Strange Birds and Birds of a Feather

Strange Birds and Birds of a Feather 

A Guest Blog by Mark Moore

Last week in the journal Science, a team of Spanish and Swiss researchers published the results of a 16-year-long study of two strange birds. The great spotted cuckoo and the crow have long enjoyed an interesting relationship, to say the least. Their relationship goes something like this: the spotted cuckoo sneaks in and lays its eggs in the nest of the crow. The crow then raises and feeds the cuckoo’s young, feeding and caring for it until it leaves the nest. Scientists called this a parasitic relationship, where one benefits greatly and the other sacrifices greatly in the relationship. At best it is a commensal relationship, meaning one benefits and the other is not significantly harmed. At least that was conventional wisdom for the last 50 years or more.

Conventional wisdom, that is, until last week’s paper turned it all on its ear. The Swiss and Spanish researchers noticed something interesting about nests that contained a cuckoo egg. The crows in that nest actually did better! Much better, in fact. At first the researchers suspected that perhaps the cuckoos had some innate ability to pick winners and lay their eggs only in high-performing crow nests. Eventually however, the truth came out; the crows, left to their own devices had poor outcomes in regards to survival of young, but a crow nest with one of those extra cuckoo eggs had young that thrived because of that cuckoo. In reality the crow/cuckoo arrangement is a symbiotic relationship – both benefit because of it.

In my former years working at CCAI, I learned a lot. I learned from my colleagues who, unlike myself, came to the adoption world with substantial awareness, expertise and training in adoption issues. But I learned the most from adoptive parents. I spent hundreds of hours on the phone and in face to face meetings with adoptive parents who taught and inspired me. One reoccurring theme from these parents was a tendency to dismiss any soft soap about what wonderful people they were for taking in an orphaned child. Over and over again, I would sit with moms and dads who sincerely and emphatically said something like, “We may have thought we were doing a good deed when we adopted our son or daughter, but the reality is that it is us who have been blessed.” Turns out it was the old crows who really benefited and their other young were actually saved by the little cuckoo in their nest.

Like any analogy it breaks down fairly quickly, since adoptive parents actually chose to adopt their children and do not just find them in the “nest” one day. In that regard, I should probably note that the researchers discovered that the baby cuckoo’s life-saving effect on a crow nest comes from the fact that they emit such a bad smell that all predators are repelled. That may actually be a handy nature fact to mention someday if your little adopted cuckoo takes too much pride in knowing that his or her presence “saved” your family. Just remind them nicely that it is the odor, not the sweetness, that makes the cuckoo so special. But I’m guessing you will take more joy in telling them the truth about their role in your family; that even if conventional wisdom says, “You were lucky to be adopted,” they should always reply with…“Maybe so! But it was pretty nice of me to save that family! Wasn’t it?”

 Mark Moore crowed proudly in various roles for CCAI from 2006 until 2008. He later founded and now runs MANA Nutrition, a company that makes emergency therapeutic food for severely malnourished children.  He and his wife Marnie and their entire cuckoo family live in Charlotte, NC.

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World Social Work Day – Story of one incredible social worker

CCAI would like to take a moment to honor the tens of thousands of social workers who dedicate their lives to protecting our world’s most vulnerable children. We also will continue to fight for the policies and programs social workers rely on to ensure that each and every child has a safe, loving and permanent family. 

In honor of this special day, we are pleased to share the story of one such hero, Scott Lee, and the immeasurable difference he made in the life of his daughter Mary, a CCAI Foster Youth Intern alumna.

Children have many superheroes such as batman, he-man, superwoman, spiderman and even their parents. But what about the 400,000 children in foster care? Who are their superheroes? We know that many of these children experience multiple placements, separation from siblings, changes in schools and trauma. As a former foster youth, I can say that my superhero was my case manager, Scott Lee. He was the one person who I felt like I could trust, that went out of his way to make sure I was doing well and encouraged me to pursue my educational goals. As a case manager he had lots of children on his caseload, but he always took the time to check in on me. In fact, he would pick me up from school and drive me home just so he could ask about my foster home and how school was going. There were times he gave up his weekends with his family to transport me to various events. When I decided that I wanted to be adopted, he supported my decision and encouraged me not to give up on finding a forever family even though I was a teenager.

To my surprise, Scott and his family became my forever family when they adopted me one week before my 18th birthday. As my case manager, he knew everything about me including the complaints from my foster parents. But he and his wife opened their hearts and home to me anyway.  For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged and that I was loved.  I feel so very blessed to have found permanency with such a wonderful and caring family. I know that this is not the norm for many children in foster care, but we’re making progress with finding life-long connections for our young people. In the meantime, case managers can help ensure that children have a positive experience during their stay in care.

