Reuniting Children with their Sexually Abusive Parents

Is it ever safe to reunite children with the parents who sexually abused them?  I decided to do some research.  Here’s what I’ve found.

Pedophiles and Sexual Offenders are Not the Same
Weirdly enough, being a pedophile does not mean you sexually abuse children, according to Harvard Health Publications.  Pedophilia means that you are sexually attracted to children age 11 and under.  You could be attracted to children and never abuse them (think of how you have been attracted to your cute co-worker but you never acted on it).  The reverse is true, too.  You could sexually abuse children and not be sexually attracted to them.  Think of the influence of drugs, mental illness, sadism, etc. that may lead you to inflict harm without feeling sexually attracted to the victim.  Harvard says researchers cannot agree what percent of child molesters are pedophiles.

 Pedophilia is Not Curable
Just like you can’t “cure” someone who is heterosexual or someone who is homosexual, you cannot cure someone who is sexually attracted to children.  Treatment for pedophiles consists of keeping them away from kids and sometimes giving them medication to lower their sex drive, that same Harvard report says.

MAYBE a Child Molester Can be Rehabilitated
Sexual attraction can’t be cured, but can the child molesting behavior be cured?  The jury is out.   The Prevention of Childhood Sexual Abuse by David Finkelhor systematically looks at a variety of ways to treat perpetrators.  Mental health services, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, may help reduce a child molester’s likelihood of committing another sexual offense.  Some meta-studies say a child molester may be one third less likely to sexually abuse a child again.  But no experimental studies have been conducted to prove this, mainly because psychologists are reluctant to set up an experiment where only some sex offenders receive treatment while others serve as the control group and don’t receive treatment.

 So What is the Risk of a Child Molester Abusing a Kid Again?  7%-50%
(Figuring out How Likely a Child Molester is to Abuse Again is Complicated)

So, let’s say that cognitive behavioral therapy reduces a person’s likelihood of sexually abusing a child again by one third.  What is the risk now?

First, let’s look at the risk of a child molester re-offending overall.  Recently, The Atlantic wrote that all child molesters have a 10-15% chance of committing another sexual offense against a child.  But that figure may be TOO LOW.

When someone commits another sexual offense, that’s called recidivism.  A study on how recidivism is calculated reveals that the 10-15% figure grossly underestimates how likely a child molester is to hurt a child again.  Most studies only follow child molesters for 2-5 years after they have been released from jail.  A study that only follows the child molesters for 3 years misses 75% of the sexual offenses the child molesters commit.  But if you look at a study of 25 years, there is a greater than 50% chance that the child molester will commit another sex crime.

Studies on recidivism further underestimate sexual re-offending depending on they whether they count “re-offending” as when the child molester is charged with another sex crime, is arrested, convicted or sentenced.  An easy way to understand this is a person may be caught committing a sexual offense, but plead down to a different charge.   Furthermore, child molesters commit multiple sexual offenses before being caught.  So I am not entirely clear if any statistics can be relied upon, because if a person was able to molest a child without detection for a period of time prior to be arrested, what’s to say they aren’t molesting again without anyone knowing?

Ok.  Back to our question.  If a parent molests their child, goes through therapy and is reunited with their child, how likely are they to sexually abuse again?  If we believe the general rate for child molesters committing abuse again is 10-15% and we choose to believe the non-empirical data on the effectiveness of therapy, that abusive parent has a 7-10% chance of sexually assaulting their child again.  However, if we believe the general rate is 50% and believe in the effectiveness of treatment,  that parent’s likelihood of molesting again is 35%.   If we don’t believe in the effectiveness of treatment, then there’s  a 10-50% chance of that parent abusing again.

