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Ra'Shede Hageman, defensive tackle for the University of Minnesota Gophers football team, knows about strength and resilience - and not just on the football field. After being removed from his mother, Ra'Shede and his brother were placed in foster care. After twelve foster homes, Ra'Shede had a natural distrust for people.

4 gal ufot0042513.jpg [Photo by Jerry Holt]

Then he met Eric and Jill - the couple who would end up his adoptive parents. The couple, both attorneys, are white. Hageman is black. Like many other transracially adopted people, Hageman had his share of identity struggles. As stated in the Star Tribune article:

Hageman wanted to fit in seamlessly with a crowd. He was self-conscious about his size and about the skin color of his adoptive family. He harbored anger over the traumatic years in the past. At a young age, he concocted lies when strangers were faced with the truth.

Over time, and with the support of his parents and family and coaches, Hageman began to feel his differences actually served to be his assets. Today Hageman is succeeding as an athlete and is looking forward to his future.

To read more about Hageman check out the featured story on the Star Tribune.

Special series on foster care

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KLEW-TV in Washington state created a three part series on foster care. The series starts with a personal story of one youth's experience bouncing around foster care and eventual stay in a residential facility.

In Part 2 Melissa shares how she ended up in the system as a foster child, and the broken promises foster families made to her.

Part 3 follows Melissa's transition from residential to a foster family. In this clip, Melissa expresses her feelings about making yet another transition.

Camp To Belong is a special summer camp. Along with swimming, hiking, and other fun summer activities, the children who attend get to participate in something many of us take for granted - they get to do these activities with their brothers and sisters who live in other foster or adoptive homes.

Camp To Belong was started by Lynn Price who herself was separated from her sister when they were placed in separate foster homes. Price wanted to create a place where children separated from siblings, through no fault of their own, could maintain their relationship even if they didn't have the opportunity to live together.

This story featuring the camp was aired a few days ago on NBC news.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Camp To Belong is currently in ten states. I have long thought Minnesota should have one as well. How would having a Camp To Belong or a similar venue for reuniting siblings separated through foster care and adoption impact how we practice permanency in our state?

Thoughts?

This guest post was written by Bahjo Mahamud.

Phyllis Korkki wrote the article Filling up an Empty Nest, In the New York Times press. It was published in May 14 of 2013. This articles is written to awaken households and the our society that is never too late to adopt children and especially age should never be a factor on why you can't raise children who need a loving and caring parents.

Gawboy who is 60 along with her husband Jim who is 76 is taking care of children ranging from 8 to 19 year olds. They have always thought more retired people ought to adopt kids instead of playing gold. The article shares with us other retirees who adopted kids for many different reasons. Some parents had empty-nests who apparently didn't have their fill of child-rearing the first time, others are caring for older blood-related relative children who were unable to be cared for and others who just have the desire to give it a go. But Gawboy says, people "should guard against overly inflated expectations" that they expect kids to be grateful or that they should be grateful to have loving parents or the immediate loyalty." Because those are all wrong reasons to be adopting children.

While many retirees all adopt children for different reasons whether it is to fill up that empty nest or to do for the joy of raising children they all receive mutual benefits. Like the Gowboy's family, who live in a farm in Tower Minn., they said they get the help they need and ask all children to do 20 minutes a day of weeding in their one acre-garden as they benefit from that extra hand. They eat their fresh food from their garden, raise farm animals, and hunt and fish which is both necessary survival skills and work habits for the children. Despite the lack encouragements and support from family and friends they still have the need to do more as they live their life in different order than other retirees she said.

This article is so inspirational and motivating for all types of people to consider to adopt despite their age young or old and it think that's one of the strong strength of the this article.

A limitation is the idea that "it is easier said than done," and we all know raising children is not that easy and requires a lot, especially being financially stable. The family did not touch much on that and it would be more helpful to the readers if they talked or shared one experience at least.

I believe this article did a great job in promoting retire couples to consider adoption and have changed my thinking about the myth of older people not having the energy children require to raise children. This has being the tradition for so many years and know I believe that as long as adults are physically and emotionally fit and ready for children than they can do better job than younger adults.

You can read the article here.

Looking at the assets of older adoptive parents

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Photo: Derek Montgomery for The New York Times

Today the New York Times published a story by reporter Phyllis Korkki about older adults who are choosing to open their homes to children instead of "retiring."

A Minnesota family, Rebecca and Jim Gawboy, are featured. Rebecca is a retired community organizer and Jim is a retired game warden. The couple are currently actively parenting 12 children.

This article challenges perceptions about the capacity of older parents when it comes to adopting. Instead of perpetuating myths about older adoptive parents, this article frames older parents as experienced, and suited to parenting children because of their wisdom and life experiences. This article also provides a warm photo gallery of the Gawboy family.

As Korkki notes,

"No organization or federal agency keeps statistics on the ages of adoptive parents, so it is hard to estimate their numbers. But executives at several adoption-related organization said they had definitely seen heightened interest among older adults. An informational Web site set up by Adoptive Families magazine has a special discussion forum for older adults with more than 500 members."

In addition to featuring older parent adoptions in a positive light, the article nicely (even if inadvertently) shows an Ojibwe family that has adopted Ojibwe children. American Indian children are disproportionately in out of home care in Minnesota (as in many other states) and in discussions about permanency there is a common misperception that American Indian families do not adopt.

To read the article about the Gawboy family, click here.

Reforming International Adoption Practices in Guatemala

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This guest blog post was written by Erin Lysne.

OB-WF197_Amcol2_G_20130203171524.jpeg (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial on February 4th 2013 by Mary Anastasia O'Grady called Guatemala's Inhumane Adoption Law: A U.S.-backed policy bars thousands of children from being given homes in America. In the online version of the article there is also a video segment called "Cheating the Orphans" where the O'Grady is interviewed by James Freeman. O'Grady critiques the Guatemalan government for suspending international adoptions in 2008 due to reports of kidnapped children and the unusually high rate of Guatemalan children being adopted internationally. To give this perspective, Guatemala's population is 14 million yet in 2006 it ranked as the third highest country in number of international adoptions finalized (China ranked 1st, followed by Russia). O'Grady goes on to criticize The U.S. Department of State and UNICEF for supporting the Guatemalan government's decision to stop international adoption while making reforms.

