Saturday, February 28, 2015

Adoption 101: The Process

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 20

If you are an adoptive family or are familiar with the process this will be old news to you and you might just want to come back on Monday. I have had a lot of people ask about what the process to adopt is and also ask why it all takes so long when I say that we may not bring our daughter home until 2016. I thought I would try to explain exactly what is involved in the adoption process. I will use the process for China because that is the one I am currently familiar with, other countries will have a different process though the homestudy and immigration steps will be the same. I will also add a '$' after each step which involves writing a check.

Here we go...

Step 1: Decide to adopt. A family will either find a child first on a waiting child list or they will sign on with an agency  and wait to be matched with a child. Because we started with an identified child, I will explain that process.

Step 2: Find a placement agency ($). This is the agency who is responsible for communication with China and who provides guides in country to complete the adoption. It is very important that this agency be chosen carefully. (Adoption ethics - Finding an agency)

Step 3: Submit your Letter of Intent to China (LOI) ($). This is the letter which asks China (specifically the CCCWA which is the government department in charge if adoptions) for permission to adopt a specific child. Along with a letter, there are financial statements and proof of the parents ability to care for a child which need to be submitted.

Step 4: Receive Pre-Approval from CCCWA (PA). This is the letter giving the parents provisional approval to adopt a specific child. With PA the parents then need to submit a completed dossier to the CCCWA within 6 months. The dossier is the collections of official documents which show a family's ability to be good and able parents. The wait from LOI to PA can be anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. We received PA for Tina very quickly.

Step 5: Find a homestudy agency ($) and complete the homestudy ($). The homestudy agency may or may not be the same as the placement agency; it depends on the states you and the placement agency are in. The homestudy is a document required of every family who wishes to adopt regardless of the type of adoption. A homestudy will consist of the following: multiple visits to your home and interviews with a licensed social worker; interviews of each of the children in the home; copies of financial statements (tax returns, savings accounts, checking accounts, retirement, life insurance), statement about water quality, employer letters, health reports on every person and animal in the family, letters of references from family and friends, birth certificates, marriage licenses, 12 hours of adoption training (or four hours per additional adoption), FBI fingerprinting of everyone 18 and older ($), and state child abuse clearances for every state everyone 14 and older have lived in from the age of 18 on. (This is the step which is currently hanging us up. We are now on week 9 of waiting for IL to run our child abuse clearances... can't complete the hoemstudy without them.)

The social worker takes all this information and compiles it into a document and determines if the family is approved for adoption. The homestudy will also include a statement from the social worker stating the number of children, age, sex, and special need the family is approved to adopt. In most states the homestudy is now complete. In a handful (including IL), the homestudy then goes to the state to be approved. You know my opinion on that by now, I'm sure.

The homestudy process can take anywhere from an extremely fast couple of weeks to many months depending on the speed of the family collecting documents, the speed of the social worker writing the study, and the various approval processes. We completed everything but the clearances in one month.

Step 6: With the homestudy completed the family now begins the immigration process for the child. The first step is to submit the preliminary application (I800A) to US immigration (USCIS) ($), the first step in the visa process. The I800A consists of a lengthy application which must have various documents attached... birth certificates, marriage licenses, and the homestudy (there may be more) and a hefty check to pay for fingerprinting.

Step 7: Wait for the fingerprinting appointment and then be fingerprinted again. If you are paying attention you will see that this is the second fingerprinting which has happened in the process. This is because government agencies don't play well with others and do not share fingerprints. So the FBI gets one set and USCIS gets another. Even better is this double fingerprinting happens every single time you adopt. Because fingerprints change, you know. (Where's that sarcastic emoticon?)

Step 8: Compile dossier while you wait for provisional immigration approval. The dossier includes an approved homestudy, birth certificates, marriage licenses, financial statement, employer letters, letters of recommendation, police clearance letters, and medical reports, as well as a set of family photos.

Step 9: Receive provisional immigration approval from USCIS. This is the final document to be included in the dossier. USCIS approval can take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks assuming they do not ask for any additional information.

Step 10: Certify and authenticate the dossier. Certification involves taking the notarized documents to the Secretary of State's office so they can certify the notary ($). If a document was generated in another state, it will need to be mailed to that state for certification. Some states required a county certification before the state certification can be added. Once the dossier is certified, it must be authenticated by the Chinese Consulate ($). There are several consulates around the country and each authenticate documents generated in certain state. It is possible you will need to use multiple consulates, usually paying couriers to carry the papers. Depending on a variety of factors this step can take one to two weeks.

Step 11: Overnight dossier to agency for review ($). After spending so much time and money on this stack of papers you do not want it to missing. The agency reviews it and puts it in order. If everything is fine it will then be sent to China. This step is commonly referred to as DTC, or Dossier to China. This step can take up to two weeks.

Step 12: The dossier is reviewed and the logged-in to the CCCWA's system and you are given a log-in date. From being DTC to having your dossier logged-in can also take one to two weeks.

Step 13: Receive Letter of Acceptance from the CCCWA (LOA). This is the official permission granted to a family from China to adopt a specific child. Current waits for receiving LOA (counting from the log-in date) are running anywhere from 70 to 90 days.

Step 14: Apply for immigration permission to bring a specific child into the country by filing the I800 application with USCIS. This application includes information on your specific child with details of their orphan status. It is this step where the US government determines that the child fits the criteria of the US Government to be classified as an orphan. Once granted, this is the first part of the child obtaining their US visa. Currently this step is taking anywhere from 11 to 36 days. Amazingly this step requires no money.

Step 15: Now the rest of this visa-stuff is a little complicated and full of acronyms and time frames which really only matter to the families who are waiting. What you need to know is that the National Visa Center communicates with the CCCWA and send important papers and emails back and forth which all result in the family getting closer to travel. All of this back and forth business takes about a month.

Step 16: CCCWA issues an invitation to the family to travel to China to adopt their child. (TA). But don't buy plane tickets yet, there is still one more step. The placement agency then needs to make a consulate appointment with the US Consulate in Guangzhou. With this date, the agency works backwards and arranges the adoption date and the family can now buy plane tickets ($). Getting a consulate appointment can take a day or two. Once the family can begin to make travel arrangements, they will probably travel within one to two weeks with all arrangements being made within that time.

Step 17: Travel. Some families choose to go a couple of days early, do some sightseeing and get over their jet lag. Some agencies plan orientation days in those days before as well. For the actual adoption, the first item on the itinerary is the child's province. This is where the family meets the child, pays the orphanage donation ($) if it wasn't wired ahead of time, and completes more paperwork. Some families will need to also travel to the child's hometown to complete the child's visa. From the province everyone then has to make their way to Guangzhou where the US Consulate is. More paperwork is done as well as the visa physical and the consulate appointment. Usually about 24 hours after all this is done, the visa is issued an the family is free to leave to go home. The time spent in country is usually two weeks. If a family is adopting more than one child and those children are in different provinces, the time spent will be close to three.

