It’s been several days since a colleague alerted me to a lawsuit that has been filed in South Carolina by the parents of a child who was adopted from the foster care system. I have been unable to understand how the foster care system could have failed a child so utterly and completely.
According to this report a child who is now eight years old entered foster care at approximately three months of age and remained there until adoption about a year and a half later. Initially, that would seem to be a story with a sad beginning and a happy ending.
However, tragically, those in charge of “M.C.’s” care decided that this child should be raised as a girl, not merely treated as a girl, but made to look like a girl. M. C. had been born with ambiguous genitalia—with both male and female reproductive organs—but at the age of sixteen months, sex-assignment surgery irreversibly altered that and M. C. officially became female. The problem is that M. C. feels like a boy to both himself and his parents, but his body has been permanently disfigured.
Setting aside, for the moment, the prevailing expert opinion that genital surgery should only be undertaken when the child has clearly and consistently identified as male or female, one is still left to wonder what compelled those in charge to inflict needless physical and lasting emotional pain on a child too young to understand what was being done to his body or why. How did this happen? One can only wonder how the decision was made? Who participated? Surely there were multiple people involved. Who had the final authority? Was this a result of “team decision making,” that relies on all of the important people in a foster child’s life to make important decisions?
What makes this all the more baffling is the rush to permanently alter this child’s body when adoption was on the horizon. Would it not have made sense to allow the adoptive parents to determine whether to raise their child as a boy or a girl? And if the parents noticed only a few months after the surgery that M.C.’s behavior and preferences tended more to the masculine, was this not at all evident when he was in foster care?
Those in the foster care system are repeatedly called upon to make very difficult, often life-changing decisions about children in their care. For example, it can take years for a parent to recover from the drug addiction that caused her permanently to lose custody of her child.
Yet, freeing the child for adoption may have seemed like the best or only realistic course of action at the time—and may ultimately have been. In another instance, a decision is made to return a child to his parent’s care only to have him turn up in an emergency room with broken bones following a severe beating. Only in storybooks can we turn back to the decision point and try out a different ending.
Sadly, those in charge took it upon themselves to write a premature ending for M.C. He was not given time to say “no,” or to put words to his feelings about being a boy or a girl or both. The story might have had a happier ending if M. C. had been allowed to be the author of his own life.
By Toni Heineman