Mary Lee

Even today my dad is still my superhero. He is always there when I need him, and he continues to support me and my goals. I am in awe of the work he has done as a father and case manager. I hope the work I do has as much impact as his has and that I too can be a superhero for the children and families I work with.

My dad is not only a superhero to me, but also to his church, community, friends and co-workers. His super powers include compassion, selflessness, dedication, and sharing joy with others. Like many case managers he has a desire and calling to help foster children, and will go out of his way to make sure they get the care and attention they desire and deserve. To all social workers out there – I applaud you. I know it can be a tiresome and thankless job, but I can assure you that you are making a difference.

As a call to action, I ask legislators, child advocates, child welfare leadership and the public to continue the discussions around how we can best support case managers whether it is through increased training and supervision, smaller caseloads, and/or competitive salaries so they too can be superheroes, like my dad, for the vulnerable children they serve.

Mary R. Lee works as a National Transitional Living Coordinator at Youth Villages in Memphis, Tennessee. She is also a Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute Foster Youth Intern Alumna.

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CCAI Foster Youth Intern’s Congressional Report leads to FAFSA Fix at the U.S. Department of Education

During her summer in Washington, D.C., CCAI Foster Youth Intern (FYI) Maurissa Sorensen brought to light a troubling problem surrounding higher education and foster youth in the United States. In the 2012 Foster Youth Internship Report, Hear Me Now, Maurissa explained how the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form was not designed to help alumni of U.S. foster care identify the federal resources for higher education that were created for them to access. As Maurissa explained in her report, “when I started community college, I was asked to fill out the FAFSA form, which included checking a box stating that I was a foster youth. I now understand that the purpose of this box is to separate out youth who will not be able to comply with the sections of the form that address parental income. I spent more than seven years in community college and filled out the FAFSA form each year. Unfortunately, during this time, no one from the federal government ever used this information that I was a foster youth to bring attention to the U.S. Department of Education that I was a student who may need additional resources and supports.”

A December 2012 CCAI blog post featured Maurissa and how her testimony and contribution to the FYI report (starting on page 19) prompted action by former Senator John Kerry who introduced the Foster Youth Higher Education Opportunities Act that same year after Maurissa interned in his office. The bill directed the Department of Education to ensure foster youth are aware of any and all potential assistance they can attain in pursuing a higher education. The bill was not passed into law, but Senators Feinstein, Inhofe and Landrieu picked up the idea as their former colleague transitioned to his role as Secretary of State.

On January 17, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014. Senator Landrieu and her staff worked to ensure that Division H, Title III, Section 310 of the bill directs the Secretary of Education to modify the FAFSA form so that it contains an individual box for identifying students who are current or former foster youth, as well as to use that identification as a tool to notify those students of their potential eligibility for federal student aid.

On February 3, fourteen U.S. Senators sent a letter was sent to Secretaries Arne Duncan (DOE) and Kathleen Sebelius (HHS) on behalf of current and former foster youth regarding their educational outcomes. The letter noted that only three percent of foster youth graduate from college, and that in addition to recent changes to raise awareness of resources for foster youth more changes were needed. Specifically, the Senators’ letter asked that “the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services coordinate dissemination efforts to reach foster youth and provide them with information about the resources that have been created to help them succeed.”

In response, Secretary Duncan sent a March 5, 2014 letter detailing plans for specific DOE outreach activities and other next steps to address the problem of insufficient awareness of information and resources for foster youth pursuing higher education. In his letter, Secretary Duncan listed a number of initiatives that were under way and planned to raise awareness about information and resources for foster youth, including Maurissa’s idea from the 2012 Foster Youth Internship Report: The Secretary’s letter announced that DOE will modify the 2015-2016 FASFA form to contain a box that identifies foster youth so that DOE can then notify them of their eligibility for federal higher education assistance specifically created for them.

Upon hearing this news, Maurissa responded:

As a foster youth alumni I have experienced the hardships and hurdles that many of our foster youth face, trying to juggle the balancing act of post-secondary schooling and managing personal finances. Foster youth are supposed to be able to access federal financial aid to offset some of the financial barriers of attending post-secondary education. In 2001 when I began my post-secondary educational journey I was not made aware of this funding, even though I filled out the FAFSA ever year and checked the appropriate box for foster youth. Over the last 13 years, without any of the funds created to assist me as a former foster youth in gaining my higher education, I have earned my Bachelors in Psychology from California State University, Chanel Islands, my Masters in Education from Harvard, and am now on track to earn my Masters in Social Work and Public Policy Administration in May 2016. I am overjoyed and excited to see the Department of Education taking initiative to use the FAFSA form as a tool to help identify and educate future youth about federal assistance programs they qualify for and hope this will spare them some of the additional challenges I faced acquiring higher education.

