Friday, May 01, 2015

Dog and pony show

You know that some people around here really, really love horses. (Yes, I would be included in that some.) It is difficult to live in an urban area, though, and be a horse fanatic. Our small yards and zoning ordinances do not lend themselves to keeping large farm animals. I've even had a daughter try to convince me that we could keep a miniature horse, call it a Great Dane, and no one would know the difference. While I agree that a miniature horse would certainly be smaller than one of the larger breed of dogs, we would be fooling no one. If it looks like a horse and smells like a horse and poops like a horse, it's a horse regardless of what we would like to call it.

(This is going somewhere, I promise.)

Now, some of you may have been wondering about my little temper tantrum a couple of weeks ago and my pointed efforts at writing uncritical and non-confrontational posts. There was a very large back story behind that and with our I800a application officially received at the USCIS office... the application which includes our DCFS produced home study approvel... I am ready to share the untold part of the story.

(Before I continue, I also feel the need to add that I have been in contact with a state senator and he agreed that this story needs to be told. It ceases to be fun to tilt at windmills when the windmill decides to fight back.)

It is easiest to just share what I wrote to the senator. Here is an excerpt.

<<Based on our experience with our last adoption, I knew that getting our home study approved by DCFS was going to be difficult. This was confirmed by my home study agency when I called to discuss having another home study written. No one I spoke with would say whether or not DCFS would approve us because it was known how difficult it can be for large families to be approved in Illinois. I was told that DCFS observes the capacity laws in the strictest sense and that while the agency was willing to write us a home study, they could not guarantee it would be approved. Since we had already been approved by China to adopt a child with the same special need as our daughter, we went ahead. I also felt the need to be proactive and write letters to our representative and senator informing them of the difficulty we had last time and to let them know I could possibly be asking for their help if we ran into difficulties. I also have a blog where I share what is happening with our family and where I share our adoption journey. While it has a moderate readership, it is small potatoes in the greater blog world. 

We received pre-approval to adopt our soon-to-be daughter from China at the end of November. We were diligent in working on our home study and had it completed by the beginning of February. Well, it would have been completed except we were waiting for the child abuse clearances (CANTs) to come back from IL. We had heard that other families (from a variety of agencies) had to wait up to 10 weeks for the clearances to be done while people from other states were waiting a maximum of two weeks. I wrote to the Governor’s office asking why the CANTs were taking so long. A week or so after having written that letter, I received an early morning phone call from someone in the DCFS advocacy office. (I really wish I had gotten her name, but it was very early in the morning and I had yet to have a cup of coffee.) She mentioned that I had complained to the Governor’s office and she wanted to talk with me about my concerns. My biggest concern at that time was that we were still waiting for our clearances (we would eventually wait a full 10 weeks.) She told me that it was my agency’s fault for not having processed the forms correctly. When I pushed a bit, saying that I knew a variety of families from a variety of agencies were having the same problem, she didn’t budge and insisted it was the agencies’ fault. Trying to remain polite, I then thanked her for taking the time to look into our case and her response was, “Well, you should be.” I was stunned. When she then said that they would be looking out for our home study to arrive I can tell you I didn’t know whether that was a positive thing or not. I did not feel as though the advocacy office was on our side and wondered whether I wanted them to know about us at all. 

After the phone call, I contacted my social worker to give her the “correct” instructions as I was told by the DCFS advocate. She mentioned that just a few days earlier the agencies had all received the same information and the CANTs clearances were now running just a couple of days. I don’t know about you, but I find the whole chain of events rather suspicious. The 10 week time frame had been going on for months and DCFS couldn’t share this information earlier? Did they not care that this was adding needless weeks onto a child’s time spent in an orphanage? This was on March 6, a full three months after our pre-approval and over a month after the rest of the home study was written. (At this point, in any other state, our home study would have been considered complete and we would have been able to move onto the next step of applying for immigration approval. If we had been able to do this, we would have stood a very good chance of having our daughter home for Christmas.) 

And so we moved on with our completed home study to waiting to get the approval of the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator at DCFS. With our past history, our large family, and my recent phone conversation with the DCFS “advocate”, I decided that I needed to be proactive and so contacted Sen. Kirk’s office. Another adoptive family had success with the Senator’s office being able to move their home study along in the process and we hoped to be able to receive some help. On April 7, a full month after our home study was turned in, we received a phone call from Sen. Kirk’s office saying that our home study had been approved and we would be receiving the official notice in the mail. Hooray! All the dire predictions I had been handing out had been incorrect and I was thrilled to be wrong. But… The very next day, we receive a phone call from DCFS saying they had made a mistake. The home study they had told Sen. Kirk’s office was approved wasn’t ours, it was someone else’s. Ours was sitting on the desk waiting further information.

