ADOPTING A CHILD FROM THE FOSTERCARE SYSTEM: The Method Behind The Madness
By Lauren Papa
In 2014, I was a single mother with four children. My oldest son had already graduated from college and was in law school. My older daughter and middle son were both in college. My youngest daughter was sixteen years old. She has special needs and will always have the intellectual abilities of a two-year-old.
I was a treating physician for injured workers. I had a clinic in Lancaster, California where I would see patients on a monthly basis.
In August of 2014, a patient came to my office with a sweet four-year-old boy, named JP, who was wearing compression gloves on both hands because his hands were burned. My patient lied about how she became the foster mother. She told me that JP’s was “a friend of a friend”. She said that this woman showed up and asked if she could watch him for an hour. My patient further stated that she never returned for him. When she tried to contact the mother,
the phone had been disconnected. When she took him to the police station, a social worker met with them and had her emergently certified as a foster parent. None of this was true. When I met my son, he was four years old. Despite the clear signs of trauma and abuse, despite his burned hands, he had an incredibly sweet and friendly personality. Moreover, he was
brilliant. Somehow, I knew that he was my son. I also knew that if I didn’t take him, he would have no chance of survival. My patient didn’t care about him. On the other hand, I kept telling myself that I was crazy to even think of adopting a child. Did I need five children? As it turns out, I was not the only one who thought I was crazy. My friends told me that I was nuts. They brought up my special-needs daughter. They brought up that the chances of me meeting a future spouse would go from 90% to 2%. They told me that I would be committing myself to another two-million-dollar debt by raising another child. One night, I sat down with my other four children to ask their opinion. After two and a half hours of going back and forth, we decided to adopt JP as a family. And so, the process began. I spoke to my patient who told me that she would contact the adoption workers but was not able
to give out their contact information. Another lie. I found myself being unable to wait to go to the Lancaster clinic because I wanted to see JP. I found myself thinking about him at night; wondering if he was scared; wondering if he was safe. What my patient failed to think about was that I would contact Department of Children and Family Services and find the adoption worker’s contact information on my own, which is exactly what I did. I called DCFS and gave the representative JP’s name and date of birth. They found him and promptly gave me the adoption worker’s contact information. I called the number and left a message, disappointed that she did not answer the phone.
Two days later, I received a call from the adoption worker and her supervisor. I told him who I was and what I did. They were happy to hear from me. Here’s a shock: Nobody was ever contacted by his foster parent, (my patient). We had a long discussion and I was directed on how to become a foster parent and then an adoptive parent. And so, the process began. In order to become an adoptive parent from the foster care system, you are required to attend
twenty-one hours of parenting classes. Then you have to fill out the paperwork. Then there are visitations, a home inspection, and then you can take custody of the child as a foster parent until the adoption is completed.
So, in May of 2014, I attended twenty-one hours of parenting classes. In my case, there were seven weeks of three-hour classes from 6:00 pm to 9:00 every Thursday. When I finished the classes, I handed in my paperwork that day. They sent a psychologist to my house. I thought the psychologist would ask questions about why I wanted to proceed with adopting a child from the foster care system. Instead, she asked questions about myself and my
childhood. When I told my friends that I was asked about my childhood, the response was “oh, oh”. Despite the minimal information the psychologist was able to glean from my less than stellar childhood, she decided to approve us going forward with the adoption. This is probably because
she spoke to my oldest three children and some friends and colleagues of mine. In July, I received a call from the adoption worker who worked for the agency who certified me as a foster parent. She told me that JP was moved to another home. I couldn’t understand why. They told me that the current foster parent (my patient) couldn’t deal with him anymore. What you should know is that my patient told me that he was violent. I told the adoption worker
at DCFS that I have a special needs daughter with the intellect of a two-year-old. If JP were aggressive, that would be a deal breaker. The adoption worker told me that there is nothing in his record documenting physical aggression. As it turned out, that was another lie perpetrated by my
patient. JP is gentle and always has been with not just my daughter but every other small child and animal with whom he has come into contact.
I was under the impression that it was my patient who didn’t want to deal with a traumatize little boy. I later found out that, foster parents are paid by a rate level. The more injured, mentally handicapped or traumatized a child is, the higher the pay grade. In order to foster “medically fragile children”, a foster parent must take another thirty hours of classes in additional to the twenty-one hours necessary to be certified. Once a foster parent finishes the additional thirty hours of classes, they can foster medically fragile children for high sums of a monthly stipend. The medically fragile children include intellectually disabled, handicapped children, children with diabetes, cancer or AIDS, and children who have been injured. My son was the latter.
