Three years ago, when we accepted placement of our daughter (Beautiful), we knew that she may not stay with us forever. We'd been through all the foster care training, so we understood that we were risking having our hearts ripped out and stomped on. However, we accepted that risk in order to help an amazing little girl that was having difficulty finding an ICWA compliant home. We vowed that she would be a part of our home for as long as child welfare allowed her to be, and part of our hearts and family forever.
Three years later, her biological mother (Rahil) consented to appoint us as H's permanent guardians. Naturally we were happy that this unexpected development meant that Beautiful would never have to leave our home. Beyond that, though, it was the first time that Rahil even wanted to meet me. We spoke and I had real hopes that she might be able to get her life together, which meant that an ongoing relationship between her and Beautiful would be possible. Unfortunately, we have not heard from her since and no one seems to know where she is.
So, why pursue adoption when the guardianship secures Beautiful's permanency in our home?
This is a question that we have been asked many times, and one that we have discussed and struggled with.
When we agreed to the guardianship, we thought that would probably be the end of our court hearings and such. However, there were many things about this type of arrangement that we were not aware of at the time. Speaking with attorneys in the months that have passed, we've learned a lot about the legalities and have decided to pursue the adoption in order to provide Beautiful with legal protections that she will not have if she remains a ward of the court.
A "ward of the court"? Yes. As long as she only has "guardians" she remains a ward of the court until she reaches the age of majority. This means that Rahil, as her legal (biological) parent, keeps all her rights in tact but has no real obligation to fulfill any of the legal obligations that generally go along with that. This, of course, gives her complete access to Beautiful's information and documents. While Beautiful was in foster care, there were supposedly protections to keep Rahil from interfering with or obtaining these things. Even then, however, we had issues with Rahil changing Beautiful's address to her own. The county health department that discovered this was concerned that Rahil might be trying to claim her as a dependent and draw benefits that she was not lawfully entitled to. Indian Child Welfare was more concerned, though, with the fact that she would be able to find us. Because we live in a rural area, all health providers keep finding directions in their file. As it turns out, because Rahil is the legal parents and Beautiful no longer has the protections afforded by the "foster" status, no office is allowed to refuse her this information. This is of particular concern because of the violent, drug soaked spiral that has been Rahil's life of late. I sincerely hope they are overreacting.
As Beautiful's guardians, we have all the responsibilities of caring for her. We have many of the rights, but not all. Of course, this was not explained to us when we agreed to this arrangment. As it turns out, we cannot have any information from Beautiful's foster care file because we "are not legal parents". Because the case was headed towards termination of Rahil's rights, child welfare compiled a medical and social history for Beautiful. It is supposedly made up of background information for her to have as an adult, so she'll have some facts when she's ready for them. Well, since we aren't legally entitled to them, they can't be released to us on her behalf. This means that she may never be able to obtain them. We may be able to subpoena the file as part of the adoption case. However, if we are unsuccessful in getting this information, Beautiful may never be able to get it. Her only other recourse would be to request that a court unseal the records, once she turns 18. As most of us know, courts aren't always inclined to do so. So, since we were given none of this information at placement, though they are legally required to give us some of it, Beautiful will have NO background information about herself without that file.
Another concern, which many people dismiss, but we take very seriously, is the question of what will happen to our children if my husband and I both die while they are still minors. We have a guardian appointed for our sons who is wonderful and loves them dearly. However, because Beautiful is a ward of the court, we have no legal authority to appoint someone for her. She would automatically be returned to the foster care system. I've looked at all of the angles and, even if we chose another guardian, I can't find any way that would give all three kids a guarantee of staying together. Adoption is the only way to fix that legal problem. I know that we are young, but nothing is guaranteed. I have known lot of young parents that have died and left children behind. It is a very real possibility and we would be very irresponsible to not do whatever possible to protect our children legally. ALL of our children.
As for her relationship with Rahil, her recent convictions for violent crimes raise concern about visitation. However, we are keeping the possibility of communication open. Prior to her disappearing, I continued to send updates. If I ever find out where she is, I will be more than happy to resume doing so. I sincerely hope that Rahil will someday be able to put her life together and, maybe, she and Beautiful can have a relationship. However, only time will tell.