Fees for the adoption services we offer are the fiscal foundation for staying in business: they pay salaries and expenses, insurances and business taxes, rent and phones, supplies and all the other overhead. But they do not, they cannot, pay for the quality of work that we insist on - the quality that we would demand for 'our own.' Fundraising efforts certainly help bridge the gap. In point of fact, we could not make it without those funds. But, in the end, even that's not enough.
One December, we had a nine-year-old boy who still believed in Santa. Though we begged his pre-adoptive mom to hold on to him past Christmas, she, instead, dumped him only days prior. We placed him temporarily with a single man who never decorated for Christmas. There was no agency that was going to pay for the decorations, a tree, and Christmas presents we secretly provided to preserve - at the very least - that boy's belief that someone, even if only Santa, still personally cared about him. That boy, without a relative in the world and who'd lost everything else, was entitled to hold onto his belief in Santa. The Chocolate Milk Club is about personal connection.
Another time, we had a high school senior kicked out of his supposed-to-be-adoptive home prior to that last school year. He was in the very rare, and very prestigious, International Baccalaureate program. Although we found a new home for him, the new school district, like most, did not have the IB program. It would cost $400/month for transportation to get him to his old school to finish his senior year of the program. Nobody could free up that money. But once he was ours, he became one of 'our own.' So, of course, we paid that money. The Chocolate Milk Club allows us to trump bureaucracy.But we define 'our own' much broader than just the local kids whom we are placing for adoption. We pride ourselves in developing free tools that caseworkers across the country can use with the kids on their caseload. These tools - such as our Adoption Covenants, or our concepts of Inducement or Adoption Transference, or counterfeit adoptions (adoption where a child was finalized, but then given up by their family) - cost nothing for these workers. We want them to use them to help the kids, because, again, we define the kids as 'our own.'
As a matter of fact, probably the most important concept we have ever developed to explain adoption to all the kids, especially those who have been rejected and betrayed, is the metaphor we now use in all our training and all our casework. It is so fundamental that it is where the name of our club comes from. Adoption - authentic adoption - we tell our kids, is like chocolate milk: once that chocolate is mixed with that milk, there is no way ever to separate them again. The use of this metaphor makes tangible and reassures our kids of the forever nature of adoption. So much so, that when we are presented with a child who has endured a failed adoption, we are able to show him or her how that adoption was counterfeit, and never was like chocolate milk. They were never really brought into the heart of the family, we tell them. Instantly, that lifts off the child any possible self-blame for the broken adoption, which is otherwise always internalized by children.
Adoption services that are neither 'confidence building' nor something we would choose for 'our own,' may pass muster today, but they ill serve anybody down the road. In fact, at Family Focus, one of the measures we use to self-assess is what we call 'The Forty Year Perspective.' That is, we ask ourselves whether the decisions that we make today will help or hurt our families decades from now when we are all long gone. What we are doing with all of our work is developing within the field a much-needed model of respect for children and families as 'our own.'
The Chocolate Milk Club members join us to be part of a community of hope and help for a population of children that mostly has neither.