Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care

Understanding the Child Welfare Experience from the Birth Parent's Perspective

May 08, 2024 Creating a Family Season 18 Episode 37
Understanding the Child Welfare Experience from the Birth Parent's Perspective
Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care
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Creating a Family: Talk about Adoption & Foster Care
Understanding the Child Welfare Experience from the Birth Parent's Perspective
May 08, 2024 Season 18 Episode 37
Creating a Family

Click here to send us a topic idea or question for Weekend Wisdom.

We talk a lot about the child's experience in foster care, but what is this experience like for the child's birth parents? You may be surprised! Join our conversation with Dr. Darcey Merritt, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Work who researches this topic.

In this episode, we cover:

  • What is a typical scenario, if there is such a thing, of how a parent finds themselves connecting with the child welfare system?
  • What rights do parents/birth parents have within the system?
  • What are some of the challenges birth parents face before the child is taken into custody?
  • What are some of the challenges that they face once the child is in foster care?
  • How can you become an ally to the child’s parents?
  • How does poverty factor in?
  • Who most commonly reports a family to child welfare?
  • How does race factor in?
  • Research in the area of working memory on parental decision-making.

This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Please leave us a rating or review

Support the Show.

Please leave us a rating or review. This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them.

Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Show Notes Transcript

Click here to send us a topic idea or question for Weekend Wisdom.

We talk a lot about the child's experience in foster care, but what is this experience like for the child's birth parents? You may be surprised! Join our conversation with Dr. Darcey Merritt, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Work who researches this topic.

In this episode, we cover:

  • What is a typical scenario, if there is such a thing, of how a parent finds themselves connecting with the child welfare system?
  • What rights do parents/birth parents have within the system?
  • What are some of the challenges birth parents face before the child is taken into custody?
  • What are some of the challenges that they face once the child is in foster care?
  • How can you become an ally to the child’s parents?
  • How does poverty factor in?
  • Who most commonly reports a family to child welfare?
  • How does race factor in?
  • Research in the area of working memory on parental decision-making.

This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them. Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Please leave us a rating or review

Support the Show.

Please leave us a rating or review. This podcast is produced by We are a national non-profit with the mission to strengthen and inspire adoptive, foster & kinship parents and the professionals who support them.

Creating a Family brings you the following trauma-informed, expert-based content:

Please pardon any errors, this is an automated transcript.
Dawn Davenport  0:00  
Welcome everyone to creating a family talk about foster adoptive and kinship care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I am the host of this show, as well as the director of creating a, which is a national nonprofit. Today, we're going to be talking about the child welfare experience from the birth parents perspective, we'll be talking with Dr. Darcy Merritt. She has her Master's and PhD in social welfare from UCLA, she has worked in both the private and the public child welfare systems. And she is a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Work. Welcome, Dr. Merritt to creating a family.

Unknown Speaker  0:38  
Thank you, thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Dawn Davenport  0:41  
You know, on this show, as well as in all the resources that our organization creating a family puts out, we talk a lot about child welfare in the context of the children, as well as the resource parents both foster adoptive and kinship. But you know, we really haven't talked as much about the experience of birth parents within this system. I don't think we are unique in that. But I do think it's a significant oversight. And I wanted to start by asking kind of almost a basic question. Our audience is, as I said, foster adoptive and kinship parents, as well as the professionals who support them. That's our mission statement that is our bus line. Why is it important for our audience, to understand the perspective of the parents of children who are in foster care,

Speaker 1  1:28  
I think it's critical because they're their birth parents, and they're their biological kin. And a lot of trauma comes along with being engaged and impacted by the child welfare system, particularly when one's children are taken, and placed in out of home care. So I think that it would go a long way for the resource parents to understand the experiences of the parents of the children that they're caring for.

