Does anyone have advice for adopting inside the family?
July 8, 2014 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Right now, there is a chance that my husband and I may be the adopters of my niece's child. She and the father have drug addictions and have surrended their parental rights. The child is now living with her grandparents, but they are very stressed by the situation and might ask us to take her. We are ready to do so, but I'd like to know what we're getting into.

The girl was neglected but not abused, as far as we know, during the 9 months she lived with her mother. The rest of her life (she is four) has been with her grandparents, with or without her mom around, depending on sobriety/incarceration. I know inter-family adoption is "easier" legally speaking, but that will be a lot of shuffling around for this kid so I'm assuming therapy is a likely need. I also would cut down on the amount of access addicted bio-mom has to her, since I think she adds a lot of chaos and uncertainty that kid doesn't need. Right now we're in limbo, so I'm trying to learn what I can and be prepared just in case.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How good are you at not being manipulated? I don't know how interested they are in seeing the kid, but if they want to see her while intoxicated, you will need nerves of steel and the patience of Mother Teresa in keeping things from getting out of hand. They will lie about absolutely everything and anything (you probably already know this), and it will be up to you to stand your ground. For years and years. Are you ready for that?

Also, know that there's a decent chance the girl will grow up with a predisposition to drugs or mental illness, and you may have to deal with that when the time comes.
posted by Melismata at 7:44 AM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Therapy for the little girl AND for you as a family, and if it's at-all possible, find a therapist who specializes (or knows a lot about) attachment theory. Kids who have been neglected and who have a lot of chaotic relationships and who have more than one caregiver are at a higher risk of attachment-related problems. I adopted 3 kids who are not related to me at all, but who turned out to be weirdly related to friends of mine (by pure coincidence).

One of my kids was 2.5 years old when he came into foster care (and stayed with just one family), 4 years old when we adopted him, and has had all sorts of funky problems related to his early neglect, despite having a lot of stability after age 2. I'm not a scientist (ha) but there's all sorts of interesting research into brain chemistry and how early neglect has long-term effects on kids. This son is now 10 years old and struggles with a lot of things that I am pretty sure he wouldn't have if it weren't for the early neglect and abandonment stuff - and is in therapy. So, be prepared for the possibility of that kind of thing - and feel free to MeMail me if you want more info on what some of it looks like. The earlier the therapy starts, the better. Note that therapy can be really expensive and take years and years (kids don't exactly sit down with a therapist and say, "So, I'm struggling with X, what do you propose I try?")

Of equal concern (to me, at least) is how you'll cut down the access bio-mom has. If parental rights have all been legally terminated, and there is no visitation agreement in place, there are no legal grounds for her to visit. That said, if she knows where you live, she may decide to spontaneously visit. If she has your phone number, you may expect endless attempts to contact you that way. If she's high, she may make all manner of inappropriate decisions about seeking/creating contact. (Ditto for the father, even if he hasn't made any attempts to visit over the years.)

Once you figure out the boundaries you're going to put in place, you'll want to really talk to the rest of your family (the grandparents, any other siblings, cousins, etc.) to make sure they understand that those boundaries are not be breached. Often extended family feels bad/sad for the biological parent and wants to help in ways that are decidedly not helpful (like giving out your unlisted phone number, telling them what school your child goes to, etc.)

Feel free to MeMail if you have other questions.
posted by VioletU at 7:50 AM on July 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would definitely look into therapy.

Another thought is that, if possible, you should be building a relationship with your niece (cousin? the 4-year-old) now while she still lives with her grandparents. That way if you need to take her, you'll be taking her to someone she already has a bond with. Frequency is really good for building comfort at this age because days and weeks seem looooooong to them. So if you're close by and you can drop by for dinner multiple nights a week, or come by every morning for a TV show, or something like that, it would be really good. It would also let you keep a good eye on the grandparents and what they need help with. She might be able to stay there if they have more support.

If you're geographically far from the grandparents, things get a lot more fraught. In that situation, I'd probably try as hard as possible to provide them services in their community so that your niece can continue to live with them.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:34 AM on July 8, 2014 [5 favorites]

For example--and forgive me if this is not relevant or helpful--if you would need to put her in daycare or pay for childcare in order to work, then the better move might be to pay for childcare while she's with the grandparents, to give them a break. That's what I mean about providing resources for her staying with them.

Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:38 AM on July 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

She may at higher risk of learning and behavior disabilities, later. Which is okay, just something to be on top of.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:48 AM on July 8, 2014

I think it's awesome that you're willing to consider this!

I just have a tiny little suggestion of something to bear in mind. A professor in my social work program mentioned a couple of times that adults tend to think of abuse as worse than neglect, whereas kids often experience a bigger impact by neglect. Abuse shows that your parent is directly responding to you, interacting with you (in a scary, harmful way, to be sure), and it can give the sense that you have some power to influence your relationship with your abuser (you change your behavior, respond to the abuser's patterns, and maybe they'll give you positive attention). It's certainly awful, and I'm not trying to downplay the impact of abuse. However, neglect sends the message that your parent isn't responding to you, providing for your basic needs, etc. not because they're angry at something you've done (and can change your behavior to accommodate) but simply because your existence and needs don't matter enough to them.

A 4-year-old who experienced neglect in her first year obviously won't be able to understand her relationships with caregivers in those terms, but it's worth having this in the back of your minds as you engage in family therapy. She may be a super resilient kid who won't need (much) help with attachment and trust in family/caregiving relationships, or she may experience some consequences of neglect that could surprise you if you're not watching for them.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:39 AM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Please speak to a lawyer who is familiar with both family law and adoption law in your jurisdiction. I see a lot of potential issues in your question, that are not necessarily problems, but that will need to be addressed going forward.
posted by freshwater at 12:24 PM on July 8, 2014

Family practice lawyer. You'll need one if it comes to adoption, and a good one will know all the things to warn you about.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:51 PM on July 8, 2014

Thoroughly check out fetal alcohol syndrome and it's lifelong effects, as well as what babies born to drug-using mothers face. Ditto neglect and attachment disorders. Be 100% sure you're aware of what you're thinking of signing up for, before you take the child and are in turn overwhelmed and need to pass her on again.

Consider getting legal guardianship for now, instead of diving straight to full adoption --- while acting as sort of a temporary in-family foster home isn't the best thing for her, telling her you're now her forever home and parents only to turn around and (for example) send her back to her grandparents would be worse.

And frankly, it sounds like the best thing for the child, whether you take her or not, is to totally cut off any contact from her birth parents: surely that's just upsetting her even more.
posted by easily confused at 3:20 PM on July 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Therapy, but only if indicated.

I know of three sets of grandparents who are parenting their grandchildren (I know, you are not the grandparents). All three have done a ragingly successful job, but boundary setting with the parents has been critical, and that means enforcing boundaries when necessary. Although in one case the parents just faded out.

Talk to some of the local family services people and see if they can put you in touch with any support groups, inform you about support services etc.

Is it just age that is the issue with the grandparents, or is it the grief they get from the parents? If the latter, how much do you know about it, and how prepared are you to deal with it?
posted by GeeEmm at 5:49 PM on July 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

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