Also, sometime between LOA and travel (depending on which consulate you use), Chinese visas ($) will also have to be applied for. This doesn't really have an significance to the time frame, but it is yet one more set of forms to complete, money to pay, and something to stress about.

Step 18: You would think that is all, huh? Well, after a family is home, the paperwork continues. China and each state require a certain number of post-placement reports ($) on the child. In China's case, we are required to submit reports for the first five years the child is home. Families will also want to apply for a US birth certificate  or Certificate of Foreign Birth for their child ($). Social Security numbers also need to be applied for. This can be dragged out for a long time... I still need to get H.'s US birth certificate, but somehow just never seem to have $1000 (thank you IL) just lying around. We'll probably do H. and Tina at the same time.

Step 19: Buy a fireproof safe to keep all the documents in and every few months panic that you've lost them and compulsively check their presence.... or is that just me?

So does everyone have all that? Crystal clear and very straight forward with absolutely no redundancy, right?

Friday, February 27, 2015

In which I make my children eat chocolate sandwich cookies

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 19

Everyone has been looking forward to today ever since the two packages of chocolate sandwich cookies with creamy filling came home from the grocery store. And what did we do with these cookies? Learned about the phases of the moon, of course.

We are beginning to learn about the travels of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. Before they ever set out, Meriweather Lewis spent a couple of years learning the different sciences he would need to complete his tasks successfully. Astronomy was one of those sciences and was just related enough to the phases of the moon to make use of the cool activity. (Because when you find a cool educational activity, you really want to use it.) So this morning found everyone at the table with a globe, a lamp (for the sun), a tennis ball (for the moon), paper plates and stacks of chocolate cookies.

Here is D.'s completed project to show you what we did. On the paper plate everyone drew the sun (on the edge) and the earth (in the center). We then used our globe, lamp, and tennis ball to see why we see the section of the moon illuminated that we do during the month. As we learned about each phase, the cookie eaters would take apart their cookie, eat the portion of cookie/filling that were not needed and add them to the plate. The new moon phase (without any stuffing) was their favorite since it required the most eating.

For those who are curious, the phases of the moon go new moon (between the earth and the sun, with no stuffing), and continuing counter-clockwise around the circle, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, third quarter, waning crescent, and back to new moon. 

(I completely stole this from a picture on Pinterest. There was only a photograph and no link to any other webpage, so I can't give credit where credit is due.)

Everyone enjoyed it and were able to really understand the phases and why we see what we see. When we were reading in our history book a little later and read about the lunar eclipse which played a part in the fall on Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks, we had a brief discussion about how eclipse work and they were easily able to understand what was being talked about because of our earlier discussions and demonstrations. Homeschool win!)

The biggest hit of the morning was that I was telling them to eat cookies and I wonder if they will all have vague cravings for chocolate sandwich cookies when the look at the moon.

G. (no she doesn't seem cold even though it is 15 degrees outside)

K. and D.


L. and K.

H. and L.

Oh, and here's your bonus vocabulary lesson for the day. I had no idea, so I looked it up, the word 'gibbous' refers to the shape of a circle which is left if you take a crescent shape out of it. I pretty much is only used to refer to certain phases of the moon because it's not a shape that we really need to describe at any other time. Now you know.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Our current plague

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 18

(Warning: probably you don't want to read this if you are eating anything.)

In my continuing effort to document real life as opposed to some pretend, glossy magazine life (because I know you all think that's what we live [insert sarcastic emoticon here]), I'm sharing our latest little bit of fun.



OK, not really everywhere, but certainly a lot around certain rooms. And enough to be really annoying and cause us to put up numerous fly strips. We've even considered putting on our coats and leaving the doors open for many hours, but it's just too cold to do that, and we kind of like our pipes to stay warm and cozy.

I have more than a sneaking suspicion that some uninvited animal came into our house and died inside a wall somewhere. The good thing is that we aren't really bothered by any smell, though there is a very odd scent I get every now and then when I'm in either of the two bathrooms that are above and below each other. Thank goodness for small favors. We've had this happen before, and that time you really could smell whatever it was. I'm not really anxious to get to experience that again.

In the meantime, we will continue to battle the flies. I'm sure they'll disappear at some point... probably right around the time the weather warms us and the doors are open and the flies come in.
On a more serious note, I have another article published. Culture and Adoption: Sharing What You Don't Know

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

It's OK to relax

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 17

For the past week or so, I've been feeling pretty tired. The weeks haven't been particularly difficult or busy, in fact, they've been pretty darn normal. I think it is this normalness that is causing me to ponder my fatigue, both physical and emotional. Though I'm tired, I am finding it difficult to gear down and actually relax. It's as though I've forgotten who to. This is rather odd for me and I've been trying to think why. Here is my conclusion. The past four months have been so crazy that I have jumped into automatic high alert and my body is finding it difficult to gear down. You want to hear the list from the past four months? I don't share this with you because I want you to be impressed by me, but because it's part of my point that things sneak up on you and you don't always realize it. Here's what we did:

- Three surgeries, one being the unplanned emergency type
- One hospital test
- 22 doctor's appointments, not including the standing twice a week variety we already do
- One college graduation
- Thanksgiving (which we hosted)
- Directing Christmas pageant and children's choir
- Christmas
- Crisis with HG with a very long ER visit and a week of difficult things as we worked to get her services
- New Year's party
- Doctoral comprehensive exams
- Three ear infections
- Two rounds of stomach flu
- Hosted a bridal shower
- Hosted a wedding
- Two tech weeks and two performance weekends for children in theater
- Decision to adopt an 11th child and application to China
- One homestudy completed
- Parents visited for a weekend

So add in that with the usual stuff... homeschooling, feeding ~12 people, keeping the house in order, teaching piano, keeping up with writing jobs, and all the other stuff of everyday life... and I can see why I've been feeling odd. It was a lot. Especially with expanders failing and various complications after H.'s surgery, I began to feel as though I was just moving from crisis to crisis and I could feel myself living in a high alert state.

Here's where I'm going with all of this. It is not good to live in a constant state of high alert. It makes small things that would normally not even register as being a big deal seem more difficult and big things become even harder. There is no way for your body to relax when bad things aren't happening and you are always looking for trouble. I have been having to purposefully make myself sit down and relax (and no, spending time on the computer, people, is not relaxing... my gut feeling is that it makes us all more stressed, but I'll have to wait for someone to do a real study to prove me right.) It involves putting more margin in my life again and realizing that having moments where I'm not doing anything are OK. It is OK if I sit and knit. It's OK if I snuggle with my littles and spend an hour looking at picture books. It's actually even OK if I sit for a bit and don't do anything at all... even if there is a load of laundry in the washer. I hate the jumpy feeling of not being able to relax and I've been using techniques on myself that I learned to help TM calm down.

