Birth Mother Matters in Adoption Episode 52 – Red Flags in Adoption Explained

Ron Reigns:
Welcome and thank you for joining us on Birth Mother Matters in Adoption with Kelly Rourke-Scarry and me, Ron Reigns, where we delve into the issues of adoption from every angle of the adoption triad.

Speaker 2:
Do what’s best for your kid and for yourself, because if you just take care of yourself, you’re definitely not going to be able to take care of that kid and that’s not fair.

Speaker 3:
I know that my daughter would be well taken care of with them.

Speaker 4:
Don’t have an abortion. Give this child a chance.

Speaker 5:
All I could think about was needing to save my son.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
My name is Kelly Rourke-Scarry. I’m the executive director, president and co-founder of Building Arizona Families Adoption Agency, the Donna K. Evans Foundation and creator of the year before me campaign. I have a bachelor’s degree in family studies and human development and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in school counseling. I was adopted at the age of three days, born to a teen birth mother, raised in a closed adoption and reunited with my birth mother in 2007. I have worked in the adoption field for over 15 years.

Ron Reigns:
I’m Ron Reigns. I’ve worked in radio since 1999. I was the co-host of two successful morning shows in Prescott, Arizona. Now, I work for my wife, who’s an adoption attorney and I’m able to combine these two great passions and share them on this podcast.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Are you ready to talk about red flags?

Ron Reigns:
I am ready to talk about red flags.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
All right. What do you know about them?

Ron Reigns:
Well, I’ll just give you what my basic assumption is on a red flag.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Sure.

Ron Reigns:
I think it probably relates more to birth mothers and it’s when you start going, “Are they serious about this adoption plan or is this something I should be concerned with?”

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
That’s correct. We use the term red flags in the adoption community as identifying a concern, that may or may not exist, with regards to a birth mother and her adoption plan. The term red flags is kind of universal. When somebody says a red flag, they are looking for like a warning sign or a concern. When you’re in a fight with somebody and you’re waving the white flag that symbolizes stop, peace. Yeah. The red flag is like-

Ron Reigns:
Warning.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Warning. Exactly. When an agency is working with a birth mother, and I can only speak for Building Arizona Families. We already have a list of red flags that we work off of, that we have substantiated as general red flags that are a concern. When we see them in birth mothers, we will staff it, which means we will get together as a group and we meet once a week anyway.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
In that meeting, we will talk about the concerns that may or may not exist, because what is considered a red flag in one individual may not be a red flag in another. You have to look at the global picture and understand everything. In context. I thought this would be a really good idea to kind of dive into and the podcast, because we do get phone calls from families that are matched with a birth mom and they’re proceeding in their adoption journey. In doing so, they may have Googled something. All of a sudden, their birth mother has stated this, or she is exhibiting this behavior and they’re concerned.

Ron Reigns:
Right. Maybe even freaking out.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Oh yeah. Sometimes they’re on the floor and they’re convinced that this is the end, that they’ve been scammed by this birth mother, or she’s not going to place. Now, what are they going to do? Part of the role of an adoption agency is providing a caseworker that can kind of hold their hand and calm them down as they walk through the adoption process. Explain about red flags and what they mean and why, yes, sometimes they really are concerned and other times why they may not be a concern in that particular birth mother. In some of the red flags that we see, we actually don’t necessarily identify them as red flags, but because Google does and society does, and maybe somebody’s friend’s mother’s sisters, aunt had a situation and-

Ron Reigns:
You want to take them into account and at least address them.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Sure. Absolutely.

Ron Reigns:
Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
One that we get, I would say the most often, is birth mothers not attending doctor’s appointments. They will blow them off. They are, this is my favorite, is when a birth mother will call and say, “I can’t go to the doctor. I’m sick.” I always say, “Well, that’s normally when people go to the doctor, is when they’re sick.” “Yeah. I’m too sick. I don’t want to go to the doctor.” I find some humor in that because that’s not, I mean, it’s not funny, but ironic.

Ron Reigns:
No, but I get it. How am I supposed to go to the hospital? I have a broken arm.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
I’m having a baby. I can’t go to the hospital. Yeah. There are reasons that birth mothers do not want to attend OB GYN appointments. Again, you have to look at the situation globally. This is where you can’t just identify one tree in the forest. You have to look at the whole forest. Sometimes they may not want to attend because it’s too painful. It makes a situation too real. Some birth mothers will pretend in their mind that they’re a surrogate, that they’re carrying this baby for somebody else, that it’s not really their child, that it’s not happening.