O'Grady makes an appealing argument for the need of children to have permanent families instead of institutions. A permanent family of your own is extremely important, but the situation is more complicated than O'Grady portrays it. While O'Grady is upset with the U.S. for backing the halt of international adoptions, the U.S. is obligated to abide by the Hague Convention . The purpose of the Hague Convention is to create standards for international adoptions to protect children and their adoptive parents. By The Hague Convention standards Guatemala was not compliant and both Guatemala and the U.S. agreed on the need for reform to stop the corruption.

One of the strengths of O'Grady's article and video is the criticism of the Guatemalan government for moving at a very slow pace at processing the remaining adoptions of Guatemalan kids who had already been matched to adoptive families prior to 2008 and were therefore "grand-fathered" in. Numbers differ, but around 100-200 children are in this limbo stage waiting to be cleared for adoption for five years now. The adopted families in the U.S. that they are matched with think of them as their children, but they don't live in the same country.

O'Grady's argument promotes the myth that families in the U.S. are noble rescuers for adopting a child from a developing country and saving them from a terrible life. In the video O'Grady uses language such as "rescue", "international escape route" and "prison sentence" to describe the plight of Guatemalan orphans. The Guatemalan government says that 85 children previously in limbo have either been adopted within Guatemala or reunited with their biological families . O'Grady doesn't seem able to see past poverty and recognize the benefits to a child in potentially being reunited with family or relatives. However, O'Grady is absolutely correct that it is inexcusable that Guatemala is taking so long to process the remaining adoptions of children in limbo: five years may not be long to an adult, but to a child it's their whole life.

To view the video click here or view below:

For more information on finalizing the adoptions of Guatemalan children already matched to U.S. adoptive families:
http://adoption.state.gov/country_information/country_specific_alerts_notices.php?alert_notice_type=notices&alert_notice_file=guatemala_9

For more information on The Hague Convention:
http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/overview.php

This guest post was written by Brittany Kellerman.

FOSTER-1-articleLarge.jpeg [Photo: Mark Holm for the NYT]

The New York Times published an article on January 26, 2013 entitled "Focus on Preserving Heritage Can Limit Foster Care for Indians" by Dan Frosch. The article discusses the impact that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 continues to have today on Native American children and families. It highlights the fact that Native American children are highly overrepresented in child welfare systems around the country, including in Minnesota. It also points out the extreme shortage of licensed Indian foster families in particular states, such as in New Mexico, where in Bernalillo County there are 65 Indian children in state custody, but only 5 Indian foster homes. This discrepancy leads Native American children waiting in shelters for significant amounts of time while searching for relatives or native foster homes and in many cases ultimately placing the children in non-native foster homes.

While the article provides important facts around disparities that are beneficial to dispelling myths, it does not dig deep into why these disparities continue to exist. It is however quick to point to the poverty and the substance abuse endemic in American Indian communities as being the reasons for low rates of Native foster homes, while the issues of institutional racism and historical trauma are simply skimmed over.

As an example of a case where ICWA impacts the outcomes for native children, the article discusses a highly publicized case of Baby Veronica. In this case, a judge ordered a white couple to return a 27-month-old girl they raised since birth to her biological Indian father. In this case, the father was estranged from the mother and was unaware that his daughter was going to be put up for adoption. The facts of the case demonstrate that the father engaged in seeking custody as soon as he was notified of the request for adoption. The decision to return the child to her father was based upon the child's tribal status and the ruling that the birth mother tried to conceal the father's tribal affiliation.

The case of Baby Veronica, while governed by ICWA in this case due to the father's tribal affiliation, brings up questions around all fathers' parental rights that were not addressed in the article. If this case were involving a non-native father, would the child be returned to the biological father? If a biological father is willing/able to provide a loving home for the child, it only seems right to keep the child connected to their biological roots. The case of Baby Veronica will be held before the Supreme Court in April 2013 and the court will be asked to consider the constitutionality of ICWA.

In summary, ICWA has made a significant impact on the Native American population by keeping many children connected to their heritage. Clearly, Native American families continue to face significant challenges and discrimination in their interactions with child welfare agencies and cases such as Baby Veronica's demonstrate a continued need for additional protection for Native families.

For more information on the Baby Veronica case, click here.

Photo recreation of "baby announcement" goes viral

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Among the losses that youth in foster care experience are those that most of us take for granted. For example, baby photos.

Schools and even work places often have planned activities that ask people to bring in baby photos. Sometimes it's for a "guessing game" and sometimes just to share your early life. For youth who have been in foster care or adopted from foster care or an institution, baby photos may not exist. They may have never been taken or they may have been lost during a move.

One family re-created the "baby announcement" for their 13-year old son adopted from foster care as a way to humorously and lovingly provide that milestone for a child that had lost so much.

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The Higgins family posted the photo-announcement to the adoptive mom's facebook page where it quickly went viral. According to the Higgins family, it was the childrens' idea. 13-year old Latrell mentioned that he never had a birth announdement and one of his sisters jokingly suggested they re-create the event.

While most viewers have been supportive, there has been some criticism. Some adult adoptees and birth/first parents have voiced their concern that re-creating a baby announcement erases Latrell's birth family, the way amended birth certificates effectively position an adoption as a false "new" birth history. Others worried that at 13-years old, Latrell would not be prepared for such a public display of his personal situation. Some suggest an "adoption announcement" would still show the "claiming" and family integration without erasing Latrell's birth history.

The recreation of a baby announcement highlights how complex feelings about adoption can be for the many people involved.

To read more:

From the Daily Mail: "My not-so-little newborn': Mother's unlikely photo shoot of adopted son, 13, wh ohad no baby photos of his own.

The Broad Side: Missing baby photos and missing childhoods: Foster care in America

Huffington Post: Kelli Higgins, adoptive mom, creates viral birth announcement spoof.