Educating Children About Sexual Abuse Helps
In foster care, the sexually abusive parent wouldn’t be the only one receiving therapy.  Kids would be educated that adults should not be molesting them.  There is no conclusive data that teaching kids about good touch and bad touch will PREVENT child sexual abuse.  Maybe education does prevent child sexual abuse, but no one is studying this topic.  However, there is evidence that children are learning the concepts of refusing to cooperate with a molester, seeking help, and telling a trusted adult if abuse does occur.  And there is evidence that educated children who are victimized will feel that it is not their fault.  So, maybe the education will help kids protect themselves.  Sadly, though, once a child has been sexually abused, they are 6.9 times more likely to be sexually abused in the future.

Sigh.  Sending a foster child back to a parent who was sexually abusive will be absolutely gut wrenching.  For me, a reasonable assumption of risk of re-abusing seems to be about 20% or a 1 in 5 chance.  And that sucks.

I was super hoping that my research would reveal something that would make me feel better about reuniting families in a situation like this.  And a 20% risk is a lot lower probability than I originally thought (I was thinking that the odds were more like 100%).  But I am not feeling better.

Foster Kid Voices: Michelle

What is it like at age nine to be removed from your home and placed in foster care?  What is it like to be told someone wants to adopt you, only to have that person change her mind?  Michelle talks about her real life experiences as a child in foster care, including being raised cross-culturally and what having a CASA (court appointed special advocate) meant to her.

Foster Care = Ethical Adoption

Maybe my son’s birth mom would have kept him if she had had more support.  It’s a thought that haunts me.  And it’s a thought that has led me to be a foster parent.

My son Silent One was adopted out of international foster care at age six.  His birth father had died and Soledad, his birth mom, determined she couldn’t feed all of her children and keep them safe from rampant gang violence.  In an act of love so powerful that it humbles me every time I think of it, she chose to find a new family for Silent One so he could live.  I know this story, because I talked to Soledad, talked to the social worker, and talked to Silent One.

But about a year after we brought Silent One home, the adoption agency we used was shut down by the U.S. Department of State under charges of coerced relinquishments of children.  In other words, they said the agency was part of a group that were paying poor women to give up their babies and maybe even taking their babies.  The investigation revealed that this didn’t apply to Silent One’s case, thank God!  The story of why Silent One came into foster care was all too true.

It made me think, though.  Here in the United States, we have social safety nets.  We have welfare, WIC, free school breakfasts and lunches, free education, housing subsidies, medicare, etc.  If you don’t have those resources available, perhaps you are more likely to choose to relinquish your child.  Not because you want to find adoptive parents for your children, but because you don’t have the resources necessary to keep them yourself.

If there is a chance for a family to be together, that’s what I want to work towards.  I want to keep moms and dads and brothers and sisters together as family.  And when all avenues are exhausted for keeping children with their parents, I want to be there to provide a new home.

Foster care is about doing exactly that.  As a foster parent, I am helping that family in their last ditch efforts to stay together.  I am providing a safe and loving home for children while their parents work to kick their addictions, find jobs, do their jail time, get treatment for mental illness, learn better parenting skills, or do whatever else it takes to make their home a safe place for their children.  It’s my job to not just care for the children entrusted to my temporary care, but to be a support for their parents, too.  If I ever adopt again, I want to know that every assistance has been offered to the birth family.  God knows the foster care system isn’t perfect, but it does try to keep families together and, when that’s no longer possible, to find adoptive homes for kids who need homes.

In my book, that makes foster care one of the most ethical ways to adopt.

This blog is part of Adoption Talk Link Ups call for posts on adoption ethics.

Foster Kids and Insurance

The other day at work, I was thrilled to see that I can add foster children to my insurance.  I like to be prepared, so I decided to investigate.  Since I work for the federal government, I was not surprised to discover that there were hoops and forms to fill out.  But some of the requirements stymied me.  It makes no sense.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) requirements are:

  • the child must be under age 26 (if the child is age 26 or over, he/she must be incapable of self-support);
  • the child must currently live with you;
  • the parent-child relationship must be with you, not the child’s biological parent;
  • you must currently be the primary source of financial support for the child; and
  • you must expect to raise the child to adulthood.