Dawn Davenport  1:55  
I couldn't agree with you more. And, you know, we sometimes tell our parents, you are seeing the child's parents, at their worst, you're seeing them at the worst time of their life, they are scared, they're angry, even if you could say, Well, they probably shouldn't be, they brought this on themselves, or whatever it is yours. The reality is they are still very scared, and likely angry and confused and feeling out of control, and all of those things. And if ultimately, our goal is to get these children back home, it helps to understand and have some compassion for their parents.

Speaker 1  2:31  
Well, I think it's important to understand, we oftentimes conflate the different types of child maltreatment under the umbrella of child maltreatment. Yes. So on any given day, between 70 to 75% of the children that are impacted by the child welfare system, it's because of poverty, racialized poverty related neglect. And those are the parents and the children that I pay attention to, I don't study physical abuse or sexual abuse. So the bulk of the parents that I interact with are involved with the system. And I'll talk a little bit about that word involved in a minute, but they are impacted by the system because they don't have the resources they need. And it's due to histories of marginalization being disenfranchised, financially, a lack of childcare, unsafe housing, a lack of money to provide those basic needs. So the reason why these children come into the oversight of the child welfare system is in large part because their parents are living in poverty. And there's a racialized poverty component as well. The reason I said I'll talk about involved in omitted is because I pay attention to the language that the birth parents prefer to be used. And they have told me that they don't prefer to be referred to as child welfare involved, because they're not voluntarily involved. They feel like they're impacted. So I make a concerted effort to use the term child welfare impacted rather than involved as a sign of respect for them and understanding what's going on. Because the bottom line is this, the very second, a child is removed from their natural home is the very second the trauma begins. And it doesn't just go away when the child goes back home. It's a traumatic experience for all family members.

Dawn Davenport  4:17  
Yeah, and one that they will hearken back to, I mean, yes, throughout their lives. So what is a typical scenario, I'm not even sure there is such a thing as that, but of how a parent finds themselves impacted or connecting with the child welfare system. In

Speaker 1  4:33  
large part, Supervisory neglect is the most prevalent form of all of the types of neglect. And that refers to parents not having child care for their kids, or inappropriate childcare. A lot of my parents come into the oversight of the child welfare system because they've gone to work because they've had to pay bills and buy food and they had to leave say, a little one home with the teenage child something like that. So supervisory neglect is the most prevalent form of childhood. left. And this mandated reporting process is also quite problematic, because calls are being made, when there could be other solutions to really help that family and avoid beginning the trauma of child welfare system surveillance.

Dawn Davenport  5:14  
Okay, so somebody calls and makes report, often you're saying supervisory neglect, we often say that neglect is often masquerading as poverty, or vice versa, that the two are intertwined. So at that point, somebody makes a report. And there is an investigator that comes out discharges, obviously, by states and even sometimes within counties. But generally, the scenario is that an investigator will come out and investigate the situation. Is that a typical scenario, as you see it as well? That's correct.

Speaker 1  5:45  
Most of the reports come from medical settings, and from school settings, and from community members, disgruntled abusive partners. And it can be really problematic when the parents trying to do the best they can. So we tend to look at these parents with a deficit lens. And we need to stop that we need to think about their strengths and what works in a family what works well, what families need, I always advise my students that when they're engaging with families that are troubled and having some hard times for them to start the conversation by asking what happened to you, because that sets up a relationship building, that the parent doesn't automatically feel blamed for doing something wrong. I mean, imagine sitting in your home, you're doing the best you can, you are experiencing poverty, you come from a marginalized racial background, and somebody shows up at your door and says, You're not doing it right. Let me now take over your family, I'm the authority and I have the power to remove your child, if you don't listen to what I'm telling you. That is very traumatic, and it snaps away all of the power from the birth parents. And then the power goes to the resource parents if children are taken and move to those parents, those families. So it's just a really stigmatizing traumatic experience. There's power dynamics that are very, very troubling between the moms and the dads and the authorities that are taking control over the household essentially, all due to parents not having childcare, parents not having enough money to properly feed their kids, parents might have some mental health challenges, parents might have some substance abuse challenges. And all of these could be linked to a broader context of their lived experiences, which we're not paying attention to enough

