Peter A. Kenny's
Adoption and Foster Care Law Blog
Here, I write about foster parenting and legal issues related to foster care and adoption.
New posts come twice a month.
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How to successfully navigate the complicated adoption process
What you can do to best help your foster child
Ideas from an attorney and a psychologist on how to raise foster and adopted children
The joys and the challenges of adoption and foster care in story and poetry
What a lawyer can do to for you, how to prepare for court, and other legal issues
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Complete List of Articles
Prevention by reining in a teen’s time away from home late at night is a good parental strategy. It is important to know where your youngsters are, especially later at night. Especially for teens when the odds go up for car crashes, sex, and other life-changing events.
What can a foster parent do?
“I don’t have to,” asserts six-year-old Dion when he is told to pick up his toys. Some moms might automatically react negatively to the verbal defiance. “Don’t you dare talk to me like that,” she may reply. Mom may even be successful at obtaining compliance. But the price may be that Dion learns simply to suppress his oppositional feelings. A wiser mom might respond that she understands and accepts Dion’s resistance. “I know you’re mad but we still have to get these toys picked up.” Mom is showing respect for Dion’s feelings while still insisting on obedience.
Good news at a bad time. As the Coronavirus kept most of us isolated at home, I drove from Indianapolis to Gary to meet two Indiana families.
This poem by Kahlil Gibran in “The Prophet” suggests much about the motivation of foster and adoptive parents.
Attorney Peter Kenny announces the publication of his third book: Making a Difference: Foster Care and Adoption. His book contains over 70 single-page topics, all of which are of major interest to foster and adoptive parents. The book is inspiring, and practical, a quick and easy read.
It’s not always the big things that affirm foster and adoptive parents. Here are four everyday moments that different foster parents I know found memorable.
Several parents have asked for suggestions about children’s books that especially relate to foster and adopted children. Here are my favorites.
A strong sense of humor is a necessary survival tool for foster parents. Here are three of many examples shared by my foster parent friends.
The family meal has historically served two very important functions. It has provided better nutrition and it offers a major time when parents and children can relate to one another. So sit down and eat together when that is possible. But if not, here are a few other ideas.
James Russell Lowell, in his epic poem, "The Vision of Sir Launfal", writes of a knight who goes off in search of the cup which Jesus shared with his followers at his last supper.
My husband and I recently adopted our beautiful two-year-old son. When I share this amazing news with people, I sometimes get a response that, well, stings.
Where to go and what to do in Indiana for foster families.
Be gentle with yourself. You are your child’s biggest and best resource. Remember when you first get on a plane? The stewardess is giving safety instructions. In case of emergency, if you are traveling with a small child, she tells you to put on your own oxygen mask first. Without you, your child may be lost.
When this single grandmother adopted her two young grandchildren, that was occasion to celebrate-- special enough to write a poem.
Imagine you are awaiting the results of your breast exam or prostate test. You call daily but they still don’t have the results. What are you thinking, feeling?
I hope these quotes about adoption inspire you like they have inspired me.
You have adopted a child with a disability. Normally, the child's Medicaid and per diem payments, funded by the federal Adoption Assistance Program (AAP), continue till age 18. Can you get them extended until age 21? Yes, but it’s somewhat complicated. Here's how.
In a plastic and often hollow world, you are the real people. You are doing it, giving without recompense. Lovers in a me-first world. Like Pinocchio and the weathered and worn Velveteen Rabbit, it is your loving that makes you real.
Research has clearly shown that delay in achieving permanence is not in the child’s best interest. Time is the enemy of a growing and developing child.
The US government offers a one-time non-refundable tax credit to adopting parents for expenses incurred in the process. Most Indiana foster-to-adopt parents receive a post-adoption subsidy paid by the state. If that is the case...
There are as many answers as there are adoptive parents. Each person has their own story, their own personal motives. Here are a few ideas from past clients that have inspired me.
Taking away their cellphones and forbidding access is not usually a wise strategy. In addition to preventing contact with their peers and searching for useful information, it may foster resentment and encourage sneakiness. Here are four approaches which may help you monitor cellphones and computer use without appearing to take over.
An overview of how to become a foster parent in Indiana. The process appears more complicated than it actually is.
Foster care payments are reimbursement for the daily costs of raising a child, and are not considered taxable income by the IRS. Having a foster child in the home does not change the family’s status for receiving food stamps.