When you’re taking care of a child in foster care, it could be debated if you are the primary source of financial support.  Yes, the State pays a stipend to foster families, but it clearly does not cover the majority of expenses for clothes, food, housing, transportation, etc.

But do you expect to raise the child to adulthood?  If that what it takes, then the answer is yes.  But you don’t know. The foster agency doesn’t know.  The courts don’t know.  The bio parents don’t know.  No one knows how long the child will be with you until either the child is reunited, moved to another home, or adopted by you. That uncertainty is life, particularly when it comes to foster care.

If you know that you are going to parent the child to adulthood, that would be adoption.

Has anyone ever used federal health insurance for foster kids? Can you demystify how it works?

Too Scared to be a Foster Parent

Maybe you have thought about becoming a foster parent, but are scared it would be too hard.  It’s ok to be scared. Take it just one step at a time.

The first step is to go to a foster care orientation where they tell you about the intake process and foster care in general. Those two hours can be eye-opening. You’ll meet social workers and realize they aren’t the jaded, heartless people portrayed on tv. You’ll meet other prospective foster parents, who are just as anxious, and realize you’re not alone. You’ll hear about the expectations and the supports available to foster parents.

From there you can sign up for the foster care class, where they will teach you how to be a foster parent. It’s about 10 classes over 2 months. No cost to you, you can back out any time. You’ll get to ask as many questions as you want.  Other prospective foster parents will ask questions you hadn’t even thought of.  You’ll learn and the unknown will become a bit more known and bit less scary.

A social worker will work with you one-on-one to prepare a home study.  You can have conversations that you didn’t want to have in front of the group.  You will get advice tailored specifically to you.  Still no obligation, still no cost.

And after you graduate from class and have your home study done, the social workers will begin to call you to ask if you would accept a particular child. You get to ask questions about that child. You get to say no.  You are in control.

Then one day you will have a child in your house. If you feel you need help, you can ask for it. From the foster agency, from friends, from family, from church, from schools… there are so many people out there who will be willing to lend a hand. You’d be surprised.

If something catastrophic happens, you still have an out. I pray that you would only disrupt in the direst case, but it is an option if the foster parent-child match is bad and can’t be fixed.

So you have many “opt outs” along the way. But I believe that in the stillness of your heart, you will hear the voice of love calling you to welcome a child into your home and be the one to stand by them no matter what.

What are you waiting for?  Take the first step today.  Go to AdoptUS Kids to find a foster care agency near you.

Why We Said No

On Thursday, we were supposed to do a simple meet-and-greet with the placement team at our foster care agency and fill out some paperwork.  (How can any visit be complete without paperwork? :p)

But… one of the placement team members got a call in the middle of a night about an emergency move for two kiddos and began pitching those kids to us impromptu.

We said no.  And it was really, really hard to say no.  It’s tearing me up.

So, why did we think we weren’t a good fit?  Reasons in no particular order:

1)  Age.  One of the kids was four years older than our top age range.  I like teenagers, but we don’t want to add children who are older than our existing kids.  Our daughter very specifically has said she wants to be older.

2)  Language.  The kids don’t speak any English.  We only speak the tiniest amount of Spanish.  So, there would be communication issues until we learned each other’s languages better.

3) Medical Needs.  The younger child has significant medical needs.  He is in elementary school and is learning to walk.  It sounded like there would be a lot of doctor appointments, PT, OT, special ed, and therapy appointments.

4)  Adoption Wildcard.  It’s unclear whether the younger child would ever live independently.  While adulthood is more than 10 years away, we want to make decisions about foster placements as if that child would be with us forever.  Why?  Imagine that the kiddo is placed with us, lives with us for several years, parental rights are terminated and the kiddo becomes available for adoption.  If we didn’t say yes to adopting that kiddo if offered the opportunity, the child would feel rejected.  We don’t want to traumatize a child who has already been hurt.  So we want to decide now if we’d adopt the child.  And committing to be a parent to a child who will never live independently is a bigger step than we are currently willing to make.

Have you ever said no to a placement?  Does it ever get easier to turn people down?