Ressurrection Graves: Adoptive mom exploits foster child with "newborn" photo shoot.

Ireland apologizes for Magdalene laundries

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Last week, the Irish Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, apologized to survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, the name given to the women subjected to the harsh conditions of the laundries unwed pregnant women. From 1922 to 1996, an estimated 10,000 women and girls were placed.Many of their children were placed for adoption.

Justice for Magdalenes, a peer group of Magdalene survivors, rejected the apology, in part because the Prime Minister stopped short of acknowledging the state's past involvement in institutionalizing teenaged and young women.

In 2002, the movie The Magdalene Sisters depicted the experiences of the women who were placed in the institutions.

To read the Reuters story, click here.

Whose story?

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nfl_a_kaepernick01jr_576.jpg [Photo by Patrick Cummings for Associated Press]

ESPN's Rick Reilly published a commentary on ESPN's website last week about Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick was adopted and according to the Reilly article, is currently not interested in meeting his birth mother.

Human interest stories about our sports figures are common, and adoption stories are often quite dramatic and appealing. Reilly's own personal experience as an adoptive parent frames this article in a way that appears to be as much about Reilly's thoughts and opinons than on Kaepernick.

Whether to have contact with birth family is an incredibly personal choice, and at times Reilly comes across as judgmental and authoritative. Reilly also appears to be conflating his daughter's experience as the template for how all other adopted persons must feel and behave.

Korean adoptee author Matthew Salesses, in a response to Reilly's article, writes, "The idea that Rick Reilly has any domain here is appalling. Whether or not to contact one's birth parents is a deeply personal decision that only an adoptee can make."

For more information:
Rick Reilly's article: Kaepernick's birthmom yearns for contact
Matthew Salesses response: Colin Kaepernick's decision to meet his birth mother should be his own

What happens when adoption fails?

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Two weeks ago the City Limits newspaper published a series by Rachel Blustain on what she termed, "broken adoptions" - that is, adoption dissolutions.

adopt2.jpgPhoto by Marc Fader for City Limits.

The numbers of how many adoptions fail is a tough statistic to obtain, in part because many adoption dissolutions occur years afer an adoption has been finalized; families move, they may not seek help, and the agencies that facilitate the adoption do not always know when the adoption is dissolved. In addition, there is no centralized mechanism for obtaining adoption data.

The series began with the story, "Growing Concerns over Broken Adoptions" in which featured one young woman who was adopted at age 7, only to be abandoned and put back into the foster care system by her adoptive mother at age 13.

The difficulty in obtaining solid numbers about adoption dissolutions is the focus of the second article, "Adoption Numbers in Question." Social service agencies that serve children report that anywhere from 5 to 25% of the kids they serve involve adopted children re-entering out-of-home care.

The third article, "From an Option to a Mandate" explores what happens when adoption is the permanency emphasis without the needed post-adoption services to support the families.

In "Solutions to Broken Adoptions May Lie in "Gray" Areas," a discussion of a different conceptualization to permanency is introduced - one that is flexible, allows children to stay connected with biological family in one way or another, and focusing on the needs of the child rather than agencies, workers and parents.

Finally, the story of one child, S.D., and her attorney who advocated against her adoption, is told in "One Foster Child's Choice: Not to be Adopted." I found the most compelling statement in this piece to be the last paragraph.

When Zimmerman went to court to argue against adoption for S.D., he had no fantasy of a happily ever after. "It was not a slam dunk," he recalls. Still, Zimmerman says, when he convinced the judge to let S.D. remain in foster care for the remainder of her childhood, he felt that he had done the best he could for his client as an individual, not as a permanency statistic.

Using social media to connect foster youth with relatives

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An interesting story came out earlier in the week about using social media sites such as Facebook to connect foster youth with relatives.

We typically hear stories about the problems associated with social media use among foster youth. In this story however, it is not a foster youth - or a biological parent - that is using Facebook to connect, it is the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services!

So far workers have searched Facebook for 80 families. From KHAS-TV in Nebraska, watch the video for more information.

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Last week a local news organization, The City Pages, published a feature article about a contested adoption case that the Minnesota Supreme Court is reviewing. As with many of these cases, this story highlights systems issues in child welfare, the tension between biological family and foster families, racial differences, interjurisdictional placements between states and the differences in state's proceedures regarding adoption, and much more.

In "Split the baby: Two sides of an adoption battle" reporter Olivia LaVecchia's story delves into many of these issues but the main attraction, as is often the case, revolves around race. The placement of the two young sisters at the center of this story has been presented as one in which the African American paternal grandmother has been denied custody in favor of a white foster family.

Our executive director at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, Traci LaLiberte and I met with Ms. LaVecchia to provide background context for adoptions and child welfare practice in Minnesota and a few of Ms. LaLiberte's comments are featured in the article.

Among the issues we brought up include:

  • The pendulum swing in child welfare as the profession emphasizes relatives and kin over "new resource" adoptions, a change from the past when many thought that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"
  • The interjurisdictional mistakes that were made in this case
  • The MultiEthnic Placement Act and Interethnic Provisions and how that legislation differs conceptually with the Indian Child Welfare Act
  • The difference between "active efforts" and "reasonable efforts"

While both parties in this case are arguing issues regarding race - that the children need to be raised in their cultural community according to the grandmother, over the argument by the foster parents that they are the only parents these children know and that race should not trump the relationship and bond they have with the girls.

This story, as with the baby Veronica case, pits the contested adoptions as matters of race, which often becomes the story and illustrates the very divided opinions people have about race and culture in America. However, what is often not as considered is that these issues are almost always about much more than race alone - they typically involve intense differences in opinions about whether biological families are more entitled to raise children than new resource families; the issues of class is often unspoken but foster families in these legal cases are almost always white and middle class while the relatives are often from communities of color and are working class; and finally in most of these cases one or more significant practices required by law were either not done properly (in the baby Veronica case, for example, the workers did not follow the procedures of ICWA) or they were not done to the effort they should have (such as following through with the state of Mississippi in the case of the Dunnings).

