrifice your child’s well-being for it?  You would lie (“It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”)

Adoptive parents who choose to break promises and cut off birth families for any reason other than they are DANGEROUS, I have this to say to you:

If you think that cutting off communication between your child and their birth family is the way to go – Don’t be selfish. Do the selfless thing. Do the loving thing. Put your child’s needs ahead of your own so that they can have a better life. A life that includes all of their family. You are not giving up your child. You are placing her in a healthy environment that includes knowing her roots. Remember, you are in control of the adoption so there is great power in that. Don’t abuse it.

Don’t ya like how all those things that we were told during our “adoption plans” can also be used for you?