Dawn Davenport  7:30  
to support what you're saying, I'm going to cite some stats. And you may have problems with the stats. So say that if you do but the adoption and foster care Analysis and Reporting System, what we usually call Ashkar, it is a annual report, usually a couple of years behind, it documents a lot of data associated with children coming into state care. And one of the things that they report on are the circumstances associated with the child's removal, I'll just read a couple of them. The top circumstance is neglect 63% of children come into care due to what is reported on their file as neglect, which is what we're going to talk some more about, and what you've already mentioned that neglect as often really just poverty, drug abuse 36% of this is the latest reporting from the latest drug abuse from the parents 36% caretakers inability to cope 14% physical abuse 12% And this goes to the point you made earlier, I think a lot of times, the lay public automatically assumes that children come into care because of abuse. And that actually is, well, according to this only 12% housing issues which you mentioned 9% And then parent incarceration 6% Alcohol abuse 6%. So anyway, anything you want to say about the Afghan the reporting? Well, I'm

Speaker 1  8:50  
really familiar with that. And there are different national reporting mechanisms. So they vary according to the way in which they collect their data. What I need to say about that is every single thing that you just mentioned, should not be a punishment, or parents should not be punished for having experiencing all of those things. So we need to look at the context. We need to think about the etiology of these problems instead of just blaming parents because the system was set up to protect children from harm, right? Parents that are experiencing or end up being deemed neglectful due to racialized poverty. They don't intend to neglect their kids, they may not even consider it neglect. That's correct, because we're not looking at things from a strength based perspective, like I had some parents tell me that a caseworker has come in and admonished them for not having fresh food in the refrigerator. And she saw that as a negative, but really what the parents said was, I have frozen food in my freezer because it lasts longer. So that's a strength,

Dawn Davenport  9:50  
right or I live in a grocery desert and there isn't fresh food, so I'm buying canned food or frozen food.

Speaker 1  10:00  
I think we need to ask ourselves, what is the child protective service system supposed to do? Is it supposed to blame parents because they're poor and minority? Or is it supposed to protect children from poverty, because the original legislation was not set up to have this protective system that disproportionately impacts black and brown families. It was not set up to mitigate poverty effects. That's not what it was set up to do. But that's what we're doing. I call it the child poverty surveillance system rather than the child protective service. Because really, we're surveilling people who live in poverty.

Dawn Davenport  10:34  
So how do you factor in substance abuse disorder? There are people with substance abuse disorder, who it is possible that they have it together enough that they're able to raise their kids, but a lot of them cannot. We have a dearth of treatment and rehab facilities, particularly affordable ones. What are your thoughts on that? Because that is a significant, I was actually surprised it was only 36%? Because it seems anecdotally it seems to play a bigger role. Yeah, so

Speaker 1  11:02  
what you just said, the fact that we have a dearth of available and affordable services, that's the problem. That's what we need to do. We need to make sure that we get help for people. But we're removing children, when we can get some help and supports in place at all times, we need to be doing our very best to avoid the removal of children. And I know substance abuse issues and mental health issues are can be extremely challenging, and children can be placed in unsafe conditions due to that. So we need to address that problem, rather than at the front end, making sure that the children are removed without also trying to support the mom or dad in their substance use challenges.

Dawn Davenport  11:41  
So how would that work? I can see the movement towards can first meaning Do you have a safe family member who can care for this child while you go into rehab? And I do think that probably happens. Some?

Unknown Speaker  11:54  
I think it is happened more?

Dawn Davenport  11:56  
Yeah, I think so as well. It's supposed to be that. That is what we're supposed to be doing. Yeah. But the child is still removed? How would you envision a scenario where a child would be able to stay in the home with the parent, while the parent is hopefully going into rehab successfully,

Speaker 1  12:13  
I suggest that we would really put our efforts into wraparound services in a sense, and relying on the community members and just exhausting all avenues towards finding family members. Or it doesn't even have to be a family member, like somebody close to the family, somebody that has a relationship with a family where that stigma is then eliminated, where they can get the help to take care of that family. I mean, affluent communities do this all the time. I mean, there's a lot of substance use an affluent community salutely.