Some things to think about:

  • If the relatives, the Dunnings were white, do you think they would have been more likely to receive the children?
  • If the Dunnings had lived in Minnesota instead of Mississippi, do you think the case would have been ruled as it was?
  • If the foster family, the Grossers, were African American, how do you think this case would have been resolved?
  • Can race really be taken out of it, as the attorneys argued before the Supreme Court?

Russia bans international adoption to U.S.

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To the distress and dismay of many Americans, it was announced at the end of December that Russian president Vladamir Putin signed a law banning international adoptions to the U.S. This act is being considered retaliation for the Magnitsky Act passed by U.S. Congress in response to Russia's human rights violations.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 23adoptee-graphic-articleInline.jpeg [Graphic from the New York Times].

Many are calling this a political move using children as political pawns, amid concerns about the fate of the thousands of children currently in Russian orphanages. Although the numbers of Russian children adopted by Americans have declined in recent years, last year just under 1000 children were adopted to the U.S. according to the U.S. State Department.

Although Russia named the ban after Dima Yakolov, a Russian child adopted to a Virginia family that died in their care, and state this ban is driven in part by the 19 deaths of Russian adopted children and the return of Artyem by adoptive parent Torry Hansen, the ban ends the bilateral agreement that the U.S. and Russian recently implemented that would provide for greater protection and oversight of Russian adopted children.

In reading the many news articles, op-ed articles and blog responses to the ban, I had the following thoughts:

  • While this ban is directed toward the U.S. and means that children will no longer be able to be adopted by American families, this ban is not a wholesale ban on international adoption. Russian children will still be able to be adopted by families in other countries. Some are mistakenly stating that these children will be considered "unadoptable" - they are not, they will no longer able to be adopted by Americans but they can still be adopted by others.
  • Russia has been working on improving their domestic adoption programs and while they have many issues they need to address, they are at least working on it. They are - like the U.S. - trying to figure out how to encourage their families to adopt children that are older, part of sibling sets, and who have disabilities. While the U.S. is right to be concerned about these Russian children, we should keep in mind that there are over 100,000 children waiting for adoption in the U.S. foster care system that are older, part of sibling sets and with disabilities. Globally, we ALL need to improve our domestic adoption programs.
  • Some are saying the ban on U.S. adoptions is in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Russia has ratified. That may be true, however I think it is interesting because the U.S. has not ratified the UN CRC.
  • Global adoption programs are constantly changing. In the future it might not be unexpected if other countries close their adoption programs as well.
  • Russia needs to put resources behind supporting their domestic adoption programs if they want to increase adoptions and reduce the number of children in orphanages. As with the U.S. and other countries that have large numbers of children in care, we also all need to work on the underlying issues that cause children to be in care in the first place.

To read more about the ban:

More about the internet and adoption

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On Monday, we posted about the Evan B. Donaldson report about the increase in the use of the internet and social media in adoptions. To highlight some of the personal stories about how the internet and social media have played a role in the lives of adopted individuals, adoptive parents and first/birth parents, here are some links to stories that came out over the past week.

National Public Radio - the story "Finding a child online: How the web is transforming adoption" features a couple who created their own website along with a "Letter to the Birth Parent" in an attempt to "market" themselves to a potential birth parent.

The New York Times begins its story with the ways that birth parents and adoptees have used the internet to find and connect with each other. In "Internet use in adoption cuts 2 ways, report says," the focus is more on the ways adoptees and birth/first famlies are using social media sites to search and make contact.

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For the past 13 years, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has invited television viewers to consider adoption through their annual holiday special, A Home for the Holidays.

This year is no difference. Scheduled for December 19, 2012, at 8 pm, the Rascal Flats, American Idol winner Phillip Phillips, Matchbox Twenty, Melissa Etheridge, and Rachel Crow (an adoptee and singer and contestant on the X Factor) will perform on the annual special.

Crow, 14, was adopted from foster care. On the show information page, Crow says, "Everything I've done has been possible because of my family. They gave me the love and support to follow my dreams."

Other presenters will include Wayne Brady, Kevin Frazier and Jillian Michaels (also a recent adoptive parent).

For more information check out the show information on Wendy's website here.

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An article for The Republic and azcentral.com published late November highlighted the challenges that some adoptive families face that lead to a diruption or dissolution of an adoption.

The article highlighted one family whose adopted child struggled with mental health and behavioral issues so extreme, the family felt they had no other options but to "return him" to the system.

However, it is not just adoptive parents adopting from foster care who make these decisions. From famous adoptive parents like Joyce Maynard who announced this year she had dissolved the adoption of two Ethiopian adopted siblings to the case that made international news, Torry Hansen's "return" via sending her Russian born adopted child to Russia alone on a plane, adoptive parents often struggle to find quality and effective services for their children and themselves. Some parents, such as the ones in the The Republic article, "return" the child in order to get services that they could not access on their own.

With an increase in foster care adoptions in the U.S., the need for services will also need to increase in order to support these chlidren, many of whom have experienced a significant amount of abuse, neglect and trauma. With no way of tracking national disruptions and dissolutions for all adopted children, the scope of the issue is difficult to know. For the families who struggle, however, the impact of the lack of services is devastating.

The Republic article asks, "Who helps when adoptions unravel?" Another question we need to ask is "what can we do to prevent disruptions and dissolutions to begin with?"

What are your thoughts?

Woman denied right to adopt partner's child

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A same-sex couple in Alabama lost an appeal to allow the non-biological parent to adopt her partner's child last Friday.

The couple, who were married in California in 2008, currently lives in Alabama which does not recognize same-sex marriage and does not allow the adoption because, according to the court, the woman "is not the spouse of the child's mother."

The full story is available here.

This morning NPRran a story, Helping Foster Kids Even After Adoption, about the types of post-adoption supports that families that adopt from foster care often need.

image001[1].jpgOne of the interviewees on this show is Debbie Riley, our partner at the Center for Adoption Support and Education (CASE). CASE's Training on Adoption Competency curricuum is the basis for our Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate program.
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You can hear the podcast below, or click here to access it on the NPR site.

