The Children of Strangers
September 13, 2015 4:28 PM   Subscribe

The Badeau family have adopted over twenty children over the course of their marriage, spurred on by a mix of religion and a desire to help those who have no one left to turn to.
posted by reenum (41 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
They talked to the homeless people and discovered that a lot of them didn’t have families, and they wondered whether they would be homeless if they did.

The data suggest there is a link:

As many as 50% of youth aging out of foster care will become homelessness; many will be incarcerated or hospitalized and experience health and mental health challenges throughout their lives, and only a tiny percent will have a college degree by age 26.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:54 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Wow. That is an exhausting read. But thank you for posting it.
posted by harrietthespy at 5:08 PM on September 13, 2015

This is a great article and left me a bit conflicted, which is why it's such a good read.

Thank you for posting!
posted by glaucon at 5:25 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

There was a family like this in the town where I grew up. 22+ kids by the time I graduated. Some of the biological kids were out of the house, but when I was in middle and high school the last of the biological kids were graduating and the adopted kids were in just about every grade in the school system. There were at least 16 kids sleeping in the home when I was a teen. Most of the older kids were international adoptions and many of the younger kids were domestic but with special needs, many were in wheelchairs too. I was friends with one of the kids. When I was at their house I was shocked by the lack of supervision for kids of all ages (omg did we get in to some trouble over there), the sexual tension between teenagers, the weird things focused upon (circumsizing some of the older boys), and how on earth did they pay for everything. I was impressed at some of the efficiencies - all boys ages 3-6 wore the same outfit every day; meals were organized in an interesting way; and all the girls shared one bedroom with bunk beds. Older boys were in another with bunks and little boys were in bunks in the former dining room.
But these kids, who really needed a lot of attention, especially those with special needs, were just not getting it. And, as you can imagine, these kids with serious emotional trauma from wherever they came from, were a lot for the small town schools to handle.
After I was in college, the family took all the kids out of school and started home schooling them. I just cannot imagine that going well. The house was totally chaotic when most of the kids were at school all day. I don't even know where everyone would have sat.
At some point when I was in college one of the smaller kids accidentally burned their house down. I recall hearing that the whole family was living in a hotel but kept on getting kicked out because of noise complaints. I also heard that there was some fight with the insurance company.

I'm friends with some of the kids on Facebook now but I haven't asked them about this although I'd love to know how they feel about their upbringing. One of the boys was my age but a few grades below. He became emancipated in high school and moved in with a friend. I see via Facebook that he still communicates with some of the other kids. I never seen any photos of the parents from any of the kids tho.

Again, why were these people allowed to keep on adopting so many kids?

Now I'm off to Google to see if there was any media coverage of the fire. This was early in the days of the Internet but...
posted by k8t at 5:40 PM on September 13, 2015 [20 favorites]

mermayd: The media has for years been portraying such people as saints and the their homes as a fairytale rescue for the kids, but often that pretty picture hides an ugly reality.

Yeah, no kidding. My very first thought when I saw this story was "I wonder which skeleton is in the closet this time and how long it'll be before they find it?" I mean, it's possible this is the mythical case that doesn't have one, but I don't like those odds.
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:44 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I have not read this yet, but am tired of articles praising and deifying these giant adoptive families which are really unsupervised group homes.

I think the bolded portion here is key. I wouldn't say this article glorifies the parents, and if anything, they're conflicted themselves about whether or not they've done the right thing. It didn't work out quite the way they hoped or imagined.

I thought one of the most interesting things here was the talk of how they weighed the decision to adopt: Weighting the effect of that decision on the potential-adoptee equally with the effects on their kids already in the family. The thing is, by that weighting, their choices make sense and have made a huge difference. Sure, if they had stopped at 10, the first 10 would be better off than they are now, probably (this is the "a family can only really take care of so many people argument).

On the other hand, does anyone really thing that a single one of those kids would have been better off if this family had not adopted them? It's true they weren't able to raise the fully responsible had-their-life-together-from-the-get-go adults that they hoped, but besides the fact that the kids would surely be worse off without them, it doesn't see like their parenting mistakes were directly related to the number of kids. Both they and the kids say that their mistake (insofar as they made one, because lots of those kids were near adults when adopted) was that they were too laid back in their discipline. Maybe if they'd had fewer they would have done it differently, but they seem to think it's the dad's personality style and not the structure that put them there.

