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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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.
Laws are provided to protect those most in need. The powerful can take care of themselves. Civil rights legislation offers a voice to women, ethnic minorities, persons of a different gender persuasion, those who are injured, and even to so-called illegal immigrants. An immature child with an unsafe or no home clearly heads this list. As our potentially most vulnerable citizen, the child whose basic need for safe and sane surroundings is seriously in jeopardy has an overriding right to our protection. The child’s rights become primary.
The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, 1997) made a basic change in the law. Reversing previous assumptions, ASFA put the rights of the child before those of the birth parents and other adults. As Rhode Island Republican Senator John Chafee said at the time: “We will not continue the current system of always putting the needs and rights of the biological parents first. It's time we recognize that some families simply cannot and should not be kept together.”
ASFA clearly indicates that the child’s basic needs for “health and safety” supersede the less basic needs of the parent to raise a child. What does “health and safety” truly mean? Two clues are provided. First, the law focuses on those elementary needs without which a child cannot grow up sane and whole. Second, and more convincing are the specific mandated details: the deadlines, the urgency of timely permanency plans (reunification and adoption), and the monetary incentives for adoption.
Following ASFA, the underlying concept of basic needs can be summarized in practical terms. These basic needs endow the child with three primary rights.
- The right to safe surroundings. ASFA declares that the health and safety of the child are paramount, and that this consideration must dominate all others. All children have the right to be free of abuse and neglect. Neglect may well be the more devastating and is too often ignored because it often goes unreported and is harder to substantiate. More specifically, children have a right to be fed, clothed, sheltered, supervised, and protected.
- The right to maintain significant relationships. Certain people are the medium through which our needs are met. These people are not interchangeable. When a child has come to depend on a specific person to meet basic needs, that person and the needs become identical in the child’s mind. To take away the person is to take away the secure feeling that basic needs will be met.
- The right to a permanent home. Children need stability and permanence. A child cannot grow and develop without a firm and unchanging base. Even a less-than-best home is preferable to being shuffled around, never knowing where one belongs. Children can adjust to most situations. They cannot adjust to the moving base of a temporary home, not knowing what happens next, not knowing where they will be tomorrow. Directions to a destination are useless if one does not have a starting point.
During a recent visit to our local hospital in Indianapolis, I noticed a brief and intermittent melody played over the hospital-wide sound system. I had to ask a nurse what that meant. She replied with a smile: “Oh, they play that every time we have a baby born here.”
That got an answering smile from me. How wonderful, I thought. What a nice way to announce and celebrate new life. And family.
Fifty years ago, we adopted a baby from a large group home. I have never forgotten the thrill I received when I saw our new daughter’s picture on their bulletin board. Along with those of several other children. Above the pictures was the heading in bold letters: “WE HAVE PARENTS.”
I was struck by the similarity. Both words and melody express the same simple and spontaneous exclamation of joy. For the babies and for us. We have new life. We belong in this world. We are part of a family.
The new born and the re-born. A Birth Day. And a Re-Birth Day. Both are entering a new phase of life. Leaving behind the womb and their temporary homes. Anticipating the dawn of new adventuring with a cry – and perhaps a smile.
And we the new parents are happy.read more
This poem by Kahlil Gibran in “The Prophet” suggests much about the motivation of foster and adoptive parents.
There are those who give little of the much which they have—and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gift unwholesome.
And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.
Through the hands of such as these, God speaks, and from behind their eyes, He smiles upon the earth.read more
When one lecturer recently asked a group of foster parents what behavior they would most like to eliminate in their child’s repertoire, lying led the list. “It’s a betrayal of family trust,” declared one father. “How can you ever trust him if you never know whether you are getting the truth?”
Lying frustrates foster parents like no other behavior because it appears totally within the child’s control. Because this is so obvious, long lectures on the importance of truth are a waste of breath. Instead, focus on obtaining the desired result. Good discipline focuses on solving the problem. Bad discipline attacks and belittles the child while trying to control his or her mind.
While children may lie to exaggerate or to get attention, the two reasons of most concern to parents are to avoid incriminating themselves and to gain an advantage. Our Supreme Court in 1966 (Miranda vs. Arizona) answered the first reason by declaring that no person is obliged to confess or incriminate themselves.
Parenting becomes much simpler if we extend this privilege to our children. Don’t ask them. Instead, gather what evidence is available and then take precautions. If items are missing, conduct a room search. Frisk them before they leave for school or to play. And don’t tempt them. Secure your valuables like money, credit cards, jewelry, electronic devices, and other portable possessions.
The second reason children (and adults) lie is to get their way. As one foster teen told his parents: “If I told you where I was really going, you would have said no.” The best way to handle this attempt to mislead is to take away the payoff. If your foster teen is not where he said he was going to be, you can no longer trust his word. As the proverb says: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Don’t lecture or make a big deal of it. No need to punish. Instead, from now on, you must check up on him. Check discreetly with the other parents to learn if your Sally was really invited for an overnight. Ask the school to notify you whenever he misses school or a class, even if he comes with a note the next day. He may be resourceful enough to have written his own excuse.
The consequence for lying is a loss of trust. No need for grounding or taking away of privileges in a usually unsuccessful attempt to get at the truth. No need to give up on your foster child. Instead, you have simply adopted a more realistic style of parenting and can go on affirming other good qualities.