Dawn Davenport  12:43  
The reality is substance abuse disorder cuts, every socio economic. And if you don't believe it, you're putting your head in the sand. So describe a scenario how affluent families would handle it. Well,

Speaker 1  12:55  
affluent families typically don't end up under the surveillance of the child protective service system. So they handle it, because they have the privilege to not have those reports made. Because they have supports, they can pay for their substance abuse treatment. They can have community members and all kinds of services they have access and availability to engage with so they're typically not. I mean, we do have cases of affluent families coming under the oversight of the system, but it's very rare. It's very rare. Yeah.

Dawn Davenport  13:25  
And one interesting thing, this is tangentially connected. But if you look at what families what mothers and newborns are tested for the child having been exposed prenatally, it's black and brown families are significant and poor families, I should say. I think it is a huge socio economic, because I live in an area where there's a lot of poverty, regardless of race. And it is poor families, and black and brown moms and infants, newborns who are tested more often. And we know that substance abuse disorder. In fact, alcohol abuse is significant and 30 something year old, white women, but we can't really test for alcohol exposure at birth. But those moms are not being tested. It's

Speaker 1  14:10  
called racism. That's what this is. It's called racism. Black and brown families are surveilled differently because of their minoritized status, and their experiences with racialized poverty. So we look at poor black and brown children differently than we look at poor white children. And so they're going to hospitals and health care centers where the norm is to immediately think that this parent has done something wrong and to test the child and put them under that type of surveillance from day one. We've been doing it for decades and decades and decades.

Dawn Davenport  14:48  
Let me pause for a moment to welcome our new listeners and to say a warm thank you to our continuing listeners who are returning this week. We really do appreciate You. And I also want to point out that if you subscribe to The creating a family podcast, you will have access to a huge library of past recordings. We've been doing this for, oh gosh, over 16 years now. And we have interviewed every expert you could possibly imagine some who are no longer with us and some who are continuing to influence this field. So you can go through we make an attempt, when we are titling a podcast to make the title reflective of what it covers, we don't use the cutesy type titles. So you can go through the library and just look through the titles and get a feel for whether or not this is something that you would want to listen to. So that's a benefit of subscribing to creating a family. So please do that. And let your friends know about the podcast as well. Thank you. Okay, I want to talk now What rights do parents and by parents, I mean birth parents have within the system, an investigator shows up at their house, the child, let's say is removed at that time, very often, the child won't be removed exactly at that time. But they are impacted by the system. They are having people come into their house, they're usually told they have to change certain things, sometimes before the child is removed. And if the child is removed, certainly after the fact. What rights do parents have when this is happening? Well, they

Speaker 1  16:25  
unfortunately don't know their rights. But they don't have to let that person in the house without a court order. They need to have representation, legal representation, but they literally do not have to open the door and let somebody into their home without a court order. But people don't know their rights, people are petrified and afraid because they being told that if you don't do this, we are going to take your child away. So they need legal representation from day one, the minute somebody knocks at your door, I mean, I just always posed to people think about your own families. And what if someone just showed up and knocked at your door and said, I need to go through and I need to strip down your child and check them for bruises, I need to check your refrigerator in the cleanliness of your house. What kind of intrusion is that? That's an intrusion. So obviously, parents are going to be very upset. And then it also impacts the family dynamics. Because after a while, children see these outside authority figures coming in and telling their parents how to raise them. So that sets up a bad dynamic in terms of the parent being able to take care of their child, I mean, and then children become weaponized against the parents and threatened to call CPS if mom and dad won't let them go to the party.