I think overall the world is a better place because they've adopted 20 kids than it would be if they had adopted stopped at 10, even if those first 10 (and the parents) might have been better off if they'd stopped. But I wouldn't say this article glorifies them or tries to gloss over their mistakes, their inner conflict, or their outright failures.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:56 PM on September 13, 2015 [24 favorites]

When I was considering adopting, I spent a lot of time on a closed forum for adoptive parents and people considering adoption. It was the best thing I ever did in terms of getting a picture of what adoption was really like. I remember people who had several adoptive kids talking about the addictive drama of each adoption. And there is a lot of drama. We had one match fall through, for instance, before we adopted the baby from our second birthmother match, and when it happened, it happened really fast: we found out about the baby one day, and he was born the next. You're on this emotional roller coaster, waiting and hoping, and then thinking it's going to happen, but it doesn't happen, and then finally it does. For people whose road to adoption started with infertility or multiple miscarriages, they've been on the roller coaster for a long time. And then you've got the baby or the kid, and it's just—life. Ordinary life. You're changing diapers and planning playdates and making doctor appointments and it's tiring and also great but it's not exciting and it's not dramatic and a part of you wants to get back on the roller coaster, to have those feelings again.

I met parents on-line who recognized this dynamic and very deliberately did not let themselves give into it. They would come to the forum when the urge was upon them, when they saw that cute suffering baby in the agency newsletter, to talk themselves down from it.

But when I read this, about Sue, the mother in the article, I thought of it:
There was something about the difficulty of new children that Sue loved. Right at the beginning, everything was a challenge. How soon would the child feel that this was his family, not just another foster home that he’d get kicked out of in a few months? Would he get along with the other children? There was always the risk that things would go badly, and this risk drove and excited her: she felt a rush of energy that she didn’t feel at other times, because nothing was harder than this, and this was what she was good at.
It was also interesting to me that Sue said that they saw the needs of the child they had not yet adopted as equal to the needs of the children they already had. My experience as a parent was different from that. I remember during my first pregnancy feeling that we would not have an abortion no matter what the prenatal tests showed; my partner and I are committed to disability rights, and he in particular has both the knowledge of disability, and patience and caregiving nature that would make him an ideal parent for a kid with disabilities. But when I was pregnant the second time, I wasn't so sure. I had this two-year-old, and an obligation to him that, to my mind, was stronger than any commitment I might make to a hypothetical child. If prenatal testing had revealed a serious disability, the kind that would mean diverting tremendous amounts of time, energy, and money away the child we already had, or that would put an able-bodied child into the role of caretaker—well, I was no longer sure what I'd do. And was glad I never had to find out.
posted by not that girl at 6:03 PM on September 13, 2015 [29 favorites]

I have not read this yet, but am tired of articles praising and deifying these giant adoptive families which are really unsupervised group homes.
I don't think this is that kind of article. The writer seems very ambivalent about the family. Hell, the family seems pretty ambivalent about themselves. It's a pretty nuanced article, I thought.

I'm also not sure that they're exactly what you're thinking of when you talk about fundamentalist families. They're definitely deeply religious, but I'm not seeing evidence that they're part of the particular religious subculture you're thinking about. Their kids attended public school, for instance. They had a stay-at-home husband and a wife who was the primary breadwinner, which I don't think would fly in most fundamentalist households.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:04 PM on September 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

They fuck you up, your mum and dad,
They may not mean to, but then they decide that divine voices are telling them to do it to you and a couple of dozen other strangers
posted by gusandrews at 6:06 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am really curious how getting the girls on birth control failed, that was pretty opaque to me - they didn't stay on it? It actually failed (seems unlikely)? They didn't get all the girls on it?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 6:23 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agents of Kaos: The article was very bad on timelines. It wasn't clear when things happened or how old each kid was during the various events. It sounds like they put some of the girls on implants at 15, but they might have gotten pregnant after that. Implants last 3 years or something like that, right?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:33 PM on September 13, 2015

Chelsea, the Badeau's first child, is on Twitter under her real name, by the way. She seems like she might enjoy Metafilter.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:33 PM on September 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've read so many articles about the abuses toward the children in big family Christian households. This wasn't like that. The parents did the best the could, and they weren't perfect, but... compared to what could have been, these kids are more or less okay. I mean, they're not, but they are.
posted by Ruki at 6:57 PM on September 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

My uncle and aunt did this. They adopted thirteen children, plus they had three biological kids. The children were adopted from overseas, from pretty bad family situations (several were prostitutes being pimped out by family members; and in the case of one sibling group, one parent was in jail for the murder of the other parent, which had occurred in front of the kids, and because it was a third world country, the children were living in the prison too.)

