(I wrote this the day I found out my daughter’s brother was not going to come live with us or with his other biological siblings. I knew there was a lot of advocacy work for us to do before I would go public with my feelings about it, so I’ve been holding on to this piece since July. But the time has come now that LB411 is waiting to get passed out of committee in the Nebraska legislature. No more children should suffer what my kids have suffered. And my kids should never have suffered it in the first place, if our current state statute had been followed. That is the only thing I know now that I didn’t know back in July– this is not just a caseworker issue, but a culture problem at the department where these sibling relationships are not considered a priority. I’m so hopeful that we are close to making real change on that front.)
This morning I got my daughter dressed in one of her favorite dresses– yellow with white polka dots. She looks beautiful in yellow. I put a big white flower in her hair and wondered what her birthmom might think of the outfit choice. I knew there was a chance we might see her today. A new baby had been born. A baby brother. We had said we were willing to bring this baby brother into our home and love him like our own for as long as was needed. While we weren’t looking to add another family member (6 kids is plenty), we were willing because we knew how important that sibling relationship is. More than just willing, we were excited for our daughter to get the privilege of living with a biological relative.
We have several kids with siblings who live in other homes. We can do our best to create relationships for them, but it is not the same as growing up together. We had vowed that if the call ever came and we could give our kids the gift of having their biological sibling in our home, we would say yes. So we waited to find out if this baby brother would be coming home to us.
We knew there was another option. Our daughter had already been separated from an older biological sibling and that family would have the option to take the placement as well. We wondered which family would be chosen and knew we would be disappointed if it wasn’t us, but would trust that he would be well loved in a home with his big brother.
So it was a shock when the call came. He was placed with an adult relative.
There is a lot I want to say, but the emotion of all this is pretty overwhelming. But here’s what feels most pressing to me right now:
My daughter should matter. Her older brother should matter. Siblings should matter.
The State of Nebraska was once concerned with what was in her best interest. Then they transferred her care to me through adoption and now her right to be with her family when safe and appropriate no longer seems to be a priority. If she and her brother had come into care together, every effort would have been made to keep them together. If she were still a state ward and her brother had been born, every effort would have been made to place him with his sister. Because she was adopted, now her potential sibling bond doesn’t matter. We are all supposed to be happy because this new baby has been placed with family while my daughter has been separated once again from her biological relatives.
This should not be. Siblings should be more than an afterthought or a Plan B if adult relatives aren’t present. The State should continue to care about the needs of children it legally orphaned and then placed for adoption. Someone needs to be talking to caseworkers about the lifelong impact of these placement decisions.
Anecdotally, I know we are not alone. I know of situations where a child has been moved several states away to live with a great aunt instead of being kept with the siblings she was weekly doing visits with who were adopted previously. I know of a situation where a mother told her sister’s coworker she could have her baby and the Department of Health and Human Services honored that instead of placing that child with a waiting sibling home. I know of a situation where a child was placed with a sibling in a foster home and the Department of Health and Human Services never bothered to check and see if there were additional siblings previously adopted, which there were. I know of a situation where a foster family was told an adopted sibling’s family had declined to take placement of a new baby, but they later learned that adoptive family had never been notified that a new sibling was born.
I am asking the Department of Health and Human Services to rethink the value they put on sibling relationships, even if those siblings have yet to develop that relationship. I have adult adoptee friends who say while they aren’t overwhelmed with the urge to reconnect with their birth parents, they are dying to know if they have biological siblings. The data is out there. Kids care about their brothers and sisters. Growing up together is important and should be prioritized whenever possible. While we know that adopted kids become siblings to each other, I can tell you from very personal experience that they continue to care about, to wonder about, to wish for the presence of their biological siblings in their lives. I struggle to know how the Department of Health and Human Services can fail to understand this or can so easily put the desires of an adult above the needs of children.
And yet, it doesn’t surprise me at all. These vital placement decisions are often made by caseworkers who turn over regularly and may not be around long enough to see the impact of pulling kids apart. This is an impact that lasts for generations. To them, family is family. What does it matter if it’s an aunt, grandparent or a sibling? We placed the child with family, which is the all important goal. Box checked. But that is not how this plays out to the children involved and they should matter. Even the adopted ones, the ones you aren’t paid to care about anymore– they should matter.
Because my daughter did nothing wrong. She didn’t ask to be separated from her first mother. She didn’t ask to be a state ward. She didn’t ask to be adopted. Adults did those things, and all of them were overseen by The State. And she didn’t ask to be separated from her siblings. Adults did that. And those actions were approved of and initiated by The State. We need to do better for her. For her and all the other kids who have lost so much through no fault of their own. When we have the option to restore something to them, to give them back a piece of the family they lost, we owe it to them whenever possible.
No one can make this right for my daughter. But we don’t have to let it happen again.