Just in time for National Foster Care month, Laveen mother of seven, Jenell Jones shares insight and truth behind America’s foster and adoption system in her new book “Shattered”, set to release May 16, 2023.
Uncovering the day-to-day realities and challenges of from her personal experience of raising children with mental and physical limitations, Janell tells parents (and would-be parents) what they most need to hear: It won’t be what you expect, and you are not alone.
Find out more about Janell, her family, and the inside scoop about her new book “Shattered” from this Q&A:
Before we dive into everything, can you introduce us to your family?
I am a mother of seven children, ages 33, 28, 25, 22, 20, 17 and 16. I have three girls and four boys. I live in Laveen, Arizona.
When and why did you first get involved in the foster and adoption system?
“What’s one more?” These are my husband’s famous words that have always gotten us into trouble. I would find a child in need, or we would come across a child who needed a temporary home, and this was always his response.
I became a foster parent because I love children, and so does my spouse. When my adopted 17-year-old son needed a home at birth, I took him home. I saw him, fell in love with him and called my husband.
The same happened with Mercy when she was 8 years old. I never planned on adopting, but I am the kind of person who will help any child in need. Mercy needed a home; typically, older children do not get adopted, especially by a two-parent home. I felt, we are an African American two-parent family; we can offer this child a home. I felt we could do our part to help children in need. I just wanted to make a difference in Mercy’s life.
When did you first realize that you wouldn’t have the expected support from the adoption and foster care system, and how did you continue to navigate this without that support?
I realized I wouldn’t get the support I needed when I started calling the therapist who had stated she would be there to assist, but she didn’t return my calls. I really got the impression very quickly that the social workers and caseworkers I met didn’t have my child’s best interest at heart. They tuned out as soon as they found a parent to take care of Mercy.
The foster and adoption care system frequently withholds information to foster and adoptive care parents; lacking that information can be detrimental. Unfortunately, my child has suffered as I learned this information the hard way. They caused Mercy physical harm with mistakes and neglect. Some of it has been so harmful that if any parent made these mistakes, they would attempt to remove the child from parental care. However, they treat the children like pieces of paper in a file drawer, not like the individuals they are.
Can you tell us about Mercy’s background before she became a part of your family? Can you explain some of the physical and emotional challenges she faces, and how others can support children like her?
Mercy entered the foster/adoption system at age 3. By the time she came to us, she was 8, and she had been in 21 placements. In addition, she had behavioral challenges and abandonment issues, but a lot of her problems were hidden from us.
We found things out by accident, even about the 21 placements. I was told they suspected sexual abuse, but I have now confirmed that they knew about her sexual abuse. They just chose to hide it. In their words, “If we told you about her past, how bad it really was, you wouldn’t adopt her.” This is the problem—we should have been told.
Measures must exist to protect children and families. Mercy had experienced extreme trauma—behavioral, emotional, physical and sexual abuse—that was not disclosed to us. The lack of disclosure caused harm to her. Vital therapy time was lost, mistakes were made in treatment, opportunities lost. This is a deceptive practice.
How did your experiences as a biological, adoptive and foster mother shape your ideas of motherhood? Did anything change significantly?
A few things shaped my ideas of motherhood – being a child raised by a single mom and experienced abuse, watching things happen to children that shouldn’t, and my experiences as a child advocate through the realms of preschool. I have a different perspective, and I understand what abuse and trauma does to children.
If intervention doesn’t happen and therapy isn’t given, children don’t have a chance, and there will be a cycle, potentially in which they can abuse others as well, and nobody looks at these things.
As an adoptive and a biological mother, my goal is to protect my children at all costs, get them the best care and advocate for them. I feel that I treat my children all the same way. It doesn’t matter if they’re biological or adopted; they’re my children. There hasn’t been a significant change in the way I parent, except my awareness was heightened throughout this journey with Mercy.
Can you tell us more about your work in Phoenix, Arizona — your hometown — and how you help other parents in nontraditional homes?
Both of my preschools have early Head Start grants, which focus on a 0 to 2 early intervention, working with low income children who are exposed to trauma. These programs give high quality childcare to children who would not otherwise have it. We’re able to identify children that may have special needs at an early age and help them be more well-rounded with additional education opportunities.
What advice do you have to other nontraditional families looking to add family members, whether by fostering or adopting?
Ask a lot of questions and make them tell you the child’s history. Get support, and get everything in writing. Trust and verify. We need adoptive parents, but we need a better system.
What do you want readers to take away from your book? Do you have any calls to action?
We need to change the system for these children and families. We need to be concerned for every child in this system. We need justice and advocacy.
For more information on Janell Jones and her story, visit JenellJones.com