I am conflicted about it to some extent. My uncle and aunt are religious fundamentalists with views I find abhorrent, and the children were all home-schooled and indoctrinated in these views. The girls have been brought up to consider themselves basically servants to the men of the family (to be fair, this is true for their bio-daughters too). They do not believe in therapy or medication for mental health problems, and several of the children have serious mental health issues, presumably as a result of trauma. There have been suicide attempts.

On the other hand, they are in a stable home, shown a lot of love (not unconditionally, though - one child was basically disowned when she got pregnant as a teen). Even the girls have opportunities they would never have had in their former lives. My aunt and uncle made an effort to keep in touch with their roots, and have travelled back to their country with the children when they are teens, have learned to cook foods from that country, and make an effort to integrate with the local migrant community (somewhat unusually for people with this idea of "saving third world children").
posted by lollusc at 8:12 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Read this when it came out, and thought it was thoughtful. It's one of this utilitarian stories where you look at it in the aggregate. It seems the outcomes they all received were at least slightly better than what may have been in store for them in the system. For any one individual, of course, an alternate future is debatable, but for the whole it seems an incremental gain. The dad seems stressed and depressed. The mom seems emotionally committed but also bearing the stress of breadwinner and visionary in the whole operation.

I felt the article didn't deal with the pregnancies well enough. Everybody just "got pregnant." I understand that they got birth control for everyone, but I wonder what else was going on. Did the parents not have enough time to spend breaking down life planning and family planning? Were the kids having relationships that weren't 100% fair and great for them? Was getting pregnant a subtle form of rebellion, self-determination, bailing out from this weird system? There was more to dig into there, and I was unsatisfied that the reporting didn't go further with that - because that, in specific, is particularly the cycle that creates so many unwanted kids in the first place.
posted by Miko at 9:31 PM on September 13, 2015 [7 favorites]

My mother is one of 18 children, all born to my grandparents within a window exactly 22 years wide. 17 made it to adulthood, with one dying of pneumonia at 2 months of age in 1956. All of my aunts and uncles have some mixture of challenges and talents. No one had special needs and everyone seemed to find their way sooner or later, though a few spent some time in trouble with the law.

When my grandfather died his oldest son stood up and said of his mom and dad "They loved children!" But I know the reason they had so many was because they followed Catholic doctrine to the letter. Most of the kids raised one another. My mother, #5 and one of the bossiest, earned the nickname "Sarge".

There are so many stories that were funny to me when I was a kid, but know make me pause as an adult and mother. Like stories about losing children only to find them down the street asleep under a mailbox, or how one kid kept another as their personal slave through beatings and intimidation, or that birthday cakes were usually a paper bag stuffed with newspapers. My grandparents also certainly had their favorites and the effects pinged through the ranks of children.

My dad told me a story a few weeks ago that I'd never heard from my mom. When my mother was in high school she worked until she had enough to buy herself a new pair of shoes for the first day of school. When one of my aunts (#2) left for college she looked at all the shoes in the pile near the front door, stole the nicest and left. My mother is the tallest of her sisters and suddenly didn't have shoes that fit her for school. She had no shoes until she could buy herself another pair. My dad brought this up because my aunt had recently apologized more than 40 years after the fact and bought my mother (who honestly has plenty of shoes) a new pair.

I was struck by how livid my dad was at my aunt for doing such a crappy thing and giving such a lame apology. However, in contrast I was filled with a weird rage instead at my grandparents, who didn't get my mom replacement shoes and let this happen in the first place. They were not reaching the minimum threshold of making sure their kids had their basic needs met and that makes me angry and sad for the kid my mother was years ago.

Upon reflection, this family reminds me of my mother's family. Despite the parental neglect and extra burdens on the children to earn money and raise one another, everyone seems to be doing okay and has found their place in the world. I know my grandparents were not perfect people who would sometimes get angry or depressed and cry over unpaid bills. My mom loves her brothers and sisters and tells me that she enjoyed growing up in a big family. I think it's telling that none of the surviving 17 had more than three of their own despite most being practicing Catholics. It's interesting that the kids in the article came to the same conclusion.
posted by Alison at 10:08 PM on September 13, 2015 [18 favorites]

Miko, for what it's worth I hear (from a friend that works in the foster system) that foster kids are often in a hurry to have babies, because it lets them have this thing they feel like they've been denied (a "normal" biologically related family, with the stability that is assumed there etc.).