CCAI thanks Secretary Duncan for his leadership at the Department in addressing this critical information gap and expresses deep gratitude to Senators Dianne Feinstein, James Inhofe, Mary Landrieu, Richard Blumenthal, Tammy Baldwin, Jay Rockefeller, Al Franken, Ron Wyden, Patty Murray, Ben Cardin, Chuck Grassley, Carl Levin, and Tim Kaine for their continued dedication to fighting for better educational opportunities and outcomes for our nation’s current and former foster youth.

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CQ Weekly Highlights Children in Families First Legislation

On January 13, 2014, Congressional Quarterly (CQ) highlighted the “Children in Families First” bill in an article entitled A Treaty’s Orphans. CQ Weekly interviewed CCAI Executive Director, Kathleen Strottman, regarding the bill. Click here to read the article.

CQ Weekly Article

 

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Give the Gift of Family

Give the Gift of Family

By: Kathleen Strottman

“Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before! What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?  What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”  – Dr. Seuss

One of the fundamental traditions of the holiday season is the practice of giving gifts.  Despite the best attempts of retailers to convince us otherwise, deep in our hearts we know that the true meaning of this holiday season is discovered more through the act of giving than in any one particular gift.

Perhaps there is no better example this spirit of Christmas than the famed O. Henry short story about the very poor young married couple who each sells their one and only most treasured possession to secure the funds to buy a gift for the other.   Although the story ends with each of them left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far each was willing to go to show their love for each other and how priceless a gift of love really is.

This is one of the few times each year that people all over the world are reminded of the need to stop and celebrate what really matters in life;  to focus less on the quantity and quality of our material gifts and more on life’s  more precious treasures such as faith, love and family. For me, the mission of CCAI seems all the more urgent at this time of year.  Maybe because the children we are blessed to spend the year advocating for have but one wish on their list: a family.  What their heart yearns for most is something that cannot be purchased, wrapped up and put under a tree.  Or maybe because all year long their faces are constant reminders of one basic truth:  that lasting happiness does not come from having things, but rather from having people to share our lives with.

As you finish your own preparations and get ready to spend the holidays with those you love, consider making a donation to CCAI.  With your help, we can keep the important lessons of the holiday season alive all year round.  Because of the gifts we have been fortunate enough to receive in years past:

  • 2,000 Angels in Adoption have come to DC to be honored for their work and left with a renewed passion for serving children in need.
  • 1,000 D.C. foster youth have had their Christmas gift wish lists filled by Congressional staff.
  • 150 former foster youth have had the once in lifetime opportunity to spend a summer interning for a Member of Congress and making a direct impact on Capitol Hill.
  • 12 countries have been visited by Congressional delegations with an interest in promoting a family for every child.

While these numbers bring us great pride, there is only one number that in the end matters to us: zero. We believe there should not be one child living outside the love and support of a loving family. Help us reach this goal by donating to CCAI.

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Adoption in the Media – Davion Only, Re-homing, Orphan Boom

Kathleen Strottman, CCAI’s Executive Director, is a regular contributor to Adoption Today magazine. This blog is her most recent published article. To purchase a subscription to Adoption Today magazine, click here.

Congressional Review and Response to Adoption in the News

Over the past several months adoption has been in the news a lot.  Perhaps as a result of the increased media attention, there has also been a corresponding surge in national conversations on the policy and practice issues raised by the various articles.  Below is a review of some of the recently published pieces and a brief summary of federal policy conversations they engender.

“Re-homing”

On September 9, 2013 Reuters and NBC published a five-part series, The Child Exchange, to bring attention to a practice since coined “re-homing”—when adoptive parents who have experienced challenges post adoption resort to privately placing their legally adopted children in the custody of another adult or family.   This series of articles not only brought public scrutiny to the practice but also prompted several other national news networks, such as Time Magazine and the Associated Press, to write stories on both what might cause a parent to consider re-homing their child and what might be done to ensure that the practice does not continue to put children at risk.