Ron Reigns:
That helps them get through the process to a degree.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
It does. It helps them get through the process and every woman has to find their coping mechanism. Yes, we strongly encourage every pregnant woman to attend her doctor’s appointment. We think it’s absolutely important. That doesn’t mean that they’re going to, and we have no legal recourse. We can’t make them go to the doctor. We can’t show up at their door and hog tie them and bring them into the car and deliver them to the OB GYN. That doesn’t work. That’s not something we can do. The other thing is, is that sometimes they’re afraid they’re going to be judged by the doctor’s office.

Ron Reigns:
Which of course is the furthest thing from the truth.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Correct. Correct.

Ron Reigns:
I understand them thinking that.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Right, because when somebody sees a pregnant woman, as we’ve talked about before, some people don’t have boundaries, I’m talking about the general public, and they’ll go up and start asking questions. Birth mothers often don’t really know how much to disclose. They feel that they have to defend their decision. They feel like they don’t have the right to be excited about their pregnancy, but they do because they’re celebrating life. What they’re doing is amazing. The other reason that a birth mother may not attend a doctor’s appointment is because she’s not as invested in her pregnancy because she’s placing her baby for adoption. A woman that is pregnant and keeping her baby and building her biological family-

Ron Reigns:
Wants to do everything right. Kind of like, okay, follow the process.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Yes, absolutely. When a woman is not keeping her baby, and she has the choice of, “Hey, I can get an extra three hours of sleep, or I can get dressed and go to the doctor and be uncomfortable.” Yeah. One choice will often outweigh the other in that scenario. The other reason is if a mom is using drugs and her doctor, most doctors do drug testing. When they come into their OB GYN appointment, if she tests positive, the doctors are mandatory reporters. If she has other children in the home, that could be an issue.

Ron Reigns:
She could lose them.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Well, she could get the state involved. Whether or not she loses them as up to the state, but she could definitely get the state involved. Some women are really concerned about that obviously. Again, she is trying to walk that line of, “Hey, I want to place this baby for adoption. I don’t want anything to happen to my other children.” I know I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do.

Ron Reigns:
Right. Then how about this? I’m curious. Is any of it, because just honestly, because of irresponsibility. I’m not judging. I’m saying I can be a very irresponsible person and sometimes I let things go that I shouldn’t, for instance.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Right. That’s why they would rather sleep for another two to three hours, because I wouldn’t call that responsible. That’s not the choice that you make.

Ron Reigns:
Right. Okay. It goes hand in hand with some of the others.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Sure. That’s the same thing as saying, “Okay. I just got my paycheck and there’s an extra $500 and I really should put that towards this credit card, but I’d rather go to the casino.”

Ron Reigns:
I’ve seen that a couple of times.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Same philosophy. Hopefully you won.

Ron Reigns:
I’m not saying.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Another red flag might be always asking about financial assistance, making this the focus of every conversation. When a caseworker is talking to a birth mom about her appointment, about having another conversation with the adoptive family, bonding with them, really getting to know them, what does she want the focus to be? You may have a client that really just wants to focus on when she’s getting her next living expense is, what amount it’s going to be, why is it not a different amount? She really needs this amount of money for clothes and why, why, why and when, and when, when. That can be a red flag, but then again, it cannot be red flag.

Ron Reigns:
Maybe, maybe not. It depends on the person.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Sure. One of the main reasons that women come into an adoption plan is because of the lack of financial resources. When you look at, as we’ve talked about before, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they’re worried about their basic needs being met, a roof over their head, clothing, food. They want to make sure that they have a door to shut at night and a pillow to lay on. When you are working with a woman who is basically 100% dependent on an agency to make sure that all of those needs are met, that is her focus. Rather than, oh, I want to build a deeper relationship with the adoptive family. She’s worried about-

Ron Reigns:
Where the next meal is coming from.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Where the next meal is coming from. She’s worried about where she’s going to sleep that night. She’s worried about, and even though those things are outlined in the contract between the agency and the birth mother as to what our responsibilities are and her responsibilities, it’s still a concern because it boils down to a trust issue. That’s what we work really hard on as an agency is building up that trust to let the birth mother know that we are going to follow through on the commitments that we’ve made. We can now focus on building the relationship with the adoptive family and, and working on something other than always talking about the finances.

Ron Reigns:
Right. Now, you’ve talked about when it kind of isn’t a reg red flag. At what point does your ear just kind of go, “Wait a minute. This is going beyond what.” Is there something that happens that you’re like-

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Yes.

Ron Reigns:
Okay.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
We have had birth mothers who, and let me just state this for the record, that every penny that an adoption agency gives to a birth mother is accounted for and submitted to the court. It’s not as if one agency can give $200,000 and another agency can give five. When you have a birth mother that is calling around other agencies, trying to see if they pay out more living expenses, because that is her 100% focus and she’s trying to play both ends against the middle basically. That would be a red flag.