NPR Post-adoption support.mp3

For more information on our Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate program, click here.

  • Disruption: When an adoption fails prior to finalization of the adoption.
  • Dissolution: When an adoption fails after the adoption has been finalized.

todaymoms.PNGOn Wednesday, Today Moms discussed the issue of adoption disruptions and dissolutions in an article entitled It takes more than love: What happens when adoption fails. It seems that the goal of the article was to address the negative public opinion surrounding adoptive parents whose adoptions have failed by highlighting the challenges that adoptive parents face when adopting older, traumatized children from foster care or internationally. This article reminds us that one cannot expect these children to leave their trauma at their previous home or their birth country's borders:

"'She'd sit on my lap when the nannies were around, but the minute they'd walk away, she'd spit in my face,' Sage says. 'And whenever I'd get in the shower, she'd tear the room apart. She even ripped up the documents that I had to give to INS. I came home with PTSD.'"

Sage sought therapy for her daughter and eventually discovered the little girl suffered from reactive attachment disorder, a condition where children don't establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers and display a host of symptoms such as aggression towards peers, withdrawal or attention-seeking behavior."

The article cites disruption statistics from a literature review that was conducted by our Center in 2010 concerning adoption disruptions and dissolutions:

  • Between 6 and 11 percent of all adoptions are disrupted.
  • For kids over the age of 3, that rate ranges from 10 to 16 percent.
  • For teens, it can be as high as 24 percent, nearly 1 out of every 4 adoptions.

According to this article, adoption disruptions and dissolutions occur more frequently among older children, especially those who have had adverse childhood experiences (a given for children in foster care) and/or who have developed challenging behaviors, and those children with special needs, especially those with emotional difficulties and sexual acting out. Additionally, the article states that

"younger adoptive parents, inexperienced parents, and parents who both work outside the home are linked with higher levels of disruption. Wealthier parents and more educated mothers, in particular, are also more likely to disrupt an adoption."

So what happens to the kids?

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When adoptions disrupt or dissolve, the child is likely to enter foster care. When international adoptions fail, the adoption agency also often informs the birth country of what has happened, but (according to the article) never sends the child back home. For dissolutions, the parents must go to court to end the parent-child relationship.

In any case, the experience of adoption disruption or dissolution is likely to hurt the child's emotional wellbeing. An adoption counselor in the article mentioned depression, distrust, control issues, and rigid behavior as some possible lifelong issues the child may face. Additionally, the child's ability to attach to caregivers is reduced when placements disrupt.

Preparation, preparation, preparation... And post-adoption services!

The article concludes with recommendations for adoptive parents to be fully prepared prior to adopting, and to remove the "rose-colored glasses" surrounding the act of adoption. One adoptive parent states that it is important to let go of the notion of an "ideal child" and to allow the child to adapt to the family structure and expectations.

Another important aspect of the adoption process is to continue with support services after the adoption takes place, through post-adoption support services. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar has introduced a bill during this legislative session to enhance both pre- and post-adoption support services and provide for funding for such services: S. 1318 Supporting Adoptive Families Act.

Remember, our Center offers a certificate for mental health and child welfare professionals who help children achieve permanency. Check out the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate here.

Did you read the article? What did you think? Any experiences with adoption disruption or dissolution? Comment below!

Fewer international adoptions - behind the numbers

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AsGirl_000004802916Medium.jpgFull Disclosure: I have been asked to appear on MPR to discuss international adoption, in part as a response to criticism that the discussion on Monday was not inclusive enough of adoptee perspectives. This post was written earlier this week and scheduled to publish yesterday. More information will be provided about the show and where you can listen in.

Since the State Department released its report on international adoption, there have been a lot of news stories about the fewer numbers of international adoptions occuring in the United States. In Minnesota, the news that one of the oldest and best known adoption agencies, Children's Home Society and Family Services, had merged with Lutheran Social Services due to the economic ramifications of this decrease in international adoptions, created quite a shock in the local adoption world.

Over the past month, several local news stories focused on the topic of fewer international adoptions. In the StarTribune article published July 2, 2012, reporter Jean Hopfensperger details the merger between Children's Home Society and Family Services (CHSFS) and Lutheran Social Services (LSS) as a result of restrictions and/or closures on the part of sending countries and implementation of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in respect of Intercountry Adoption.

On the Minnesota Public Radio Daily Circuit show that aired on July 9, representatives from CHSFS and LSS reiterated those two factors, as well as the emphasis on in-country care that many sending countries are focusing on, such as domestic adoptions and domestic fostering programs.

This blog post is a critique of how the media writes about international adopton. In all these articles or stories aired or published in the past few weeks, the decline in international adoptions has been framed as an "Oh no, the sky is falling!" As a result, the reader is set up to believe that any decrease in international adoptions is a bad thing.

For example, Tom Weber, in the MPR story, kept referring to the "precipitous drop" and "huge drop." The StarTribune said international adoptions were "crashing to its lowest level in 15 years" and called it a "precipitous decline." And Madeleine Baran in her MPR report described international adoptions as having "plummeted."

However, this rhetoric conceals the whole story. Yes, the numbers are declining. Unfortunately there is a lack of emphasis on examining why this may actually be a good thing.

For example, on closer inspection we learn that part of the reason for the decline in numbers may actually be attributed to positive things—for example, that countries are now building and supporting their own domestic adoption programs, or are working on family preservation. In other words, some part of the cause of the drop in children available for international adoption may be as a result of better care, better support for families, and better interventions for children in their home countries. Why would better care, supported by stable families and communities, be a bad thing for children?

Second, we learn that many countries have shut down, restricted, or postponed their adoption programs in light of unethical practices that have harmed birth families and children. By now most of us know that there have been many instances in which chlidren were unethically or illegally taken from their birth families for the purpose of international adoption. International adoption programs in a country that is poor and has no self-governing infrastructure to manage the care for their children and families in need often provide an economic benefit to that country. As a result, children may become commodities because of the money that international adoption brings to an impoverished area.