It is also good for me to feel what it is like to live in this heightened state for a longer period of time because it gives me empathy for some of my children. Children from hard places live in this state perpetually, for TM, I'm convinced it is the only thing he knows. If I have difficulty gearing down from it after only four months, how much more difficult is it to learn to live in a more relaxed state? It makes me realize that he needs support in working towards this goal.

I wonder how many other people live in this state and don't even realize it. Our society doesn't give much room or permission to relax or allow margin in our lives. It's not healthy and makes one short-tempered. So everyone, take a deep, relaxing breath or two... look at your schedule and see what really doesn't need to be there... and practice not being busy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What the littles have been up to

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 16

It's been a long time since a posted any pictures of G. and L. They're doing well. They're busy, happy (except when they're not... and then they're really not), funny little girls. I love seeing what they are going to come up with next. Usually.

Blocks and entire imaginary stories... long, long involved stories... have been the name of the game for K. and the little girls for the past few days. Some of the blocks have been carted downstairs (the third floor where they [the blocks] live is not heated and right now it's a little chilly up there) and there has been much building and playing in the kitchen. There have been castles and houses and roads and superheroes and at one point Jericho was even built and then the Israelites knocked it down. I admit to stopping the catapult which used a very long block to launch other blocks, powered by K. dropping a stack of library books on one end of it.

I like to eavesdrop and listen in when they don't realize anyone is paying attention. It is so interesting to see where their imaginations take them and what they come up. I am also still grinding my teeth over that study that came out a while ago purporting to prove that younger children from large families were stunted intellectually. OK, the study only said in vocabulary, but you can't tell me that the underlying presupposition was that they were stunted intellectually as well. I even thought about keeping a running list of the unusual-for-a-kindergartner-to-use vocabulary that I heard in their play. You'll be relieved that I decided not to. I realized no one but me really wants to read it.

I'll leave you with two stories before I show you the pictures from what is going on behind me. The first relates to vocabulary (no, evidently, I can't let it go). We were watching our Marco Polo movie on Friday and one of the travelers mentioned they were stocking up on provisions. G. pipes up and asks, "What are provisions?" L., without prompting, turns to her and says, "They are supplies, just like in The Brave Cowboy." Well done, L. (The Brave Cowboy is L.'s favorite book.)

The other is about H. God knew what He was doing when He gave H. little siblings with big imaginations. They have been the best teachers she could have hoped for. Imagination was not something that could be considered an emerging skill when H. came home. It just wasn't there. She has spent a lot of time watching K., G., and L. and sometimes even playing with them (this happens more and more these days) and she is learning to imagine. The best thing I saw this weekend was from Sunday. For some reason or another K. announced that it was his stuffed dog's birthday (that dog has more birthdays than anything I know... he must be at least 100 by now). If it is your birthday, you must have presents, right? So at some point in the afternoon I discover four busy little bees wrapping items out of the recycling bin in newspaper. They then proceeded to have a party where the gifts were unwrapped. You would have thought they were real toys by the amount of joy each was greeted with... and H. was right there with them, extolling the wonders of each "gift". Beautiful.

G. (guess who picked out her own clothes)

K., H., and L. (who also picked out her own clothes... I think that's a Superman shirt under the sweater.)


H. who is engaging in tandem play more and more. It's a step in the right direction.


Monday, February 23, 2015


Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 15

I'm realizing that there is a theme in our homeschool studies this year and that is long, long travelling adventures. We've just finished the travels of Marco Polo and are now going back to the rest of the Middle Ages, and having finished the human body are now starting another unit study, this time on Lewis and Clark. I don't think I fully realized we were doing so many travel narratives when I was putting it all together. Or if I did, I didn't remember it until I started reading our Lewis and Clark book this morning.

This is probably more of a reflection of my own interests than anything else. I love to travel and well written travel literature is one of my favorite genres. (I've also been known just to check-out travel books such as Fodor's or Rough Guide from the library on places I'm interested in.) My list of destinations I want to go to is very, very long.

More than a couple of my children share my wanderlust. Last Friday we sat down to watch the DVD, In the footsteps of Marco Polo. This is a movie documenting that travels of two men in the early '90's who traced Marco Polo's journey. As we were watching the introduction and the men were describing where they were going, D. gets a funny look on his face and suddenly bursts out with, "I want to do that! I want to go there!" I understand this feeling of wanting, needing to do something, go somewhere. I sympathized with him because I felt the same way watching the little red line move across the map.

Every so often dinner conversation will center around cool places to visit. Everyone has their own favorites. In the end it would turn into a world tour. Inevitably someone will suggest I set up a 'Go Fund Me' site to pay for this big adventure. As hilarious as it would be to chronicle the traveling adventures of a family of 12, you'll notice there is no such listing. We'll have to continue to be satisfied to continue to travel in our imaginations.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tet and Chinese New Year 2015

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 13

Last night we celebrated Tet and Chinese New Year, though we were a day late. We spent the evening with the H-S family and ordered in Chinese food, which thrilled H. TM has stated for future reference that Vietnamese food is better and we should have ordered that. The objection was noted and will be kept in mind for next year.

I will pause here for a brief digression. In our defense, it is far, far easier to order Chinese take-out than Vietnamese as the only very close VN restaurant closed several years ago. You would think in a city of 75,500 people that has over 90 restaurants in its downtown alone, that there could be one Vietnamese restaurant. Is there Ethiopian? Yes. Thai? Yes, many. Mexican? Yes. Chinese... French... Spanish... Italian... Japanese? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Vietnamese? No. Now, back to the topic.

The evening was pretty low key. We ate and there might have been some fireworks, but you didn't hear that from me. TM and I had picked up some sweets at the Vietnamese market for our party. Dried fruit is part of the Tet celebrations and I found some bags marked "sweets for the New Year". We had candied ginger, winter melon, and lotus seed.

The ginger was very spicy, which some people liked. The winter melon (white stuff) was incredibly sweet and like eating straight sugar, and the lotus seeds (round), were just a little bland (I thought.)

The hit of the evening was this bag of Chinese New Year's candy which I had bought. 

Now I will admit to buying it with a little trepidation. The packaging was all in Chinese and I've had some really, um, interesting (that would be the polite form of gross) Chinese candy. Despite my warnings to the children that I couldn't guarantee the tastiness of the product, the bag was opened and swarmed upon. It turns out that it was pretty darn good. It was a sort of crispy wafer cookie texture with different flavors... coconut, coffee, chocolate, peanut butter. This is what was left.

AL H-S arrived home later that evening and was able to translate some of the package. The three characters on the front name the candy as "crisp heart sweets". Now you know.

So, happy year of the goat, everyone. 

And I'll end with one more little digression. In China, it is the year of the goat/sheep/ram. You'll see it different ways. This is because Mandarin uses the same word for both sheep and goat. (Some day I'll have to ask one of my Mandarin speaking friends how the Bible passage about the sheep and goats is translated into Mandarin.) Vietnamese uses one word for sheep and a different word for goat and the year is consistently called the year of the goat. So there is your cultural linguistics lesson for the day. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

How do you get people to care?