This is of course often at a younger age than it should be if they are making careful plans about the future...
posted by idiopath at 11:41 PM on September 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

They fuck you up, your mum and dad

I would hesitate to apply the Larkin quote here. Given the realities of the foster care system, it is likely that most of these children experienced a huge improvement over their expected outcomes. The emotional benefits of having someone to call 'mother', 'father', and 'sibling' into adulthood, and to have family to invite to your wedding or call you in prison should not be dismissed, especially for the sibs who had already aged out of the system. One child actually credits the Badeaus with preventing a murder - that should be considered an enormous success. The teen pregnancies are regrettable but are neither necessarily devastating nor all that demographically unusual (the assault is of course a different and very serious matter).
It would be interesting to hear how Chelsea, Isaac, and Jose think their upbringing affecting their happiness, since they might have expected to have more positive outcomes in any case (given that they were healthy children who spent the most time with the family).
posted by Svejk at 3:15 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I went and read the article. I still find mega-homes like these problematic, not something to be celebrated. The fact that some of the adopted kids had better outcomes than they would have had they grown up and aged out of the foster care system does not make the Badeaus heroes or justify the cheery ending about them all being "a family". I would like to hear the honest take of all of the children raised there on that issue, not just a few quotes. I reiterate that the foster care and adoption system are very broken and in need of reform, and more families like these taking in large numbers of children are not the answer. This is a leaky bandaid on a gaping wound in society.

I found evidence in the article that the Badeaus, especially Sue, had child-hoarder tendencies. They could not say no to yet another child, no matter what the effect on the kids they already had, and Sue mentions an emotional high of adopting yet another child that sounds almost like addictive behavior to me. She says she is always ready to go on to the next one once the adoption high wears off. Is that rational or responsible behavior? How does that differ from someone who can't say no to one more cat or dog in their already overcrowded and overwhelmed home?

I am wary of people who claim to have a "calling" from God to do something. How do they distinguish the voice of God and his wishes from their own desires or fears? When the calling involves increasing numbers of children brought into the home it affects more than just the believers and is cause for scrutiny from outside.
posted by mermayd at 5:01 AM on September 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

As many problems as their children had -- what is telling for me is how they want to stay in contact with their adoptive parents and with each other. That's a good sign.
posted by jb at 5:19 AM on September 14, 2015

Miko, for what it's worth I hear (from a friend that works in the foster system) that foster kids are often in a hurry to have babies, because it lets them have this thing they feel like they've been denied (a "normal" biologically related family, with the stability that is assumed there etc.)

I guess then I feel like if this is in the professional knowledge, this was something knowable for them and something they could have take care to attend to. Of course I have no way of knowing what they did or didn't do to counsel about sex and relationships, or whether anything they did would have worked anyway if the kids were very interested in finding a way to reproduce, but I would have liked to have read more about this topic.

This isn't an ideal family - I think that's clear. But I don't many truly ideal families, and I think one is at least on the good side of the bell curve. When I think about a couple of those troubled or disabled kids, it seems that at least they've known a generous and personal love that wasn't otherwise likely to come from a life in an institution or the risks and damages of foster care to the age of 18.
posted by Miko at 5:51 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

The fact that some of the adopted kids had better outcomes than they would have had they grown up and aged out of the foster care system does not make the Badeaus heroes or justify the cheery ending about them all being "a family". I would like to hear the honest take of all of the children raised there on that issue, not just a few quotes. I reiterate that the foster care and adoption system are very broken and in need of reform, and more families like these taking in large numbers of children are not the answer.

Of course the foster and adoption system is broken. I'm sure if this couple could have waved a magic wand, they would have fixed the foster and adoption system. In fact, Sue worked on that for many years, first setting up an agency for people to adopt unlikely-to-be-adopted kids out of foster care and then on the bigger picture of how adoption works. But promoting and lobbying aren't a magic wand and they weren't going to just magically fix anything.

So given that the adoption and foster system are broken, what could they do within a broken foster and adoption system to make things better and to give at least some kids a better life than they otherwise would have had? Is there anything you can think of that they could realistically have done or that might realistically have happened to these kids that was better than this? I think saying that it doesn't matter that these kids are better off than they otherwise would have been, sounds very callous. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by that, but I'm pretty sure it matters to them, even if they do (and they probably do) think their parents made some mistakes along the way.