By Mary Kenny
I am so unfulfilled I have a house a car a job a loving spouse But I have no child. I need a child- I need a child so I can grow- Maybe I should adopt. *** I am so blessed I have a home a car a job a loving spouse But I have no child. I have so much to share. I need to help a child- Help a child to grow- Maybe I should adopt.
Foster parents, like other people, learn best from experience. Which means that those new to fostering are at a disadvantage. Even if they have already raised children of their own, Foster parenting presents some unique challenges.
A friend of mine complained that his eleven- and thirteen-year-old foster sons frequently spiced their talk with crude sexual and violent words.
Your new foster child appears at your door, frequently with nothing more than bare essentials.
To raise consciousness about how a child feels at that moment, here is a memorable exercise that has been used during foster parent training. To begin, the leader asks you to write down on five separate slips of paper the five things you value most.
Five-year-olds and up are capable of learning and performing several household chores.
"We have had our five-year-old foster daughter for six months and are hoping to adopt her. She causes no trouble but is like a shy little mouse with few words and big eyes. How can we break through and communicate with her?"
Frequently at foster parent gatherings the organizers will trot out a young man or woman who grew up in foster care and is now educated and successful in a career as a teacher, writer, or in another productive field. This child would be a high achiever in any field, but remains unusual. Most adopted children, like all developing youngsters, are works in progress.
“We have had our foster child for almost two years and nothing seems to be happening. Mother makes a little progress and then relapses. How long will this go on? When does the state give up on reunification and look for another permanent home?”
“Constantly in motion. That’s our first-grader, Jonny. If I can get him to stop for a minute, he stays poised on the edge of his seat, ready to run off as soon as I say okay….His mind is just as undisciplined, jumping from one thought to another. Homework time is a nightmare. His doctor prescribed medication to calm him without much success. Any ideas?”
One simple and meaningful way to get to know your foster/adopted child is to help him or her collect their history in pictures and stories in their own homemade personal book. Whether you are able to adopt the child or not, a picture-story book will become a treasure for a child who lacks “possessions.”
The child fares better when foster parents and the birth parent can get along. Mutual distrust and hostility, often based on a lack of information, serve no one. You don’t have to agree with one another. But foster parents do need to withhold judgment. And show courtesy and respect for the person.
To paraphrase the former Peace Corps slogan, foster parenting is the toughest job you’ll ever love. You have chosen a difficult path. Instead of a big cheering section, you are likely to face problems, and even be blamed unfairly when things go wrong.
We were attending Grandparents’ Day at the elementary school of our youngest grandchildren. Several of the children were showing pictures of themselves as babies being held and admired by their grandparents. “I don’t have any baby pictures,” my young granddaughter said matter-of-factly. “I don’t know what I looked like when I was a baby.”
Why older foster children think teen adoption is a great idea:
“As a football coach, I always had to be ready to overcome unexpected challenges. With injuries, crowd noise, and especially weather, the game plan is always adjusting to adversity.”
My father, Dr. Jim Kenny, wrote the following article on how he felt about being the adoptive father of my brother and three sisters.
In my last blog entry, I asked you to imagine welcoming your new ten-year-old foster son. He certainly feels alone and scared and may express that by acting cocksure, or more likely quiet and reserved at first. From a psychologist who was also a foster parent, here are a few hints on how you might respond.
Imagine your new foster son has just come in the door. His name is Eric, he is ten years old, and is clutching a paper sack holding everything he owns. Not much. You greet him warmly and tell him he is welcome. But you don’t really know him. All you have to go by are your expectations. Here are a few thoughts you might consider.
Caseworkers and DCS conferences do not have the final word about removal, placement, and possible adoption of Indiana children in foster care. Courts are where these ultimate decisions are made. Foster parents have rights to be heard in court.
My father, Dr. Jim Kenny, with the help of an artist from Stone Belt in Indiana, recently wrote a children’s story about a little monkey who loses both parents and begins searching the jungle, looking for them. After many adventures, he discovers a family of chimpanzees who offer him a permanent home. Little Lost Monkey is a foster-to-adopt story.
Here is our definition which has been used to support adoption in many courts throughout the US: “Bonding is a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue, and is interrupted at peril to the parties involved.” Interrupted bonding is strongly correlated with adult mental illness, crime, poverty, and homelessness. Bonding can be demonstrated by 24/7the amount of time spent together, by community support, and by statements from the parties involved.