Dawn Davenport  17:32  
Yeah, that does happen sometimes as well. Another thing that I wanted to talk about is that let's say the child is removed, placed with grandma, or placed with a non related foster home, that parents are given a call different things, but let's just call it a plan. Whatever the reason is that the child was removed, be it lack of housing, our anger issues, or whatever. So part of their plan, let's say is to get a job, get housing, to take parenting classes. So often, this is a full time job, just working the plan. And I know of so many cases where transportation is a huge issue. So they're having parenting classes, but they have parenting classes at a time where the parents either can't get there, or they don't have transportation to get there. So what are some other challenges that you can describe? Once the parent is impacted by the system once a child has been removed, and there is a plan in place? What are some of the not just necessarily logistical but yeah, logistical issues, and complications that a parent might face in order to, quote work the plan, you hit

Speaker 1  18:36  
on it all. I mean, there's a huge transportation problem, a lack of just unstable work as well. Parents, a lot of times work non traditional work hours. So they might do shift work or weekend work and need childcare at times when childcare isn't available. So all of these challenges, they're kind of set up for failure in a way, because it's similar to when people are released from jail settings from the carceral system. And they're told you must go to this meeting at this time, and they don't have transportation and they're placed back into the neighborhood that was negative for them. My parents have overwhelmingly suffered from these types of barriers, a lack of transportation, or something's gone wrong with the house, but they can't get the landlord to fix it because they're behind on their rent. So they're avoiding the landlord. I had one parent tell me a horrible story. And she actually lost her kids and didn't get them for five years. What happened was she had some kids and she was walking them to school. She always walk them to school, but one time she was sexually assaulted and raped along that route in that area. And so obviously she was traumatized. She went to go get help. She went to mental health professionals. She went to her physical health professionals because she was harmed in both ways. She told the school she was having a hard time. She was so traumatized. She couldn't walk the child back in that neighborhood to go to school. So what happened all Three professionals called CPS to complain. The mental health professional called her doctor called, then the school called to say she's not bringing the child to school, nobody did anything thought outside the box and was creative and said, Hey, maybe we can get a school bus to come get this child or get somebody to walk this child to school, or let's help. So now she has been given the message that when she did the right thing by sharing what was happening, her kids were taken, she didn't get them back for five years. And she had been sexually assaulted and raped in

Dawn Davenport  20:31  
his those type of stories that we have to keep in mind. And if the children who have been placed in a foster home, that story probably wouldn't have been shared. Kinship parents, that story may well have been shared. So I'm focusing now on nonrelated foster parents. So how can foster parents learn and become allies of their foster child's parents? They

Speaker 1  20:54  
have to do the work, they have to have compassion for the birth parent, first of all, have compassion and let that show developing a relationship with them asking the parents what happened to you? What happened to your family? How can I help? What can I do to help so that the parent trust the foster parent because there's a lot of distrust? When you've got your child living with a stranger? A lot

Dawn Davenport  21:15  
of fear, a lot of fear. I mean, think about the standpoint of the horror stories that are in the media about foster parents, and foster parents hate that. But can you imagine that your child is living with a stranger whom you don't know. And you have beliefs that these people are think of all the stereotypes in it for the money, the abusers are pedophiles, or whatever preferencing their own children. So all those things are going through your foster child's parents mind. That's

Speaker 1  21:47  
why foster parents need to understand that and maybe if they can just do some self reflection and think to themselves, how would I feel if my child was taken from me and placed in the home of a stranger. And just keep that top of mind every minute of every day?

Dawn Davenport  22:04  
If you were involved with foster parent, kinship, parent, adoptive parent support group or if you're involved with training foster adoptive or kinship parents, you need to know about creating a family's interactive training and support curriculum for foster adoptive and kinship families. It is a wonderful resource. We have a library of 25 curriculum. Each curriculum comes with a video a facilitator guide, a handout specific to that topic, and a additional resource sheet. The topics are directly relevant to parenting, foster adoptive and kinship families, you could check it out at parent support at parent support How does generational poverty factor in?