As both Ms. Harpstead and Ms. Warren stated in the MPR report, the "re-set" on adoption in light of responding to these unethical and illegal adoption practices in many countries is a good thing. Compliance with the Hague Convention is necessary for the protection of children. Again, a good thing.

Yet, articles in the media continue to portray these delays and/or closures as burdensome on waiting adoptive parents, and as evidence of government bureaucracies infringing on the rights of adoptive parents. The articles rarely look at the issue from the point of view of the adopted child, or what it would be like to be a child who learns they were illegally placed for adoption by these unethical adoption agencies. In fact, the point of view from the adopted individual altogether is almost never included in these stories (as a result of the response by adult adoptees on social media networks about the lack of adoptee perspective on the MPR piece, on July 10th MPR added a new section to their website asking for adoptee feedback. The responses that adult adoptees left in the comment section reveal the frustration that many adoptees feel about the lack of inclusion in the discussion).

Finally, what we learn when we dig deeper is that there are still many children who actually still are in need of a permanent home. These kids are typically older, may have a disability, or are part of a sibling group. Those children still exist; yet they wait. If all those children were to be adopted by families in the U.S. would the numbers of adoptions be so low? And what about all the children in this country who are waiting for adoption? And why don't any of these reports discuss that the U.S. is a sending country, not only a receiving country, and those numbers of U.S. children adopted by families in foreign countries have been fairly steady for the past five years?

I can't help but wonder if the "Chicken Little" language so often used (i.e. "the sky is falling") in stories about international adoptions actually reflects a more unpleasant reality—that international adoption is actually a business based on supply and demand. Rhetoric in media stories that reflect on such hyperbolic descriptions of dwindling supply (of adoptable children) in the face of still heavy demand (by adoptive parents) should be looked at more closely.

Overall numbers of international adoptions should not matter; what should matter is that the quality of each and every international adoption that takes place is ethical, in the best interest of the particular child, and is done with the utmost care and concern for that child's well-being. The numbers of international adoptions, however, do matter if money is attached. And that's one of the most problematic aspects of the adoption profession: that as much as we want to think of it as a service, in many ways it feels like a business.

When it comes to adoption, there are two clients: prospective parents and children. Many of us working in adoption have a very clear understanding of this. Adoption is supposed to be about finding families for children - not children for families.

Adoption is complex. Like all other areas of child welfare, it is fraught with complicated ethical dilemmas at all stages of the process. Adoption is not merely about the adoptive parent's burden; at heart, it is about a child in need of love, safety and security.

Today the Star Tribune published an article by Jean Hopfensperger highlighting the changes that adoptive parents wanting to adopt internationally are now facing. These changes include increases in older children, sibling groups, and children with disabilities available for adoption, and a trend toward open adoptions, once considered impossible and/or improbable (even if desirable) a few years ago. In fact, you still often hear that the reasons people choose to adopt internationally rather than domestically from foster care is because adoptive parents want younger, healthy infants, and without siblings and/or birth family contact (in other words, closed adoptions).

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

However, times are changing in Minnesota and throughout the rest of the United States.

Minnesota has long been a leader in adoptions, including intercountry adoptions, currently holding the title as the state with the highest per capita rate of intercountry adoptions in the U.S. And as countries shut down, halt or slow their intercountry adoption programs, prospective adoptive parents and adoption agencies search for new areas of the world from which to adopt.

This Star Tribune article features a family that adopted from the Marshall Islands, where in the past there have been questions about ethics by adoption agencies and facilitators who misled or coerced parents into relinquishing their children for adoption by American prospective parents (for more about this, see links below).

The concept of openness in international adoptions is a new practice. Relatively few open adoptions occur. This family is bucking the trend against open adoption with children adopted internationally.

For more information about adoption in the Marshall Islands, see these links:

Dispelling myths about open adoption

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We all know that the media often sensationalizes adoption - either portraying adoption as only bubbles and sunshine without addressing loss, grief, trauma and attachment concerns or conversely, negatively focusing on those cases of extreme behaviors on the part of either adopted children and youth or adoptive parents.

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Discussions about adoption in the media, as in the Today Show clip above [topic begins at 2:15] where three panelists, the "Today's Professionals" as NBC calls them, often do a poor job of disseminating information about adoption. In a few short minutes, these three panelists promote a practice that is considerably out of touch with how adoptions are routinely practiced today. They also promote a practice that is much more about adoptive parent needs, not the child's needs.

Kathleen Silber, Associate Executive Director of the Independent Adoption Center (IAC) discusses the disservice this segment does in the current practice paradigm of advocating for open adoptions rather than closed adoptions. Kathleen shares her critique in a SF Gate article as well as on the IAC Open Adoption blog.

Kathleen states:

Well honestly, it feels like a step back into the dark ages, where closed adoption was still the norm. A lot has changed in adoption over the years. It's generally accepted knowledge now that an open adoption arrangement is not only healthier for the adoptees, but for the families as well. What's shocking about the commentary on the Today Show is actually how archaic those views are - it's hard to believe people are still advocating something that's known to not be good practice.

All three panelists - one an adoptive parent and two who are "considering" adopting in the future - promote an insecurity about "real parents" and fears of birth parents having too much influence in an adopted child's life. Yet, Nancy Snyderman, who is an adoptive parent, admits that her adopted daughter sought out her birth parents as an adult. It would have been more balanced if there had been a voice advocating for the benefits of open adoption on this panel as well. It's unfortunate that millions of people watching the Today Show will be misinformed about adoption and for those that may be considering adopting, will see closed adoption as normal and expected. Worse, they may insist on closed adoption because they have come to expect closed adoption as being better for them.

Perhaps these three professionals would benefit from the Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate program?

When multiple caregivers fight to adopt

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for siblings3.jpgA story by Gail Rosenblum was published today in the StarTribune that is, unfortunately, not all that uncommon a scenario in the child welfare system these days.