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 12

Most of the time, I am pretty even keeled. I accept the world has a lot of stinky bits to it, but do what I can, though it always feels like so little. Then there are other times when I am so overwhelmed that I just want to scream and scream and scream until someone starts to pay attention. What has started this little round of imaginary screaming is not the state of Illinois (though I wouldn't blame you if that is immediately where you went), but this blog post, Adoption: Hard to Start, Harder to Stop. I agree with every word. It is difficult to take the plunge. J. and I dithered about it for over ten years and the births of three children. J. and I have also had times when we thought we should adopt a child or children, but were pretty clearly told no by God that we shouldn't. I get all of that. But J. and I have also seen the inside of more than one orphanage. We have met children who desperately wanted a mommy and a daddy. We have held these children, we have talked with them, we have had to tell them we were not their new mommy and daddy and left with another child. That does something to a person. It changes you and you see things differently. It is a sudden and powerful reordering of your priorities.

What caught my attention most in the blog post was the reaction of others when this man told them they thought they were done adding to their family. (I will note that while I don't know this family, they would appear to be quite functional. A family that is struggling and falling apart needs the support of their church and community to achieve wellness. For this argument we're going to leave struggling families out of the discussion.) According to that author, the general reaction was one of relief from others. Why? Why would that be someone's reaction? They weren't being asked to raise these children. Admit it, it's odd. Could it be that by this family adopting four children and raising six, that they were showing to the world that the world's assumptions were wrong? That it is possible to have a "good" life and have more than the usual two? Is their family a constant reminder that there are children out there somewhere who need homes and by them stopping it was limiting the amount of guilt others felt? I don't know, but you can tell by my tone that I am irritated. I guess I just don't understand the gladness and relief expressed by others that another child will not have a family. Don't read that wrong. I am not faulting the writer or his family. They are making decisions as to what is best for their family at this time and have also expressed regret that for the immediate future another adoption isn't on the table. I've been in that place; I get it. It is a desire to do more, to love another child, yet be told not now. Sympathy as a response makes sense to me, but relief?

I don't understand why everyone isn't doing something... adoption, sponsorship, funding another family's adoption, supporting in a hands-on way an adoptive family (we have a couple of friends in our lives who cannot adopt but have been a huge support to us; this counts). These are not just statistics and diagnoses, they are real children who face things everyday we cannot imagine. Here is one very true life example that I have permission to share from my friend who wrote this a couple of days ago about her daughter:

Today Jasmine got a cough assist machine. The respiratory therapist came in to teach us how to use it. It is a mask that sits on her face and forces in a deeper breath and then it helps her cough. It frightened her a bit.
A little while later she started asking why she had to use it. 
Jasmine - "It's scary. Why I have to do it mama?"
Me - "We need to keep your lungs healthy and you need help taking a deep breath." 
Jasmine - "Do I have to do it every day?"
Me - "No, just when you are sick. It's to help keep you from getting pneumonia and helps to keep you out of the hospital."
Jasmine - "I don't like the hospital."
Me - "I don't either. I want to keep you healthy and keep you with me for a long, long time." 
Jasmine - "You do mama?"
Me - "Of course I do. I love you so much. I want as much time as I can have with you." 
Jasmine - "Even though I'm heavy?"
Me - "Why would you ask me that? We've talked about that. You are NOT heavy."
Jasmine - "Cause the nannies would tell me I am too heavy and too much work so why don't I just die anyway?"
Me (After I composed myself and caught my breath and reminded myself that God is the perfect enforcer of proper retribution and that flying to another country to beat someone up probably wasn't the wisest move.) - Did the nannies really say that Jasmine? What did you think?"
Jasmine - "Maybe I should just die and make everyone's life easy.”
Said just like that. So matter of fact like it was nothing. How did she survive? How did she keep her sweet soul intact? Oh how I wish I could have protected her from the evil in this world.
Being away from the kids is hard. Cassie is doing a great job but the housework and laundry and extras are falling behind. Sometimes I want to scream because I just want to be home and be in control of the housework and the kid's school and playtime and I really miss my babies. But with all that being said and knowing what I know now I would still get on that plane and go get her. Somethings are more important than dishes in the sink or floors that are sticky or even schoolwork that will have to be done in June.

Did you read that? A child who was told repeatedly that it would be better if she would just die? How can anyone ignore that? I've met this girl in person. She is a lovely, lovely girl and I fell in love with her. She is most definitely valuable. I hope it makes you want to scream.

Do you see now why I'm so up in arms about the delays caused by Illinois' ridiculous policies? They keep children (not all children, but even one is too many) in situations like the one Jasmine described longer than necessary. Thankfully I know my daughter is in a good place. It is a relief, but others are not so lucky and they are waiting to bring their children home as well.

Make a noise. Pray for the children. Ask yourself if you are someones mommy or daddy... and just didn't know it. I will admit there are things we forego because of our choices to bring our children home. As much as everyone (and L. in particular) would love it, we won't be going to Disneyland. We don't eat out at restaurants except as a very special treat. Movies? Same thing. New cars? Um, what are they? I am intimately familiar with thrift stores and making do and am thankful for it because my children are worth having here and worth the sacrifices that entails.

Maybe you just don't know. Maybe you haven't seen the faces, heard the stories. Well, here are some places to begin.

Twenty Less - An advocacy website that focuses on just twenty (out of the 1000's of children who have files prepared)  Look at this little guy from their list:

This is Pete. He has the double-strike of being both a boy and having a facial difference. By the way, I know a really excellent plastic surgeon.

Or there is Waiting Child Info which along with waiting children has a lot of information about special needs and how to adopt.

Most agencies also keep waiting child lists. CCAI, our agency, does, and also has some children listed on their website. Here is my favorite little one:

This is Shan. Isn't she adorable?! Oh my goodness... if I had a little more money and lived in a better state... Don't you think she would be so cute playing with K? Ugh. Can't go there. But really, she has been met by many families who have brought home children from her orphanage. She cries when one of 'her' babies leaves. She deserves to be the one leaving with a mommy and daddy... even if it isn't me. 

I want people to care about these children. I want people to care enough about these children to DO something. And don't forget to send your weekly letter to the representatives of IL's government. At some point one of them has to answer someone at some point, right?

Thursday, February 19, 2015


Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 11

I'm not sure what I've spent my day doing, but it sure wasn't blogging. Plus, I've been paying bills. I believe I've mentioned I hate paying bills. I've been in a bad mood for several days because I know I need to do it, but have been putting it off. I'll let you in on a little secret... putting painful things off doesn't make them less painful. I know this, but still completely procrastinate about the bills. I know that we are not living precariously on the edge, but, boy, emotionally it always feels like it. It would be one thing if we were living a frivolous lifestyle, but we're not. Ugh. Bills. Ugh.

So you do not get a post. Instead, I'll send you to two other articles that published today that I wrote on a day I wasn't paying (or not paying) bills.

