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.
The courtroom was crowded. More than thirty people were present. The new dad and mom, of course. Grandparents. Older brothers and sisters. Friends and neighbors. They were there to witness the formalization of a lifelong commitment. The crowd had come to celebrate the adoption of Jana, a five-year-old. She had been their foster daughter for more than a year.
Afterwards, the extended family planned to go home for a party. “It’s like a wedding,” grandpa told me. “We are all here to applaud the promise of a future lifetime together. For some of us, parenthood happens. In an adoption, the choice is more real. You sort of know what you are getting into. It’s like a wedding, where foster care is the dating period, the time you have to learn about each other.”
Marriage and adoption. The two ways lives are joined by love. We need to celebrate. While both are intended to last a lifetime, adoptions have the better track record. Fifty percent of US marriages end in divorce. Compare that to about two percent of all adoptions that fail. Adoption ends up more lasting than marriages today and has become the most permanent of all our legal relationships. Like conceived parenthood, the parent-child connection is a lifetime commitment.
Of course adoption should be celebrated. Not only in court but also with a party at home. Model it after a birthday party. If the child is older, invite his or her friends. Record the event with a video and with photos. Obtain comments, including silly ones, from those attending. As the years pass and your child grows older, remembering the day he or she joined your family will become a treasure for all to enjoy. Adoption is a forever promise.read more
All post-adoption subsidies in Indiana are referred for negotiation. In Marion County, your case will be assigned to one of four attorneys who will probably begin by offering a minimal amount of support or nothing. How much you eventually are awarded will depend on the knowledge and skill of your personal adoption attorney. Details of the negotiating process are contained within Chapter Ten of the DCS Manual.
Before you begin negotiating, document in writing your family income, living expenses, indebtedness, and anything else you anticipate spending. Your monthly payment will be based upon financial need. So be prepared. You must show the DCS written proof that you need continuing support until your child reaches age 18.
The agreement reached will be final, with no opportunity for revisiting. That is why it is so important to do your research ahead of time. Be sure to sign the agreement, even if your award is zero. A signed agreement is important for continuing health care, attorney fees, and other related expenses
Your final monthly award may range all the way from zero to a high at the full amount of your most recent monthly per diem. In certain cases where you have adopted a child with special needs, you can have the adoption subsidy extended until age 21. Again you must document your need as your award will continue to be based upon financial need.
One final bit of advice. The monthly payments you will receive for your adopted child will be established in the negotiating process. Your new child deserves whatever additional support you can obtain. With your attorney, work for the best.read more
Know your judge. Adoption court hearings differ widely. Most are uncontested and informal. In those cases, you can anticipate a positive experience, brief and happy for you and your new child.
If, however, the adoption is contested, you must be prepared to argue your desire. Select your attorney with care. Use the wise counsel of other adoptive parents who have been pleased with their legal representation. Your attorney will be important, not only in court, but in negotiating the best adoption subsidy possible with the DCS.
Know the law. You and your attorney should have copies of any relevant DCS policies and laws relevant to your arguments to quote and show the judge.
Speak up in court. Be brief but don’t be shy. And stay positive. State clearly why you believe that the child will prosper in your home. Avoid complaining or badmouthing the opposing party.
What you have to say and how you present your family to the judge will be very important. Write your remarks out in advance. Practice giving your arguments with a friend before appearing in court.
In a disputed adoption, it may be wise to bring friends and neighbors with you as witnesses who can attests to your good parenting. If you have had the child in your care for six months or more, a Bonding Evaluation can be quite helpful.
“Bonding is a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue and which is interrupted or terminated at peril to the parties involved.” Humans bond by sharing important life events such as eating, sleeping, and playing together over time. Research provides four objective and strong criteria that are all reflected in federal law and Indiana DCS policies. They are: Time spent together; the Behavior of the Child; Reciprocal Attachment; and Family Identification. They can all be documented in a thorough Bonding Evaluation.
Good luck in court!read more
The biggest mistake we make in our effort to control the behavior of our children is our tendency to blame them. We wrap our verbal discipline inside a message that sounds like good parenting. It may sound good to us but it often fails because our child responds by shutting us out or automatically defending himself or herself.
“Do your homework!” “Don’t talk back to me like that.” “You’re late again” These three attempts to communicate and control all have the same basic problem. They fly in the fact of our child’s basic instinct to defend himself or herself. We may be correct logically but our child perceives our statement as an attack. That may invite a spoken or quiet negative response in return.
What we say and what our child hears are often different messages. To communicate and get a better response, we need to understand the mind of our child. No matter how good our parental direction may sound to us, we fail if the message does not get through. Perception is our child’s reality.
We fail primarily because the above messages begin with the second person pronoun. They start with an implied “You.” That causes our child’s self-protective wall to go up. Beginning a verbal attempt to correct our child with “you” is always judgmental. The message is about what is wrong with your child. So we shouldn't be surprised when our child ignores us, tries to defend himself, or even attacks back. After all, he knows better than we do what is going on in his life, how he feels, and why he does what he does.
To be more effective, try using “I” messages. Send the same basic direction but from your own point of concern. Tell the child your own thoughts or feelings. For example, you might say “I need your homework done now.” Or “I feel angry when you talk to me like that.” “I worry when you are not home by nine.” This may take some courage as the “I” message leaves you wide open to a personal smart-aleck response telling you to quit worrying. Don’t take the bait. Instead, respond with a smile and tell them: “I’m your dad (or mom). It’s my house and I get to set the rules.”
Obviously, good discipline involves more than I-messaging. For example, parents need to set a time for homework, have rules for appropriate speech, and set curfews ahead of time. And there need to be simple non-punitive consequences for failure to comply. However, “I” messages offer a better chance at success, because they offer personal information about the sender rather than blaming the receiver.read more