Since the release of the Reuter’s series, several child welfare and adoption advocacy organizations, including CCAI,  have issued reports and statements about the practice of rehoming.  In addition to providing a review of existing laws and policies on adoption, CCAI’s policy brief suggests that federal policymakers should consider:

  • Reviewing existing federal laws and regulations to ensure that prospective adoptive parents are both well informed and properly trained before an adoption is finalized.
  • Providing federal financial support so that child-specific, quality and affordable support services can be provided to more families post-adoption.
  • Considering the ways in which the federal government might use the Internet to provide more information and better support to prospective and current adoptive families.
  • Strengthening enforcement of the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children, as well as child abuse, abandonment and adoption laws to ensure that the interests of children are protected.

Members of Congress have also taken notice of the Reuters series and the issues it raises.  In September, Senator Klobuchar from Minnesota introduced S. 1527, the Supporting Adoptive Families Act and in October Congressman Langevin from Rhode Island introduced the “Protecting Adopted Children Act.”  Both bills seek to curb the practice of rehoming through the provision of training and support services both before and after an adoption.  The House bill also calls for the General Accounting Office (GAO) to do an in-depth study of the practice of re-homing including how children are being “advertised” on the internet.

Discussions of the federal policy issues raised by the Reuter’s piece are expected to continue well into the next session of Congress.  While Congress has not announced any plans for a formal Congressional hearing on the issue, it is possible some aspects of re-homing might be addressed in this way.  To date, Congressional inquiries have been focused on to what extent state and federal child welfare laws protect against improper custody transfers of adopted children and how these laws might be strengthened to avoid future harm to adopted children.

The Evangelical Orphan Boom

In September 2013, the New York Times published an article written by author Kathryn Joyce entitled “The Evangelical Orphan Boom.”   Much like her book, The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption,  Joyce’s  NY Times article posits the view that the “orphan crisis” is not a global crisis worthy of our universal concern but rather a dangerous myth perpetuated by Evangelical church leaders as part of their conservative, “pro-life agenda.”  This movement she says “while well intentioned, has exacerbated a boom and bust market for children.”

The Joyce article also warns that the potential for fraud and abuse in the current international adoption is too high.   Specifically, she cites concerns with the use of UNICEF’s orphan estimates as an estimate of the number of children in need of adoption because such estimates include children who are living in the care of family members.  She also points to cases of children who were put up for adoption, without their biological parent’s full understanding of what adoption means, as evidence of a system gone awry.

Much like the articles on rehoming, Joyce’s book and subsequent articles have engendered responses from many in the adoption community, the most notable being the Christian Alliance for Orphans.  For the most part, these responses have acknowledged that there is a need to reduce the potential for fraud and abuse within the international adoption system, but have also cautioned against calls for reform that obscure the reality that there are millions of children living outside of family care for whom international adoption is the only real hope of a permanent home.

Congress has not responded to Ms. Joyce’s concerns over the role of the Evangelical church has played in promoting international adoption, but there is an ongoing federal policy conversation on how the United States Government might work more effectively to ensure that the instances of fraud and abuse in international adoption are rare.  In September of 2013, Senators Mary Landrieu and Roy Blunt introduced a bill called “Children in Families First.”   In October, Congresswoman Kay Granger and Congresswoman Karen Bass introduced the same bill in the House.  The two bills combined have over 40 co-sponsors.  Among other things, the bill seeks to remedy the existing confusion that stems from using UNICEF’s orphan data as a proxy for the number of children in need of adoption by calling for a separate and more appropriate means of assessing the needs of children without family care.  It also seeks to reduce opportunities for fraud and abuse by providing technical and financial support to countries looking to establish Hague compliant systems for international adoption.

Davion Only

In October, the Tampa Bay Times featured a story about a fifteen year old young man named Davion Only who took his plea for an adoptive family to members of his church. Within hours of the article on his plight appearing in the Tampa paper and online, the story went viral.  In the week that followed, Davion was featured on the Today Show, the View and in People Magazine. His name now generates 1.4 million Google hits and he has had over 10,000 families inquire about adopting him.  With all likelihood, he will be celebrating this Christmas with a family to call his own.

While many are calling Davion’s story a success story, it has also raised many important policy questions. First, what can we do to help people better understand that there are 9,999 other children just like Davion waiting for a family?  Should we need to have the type of media attention that his story generated for this message to break through?  And similarly, would some of the 10,000 people who stepped up for Davion be willing to commit to one of these other youth instead?

Also on people’s mind is the most basic of questions: why did it take so long for him to get to where he is today?  According to the original article, Davion has been in foster care since his birth and available for adoption since he was 7. What about our current foster system needs to be improved so that the “Davion Onlys” out there do not have to spend a lifetime looking for the love and support they so clearly need and deserve?

Federal policymakers have made several efforts this year to better address the need for permanency among older youth.  Most notably, they are expected to reauthorize the federal Adoption Incentive program as well as make efforts to better focus this program on the needs of older youth.