Ron Reigns:
Right. Exactly. [crosstalk 00:12:42] where she can get the best “deal.”

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Yes. If you have a birth mother that is in your agency and she is calling other agencies and trying to see where she can come up with the highest amount, that would be a red flag.

Ron Reigns:
Do the agencies communicate with each other when it comes to this?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
The state laws actually frown on that. There are very few ways that we can communicate. I would say that the adoption community is very small and that weighs in our favor. Another red flag may or may not be postponing choosing an adoptive family. This is one that my newer case managers worry about. I think it is a valid concern sometimes. Again, looking at it in context and looking at the whole forest, when a mom comes into the program, and she’s done the initial paperwork and she has decided what type of a family she wants. When you present, or she knows that you’re going to present families that could potentially adopt her baby, it all of a sudden makes every statement that has been made. Every paper that has been signed, 100% real. She’s looking at faces of real people. She’s looking at who could potentially parent her child. For some women, it is exceedingly difficult to comprehend that that doesn’t mean that she’s not going to place her baby. It just means that she-

Ron Reigns:
It makes it very hard for her.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Well, sure. I know that if I have to make a really dreaded phone call or tell somebody really bad news, I have to like process it for a while before I can actually make that phone call.

Ron Reigns:
Just jump right in.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Yeah. I’ll pace around for a while and think, “Okay, so how do I get through this? How do I push through?”

Ron Reigns:
What am I going to say if they ask this or you kind of go through it in your head.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Yes. Again, that could be a red flag if there are other red flags that are going along with this. Now, if this is a client that we’ve been working with, that we don’t see any other concerns and she’s just struggling. Oftentimes, what we’ll do is we will set up a counseling session with a counselor and try to figure out what issues she’s having with choosing a family. Another way to go about it is if the case worker hasn’t been successful with trying to reassure her and comfort her, if she has a relationship with the counselor, then that’s something that they can do together and choose a family. If she’s not ready truly to choose a family, then she’s really not ready to be in an adoption program. The bottom line is, is that this isn’t another step in a birth mothers adoption journey.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
When you work with an adoption agency, we can start funding immediately. With an adoption attorney, you have to wait until they’re matched with a family. Because we are allowed by the law to assist the mother with her living expenses, that doesn’t mean that we can continue to postpone when she’s far enough along a match process. Again, that’s something that, as an agency, we may have to say, if she just continually does not want to choose a family, maybe she needs to take a break from her adoption plan and come back when she’s ready to proceed in that adoption plan. After she’s matched, another word flag may be avoiding contact with the adoptive family, even after stating that she wanted an open adoption. Again, looking at it in context, this could or could not be a red flag.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Sometimes adoptive families, as soon as they’re chosen, they want to jump right in. They want to love bomb this birth mother. They want to be her best friend. The birth mother is thinking, “Okay, I just chose you. I need to process this. I need some time. I need to basically find my footing again.” Sometimes choosing a family will immediately bring a birth mother piece. Sometimes it just knocks them right on their butt. They need to learn how to define their peace. We’ve talked about that before. I always say, once I can find peace in a decision, I go forward, and I don’t look back. I think a lot of people may not recognize that’s what they’re doing, but they’re doing it as well. When that happens, as time goes by, if it’s a continual postponement and this is somebody who wanted an open adoption, and for some reason she’s avoiding the family and weeks are going by and then a month starts going by. Then I would say that is a red flag. That needs to really be examined by the adoption agency, with the birth mother and figure out what is going on.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
If the birth mother is in a committed relationship and this baby is a product of the father of all of her other children and everybody lives in the home together, you would wonder why she would be choosing an adoption plan. This is a red flag on the front end. This is something that we would see at an intake. We do have to dive deep into this one because we want to make sure that she really wants to do an adoption. This isn’t because she’s looking for a financial resource. We look at why she would, what her reason would be for placing her baby for adoption. Sometimes she may have other children in the home and financially, they are really struggling, and they cannot take on one more and they’re barely hanging on to the children that they have now, when the state is involved and they’re trying to just learn how to parent the children they already have.

Ron Reigns:
The difference between four and five kids can be immense.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
The difference between two and three. I always say, having seven, the biggest and hardest jump was two to three.

Ron Reigns:
Really?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Hands down, hands down. No pun intended. You only have two hands. Absolutely. Two to three was what knocked me on my butt. It was two to three. It was a shell shock. I get that. I get that-

Ron Reigns:
I would even get between one and two because, well, in essence, you’re doubling your children.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
No. No. Two to three.

Ron Reigns:
No. One and two isn’t bad, huh?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
You’re outnumbered.

Ron Reigns:
Okay. That makes sense.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
You’re outnumbered. It’s like they say if you have two dogs, you have two dogs. If you have three dogs, you have a pack. Just kind of translate that into children. You have now a pack. They do have a pack mentality.