What would you have had these people do differently and how would that have made anyone's life concretely better?

They could not say no to yet another child, no matter what the effect on the kids they already had, and Sue mentions an emotional high of adopting yet another child that sounds almost like addictive behavior to me.

I also thought it was weird that she was so into having a new kid. But, they DID say no to another child, many many times. They didn't adopt every adoptable kid they encountered. They specifically avoided adopting kids that they thought might be adopted into a more typical family. And remember that this is an article about the kids they DID adopt, it's not going to provide a list or discussion of every kid in foster care or an orphanage in India that they didn't choose to adopt. Remember, they were running an adoption agency and then working around adoption and from the sounds of it subscribing to newsletters that included profiles or lists of kids up for adoptions. There are probably literally thousands of kids they chose not to adopt, though probably less out of concern for their existing kids (because as they said, they weighed the adoptable kid's interest equally) and more out of a sense of who really wasn't going to be adopted by anyone else.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:07 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think that the kids interviewed seem to be mostly happy.

Including the one who raped his physically and mentally disabled 16 year old sister. So that's nice for him.

Still, if the piece is accurate, these children and young adults - even including Alysia, horrifyingly - probably were better off with the Badeau's than in the system, or in a similar home run by murderous, racist, child-trafficking Quiverfull/'To Train Up a Child' evangelical mass adoption types, or lost outside the system after a 're-homing'. Warning: those links both contain very disturbing content, especially the second - proceed with caution.

Also, did anyone else get the impression that the local authorities were taking advantage of the Badeau's adoption mania, in a way that seems completely unethical? E.g.:
If he wasn’t adopted soon, he would be placed in an institution. The social worker who referred him told Sue that she felt in her gut that the boy was a Badeau.
The year after Sue and Hector adopted Dylan, a social worker asked them to adopt a Chinese-American boy named Wayne who had Sanfilippo syndrome
That sounds like the social workers deliberately palming off kids who would be very expensive to look after institutionally onto a family who were completely ill-equipped to care for them, but practically guaranteed to take them. (If I have the timeline right, there were already 17 adopted children in the home at that point - completely irresponsible to foist more kids on them, even without disabilites.)
posted by jack_mo at 7:10 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Being foster parents means having it rubbed in our faces, over and over again, that there are more kids in need than we personally could ever feasibly help.

We've made a positive decision to put a fairly small limit on the number of kids we look after, precisely because what we want to offer our kids is something as close as they'll ever get to a normal stable family life. We've also decided on a minimum age for new kids now that one of us is over 50, because we don't want to be setting our kids up to have to deal with our deaths before they've grown up and gained their independence.

One of the hardest things I've ever had to do was look a small child in the eye and explain to him that we simply can't be his parents. He'd been staying with us because he'd had literally nowhere else to go and after five days he'd started calling me Dad.

It's fucking heartbreaking.

I wish people who had never actually taken on foster care would stop bagging foster carers on principle. Statistically, foster children certainly do less well than others. But that's overwhelmingly due to the fact that there are never enough foster carers.

I wish more people would seriously consider taking on existing children in dire need of a healthy family before deciding to make more people.

And if the Badeaus have actually found a way to make their enormous family work, then I wish them nothing but good.
posted by flabdablet at 7:15 AM on September 14, 2015 [18 favorites]

the Badeau's adoption mania

Seeing you write that fills me with the desire to respond with invective that the mods would undoubtedly delete on sight.

You don't have the right. Unless you're a foster parent, or a social worker charged with the near-impossible task of placing a hard-to-place child, you have no idea what the pressures are like.
posted by flabdablet at 7:18 AM on September 14, 2015 [6 favorites]

As many problems as their children had -- what is telling for me is how they want to stay in contact with their adoptive parents and with each other. That's a good sign.

Yeah, I think this is what makes me come down on the side of "good people who did their best" vs. "what a clusterfuck." The thing is that for any given one of those kids, being adopted into a chaotic-but-loving family was still a better outcome than the even higher level of chaos they would have been exposed to in foster care.

And the chaos of foster care isn't just a reflection of the lack of carers-- even kids who land in a stable placement early struggle more than kids who are adopted, because the broken foster system delays permanence, requires continued contact with biological relatives who may not be good for the kids, and makes both kids and foster parents feel powerless. Take a look through the archives at Fosterhood-- that woman was literally handed her younger daughter at birth by bio parents who had already asked her to adopt the child, and it still took years to finalize the adoption. Her older daughter has been stuck in a limbo of postponed court dates and lousy institutional memory since she was two weeks old, and that has absolutely affected her negatively despite having a stable placement the entire time.
posted by nonasuch at 7:43 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

You have no idea what it's like.

