I have talked with and received several emails from other foster parents of First Nations / Aboriginal / Native American children asking me how it is that we managed to achieve permanency with our girls when so many others (in Canada and the USA) never do. The official policy in our area is pretty clear - White Parents and First Nations kids will never have permanence as the cultural needs of the child are considered more important than their existing family structure. I have talked to many heart broken parents and devastated children who have gone through years of uncertainty, threats of removal, upheaval and multiple moves all in the name of culture. I have also talked to many heart broken parents and devastated children a generation or two older who had no understanding of the importance of culture and it caused unspeakable devastation for all.
If you read here much you know that I DO think culture is important and our necessary education and honoring our girls' culture, heritage, language and history is of uppermost importance to me. I DO think that ideally our girls would have been better off placed initially in a First Nations foster home which could have then become a First Nations adoptive home. From my attachment oriented perspective however, a home where children are strongly integrated with experienced parents willing to recognize and support the reality of parenting minority First Nations children at some point becomes the child's best interest over moving that child. Official policy disagrees with me.
From the official perspective it would not matter who we are, or what we did, or what we were willing to learn, experience, teach or do or how long we had parented the girls because we were not First Nations ourselves. It comes down to simply a question of race, and we knew going in that we were considered the "wrong" race to be parents to the babies.
But here we are, one year later, with permanence for our daughters. One year, from this side of permanence, feels awfully short, but each day while living it was a certain type of endless hell. And there are many, many other families that live it far longer than we did and in the end never achieve "forever". I knew I could and would survive the girls being returned to their biological parents if that had been possible, but I strongly doubted my ability to survive the girls being moved at the whim of a social worker enforcing ever changing policy based simply on my race.
There were many, many steps along the way but in summary THIS is why we have First Nations daughters today.
#1) There was no other viable option for a permanent family. If there were, we would not have ended up with daughters. My girls came to me after 3 disrupted in-family placements and the families that have my girls' older siblings were not able or willing to parent more children. Combined with that reality, there is a severe shortage of First Nations foster families in our area (if you are reading this and are interested, please call the 1-800 number listed in your phone book - there is ALWAYS a need!). Trust me, if there was any other options, those externally involved in this process would have found it. It was either us, or permanent foster care in another white family.
#2) The time frame for permanence was much shorter than usual because of prior history. My girls parents are not young, and in fact one parent is older than my husband and I. It wasn't a matter of "growing up" and needing time and support to do so. Decisions, choices, changes needed to be made and made quickly and tragically, what needed to be done to have the girls returned was not.
#3) Our willingness to parent the girls without any subsidy, support or funding. If we had wanted to continue to be paid caregivers, receive financial help or any sort of monetary assistance we would not have been able to achieve permanence in the manner we did. We have stepped outside the government process of guardianship, foster care or adoption and arranged a private, permanent custody agreement between us and the parents which was not contested by the Ministry of Children and Families. This decision has enormous financial ramifications for our family, not the least of which is that quite possibly my husband is moving away to take work in a distant town, and will only be home 3 or 4 days a month. But that is the price we pay for knowledge that the girls are going to be tucked safely into their own beds forever. To be clear, we will not receive a daycare subsidy, a foster care subsidy, an adoption subsidy or a band subsidy. This was NOT a smart "financial decision" because in fact it was NOT a financial decision at all. This was a family decision and the girls are our family.
#4) Being willing to NOT adopt. We have NOT adopted the girls. We have permanent and full custody and guardianship. We are the legal parents with all those rights and responsibilities but with some limitations. We were willing to accept those legal limitations, which include but are not limited to an unchanged birth certificate (not a big deal), no automatically changed last name (a bigger deal to me, emotionally) and no automatic inheritance rights for the girls (which we will address legally). The most important part to us is that we are a permanent family, and will be viewed as such by institutions, friends and family we would come into contact with. We also trust that the girls biological family views it as such.
#5) This is not uncommon in our area. My girls parents, and I as a foster mom, have several cross relationships with other foster families and biological families where this permanent choice was made. It is unheard of in other towns in our province, but fairly common here. Our girls' parents were able to see first hand the positive outcomes for both the child and parents when this choice was made. In particular, our girls' mother knew to ask if it was a possibility when faced with making long term decisions.
#6 ) Openness and Relationship. This is quite honestly the only point that really counts because without the relationship we have with our girls' family we would have never, ever gotten to this place. We are here because the girls parents requested it, they consented to it and they supported it in the face of enormous opposition. I will talk more about openness developing in situations like ours, the agreement we signed and how we expect the future to look in the next few days, but to be clear, we are NOT parents to our girls because I forced it to be. We are parents to our girls because their parents wished us to be.