Speaker 1  22:55  
Well, it's a huge problem. And that's why we have generational exposure to the child welfare system to the child protective service system as well, because now we're assessing the likelihood and risk of a child being re neglected or re abused based on their parents history with the system. So when people don't have generational wealth, and they have no opportunity to gain generational wealth, and they have less education, fewer employment opportunities, they live in low resource neighborhoods in school districts, and they can't pull themselves out of this poverty, then they're going to continually be under their surveillance because a lot of these reports come from these neighborhoods, people that interact with different systems, whether they're getting TANF or food stamps, and snap, other mental health services, substance abuse services, a lot of information is being collected on the family. And so you just have an entire dossier of records of all the things and all the problems that this family has experienced from grandma to mom to the child. And it just perpetuates as a cycle. And it's really, really problematic. And we need to figure out how to disrupt that cycle. We need to reimagine what the system is in place for what the system is supposed to be doing. And how can we better support parents who are in need from a place of love and respect, and not just punitive oversight with a deficit lens?

Dawn Davenport  24:20  
Who are the most common reporters to the child welfare system? You mentioned schools, medical settings and schools. And now in addition, you're saying some of the public benefit providers as well. Yeah.

Speaker 1  24:33  
And community members, there can be some reports that aren't true from disgruntled people in the community. But most of the reports come from medical professionals and school professionals. So when a child falls off a slide at the playground and goes to the doctor, and the doctor might not believe the mom that he fell off, and that there wasn't any abuse involved. medical neglect also happens. Those calls are made when mom or dad can't get the child To the appointments, and so they're being accused of neglecting their medical needs. But those same challenges that you mentioned earlier, a lack of transportation having to go to work these things. Those are the barriers that prevent parents from getting their kids to all the medical appointments. And the bottom line is this, these parents have no reason to trust authority figures that they know have the power to call on them and remove their children. So there's this level of understandable avoidance in the first place for these parents to engage with these professionals. Because they know the stakes, they've developed their own institutionalized language, which is really sad. I've got parents that use the term catch a case, they're afraid to catch a case. And the black moms that I've interviewed, and I've interviewed a lot of them, they have to navigate the world very differently. They have to keep receipts they have to when I say that, I mean, they have to have all documentation that they took the child to this appointment, that they went to this therapy session or this playgroup or they did all these things, according to the plan that you mentioned earlier. So that in itself is exhausted, I don't have to do that. I don't have to walk around and keep receipts of everything I do with my family, because somebody's going to come check on me. And if I don't comply, I possibly can have my entire family uprooted and dismantled. Are

Dawn Davenport  26:17  
you saying that they're keeping these receipts once they're impacted by the system? Not before,

Speaker 1  26:22  
sometimes before because they know if they're in a community where they see caseworkers coming through the apartment building all the time, black families know that they have to be on alert all the time. And so they might be keeping receipts before? The people that probably don't keep receipts are people like myself, people who have privileged socio economic and educational privilege? Yeah,

Dawn Davenport  26:42  
I mean, same here. I wouldn't. Exactly. And I also use my own judgment frequently, with is it serious enough to bring them to the doctor? And, you know, take the approach that let's wait and see. You know, that's a common thing. If you are a regular listener, you have heard us talk about jockey being family and their support for free courses that we offer for you. You can find these free courses at Bitly. Slash J. B F support, that jockey being family foundation has supported us offering these free courses for many years. They are excellent courses, you can use them for continuing education if you need continuing it. But even if you don't, he could help you improve your parenting. So check it out and telephoned. I want to now move into race as far as the majority of children again, I'm going to quote from the latest Afghan report 46% of children in foster care are white 21% are Hispanic of any race, and 20% are black or African American. So let's talk about the impact of race. We've talked about socio economic. But let's also now move to talking about the impact of race.