I very much do, sadly, and you're absolutely right that that was a cruel phrase to use - sorry.

My point was that the social work dept. were taking advantage of the Badeaus, knowing that they couldn't bring themselves to turn away children who needed help, not that the family were bad people for taking in those children.
posted by jack_mo at 7:45 AM on September 14, 2015

foster children certainly do less well than others. But that's overwhelmingly due to the fact that there are never enough foster carers.

And also, I would think, the fact that even when they come into a family they are already bringing with them more obstacles to overcome than one would find in the general population. Health problems, traumas, perhaps neglect, instability. The more we learn about how important the first five or so years of life are for development, the sadder it is to me that some kids don't find their way into a stable home until that window is already past.
posted by Miko at 7:56 AM on September 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

You don't have the right. Unless you're a foster parent, or a social worker charged with the near-impossible task of placing a hard-to-place child, you have no idea what the pressures are like.

Perhaps. But that ends up making a pretty closed circle of those who can comment. How are otherwise educated people to come to understand those pressures if not through engagement?
posted by OmieWise at 7:57 AM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

Someone asked what I would wish the Badeaus had done differently. Given that all I know about them is this one article written by a writer with her own particular point of view, the one thing that would have made a better life for those kids they did adopt would be to have stopped at a reasonable number and be able to devote more time and energy to each individual child. No, they could not have saved them all, but can't anyone else consider that they tried to save too many, and that the state kept facilitating this by urging them to take more and more children?

Granted, it sounds like they were fairly decent people who took on an overwhelming task. But as Jack-mo pointed out, there are other huge adoptive families like this where things did not work out so well, and that's where re-homing for the adoptions that fail comes in, an underground exchange of difficult adopted children mostly among fundamentalist religious families. That there was not obvious abuse in this family does not make this a good model for adoption, or a solution to the problems of foster care, and the fact that they were given these kids by agencies makes it more of a concern of society than huge biological families like the Duggars, bad as those can be for similar reasons.
posted by mermayd at 8:47 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Given that all I know about them is this one article written by a writer with her own particular point of view, the one thing that would have made a better life for those kids they did adopt would be to have stopped at a reasonable number and be able to devote more time and energy to each individual child.

So my question is, do you think the world would be a better place, worse place, or equally good place than it is currently if they had done this? I think we all agree that it would be better for the kids they would have adopted anyway.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:35 AM on September 14, 2015

This article is not about "the world", it is about one family that adopted a huge number of kids. Hopefully they were better off, but it is not really a question anyone can answer and no, we do not all agree. There is no way we can know. In general, I not feel that one family adopting 22 kids is a good idea and I fail to see how it is not the same as a group home run by caring people.
posted by mermayd at 10:42 AM on September 14, 2015

I think it's about one family's attempt to make the world better. ANd what I said was that I think we agree that those first few kids (e.g. if they had stopped at 5 or 6) would be better off if they had stopped than they are now. I thought that was what you were arguing. Sorry if I misunderstood.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:01 AM on September 14, 2015

Sure it would probably have been better for those first few kids if they had stopped adopting at 5 or 6. But it is grandiose to say this made the world a better place, and it certainly filled some need for the adoptive parents as well as for the kids to have chosen to adopt them. Adoption is not all about selfless sacrifice; both the parents and the kids should benefit in a healthy situation, and adoptees should not have to be eternally grateful for being adopted, any more than biological children owe their parents endless gratitude just for having them.

The fact is they did not stop adopting at 5 or 6, but went on to fill the need for the "high of adopting another child" until they got far beyond the number they could really deal with on an individual basis. How much attention were they paying to the kids they already had when they were starting their own adoption agency? That many children and some of them seriously handicapped are more than a full time job for any family, both mother and father.

I write this as a reunited birthmother from a 60s infant adoption, 30 plus years involved in adoption reform, and also as the recent adoptive grandma of two kids from foster care. My son and daughter in law went into adoption after much reading and study and with a clear understanding of what they could and could not deal with as new adoptive parents, as far as number of children, ages, or handicaps. They did not go in there saying "give me the most needy child" without considering if they could really meet the needs of that child. They did not have God telling them what to do, but a combination of reason and compassion, and an awareness of their own needs and limitations as well as those of the children.
posted by mermayd at 11:41 AM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

can't anyone else consider that they tried to save too many

I really don't know. There's no way to know. From a utilitarian perspective, this may well be the greatest good for the greatest number, and had they stopped earlier, there may have been less cumulative good done in the world. That's how it makes it better for the world.

