New program seeks to equalize adoption benefits; Eden Prairie, Richfield mothers share experience

Dw21NWadoptionMaykao Fredericks has three biological children, two stepchildren and six adopted children. But she would be the first to tell you that adoptive parents aren’t saints.
“People that adopt are not superheroes,” the Eden Prairie resident said. “People campaign for adoption … as if everyone is going to live happily ever after. But the reality is that it is really for better or worse, because the issues that the kids had, the crisis, carries on into adoption.”
Fredericks was one of three adoptive parents who shared their experiences during a March 12 news conference at the State Capitol about the Northstar Care for Children program, a $2.57 million investment to reduce the number of children of the length of time spent in foster care by providing more financial support for permanent placements. The benefit program may be included in the final Health and Human Services budget bill. It is currently included in SF 1034, the omnibus health and human services finance bill and its House companion, HF 1233. If passed, the changes would go into effect in 2015.
“Through Northstar Care for Children, we will reduce the number of children waiting for families as well as the length of time they have to wait,” Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said March 12. “We will provide financial support to meet children’s needs and ensure they grow up in permanent families they can count on for a lifetime.”
Current funding incentives for foster care and adoption are unequal, Jesson said, with family foster care receiving higher levels of support than Adoption Assistance for adoptive families or Relative Custody Assistance for caregivers who offer permanent homes for children. The Northstar Program would equalize the financial disbursements, a change Fredericks welcomes.
“We get a third of what we received as foster parents,” she said. “I have always felt that it was a punishment, like they wanted us to prove how much we would want to adopt. This would close that gap.”
Fredericks’ adoption experience began after she and her husband had two sons. She wanted a little girl, she explained, and spent weekends volunteering with Girls Scouts. That experience led the family to Mary’s Place, a shelter near Target Field in Minneapolis. Fredericks heard about a family of eight Hmong siblings (she is Hmong herself), and she and her husband volunteered to take them out to dinner.
“We picked them up and went to the Chinese buffet, and there was this moment when my husband and I locked eyes and it was as if we knew what God wanted us to do,” she said. “Either that or we fell in love with them. We just knew we would see them again.”
The siblings were living with an older sister who was caring for them. The sister was enrolled at the University of Minnesota, and was planning on dropping out to care for the children. The Fredericks made a deal with her: they would take care of the siblings if she promised to stay in school and finished quickly.
It took three years for parental rights to be terminated, and another year for the formal adoption of the six youngest children (now ages 10, 13, 14, 16, 17 and 18) to be finalized. The adoption was made official Nov. 17, 2012 – National Adoption Day.
With 13 people living in a three-bedroom home Fredericks says that daily life there starts “like one of those old machines where you drop a ball and there is this chain reaction that takes place.” It was an adjustment, to say the least, she said.
“One of the biggest things is that we had to redefine everything – because our family was so complex that if we didn’t redefine it, we would think we were missing something,” she said.
Erin Davies of Richfield could possibly relate. Her mother, Betsy Davies, started taking in foster children when Erin left for college. Now, Erin has two foster children of her own, siblings Benjamin and Matthew, two 7-year-olds who were born “nine months and one week apart,” she said. The boys attend school in Eagle Ridge in Eden Prairie.
Benjamin was removed from his foster family after suffering a stroke when he was two days old. Erin met him when he was placed at her mother’s foster home, and she eventually adopted both him and his brother in 2007, when they were 2-years-old. Being a parent is challenging, but she did not expect the emotional and financial difficulties, she said.
“I think my boys face some pretty tough medical challenges,” she said “Matthew was diagnosed at 3 with autism, anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He also shows signs of numerous other mental health issues, but he is too young for a proper diagnosis. I was more concerned with how much money I would have to put into Benjamin’s therapy. Five years later, he’s mainstream (in school) and shows no signs of complications. Now, it’s Matthew who is on medications and IEPs. The biggest change to me was opening my eyes up to future disabilities as they grow older.”
Davies said that the Northstar Program could change the outlook for older children in foster care – specifically, those over age 6.
“(They) would have a much better shot at being adopted rather than timing out in foster care, and having the permanency which would give them so much more hope for the future,” she said. “To be able to have someone to call you family after you turn 18 is a huge deal.”
The Department of Human Services estimates that 2,003 children will receive Relative Custody Assistance and 6,418 children will receive Adoption Assistance. During 2011, 7,679 children were in family foster care.
Raising children is never easy – but it is even more complicated when going against cultural expectations, or when the injuries of the past are carried into the present.
“My biggest thing is raising the children to know they are a family and loved,” Davies said. “I try to teach them that it doesn’t matter what other people think. You get those snide comments – ‘Are you ever going to have children of your own?’ Those comments hurt.”
“They were victims, and they ended up being the responsibility of the community,” Fredericks said. “The difference is that the people who adopt said ‘yes’ – to take care of them not only as a taxpayer, but to take them in. My biggest thing is to remove the myth that when you adopt, it’s happily every after, and that’s it’s now the parents’ sole responsibility, and everyone walks away. That’s a myth.”

Contact Joseph Palmersheim at joseph.palmersheim@ecm-inc.com

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