Step Back from the Edge: You Can Homeschool High School

The Flip Side of Love

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lent 2015

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 10

Today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Tonight we will be setting up the branches that will hold our the ornaments which go along with the daily Lenten devotional we use. It's the same every year. We spend 40 days walking through the arc of the entire Bible story, ending with the resurrection on Easter.

I wanted to give a short plug for following the liturgical year with your family. If you are from Catholic, Orthodox, or Reformed Christian traditions, this idea is probably already familiar to you. If you are from an Evangelical tradition not associated with one of the Reformed denominations, I have a feeling the idea of following the liturgical, or church, year at church is a bit foreign, much less observing it with your family. I personally feel we lose so much when we cut ourselves off from our history. Whether we think about or acknowledge it, we all have ties to the early church and early church history and the practices of the liturgical year are very old. It is a way to tie ourselves to our history as well as deepening our faith and spiritual life. We don't do it because it is somehow a requirement or because we need to, but because it helps us to focus on what is important. When we orient our lives around the church calendar, it reminds us of the things which are of first importance. As Kimberlee Conway Ireton writes in, The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year:

The Church year is another way God reaches into time to draw us to himself. In living each year the mystery of our faith -- Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again -- we open ourselves to receive a deeper understanding of that mystery, a deeper appreciation of the depth of God's sacrificial love for us, a deeper gratitude for the manifold ways and places God works and plays in our lives.
Here are some links to past posts about our lenten devotions.

List of devotional verses

Picture of ornaments

And a link to a past post I wrote a while ago for our church's blog that was kept during lent.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When it comes to God, we all have a little RAD

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 9

In church on Sunday, there was a sudden change of preachers in between services. Babies don't take church schedules into account, you know. Sermon notes were passed on and church went on. Now, I don't know if you eve do things like this, but in my ridiculously active imagination, I started to wonder what I would do if someone had handed me the notes and told me I was up. This was a really fantastic misuse of imagination because the odds of this happening were at, oh, about 0. Still, there my brain was, pondering different ideas.

The topic was when Jesus teaches his disciples the Lord's Prayer in Luke 11. As I read the part after the actual prayer, it was incredibly similar to Luke 18 where Jesus tells the parable of the persistent widow. As I wrote about in a previous post, the point is not that we have to badger God, but that God desires to give us good things and we should not lose heart. It is the same message that Jesus gives at an earlier point. God is our father who loves us and knows what is good for us and desires to do good things for us. Why, I wondered, did Jesus need to repeat himself so blatantly.

As I was thinking, the radical idea of God being our father, our adoptive father, flitted through my head. Adoption... children... parents... the need to repeat oneself... the need to reassure that God, the father, wants good things for His children... and it came to me. It's because we all are suffering from Radical Attachment Disorder (RAD) of a spiritual nature with our spiritual parent.

While I know that there is so much more to the Lord's prayer than what I'm going to share, as a parent who loves a child on the RAD spectrum, it is a fascinating way to look at it. Let me explain.

Children who are suffering from attachment disorders are scared, hurt little beings. They have been hurt and are afraid to allow themselves to love again... or perhaps have never experienced love and have no idea what it looks like. They have only themselves to rely on and actively push away overtures of love. I am utterly convinced that we need to see adoption in real life... in our churches and in our communities... because it has something powerful to teach us about God's adoption of His children. Unless you have experienced (or have supported someone who has experienced) adoption, you have know idea of the depth of love it takes. We love our adopted children imperfectly, but God does it perfectly.

The Lord's Prayer from Luke 11:

Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.

  • God wants us to call Him Father, to acknowledge the relationship. This isn't always easy to do. God also wants us to acknowledge who is in charge. It's not us, as much as we try to make it so. Children who are having difficulty attaching to their parents do not often want to acknowledge their parents' place of relationship and authority in their lives, yet this is the first step in the dance of attachment.
Give us each day our daily bread.
  • Anyone who has spent any time at all in therapeutic parenting circles knows that food is huge. Learning that the parent controls the food and that the parent will always feed the child can go a long, long way towards that child's healing. It's hard because the child must learn to depend on the parent for a basic need. We need to learn to rely on God for our basic needs as well. You can all just raise your hands along with me if this is a struggle.
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
  • There is a lot of hurt that can happen both before and during the process of attachment. Having to learn to both forgive my son and ask for his forgiveness is an ongoing, humbling process as our relationship heals and grows. Fear does not bring out the best in people. In my relationship with God, I am often dismayed to find that my reactions to Him look an awful lot like the actions that so cause me to lose hope with my son. I want things my own way and am angry when they don't happen. I am scared that maybe God doesn't love me. I make demands of God. I ignore God. I sometimes run away from God. Yet, God still loves me with His perfect love, even though there is much in me to forgive. And I need to learn to forgive those same things in others. It is a steep learning curve.
And lead us not into temptation.
  • One of the biggest jobs I have in parenting my son is looking out that I do not put him in situations where he is going to fail. He does not always have the capabilities of making good choices and until that time comes, it is my job to protect him as much as possible. God wants us to allow Him to provide that sort of protection for us. Of course, there are times when my son doesn't listen to me or goes out of his way to put himself in not great situations despite my best efforts. We do the same with God. There is that voice inside us telling us we shouldn't really do something or expose ourselves to something and we shut it down. 
To get closer to God means that we have to want to get closer to God. We have to be willing to enter into that relationship. We have to battle the sin nature in us that says God doesn't love us, He doesn't want the best for us, or perhaps that He isn't even really there. Just like an attachment challenged child, we need to practice. We need to spend time with our Heavenly Father, to acknowledge His authority, to admit He loves us. We have to let go of the control we think we have over our own lives. We need to let ourselves attach to God.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Major Award!... but sadly, no lamp included**

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 8

Last night J. and I were honored at the Interfaith Action Council of Evanston's dinner as our church's choice of their Vision Keepers... a sort of volunteer of the year-thing. I thought long and hard about sharing this with my blog readers, mainly because I dislike (really, really dislike) having the spotlight shine on me. It just makes me uncomfortable and I will most definitely, 100% of the time, make light of it. (**Hence the Christmas Story reference in the title.) 

Yet one of the things I remember my grandmother saying time and time again was that not only did a person need to learn to be a good giver, but the person also needed to learn to be a good receiver. It's a two-way street, the giver receives joy when the receiver has accepted graciously. I know there have been times that I have been thrilled to be a part of honoring someone I admire. I want to do it because it is a small way of giving back some of the very intangible things they have done for me. It gives me joy to be able to honor them. So, that is why I am posting about this. I do not want to diminish or make light of the sentiment of people I care very much about. (Even though I internally squirm as doing so.) J. and I really do appreciate the thought and the meaning behind the honor. Plus, we got a very nice dinner with some of our favorite people as part of the bargain.

Here are some of our church family who were able to make the dinner. I can honestly say that without the incredible support of many of the people you see pictures, J. and I would not be able to do what we do.