Great. 

On April 9, we receive word from our placement agency (the agency whose job it is to act as liaison with China) that DCFS contacted them and had “issues with our family size.” They needed proof that China had already approved us to adopt and they asked, “Does China know how many children they have?” There are several extremely concerning issues with this interaction. 1. As the law stands, the job of the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator is to look at IL home studies and determine if the family meets the required criteria and whether the social worker has done his or her job to be sure everything meets IL’s standards. This office has no authority over other sovereign countries and what they decide to do. If DCFS approved our home study and China said no, they wouldn’t allow us to adopt, then that is between us, our placement agency, and China. It is not in the scope of the DCFS approval process. It is just not their business. 2. It shows that the Intercountry Adoption Coordinator and the supervising office truly have no idea how intercountry adoption works. This is a rather concerning thing considering that it is the purpose of this office to approve home studies for intercountry adoption. In order to receive pre-approval from China for a child, the parents must submit extensive documentation as to family make-up and finances. Of course China knew how many children we have. 3. DCFS is who made it about family size, I had not mentioned this issue in my public writing on this current adoption in either my writing for Adoption.com or on my blog. I knew better than to make any of this about family size, as it is a somewhat debatable topic. The reason to make this point will be seen in just a moment. 

Our placement agency shared our pre-approval notice with DCFS after securing our permission for them to do so, and we waited some more, though not happily, I will add. On April 15, with no news from anyone, my husband decided to call XXX at DCFS and who had made the call to us on April 8 telling us about the mistake in approvals. He wanted to see if he could find out something, anything, about the status of our home study. A little late that day, he received a phone call essentially giving him a slap on the hand for contacting DCFS ourselves and was told we are not to contact them. That afternoon, we learn about a three-way conference call between XXXX (Intercountry Adoption Coordinator [I have since learned she has resigned]), XXXX (from DCFS), the director of Adoption Link, our home study agency, and two staff members of CCAI, our placement agency. The purported intent of the conference call was to discuss our home study. I have been around the adoption world in IL for quite some time and I have never heard of a family’s home study needing a conference call such as this. We received reports of the call from both our agencies and the content of the call went something like this: the majority of the call was taken up with DCFS telling our agencies that I had been too vocal in my criticism of DCFS and the home study approval process. I had written too much about it on my blog and contacted too many law makers. I had said that it was all about family size when it was never and has never been about family size. I was to knock it off. (Obviously not exact quotes, but it is the message I received.) 

The last part of the call was to discuss one sentence at the end of our home study which had to be changed. And the content of that line? Well, it was essentially having to be changed to say that China would have to give us a waiver for our income because we didn’t meet China’s requirements. How kind of DCFS to be so concerned about China breaking its own laws. In the end our home study was approved as written and I will be sending out our immigration application today. >>

Good stuff, huh? One hardly knows where to begin, but I think we'll go back to the dog and pony show. While I have blogged about my issues with DCFS and their "concerns" about large families, I was careful not to make this the main point in my current advocacy. Because, really, everyone has been waiting and everyone has had to put up with nonsense and no one should.

But there have always been the underlying messages that large families were not welcome. At one point, after we brought K. home, I thought we were supposed to adopt a sibling set from Ethiopia. We had even signed on with a placement agency. Tried as a might, I could not find a home study agency in IL to write us a home study. (Now I know this was God firmly closing a door, but the answers would still be the same.) Our family was too large and the agencies had decided to only work with smaller families to avoid dealing with the approval process with DCFS. There have been many large families who, along with the approvals they fought hard for, received demeaning messages to go along with those approvals along with the line, "Never let me see another home study from you cross this desk." Those aren't my stories to share, but if you have one, feel free to leave it in the comments. And then there is the whole nonsense about asking whether or not China knew how many children we had. How can it not be about family size if they feel compelled to ask questions such as that?

So, just like that imaginary pony in my backyard that some would try to call a large dog, I don't think anyone is fooled. You can say something is a dog as much as you like, but if it looks like a horse and smells like a horse and poops like a horse, well... I'm pretty sure it's a horse.

Are you tired of this type of nonsense? Please call and write to the senators who are hearing HB3079 next Tuesday and help to get these laws changed.

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