Tomorrow, the MN Court of Appeals will hear arguments on behalf of two families that want to raise two young girls that have been in foster care.

We often say that a child can never have too many adults in their lives who love them, but what if these adults are fighting over who gets to claim parenting rights?

This case brings up many issues that permanency workers and families struggle with when making permanency decisions. When I read this article, I had the following questions:


  • Was the grandparent given the opportunity to be the foster parent?

  • Was there bias on the part of the agency toward the extended relatives of these children? (I once had a county worker tell me, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree" regarding placing children with extended relatives)

  • Whose responsibility was it to ensure the grandparent's information was being submitted, particularly since it turns out Mississippi did not send her information to MN?

  • Why was Minnesota allowed to withdraw its request for the grandparent to adopt based on "frustration over lack of communication?" What follow up could or should the agency have had when this happened?

  • What recourse do families have when agencies fail to communicate and/or advocate on their behalf?

  • Was there bias on the part of the agency toward moving the children across state lines?

  • Was there racial bias, as the foster parents are white and the grandparent is black?

  • Was the county agency afraid of violating the MultiEthnic Placement Act/InterEthnic Provisions?

  • Have all the adults in this issue (foster parents and biological grandmother) discussed what an open adoption and/or open relationship would look like? Would the foster family, if they adopted, be willing to facilitate having the grandparent in an active role in the girl's lives?

  • Why wasn't there more effort to emphasize an open relationship that truly shows that there are never too many adults who can love a child?

For the full story, see the Star Tribune's article here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Friday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

In Ontario, Canada, working parents who participate in foster-to adopt programs can participate in parental leave benefits. The Star online reports that even if the child is reunified with birth parents, the foster parent can receive parental leave benefits if they were willing to adopt the chils had reunification not been successful. In the past, foster-to-adopt families were only eligible to request parental leave benefits after they began the adoption process. To read the article, click here.


Children in New Jersey's foster care system will benefit from improved services as a result of a Silbermann Foundation grant awarded to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) School of Nursing. From the article: "We are very excited to branch out into the field of child welfare nursing. It is our great hope that the curriculum developed at the UMDNJ-School of Nursing will attract qualified nurses to this important subspecialty. It is also our aspiration that this curriculum becomes the national standard in teaching and attracting nurses to this extremely important field," said M. Steven Silbermann, spokesperson for the Rosanne H. Silbermann Foundation, a non-profit charitable family foundation established by the late Rosanne H. Silbermann in 1998 that supports medical, educational and religious organizations." To read more click here.

Writer Dr. Suzanne Babbel, PhD., has written part two of a series, The Foster Care System and Its Victims. In Part I, Dr. Babbel describes what happens when a child is reported to have been abused. In Part II, Dr. Babbel describes how foster care can harm more than help an already vulnerable child. Both articles are available on the Psychology Today website.

In The Huffington Post, Kelly Kennedy writes about how several states are changing the way they consider recruiting foster parents. From the article, "Most jurisdictions end up being in a reactive mode because they don't have enough fosters parents so they're just focused on getting people into the fold instead of making sure standards for parents are elevated," said David Sanders, an executive vice president at Casey Family Programs, an advocacy organization in Seattle." The new focus is on recruiting foster parents that consider their job "parenting," such as Maritza Moreno who told the Huffington Post, who says a parent wouldn't rely on having the county worker take the foster child to doctor's appointments. Morento says foster children "really need a parent, not a caregiver." To read the whole article, click here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Friday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

An article published in Pediatrics by Jones et al (2011) assesses the impact of missing or altered birth and medical information on internationally adopted children's health care in the United States. Among the chief concerns mentioned in the report is the tendency to alter the birth certificate once the child is in the United States based on American pediatric assessments, which doesn't always allow for time for the child to "catch-up" on developmental delays that result from pre-adoptive experiences. MedPage Today describes the report here. To read the article abstract, click here.

The Arizona Daily Star published an interesting article on how family courts struggle to respond to "changing definitions of family." From the article, ""We're redefining what constitutes a family," said McGeorge School of Law professor Larry Levine, an expert on sexual orientation and the law. "It's a whole new way of thinking about this." Read the full article here.

A perennial discussion in child welfare permanency is whether children are better off in relative placements or in a foster home where they have formed attachments to their foster parents. The Tampa Bay Times published an article that discusses one family's story and the tensions between two families when case workers do not do a diligent family search for placement. Read the article here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Friday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

A new research center in Michigan will address the needs of grandparents raising grandchildren. The National Research Center for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is the result of a collaboration between Western Michigan University and Georgia State University. According to Linda Dannison, Chair of Western Michigan University's Family and consumer Sciences, "Having a center devoted to better understanding and influencing policy and practices in order to facilitate people's awareness will have a more positive impact on the lives of children." For more information on the center, click here or visit the center's website here.

The boy removed from his mother's care due to his obesity is being placed in relative care. The Washington Post reports that the 9-year old will be placed in his uncle's care. According to the Post article, "The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio joined the case on the boy's behalf and said he should be with his family. 'We think it's a fundamental liberty for a child to be brought up in his home among family and friends,' said the ACLU's James Hardiman." Read the story here.

The Child Welfare League of America and Lambda Legal released a practice guide for state and local child welfare agencies working with LGBTQ youth in child welfare settings. According to the SDGLN.com article, ACYF commissioner Bryan Samuels is quoted, "These guidelines provide practical examples of practices that every child welfare agency can use to better meet the needs of the LGBTQ youth in their care." For the article, click here.

The Washington Post reported that the Virgina Board of Social Services has ruled that state-licensed adoption agencies can discriminate against LGBTQ prospective adoptive parents based solely on their sexual orientation. Read the full story here.