A cooperative adoption allows for some continuing post-adoption contact. This usually involves a nominal offering of information about the child and/or the exchange of cards, letters and photos. Less frequently, personal visits may be permitted on special occasions. It may make sense when the birth parent fears giving up all future connection with her child.
A Middle School teacher began the following story and asked his students to make up an ending: One child’s story finished very differently.
“My pre-teen-age boys get into fights regularly,” complained one foster parent. “It’s hard to stop them. My caseworker warns me against punishment. Help!”
The strongest material you can have in advocating for your foster child is a well-documented daily journal. Keeping a daily journal assists you when reporting to the Child Welfare Department or advocating for your foster child at case conferences and at court hearings, especially adoption. When opinions are divided, your journal provides you with reasons and documentation for your views.
Whatever happened to the old adage: “Experience is the best teacher”? Most would agree that is true. So why the heavy reliance on agency-run workshops or classes for foster parent training? Parenting can be learned and improved in several ways.
For too many people, discipline is equated with punishment. This creates a special problem for foster children who have already suffered from abuse and neglect. In actual fact, punishment is a rather ineffective method for obtaining compliance. There are other methods that work better. Here are a few ideas.
Many different subsidies are available for Indiana foster parents who wish to adopt. They include continuing your monthly payments, providing health insurance, reimbursing you for some of your adoption expenses, a federal income tax credit, and help with college tuition. Your new child is entitled to all the financial support that is offered.
My mother’s wrote: “We raised twelve children, both ‘homemade’ and adopted. People often ask me how I did it. But then I met Ralph. Ralph is the one who makes me ask, ‘How do you do it?’”
I want to share Carol Lynn Pearson’s moving poem on adoption.
You may have been thinking about adoption. How does a family go about making that decision? Like marriage, adoption involves a lifetime commitment. Not a step to take lightly.
Here are a few thoughts about when and why foster parents might benefit from legal help.
My admiration for what foster and adoptive parents do is boundless. I am honored to be their attorney. They have tackled the toughest job I can imagine, offering their home to already damaged youngsters who may well take out their misdirected anger on the “new” parents.
The Kenny Law Blog will offer a brief twice-monthly comment on issues of interest to foster parents, especially those who are considering adoption.
“My adopted son and daughter are almost legal adults. I know I need to give them more freedom to grow up,” one dad told me. “And yet the stakes are so much higher. No more little problems. Now my kids are facing mistakes that could change or destroy their lives. I know I need to let them go and yet I am frightened at what can happen. I want to protect them.”
Powerful life-shaping drives, like sex and aggression, have much in common. They both generate sudden strong physical arousal which insists on an immediate response. The cost of a serious mistake is unacceptably high. These drives are most impelling in adolescence, a time when emerging adults lack sufficient life experience to fully appreciate the dangers. What can parents do to minimize the dangers?
Why is it that the matters that parents are most concerned about are also the ones where they have the least to say? A thoughtful consideration of either violence or sex is considered taboo in our culture. Instead we demonize sex as pornography and we trivialize violence as if it were a game. Our attitude makes it doubly difficult to protect our children and to prepare them to cope with the two primal drives of sex and aggression.
Sex is the way the human race renews itself and a tangible expression of love. Yet we ignore its wondrous purposes, primarily focusing on premature and unwanted pregnancy. Aggression can fuel assertiveness and energize a person to overcome handicaps. It becomes a problem when it degenerates to personal violence. Unfortunately, we make light of it with a mindless overflow of homicidal video games and films, as if killing were romantic and death were not real. We live in a society that treats sex schizophrenically as a peekaboo sin, while violence is paraded as entertainment.
No verbal lectures can be relied upon to override surging hormones and passion. Checking for drugs and sex is a never-ending and nearly impossible quest. Teens are inventive enough to work their way around almost any parental attempt to control them.
Blind spots in our culture make it difficult for parents to deal with the dangerous problems of late adolescence. Each family must work with their teen to find their own reasonable solution: a balance between the almost-adult’s need for freedom to grow and the parents’ need to set limits learned over a lifetime.read more
Prevention by reining in a teen’s time away from home late at night is a good parental strategy. It is important to know where your youngsters are, especially later at night. Especially for teens when the odds go up for car crashes, sex, and other life-changing events. On the one hand, teens need independence to try their wings while still under parental control. On the other hand, they need protection from their lack of life experience and their impetuous natures.