I fail to see how it is not the same as a group home run by caring people.

If it were exactly the same as a group home run by caring people, would that be a bad thing? Also, what percentage of group homes are run by capable, caring people with no staff rotation over a 20 year period? Given the chances of getting into a group home like that vs. a group home that is only middling, as I think the majority are, what percentage of the children do you think would have ended up in those good group homes? Greater than 50%?

I have problems with utilitarian ethics - they have their limits - but I think it's hard to argue that on the whole, the outcomes of these kids aren't better than they would otherwise have been. That doesn't mean they were optimal for everyone in the family, or that any individual child couldn't have been better parented than they were. But taking it in the aggregate, it seems as though it is a good on the whole. To me.
posted by Miko at 11:51 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Also, I want to clarify that when I say I think these kids were better off being adopted by this couple than if they had not been adopted by this couple, I am NOT saying "Giant adoptive families are a great thing and lots more people should do this and this is the solution to all those kids with no family." For all the reasons you've outlined they surely are frequently, maybe usually, maybe even almost all the time, a bad idea.

All I'm saying is that in this case every one of those kids is probably better off than they would have been otherwise. They would not have otherwise spent their time in a stable-until-adulthood-and-beyond group home run by caring people. They would have bounced from place to place and then been dumped to fend for themselves at 18, except for the disabled ones who probably would have been institutionalized at 18, if they lived that long. Can't you consider that being adopted into a group home run by loving people where you can stay until you're an adult and keep going back to even after you're an adult might be better than being bounced from foster home to foster home?

And to the foster parent who has posted here, I mean no disrespect to foster parents. But no matter how great and caring the foster parents are, they don't usually provide stability and the knowledge that you will always have that person in your life. That's not the foster parents' fault; it's the way the system is set up.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:12 PM on September 14, 2015

It is difficult to convey how massively underfunded and underserved the foster care population is. A "caring group home" situation is essentially not an option for many demographic blocs. Staff turnover in the facilities that do exist is very frequent, hampering the ability of young children to bond with consistent caregivers. Sexual assault of young men and women with physical and mental disabilities by other residents and caregivers within institutional settings is shamefully common. There is even less funding for those who age out of the system, and their expected outcomes are mostly heartbreaking.
I'm not writing this to excuse the Badeaus for the evil that occurred on their watch. And it seems likely that they were driven by strangely utilitarian compulsions that did not always serve the best interest of their family at t+3. But they do seem to have understood the marginal benefit they could provide to each additional child they adopted. It is their incredibly shrewd calculation on this point that makes their story exceptional. This is what a QALY-based adoption-decision framework looks like.
posted by Svejk at 12:13 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I have a friend from college who (I hear) has adopted something like ten kids in addition to their two. My ungenerous first thought: the parents don't want to have sex, but their religion won't let them divorce. Now they have a joint project.

I tutored, in home, a school-aged girl with developmental and physical disabilities. She was in one of these families who had adopted double digit special needs kids. She could make vocalizations but couldn't speak. It was an existential exercise for me, someone who isn't certified to teach, but I had the credential to tutor. What kind of learning objectives did we have? None that I knew of. I discovered that she loved physical comedy and I would spend the hour tripping, dropping things and acting exasperated at myself. Eventually I included her in the act, placing an egg shaky in her almost-closed hand and warning her not to drop it. It was in there so precariously that she's eventually drop it. I'd act exasperated and shake my finger at her and pretend yell at her and we'd do it again. Eventually, she was able to purposely kind of jog her whole arm so that she would drop it on purpose. She'd shake with glee, watching me get "mad" and act foolish.

Her other favorite thing was when I'd bring fabrics from home and billow them over her face and let them land on her. I think she liked the anticipation, the colors and textures. She also watched me try to learn to juggle.

Occasionally, she'd be cranky. I finally asked the mom "Does she get her period?" Yes. "Do you think she might have cramps?" The look on the mom's face. I think they thought she'd be perpetually a child (she would in some ways) and so had completely forgotten that cramps with your period are a thing.