I found out later that my patient was receiving in excess of $2,200.00 per month because JP’s hands were burned. She did not want to give up that kind of money. I also found out that she was not taking him to scheduled post-operative appointments, physical therapy, or allowing therapists
to come into her home. After her pay was lowered to $900.00, my patient decoded to get rid of JP. He was moved to yet another home, somewhere in Compton, but no one knew where. This was the weekend that the news was reporting a story of a two-year-old little girl who the foster care system “lost”. She was later found dead. I thought I would come out of my skin.
They found JP. He was living with an older woman in Compton. Prior to me seeing him, I had to arrange a meeting with the social worker, the adoption worker, her supervisor, and the agency who certified me. Interestingly, this woman The meeting happened early in October of 2014. His records were given to me and narrated by the social worker. My son was first placed in foster care when he was eleven months old. He was sick and apparently that person who gave birth to him decided that it was better to take this sick
child to a clinic than explain a dead baby to the police.
The attending physician and nurses examined an eleven-month-old baby who was behind on his vaccinations. He had a fungal infection behind his neck (because she propped a bottle up with a towel and didn’t bathe him regularly), and a diaper rash so horrific that he was hospitalized. My son was placed in seven foster care homes before his fifth birthday, each one of them a
ghetto dump. There are wonderful foster homes with very kind foster parents. My son was never placed in a nice foster home…. When he was three years old, he was placed in a foster care home which appears to have been
run by a woman and her adult daughter. They home housed several foster children and doubled as a daycare center. So, they were paid as foster care providers and as a daycare center for each child. His hands were forced into scalding hot water. Instead of calling an ambulance, they drove JP to
a local emergency room and was then airlifted to Keck USC, where he promptly underwent a grafting procedure to replace the skin on both hands. The donor site was his left thigh. He still bears the scars on both hands and his thigh.
This child woke up in the pediatric ICU in what must have been excruciating pain in his hands and left thigh. There was nobody who loved him there to comfort him, just DCFS social workers and hospital staff. Because my patient had been certified to care for the “medically fragile” children, she took
custody of him when he was discharged three weeks later.
Nobody was able to prove who it was who actually burned his hands. They all said that it was another child: a four-year-old who burned a three-year-old’s hands. Where was the foster? She told the police she was in the bathroom. It must have been a hell of a crap she took. I would also like someone to explain how an angry four-year-old was able to drag a three-year-
old to a sink, force him onto a step stool, that the four-year-old had to stand on as well, wait for the water to turn hot and force a three-years-old’s hands into the sink to the point of second and third-degree burns. What everybody knew (but couldn’t prove) was that an overwhelmed foster parent/daycare
worker got frustrated with a three-year-old and burned his hands.
Would you like another different perspective? My son was brutally burned by a foster parent. He was burned by somebody paid by Los Angeles County fund to care for him and protect him from harm. I had him for visits. I took him on his first trick-or-treat outing on Halloween. I had him for Thanksgiving. This is how smart this four-year-old was: He knew that I was painting a room
blue, just for him. He knew that I was preparing this room: A room with his own full-sized bed and his own sheets and a closet with clothes and toys just for him. But I had to return him to his foster parent. He asked me, “If you are making this room for me, why do I have to go back?”. By this time, he was calling me “Mommy”. On January 2 2015, I finally took custody of him. I deliberately waited until about 4:00 pm, stupidly thinking that the current foster mother (the older lady in Compton) wanted to spend one
last day with him. I was wrong. She was at the door, nearly tapping her feet, waiting for me to take this child. Also, at the door of her apartment were two Hefty kitchen trash bags loaded with all his belongings, most of which I had purchased for him. I gave him a bear. He saw his brand-new room with a big bed in it, painted blue, just for him, and you could see the happiness on his face. But when he asked me later that night for extra cookies, and I told him that he would get sick, he spat on my floor. I looked at him and said, “You spat on my floor? Who spits on a floor???”. I placed him on the “naughty chair” as I saw Super Nanny do on her reality show. He cried and screamed. Then I
picked him up and sang to him. He looked at me as if to say, “You’re not going to hit me?”.
I spent the next two years teaching him that although he may get in trouble, that was not a means for him to get hurt by somebody. I immediately placed him in a nursery school at a local synagogue. As it turned out, my son did
not know how to play with others his own age. He was aggressive. I contacted DCFS and they immediately assigned a “Wrap Around” team. This is a team with a “parent partner” (who I hardly needed) a resource specialist and a psychologist managing the team.
When I received the initial call from the Wrap Around psychologist, who later became a close friend of mine and the family, I told him that he had to get a one-on-one to the nursery school IMMEDIATELY. He told me that “these things take time”. I told him that we owe this child. DCFS owed him for those seven crap houses they placed him and I felt that the Wrap Around
counselor owed him because I felt like it. I further explained that I was there to collect the debt owed to my son. Two hours later, he called me with services. My son had a one-on-one with a counsel trained to
deal with traumatized children. He also had psychological services.
