I’m angry… and a little teary. I just read a story in the New York Daily News about a 6-year-old girl in California who was taken from her foster family because of her ethnicity. She’s being sent to live with relatives in Utah that she doesn’t know based on the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) — a 1978 federal law designed to keep Native American families intact.
The courts reportedly stated that Lexi would not suffer emotional harm after being taken away from her foster family.
I’m sorry, but I call B.S.
Wait. As an adoptive parent raising kids of a different ethnicity, I call B.S.
Yes, there is probably more to this story than meets the eye. There usually is. As with most emotionally-charged family situations, there are multiple sides to the story along with healthy doses of he-said/she-said and drama, but still, based on my own experience, my heart broke as I saw the images of her being taken from the only family she ever knew.
I remember the day I met my son Zack with an amazing degree of clarity. I can tell you every single nitty gritty detail about that day but the memory that sticks out in my mind the most is how traumatized my new child was by the whole ordeal. Yes, I said ordeal because that’s what it was, through his eyes.
He’d just turned 2. He’d been living with a foster family since he was 9 months old. They were the only family he knew. It was an international adoption, so the first day I met him was the last day he saw his foster family. I’ll be the first to tell you no adoption is perfect and if there would have been a way to provide my little guy some closure and solace on what was a very traumatic day in his young life, I would have done it.
We played the cards we were dealt and tried to comfort him as best we could.
Zack didn’t understand much about what was going on, but he did know that he had a mommy and that I wasn’t her. Looking at the pictures of our first day together brings complicated emotions. Our first pictures together show a terrified child.
That was almost four years ago and my son no longer remembers that day. But, I remember it and I can tell you that without a doubt, my child suffered emotional harm. Yes, our situation is different than this California family. Yes, things are great for us right now and no, no one knows if the trauma at the root of our adoptions will surface again one day. Who knows?
But that 6-year-old girl will remember. And anyone who thinks emotional harm isn’t a factor needs to watch that video of a terrified, screaming child being taken from her home courtesy of a court order.
I get that birth culture is important and I understand the reason the ICWA was put into place almost 40 years ago. But I don’t think anything about what happened with this child in California fits in with the spirit and intent of the ICWA.
You see, I’m raising a child that was taken from his birth culture. My husband and I are Caucasians from an area that’s not very ethnically diverse. Our son is from China and he’s the only Asian child in his class and one of a handful of Asian kids at his school. We understand the importance of cultural and racial identity. I’ve made an effort to educate myself and to educate those around me. We have infused Chinese culture into our everyday lives. Just a few weeks ago, my son got to be the cool kid in class because he was the only one who handed out red envelopes full of “lucky money” to ring in the Year of the Monkey.
I’m not perfect at this. I'm not the same as a Chinese mom. What I don’t know about my son’s birth culture would make a much longer list than what I do know. I don’t think that not being Chinese makes me any less capable of parenting him. I am his mom.
My son has been in my custody about a year longer than Lexi lived with her foster parent. I know this is comparing apples to oranges but having Zack removed from my home because a law favored Chinese parents is unimaginable. It would have been unimaginable a year ago. Or two years ago. Or six months after we brought him home. Or six days.
A piece of Zack will always be different from me, but that’s what makes him special. I can learn about the differences and help him celebrate them, just as Lexi’s foster parents could help her celebrate her tiny little piece of Native American heritage.
As an adoptive parent, reading Lexi's story makes me sad. As a mother, this makes me sad. I can’t make a declaration about the right life decisions for this little girl based on one news article, but I’m going to go out on a limb today and say someone’s calling the wrong shots on this one. As a mom to a child whose ethnicity I don't share, this court's decision just feels wrong to me.
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