Speaker 1  28:02  
Sure, we can't disentangle race from poverty in the context of Child Protective Services. We can't, they are looked at differently. They are in settings where racism is alive. And well. First of all, all systems in the United States are embedded with systemic racism because our country was founded on racism, we can't disentangle it. So we need to acknowledge that and there are poor outcomes for those kids. Black and brown kids are harder to place, I'm sure you're aware of that. They're harder to place much like babies are easier to place, teenagers are harder to place. Black and brown kids are viewed as more problematic because of their parents and their deficiencies are highlighted rather than their strengths. We can't disentangle it. And so racialized poverty basically refers to minoritized populations that are judged differently in their low socioeconomic status based on their race. And that's how the racism manifests in the decision making processes the decision to make the phone call to report the decision to investigate decision to place the child, the decision to keep the child there the decision to remove the child back, you cannot disentangle one's implicit bias that we don't check often at all. It's really difficult to do so. But one of the things that we've neglected to do is honor the lived experiences and the perceptions that these parents have. If they're feeling that they've got perceived racism, we need to honor and listen to their lived experiences. But yes, there is racism throughout because the system is set up that way. Black people are surveilled a lot more. And I

Dawn Davenport  29:40  
think the important thing is not to look just at the racial percentage of children in foster care, but to look at how that is proportionate to the percentage of those children in our society.

Speaker 1  29:51  
Yeah, because the black children there's huge dispersion. Other black kids have the most racial disproportionality in the system. And after that, it's native American American Indian kids, and we neglect those kids as well to pay attention to how they're so prevalent in the system as well.

Dawn Davenport  30:09  
And likely also, I would probably say Hispanic kids as well.

Speaker 1  30:12  
It varies with the Latin X kids, white kids are underrepresented black kids are over represented. So I think it's a 15% rate there, the Latinx children, it's regional. So there's over representation in some parts of the country and about even an under representation in other parts of the country. So it's a little bit mixed

Dawn Davenport  30:31  
up. That's interesting. Yeah, they have card does not reflect that. It's a national conglomeration. Okay, interesting. I am particularly interested, you have done some research on the area of working memory on parental decision making, at creating a family, we have been very involved in doing a lot of research and creating a lot of trainings to help people be more aware of the impact of prenatal substance exposure, alcohol, as well as drugs on children. And one of the fascinating things that's being studied more right now is that many of the mothers who are prenatally exposing children were also prenatally exposed as infants as fetuses themselves. And it's fascinating. And there's also and I won't go into it, because it's really beyond me, to be honest, but also it's getting pretty deep. But the epigenetic influences of prenatal substance exposure, if that person's mother had drank during pregnancy, or used drugs during pregnancy, it can impact the next generation. Anyway, I'm fascinated by the understanding, and certainly, let me close the circle here to working memory. We know that one of the hallmarks of especially alcohol exposure, but also to a lesser extent, drug exposure, is to affect executive function, it's to affect short term memory, those are huge, huge issues. And it drives a parent raising this child crazy until they come to the understanding that the child is doing the best they can, given the hand they were dealt, and have brain damage caused by this that's impacting their memory. Anyway, as I was reading some of your research, I am so interested in that. So let's talk some about working memory, you may not have gone in the direction at all a prenatal substance exposure, but it's hard to separate because working memory is so often impacted by that. Yeah,

Speaker 1  32:20  
so I don't dive into prenatal substance abuse exposure, specifically with my current work. However, when I talk about working memory, I'm talking about it in the context of how people make decisions. So it's a decision making analysis that I'm implementing, so think about if you have a constant experience, continue to experience with CPS, for instance. And let's say you were investigated a year ago, and then the case went away and everything's fine. But then you were investigated. Again, you're going to remember these experiences. Oh, yeah. How could you forget them? Right? Of course. So these are going to directly impact the decisions you make. So what I'm trying to understand is how the CPS exposure and how they're impacting parents goes directly to their intention to do a particular behavior and whether or not they do that particular behavior. So for instance, a vignette that I use in my most recent study is we asked parents to imagine themselves with three children, and they are under the surveillance of the system, and they need to take an extra shift at night in order to pay rent, they've gotten an extra shift at work, and they need to take the shift. But they'd have to leave the child that small four year old home with an older teenager child, what would they do? Would they take the extra shift and be able to pay rent and risk getting in trouble for supervisory neglect for inappropriate supervision by leaving the kids at home? Or would they not take the shift, and then risk being homeless and not being able to feed your child? It's a no win situation.