Ron Reigns:
It’s us against them.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Right, exactly. Again, looking at this potential red flag, you got to look at it in context. You have to look at it as for what it really is. You can’t just make assumptions and say, “Oh, that’s a red flag.” That’s something that, as society, we need to understand when we have newer caseworkers, we have to explain when we’re working with adoptive families, again, we have to break it down because you don’t have to jump at everything. It’s when you, and even one red flag, it doesn’t mean the adoption’s not going to go through or even two red flags. It’s when you have red flags that are all adding together and it’s like a puzzle and you’re looking at it and you’re saying, “Okay, this is really a concern.” If we do have enough red flags and the birth mother is matched, that is where we have the adoptive parent case manager start preparing the family that this may not happen.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
We always alert the family. Whenever there is a red flag, once they’re matched and not to scare them or to take away from their adoption experience. We do believe in preparation. Again, I’ve told caseworkers this as well. You want to make sure that you’re communicating, because adoptive families have the right to know what’s going on. We always say, “Don’t do a nursery room. Don’t do a baby shower.” That is not always followed by the adoptive families.

Ron Reigns:
Right. You put that advice out there.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Right. Let’s say on a Friday, we get what we have deemed a red flag on a birth mother. The caseworker is thinking, “Gosh, I don’t want to ruin this family’s weekend. I’d rather wait until Monday.” My statement is always, you don’t know what’s happening this weekend. You need to let them know as soon as possible. What if they are planning on ordering a crib from Italy and they’re going to put down 3000, I’ve had this happen $3,000.

Ron Reigns:
Really?

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Yes. $3,000 on this crib that is nonrefundable.

Ron Reigns:
Wow.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
You don’t let them know of this red flag.

Ron Reigns:
Yeah. Nobody wants to get blindsided by something that horrible.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
No.

Ron Reigns:
That doesn’t mean either to panic them. It’s just, “Hey, we’re on alert here. You should know where you’re at, where you stand.”

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Of course. It’s like this. If you have a child and your child is in grade school and your child is not passing some tests. As a parent, you want to know, so I can start preparing myself. That doesn’t mean a child’s going to fail that grade. It means that these are some issues, they need to be addressed and you need to keep an eye on us. That’s really what red flags are. They’re nothing more than pointing out a concern, addressing it and keeping an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get worse. Just like I said, going through your child’s grades, I can tell you that I have one that I have to check her grades every day online. I really appreciate nowadays that I have that.

Ron Reigns:
That it’s available to do online. So much of the stuff I did in school, my mom never knew. Yeah.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Mine as well. You know what I mean? If you got an F on a test, you could just drop it at the trashcan figure, I’ll get an A on the next one. It will average out to a C and we’re good. Well, you know, now that you can see online everything.

Ron Reigns:
Literally where they are at on a daily basis. Yeah.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Oh, I love it. I love it. I can’t tell you how many times a day I check this one child’s grades and send text messages saying, why is this assignment missing? Your phone’s mine when you come home.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
Though I have to give it back to her for school, because I have to be able to harass her about her missing assignments and poor test scores at school, just to make sure that we are doing the very best that we can. Yes, I think that we really need to understand and process and accept red flags for what they are, not overreact and not under-react. Working closely with a case manager is the thing an adoptive family can do. Maybe ask how frequently, you meet as a team. Again, our agency, we meet every week and discuss every case. This is because we all want to be in the same page. I want the front desk receptionist to have the same knowledge and understanding that the case manager may have because the front desk receptionist is sitting out there, and the birth mother is often talking to another client, and she hears a lot.

Kelly Rourke-Scarry:
She knows what to listen for. She can weigh in every… As a team, I think you need to include everybody regardless of their title, because it takes a team to make a successful placement. It’s not just one person and that’s where the red flags can, we can all together, watch for them, deal with them and assist the family in processing.

Ron Reigns:
We have a pregnancy crisis hotline available 24/7 by phone or text at 623-695-4112, or you can call our toll-free number 1(800) 340-9665. We can make an immediate appointment with you to get you to a safe place, provide food and clothing and started on creating an Arizona adoption plan or give you more information. You can check out our blogs on our website at azpregnancyhelp.com. Thank you for joining us on Birth Mother Matters in Adoption, written and produced by Kelly Rourke-Scarry and edited by me, Ron Reigns.

Ron Reigns:
If you enjoy this podcast, rate and review us wherever you listen to podcasts and as always, thanks to Grapes for letting us use their song, I Dunno, as our theme song. Join us next time for Birth Mother Matters in Adoption, for Kelly Rourke-Scarry. I’m Ron Reigns, and we’ll see you then.

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