Curfews may be easier to verify but harder to enforce. The ability to apply a curfew will lesson the possibilities for tragedy.
Mark and Cindy realized that most problems with sex, cars, drugs and alcohol occurred later. They decided to require that their 15-year-old foster son be home by 10 on weekend nights. Although far from perfect, they believed this was a reasonable precaution. They used a strategy of rewards with bonuses for late time coupled with assigned work for every fifteen minutes late to enforce the curfew. While not perfect, the results were mostly positive.
What is a good curfew time? That varies, depending upon the age of your foster child and his or her likelihood of getting into trouble. Talk it over with your teen. Then set a time you believe is reasonable. Choose an earlier time to begin with. You can lengthen it later as he or she proves to be reliable.
Since problems with drugs and sex occur when your child is away from home, a curfew allows you as a parent to relax. You do know if your teen is home or not. If he is not home when he is expected, the simplest discipline is to go get your foster teen. No need to be mean about it. Do what you can to find out where your child is, collect him or her, and bring your teen home.read more
POSSESSIONS? He or she owns little or nothing.
FRIENDS? Their parents have abused or deserted them. They may be treated as dumb or bad by teachers. Teased by their friends. They are likely to trust no one.
WHERE DO I BELONG? My home is temporary. I’m in transit. A temp. A tweener.
WHAT DO I KNOW? My life experience has been mostly negative. I’m a survivor of the school of hard knocks. I may have learned survival skills like conning people, and to lie and steal.
WHAT DO I ENJOY? Mostly junk food.
SELF-CONFIDENCE? Fake. I may put up a cocky front, but I’m mostly bluster. Or I may appear subservient and guarded.
SELF-CONTROL? Either I’m impulsive and apt to misbehave randomly, or I may have distanced myself from meaningful social contact.
SELF-DETERMINATION? I don’t care. Behavior tends to be aimless.
SELF-ESTEEM? His valuing of himself is not very realistic.
WHAT CAN A FOSTER PARENT DO?
RESPECT THEM. Treat them with dignity. Be careful of love and praise. That may not be ready yet to trust you, and that may make them angry.
FOCUS ON CONCRETE TASKS. Schedule chores, in areas like cleaning, meal preparation, gardening, and animal care.
DON’T TOLERATE POOR WORKMANSHIP OR BELLIGERENCE. Get the job done without blaming the person. That only reinforces an already poor self-image. Instead use “I” messages and positive consequences. See my blogs on good discipline.
PREPARE A LIFEBOOK. Include birth date and place, names of birth parents and other family, plus former foster homes. Also skills, hobbies, and life plans. Add any photos or drawings or other artwork when available. Keep it current with celebrations.
SET A GOOD EXAMPLE while eating, sleeping, living, and playing together.read more
Peers are important, especially for teens. As Judith Harris in The Nurture Assumption makes clear, peers have a strong influence in socializing one another. And teens are fascinated by the novelty of someone different. Perhaps they are attracted by the apparent self-confidence of a braggart or a bully, or the delinquent behavior of an agemate who flaunts the law. Probation departments have rules that forbid delinquents from associating with other probationers. Worrying about your child’s companions is legitimate. Children copy the behavior of their friends.
Parents are concerned that their child will identify with and copy undesirable traits. Like probation departments, they try to monitor their child’s friends. Both probation departments and parents have had relatively small success.
What about “people who are not like us?” Friends that appear different, however, are not necessarily bad. Your child may see this person as a down-and-outer, someone who needs friendship and compassion. Or he may be drawn by the loyalty of someone from a different social class who was willing to stand up for him against a bully. Friends are valuable. High school friends can last a lifetime. A wise parent will try to find out what their child finds attractive in his or her friends before thoughtlessly dismissing them.
Listen to your teen. Observe him or her. Where does he show an interest? What are her passions? Assuming these are positive, encourage your teenager to participate in groups that share what he or she values. Is your teen interested in sports? Encourage him to join a neighborhood athletic club. Play on a team. Learn to swim. Attend his or her events. Sports teams share an ethic of hard work and team-building.
Other passions besides sports exist. Encourage an interest in working with others of his or her age to learn anything from computer skills to fashion design, from art to dog-training. Is she interested in church, in politics, in saving our environment? Support her working with like-minded peers. A common task is binding. Attachments grow as people do things together.read more