Dawn Davenport  33:55  
And that also could be caused for having the job removed? Absolutely.

Speaker 1  33:58  
So what we want to understand is you want to tap into their cognitions, about what happened when they were faced with these dilemmas before that working memory and determine how that impacts their choices moving forward.

Dawn Davenport  34:09  
And what have you found? Well, we're

Speaker 1  34:12  
still doing the analysis right now? No, so no, I have 112 respondents. And so there's more pieces to this whole study. But we have to do it's called a dominance analysis. I won't get into the weeds, but it requires asking parents to remember who would approve of a particular decision that they would make, why would they approve that decision? And so we're doing a count of their cognitions to find out how it applies to their choices and their behavioral choices. Oh, that's

Dawn Davenport  34:42  
fascinating. Well, I, I would like to read that when you have your hand, and it's published.

Speaker 1  34:47  
I'm really excited about it. I have other things published. But this particular part, this is phase two, and we've collected all the data now. So now we're in the midst of the analysis, and I'm very excited about it's a lot of rich data, because I want to be able to say to To the child protective service system, to parents, community members, these parents are making a decision based on experiences they've had with these oversight authorities. And we need to understand that they're making decisions based on their experiences living in poverty, based on their experiences with racism. It's all intertwined. And

Dawn Davenport  35:20  
I suppose that the bottom line is that they're not making these decisions with the intent to put their child in harm. Absolutely not. Yeah, what you're saying is that they're very often making a decision that they think is in the child's best interest and might be long term. That's correct. So parting words here, you're speaking to an audience of foster adoptive and kinship parents? What do you want them to know? What's the take home message here? For them?

Speaker 1  35:47  
I would say the take home message is that they need to approach birth parents with the most respect possible. And they need to not blame parents for conditions and contexts that have been completely outside of their control that led them to being under the oversight of the child protective service system, find out what the allegations were, think yourselves, what could have been done, what would you have done differently to mitigate whatever problems and challenges that parents having, and then have compassion that they were unable to do that, and that they got caught up in the system that's quite punitive, at the end of the day, and

Dawn Davenport  36:21  
if you are an adoptive parent, that would mean that the child's parental rights have already been terminated. Understanding the child's birth parents is crucial for you to set an intention for that and a model for that child. Genetically, these are their biological parents, and having compassion and understanding for them is crucial for that child's identity. So I would say that for foster parents, obviously, because the goal is reunification. So what you say makes sense. But even if reunification is no longer the goal, your child is viewing themselves based on how you talk about their parents.

Speaker 1  36:59  
Well, yeah, adoptive parents, foster parents can parents, all the parents need to every day I can't reiterate this enough. Always remember that that child loves their parents. Yes. It doesn't matter what the parents were doing. The child loves their parents, and they have been removed from their parents. And it is traumatic on a daily basis. Even if they're functioning well and thriving, so to speak, they will always live with the fact that they have been removed from their biological parents. And if we can kind of put ourselves in their shoes. Again, I'll go back to compassion and respect. If we can understand the trauma that this is for all family members, then it brings us a little bit closer to at least engaging in a more healthy relationship, a helping relationship with the birth parents and with extended family members as well, because we need to have community support for parents and families that are struggling. Hmm,

Dawn Davenport  37:56  
beautifully said. Thank you so much, Dr. Darcy Merritt for being with us today to help us have a better picture of the experience of our children's parents, especially as they are impacted by the child welfare system. I truly appreciate your time.

Unknown Speaker  38:12  
Thank you so much for having me.

Dawn Davenport  38:15  
Thank you. Thank you children's house International. They are a supporter of this podcast as well as the mission of creating a family. Children's House International is a Hague accredited international adoption agency. They currently place children from 14 countries and they place these kids with families throughout the US children's house also provides home study services. And if you are interested in international surrogacy they can provide consulting for that as well. Thanks children's house international