Receiving our certificates from our wonderful pastor.

My only regret from the evening was that the table was so large and the room so full (and thus the noise level was pretty high) that J. and I only had a chance to really visit and talk with those people immediately next to us. I wish there was a way we could have talked with the whole table.

So, thank you very much to our church. J. and I do what we do because we love Jesus and we love all of you.
Oh, and I realized that I never shared the answer to my little pop quiz in a recent post. What was the musical the lines were from? My real life friend Donna nailed it. Here is what she wrote in the comments:

1776 - John Adams, as played by William Daniels... "Does anyone see what I see?"

Don't give up the fight, dear friend! It matters. She matters!

As her prize I will throw something in my suitcase for her and give it to her when we can finally get on an airplane and fly across the ocean. Donna.... you can be thinking about what US delicacy you are craving.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Getting back on the wagon... or revisiting children and chores

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 6

For the past year and a half, we had fallen off the children helping with household jobs wagon. There were a variety of reasons for this. I had come to accept families go through different seasons with different needs and the need for a detailed job chart and the corresponding expectations was not the season our family had been in. That's not to say children didn't help keep the house neat and tidy, but that we were definitely working on a more ad hoc basis and didn't have anything formal in place.

As will happen, we have moved into another season and are now at a place where we can spend the time assigning household jobs, helping children learn to do them, and take the time to make sure they are done. Do not kid yourselves. We don't do this because it is easier, it's not. Frankly, it's a lot more work to teach a child to clean a bathroom or to sweep under things or do lift things up to dust than it is to just do it yourself. It takes a lot more effort and conscious parenting to encourage your child to do the assigned jobs and to make sure they are done sufficiently. Anyone who thinks having their children help around the house is going to make things easier is going to be disappointed. Yes, eventually things will be easier, but there is a very steep learning curve that has to happen to reach that point.

Here are some things to remember if you are new to having your children do household jobs.

  1. You will have to remind them. Every child, every day, for every job. It's just how it is. You are not a failure if you have to remind them and they are not a failure if they need to be reminded. 
  2. The job will not be done as well as you would have done it. This is particularly true if the child is doing  a job for the first time or if that child is very young. 
  3. Following on the heels of #2, you will need to show them how to do the job more than once. 
  4. You will need to check every single time to be sure the job got done. (See #1)
I've made so many different plans over the years as far as what child is doing what, when. What is currently working for us is a rotating daily job list and an assigned weekly job list. Here are the daily jobs that people will be rotating through once a week. (I find it so satisfying that I came up with seven jobs and I have seven children who will be rotating through them, and that there are seven days in a week. It's all so neat and tidy.)
  • Pour milk for dinner
  • Set the table for dinner
  • Put the lunch things away
  • Empty dishwasher(s)
  • Sweep kitchen
  • Help make dinner
  • Feed and water Gretel
This takes care of P. through G. and L. A., because of her schedule with classes and all, is not home consistently enough to be part of this. Instead, she will have the job of wiping off the stove (which really can use it) every day. 

These jobs were the easy ones. Then I had to assign the weekly jobs, which are usually the ones no one is really excited about. This time, I decided to allow each person to express which jobs they did or didn't care for, so they were each handed this printed on a sheet of paper.


Weekly jobs – Please write the order you would be interested in doing. 1 – most preferred 12 – least preferred

**Just because you put something down as your first choice does NOT mean that you will get that job. Just because you put something as your last choice does NOT mean you will not get that job.**

___ Clean H. and P.’s bathroom
___ Clean children’s bathroom
___ Dust living rooms, front hall, and dining room
___ Dust mop living rooms and dining room
___ Vacuum front hall
___ Vacuum kitchen rug
___ Sweep stairs (back stairs and basement stairs)
___ Vacuum front stairs
___ Vacuum 3rd floor stairs
___ Vacuum upstairs hallway
___ Sweep butler’s pantry and back hallway
___ Straighten and clean mudroom
___ Empty garbage cans and waste baskets
___ Clean windows in doors

It actually made the whole process a bit easier and I'm now done. Jobs are assigned, descriptions and schedules are printed out, now we just need to make it all work.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Lost time

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 5

A friend who started out as a virtual friend and became a real friend when we met in China has lost her son. He died last night after fighting RSV and a flesh-eating fungal infection. It is heartbreaking. He spent so much time waiting for a family and when he found one he blossomed and discovered love. Please pray for his family.

No one anticipates losing a child. It is not how the world is supposed to work. Yet, I know plenty of people who have lost children. It happens. The best thing I can do with the knowledge is to appreciate the moments I have with my children, because you just never know what is going to happen. We can't change the future, but we can embrace what we have before us and make very moment count.

Today it makes it even more difficult to know that the policies and lack of functioning in my state are causing us to lose time with our daughter. How can you make every moment count if you are still stuck waiting? 

I often think my life is a musical. (It would seem more like a musical if my chorus could sing on pitch and work on their dance numbers.) There is always a point in the musical where things seem to be going wrong and the main character has the sad song about being lonely or misunderstood or unhappy. This would be that moment for me. Imagine me singing, "Is anybody there? Does anybody care?"** That's the worst, the not caring. At least it seems as though no one in positions of authority care one whit. That's the only conclusion I can come up with based on the fact that I have written many emails over the past couple months to my legislators and have heard nothing. 


I guess since children can't vote they don't matter.

I guess since adoptive families are notoriously low in disposable income and can't contribute to political campaigns we don't matter.

I guess since it affects such a small population of people, it just doesn't matter.

Meanwhile, my child and many other children sit, waiting for a Mommy and a Daddy. I would like to know which lawmaker wants to tell any one of them that it just wasn't important enough to do something to get them home faster. 

I'll let my mother know not to rush getting the Christmas stocking made.

**Bonus points if you can name the musical this line is from. I'll give you the answer tomorrow.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Age doesn't matter

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 4


I'm sore all over and walking like a 103 year old woman. It's a little pathetic. I have muscles that are sore that I didn't even know could be sore. 

Well, that isn't exactly true because they have been sore before, just in a much younger body. You know, at an age where muscles were stretchier and bounced back from overwork faster. What have I been doing to cause myself all this misery? I'm taking back up the first and only sport I have ever loved and done well at: horseback riding. 

As many of you know, my parents have been paying for P. and A. to take horseback riding lessons for the past couple of years. P. is still enjoying riding, but A. was feeling as though she was ready for other adventures. When I spoke to my mother about this, she asked if I would like to take A.'s spot. I was so happy I was nearly crying. I adore horses and riding, but some choices often preclude others. It's just a fact of life. Having ten children and living in the city are some of those choices which make regular riding a little difficult.

