A Foster-to-Adopt Story for Children

February 13, 2018

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 Lost Monkey. Here is his description.

My six-year-old granddaughter was recently adopted after years in foster care. I watched and listened to her as she tentatively engaged—or backed off. I wondered what must be going through her mind—confusion, loneliness, fear, anger, perhaps hope and daring to trust and love. I have always delighted in telling bedtime stories to my children and grandchildren. This is my gift to my new granddaughter. And to all foster children searching for a permanent home.

Chipper Wump’s father goes off fishing and disappears. Shortly after, his mother is captured and taken away. Chipper awakens one morning to an empty nest in the tree, beginning an exciting journey as he wanders the jungle in search of a home. The various emotions that are experienced by a child in temporary care are represented in his encounters along the way. He has to deal with a snake, a tiger, and a crocodile before being helped by a wise owl. Chipper is temporarily mothered by a lioness before being taken to a village of chimpanzees where he finds acceptance and love. Our hero grows from being a vulnerable and frightened monkey to one searching for and finding a permanent family.

The text is clear and simple. The story can be read to preschool children. Children in primary grades can read it themselves.

The illustrations showcase the talents of an artist with disabilities as she pictures the difficult journey of a foster child in search of a permanent home. They are unique and engaging and need to be seen to be appreciated. A wonderful partnership between persons with disabilities and those in temporary care.

Little Lost Monkey may be ordered from Stone Belt or on Amazon.com. All proceeds go to Stone Belt, an Indiana not-for-profit that provides support to individuals with disabilities and their families.

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Why Bonding Matters

January 30, 2018

When two items are attached with crazy glue, they are bonded. Pulling them apart is very difficult. Separation is possible but at some considerable cost. Parts of both sides may be ripped apart. The result is ugly.

“A unique relationship between two people enduring for long periods, even a lifetime.” That is how a dictionary defines bonding. Our definition is more detailed.

Bonding is a significant reciprocal attachment which both parties want and expect to continue, and which is interrupted or terminated at considerable peril to the parties involved. Humans bond, not through therapy, but quite naturally, by sharing over time important events in daily life, such as eating, sleeping, and playing together. Bonding is possible after three months, probable after six, and almost certain after 12 months of living together as a family.

Four specific and definitive criteria for bonding emerge from the current extensive research. They are contained in the federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, 1997) and in one way or another in the Indiana Child Welfare Manual. The criteria are: the length of time spent together, the child’s behavior, reciprocal attachment, and family identification. Other support for bonding comes from brain scans of pre-primary age children that show the rapid growth of relatively permanent synaptic connections.

Bonding matters. Interrupting bonding can be devastating and very difficult to overcome. Statistical research documents a connection between the breaking up of a bond and serious problems in adjustment. The resultant inability to cope with separation and loss in a growing child correlates with significant increases in childhood and adult mental illness, crime, and homelessness. (Kenny and Kenny, 2014)

The lines between blood and bond are clearly drawn when a foster parent files to adopt the child for whom they have provided long-term care, and a heretofore unknown biological relative emerges to challenge the proceeding. How shall the judge weigh the genetic relationship against the parent-in-place?

Many appellate court decisions favoring bonding are available to offer guidance. They include terms like “continuity of care,” risks of transition,” “a father in terms that matter most,” and “significant emotional bond” to explain the judges’ choice.

If and when a bonded relationship is disrupted, significant harm can result. That is why it’s so important to define bonding and know when it occurs. A knowledgeable lawyer can use the bonding argument to make a strong case in disputed adoptions.

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When a Cooperative Adoption Makes Sense

January 16, 2018

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. In actual fact, my experience has been that the contact tends to decrease over time as the birth parent tends to lose interest.

In Marion County, to save bureaucratic delays, the prosecutor refers many cases awaiting a court hearing for the termination of parental rights to mediation. The birth parents and the foster/adopt parents with their lawyers are requested to meet with a court-appointed mediator to see if some agreement is possible. When the adopting parents already know and have interacted with the biological parents, they have some idea of what a continuing relationship might involve. They can use that knowledge to develop a workable plan.

Cooperative adoptions differ from open adoptions. An open adoption recognizes the need to share personal information but does not in itself give the birth parent any legal right of continuing contact or visitation.

A cooperative adoption is not allowed where felony child abuse is possible. Other red flags are raised when the two families cannot get along or work together.

In over 22 years of practice, I have helped my clients complete approximately 100 cooperative adoptions. Although the birth parent may file a complaint if the adoptive parents fail to honor the agreement, this has never occurred to my knowledge. Even in that case, Indiana law makes clear that the adoption itself is irrevocable.

An agreement for continuing contact after the adoption has several advantages. Knowing they do not have to relinquish their child totally, the birth parents may feel more accepting and comfortable with the adoption. Fighting is minimized. The time before and after the termination of parental rights can be considerably shortened.

The child benefits by having to spend less time in limbo. The abrupt rupture of relationships between homes is softened. And the child is not left to construct a fantasy, good or bad, about the birth parent. Reality may be easier to handle than one’s imagination.

If details of post-adoption contacts can be worked out, cooperative adoptions have permitted hundreds of foster children to obtain permanent homes through adoption with minimal delay and without a court fight.

Cooperative adoptions are not for everyone. About one in six of my clients have been able to pursue that option. Only you can determine if that choice is best for you and your child-to-be.

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A Tale with Two Endings

January 2, 2018

by James A. Kenny, Ph.D.

A Middle School teacher began the following story and asked his students to make up an ending: 

Hundreds of years ago, a soldier came home from a European war.  He was ill and poor and wanted to die.  As he lay by the wayside, the devil appeared to him and made him an offer.  “I can change your life,” the devil said.  “I will give you health and wealth and romance.”

“What must I give you in return?” asked the soldier.  “Perhaps nothing,” replied the devil, “on one condition.  You must not take anything off, not even to bathe, for one full year.  If you succeed in this, all that you gain is yours.  If you fail, however, your soul is mine.”

“That’s a deal,” said the soldier.  “I accept your offer.”  The devil then gave the soldier a ring, telling him to show the ring to anyone and everywhere, and all money and services would be provided.

At this point the teacher asked the students to write the second half of the story.  All the stories followed a similar pattern up to the last minute.  The soldier complied perfectly about taking nothing off.  He used the ring to gain health from a medical man.  Whenever he showed the ring, he was given money and he bought housing and a carriage and servants. 

When the year was almost up, he came upon a beautiful maiden in distress.  He bound up her wounds, gave her money, and took her to her home.  She fell in love with the soldier.  Her father approved and they planned to marry.

His bride-to-be, of course, was curious about his unwillingness to remove or change his clothes.  He explained that he had taken a vow to keep them on for a year.  She was satisfied.

And all the stories resulted in the devil being foiled and ended “happily forever after” – except for one.  In this single story, on the night before their marriage, the young soldier, happily in love with his bride, gave her his precious ring as a token of his love.

As the young soldier walked to the church to be married, the devil came for his soul. “Oh no,” said the soldier.  “I followed all your rules and took off nothing.”

“Not true,” replied the devil.  “You took off my ring to give to your lady as a wedding pledge.”  And the soldier was taken away and lost everything.

The teacher was puzzled.  Why would this young student compose such a different ending?  “I checked into his background,” he told us.  “Only one thing separated him from his classmates.  He was a foster child.”

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