Choosing Children: An Adoption Story

Posts Tagged ‘Adoption regulations

Rape Victim is not who I am.

with 10 comments

It has been one week and two days since CAS told me that as a result of a rape over 16 years ago that I should pursue counselling for 6-months to a year before Chris and I will become eligible for adoption. We are appealing to let the counselling go forward concurrently with the remaining process. We have not yet received a response.

I’m angry. Increasingly angry. Frustrated. Mad. Disappointed.

I believe in counselling, I believe in psychiatry and psychology, I believe that psychiatric medications can be extremely helpful at the right time and for the right people. I have received counselling with respect to my rape, I have received counselling for other reasons as well, I found counselling helpful during those times in my life when I felt I needed it. I am open to resuming counselling again if, at anytime, I feel that I need it.

What I am angry about is that CAS is reducing who I am and my capacity to be a parent to a single incident that happened over 16 years ago. This problem is bigger than me, my interest in adopting a child and my personal feelings. There is a very real problem with how victims of rape are viewed in our society.

The rape victim exists as a label, as fragile ticking time-bomb, stripped of personality, agency and voice. In short, the rape victim is not a person, she* is a victim.

Alice Seabold writes in her semi-autobiographical novel “Lucky” that her capacity to be believed as a victim was augmented by her youth, her middle-class status, her whiteness and that she was a virgin. This is the prevailing image of the rape victim that we choose to see as a society: young, white, affluent, innocent. This is a construct all women (and men) should be wary of. It serves to perpetuate the idea of woman as frail, at risk and in need of external protection. In short, less capable and less deserving of self-agency than man. In fact, any social idealization of a rape victim identity serves to delegitimize the experiences of many, and focus evaluation and criticism on the victim identity rather than the perpetrators.

The rates of sexual violence are still shockingly high, even in Canada the rate sits at 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, over half before the age of 16. Sixty per cent of these women will be assaulted more than once in their lifetime. Rape remains the most under reported crime where 93% of sexual assault survivors do not report to the police**.

With the virginal purity image it is little wonder that so many women do not report. We still, very much, live in a “blame the victim” society when it comes to rape. From GOP candidate Ken Buck’s assertions that prior sexual consent waives a woman’s claim to being raped over a year later, to 15-year old Tina Anderson whose pastor forced her to apologize to her church congregation after she was raped (and made pregnant) by an older congregation member, to the “don’t dress like a slut” comment by a Toronto police officer that prompted the “slut walk” earlier this year, not to mention the thousands of cases that a simple Google search will turn up of women and girls (as young as 7 years old) who have been blamed for a sexual assault against them because of what they were wearing or because they became intoxicated.

What all of this victim-blaming means is that we construct a culture that looks for a near-impossible standard in a rape victim and when she fails to meet that standard we say there is something “wrong” with her, we tell her that it was her fault, her actions, her choices. On the surface level what we tell rape victims is that the way they dressed, what they said, the drink they had, the trust they placed in a boyfriend or male brought the rape on themselves.

What we tell rape victims on a deeper level is that they have failed at being women. We link a rape victim’s identity and personhood to her inability to protect her sexual self. At first this seems like a throw back to the middle ages, but then consider the rationale for rape camps in Bangladesh in 1947, in Bosnia and Cambodia in the 1990s and the sexual assault of prisoners during the second Gulf War. We see rape as the foundational violation of personhood. In Bangladesh opposing sides would tattoo women who had been raped with the crimes perpetrated on them so that they would be seen as sub-human by their own communities, shunned or killed off. It worked.

Once we accept that rape is a foundational violation perpetrated largely against women who through their own lack of judgement brought it on themselves it becomes impossible to see these women as functioning people. Rape then strips the personhood from the woman. While the act of rape strips the personhood from the woman we further victimize the rape victim by evaluating a rape victims behaviour after a rape as either good or bad. Where good rape victims (who are young, white, middle class, virgins) may have a chance at prosecution and bad rape victims will have their post-rape behaviour evaluated for further reasons to victim blame. These expectations of post-rape behaviour will further limit the chances that any rape victim can truly be seen as a functioning person.

The good rape victim is shattered, fully and completely without self-agency, rocked to their core by the violence done to them, ashamed and scared, changed, for life, desperately in need of trauma counselling, perhaps life-long counselling and anti-anxiety medications. Only in the crime of rape do we reward the destruction of the victim over the ability of the victim to survive. Rape victims who are not shattered enough run too much of a risk of being penalized by the system as having “done something” to have brought it on themselves.