Yesterday was the big day. (It would have been last week, but I cancelled the lessons due to the rampant stomach flu.) I will tell you I was a little nervous. While I have been on a horse occasionally over the past 26 years, it has been just brief pleasure riding. That type does make you sore if you are not used to it, but it is nothing compared to active riding. The idea that riding is not really a workout and requires physical strength and endurance is false. Balancing your body correctly (particularly in a jumping position) is hard work. Posting a trot is hard work. And while you are doing all of this physical work, you also have the mental work of both communicating to your horse and anticipating what he is going to do.

Now I could go on and on about riding and horses, but I know most people don't share my passion and maybe haven't even read this far. Other than getting reacquainted with certain muscles I had lost touch with, I have learned something else, something about age and dreams.

When I was a girl, in the throws of major horse-craziness (which more than one person told me I would grow out of as if it were some awkward stage that had to be tolerated), I had a firm belief that if I didn't have a horse while I was still a child that it wouldn't 'count'. Grown-ups seemed so different from children that I couldn't fathom that having a horse as an adult would feel the same way. Surely it wouldn't mean as much to me as it would as a child. On some level I was right. The passions we have as children hold a special place in our hearts and often times we do grow out of them, or they are diluted with all the other cares of adulthood. 

Yet, I was also wrong. I can remember my dear mother-in-law telling me (when she was, ahem, 40), that it was always surprising to her that at her age, she still felt inside just like she did when she was 10. I completely understood because I (at a younger age) felt the same way. What made me,me, didn't change with my chronological age. I may know more, I may have experienced more, but I am still that same person. 

It was with a little trepidation that I put on my boots, zipped my half-chaps, and headed to the stable. Would I remember anything? Would I be able to do it? Was it ridiculous for a 48 year old mother of ten to even be doing this? What if it turned out I couldn't or had suddenly become fearful of riding? (I have heard of this happening in more than once instance. It's a thing.) It turns out that the biggest act of courage yesterday wasn't the actual riding, but the decision to try. I love it. I could still remember a lot. My muscles will need a lot of work to get them back into shape, but the basics are still there. My trainer would love to help me get back to jumping. It makes me so happy and sore as I am, I can't wait to go back next week. The best part? My trainer (whom I think I will work very well with), told me it really doesn't look as though I had a 26 year break and that I did a great job. Every person can use this kind of affirmation.

So my message to you today is, Keep trying new things... or picking up old ones you had to drop at some point. Do something because it brings you joy and don't worry about how it appears to others. Don't get to the end of your life and regret that you hadn't tried something because you were afraid or thought you were too old. Remember you are still that ten year old somewhere inside. 

(Thank you, Mom and Dad.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

"It's a planet... a big floating ball in the sky that people live on. No, really, it is."

Number of days we have lost with our daughter due to the negligence of the state of Illinois: 3

H. (and everyone else) is feeling much better this week. Thank goodness! I am extremely glad that H. in particular is better, though, because surgery, pain, and sickness are very, very difficult for her. When she as to endure them we see a huge resurgence of orphanage behaviors which we have been working very hard on mitigating for the past three years. It is upsetting to see her go back to those lonely, scary places.

Things are on the upswing again and we all getting back into our regular routine. As I was working with H. this morning we had one of those Aha! moments. For the past year or so, she has been working through the Draw, Write, Now books. (I cannot tell you how much I love these books and how wonderful they are for children, especially special needs learners. I should do a post about them sometime.) She is currently in a section about the Arctic and the animals found there. Getting information lodged in her short-term memory is a struggle and we do a lot of review. So, when she had read about walruses and where they lived, I asked her where the Arctic was. Even though we have been working on this for quite some time, she drew a complete blank. (And I start my deep breathing because despite what everyone says, I am not a patient person and pretending to be one is, um, stretching.) Finally, she showed me a picture of the earth and asked if that was the Arctic.

It was then that I realized I had made an error. I had made the error several months ago, actually. I did what I knew I absolutely shouldn't do and that was make an assumption of prior knowledge. When I showed her the picture of the little line drawing of the earth and carefully explained where we lived and where the Arctic and Antarctic were, I was assuming that that little round circle had some sort of meaning for her.

Once again I was struck by how much this child has missed. I've learned the hard way over the past three years that unless I am working with H. directly or talking to her directly, she doesn't get it. I think it is a combination of language deficits, her crazily wired brain, and years of training to tune everyone and everything out and escape into her own head. I can't tell you how happy it makes me when she joins into dinner conversations of her own accord. This doesn't happen often and we still have to be very purposeful in trying to help her engage in what is going on around her. It is both heart-breaking and frustrating. I will rejoice if we ever reach a point where I have to remind her that she is not part of another's conversation.

But back to this morning. I suddenly realized that though I was showing her a drawing of the earth, that she had no concept of earth, the planet, that round ball in sky that we all live on. (You must admit that if you are trying to explain the whole thing to someone it does sound a little odd.) We talked about the sun, which she knows about and can see, we talked about planets, we talked about the moon. And then it all fell into place...

I had the globe out, I was jumping around the room showing the big sun, the planets, and then I held my fist up to be the moon. I made sure she understood the moon idea and then showed how astronauts had actually traveled in a spaceship and landed on the moon. Her reaction couldn't have been better if you had taken a flat-earther up into space. Her eyes got big, her mouth dropped open, she paused and then said in a surprised voice, "No way!" When I assured her it had happened she grinned and laughed as though it was the most wondrous thing that she had ever been told. And I guess, if you didn't know you lived on a big floating ball in the sky and that people had actually traveled to another floating ball in the sky, to discover all of that at once would be the most wondrous thing you could imagine.

I love watching her world open. When H. first came home, our friend who was acting an interpreter for us, was taken aback by the fact that H. had no concept of here (in the US) and there (China). It has taken us a while to show her they are different places which are far apart and that we didn't sit in that airplane for 13 hours just for the fun of it.

It is also heart breaking. No child should miss this much. As wonderful as it is to be the one to open up her world to her, I wish there was no need. I wanted to check that my assumption that we live on a planet and that a planet is even a thing wasn't unrealistic, so I turned to my two little controls, G. and L. I pointed to the globe and asked them what it was. They could answer right away and went on to name other planets. I have never taught them this, it is just what they have picked-up. But then, since their birth they have been twin suns around which all other planets revolve, thus they have never had the need to disappear into a mental void to escape pain, missing out on life in its entirety.

Adoption. Beautiful and wonderful and heart-wrenchingly sad and painful all at the same time. I can't turn back the clock and redo my children's pain and loss, but I can do my best to redeem what the locusts have taken.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Dear Governor Rauner

Enough people have asked me what would be most helpful to include in a letter that I'm going to do the rare second post in one day. (Links to the governor and state legislators can be found in my earlier post about Illinois and its horrendous adoption record.)

>>I have edited this a little bit... I have now heard we are one of three states, Alabama being the third which require DCFS homestudy approval. Also, the person holding the DCFS job evidently left her desk empty, but despite having three months notice, DCFS took two weeks AFTER the position was vacant to fill it.<<

Here are the two most important points to include:

1. Illinois is currently taking at least 9 weeks to process child abuse clearances. This is unnecessary and someone should find out why it is taking so long, when earlier this year it was taking just a few days. Is it true that clearances for homestudy purposes are being shuttled to the bottom of the pile? Why?