Conclusion

The media can be an important and powerful tool for raising both the public attention and political will necessary to bring about change.  Over the past several months, the above stories on adoption have stimulated important conversations and brought wider public attention to the needs of foster and adopted children.  CCAI looks forward to continuing to play a role in ensuring that the federal policy conversations that result from this coverage are both thoughtful and informed.

Posted in Adoption, Foster Care, Kathleen's Posts, Media | Leave a comment

Giving Thanks

Giving Thanks

By Kathleen Strottman

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Despite the daunting winter weather, today millions of Americans will take to the roads, the air and the rails to travel home in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.  I cannot think of a better example of how ingrained the ideal of family is in our society than Thanksgiving, a day when we come together to share in a bountiful meal and give thanks for our collective blessings.  Like many of you, I will begin and end Thanksgiving Day with an overwhelming amount of gratitude for the blessing of my own family.  And if tomorrow is like most of my other Thanksgiving celebrations in recent years, I will revel in watching my children build lifelong memories with their grandfather, aunts, uncles and cousins.

At some point tomorrow I will observe what has become another annual tradition.  I will pause and say a prayer for the millions of children all over the world who will spend this holiday alone.  There is not a day that goes by my heart does not ache for these children, whose dream of a family to share holiday traditions with seems more like an unreachable dream than a soon-to-be reality.  Yet on a day designed to serve as a reminder of just how much having a family means in our lives, it aches all the more.

CCAI was founded on the simple yet profound belief that every child needs and deserves a family to call their own.  We go to work each day with the hopes of identifying the legal and policy barriers which prevent children from realizing their basic right to a family.  While we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal of a family for every child, we have taken many steps toward making this dream a reality this year.  For this I am incredibly grateful.

More specifically, this year I will give thanks for:

10. The Adoption Tax Credit Working Group and the Save the Adoption Tax Credit Campaign.  There is no doubt in my mind that this organized, effective campaign played a major role in making the adoption tax credit a permanent part of the tax code. This means more children will find families.  I also firmly believe this group has what it takes to convince Congress to make the Adoption Tax Credit refundable.

9. Senator Charles Grassley (R- IA), who has been a leader in the Congressional Coalition on Adoption for over a decade, and who recently reminded all in attendance at the Voice for Adoption Portrait Project reception of how important the goal of a family really is when he said, “We must always remember that foster care is meant to be a layover, not a destination.”

8. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and Wendy’s Wonderful Kids who continue to prove there is no such thing as an unadoptable child.  I am particularly grateful for their recent video, which reminds us that meeting your child for the first time, no matter when that moment occurs, is always a once in a lifetime experience.

7. Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, who served at this year’s Angels in Adoption Gala emcees.  Their passion for adoption, their giving hearts and their unmatchable wit made this year’s gala one to remember.

6. Dr. Charles Zeanah of Tulane University, whose passion and commitment to deinstitutionalizing children and improving foster care is second to none.   CCAI was very fortunate to have Dr. Zeanah join us on our 20/20 Vision Program’s Congressional delegation to Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam in February.  Additionally, his presentation to a key group of Guatemalan officials in April during our Pathways to Permanency training moved some in the group to tears.

5. For Pat O’Brien and his legacy at “You Gotta Believe,” an organization wholly committed to finding forever families for older children.  This recently posted YouTube video is just one example of the thousands of families who have been born as a result of Pat’s tenacity.

4. The USG Action Plan for Children in Adversity – the first ever federal policy to acknowledge that reducing the number of children outside of family care should be one of our universal foreign policy goals.  The release of this important plan has opened the minds of many federal policymakers to the idea that food and shelter do not make children thrive, families do.

3. For Dr. Sharen Ford, who retired this year after nearly 30 years with the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once said – “to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, that is to have succeeded.”  Dr. Ford, tens of thousands of our nation’s most vulnerable children have breathed easier because of you.

2. For the Foster Youth Interns (FYIs) from this summer and every summer before.  Not a day goes by that I am not inspired by their example.  I am so proud to see you each grow into the leaders you were always meant to be.

2013 Foster Youth Interns on the steps of the Capitol

1. For my incredible staff who every day make me proud to be the Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute.

CCAI staff with 2013 National Angel in Adoption Deborra-lee Furness and husband Hugh Jackman
Not Pictured: Our awesome Director of Operations, Dan!

 

Posted in Adoption, Adoption Tax Credit, Angels in Adoption, Family, Foster Youth Internship, Kathleen's Posts | Leave a comment