According to the Associated Press, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will hold a summit in South Dakota to address concerns that the state is not in compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. The state claims the NPR report which reported the great disparities in a three-part series this past fall is inaccurate. You can read the full article here.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D) has introduced a bill requiring adoptive parents to raise their adopted child in the faith or religion of their biological parents. From the New Jersey Jewish Standard, Marc Stern, Associate General Counsel for the American Jewish Committee stated, "It is traumatic enough to pull kids out of a home, and if you have kids who are Sabbath-observant and eat kosher food, and you put them in with the family who is up next on the DYFS list, you are adding to the trauma," he said. The bill has received some support from Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Catholic communities.
You can read the entire article here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Monday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

A Home for the Holidays, the annual televised special sponsored by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption highlighting foster care adoption is schdeduled to air December 21, 2011 on CBS. This year's show includes performances by Judstin Bieber, Mary J. Blige, One Republic, Christina Perri and host Martina McBride. Also schedule to appear include actor Katherine Heigl and Denise Richards. For more information visit their website (click here).

State halts international adoptions for family with 14 children. A couple in Joliet IL is fighting to adopt special needs children. According to the couple, their adoption agency has told the family has reached the limit of children a private family can be licensed to provide foster care, a requirement the family needs to adopt. Read the full story here.

A report on foster youth, Meeting Needs, Improving Outcomes for youth in Long-Term Care, was released this past week. This report by the Carsey Institute examined the outcomes of 727 children and followed up on these children four years after entering out-of-home care. The findings were particularly troubling for older youth. For example, only 5% of older children 15-18 years at the four year follow up had been adopted, while 61% of children 3-5 years found an adoptive placement. Youth 15-18 had high levels of emotional and behavioral problems and only 11 states offered extended care to age 21 for youth in foster care. You can download the report here.

Overmedicating children and youth in foster care

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Last Friday night, Diane Sawyer and ABC World News reported on a year-long investigation by the Government Accounting Office that found that children and youth in foster care - even infants as young as a year old - were over-prescribed psychiatric medications or inappropriately receiving psychiatric medication for conditions that did not exist. In addition, the GAO report asserts that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has not done enough to to protect the overmedication of children and youth in foster care.

The GAO report findings are startling. Compared to their non-foster care counterparts:

  • Overall, children and youth in foster care are 9 times more likley to receive psychiatric medications in which there was no FDA-recommended dosage for their age
  • Babies less than one year old in foster care were two times more likely to be prescribed psychiatric medication
  • Children in foster care in Texas were 53 times more likely to be prescribed five or more psychiatric medications
  • In Michigan, children in foster care are 15 times more likely to be prescribed five or more psychiatric medications
  • In Massachusetts, children were 19 times more likley to be prescribed five or more psychiatric medications
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Read the full article here.

ABC's resource page on organizations advocating for children and youth in foster care is available here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Monday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

From the Chillicothe Gazette, New Private Adoption Agency Focuses on Teen Demographic. "Sojourners, a youth development organization that serves children in foster care with the hopes of providing them with the tools they need to be successful after they turn 18, found an adoption program to be a perfect fit." Read the article in full here.

American Indian Children in Minnesota Disproportionately Placed in Foster Care. From the Twin Cities Daily Planet. [A 2010 MN Department of Human Services] study found that American Indian children were more than eight times as likely to be subject of a neglect report...The report also found that American Indian children were placed in out of home care in 2008 at a rate "more than twice that of any other group, and [were] more than 12 times more likely than a white child to spend time in placement." Read the full article here.

One of the biggest news stories last week was about the Ohio 8-year old removed from CPS because child welfare workers determined his mother was medically neglecting her son's health due to extreme obesity. Several news outlets published the AP story including the San Francisco Chronicle.

Diane Sawyer did a special ABC World News Tonight investigative report on children in foster care and psychotropic medication. "ABC News was given exclusive access to the GAO report, which capped off a nationwide yearlong investigation by ABC News on the overuse of the most powerful mind-altering drugs on many of the country's nearly 425,000 foster children. The GAO's report, based on a two-year-long investigation, looked at five states -- Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oregon and Texas. Thousands of foster children were being prescribed psychiatric medications at doses higher than the maximum levels approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in these five states alone. And hundreds of foster children received five or more psychiatric drugs at the same time despite absolutely no evidence supporting the simultaneous use or safety of this number of psychiatric drugs taken together." The story that accompanies the show is available here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Monday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a round-up of news from the past week that you may have missed. Today's news round up:

Celebration of National Adoption Day. "Twenty-three children at the Pottawattamie County Courthouse officially left foster care status Saturday - becoming members of a family on National Adoption Day." Read more here.

Children of undocumented immigrants in foster care due to parent's placement in detention centers. "In a yearlong investigation, the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States." Read the investigation here.

Foster-care adoptions in Oklahoma increased 64% over the past 9 years, compared to 3% nation-wide according to a new OK Department of Human Services report. The increase can be mainly attributed to the new focus at DHS on adopting children more quickly, agency spokeswoman Sheree Powell said." Read more here.

Families in S. Dakota concerned about the end of adoption tax credits. "Since 1997, the adoption tax credit has helped thousands of middle-income American families defray the high costs of adoption. In 2001, Congress extended those credits until Dec. 31, 2010, increased the initial maximum credit and indexed that maximum so it would go up because of inflation." Read more here.

Russian government upset over sentencing of American couple in the death of their adopted son. "Pennsylvania authorities said the parents had abused and neglected the boy. Expert witnesses testified that he had fetal alcohol syndrome, but it was not clear whether that played any role in his death. A jury acquitted the Cravers of murder, but concluded they were negligent and responsible for the death. They were convicted in September of involuntary manslaughter and freed pending sentencing." Read more here.

S. Korea sends most number of children for international adoption to U.S., according to 2011 Annual report. According to the statistics by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, among the total 2,475 Korean children who were adopted last year, 1,013 were adopted overseas. Despite its respectable economic status as the world's 13th largest economy, Korea is still sending 40 percent of children who are up for adoption overseas." Read more here.

Sweden issues a formal apology to its foster care alum for "having failed to provide them with a safe upbringing." "Society was responsible for making sure that you were provided with a good upbringing, but instead you were abandoned." However, according to Westerberg, the revelations of abuse and neglect from the testimonies of the foster children has appalled all of society. "And today Sweden officially admits its failure," he said." Read more here.

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