One of my favorite television shows this season is "Once Upon a Time". Go ahead, snicker - a forty-five year old woman hooked on what is essentially a fairy tale compendium turned inside out is kind of ridiculous, I give you that. But it's escapist viewing at its best; clever, well written and well acted.
Last weekend, my husband and I sat down with Hulu to catch up on a number of back episodes. Brains firmly set to "off", wine in hand, we disappeared into Storybrooke.
The last episode we watched, "True North" was a riff on the Hansel and Gretel tale. In this version, the kids are little shoplifters, living on their own following the death of their mom, their dad never having been in the picture. Our heroine, Emma Snow, daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming (stop it: I hear you snickering), determines to save them from a fate worse than death.
Yes, foster parents. After all, she explains bitterly, for foster parents, the kids will just be "a meal ticket".
Suddenly, my brain kicked on again, like a thermostat sensing heat. My husband sat up and asked me "What did she say?" We played back that segment of the scene. Yep, that's what she said.
In terms of the story, I suppose that statement makes sense to that character. Having grown up very unhappily in "the system" herself, Emma ties her horror of foster care to her own experiences.
That tiny segment of one scene made me stop and consider the basic premises of the show in different terms. What I realized is that this is a show that is profoundly anti-adoption.
The whole series is built around the Evil Queen adopting Emma's biological son, which doesn't work out so well for him, her being evil and all. This latest episdode showcased the sentiment - its take-away nugget of "wisdom" being that blood will always find blood, as the kids reunite with their father.
The truth is that blood doesn't always find blood, and blood isn't always best.
My husband and I have been foster parents; I am an adoptee. We have many friends that foster and a number that have adopted. I can honestly say that, while I'm sure "meal ticket" foster parents are out there, I have never known one foster or adoptive parent who was in it for the money.
As the reluctant father in the show prepared to take his twin twelve year olds home after meeting them for the first time, I wondered if he was ready to be an instant father. Because sometimes, blood is just not enough. Ask the hundreds of kidswhose parents cruelly mentally and physically abuse them or just as cruelly neglect them.
If we refuse to change attitudes in our society so that those who seek to care for kids who have no one else are not demonized, we will continue to have a shortage of foster parents.
Unless we work to continue improving public attitudes about adopting American children and we make adoption easier and more affordable, many wonderful kids will grow to adulthood without a permanent home.
Until we start paying social workers better, and begin staffing our over-burdened social services agencies appropriately, many children will have a different worker every few months for their entire stay in the system, leading to missed information, broken communication and children falling through the cracks. (Our foster daughter had at least 4 different state workers during the two years she was with us.)
Unfortunately, though Storybrooke isn't real, and what fictional Emma thinks doesn't matter, her feelings towards fostering and adoption are all too common. And that is something that those of us in the adoption/ fostering community need to conciously work on changing.
Or more children like LA County toddler Tori Sandoval will die.