Bobby wasn’t yet in school when parental rights were terminated. His grandmother later told me some of the story behind his adoption. Their daughter (Bobby’s mother) has a debilitating mental illness, and her parents were faced with an agonizing decision.
They were forced to choose between caring for their daughter and raising their grandson, who was prevented by the courts from having contact with his mother.
The grandparents felt confident that Bobby would have a loving adoptive family. To raise the little boy they loved, they would have to break off all contact with their daughter who needed them.
And so they helped their little grandson say goodbye to his pre-school friends and to his birth mother. And they helped him learn to trust the people who became his adoptive parents.
It wasn’t easy. They did it because they loved Bobby and his mommy.
As he was settling into life with his adoptive family, the question Bobby asked his grandmother was, “Some day will you help me find my other mommy again?”
Today Indian child welfare specialists challenge mainstream professional and legal definitions of family. Terry Cross, Executive Director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, reminds us that the whole idea behind the push to provide children with permanent families is the concept of belonging, a central value in Indian culture.
Their experiences encourage us to recognize customary adoption and other legal options that create permanent and safe family bonds without terminating all legal rights of birth parents.
It is the notion of belonging in a community – not just in a narrowly defined nuclear family.
We are slowly learning that openness in adoption is a good thing. But adoption isn’t just a social arrangement. It is also a legal contract. Adoption and family laws off the reservation don’t acknowledge customary or informal adoptions.
Nonetheless, Bobby’s caseworkers, adoptive parents and his birth grandparents created a sort of blend – partly open, a little bit like customary adoption. It was a good option for Bobby.
And it’s another example of how in the world of adoption one size fits one.
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