Most of the other kids were at school when I was there. Except for the HIV + babies. No one was taking in HIV + babies back then.
posted by vitabellosi at 1:27 PM on September 14, 2015 [3 favorites]

"It was also interesting to me that Sue said that they saw the needs of the child they had not yet adopted as equal to the needs of the children they already had"

This is so striking to me. On a way, this is the ultimate egalitarianism. But it is seemingly such an ingrained part of parenthood to prioritise one's own children over other children. I think taking the needs of all children *personally* is kind of phenomenal. And I think it strikes a nerve because how can it not be an indictment, at least slightly, on each of us who discriminates in favor of our inner circle (whether our children or not), spending our resources on enrichment when others lack the most basic things.

I think taking that line of thought seriously gets me to some place like my (probably flawed) understanding of early Christianity. We shouldn't be having children, or husbands or wives. That impairs our ability serve everybody we can who needs, without preference based on accident of birth.

I think the feeling of indictment is why it's so much easier to focus on what these adults could or should have done differently. If everybody took other people's kids' needs more seriously, even a little more seriously, if even we could make make and fund and maintain a government who would do it for us, the situation would be very different.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:20 PM on September 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

When Lilly first joined the family, she asked Sue how she knew she could trust her. Sue said: We have made a commitment to you. That commitment is just as serious to us as our marriage vows. We are making a promise not only to you but also to God, and it doesn’t matter what you do, you are our family, we are your parents, and we’ll all be in this together.

This, to me, is why these folks are good, and why what they did was good. It does matter not just whether you grow up with food and shelter and education and all the things a kid could get from a group home or foster care, but whether you grow up with the kind of unconditional devotion that exists between parents and children. These kids have a family. And the details of how that family operates and what mistakes it may have made and how it may have been less than ideal are so, so much less important than the fact that they have people who consider it an honor and a privilege to love them and care for them and stick by them no matter what.

And it's not just the parents who are good. The kids, who have responded to this commitment made by their parents, have done such a good thing by making that commitment back, by trusting and by accepting one another and by caring for each other. These kids, who just as easily could have chosen to never care for anyone ever again because they'd learned since they were babies that it's just not worth it, instead chose to become a part of this family and to embrace it. And that's good.

Especially for kids whose biological parents have often done some pretty terrible things to them and let them down and messed up their beliefs about family in some pretty profound ways, I think it matters to know that the reason you are loved is not because you have or have not done something to deserve it, but simply because you are a person and another person has made you a promise and promises between people are meant to be kept. Even when things in the house are chaotic, there's an underlying stability to knowing that there is nothing you can do--no mistake or bad choice or even heinous crime you can commit--that will make your parents and siblings stop loving you. Because your parents and siblings are good people and they promised you and good people can be counted on to keep their promises. And it teaches the kids that the way for them to be good people is to keep their promises--to their parents, and to their siblings, both blood and adopted, and to others they meet. So even if you have made bad mistakes, you too can be a good person by keeping your promises to your family and continuing to love them. And this family, both the parents and the kids, seem to exhibit this profound sense of caring so fiercely for each other. In a world where almost everyone else has broken promises to these kids over and over again, there is nothing more stabilizing and comforting than that. It's what religion is supposed to, but so often doesn't, teach about redemption.

That's what this family is: a promise. That promise of love and a place to come home to and people who will always be there for you is what every child deserves. Do children deserve more than that? Sure, of course, and in an ideal world they'd all have much more than that. But in a world where we're not giving so many children even that bare minimum, this is an amazing thing. That these parents have chosen to commit to these children, and that these children have chosen to commit to being a part of this family with each other. They're all in terrible circumstances they never should have had to be in, and they are doing an amazing thing.
posted by decathecting at 5:52 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

As a computer technician in Philadelphia in the late 1990s, I was acquainted with the Badeaus. I went to their home several times to work on a few iMacs they had. Conscious that I did not fully understand their situation, and also conscious that I had not yet formed my own ethical and philosophical position in life, I sensed that they were good and kind people and I really admired their commitment to a difficult and non-traditional lifestyle.

I have often wondered what became of them, and I think I'm pleased to know that they have stuck with their project and apparently brought good outcomes to their family members. I hesitate to judge them, even in the face of their most tragic moments because I know that abuse can happen within small nuclear biological families that have everything going for them.

What I really admire is that they walked the walk. They took direct action, which after all the talk, is the only thing that makes a difference . We need more people like them willing to change their lives in response to our time's dire environmental and climate issues problems.
posted by maniabug at 5:36 AM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

« Older Sous-vide cooking allows you to cook better than...   |   Josef Sudek Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments