my boss wouldn’t work with me because she was upset I adopted from foster care

A reader writes:

I work in higher education, and something happened to me at my last job that never sat right with me.

I was hired at a large research university to work in a specialized program providing one-on-one support for students. I was a tutor, and all the tutors in my center had terminal degrees and many years experience teaching at the college level. The person who hired me was our boss at the tutoring center, Amelia. Other than her, we had no direct supervisor and sometimes went whole semesters without much communication from any other adult at the college. Literally, we only saw students on a regular basis.

Amelia was someone I had considered a friend before we worked together. We weren’t close, but we have a mutual friend who we are both very close to, and Amelia and I had hung out socially four or five times before I was hired. This was all fine.

However, three years after I was hired, my husband and I adopted a teenager from foster care. I let Amelia know because it was a huge life event for me and my position offered no maternity leave and limited sick time. Amelia had been in the foster care system and had a rough go of it (the foster care system in the U.S. is horrifying, and our adoption does not mean that my husband and I support its policies in any way). She told me outright that she couldn’t spend any more time with me because hearing about my adoption process or even just the fact of my daughter was too difficult for her. I respected that.

Amelia didn’t just stay away from me outside of work, though. She basically abandoned the tutoring center, focusing on other aspects of her job so much so that the other tutors and I often didn’t see her for the entire academic year, and just turned to whoever if we had a question or needed something.

I worked there for eight years, and only saw her maybe four more times in person in the last five years I was there — so maybe two hours total. Once or twice a difficulty between tutors arose and she would come in to try to sort it out, but without any context whatsoever. I got along well with almost every single person I worked with over the years, except for one tutor who stayed for less than a year and who I found very difficult to work with, and had an excellent relationship with faculty and the program director.

When I asked for a reference after more than eight years, Amelia refused to give me one, saying I did not work well with others. The other tutors were shocked.

I did move on and am in a position I’m happy with now, but I never really got over this. It was a huge blow after eight years; even though my Big Boss gave me a great recommendation it was just … hard and made me question a lot of things about myself.

Is this a case in which I was discriminated against as a person from a protected class (a mother)? Or just a hard thing because I know what trauma does to people and I just feel bad for my boss? I don’t know.

No, this isn’t okay!

Look, the foster system is a sickening mess (and I say that as someone who has fostered kids); it often makes kids’ situations worse, and very little about it is designed in their best interests. There’s a ton of data showing kids on the whole do worse in foster care than they would if they stayed with family. It’s deeply, deeply upsetting.

But Amelia can’t completely abandon a central function of her job because of that — ever, really, but especially not when she manages a team and her abdication will affect her employees in such significant ways. I’m sure she knew this at some level because presumably she didn’t go to her boss and say, “My employee’s adoption from foster care is so painful for me that I’m not going to interact with that team anymore” because presumably she knew that wouldn’t fly. She just … did it on her own, and that wasn’t okay. It wasn’t fair to you or the rest of your team, and it wasn’t fair to the organization that thought she was still doing the job they had hired her for. (I’d argue the organization shares some of the blame, too, since they apparently had no checks and balances that would alert them that this was happening, and apparently no one ever checked in on your team or thought to create communication channels that would ensure they’d hear about something like this happening.)

As for Amelia refusing to give you a reference and saying you didn’t work well with others … that’s awful. I suppose it’s possible you really didn’t work well with others — I have no way of knowing — but I don’t see how she could conclude that, since she completely stopped interacting with you and all the other feedback you got was positive. (And if there were any truth to it, it would be an indictment of her too, since it would have been her responsibility to address it with you as your manager and she didn’t.) It would be bad enough for Amelia to simply decline to be a reference — you shouldn’t lose out on a reference simply because your boss found your daughter’s adoption too painful, so that’s yet another way this situation was unfair and wrong — but to then tack on a made-up reason is really unjust. It would have been better — although still problematic — for her to simply decline.

As for the possibility of this being illegal discrimination: Parents aren’t a protected class at the federal level, although some states do have laws protecting parents from discrimination, and you might live in one. But rather than pursuing it from a legal angle, if you had written to me at the time I’d have suggested bringing the situation to someone over Amelia’s head, like her own boss. It’s pretty likely they would have intervened — although whether that would have resulted in a better situation for you or not depends on how skilled and involved that person was. Ideally they would have made it clear to Amelia that she couldn’t just go AWOL and talked to her about whether she felt she could still do the job or not … and then, if she did, ensured she returned to managing you and did it fairly and objectively. But if they weren’t a very skilled manager themselves, it might have just resulted in Amelia being more involved in ways that made your life worse, rather than better — present as required, but letting her feelings affect the way she managed you.

Ultimately, the two things you asked about at the end of your letter can both be true at once: we can feel empathy for Amelia because she went through something awful that she still carries with her, and she also treated you really unfairly. Those two things intertwine in complicated ways, but you’re on solid ground if you look at this and say, “This was wrong, and I deserved better.”

{ 258 comments… read them below }

  1. I'm just here for the cats!*

    WOW! There has to be something more going on with Amelia besides the OP’s adoption. Like that is so wild. I’m wondering what OP’s coworkers thought and why there was no check and balances here.

    1. ecnaseener*

      I don’t think it’s accurate or helpful to speculate that there must be something else…trauma can cause all sorts of strange behavior.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        What I mean is I’m wondering if she used that as an excuse to check out. Because it wasn’t just the OP that she avoided, it was everyone at the center.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          I suspect it was version of actually trying not to have a situation where Amelia will interact with the whole rest of the team–but not OP. Which Amelia may have rightly realized was wrong. The problem is that her solution to “It would be wrong to treat OP differently than the other tutors” was to go no/low contact with the whole team.

    2. Beth*

      Given that this was a tutoring job at a university, I’m not actually surprised that there was no check and balance system here! That’s been the norm at universities I’ve worked at.

      1. AD*

        Can we not do this? I understand there are sometimes strong opinions about higher ed administration shared on this site but throwing out generalities like this isn’t kind or helpful….or accurate, either.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          Beth just shared her experience which we accept as fact; the norm where she worked is that tutoring jobs at universities are often without supervision.

        2. Beth*

          This is my actual experience of working in several different universities. It was consistently very siloed, with very little communication outside my department. If my boss had decided not to talk to me one day, I would have been pretty thoroughly cut off; I’m not even sure who I would have reported the disconnect to, I had no meaningful contact with my boss’s boss at any of them.

          It’s absolutely possible that some universities out there are better organized–but this has been my experience across several, and I think it’s fair for me to draw some conclusions about the industry from that experience. I’m not speaking out of my ass here. I genuinely do, based on my experience, think that this being a university job is relevant to it being so siloed.

          1. AD*

            Hi Beth, thanks for adding context so let me say that as someone was has worked in several higher ed administrative jobs as well as having spent a decade in several corporate roles, that absolutely has not been my experience. I’ve seen some very well-run divisions and departments in higher ed, and I’ve seen some siloed and pretty dysfunctional corporate divisions.

            I didn’t accuse you of talking “out of your ass” here but your very specific reference to dysfunction being “the norm” in university administration is troubling to me because it’s a theme that has been repeated, unchallenged and often with no supporting evidence and repeatedly, on this website for the 10 years I’ve been reading it.

            And for the record, in reference to this letter, Amelia’s behavior certainly isn’t relevant to her working in higher education (although the lack of oversight is certainly troubling).

            1. Dahlia*

              “That’s been the norm at universities I’ve worked at.” is what Beth said. Not the normal at all universities. Beth spoke only about universities they had worked at. It’s really unfair to accuse them of painting with such a wide brush when you’re taking their words out of context to do so.

              1. AD*

                I’m not taking anything out of context, and I’m responding to a pattern I’ve seen on this website for many years, thank you.

                Amelia’s apparent trauma regarding the foster care system doesn’t seem relevant to this taking place in higher education, and I think it’s important to be careful in the words we choose we use to talk about higher education administration and support staff, given we’re living in a time when higher ed is being gutted at the university level (and across the board) in state after state. That may not matter to you or to a lot of people, but it does to me.

                This is derailing the conversation, and I think we should move on.

                1. Sparklecat*

                  Yes, and that gutting is happening to faculty, often as a result of decisions being made by higher administration.

                  Speaking from my experience, as well.

                  Is this relevant to the LW? Maybe. University staff often do feel unsupported by high admin which can leave them in the uncomfortable position of not addressing aspects of their jobs because of a fear of simply being eliminated.

                  If you feel attacked because someone made this observation, you can help the system by advocating for your staff and faculty, making sure they get the support they need, supporting benefits and salaries for adjuncts and staff that make it possible to live, and being willing to be present and take pay cuts along with the staff you supervise in the event that it is needed. If you’re already doing all that, great, you’re better than many, and I hope you can be very vocal in setting that example.

                2. AD*

                  The gutting is happening to faculty *and* administrators, often at the behest of (or at the direction of) university boards, presidents, or other senior leaders. I’m not going to pit faculty against administrators.

            2. Orv*

              It’s pretty much my experience. As university staff my contacts have never extended outside whatever academic department I was in. People above the department level had no idea what went on with non-faculty employees. I’ve always found the only way to get any support is to find a faculty member who will be an ally, because unlike staff they have pull with people higher up.

  2. Ane*

    But… isn’t adoption to get a child away from the foster system a good thing? I don’t understand her logic.

      1. Bookmark*

        Yeah, I think this is the best answer here. But to add some details, there are really traumatic cases of the foster care system and even specifically foster parents being an active agent in splitting up kids from loving birth families. There has been some recent prominent coverage of this (ex: the New Yorker, “When Foster Parents Don’t Want to Give Back the Baby”). Of course, there’s nothing to indicate LW’s foster adoption situation was anything like this, plus whatever trauma is in Amelia’s past doesn’t excuse her treatment of LW, but this is the kind of stuff that could make someone with experience in the foster system have complicated feelings about foster to adoption.

        1. Observer*

          But to add some details, there are really traumatic cases of the foster care system and even specifically foster parents being an active agent in splitting up kids from loving birth families.

          It’s not as common as the press would like to make out. And they are a lot less likely to happen with teens as well.

          I’m not defending the foster care system, but this is not where the real problems are. Although I do see how this additional issue can cause people to have complicated feelings about the adoption.But ultimately, unless you have some good indicators that this is one of those kids of cases, an adoption is net good for the child.

          And in any case, none of this excuses Amelia.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            It doesn’t matter what the statistics are. We don’t know what Amelia’s experience with the system was and we shouldn’t speculate. The point is that it can be traumatic and Amelia clearly had some trauma related to that system, whether as a child in the system, a parent who lost their child to the system, or something else.

            1. Jessica*

              The fact of the matter is that as an adult you have a responsibility for addressing trauma and as a leader at an organization, you have an additional responsibility for not allowing your personal baggage affect the working environment. Amelia is 100% in the wrong here and frankly shouldn’t be in any role with any type of real responsibility since she clearly cannot manage her own emotions.

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                That’s it, in a nutshell. Amelia’s traumas are real, and irrelevant in the case of the LW. Amelia allowed her emotions to override her professional responsibilities and both neglected her job duties and actively harmed LW professionally. That’s not okay.

              2. Phryne*

                Agreed. It is possible to feel genuinely deeply sorry about her experiences while at the same time acknowledging that this makes her unfit for this role until she finds a way to deal with that in such a way that it does not harm her work or co-workers.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Hmmm, I actually think it’s *more* common than the press covers. I’m in a bunch of online groups for foster parents and it’s disgusting and horrifying how many foster parents casually discuss doing things intended to disrupt the kids’ connections to their families and ultimately keep the kids with them. It’s not just occasional outlier cases at all.

              1. Cafe au Lait*

                Wow, the birth Mom has a ton of empathy for what the foster parents went through. To go through so much trauma and come out finding empathy for the other side is nothing short but transformative.

                |At the kitchen table, Alicia told me that the Bernhardts “can be victims, too.” Once the system “put this idea in their heads that adoption could be an achievable goal for them, it damaged our family, and my son, and the foster parents’ family.” She paused, thinking over all that J’Lyn and Lain had gone through. “God, how heartbreaking would that be.” |

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              And I will add (because I can’t shut up on this topic once I start), it’s not just parents openly trying to keep the kids. It’s foster parents who genuinely mean well but who aren’t trauma-educated and don’t understand the data about the importance of kids maintaining as much connection as possible to their families, even when those families are very, very flawed, and they think it’s in the kids’ best interest to be “protected” from contact with their families. They judge the families for being very different people than they are (in terms of money/class/lifestyle) and for the choices they made with their kids, and so they try to break the kids’ bonds with them (and not just with their parents, but with their extended family members too). And they’ll do something like decide, “Well, her mom didn’t show up for two planned visits so I’m not going out of my way to make any future visits happen.”* When really what the kid needs is help navigating a relationship with a very unreliable parent, not to be cut off from their family altogether by someone who has no right to do that.

              * And maybe mom didn’t show up because she has doesn’t have a car and is struggling with transportation, or because of addiction, or because yes she’s very flakey and unreliable. Regardless of the reason, she’s still her kid’s mom, and her kid almost certainly yearns for whatever connection she can have with her.

              1. Harper the Other One*

                Laura, Foster Parent Partner on Facebook/YouTube has addressed this – it’s so easy for people to do things like say “oh, the doll Mom got for you is broken – let’s go to the store and I’ll buy you a new one” and undermine that relationship thoughtlessly. And that’s assuming the absolute best of intentions!

              2. AnonForThisTopic*

                The lack of training in trauma is a major, major issue of the foster care system in the US and the UK (the two systems with which I have some familiarity). Too many people become foster carers because they wanted to have a baby and couldn’t, so fostering seemed like an alternative.

                Fostering is not an alternative to having a biological child. It is a very difficult and specialist job, and it should be treated that way. I’ve seen foster placements break down because the carers weren’t prepared for the behavioural consequences of trauma, and the experience didn’t match their expectations of parenting.

                1. goddessoftransitory*

                  This links to people who adopt kids from war torn or repressive regimes and basically expect a parade and crown from Heaven because of their selfless act. Then, when these traumatized kids act up, they dump them on planes back to their home country, or put them up for re-adoption like they’re giving away plant clippings.

              3. Observer*

                What boggles my mind with these examples is that a bit of education could do SO MUCH to help the situation. These programs cost so much, it’s insane that we neither provide the support that can (sometimes) help keep families together nor educate (and screen) foster families better.

              4. Weaponized Pumpkin*

                A friend of mine was sent away to live with a distant relative when they were a child because the mom was struggling. The person who took her in thought she needed to be “protected” and prevented contact with the mom, leaving the child feeling completely abandoned. That compounded the trauma immeasurably.

              5. Generational Trauma*

                My dad’s life (and as a result, mine and my brothers’) was permanently damaged by his adoption. His adoptive parents couldn’t cope with the trauma he suffered being separated from his family (including his younger brother, who was ultimately reunited with their parents), and they ended up making things SO. MUCH. WORSE. In the end, they put him in a school for troubled boys and just left him there. My “grandparents” are the people who took him home from that school, even though we are not related legally or biologically. They were the best people I’ve ever met, who changed the lives of many young people as teachers, but all the love in the world couldn’t undo the damage that was done to my father by people who believed they were helping.

              6. goddessoftransitory*

                I remember an episode of Bones, of all things, where the main character is relating a small part of her experiences in the foster system. “They put all your things in garbage bags,” she says quietly. “Like everything you own is garbage.”

                That scene has stayed with me for years, because it so clearly showed how the foster system is rigged to tell the very people it’s supposed to be helping that they are worthless now.

                1. Armchair Analyst*

                  Yes often if there is a drive for donations for foster kids or agencies, a big ask is for kid-sized suitcases or backpacks or duffle bags so kids can carry the items that they can.

                2. Holly*

                  Here in the UK there is a company called Madlug, which makes backpacks on a buy one give one basis, so a kid in foster care gets a travel bag for this very reason, so their stuff isn’t treated like rubbish when they have to move.

                3. Jaid*

                  Thank you for the reminder. I’d read about that scene on TV Tropes and it stuck with me, too.
                  Dad is getting rid of things and he has these huge suitcases. I was thinking of Goodwill, but there’s a local foster care org that specifically is requesting these things for these kids. Now I know where they would be best used…

              7. Hrodvitnir*

                Man, Alison, thank you. I would love to have my mental health together enough to foster kids – and help them maintain those connections. But I’m aware it’s incredibly emotionally taxing.

                Thank you for fostering, and thank you for educating yourself on trauma. I really appreciate you talking about it.

              8. BJ*

                Unfortunately foster care in the US has largely morphed into an adoption program that is marketed to hopeful parents, rather than a service to kids and families in crisis. Historically, people who wanted to adopt used to seek babies from teens who had unplanned pregnancies and were pressured/coerced into placing them for adoption. As it became more common for young people to choose to parent instead, international adoption became a booming market where couples could go get a baby. Then in the past 15-20 years international adoption has all but disappeared, for a lot of reasons including the discovery that it was rife with corruption. And now all those couples wanting to adopt have turned to foster care. It seems the majority of people seeking to foster now are doing it as a means to adopt, preferably babies or kids as young as possible. It contributes greatly to this idea some foster parents have that they are there to “save” the kids from their families.

            2. Typing All The Time*

              Yes. I have an adopted relative that came from some past fostering experiences that still makes her feel like she would be punished for the slighted thing.

            3. JaneDough(not)*

              Thanks for that info, disturbing tho it is, which many of us wouldn’t have known.

              And thank you for putting so much of your energy into helping others (fostering; this column); best wishes to you.

            4. Observer*

              I don’t think that the system is ok in any way. And also fundamentally, it doesn’t really make a difference to this situation. We have no idea what Amelia in particular went through, except that it was *bad*, on the one hand. And on the other hand, it was not OK for her to dump her trauma in the way that she did. I don’t want to come off as negating either thing.

              That’s the context of my reply.

              I’m in a bunch of online groups for foster parents and it’s disgusting and horrifying how many foster parents casually discuss doing things intended to disrupt the kids’ connections to their families and ultimately keep the kids with them. It’s not just occasional outlier cases at all.

              It’s not occasional because there are just sooooo many kids in the foster care system – and it’s a system that’s badly broken. To some extent, I think this whole thing is a symptom of the problems with the foster care system, as well as some other social issues.

              And I think that the press kind of likes to cover this more than others because it’s easy to have a villain and a victim (or multiple victims) in each story without having to grapple as much with some of the bigger issues or deal with some of the more horrific abuse and neglect that happens, both before kids wind up in the system and once they get into the system.

              To be cynical about the press – It just traumatic enough to engage viewers but not so traumatic to get people mad at the publisher or so upset that they will stop reading.

              And for anyone who thinks that that’s gross? It is. Very gross.

              1. musical chairs*

                I guess I just don’t understand how you would have a better insight into the actual prevalence of this then what can be understood from the information it’s readily available to the public from news media.

                Why double down on this point without providing any context to how you would back up your alternative claim? How do you come to the conclusion that this is overstated? More importantly, how does this help the letter writer?

                1. Dahlia*

                  What? The news has a bias. People choose the stories. Plenty of things are better known about by people who work with those things than… the news stories.

                2. Old and Don’t Care*

                  The news is man bites dog and often covers stories as anecdotal or illustrative without regard to how prevalent something is. This is not a criticism of the media, it is what it is.

            5. Nessa*

              A tweet went by on my timeline recently about how somebody distrusted the system ever since they saw a child be taken away from the family because they couldn’t afford to accommodate their disability, and then the foster family being paid money to install the accommodations that the child wasn’t able to get within bio family. Again, speculating isn’t exactly helpful here because we’ll never know on the back end, but I have a feeling that she experienced trouble not just in the system a.k.a. homes, but also via individual foster families. This sucks all around.

          3. MigraineMonth*

            I’m confused by this take. The foster system splits kids from loving birth families *all the time*, usually because of neglect stemming directly from poverty. (Not being able to afford to feed and clothe your kid is neglect. Leaving your kid alone so you can go out and work to get enough money to feed and clothe them is also neglect.)

            Then the foster care system charges the parents money they don’t have for their kids’ care and won’t return the kids until the parent can pay those expenses plus interest. (This is only just starting to change.)

          4. Danielle*

            Teenagers (12 years or older) in the foster care system (at least in CA) get to choose whether or not they want to be adopted, so this likely was not done against the child’s will. The attitude that adoption should be avoided at all costs is, in my opinion, quite misguided.

            1. Dahlia*

              13 year olds are not generally able to consent to most things legally, and it is certainly not impossible for a child’s consent to be coerced. Just because you say they said they wanted it doesn’t mean they are capable of understanding it entirely.

              1. Danielle*

                in CA, they absolutely get to consent with the support of their social worker, lawyer and the judge. The alternative is legal guardianship which leaves parental rights intact. Most kids that age in the foster care system are acutely aware of this.

                1. Dahlia*

                  I’m not saying they aren’t legally allowed to.

                  I’m saying they often aren’t CAPABLE of doing so. There’s a reason we don’t let 13 year olds join the army or drive.

    1. Cruciatus*

      Me neither. I was trying to figure out if she’s upset (envious) that they adopted someone out of the system or if she couldn’t handle hearing again about the system at all. Both of which I could understand to a point but this is wild.

    2. bamcheeks*

      I didn’t read it as her *blaming* LW for doing the wrong thing or being angry with her– that’s kind of what the headline sounds like, but in the letter it reads more like any reminder of the fostering system was triggering for her, and LW became a reminder and therefore a trigger.

      Which — I feel for Amanda, but this was not the way to handle it.

      1. FrogFriend*

        I get where you’re coming from, but I would say that the fact that Amelia refused to give a reference with a negative reason that the LW never saw coming does seem like blame, or targeting her, or however you want to phrase it.

        1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

          Yeah it does. It makes me wonder about reasons – like when you feel bad about something you’re doing so you rationalize it in your head to the point you start believing it. “LW was a jerk anyway” instead of “I’m falling down on my manager duties and need to face some hard truths and make a change”.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Yep. It may have started out as “I can’t be reminded” but ended with “It is your fault I feel bad and I’m going to harm your career.”

      2. Beth*

        What gets me is the reference thing. Up until that she could easily have been avoiding OP because seeing OP reminded her of the foster system–which wouldn’t be OK when she’s their boss, but would make sense and wouldn’t involve blaming OP for anything. But refusing to write a reference? And blaming it on OP, saying they can’t work with others, when she’s the one who started avoiding the heck out of them? That feels more malicious.

      3. Observer*

        but in the letter it reads more like any reminder of the fostering system was triggering for her, and LW became a reminder and therefore a trigger.

        That could explain her going AWOL at work. But giving the OP a bad reference? No, that’s punitive.

    3. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      Maybe her logic is something like…

      “I went through the foster care system and nobody adopted me. Therefore, no foster child should ever be adopted.”

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I was thinking it was more, “The fostering system is evil and needs to be razed to the ground. Anyone actively participating in it, even with the best of intentions and outcomes, is prolonging its survival, is therefore evil as well. I no longer get along with OP because of this, therefore OP doesn’t get along with her coworkers.”

        Or who knows? *shrug*

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      A lot of possibilities here:
      – A lot of kids in foster care, particularly teens, don’t want to be adopted. They have parents already.
      – There’s a growing movement of adult adoptees who consider adoption a trauma, and something that’s centered on the adoptive parents’ needs rather than the kids’ needs, and if she’s involved in ex-foster communities, she’s definitely familiar with that.
      – There are foster parents who actively fight (or at least do things to undermine) family reunification so they can keep the kids, which is horrible.
      – Personally as a foster parent I’ve struggled with whether I’m enabling a really poisonous system just by participating. Yes, kids need good homes as long as this is the system we have; it still feels awful. I could definitely see how someone who had been in foster care, and especially someone who had bad experiences with their foster families, could see anyone involved as part of the problem. (And at least in the U.S., you always foster a child before you can adopt them from the system, so the LW would have been fostering first.)

      But the most likely is that she doesn’t blame the LW, but her entire experience in foster care is too associated with trauma for her to be able to talk to her about it/be around her.

      1. Expelliarmus*

        And to give her a good reference, apparently. She is indirectly blaming her by refusing to see the good in OP’s work.

        1. MassMatt*

          I could see the trauma making Amelia want to ghost on the letter writer and not interact with her, and so ignore the request for a reference, but saying she won’t do it because LW “didn’t work well with others” is nonsense–How would she know, since she went for years without seeing her or any of the LW’s coworkers?

          But as another poster said, trauma often doesn’t make sense.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Correct and it’s pretty easy to see how making that up would be a way to shut down LW from ever asking again, as opposed to something less hostile/committal like saying she’s too busy. We don’t know for sure that Amelia actually intended to give a bad reference if LW had just written her name down on an application with no warning. We just know that Amelia said something nasty to ensure LW would never communicate with her again.

            Logically, I think it would have made a lot more sense for Amelia to offer an overly glowing reference to get her out of that job faster. But I can see from her perspective why she might not want to/be able to field calls about LW at all and was just looking for an (admittedly horrible) way to get out of that responsibility.

            By the way, I don’t mean for my comments in these threads to be overly deferential to Amelia. I think what she did was wildly unprofessional and inappropriate. I’m just in a grad school class literally right now to learn more about trauma and how it affects the brain and therefore my behavior, so her actions seem less bizarre to me than they might to the average person.

      2. ArtsNerd*

        >Personally as a foster parent I’ve struggled with whether I’m enabling a really poisonous system just by participating. Yes, kids need good homes as long as this is the system we have; it still feels awful.

        I was considering eventually being a foster parent (never to adopt!) for a similar reason. This is giving me a lot to think about. (Though it might be moot, depending on how my disability progresses :/)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I would never want to be the reason someone doesn’t want to do it if you’d be good at it (especially if you’re interested in fostering teens, who there aren’t enough homes for)! I’m happy to talk about it on the weekend thread any time. Frankly, I’d argue that people who see how messed up the system is are exactly the foster parents we need; that’s so much better for kids than people who don’t or won’t see it. So don’t let me dissuade you; it’s just been a hard thing to grapple with.

          1. Observer*

            Frankly, I’d argue that people who see how messed up the system is are exactly the foster parents we need; that’s so much better for kids than people who don’t or won’t see it.

            I think that this is correct. This is true in a lot of areas.

          2. LCH*

            yeah, i mean, afaik it’s the only system we currently have for kids who may not otherwise have a home. i’d be really interested to see this discussion.

          3. Onomatopoeia Cornucopia*

            Yeah I feel like a large part of the issue is not-good foster parents (though obviously tons of stuff about the system is messed up on a structural level too). So kids who in real life are in the foster care system right now still do need good foster parents to participate- it’s not like the alternative will be family reunification. It will be bad foster parents.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Bad foster parents, and also group homes/facilities where kids are basically warehoused. It’s bad.

              That said, even if every foster family was fantastic, the system would still be horrible for kids. When you start digging, there is a lot of stomach-turning stuff about how it works (starting with whose kids are taken away and why but going on to include how kids are managed once they’re in the system).

                1. BethRA*

                  You’ve certainly listed to all of us prattle on about less impactful topics, the least we could do is listen when you want to carry on about something you care about.

                2. Adoptive Mom*

                  I am so interested!! I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate for a while and spent time with quite a few foster families. Oof.

                3. Clare*

                  I’d actually be really interested to read it if you’d be willing to write an entire post on the subject. Perhaps it could go up on a weekend day if you don’t want to annoy the people who think it’s not work-related enough?

                  (Although, in my personal opinion, talking about foster care in work-related spaces can only aid the glacial societal shift towards understanding the fact that all types of care work are, in fact, work. They require special skills and training, just like any other work, and they’re not “Just something all women naturally can and should do”.

                  100 years ago, 50% of people were (willingly or unwillingly), highly trained career professionals in this stuff – with varying degrees of specialisation and competence, of course, like any profession. That’s not the case any more. It hasn’t been for decades. Society needs to catch up and realise our carers of the past were working with a career’s worth of experience and specialised training, not some kind of magical hard-wired instinct any woman can replicate.

                  I will now get down off the soapbox and hand it back to Alison.)

                4. Lexie*

                  I worked in foster care for years. I’m right there with you. The system is a mess but it’s the system we have.

          4. Michelle Smith*

            I would be extremely interested in hearing more about your experience on the weekend thread. It’s something I’ve considered doing for a while now.

            1. Harper the Other One*

              Second wanting to hear more and would appreciate a specific weekend thread on the topic. We are not in a position to foster now because our own kids have special needs, but once they are independent I would be interested.

            2. goddessoftransitory*

              I would too. I’m not a foster kid, but I am an adoptee from just before the “lock away the records” model of infant adoption started eroding and being questioned, and find this entire topic fascinating and disturbing.

          5. MigraineMonth*

            Would you consider doing a topic-specific weekend thread on your experience fostering teens, your thoughts about the system and advice for others considering it? (There are so many comments on the open thread I only get through the first couple of threads.)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Sure, I’d be happy to! I’m no expert; we only started fostering last year and we’re paused now because of my mom’s and husband’s health, but man do I know a lot more now than before I started and I’m happy to talk about what I’ve learned (and my anger on these kids’ behalf!).

          6. Charlotte Lucas*

            During the Great Depression, my great grandmother was in a sanitarium and my great grandfather was unable (unwilling?) to care for his kids. My grandmother and her brother were sent to an orphanage, where they worked to earn their keep until a relative was found to take them in.

            I agree that the foster system needs a lot of work (and I have a friend whose job is to work on policy to address all the issues you’ve discussed so that kids aren’t just separated from families for being the “crime” of poverty or not fitting into societal expectations). On the other hand, I am so glad that we no longer think that the best thing is to shut kids away in orphanages (or worse, send them west on orphan trains).

            Thoughtful reform is needed, but unfortunately, sometimes kids don’t even have a home to go to.

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              There is a lot of poverty in my family history. (Not so much the past 2 and half generations.) It was fairly common on one side to send the kids to the orphanage for a matter of months to years when the parents couldn’t cope.

              One was a widower who couldn’t care for the young children and had the boys at the orphanage until he remarried a few years later. The other just kept falling on hard times and was unable to provide food for the family, so the orphanage did that.

              The kids were never put up for adoption, just care. Still scarred them a lot even so, the great uncles were a troubled lot after that upbringing. (Also, a lot of suicides on that side of the family. Not sure if there is a connection since I’m not sure which kids were which adults.)

              But it was really common in my family. Even with families doubling up in apartments in bad times, sometimes it was just too much to cope with.

        2. PB Bunny Watson*

          It’s like the starfish story in some ways. Sure, the system sucks and needs to change… but you’re still making a HUGE difference to that one person at least. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

        3. Drag0nfly*

          You could be saving a life. While I don’t doubt there are abuses of the system, it’s just as abusive to leave a child with a horrible parent. My aunt adopted a pair of what should have been identical twins. But one was visibly shorter than the other because their mother deliberately refused to properly feed the twins and their other siblings. The one twin didn’t get enough, and he was so starved he had to have part of his intestines removed. It permanently stunted his growth, so he was about the size of a ten year old while his twin grew to regular height in adulthood. When I met him he was about three or four years old, and attached to an IV line he had to move around with him.

          My aunt took him and his twin, and after a few months she noted the boys began calling HER “mom” instead of their own mother. My aunt wanted to adopt the twins’ sister, but someone else got her instead. I don’t remember what happened to the other siblings.

          Small children are easy and open-hearted. If you hug them, feed them, and nurture them, they love you. When you lose their affection, that says it all.

          A family friend used to foster babies who were born addicted to drugs. The one she ended up adopting was actually her own great-niece, and she said it took a long time for the baby to recover from being born addicted. The girl is healthy and thriving now. Don’t let the horror stories scare you away, if you have the heart and the means to help.

          1. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I know someone who gaslighted her own daughter about the abuse she’d suffered from a stepfather to get the girl out of the foster system–so she could afford a new car. The stepfather was in prison, but the mother took the stepfather’s side. Needless to say, as soon as that girl was 18 she was gone out of state and has never come back. The foster parents were decent people. There are some horrible people out there.

          2. Loony Lovegood*

            Could we possibly not do this? I understand why it feels important and relevant to share these horrible, traumatic stories. But adoption and foster care is complicated, and often very nuanced. Yes, there are clear cases of kids needing to be separated permanently from their biological parents for safety. Yes, there are clear examples of the system being extraordinarily harmful to kids and bio families. But there’s often a lot of space in between, and adoptees and foster kids don’t exactly love having their trauma trotted out as an example of advocacy either for or against a system that has been a complicated experience for them.

            Not attacking your post here, just a different perspective and asking subsequent posters to try to refrain, if they can, from sharing the gory details as an example.

        4. Emma*

          I am a pediatric nurse and we always have a few patients who have been on our unit in the hospital for MONTHS because they have some medical complexities and cannot find foster placement. Their families of origin are often going through the steps to get them back but it’s a long road, especially when their child was very very sick from medical neglect. There is a real need for compassionate foster families willing to care for kiddos with some medical technology dependence who ALSO want to work with the families of origin and reunite them. I love these kids with my whole heart and they don’t deserve to not smell fresh air because they’re housed in a hospital for 8 weeks or more.

      3. OP*

        OP here. All of these things are true and relevant, and there’s other terrible stuff in the case of “Amelia,” too, but that is certainly not my story to tell.

        You’re right that she didn’t blame me for anything and wasn’t angry about my choices, just couldn’t be around me because it brought up so much trauma. That was completely understandable and fine socially, but problematic at work.

        1. mb*

          That was my take on the situation – but Amelia’s abdicating of responsibility and then to be almost malicious about her inability to give you a reference is really bad.
          I truly feel for her – she must have severe trauma – but the answer would have been to go to a higher up and ask for someone to intervene in situations involving you for mental health reasons. I totally understand her not wanting to be around you – but there were accomodations she could have asked for which would have resolved the issues and not unfairly punished you or anyone else, while protecting her from trauma.

      4. I don’t post often*

        Well said, I was coming here to say many of the same things.

        There is a growing movement (although IMO, not growing fast enough) for a system in which parents who are having trouble, or just need help to be able to raise their hands to say, “I need help.” And then receiver that help from individuals or families or are able to help, financially or otherwise (meals, childcare, laundry, cleaning, or just listening…)
        I know of adoption agencies (I know of one specifically that is curtailing overseas and infant adoptions in favor of programs like this) offering these programs, but it isn’t available in our area yet. Essentially child stays in home and parents gets whatever help they need. The family stays together which is better for everyone. In turn, hopefully a lifelong connection is built so parents have a support system and children have extra adults who love them.

        1. Princess Sparklepony*

          It seems in some cases, it might be a good idea to pay the parents to be their own kids foster parents… If it’s just a problem of money and not abuse or other serious problem.

          It’s not like the State isn’t going to be paying money to someone. So why not pay it to keep the family whole while mandating some budgeting and parenting classes into the program. Not everyone has a thrifty mentality – I had to explain to a post college roommate why only paying the minimum on her credit card bill wasn’t helping her. She wasn’t dumb, she just was raised in a different mode of thinking.

          Sometimes people just need some cash and a little guidance.

    5. Allonge*

      I don’t think there is one – this was likely an instinctive/emotional response to trauma at first (maybe along the lines of ‘adoption should have happened to me too, why did nobody want me’?).

      I suppose it could have been ok if it lasted a few days, or led to some cooling of relations on the personal level – not ideal, but trauma responses rarely are. For it to go on for years is… not good – likely also not very good for Amelia as this would have been hanging over her head – but very bad for OP and the rest of the team.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      As with kids who are convinced their parents will one day get back together (despite being divorced for 20 years and married to other people for 17 years), sometimes people really want to believe that the original family would manage to pull it together, or a loving grandparent would suddenly appear, etc.

      Or it could be something else.

    7. desdemona*

      I’m not super in touch with the many writings about the foster system and adoption, but adoption is a HUGELY complicated issue.

      Think of it this way – if most kids would have better outcomes staying with their family than if they’d entered the foster system, and those kids are adopted – why couldn’t they have stayed with their family of origin in the first place? Now there is no going back.

      Obviously, there are many situations in which adoption IS the best outcome, and I’m not anti-adoption. But it’s very complicated.

    8. Behavior Observer*

      There are those who feel that adoption from the foster care system strips the child of their birth identity, heritage, and connection to other extended family members. I can’t say if this is right or wrong (the action, the feelings are of corse valid).

    9. Doctor Fun*

      A lot of children in the foster system actually do have family members, but the child welfare systems in their states have deemed those relatives unsuitable to place the child with — frequently for spurious reasons. One very well-known example of children being kept from blood relatives and adopted out instead are the children who were adopted by the Harts and then killed a few years ago. Other examples include the indigenous children whose adoptions circumvented ICWA, and whose cases were part of the recent Supreme Court case seeking to end ICWA (in other words, seeking to discontinue the practice of placing Native kids in Native homes whenever possible).

      There are a lot of problems with the “foster to adopt” pipeline, all you have to do is Google it.

      1. Typing All The Time*

        Yes, there’s a major history in Tennessee involving a children’s aid society pushing adoption on parents who were considered to poor or inept. It was all done for money.

        1. MsSolo (UK)*

          The Baby Thief by Barbara Bisantz covers the story of Georgia Tann and explores how she shaped all of America’s foster and adoption processes through her practices (including ‘gifting’ children to politicians, who would then vote against reforms to the system for fear of being outed as having benefited from it). There’s a few areas I feel it’s lacking (the role of race in fostering and the native boarding schools feel like they ought to be a larger part of the historic narrative), in a way that dates it slightly, but it’s an emotive read and I do recommend it.

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          Yes yes yes. The Magdalen laundries and baby-selling practices in Ireland and elsewhere underline how these practices were income generators, period.

          1. Typing All The Time*

            Yes. See the film Philomena. It’s based on a real-life story involving an unwed Irish mom whose baby boy was adopted and sent to America.

      2. Jay (no, the other one)*

        “Spurious reasons” indeed. Poverty, race, education, literacy levels – the list is unfortunately nearly endless. The system is deeply racist and classist. In addition, it is underfunded and badly managed so that real issues of abuse and abandonment aren’t adequately addressed and there’s no political will to address the root causes of the human suffering.

        If want to see what the societal consequences are, read a bit about ACES (Adverse Childhood Events) and the impacts on physical, mental and emotional health.

      3. Delta Delta*

        Lawyer here. When ICWA was affirmed I actually said, “well holy ____ they surprised us with this one.” I got a news alert and said this out loud in a room full of other lawyers who also do foster care type cases. We were all surprised.

        There’s a shocking article in The New Yorker on October 23, 2023 about what goes on with some foster adoptions. Worth a read.

      4. CommanderBanana*

        And, there are several cases of adopted children being abused and even killed by evangelical families who adopt children specifically to convert more people to their religion (many of these are international adoptions so the oversight is even worse).

      5. Willow Pillow*

        In ~1990-2015, there was a program called “Motherisk” in Canada that removed children based on false drug testing. It affected more than 35,000 child protection cases. One woman was deemed to be a chronic alcoholic after hair testing – she did not drink, but there was alcohol in the hairspray she used.

    10. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

      The foster system is enough of a mess that sometimes, children end up for adoption who could have otherwise gone back to their families/stayed with family members. In a *lot* of cases, if the foster system gave birth families even the same resources they give foster parents, kids would be able to stay with or go back to their families. A lot of kids, in particular, see this as being the case even when they weren’t necessarily in that type of situation, because of course you view your parents through rose-colored glasses. In addition, in cases of neglect, kids may not realize that things aren’t “normal” until they are much older or further outside the system. It’s a lot of personal trauma to unpack, and Amelia may have some serious issues around time in foster care. I’m not saying adopting from foster care is a bad thing at all!

      It’s also of note that adoptions can and do fail, and kids can and do end up back in the system, which is doubly traumatic for everyone involved. Kids may end up adopted before they get out of the “honeymoon period,” and the family may not realize how deep their trauma runs or what type of problems they’re going to be dealing with when they adopt early, and families can end up unable to cope. Again, side of extra trauma. Not to say that Amelia’s response was at all acceptable, but this could be some of the stuff she has to deal with and why she struggles to talk about foster care at all.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In a *lot* of cases, if the foster system gave birth families even the same resources they give foster parents, kids would be able to stay with or go back to their families.


        1. ThatGirl*

          Yeah, once I realized that foster parents get paid by the state that offers no financial support for birth families, I got real mad.

            1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

              This makes me absolutely see red. There are SO MANY resources that could help pull these parents out of poverty and get them back on their feet. Career services. Financial services. Give them the resources that foster parents are getting to have those children in their homes, and so many of these parents could THRIVE–and have such better outcomes for their kids. The foster system in my state is severely overloaded. (The foster system is severely overloaded most places, actually.) Driving parents into deeper trouble is 100% not the answer to fixing it. Argh!! This is one of those topics I’m super passionate about, and I know it’s not the subject of the post, but just..grr.

              1. Guacamole Bob*

                The system really does the opposite from providing support to struggling parents. I am far from an expert but was briefly an advocate for a child in foster care a number of years back, and I was really struck by all the requirements the court was imposing on the parents for reunification. And they made sense in the abstract to some degree, but added up to “you have to maintain a job that gives you enough income to support your children in a high cost of living area, while taking time out for court dates, random drug tests, multiple kinds of therapy, regular visits with your kids, social worker meetings, and so on. If your job gets frustrated by your lack of availability and fires you, it’s back to square one. If you can’t work enough hours to make enough money to pay rent because you’re taking all this time off for appointments, re-set the clock. It would help if we could tell you roughly what time the court appearances will be, but nah, that’s slightly inconvenient for the judge so we’ll make you take the whole day off to sit around the waiting room each time.”

                It was really frustrating to see. Yes, the parents needed drug treatment and so on, but the way they just piled on requirements with no true support was not in the best interests of those kids in the long run.

                1. AnonForThisForSure*

                  Unless you believe life begins at conception and ends at…birth. As some of these folks seem to.

            2. SnackAttack*

              Wtf. This is infuriating.

              Also, not to devolve into a political rant, but the longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that Ronald Reagan is the reason for everything bad in the modern-day US (according to the article, he was the one who created this law, along with a lot of other policies that got rid of mental health and rehabilitation resources).

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                I’m still holding him liable for eliminating educational programming requirements for children’s TV on Saturday mornings. (That included Schoolhouse Rock among other gems)

              2. goddessoftransitory*

                Oh trust me, you are not at all alone in that opinion. When I see the GOP still drooling over Saint Ronnie I want to vomit.

              3. Phryne*

                Pretty sure it began before that. In Europe these systems were build in the 1950ies, on mildly socialist ideas. But the US had McCarthyism. Not saying European child protection systems are necessarily better, I don’t have that insight and I very much doubt it. (though in my country at least it does work on the principle that staying with family/reunification of families should always be the end goal of all intervention). More that although Reagan might have broken down what social system there was, it was never very solidly build in the first place.

            3. Observer*

              A lot of states charge parents whose kids are removed in order to pay for part of their support in foster care, garnishing their paychecks, etc.

              The worst of this is that the Feds actually *require* this in certain cases! And the states by and large do NOT want to do this. Not just because it’s insane, cruel, and utterly counter-productive. But because in *immediate* dollars and sense, it costs more to go after these pennies than they get back with all of this work. Who needs it?

              I think that there have been some changes in that, though in the last year or two.

          1. Princess Sparklepony*

            We did for a short time during the pandemic. Then the program sunsetted.

            It was great for a shining moment, so many families lifted out of poverty. (Although the official poverty line is so low that you can technically be above the line but you are still darned poor.)

    11. M*

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. While I’m absolutely sure that LW provided a safe caring home. Children are often taken away from parents for racist, classist reasons when a birth parent would be able to provide a loving home, especially with the aid given to foster parents.

      This is not saying that Amelia was correct in any way, and again, I doubt this is the case for LW. However, the adoption system in America can often be as traumatic as the foster system. For anyone I would look into stories of adult adoptees, especially those of trans-racial adoptees.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        Canada too. The Sixties Scoop is a widespread example of this – Indigenous children were taken from their families, and adopted by white families, from the 1050s to the 80s. This came after/alongside the residential school system.

    12. ArtsNerd*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if at least part of Amelia’s trauma is exacerbated by being forcibly separated from her bio family. Taking a child from their home and family of origin, even if it is unsafe, is a big effing deal. And usually those kids end up in a situation that isn’t any better, if not actively worse. So (one could argue) what even was the point of ripping them away from their family in the first place?

      And –getting more speculative here– by adopting out of the foster system, LW’s daughter is permanently removed from her bio family. LW almost certainly has more stability and other privileges than Amelia’s parents did in her youth, as well as LW’s daughter’s bio family. It can feel like the system is just taking poor kids to give them to rich parents, instead of actually giving the bio parents the resources they need to thrive.

    13. Irish Teacher*

      I’m guessing this isn’t about disapproval, but about it triggering some memories for her or her fearing it would, eg, fearing the LW might talk about her child’s experience of neglect or abuse which might bring back memories, that sort of thing.

      It is also possible she doesn’t think adopting the child and taking them out of foster care a good thing, as it breaks the link with the birth family. In Ireland, it only became possible to adopt children with living parent from Foster care after a referendum in 2012 and even now, it’s only allowed in certain cases and only by Foster carers who have been fostering the child long term. I’m not saying what is done in Ireland is the ideal and honestly, being neither a Foster child or having worked in the system, I am in no position to make any comments on how functional or otherwise the system is or the benefits of Foster care versus adoption, but just to point out that it’s not that uncommon for people to feel that in at least some cases, there are advantages to preserving the legal link to the birth family and if Amelia felt she would have been happier remaining with her birth family, I guess it’s possible she might feel that being adopted would have made her feel even more like she was taken from them.

      It still wouldn’t make her reaction rational as her circumstances as not the LW’s child’s nor is there any reason to assume that adoption is not in the child’s interests. And my guess is it’s more a case of “I don’t want to hear anything about fostering or adoption or trauma or social workers because they remind me of my past.”

    14. Cyndi*

      I know it’s a really common way to phrase it, but I wonder if it’s more accurate to represent foster-to-adopt not as “getting someone out of the system” but as “making the system’s effect on them permanent,” for better or for worse. To someone who had a traumatic experience in the foster system, adoption might not sound like a positive, but like a trap.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        In my country, a child who has been in the system for over 24 hours retains that status for up to six years – this includes preferential entry into and additional funding at state (ie public) schools. Regardless of the wealth (etc) of their permanent family, the law recognises that they have additional needs which persist even when their housing/care is stable.

    15. Mmm.*

      The goal of foster care is to keep kids safe until they can reunite with their families. For them to end up in an adoption situation means something is really not right. A lot of people who were in care hate hearing about those who were adopted from it, as they think the system failed.

      However, sometimes the parents failed. And that can be hard to hear about, too. I’ve seen the results of what happens in those cases, and it’s terribly painful.

      1. New Jack Karyn*

        My nephew was placed into foster care when his birth mother kept a home that was unsafe on many, many levels. He was with that foster family until my brother completed the state’s requirements to get custody.

        The foster family was good–they provided a safe, stable, and caring environment for my nephew to stabilize until joining my brother permanently.

    16. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Adoption overall is a surprisingly controversial topic. Even sometimes with people who were adopted from birth into great homes sometimes have trauma.

      There is a population that feel the foster system is so broken that adoption out of it is at best providing a shiny PR coating to a rotten core and at worst a system of classist human trafficking.

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        Unfortunately, what many people do not want to understand is that taking even very young children from their family is generally more damaging than even a pretty horrifying level of abuse.

        Our little social mammal brains do not do well losing our first attachment. So it’s a fraught choice to separate children even in a simple case of abusive parents and a genuinely great adoptive family who support their child in having a separate biological family. Which situation is not the norm.

        It’s all so sad, and so many people hate that what would make a huge impact is just giving people money. And not having a society where you can work 60 hours a week and barely afford to eat. Sigh.

  3. SansSerif*

    Here’s what I don’t get. You adopted someone from the foster system, which means you got them OUT of the system. You improved their lives. Isn’t that something that would have helped Amelia when she was younger, if she had a family get her out of the system and into a stable home? Why does she resent it when someone else gets out of the system? Does she assume every person in the foster system should be returned to their birth parents? I know she experienced trauma, but how can she not consider the many foster kids who are there because of a horrific family situation, and who would benefit from a stable family adopting them?

    1. Eliot Waugh*

      It doesn’t sound like it’s the case with Amelia, but because children are sometimes taken from their families for -ist (racist, classist, etc) reasons, sometimes the trauma comes from being in the system at all, regardless of the experiences of foster care itself.

      1. MsSolo (UK)*

        Yes, and foster-to-adopt can compound those issues, where children are placed with white families over their own relations (like the recent cases used to challenge the ICWA, which thankfully held up against them). As someone said above, Trauma isn’t rational, so Amelia’s experience and response may be entirely unrelated, but she’s probably more aware of the issue that people outside the system and it’s possible that foster-to-adopt may be specifically triggering to her.

    2. Maeve*

      Not all adoptive parents are good. Not all adoptive parents improve a child’s life. Not saying that applies to the OP specifically.

    3. Ally McBeal*

      My guess is that Amelia truly hasn’t thought through her response at all, ever – she’s just reacting emotionally as a result of the trauma she suffered within the system and is, to an extent, quite literally unable to think rationally or logically about OP’s decision. Trauma rewrites our brain chemistry and has all sorts of long-term effects.

      If only kids with severe trauma (such as family separation for any length of time) were entitled to free therapy for the rest of their lives…

    4. ThatGirl*

      See above, but it’s not quite as simple as “they’re out of the system and their life is better”.

    5. Generic Name*

      I just read an interesting long-form article on ProPublica about a set of birth parents who were struggling with addiction when their baby was born, the baby was removed from them at the hospital and placed in foster care. The couple completely turned their lives around and jumped through all the hoops CPS demanded they jump through, but they had a years long legal battle to get their child returned to them because the foster parents wanted to adopt the child. Even though the birth parents were willing and able and WANTED their child, they couldn’t simply get their child back. I’m not passing judgement on any of the players of that story (they all stated they wanted what was best for the child). My point is that adopting from foster care is a complicated topic, and it isn’t always in service of the child or their needs.

      1. Temperance*

        It’s important to note that the issues wrt this sort of thing are far, far more likely with infants/toddlers/young children. The parents in that story really did turn themselves around and should be commended. There are a ton of procedural issues at play in that state that are shocking and likely unconstitutional.

        When it comes to teens, they have to consent to the adoption. They’ve likely been in and out of the system for most of their lives; at least where I’m at, it’s very common for parents to lose custody, then get it back, and then lose it again a few years later. Those are the cases that aren’t quite as shocking from a facts perspective.

    6. Dahlia*

      “You adopted someone from the foster system, which means you got them OUT of the system. You improved their lives.”

      I’m not speaking against OP at all, but that is an incredibly rose-coloured way to look at it.

      1. feline outerwear catalog*

        It wasn’t Amelia’s choice to be fostered. She doesn’t “owe” the foster system anything.

    7. atalanta0jess*

      There are plenty of adoptees who don’t support this narrative. It’s more complex than this.

  4. WellRed*

    Whatever trauma she endured, I’m horrified that she wanted to, in a sense, deny the existence of your daughter.

    1. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*

      “I suffered. Therefore, others must suffer.”

      I’ve never understood that logic.

      1. Celeste*

        Reading the comments above, I don’t think it’s that simple. t sounds like there’s a decent chance that she felt the LW’s child suffered by being taken from her family and adopted. Even foster care success stories are often traumatic.

      2. Brown Tabby*

        I’m putting this argument on the high shelf until people stop overusing it. Read the discussions about Amelia’s situation and about the foster situation in general. We all appear to be in agreement that what Amelia did was wrong, but this is a misinterpretation of what appears to have happened.

    2. duinath*

      i’m horrified that a person who thinks it’s okay to act like this has contact with students. …actually i’m horrified she thinks it’s okay to act like this at all. this is extremely messed up and unfair, op.

    3. Trippedamean*

      That’s making a lot of unfair assumptions about a person we know next to nothing about. Being a person who could have ended up in Amelia’s place (even told a teacher about the abuse!) but somehow didn’t end up in the foster care system, I have nothing but sympathy for her. I have talked to enough former foster kids to know that while my situation was far from ideal, it’s better than a lot of foster kids get. Plus, having plenty of trauma myself, I know how difficult it can be to hear about things that are good for someone else that you never got yourself. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want other people to have those things. It means every time I hear about them, I have to deal with the overwhelming pain and sadness of not having them for reasons I will never understand.

      1. duinath*

        i don’t think her motives are as important as her actions. and i think her actions are awful. if you want to stop being friends with someone that is your choice, and not something i’ll think less of you for, but when you neglect your job and punish your subordinates for no apparent reason i will think less of you.

        1. Trippedamean*

          There is a reason, though. Just because it isn’t a reason that makes sense to you doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.

          What you don’t seem to recognize is that dealing with emotions appropriately is a skill that kids have to be taught. Trauma often means having that part of our education on how to be a human being was neglected and/or distorted. Then we get dumped into the wider world as adults, where we’re expected to know skills we were never taught and have no support for. I’m not saying that Amelia handled this appropriately at all, but that she deserves some compassion in this situation too.

          1. duinath*

            it does make sense to me. and sure, feeling that way can well be valid. but that in no way excuses her actions, nor does it explain them, really. bad things happening to you does not make it okay to do bad things. i don’t feel compassionate to her in this situation because the only person doing bad things here is amelia. you don’t have to agree with me, but that’s where i’m at.

  5. summerofdiscontent*

    I’m going to guess she became extremely activated just thinking about the foster care system, which tells me she may have had a VERY rough go of it. Her way of dealing with it was to displace the trauma/grief of her experience onto the OP and then actively avoid her. Not that this makes her treatment of OP okay, but she must have a huge amount of trauma locked in her body that she works very hard to keep at bay.

    As a clinician who works with a lot of children in foster care, it’s an extremely imperfect system that doesn’t really understand how to support the biological families in finding true stability or the depth of the trauma experienced by the children, which can result in acting out behaviors, unprepared foster parents, biological parents who are barely treading water as it is, and a series of disrupted placements which then just increase all the aforementioned issues. I hope OP was able to disrupt that cycle for their teenager- older children especially have it rough if they keep getting bounced from home to home because they’re less likely to be adopted.

    This doesn’t excuse her boss’s behavior towards her, but I hope it adds a little context to what may have been happening with her. The impact of this kind of trauma, without the additional relational health and support, can be globally devastating to a person’s development. And it can be a looooong road towards healing. I hope she has found support and community along the way.

    And OP- I hope your child is thriving! Thank you for giving them a home.

  6. LaFramboise the academic librarian*

    I would just like to comment on the job-related issues here, as I have no experience with the foster system and don’t want to speculate. Trauma is trauma, it just happens to be centered around a particular issue for this OP and her boss.

    However I do have experience in higher education as a department chair who has faculty who are in charge of tutors. Of course, every college/university is different. However, Amelia as a supervisor should have been required to give reviews of all her tutors. If she ignored all of her tutors for YEARS, then the system at your then-institution was inefficient and inept to the core. Supervisors are in charge of training tutors to national standards (and that is nothing new, so the date that this incidence happened shouldn’t matter) as well as discussing schedules, sick time, policies and procedures. Did no one else do that for you and all the tutors were expected to flounder on their own? That’s really unconscionable on Amelia’s and HER supervisor’s part. Also, most academic areas, even those who aren’t classroom based, have to assess learning and that involves working with tutors and students directly and then coming back with results to discuss areas of improvement overall. So OP, even if you had gone to HR/Amelia’s supervisor, I’m not sure that the outcome would have been sustained change. But that’s just based on what info we have from your letter.

    I’m super sorry that all of this happened to you. I use Gwen Goodnight’s “If you can’t be a good example, you’ll just have to be a horrible warning” (Jennifer Crusie, Faking It) aphorism quite a lot when it comes to how I measure plans of action for future reference. Amelia was your horrible warning, and now you know what to do if this should, G-d forbid, happen again.

    1. OP*

      OP again. Thank you for this.

      I have a lot to say about the foster care system and don’t want to do it here.

      But, yeah, my impression is that Amelia did also get a whole bunch of other responsibilities around this time, and she just focussed on those.

      The person in charge of our program (Big Boss in a way) touched based with us once in a while but part of the problem was that… we didn’t flounder. The tutors just picked up all the slack and did an amazing job. And everyone knew it. We got lots of compliments but never any raises or resources.

      As for training: I, actually, was the one who trained all new tutors, because my boss asked me to.

      In eight years, I did have one problem with another tutor who I thought was not treating me respectfully or being professional with students (mentioned in the letter), and Amelia came in at my request to try to sort things out between the two of us. We had one meeting that didn’t go very well, and then that other tutor just refused to speak to me until she got another job a couple months later.

      One other time I had an email conflict with a different tutor which Ameila was aware of, but that tutor and I sorted that out quickly and independently.

      Other than that, over eight years, I had excellent relationships with students and all other tutors, and the faculty and administrators in our small program looked to me often to collaborate (often on things outside of my purview, but I was always happy to help).

      I think because of that one thing with that one tutor I really let this destroy my confidence for a long time. I felt like I… maybe wasn’t good at working with other people… even though I’ve had a seventeen year career in various roles in higher ed working with all different kinds of folks

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Please recognize that you did a really good job – without leadership or resources – and that there will be the occasional interpersonal conflict that just happens. Ie. not a reflection on you. You acted very appropriately to request support, the one time you needed it. You clearly have at least average conflict resolution skills, given your other situation. The fact that you requested your manager’s support with a single issue in the 8 years you were in the role should NOT have been held against you.

        I can understand that Amelia wasn’t able to be a manager to you and your team. If that was the case, though, she had a professional and ethical obligation to inform her own manager and to request reassignment. She chose not to do that, and instead made her issue the problem of the entire department and the student population that the dept served. That’s just wrong. And then, she acted punitively towards you – after not actually managing you or providing coaching, guidance and development for YEARS, and despite the fact that your department seems to have functioned quite well under YOUR leadership, she refused to provide a reference. I can only see that as a personal slight, based on her objection to you adopting your daughter from the foster system. Regardless of her personal experience, that was highly unprofessional and unethical of her.

        Also as a sidebar, I have a sister and brother-in-law who are foster parents. Sure, there are many problems with the foster system. But 2 of the babies they’ve fostered would have died of neglect without it. Their latest baby – the social worker had to call the SPCA because the cats in the home were starving.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          And that the rest of the apparatus supervising this office were A) happy to ignore eight years of neglect since the tutors picked up the slack while B) not rewarding or even noting those employees with raises, promotions, or any kind of professional recognition tells me that the problems in this workplace went way, way beyond Amelia. That’s inflicting permanent harm on people’s ability to make a living.

      2. Smithy*

        To reiterate OP, this kind of treatment at work isn’t right and is not your fault.

        While I don’t have experience in academia, I do in nonprofits – and all I can say is that how you write about more junior staff stepping up to fill in for a supervisor or senior manager not resourcing or managing a department is unfortunately really common. Due to a love of the work and caring about the larger mission, this is also work that people are very willing to do short to medium term.

        I think it can be really difficult to step back and realize that under whatever circumstances – either a supervisor managing poorly due to unprofessional reasons or managing poorly due to being stretched too thin – at some point, it can be incredibly important to our own ability to have a long career doing our jobs or working for mission-based employers, to hold them accountable when they are being bad employers. This can mean speaking up, but honestly – more often it just means leaving so we can grow our own careers elsewhere.

        Yes, Amelia dropped the ball, but Amelia’s boss also dropped the ball massively. And the fact that the larger institution didn’t catch this for years, is another ball drop.

      3. ArtsNerd*

        Sorry, yes the adoption discussion is overshadowing the work discussion.

        I was in a situation years ago where my department’s director just ghosted everyone for years. (He did get through his crisis and ended up thriving in another role.)

        In the meantime, my coworker and I just… picked up all the slack. I was doing work several levels above my paygrade in addition to my main role and absorbing a lower level one. Our colleagues in the Big Boss’ office did everything in their power to keep us off of his radar, in a well-intentioned attempt to protect us from him. It wasn’t ok. None of it.

        The turning point was a while after we got through to the Big Boss (yes he was terrible), and he eventually got bored all of our “needs.” He hired a consultant who basically just looked at us, horrified, and said “your problem is that you didn’t let this fail. You need to stop making it work because it is going to kill you.” It was the first time I learned that not only was it not my responsibility to always keep things going as smoothly as possible, it was objectively the wrong thing to do in some scenarios.

        My next job had a lot more failing in it, and my bosses weren’t nearly as shielded from the consequences of their poor decisions. They just shrugged and we moved forward to the next decisions that may or may not fail. The COO was caustic and didn’t give a damn if she got along with staff or customers. Sometimes, she was right — some of those people weren’t always worth her time or energy. Even when she was just being an ass, no one in management seemed to think she needed to be making friends. As for operations? “Running smoothly” was like, 5th on the list of priorities, below “making some kind of profit” and “following management’s whims.”

        I would never run a business or manage staff the way they did, but the examples they set did a lot to help me unlearn some toxic people-pleasing behaviors I’d acquired from childhood trauma. They fucked things up and were… fine. Even when the fallout affected, my reputation remained stellar because everyone could see that *the problems with the company were not mine to fix*.

        I’m wondering if you have something similar going on–a perceived responsibility to make everything smooth and successful that makes the conflicts you weren’t able to resolve hang over you more than they need to?

      4. Zarniwoop*

        Sounds like you were doing most of your boss’s job in addition to your own, and doing it well, for no extra pay. Intentionally or not the institution exploited you.

      5. RetiredAcademicLibrarian*

        I suspect this tutor you had problems with is where Amelia got her doesn’t work well others impression, especially if that was pretty much the only face to face interaction she had with you in years.

      6. Bookmark*

        OP, it is super clear from everything you’ve written, your empathy for Amelia even in a situation where you’re being mistreated, how you’ve responded in the comments, and from the fact that the program didn’t fall apart while you were doing two jobs at once, that you are definitely good at working with other people.

      7. LaFramboise the academic librarian*

        I feel like you were amazing and handled everything so well. I’m sorry it took a toll and I very much how you’re in a better place.

      8. Irish Teacher*

        I really don’t think there is anything here to suggest you weren’t good at working with other people. My guess is that subconsciously, Amelia latched onto that conflict with that other tutor as a way of defending her own actions. I think she sort of rewrote history as “I couldn’t work with LW and LW also had a conflict with a tutor. Clearly, LW is hard to work with and it’s not my fault I avoided her. If she’d been a more approachable person, I’d have been able to face her and feel safe that she wouldn’t say anything to trigger me.”

        I doubt there’s much truth in that, but my suspicion is that she may never have intended to avoid everybody permanently. I’m guessing it was like the kid who skips school once because he hasn’t done his homework or he is scared of a bully. Then the next day, he realises that problem still exists and he’s now likely to get in trouble for skipping school, so he skips again. Then after a while, he’s worried both about how much trouble he’ll be in for missing school and that he won’t understand what is going on in class because he has missed so much, so he has even more reason to skip.

        I suspect it was just a case of “I can’t handle hearing about LW adopting. I’ll focus on the other parts of my work until the child is settled and it’s less likely to be a major focus of conversation” and then she kept putting it off and then she got caught up in the other parts of her work and also felt that she couldn’t face you all after having avoided her responsibilities for so long. When she did come in, it probably felt awkward and the job was hard because she had no context, so she had even more reason to avoid it.

        And it’s possible she came to resent you and blame you for the awkwardness, even though that is illogical and then that conflict allowed her to convince herself, “somebody else had a problem with LW too. It’s not my fault things escalated so much or at least not just my fault. She could have done something to make me feel more comfortable.”

    2. Ink*

      This is a great point, on the less eye-catching side. Tutors for that level can get…weird… even with an engaged boss. SOMEONE had a complaint over the course of those years- what happened to them? Wtf was supposed to happen with a couple dozen different issues that could’ve popped up for the tutors? She had no idea what was going on!

  7. sagc*

    Honestly, even apart from the particulars of Amelia’s situation, this sounds like a wildly hands-off workplace if there wasn’t someone noticing that Amelia was basically abdicating one entire portion of her job. That should be visible to her boss, to other people in the organization, and I’d hope that in most places there’d be *some* sort of skip-level person you’d be able to clue in.

    The idea that you don’t interact with *anyone* from your organization for the entire academic year plus all of the above makes it sound like an incredibly siloed workplace, or under-recognized department.

    1. Bumblebee*

      Yes, that is bananas. I supervise a number of departments at my institution, and when one needs extra attention sometimes I need a different one to just sort of tick along by itself for a little while, but even then I feel guilty if I don’t physically drop in for a week or so. Ignoring them for years is not even doable. I can’t imagine how she got away with this.

  8. Momma Bear*

    I can appreciate that Amelia’s experience was deeply traumatic and that this adoption was triggering for her. However, as it pertains to the office, her behavior was not justifiable. She abdicated her post for years, and then refused to provide a reference for someone, suddenly claiming that person didn’t work well with others. Amelia needed to be a better manager, get out of officially managing that person, and/or seek therapy. I agree that OP should have raised a flag with Amelia’s boss, but hindsight is 20/20.

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      Yeah, this falls firmly into my box of ‘trauma might be an explanation, but it still isn’t an excuse’.

    2. goddessoftransitory*

      Frankly it sounds like her boss was just fine with it. The OP was cheated not only out of a good reference but years of deserved raises and promotions thanks to this “hands off” approach.

  9. Rachel*

    It’s very easy to criticize the existing foster care system.

    Alison has worked as a foster parent so I accept this criticism and think it’s a really useful perspective.

    People who want to criticize the system but are unwilling to foster, work as a social worker, or provide concrete examples of ways to overhaul the system are blowhards.

    If you want the system to change but your taxes to stay the same or decrease, I have some bad news for you.

    1. MicroManagered*

      This comment is really unfair.

      I don’t think one needs to be willing to foster* or change to a notoriously overworked/underpaid career to speak honestly about flaws in the foster care system.

      *if you were talking about willingness to be a biological parent, it would be really clear why this isn’t ok… not everyone wants to be a parent — any kind of parent.

      1. Rachel*

        I think criticizing in the form of giving specific, concrete suggestions to change the system is fine.

        Railing against a system without working to change it or thinking about what specifically needs to change is not doing anything, but it makes people feel righteous and productive.

        1. Cyndi*

          I think, in a lot of contexts, a “don’t bring up problems unless you already have a solution” attitude is often a great way to ensure that problems never get pointed out or solved at all.

          1. Wonder Woman's Tiara*


            I have the maternal instincts of a dazed flea and would be a HORRIBLE parent, foster or otherwise, but I can recognise the racism, classism etc. in the system when I see it!

          2. Rachel*

            The flip side of this is that bringing up problems without a solution creates a culture of keyboard warriors.

            Constructive criticism of this field, particularly from people who work or volunteer in it, is fantastic.

            A bunch of people on The Internet saying how much something sucks is not as helpful as they probably think it is.

            1. Celeste*

              I don’t think anyone here thinks they’re changing the system today by talking about it in a comment section (but even if they had ideas for concrete solutions, who are you suggesting they should offer them to?). A lot of us are learning more about the system from reading these comments, and I think that is helpful and constructive. Someone might learn more and be motivated to try to gain the knowledge, education, experience, and position it would take to be able to help improve the system. People don’t find solutions unless they know there’s a problem.

        2. fhqwhgads*

          You’re acting as though individuals can change a systemic problem. For most of us, speaking out, saying outloud “this system is tremendously broken” is about all we can do. OK, go call your governor’s office and say “this system is tremendously broken” and try to get it fixed in your state. Or call your senator and say the feds need to come up with a better system. But this is not the sort of thing one person – or several individuals- can do anything about. If there were an alternative solution easily enacted, someone could say it, and explain how it’s plausible and we could all rally behind that. But expecting ANYONE or EVERYONE to be able to come up with that solution or else keep quiet is tremendously unhelpful.

    2. Hiring Mgr*

      I don’t know anything about the foster care system but disagree with the premise that you have to be willing to do all those things to criticize it.

      Also, that doesn’t really have anything to do with the question – the trigger here was the foster system but the main point (imo) is that the boss basically didn’t talk to an employee for 5 years

    3. Temperance*

      I think that there are many, many changes that need to happen – and I hold the opinion that infant adoption is very often government-sanctioned human trafficking – but I think a lot of people who are removed from the system and this work generally are largely ignorant of the realities of the lives of these kids and families.

      I’ve volunteer with an org that works with kids in the dependency system. The things that these kids have experienced and been exposed to by their families frankly shocks the conscience. Sometimes it is just poverty, and these families are subject to much more surveillance than middle class people. But often, it’s stuff like mom dating a sex offender and grandma letting mom come over whenever even though she chose the boyfriend over her kids. Or a parent in active addiction, with untreated mental health issues that they aren’t going to address, etc.

    4. Dahlia*

      I think Elon Musk is actively trying to end the world, but there’s not a whole lot I personally can do to stop him. That doesn’t mean I can’t criticize him or the systems that allow him to thrive.

    5. metadata minion*

      I think that giving birth parents the same resources foster parents are given would be a great start, but I also recognize that it is a hideously complicated situation that I’m not qualified to come up with solutions for. I also recognize that putting a traumatized child in my care would be a terrible idea for both me and the child if we’re talking more than an extremely short-term situation.

    6. Observer*

      People who want to criticize the system but are unwilling to foster, work as a social worker, or provide concrete examples of ways to overhaul the system are blowhards.

      That’s not true. Not about the foster care system, nor about many of the other systems that we protest about.

      Why do you want to shut down criticism of the foster care system? The more *credible, factual, and reasonable* criticism there is, the more likely it is that people will be willing to expend effort and resources to make some changes. It’s happened in the past, and it can happen again. But ONLY if the facts can be discussed. And that is really only possible when we don’t limit who is “allowed” to criticize.

      If you want the system to change but your taxes to stay the same or decrease, I have some bad news for you.

      That’s a separate argument. And not everyone criticizing is dead set against the level of taxes we are paying.

      But in fact, some of the changes we need to see (or see more of) don’t actually cost anything. Like giving priority in placement to extended family and / or families within the same community that a child comes from. Or making sure that the criteria used for any and all of the decisions being made are not *ist in some way (racist, classist, etc.)

      And many of the other changes are more complicated fiscally. Like it may cost some more money to give parents access to certain resources. But if it means that fewer kids wind up being placed with paid foster families or in homes, that’s a major savings right there. So, if you look at the whole picture it’s not so simple.

      1. Flat Margaret*

        For what it’s worth, as someone who is a social worker, priority in placement is most definitely given to extended family. There are not enough foster parents for children coming into the system–this is why many are placed in group homes. If there is a suitable, willing relative or close connection, it is far and away the preference for the child to be placed with them.

        1. Observer*

          For what it’s worth, as someone who is a social worker, priority in placement is most definitely given to extended family.

          In theory. We do know, though, that *in practice*, not so much in many types of situations. And I’m not talking about the situations where the extended family is part of the problem.

          Having said that, this is definitely an improvement over the past when certain “types” were routinely taken away from their wider family and communities. And this was deliberate, in many cases. ICWA was necessary and a good thing, but the abuse and underlying attitudes it addressed were not unique to Native Americans. If the parents were of the “wrong” background, it was seen as a GOOD thing to take the child away from that community. At least now, there is a real chance that the system will genuinely look for family placement.

          It’s also proof that things can change for the better. And every baby step is still a step in the right direction.

    7. musical chairs*

      I’m not so sure: it’s really tough to see even social workers, licensed therapists, etc, as an unmitigated good, when they still function as agents of the state. they have professional mandates and incentives that can often run counter to to the protection of marginalized communities. They can have really harmful blind spots and inadequate training or support to overcome them. I have friends in these profession, who I respect greatly, who absolutely have learning to do when it comes to race and class. Some of the things that even read social workers (albeit, self proclaimed) say on this site (that leans towards generally progressive values) have given me deep pause.

      Even when they’re doing really hard, largely valuable, really under-resourced work, I have to assume that at the end of the day, as a Black person, I can’t completely trust those in the licensed, institutionalized helping professions, because of how their training and probable decision making intersect with extant sexism, classism and racism in their institutions in the larger world

      I work in an obliquely state funded, public-serving, licensed profession as well. It’s something I think about all the time—how you can mean so well, and do your research, and try so hard, but your hands are tied and your training insufficient against long-standing, history of violence against and lack of investment in marginalized communities. That doesn’t even include the people who don’t know well enough to try.

      I just wouldn’t be so naïve about how many ways are there to help or how often raising the issues from outside the institution can be just as valuable, if not more so, than trying to change it from inside.

    8. ccsquared*

      I’m in favor of the “don’t criticize if you don’t lend a hand” maxim in families, teams, clubs, or other small groups of humans where if people don’t like what’s on offer, their efforts can actually succeed in changing it, but I don’t think it applies to government functions in a complex society that we are forced to tacitly fund and support regardless of if we think they are good ideas or not. And in some ways, active participation creates its own blindspots that questions or critiques from naive outsiders can help overcome.

  10. Single Parent Barbie*

    I don’t want to get in the adoption/foster discussion.

    We do have a saying in my family however Your trigger is not an excuse to treat people poorly.

    For five years Amelia did not just treat her team poorly due to trauma she basically abdicated her responsibility to them.

    I understand trauma. I understand severe trauma. Having worked in higher ed as both faculty and in administration, I agree there is poor checks and balances. But the resources that are available in terms of EAP and other services I found to be amazing. Use your tools!

    OP you have every reason to not feel right about this.

    (BTW EAP! I tell everyone. It is the most underused resource employers provide.)

      1. BecauseHigherEd*

        In defense of Amelia…we don’t necessarily know what kind of research university this was, but the culture difference between a Public Ivy and, say, a Carnegie R1 Research university that is also a Minority Serving Institution is pretty wide. I work at an R1 that attracts many wealthy students and (faculty/staff from monied backgrounds), and even though I come from a very non-traumatic middle class background I have still gotten comments like, “Oh, I’ve never met someone from [my home state, which has few college educated adults]” or “Where did your parents go to college?…Oh, your father didn’t go, you say? Ohhhhh…” If Amelia was in that sort of environment, I can imagine there may be some shame and embarrassment about using the company EAP, especially if it’s for trauma related to an upbringing in foster care.

          1. BubbleTea*

            It’s not hard to imagine that experiencing trauma as a child might make someone unwilling to trust strangers saying something is confidential. I was lied to as a child (charitable interpretation is that the adult was careless when promising not to tell anyone what I said, without knowing that I was going to say something she was mandated to report) and it took a long time before I could take a nuanced view of purported confidentiality.

    1. atalanta0jess*

      It’s worth noting that for people who have significant mental health issues including trauma reactions, the solution is not always as simple as “just get help.” Five sessions with an EAP therapist don’t wipe away that kind of hurt. It can be really invalidating to act like seeking help is always the solution, because sometimes folks seek help, engage in help….and still struggle mightily.

      The fact that she was having a big and work-inappropriate reaction does not in any way imply that she wasn’t getting help already.

      1. Celeste*

        Thank you so much for saying this! Well put.
        People often assume that people who are struggling haven’t worked on solving their problems using all the resources they have available, but the truth is some kinds of problems can’t be fully solved the way we’d like.

  11. Katrina*

    I really feel for Amelia here; it’s heartbreaking the level of emotional baggage she had to be carrying around to make that effort every work day for FIVE years to avoid what she perceived as a painful situation. And it’s possible, if not likely, all that avoidance only compounded her struggles.

    It still sucks for OP and isn’t fair that her career was hurt through no fault of her own. It was on Amelia to recognize that if she truly couldn’t be in the room with OP, that was something she needed to get help on.

    OP, you sound like a compassionate person. Like Allison said, it’s okay to acknowledge you were wronged while still feeling sympathy for the person that wronged you. Even if it wasn’t discrimination in the legal sense, it was an unfair judgment against you that caused you harm, and it wasn’t right. I’m sorry this happened, and I’m glad you’ve got a better job now.

  12. Je ne sais what*

    Given the higher ed context, I’m inclined to think it’s a combination of feeling empowered to lay down a boundary (she obviously didn’t do it well or efficiently, just speaking to her perspective) around a system that is dysfunctional and riddled with bad actors, combined with her own trauma. Higher Ed these days is great in that students are constantly mobilizing to advocate for systems they find reprehensible, but I’ve found that some of us who work in that bubble forget that the rest of the world and our work relationships don’t always work the way the students are constantly telling us it *should* work.

    I work in higher ed, in a student-facing non-faculty position. I am constantly reminded of how amazing college students are at rooting out systems and issues that are dysfunctional and just shouldn’t be around. But I constantly find myself having to explain to those same students that my department doesn’t have the money or staff or whatever to make the thing they think *should* exist happen, and we have to work within the existing system sometimes. That outlook rubs off on all of us sometimes, which is great! But also leads to this kind of dysfunction. It’s awful.

    I’m also the white adoptive sibling of a former biracial foster kid. She came to live with us when she was 2, and we adopted her when she was about 5. My parents did a lot of things right; they consented to the open adoption, made space in our life for her bio family, tried to form connections with families of color so that she could have black role models, etc. But they also messed up sometimes. And nothing our family could ever do could make up for the fact that she was severely traumatized by her birth parents and the foster system for the first few years of her life. She was also constantly confronted by the fact that her white half-sibling found a home with her extended bio family, and she didn’t. She had no contact with the black side of her family, and constantly struggled with her identity as a black woman. I would say she is considered a successful adoption story, adopted by an upper middle class family with lots of opportunities and who adopted with the intention of providing care until reunification was possible, only adopting when it became clear that wouldn’t be possible. But she still struggles every day with the trauma of that. I’m betting Amelia’s story here is way worse, and her trauma is extensive. She didn’t handle this well, but I’m betting she was in an extraordinary amount of pain to react this way.

    You didn’t deserve this treatment, though, OP! Just want to reiterate that adoption “success” stories are complex and activate a lot of things for different folks. They’re not just a happily ever after thing, no matter how desperately we all want to believe it.

  13. Delta Delta*

    I am a lawyer and I do a ton of child and parent representation (and some foster parent representation) in foster care-related cases. From my seat, I’ll observe a few things:

    Amelia likely has significant foster care trauma. However, OP didn’t adopt a child AT her. OP is a lot of things – an employee, a co-worker, a friend, and an adoptive parent. If Amelia’s own foster experience was so traumatic that she can’t be around someone who chooses to foster and adopt, that is an issue Amelia needs to work on, not OP. It might be that Amelia was advised by her own therapist to avoid OP for whatever therapeutic reason. This doesn’t make her treatment of OP professional or appropriate, but it may be an explanation. And please, everyone, stop with “the kids are better off being adopted.” That’s sometimes the case, but not always the case, and there are times when foster adoptions, sadly, fall apart. That is very difficult for everyone involved.

    I think OP is best off having a recommendation from the higher-up, and choosing to extend Amelia whatever grace she needs to keep going. But leave her out of any professional dealings forever.

    1. BecauseHigherEd*

      And please, everyone, stop with “the kids are better off being adopted.” That’s sometimes the case, but not always the case, and there are times when foster adoptions, sadly, fall apart. — Yes. Plus, what if you were a kid who aged out of the foster care system and was never adopted? I can understand why it may be painful to hear a seemingly happy story about foster care adoption if you never had that chance.

      I think it’s a good observation that Amelia’s therapist probably advised her not to talk to OP–this does actually sound like one of those scenarios where a therapist gives advice that isn’t practical in the workplace because a) the client misrepresented information (ex. “Oh, I don’t REALLY have to interact with OP that much.” “Well, then, why not just avoid them at work?) or b) the therapist has only ever worked in therapy (ex. “I don’t like Fergus, the therapist down the hall, but it’s easy to avoid him because we both just rent space in this building–why don’t you try that with your coworker?”)

  14. PB Bunny Watson*

    To be honest, Amelia absolutely should have said no to giving a reference because she didn’t see the OP enough to be able to give any kind of useful information at that point. Of course, since that was because Amelia just dropped part of her job, it’s still not okay. But offering up a negative reason is confusing, unless Amelia was just relying too much on what others conveyed.

    1. anon_s*

      Yeah, that’s really the only thing my brain can process here. Why did OP even ask Amelia for a recommendation after all this when she could get one from someone else (and she did)? Maybe I’m a bleeding heart, too, but OP coming at it at the end by saying was this illegal discrimination (vis-à-vis being a parent) also didn’t sit right with me. OP knows exactly what Amelia’s problem is and it’s not OP’s status as a parent (“She told me outright that she couldn’t spend any more time with me because hearing about my adoption process or even just the fact of my daughter was too difficult for her. I respected that.”) – it felt bad faith and like OP was in their feelings about this as they wrote this letter. I have to repeat, I am really confused why OP would even ask Amelia when she could ask her Big Boss — who also wouldn’t know much about her work, too, since it seems they never saw other adults as a norm. I assume Big Boss when off student feedback surveys because what else are they going off of? What did OP expect Amelia to go off of?

      I wanna be clear, Amelia is in the WRONG, but Amelia was honest at the very least about why she didn’t wanna see OP. This should have been handled via appropriate work channels – you are expected to be polite with your coworkers even if you don’t like them anymore. By OP’s own admission, she barely saw Amelia before. I am also curious why OP didn’t consult with their mutual close friend at any time.

      I dunno. This situation seems very straightforward. It’s unfortunate to lose a friend for something that has otherwise brought you joy, but Amelia clearly has a lot of things to work through. It’s not your fault, OP, and Amelia’s reaction to the adoption is her own & not reflective of anything except her own views. But at the same time, this letter doesn’t make sense to me in a lot of ways.

  15. BecauseHigherEd*

    Omg, that’s awful on so many levels. To be honest, to me this highlights that Amelia must have endured something pretty awful and hadn’t yet started to process it. If you had a time machine, I think the way to handle this would have been to go back to talk to Big Boss about what was happening–even in a more compassionate way, such as, “Ever since I mentioned my adopting a foster youth to Amelia, she has completely shut me out, which she says is because she does not want to discuss her own experiences in foster care. I respect that completely, but I’m worried that now it’s impacting our ability to help our students effectively [insert examples]. What do you advise?”

  16. The Wizard Rincewind*

    All I can think is, there’s a better-than-even chance that some of the students or coworkers have a background as a foster child or adoptee. As a hypothetical, what would Amelia do if she learned that OP was also a former foster child? I’m sympathetic to the trauma of the foster system (and how that trauma is lifelong and not something one “gets over” or goes away with time, depending on what Amelia experienced) but her refusal to interact with anyone related to the foster system is eventually going to become a very visible problem, even if it remained invisible during OP’s tenure.

    1. Kate B.*

      I don’t think this is a fair extrapolation. Children do not make an active choice to participate in the foster care system.

    2. anon_s*

      There is nothing to indicate she refuses to interact with anyone related to the foster system. The only example we have is to foster parents, which is what OP was, or those who adopt from the system, which OP did.

      Amelia’s actions are bad enough already; there is no need to make-up additional details to make the problem seem bigger. The behavior presented, to even just this one group (foster and adoptive parents), is not remotely ok.

  17. Lilo*

    It is understandable to have trauma. It is not acceptable to take that trauma out on someone who had done nothing wrong. I definitely would have spoken to her supervisor because her behavior was ridiculous, particularly in refusing you a reference. I’d also be very concerned about how she’d behave if you had a student who was a foster care graduate or adoptee as well.

  18. Ink*

    It’s not clear how much Amelia interacted with students as part of her job, but… former foster kids go to college. With every variation of how time in the system can end. You’d hope her own experience would make her uniquely able to relate, but if this is her reaction to a *parent*… well, I hope she’s a mathematician or something, not in an area of the humanities where a past in the system might be more likely to come up as part of an assignment. It sucks that this happened, to every person involved and on every level

    1. anon_s*

      It is completely reasonable to assume that Amelia’s actions are localized to the idea that LW was ever a foster parent or the topic of adoption itself. Adoption seem to be the trigger here (although I am not sure how Amelia had never realized LW was a foster parent, since that’s the first step…they don’t just give you a kid).

      It’s not reasonable to assume that she will shut down people who are also foster kids. As someone said above, the children themselves are not active participants in this system and I think Amelia knows this very well. Her behavior to LW was not okay, but you making it out as if she’s somehow going to do this to people with the same shared experience make absolutely no sense.

  19. Sparkles McFadden*

    It’s not you, OP. You just had a troubled boss who decided to abdicate part of her responsibilities. Y’all just picked up all of the balls she dropped and went about your business doing good work. The “you don’t work well with others” comment was likely just Amelia being angry and throwing a random comment at you. She should have just said no, but at least she didn’t say yes and trash you to potential employers. You just have to accept that all things Amelia-related are going to remain unknowable mysteries.

    Also, there are departments all over the place that are running like this. Everything is just working well and the higher ups get to ignore your department. This should not be the case, but it really happens much more often than many people realize. Yes, management should be checking in, but if you have data readily available and you send regular updates about what’s going on, that’s good enough for them. I once went eight years without any kind of review in a company that mandated reviews. I just emailed my boss (who called in sick like 50 days a year) and grandboss an end-of-year list of my accomplishments along with a raise request and a request for classes I wanted to take. My grandboss would reply something like “Sounds good” and I have no idea if my boss ever read any of it. I liked the work and I got most of what I requested, so there was no reason to do anything but keep working. I never asked that boss for a recommendation. I did ask the grandboss, though, and he was a great reference.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for this. I do think it happens more often than a lot of folks think. And to be fair, we were given a faculty “liaison” who was clear he was not our boss but who communicated information back and forth between the director and us after semi-regular half-hour meetings with a couple of us.

  20. seespotbitejane*

    Re: the bad reference, that was *years* later. So it may not have been consciously punitive so much as Amelia had been sitting around in her bad feelings about OP for a long time. In the beginning she was probably aware this was an Amelia problem not an OP problem but after a while your brain is going to start going “this person makes me feel bad so *they* must be bad.”

    1. OP*

      I think this might be the case, but I also think that because she had only interacted with me on maybe four occasions for the past years, and the big one was when there was a conflict, the conflict seemed really big and important in her mind.

      I also think that, because that was the reason she gave me, it ended up seeming to big to me in the end.

      One other poster asked why I would even ask her for a reference when I could get one from the Director, and the answer is: because she was my boss. I figured it would be good to get a recommendation from the person in charge of the center I worked for, and it didn’t occur to me that this would be the outcome.

  21. Minerva*

    Alison – I am glad you are in the comments giving your perspective as a foster parent and someone who knows the system from the inside, as well as the concerns.

    It really does sound like a situation where Amelia’s trauma can be understood while still understanding that she was wrong to project that on the OP who was attempting to do a good thing, hopefully for a kid who was all about the adoption.

  22. Kelly White*

    Hi OP-

    My spouse & I also adopted a teen. It’s not an easy road, and the system totally sucks. But I just wanted to give you a shout out, because sometimes I feel like there is a lot of focus on littler kids.

  23. Georgia Sands*

    I wonder if Amelia is under the impression that OP is one of the “bad” unethical adopters/ foster parents? It’s the only thing I can think of that would explain not just the withdrawing but the bad reference too. It’s very easy to perhaps make a comment that meant nothing but may have been interpreted negatively, particularly if OP maybe talked about adoption before she knew very much about it (as would be perfectly natural). It might just have been easier for Amelia to say “I can’t deal with this at all” rather criticise something specific OP said. Otherwise it just seems like too a disproportionate a reaction to me.

    Of course, that doesn’t change the advice given: presuming OP is an ethical adopter (as much as it’s possible to be in an unethical system, anyway): it’s not fair and you deserve better, as Alison said.

    1. anon_s*

      This is my assumption. Maybe LW was talking about fostering and adoption with coworkers in a way that made it sound like a positive, happy experience — and once triggered, it’s easy to stop hearing the “for me and my situation” aspect of the conversation. Even if she didn’t stop hearing it, Amelia may simply not see adoption was not being a joyous thing. This is an actual view of some adoptees, but some of the replies in this thread may not understand this is more complicated because a lot of people are saying “but LW !!saved!! this child,” when that’s point-blank not how some adoptees or former foster kids would reflect on that outcome.

      Amelia’s reaction was really wrong in a professional context, but people in this thread painting her as an evil, rotten person for having this kind of trauma is off-putting. It doesn’t even sound like LW was very harmed by this professionally — she barely saw Amelia or any of her coworker’s anyway & it looks like there was a path of no resistance letter of recommendation from the Big Boss. She lost a friend over something she didn’t understand and that’s it’s own set of hurt though.

      1. Kfish*

        No one is painting Amelia as an ‘evil, rotten person’ here. People are bending over backwards in this thread to offer her sympathy for her trauma. They are condemning her professional behaviour, which was unacceptable.

        LW could have been deeply harmed by Amelia’s refusal to provide a reference, especially in academia. Getting a letter from her boss’s boss was not a ‘path of least resistance’, it was a workaround made necessary by Amelia refusing to do her job yet again.

        1. AnonForThisForSure*

          Honestly, at least Amelia told OP that she couldn’t provide a reference because it wouldn’t be positive. Better than saying “sure” and unloading a bunch of inaccurate, negative commentary on OP’s potential employer.

  24. That wasn't me. . .*

    Horrified (and stupified) that she took out her frustration with foster care on someone who took someone OUT of the system she hates so (presumably – since this was a teen – someone who was able and willing to consent to the new arrangement). If it worked for your adopted child, and for your family, where the h*** does she get off?! Citing her trauma to end the friendship was ridiculous and illogical. using it to abdicate her responsibility to he job is unacceptable. should have been removed for those responsibilities (reassigned, if not fired.)

  25. Wistastic*

    This is insane. She didn’t want to do her job because you adopted a child. I do not understand. Would she prefer that all children stay in the foster system she hates so much?

    Everyone has their stuff, but you’re not supposed to put that on other people.

    1. Anon21*

      Quite possibly Amelia would prefer that the child be returned to their family of origin. There’s a fair amount of discussion upthread, but it’s also not really pertinent to the work issue–no matter how justifiable or unjustifiable Amelia’s feelings about the situation were, she shouldn’t have reacted this way.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      Honestly, we don’t know that it’s specifically the foster care system she hates. It may be having been taken from her family at all.

      But I doubt this is about her thinking the LW did anything wrong. It’s more likely she just hates hearing about anything to do with foster care, children being removed from home, childhood trauma, etc and just intended to avoid the LW until that was a less likely topic of conversation but then, kept putting off contacting her team again and it got harder and harder, because how do you explain not being in contact for months?

      And then she started resenting the LW for, in her mind, “causing” all this.

  26. Ann O'Nemity*

    I hate that the OP was questioning herself over this. It sounds like Amelia was an absent manager from the jump, even before the adoption came up.

  27. econobiker*

    The job abandonment by the manager wasn’t about the adoption issue but about her getting away with getting paid to do something and her not doing it. Very common in university level education and support especially within certain subsets of education when people are from protected classes.
    My relative is currently dealing with this in a HBCU environment where a person is in a support position and not working at all, as in providing no support results or observable outputs for what their job function is supposed to be doing. Literally just sitting in their office and not answering or doing anything that is related to their position’s responsibilities.

  28. Jane*

    I never comment on this site, but I feel compelled to add a different perspective here after reading all these critiques of the foster system. While there are certainly cases of children being removed from loving parents for spurious reasons, the system overall does save lives. As a kid, my siblings and I were removed and then placed back with my abusive parents multiple times. Living with my birth parents was a nightmare I didn’t think I would survive, and I am deeply bitter that no one helped us more/sooner/better when it was so obvious my parents were not fit to care for anything or anyone. The system fails to take action against abuse more often than overreacting to it. There are plenty of those stories too, but they don’t hit the news until some child ends up dead, because kids who are being abused at home can’t sit down for a news interview and tell their side of the story. Although I agree there are failures, it just bothers me to see such one-sided commentary criticizing something that most of the commenters have never experienced.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Absolutely, one of the many failures of the system is that it doesn’t take action when it really needs to. It needs to do a better job serving kids’ interests overall. I’m sorry you went through that.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      Thank you for sharing this. If anyone doubts how often this happens or just how dangerous it is, just do an internet search for “reunification after abuse.”

    3. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yeah. My parents were foster parents, and it certainly wasn’t for the money. I recall two horrific reasons for having foster siblings, and both went back to the mothers. One was a set of young siblings and I couldn’t understand why they were always so excited to visit their mother, when I could see the scars she had given them. I looked them up a few years back (they had unusual names) and one was dead, one was in and out of prison. Did foster care help or hurt? I don’t know.

      I’ve unofficially adopted a teen who has become a parent (thus, I get grand-kids!), and it hurt to see how she tried so hard and loved so much the mother than abandoned her. She has finally distanced herself and her kids from the bio-mom, but I understand a lot more: people want and need their parents to be functional. When we look at a situation from the outside, we see the kid who says they want to be with the parent, but sometimes that’s the kid wanting what they will never get, because the bio-parent will never actually fulfil that role. That’s not the fault of the foster system. (Which is not to say there aren’t many and legitimate faults!)

      We’ve had lots of adoptions in our family, including interracial. Family is so much more than shared DNA.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        I remember reading in one of Geneen Roth’s books “how your alcoholic dad showed up sober at the school play and acted like everybody else’s father for one night,” and how a child can hang an entire universe of hope that this time, things will be okay on such a slender, shaky peg. It’s heartbreaking.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Of course it’s not the fault of the foster system that kids can’t always have functional parents! I don’t think anyone here is saying that :)

        But while not everyone can safely live with their parents, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to stay connected to their families (parents and extended families) when that can be safely done.

        It’s well documented that kids on the whole benefit from maintaining connections to their families to the greatest extent that is safely possible. That’s based on loads of data showing that’s what actually produces the best outcomes for them (measured by things like teen pregnancy rates, suicide rates, ending up in prison, etc.). But in many, many cases the foster system — and foster parents themselves, both intentionally and unintentionally — put up obstacles to those bonds that should not be there.

    4. Observer*

      Thanks for sharing this.

      I keep going back to what one pediatrician said. In his experience ACS (or whatever they were calling themselves that day) intervenes when they should stay out and does immense damage. And then they fail to act when kids are in real danger. It sounds like you were in that category.

  29. The Person from the Resume*

    Focusing on the work parts of the question. LW, you were in the right and Amelia in the wrong. It is fair of her to say that “hearing about [LW’s] adoption process or even just the fact of [LW’s adopted] daughter was too difficult for her.” But it is absolutely not fair, professional, or right for Amelia to abandon doing part of her job that would cause her to see LW. Amelia if unable to cope with even seeing the LW knowing that she adopted a child out of foster care, then Amelia needed to request some sort of accommadation to pass that portion of her job duties onto someone else.

    And of course it’s never professional/fair/decent to lie about a previous employee during a reference check. And that’s what Amelia did.

    It’s not you, LW. It was Amelia. In order to behave professionally and, honestly, minimally perform her job duties, she should have come up with an alternate means of supervising you and the tutoring center.

  30. Head sheep counter*

    Amelia should have been fired. She abdicated her job and was punitive about it. Insert any other behavior in place of her reaction to your adoption (congrats!) and it wouldn’t even be a debate. We’d be lining up to nominate her has one of the “Bad Bosses of the Year”. Don’t get hung up on a sympathetic reason to be bad. Most villains have a sympathetic backstory. She had/has a fundamental responsibility to deal with her issues outside of work and to do her job… or request a transfer/or quit.

  31. birch*

    So, I don’t have any useful knowledge about the foster care system or adoption, but I think this letter touches on a broader question of what to do about a professional situation where a person becomes a trauma trigger for another person. There are a lot of other situations where this could happen, and I think there’s a spectrum. Sometimes it’s something about that person, their personal life or their current way of being at work, where it would be possible to ask them to avoid the topic around the person who’s being triggered, and focus on work-related conversations. That’s a relatively easy and reasonable ask! But other times it might be that the person has been involved in something or made choices that make it impossible for the traumatized person to trust or be around them, even in a strictly work-related context. In any case it’s the traumatized person’s responsibility to remove themself from the triggering situation, unless it’s something to the level that would warrant asking the organization to take action against the other person. It sounds like situation 2 was what was going on for Amelia, but even in that case it’s pretty extreme for her to abandon the entire unit when presumably she wouldn’t have to see or hear about LW when focusing on work. I wonder if she felt like everyone was on LW’s side or if the topic got brought up too much.

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