In peer-to-peer sexual assault counselling we’re taught that while each rape victim’s experience is unique that there are generally two types of reaction that women develop following a rape. The first, and socially accepted reaction, is for a rape victim to turn in on herself, to de-sexualize and distance herself from her own sexuality and possibly any form of sexuality. Victims may start wearing baggy figure-hiding clothing, stop wearing make-up, stop going out with friends at night, reduce friends, not accept dates so on and so forth. Some feminist authors have equated this good rape victim behaviour of shunning the sexual-self as a cultural admission that rape is a crime to punish a women’s sexuality.

The second reaction, and much less socially acceptable, is for women to become promiscuous. To increase sexual interactions often in an attempt to regain control of their sense of self-sexuality. This is the bad rape victim. A rape victim who continues to have sex, much less promiscuous sex, is very unlikely to be able to pursue prosecution in court, and on a social level has obviously not learned her lesson about what happens to women who have a sexual side.

The risks in the court and the evaluation of the goodness or badness of the victim are not the only problem with evaluating a rape victims post-rape actions. In counselling neither reaction is wrong, but both layout a stark view of a rape victim’s sexuality. That from this point forward her sexual choices will always be viewed through the lens of “rape victim” not personal choice.

The most powerful thing I learned in my own counselling was the importance of taking back my personal choice. For rape victims they run the risk of becoming victimized time and time again, in each and every social relationship they have. Women who have been raped talk about changed relationships with parents, partners and friends as their identity of “rape victim” threatens to supersede lifetime personal identity. For many rape victims the process of psychologically overcoming the physical rape is less stressful than the process of re-establishing normal relationships with family and friends who now have trouble relating to the victim as a person, rather than as a victim.

Much like in death parents, family and friends cite being unsure what to say and how to relate to the rape victim. The distance that emerges in these relationships often exacerbates the self-blame many rape victims already place upon themselves.

I’ve always found this last to be an extremely interesting point, since I believe (although I am not studied in the psychology of victims beyond rape) that there are few other crimes where people treat the victimization of a person similarly to a death of that same person. I think this serves to explain why we often celebrate the dead rape victim who fought back and died in the process and barely speak of the compliant rape victim who survives the assault.

The end result of all these social constructs around the rape victim is that a rape victim who is not young, white, affluent and virginal becomes a woman who made poor choices, who is punished through rape, and as a result becomes a different person who lacks control over her future sexual choices (possibly choices at large) and has likely damaged her primary social support relationships.

Is it small wonder then that CAS wants me to get counselling?

This is where I get angry. I spent a good portion of my university years peer-to-peer counselling women who had been assaulted to believe that it was not their fault, that they remained in control of their lives and their choices. I have spoken publicly about my rape believing that sharing my own experiences and my own choices can help give a different perspective on the rape victim. Most importantly I have chosen not to be the rape victim.

I made the choice not to be the rape victim early on. My rape happened in high school, shortly before the school year began. It was a date rape. I was voluntarily alone with him, kissed him, and I was punished for it by being raped. In a strange turn of events, high school being high school, a friend of mine at the time chose to spread a rumour that I had not been raped, that the resulting pregnancy was my boyfriends (yes, I was the bad girl kissing another guy after all). I quickly discovered that it was easier to be the promiscuous girl than the rape victim. Counselling was private, school ended, the conviction was easy and didn’t even require my testimony (DNA and all).

What I realized later in my own peer-to-peer counselling is that if 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted the chances of me being the lone rape victim in the room were slim to none. Yet, when I looked around my classroom, my work, my neighbourhood I could not tell by looking at the women who the rape victims were, and it didn’t matter. The women around me were intelligent, fun, sexy, bold, quiet, beautiful women who are so much more than whatever happened to them at one point in their life.

I resent the idea that a rape victim is a broken person. A victim who is forever shattered by the crime done to her, that a rape victim will never truly overcome or move beyond the experience but merely survive it. That the rape victim is not a person self-aware and self-confident, but a ticking time bomb who may, at any point, be triggered by her experience.

I am at loose ends on what I want to do about this whole situation. Part of me wants to take my toys out of the sandbox and go home. Then I think that whatever CAS is putting me through the kids waiting for adoption have been through worse. I want to refuse the counselling asserting my sense of self, that I am currently not in need of counseling that I am more than what happened to me 16+ years ago and that if at any time I believe I need counselling I will take it. But, then I think this may ruin our chances of adoption. I want to scream at CAS for answers, I want to know why C.’s experiences of household violence don’t merit counselling but a 16-year-old rape case does, I want to tell them they are perpetuating a system of violence against women, and have them understand and care and change their practices.

I am angry because I feel like the system is victimizing me yet again, sugar-coating it in the pretense of offered help, but none-the-less reducing me to an incident that happened 16+ years ago and refusing to see me for the person I am. To them I am only the rape victim.

*I’m using a female gender pronoun here not because rape against men and boys is not common and wide-spread (1 in 7 boys under the age of 17 have been sexually assaulted), but because my knowledge, both from my personal life and my research during university is limited to women.

**Statistics Canada, The Daily. Ottawa: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, November 18, 2003.

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Written by BeagleSmuggler

September 1, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Hanging In…

with 5 comments

Thanks to C2 and A. who helped us look over our financials we re-submitted our financial paperwork showing almost $1,800/month in disposable income. This secured us a second preliminary interview which took place today (August 23, 2011).

We still do not have a straight answer on if we are approved or declined based on financials. At one point the adoption worker told us we were never declined based on financial issues an I repeated that we were told “our application would not go forward with the financial information as it was currently presented”. She agreed that was what we were told. I suppose it is semantics, but what exactly is the difference between an application not proceeding and being declined?

For the financial section the worker focused on if we had looked into the costs of child care, clothing, food. I did explain that we had done some cost compare with families we know who have children, that we are confident that we could support a biological child at this time, and the unknowns for us at the moment are cost of psychiatric care and supportive assistive care. She did indicate that CAS could help with these costs.

We moved on from the financials to our next road block. My psychiatric background, or lack thereof.

When I was 16 (almost 17) I was raped, it was a date rape, it was violent, it resulted in a pregnancy which was terminated. This had to be disclosed on our application.

I thought this may be an issue, so in the course of our medical evaluations I was referred for a psychiatric evaluation, which basically said I’m a functional adult who maintains strong relationships, holds down a job and there is no strong case to be made for psychiatric care at this time.

The status of my psychiatric care, or lack thereof, seems to be of some debate. Do I need it or don’t I need it?

I did give some background in the interview. I was given therapy immediately following the rape for 3 months at which time neither me nor the therapist thought I was going to benefit from further treatment. The therapist made a note that I may want to consider future therapy when I have children, specifically when my children reached the age that I was when I was raped.

When I was entered university I did one year of peer-to-peer counseling that I did find beneficial, the next year I became a peer counselor. I have since spoken publicly about my rape experience and survivorship.

In my last year of my bachelor’s and in my MA I studied rape as a war crime and transcribe interviews of women from Cambodia and later did my own interviews with Bosnian women who had been raped by soldiers and peacekeepers. This was a bit stressful, so I sought counseling during this year through York’s psychology department. This counselor basically thought my past traumas had little impact on what I was currently experiencing, and although not entirely unrelated, I mainly needed to deal with my work at that time. She also made reference to the possibility of needing to address counseling when I had children.

So this brings us back to my most recent psychiatric evaluation.

Apparently all this may not be enough. CAS would like me to undergo 6-months to a year of psychiatric counseling to do with my past trauma and parenting.

It’s not that I’m opposed to counseling, I think it can be beneficial. C. and I had already discussed and planned to engage in counseling as a family and as individuals post-adoption because we are strongly aware that parenting a special needs child will mean likely mean finding our own theraputic supports in addition to those that the child will need. I have always been open to counseling if at any time I feel that my past is impacting my present in a negative way.

What I am less receptive to is counseling for the sake of paperwork. After laying out my history our worker did say she would find out if I could pursue the counseling concurrently with the application proceeding.

I have also requested that CAS layout what specific outcomes they need from my therapy so that I would be considered. We are also enquiring to find out if an evaluation would be sufficient or if I need to commit to ongoing therapy.

Best case scenario: I will be able to pursue the therapy concurrently with the adoption process, we can be entered into a December or January PRIDE program, be matched with an adoption worker for the other in-home interviews by April 2012 and be approved adopt-ready for September 2012.

A little more bad news, we’re now being told that placement for older children typically takes longer than for younger children – exactly the opposite of what we were told in the intake process.

Feeling pretty frustrated today.

Written by BeagleSmuggler

August 23, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Declined, for now. Crap.

with 5 comments

The preliminary interview could have gone better (understatement). It also could have gone worse.

I’m a “bad news first” type of girl, so venting first, solutions second, positives last. Feel free to skip the sections you don’t want to read

Whining, bitching & complaining:

The adoption worker told us that “as our monthly disposable income is currently presented, we would not be considered for adoption.”

Outch.

There is possibly a glimmer of hope however. After whining, venting, bitching and complaining to several of you (thank you) it was pointed out that I probably didn’t complete the disposable income section properly.

On the monthly expense report there are the following line items:

Mortgage/Rent
Property taxes
House Insurance
Food: home, restaurant
Clothing
Utilities
Transportation
Extra-Curricular
Loan Payments
Other (Specify)

Formula: Total net monthly income less the total of the above expenses = disposable income. 

C. and I do some very detailed monthly tracking of where we spend our money. Two things happened. First, I took the money that we normally set aside for savings, vacations, birthdays, holiday in addition to the money for entertainment and I put that into the “other” expense category.

The second problem was that I used our exact tracking from the six months we were filling out the package which included our vacation to St. John’s, a 3-day spa vacation and our rather extravagant (for us) trip to Mexico. So our vacation “expenses” were rather high during those six months. Plus two moves.

Which left us with about $100/month unaccounted for which I called “disposable income.”

To be fair to myself I did not make the decision to base our financial statements on an unusual set of expenses by myself.  I had called the adoption worker when filling out the finances and asked her if I should fill them out based on a “typical” month, or based on our actual expenses in the past few months. I did specifically tell her that our expenses had been unusual lately because of the reasons mentioned above. She told me that they should be based on the actual. I complied, in part, because I was nervous that if I didn’t go based on the actual they may check our bank records for the period and if they did and I had showed “typical” spending that didn’t match our unusual spending pattern in those months we’d be in trouble.

When we were told we weren’t accepted because of the disposable income I asked if we could re-submit (we can), and if things like savings, vacations etc… can be put into disposable income (they can — so can some other things as some of you pointed out). If we re-do our financials with things like savings, vacations, birthdays, holidays, entertainment as disposable income we have about $1,300/month (bet you didn’t know you’d get this detailed a look at my personal finances, did you? – Frankly I do think people need to talk about money more and make it less taboo).

I did do some quick math while the adoption worker was with us. I was able to tell her that if we pulled out saving, vacations, holidays, birthdays, and some other things I thought we would end up with about $1,000/month in disposable income. That is when she let me know we could re-file the form.

I asked her if it would be enough to put us in the ‘acceptable’ bracket. Her exact words were “it would be a better presentation”. She’s really good at sticking to key messages, because I basically spent the next half hour asking that question any way I could. I learned that we’re allowed to re-file our finances every 6-months, but I have no clue what it takes to be in the “acceptable” range. I have no idea where the “acceptable” range even begins. I recognize that $1,300 is a significant difference from $100, but is it enough?

The monthly disposable income is the only portion of the form they told us specifically we were declined on. And, they are giving us a re-do. However I am still nervous that we may not measure up financially. We make what I think is a middle to lower-middle income ($80,000 approx), but thanks to my student loans and the fact that we do not own property (see paying off student loans) we have a negative net worth. That said we carry no consumer debt which they were pleased with.

I’m calling this fear my “B+ syndrome” fear.

When you are applying for university there are many programs that require a “B+ average” to be accepted into the program. However, if you know that on average 5,000 people apply each year, and only 1,000 people get accepted then chances are you B+ average isn’t going to mean anything if 1,000 of the applicants have A+ averages.

To bring the analogy around to adoption, C. and I are on the younger end of the adoption spectrum. Most people adopting in Ontario, are on average in their 40s. Most of the people I have come in contact with who adopt are 40-year-olds with professional designations and own property.

My thinking is, if a social worker is looking a bunch of prospective families and all other things being equal (older child preference, experience with special needs, stable relationship) I can’t see why they would ever pick the comparatively lower income family.

I know C. and I could wait 5 or 10 years until we are in our 40s. We could pay off a lot of debt in that time, and put ourselves in a much better financial position. The reason I don’t want to do this is that we are capable of having biological children. We WANT to build our family through adoption, but I don’t want it to be adoption or nothing. Which means, I don’t want to wait for the adoption system so long that having biological children becomes difficult or impossible and we have no options.

We are definitely privileged in this way. I do recognize that the vast majority of people come to adoption as a choice because of infertility. For them, there is no other way to build a family. So we’re damned lucky to have a choice at all. I don’t want to minimize anyone’s struggle with infertility. However, given the choice, between children and no children I do want to be able to choose to have children. I hope that isn’t disrespectful.

What really kills me is that I know my brother and I were raised on far less money than C. and I earn (even counting for inflation). My brother and I knew we were poor and didn’t have everything other kids did, but we had a good life, went to university, made good relationships, got jobs, etc… So, I have trouble believing that C. and I are not able to support a child. I’m reasonably sure that if we were planning to have a biological child that most people we know would think it was the right time for us because of age, stable jobs and unremarkable but not terrible finances.

I have a lot of trouble believing that the kids they keep telling us have been waiting years in the system for placement are better off still in the system than considering a family of our modest means.

Solutions:

Yes, I will fill out the revised forms and send them in. I know there is a significant difference between $1,300/month and $100/month.

No, it’s not a straight “decline”. So, yes we’d better try again.

Also a big ‘thank you’ to A. and C2 who are helping us with the financial form this time round. It helps practically and also helps with the confidence levels to re-submit.

Personally, I’d just really REALLY like to know what their “acceptable” range is. If we are in the bottom 10% or even 25% I’d like to know because it will significantly reduce a probability of a match.

There was some good stuff:

This sort of feels like a kick in the nads to me after being told we were declined for financials however, it is “good stuff” that could be “better stuff” if our revised financials are accepted.

They seemed really pleased with every single other aspect of our application. Particularly they were pleased that C. was the person who initiated the decision to adopt. I know that many men in the adoptive world are really not as eager or supportive as their female partners and have a lot of reservations about “raising someone else’s kid”. So that was a huge positive.

The worker seemed absolutely blow away by the knowledge we already had on what special needs involved, treatment programs, theraputic parenting knowledge and that we were “eyes wide open” about the realities of older child adoption.

If we do ever make it past this stage they have set us up for not only Toronto, but Hamilton, Halton and Durham matches.

They were very happy with the openness that we have for risk factors and special needs, especially since we were able to demonstrate knowledge of what special needs involves and some (although limited) experience with special needs kids.

We had almost every item already in place for the home safety checklist, the only items we would need to improve are locking away our liquor.

So – yay! From a social standpoint we are the kind of people they are looking for. Which is why it feels like a kick in the nads that we may not be considered financially eligible.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t be so morose. It’s too dramatic, we have another kick at the can. Bitching and whining in a blog is slightly theraputic. This is a small set back, and a reality check. We are moving forward.

Written by BeagleSmuggler

August 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

Helping more kids find permanent homes

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On June 1, 2011 the Ontario government announced the Building Families and Supporting Youth to be Successful Act, 2011 which they say will remove barriers for children to be adopted and result in thousands more Ontario children and youth being eligible for adoption and support.

According to the release the key compoents will be to:

  • Reduce the waitlist for adoption homestudies and establish standard timelines.
  • Making it easeir for youth to attend college or university by exempting CAS finanaical support from OSAP applications.
  • Making it easier to find information online about public, private and international adoption.
  • Working with CAS to determine an approach to fiscally-neutral, targeted adoption subsidies.
  • Working with CASs and First Nations so Aboriginal children and youth in care remain connected to their communities and cultural traditions through more frequent use of customary care arrangements.

Not all of these affect our situation in particular, or immediately. I am glad to see that they are exempting CAS support from OSAP, that just makes sense. And, given the baby-scoop of the 1960s I’m also glad to see the emphasis on keeping aboriginal children connected to their communities.

The big ticket items for us are: changes to the court-ordered access restrictions, changes to homestudy, and changes to subsidies.

Currently 75 per cent of the 9,000 kids in care have a court-ordered access agreements. These may be to a biological parent, grandparent, sibiling or other relative who wants to remain in the child’s life but cannot be their primary caregiver or guardian. These court-ordered access agreements had, until now, prevented these children from being available for adoption. These changes will increasingly allow for open adoption, something that had not easily been available in domestic public adoption previously.

The most difficult part of the adoptive process is the waiting. Waiting for information sessions, intake, home studies, and having absolutely no timeline for when thse things may be completed or should be completed. I don’ tknow if these changes will take place fast enough for Chris and I not to go through the tremendous uncertainity in the process that others have dealt with, but I hope that government action on this will mean a smoother more communicative ride for us.

Finally, there have been many stories in the news recently about families that are drowining in debt post-adoption because they have not been able to access the care their children were previously receiving as foster children. The childern’s needs have not gone away because they were adopted but the funding for those needs has. I know this is a challenge Chris and I face. We are open to adopting older siblings because we know that is where the need for adoptive parents is, however, we also know that we cannot afford private schooling, residential care, full time in-home supervision, or extensive priavate therapy. Most of the studies show that if the government extends the subsidies for care into the adoptive process then more children will be adopted, which will reduce the costs on the system of caring for these children, but will continue to support the children with the care they need.

Another news story on the need for post-18 supports and finanaical supports for adoptive parents of special needs kids:

Outlook is bleak for foster kids “aging out” of system.