Sunday, April 18, 2010
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
This week, open adoption bloggers are blogging about how money plays a role in their open adoption. For families who have adopted through foster care, money is an added element that colors the relationships. Here are the dirty financial details behind our open adoption from foster care:
Money is a topic rarely discussed when it comes to adoption. It feels too crass to even mention. But, the raw fact is that children are often moved from home to home like commodities traded on an exchange. There are websites with pictures of beautiful children available, providing an experience akin to purchasing books on Amazon.com (albeit with a lot more red tape and bureaucracy). It was this aspect of “shopping” for a child that led my husband to feel that he did not want to try to expand our family through adoption. When I pushed him, however, he always agreed that if we heard of a child in need, he would be happy to adopt a child.
It was in that context that we found Maya. Whenever I heard of an unwanted pregnancy, I offered our family as a resource to raise that child. Nothing ever came through. Until one day, a colleague and friend mentioned the beautiful baby in foster care that she had come across in her work as a diabetes educator. Apparently, even families waiting to adopt infants felt unable to adopt a baby with Type 1 diabetes. Catholic Charities was having a hard time placing the baby with an adoptive family. I immediately moved on the chance to adopt a baby. The diabetes did not scare us. We have a son with Type 1 diabetes. Indeed, because we had become old hands at managing “the beast” of Type 1 diabetes by then, we felt that we would be an ideal set of parents for this baby. We informed the social worker at Catholic Charities that we would love to adopt the baby in their care. No photo listing in hand. Sight unseen, we committed. That decision has proven to be one of the greatest leaps of faith we ever made. Maya has been a joyous addition to our family.
It seemed that we had found the perfect chance to adopt a baby and escape the commercial aspects of adoption that Tim (and I, if the truth be told) were uncomfortable with. Alas, we came to learn that even adoptions from foster care sometimes involve an exchange of money. Apparently, in an effort to get children from foster care into permanent homes, the federal government has made available financial subsidies to cover the care of raising these children. Harder to place children – racial minorities and children with medical conditions – actually “command” a higher price than white, healthy children. This means that families receive monthly checks for adopting children from foster care.
My husband was immediately opposed to the idea of accepting any subsidy to adopt a baby we wanted and had come to love. I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t see it as money for us as much as money Maya was entitled to. A government benefit. Like unemployment benefits. Who would turn those checks down when they lost a job? My reasoning was that we could put the check away for her every month and have a sizable nest egg for her college fund. My husband felt that Maya would share in our family wealth (or poverty) in the same way as our other two children did. She would be treated the same and wouldn’t have monies set aside that they didn’t have. “Fine,” I responded, “We can divide the monthly check in three” and make college funds for the three of them. The fact that this would be a significant amount of money – some parents in New York receive more than $1,000 per month per child – did not change his mind.
Later, in our journey of adoption, we had occasion to meet Maya’s biological mother and, if we wished, develop a relationship with her. Again I pushed my husband to accept the subsidy once we completed all of our foster care requirements and adopted Maya. He was adamant. Even for the time that she was in foster care and not “legally” ours, he would not accept foster care payments. I argued that we could use the money to help Maya’s mother and her mother’s other son. Tim told me we could do that with our own money, if I wanted, but that we were not taking money for the privilege of adopting Maya. For families that need the extra income to adopt a child, he didn’t have a large problem with the subsidies. But he felt that we were not in that situation. He did agree to accept the medical insurance that is provided for foster children who are adopted. There were a few reasons for this: she had a medical condition and might need expensive care in the future; her insurance was better than the insurance that we purchase as self-employed individuals for the rest of our family; and the state insurance coverage would guarantee that she got the medical care she needed even if we became unable to provide for it. My financially savvy side vehemently disagreed with Tim. I could come up with a number of valid reasons to accept the subsidy. But somewhere in my heart, on another side, I knew that taking the subsidy wasn’t right for us. We weren’t providing a service to the state by raising Maya. We wanted to expand our family. We had come to love her.
Our decision not to accept any subsidy to adopt Maya is one that I am glad we made. We have developed a fully open adoption. Maya’s mother Nikki has turned out to be an extended member of our family, as has the rest of Nikki’s large and extended family. Our family has grown exponentially with the adoption of Maya. And I feel good about that. I feel good about having been able to tell Nikki and her family that, while we could have received a subsidy to adopt Maya, we turned it down. (They must think we are crazy or secretly wealthy.) We adopted her because we love her as much as they do. Had we accepted the subsidy, I would have felt guilty in Nikki’s presence. It would have weighed upon me that I was receiving money that Nikki so desperately needed to raise the daughter that the government callously took away from her. I am glad for my husband’s insistence. And I know that I want as little government involvement in our lives as necessary. We have no ties to the government. In that way, our adoption now feels like a private open adoption, with no government involvement.
Still, as I imagine exists in private open adoptions, money – or the disparity of financial resources between our family and Nikki’s – is something that makes its presence felt at times. In little ways. Like the fact that I know that I will pay for Nikki’s entrance fee to a museum or skating rink. Or that I will pay for her meal at a diner or McDonald’s too. And, at holidays, I give her the standard Italian-American “envelope” with cash in it for her gift. I try to encourage her to save her money and not buy me or Tim anything for holidays. Sometimes she still does. And I always appreciate the effort. I also appreciate that her family doesn’t forget my children at holidays. So, to the extent that money plays a role in our lives these days, it is much like how money plays a role in the lives of me and my brothers and sisters. Because my brothers and sisters have greater financial resources than Tim and I, they will often pay for our meals at a restaurant or not ask us to chip in for a gift to our parents, but still say the gift is from us, too. In the end, in our open adoption, money plays a role in the same way it does in any family.