2. Why are tax payers footing the bill to pay for someone in DCFS to approve homestudies which are written by licensed social workers employed by licensed adoption agencies? Only one other state in the country requires this and it is a total waste of time and money. DCFS could certainly use that person to investigate and monitor the residential care centers DCFS wards are sent to rather than harassing documented healthy families who desire to provide a permanent, stable home for a child. In a state that is having trouble paying its bills, it would seem that all superfluous positions should be eliminated.

This is a copy of the letter I sent to Governor Rauner:

Dear Governor Rauner,

I know that there are many pressing issues regarding the state of Illinois that you must deal with, and that since the one I am writing about affects a relatively small number of families, it may not rise to the top in importance. It is also one, though, that I am quite sure you are unaware of (based on the fact that the lawmakers I’ve talked to weren’t) and I think at the very least, you should be.

Currently, Illinois has a really rotten reputation in the world of adoption, and it is well-earned. We are an adoptive family, having adopted three children and are currently in process to adopt another daughter. The state of Illinois has not made it easy. Here are some basic facts to begin with.

1. Illinois is one of only two states in the country (Arizona being the second) which require homestudies, written by social workers who are licensed by the state and working for agencies which are also licensed by the state, to be approved by one single person in DCFS. In every other state, once a social worker approves a family’s homestudy, that family is free to use it to do the next steps required in bringing home their child.

Because of this, there is both a bottle-neck in getting homestudies approved and the approvals are given at the personal whims of DCFS worker in this position. Right now, there are families who have been waiting for five or more weeks to have their homestudies approved. This is costing them time in adopting their child and often that means it is time that a child is sitting in an orphanage. An orphanage, I might add, that DCFS would never approve of if it were in the US.

There is no need for this loss of time as there is no need for this position. In early 2013, there was a bill before the IL legislature to do away with the position and the need for homestudies to have a second approval. Many adoptive families wrote to their representatives retelling the time lost and harassment we received from the person in this position, yet for some reason the bill was tabled and never acted on.

2. Because of the unsupervised and localized power the person in this position has, it allows personal biases to go unchecked. In the case of the last person to hold the position, those of use with larger than average families were harassed and we lost even more time with our children.

In our case, we have adopted three times. In all adoptions, we have lived in the same house, we have held the same jobs, we have made the same (or more) amount of money. The only thing that changed from adoption to adoption was the number of our children. For our first adoption, everything went smoothly. We had no problems, but we were under the strict DCFS capacity guidelines. For our second adoption, adding a 7th child, we managed to get approval, but there was a distinct hint of disapproval.

Our third adoption was our trial by fire. The child we were adopting would be our 10th. Our social worker approved us without hesitation, wrote a glowing homestudy, and sent it to DCFS for approval. While it was eventually approved nearly three months later, it was after it being denied twice and multiple requests for more information. Some of those requests were questions which were little more than thinly veiled accusations that we had initially lied. “How do you and your husband resolve conflict, really?” “How do you find time for yourself, really?” Those were some of the word-for-word questions which came back to us. We were also required to submit detailed accounts of how we spent our days, including our homeschooling schedule. Due to Illinois’ homeschooling statutes, I’m quite sure that this request for information was illegal and out of bounds, but by this time we were so afraid that we would not be able to bring our daughter home that we complied. Our homestudy would eventually be more than 20 pages long, over twice the length of most other homestudies. We were also required to supply more than twice the number of personal and work references than required by the state and Hague Convention for the Child. The crowning moment was the last rejection and request for more information. We were required to complete a water safety form because there was concern about our ability to keep our children safe from the water hazard which was nearby. That supposed water hazard was Lake Michigan which is half a mile from our home. In our previous homestudies, we were never required to complete this form and it was clearly meant for use when there is a pool or pond in a front or back yard.

Many other large families have had similar (or worse) experiences. No one talks about this because when you are in process, there is a real fear that you will not be allowed to bring your child home, and afterwards, it seems like a bad nightmare that you would rather not revisit.

3. Illinois does not really care for children. If they did, the adoption process would be more manageable and the state would do more to help bring children into permanent, stable, and healthy families.

In order for any homestudy to be completed, child abuse clearances must be done on each person over 18 living in the household. This makes sense and is a safety measure to protect children. I am not against child abuse clearances. What I am bothered by is the fact that currently Illinois is taking 9 weeks to complete these clearances. Other adoptive parents have been told that child abuse clearances for homestudies are purposefully being moved to the bottom of the stack; everyone else takes priority. Less than a year ago, clearances were taking merely a matter of days. Clearly, there is no reason that parents should have to wait so long for something that has been such a simple step.

The placement agencies we have used for our adoptions are all out of state. When they hear that we are from Illinois, there is invariably words of condolence and I have been told more than once that they will do everything they can to help us work through the system. No one wants to work with Illinois and they do not appreciate the extra work and time that Illinois costs them. For our last adoption, because of the delay with DCFS, we had to request and extension from China because we could not submit our dossier in the time frame they had requested. This in no way our fault as we completed our portion of the homestudy and dossier with ample time to make the deadline. Having to ask for an extension was embarrassing to us, our agency, and did not further China/US relationships in regards to adoption. There was also the very real possibility that China could have denied our request and we would have lost the chance to adopt our daughter. With the current IL time frames, we stand a good chance of missing the deadline once again and having to ask for an extension. This, even though we have completed our homestudy in one month’s time, including doctor’s appointments for 12 people. The delay is solely due to Illinois non-functioning and redundant requirements.

What would I like from you? First, I would love for someone to look into exactly why child abuse clearances are taking so long. Second, I would love to see Illinois eliminate the need for DCFS to have to approve every homestudy. It is pointless and expensive. Why would some person sitting at a desk in Springfield have a better idea of a family’s capacity to parent than the social worker who has actually met the family. Given the recent reports of the horrific residential care centers where DCFS wards have been placed, it would seem to make more sense for DCFS to spend more time fixing their own problems and less time worrying about documented healthy families who want to provide a permanent placement for a child.

I have written multiple emails to my state representatives about these issues and have heard back nothing. I have even extended the invitation of joining us for dinner if they have any reservations about how well a family of our size functions. (The invitation is also extended to you as well, though I am doubtful that you are in a position to accept. That I understand.) I am tired of having this problem ignored and I am angry that if the timelines do not change, we will miss yet another Christmas with our daughter who waits for us in China. We have already missed 9 with her, and I hate the thought of missing another, all due to senseless bureaucracy.

Thank you for your time in reading this. I know it is long and I apologize. If it helps to have a real face to put to this, here is a link to our daughter who is waiting for us. She has linear nevus sebaceous syndrome, an extremely rare disease, but one that one of our daughters at home also has.

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