Jake Dekker wants to improve the child welfare system in the United States “one kid at a time.” In his book, “One Kid at a Time,” Jake says that “we must … use our power to create loving permanent relationships for children.” He’s able to give this advice thanks to his own experience as an adoptive father of a then 10-year-old boy. Jake uses “One Kid at a Time” to share his story of adopting his son, and dedicates one of the final chapters to reforming child welfare.
As I was reading “One Kid at a Time,” I began to feel that Jake stole my story. I don’t really mean that he took it, but simply that his story could have been my story. All of the feelings, joys, fears, anger, and sadness that he experienced during the process were nearly the same as mine. I felt that he put words to the experience of many who have adopted older children.
In several chapters, Jake admitted to feelings that I’m sure all of us have experienced, but few (including me) want to admit. He describes the anger and fear that his son created for him and even shares several reactions that he regretted. I deeply respect Jake for being willing to share this in such a public way. His example could provide great relief to parents of former foster children and show others that adoptive parents need not be perfect.
Jake often writes about his frustration with the bureaucracy of the foster care system in Washington where he lives. I also identified with his complaints and irritation. I had my own issues with the system in Michigan and I enjoyed reading about how Jake fought with the bureaucracy to ensure that his son got fair treatment.
I did feel a little uneasy with the amount of information Jake shared about his son’s past and the challenging behaviors he presented. It’s true that I write about my kids on this blog, but I’ve never shared personal, exact details about their past, and I try to stay away from information that may prove embarrassing to them later in life. I aim to keep this blog more about my experience as it relates to my kids; I want to let them tell their own story when they’re ready. I don’t know the situation behind “One Kid at a Time,” so maybe Jake’s son approved of the book. This would naturally help my unease with the book’s explicitness.
As I mentioned, Jake dedicates a chapter to reforming the child welfare system. I appreciate that he wants reform, and he clearly identifies the problems. However, I wish that he had a more structured, specific approach for fixing the issues he describes. Jake’s solution is to create opportunities for “authentic attachment to a permanent family.” I think many adoptive parents would agree with Jake on this point – that stable, loving homes can make a big difference in a child’s life. Unfortunately, Jake doesn’t describe how to accomplish this. It would probably be safe to assume that Jake and I both would love to see more families adopt through foster care, but the reality is that this is not a choice that many people can or will make. Since finding an adoptive home for every child in foster care is really not possible, how can those who are not adopted form these important attachments?
At one point, Jake explains the title of his book by saying that we can make a difference “one kid at a time.” In my case, it’s two kids at a time, and I clearly agree with Jake. There are many older children in the United States that need families, and we can’t adopt them all, but we can grow our families by just one kid (or two). If you doubt that foster care adoption can make a difference, both in the lives of the child and the parent, “One Kid at a Time” will surely change your mind.
Update: Jake e-mailed me to address some of my concerns. Here’s what he had to say:
“One thing: ‘Jake Dekker’ and ‘Danny’ are fictitious names. I wrote an author’s note (I copied it below) about that at the very beginning of the book. Even if my son had agreed to let his real name be used, at 14 I wouldn’t want that burden on him.”
Although this story is based on true facts, I have recreated events, places and conversations from emails, public court records, interviews and my memory of events. Any errors made are my own. In order to maintain the anonymity of actual persons, I have changed most names. To protect my son’s privacy, I have written this book under a pseudonym. I have also changed some identifying characteristics and details such as physical properties, occupations and locations. In a few cases, I have changed the gender of an individual. All the details about my son’s background were taken from open court records, interviews, emails, letters and other direct sources. All of them, to the best of my knowledge and research, are true. No confidential files given to me by the State of Washington as part of the adoption disclosure were the sole source for any part of this story. My sources for statistics and facts in the narrative about foster care and outcomes for foster children are attributed by endnotes with a complete listing in the Notes section at the end of this book.