I felt that the first psychologist assigned to work with JP was not experienced enough to work with a child who was traumatized as much as JP. I asked for a more experienced treater. When they ran me around, I insisted and then went crazy on them. When a DCFS worker or treater was stupid enough to try to intimidate me, I went harder on them. My son’s mental health and future were at stake. If you know me at all, nobody messes with one of my children and lives to tell the tale. The problem is that services are funding and, after a while, the funding stops. That’s when you really need to fight. The therapists, agencies, and DCFS workers did not want to deny JP anything, in fear of dealing with my rath. They later told me that although they dreaded my
phone calls, they were actually elated that someone was willing to fight for a child. Each child in the foster care system has an attorney assigned to them to protect their interests. In order to adopt a child, reunification with the parents has to be terminated. In JP’s case, this already happened. However, the biological parents still have parental rights until that is terminated. Usually, DCFS likes a child to be placed in the adoptive home for six months prior to
terminating parental rights. In our case, the social worker just told JP’s attorney to terminate parental rights. I took custody of JP in January of 2015. Parental rights were terminated in March of 2015.
The worst part is when I told the adoption worker that I feared that the biological mother would fight for him in court, her response was, “She doesn’t even mention JP”. I asked her how a woman has a child that she cares nothing about. The social worker’s response, “I have seen baby mamas with ten kids and the only one they care about is the one they have with the man they are in love with”. I couldn’t believe it. The adoption was finalized in August of 2015. Because of this sweet child’s aggressive behaviors, it took a lot of patience, love, and therapy. I had him in private schools, and he was asked to leave. Public schools did not know how to deal with him. Let’s face it. Suburban children can be traumatized. Maybe their parents are divorcing. Maybe a grandparent died. Maybe a new baby was brought into the home. All traumatizing to small children.
Suburbia is not used to a child traumatized by being moved into seven different homes with seven strangers before his fifth birthday. Suburbia is not used to a child being beaten by strangers, told his is ugly by other foster kids because his hands are burned, or incurring second and third degrees on his hands. This was my son’s trauma that he endured on a regular basis.
After I had him for six months, we were driving somewhere and he asked me, “When am I finished here?”. Can you imagine a five-year-old asking when he was going to move into another home? I told him that this was his forever home. I told him that I will always be his mommy and his brother and sisters will also be his siblings. A friend of mine, a very wealthy man, once asked me how I was able to adopt JP so quickly when others are on adoption waiting lists for years. I explained that I adopted JP through the foster care system. He had nobody. Nobody wanted him. He asked me that if he and his wife wanted to adopt a child, why wouldn’t they go through the foster care system? That was a very good question. The answer is that after being certified as a foster parent, a child is placed in your home. If reunification has not yet been terminated, as the foster parent, you have to take the child to see
their birth parent, or at least meet with them. The parent has the right to see the child up to five hours per week. So, maybe you live in Tarzana and the biological parent is in a rehabilitation facility in Pomona. Every week. Five hours. In the end you are risking that you may have to give a child that you fell in love with back to the biological parents after months or even years.
The problem is that the likelihood of children in the foster care system having children themselves who wind up in the foster care system is fairly high. The system is broken. I spoke with our adoption supervisor and told her that I single handedly figured out a foster care repair plan. Sometimes, a child is placed in foster care because the parents are incarcerated for a
short period of time or need to go to rehab to get sober. Those are the parents who should be reunified with their children. However, when a child is burned or beaten, there should be no
reunification EVER. The adoption worker told me that that system was in place. The problem is that the judges are the ones who order the children to return to their biological parents. The ones who are returned to abusive parents are usually the ones who return to foster care. The chance to
be adopted decreases with age. The foster care system is broken. The problem is that with the defunct foster care system, CHILDREN are being screwed with. My son is now twelve years old. He attends a private school where he is thriving both academically and socially. He is a star baseball player and athlete. I pay an educational specialist to work with him and tutor him on Sundays. He has brothers and sisters. He has dogs, rabbits, a bird. The guinea pig and fish tank are in his room. He has a family. He is loved and he knows it. We had a great outcome.
Even better, the father of my older four children and I, while divorced, remain best friends. He made the choice to adopt JP on his own at the age of seventy-one. Now he is the father of all five of my children. He and JP are always together. For those who want children but may not be able to conceive or for those who would consider adoption, I must tell you: adopting a child from the foster care system is the best thing you could do. Adopting a child out of foster care comes with its own set of issues but it’s a way to save a
life of a child who otherwise has little to no chances.
If you want more information about becoming a foster parent or how to adopt, contact Department of Children and Family Services: 800 540 4000 or research:https://dcfs.lacounty.gov/contact/