I Am a Mom Today -- Because Hillary Clinton Made It Possible

Jennifer and her daughter

My favorite thing to say when anyone asks why I support Hillary Clinton to be our 45th president is, "Because she made me a mom." More to the point, she gave my daughter parents. She gave us all a family. And that is not hyperbole.

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My husband and I adopted our daughter in 2004. One thing that has always driven me insane is when people meet her and remark, "Well, aren't you lucky?" Because no, she is not lucky. She is entitled. Every person born deserves at least one good parent. We, her parents, are the luckiest people alive to have the honor of being her mom and dad.

Adoption is not about finding children for people who want to be parents. It is about finding parents for children who need them. And Hillary Clinton understands this. She specializes in the kind of policy-making that directly affects lives in ways we can point to and say, "This. This child, this family, these parents, Hillary Clinton made this happen."

My husband and I met our daughter in 2003. She had lived in foster care since birth and, counting a four-month stay in the NICU, our foster home became her fourth. She was barely a year old. Her medical fragility labeled her a Child with Special Needs, making a safe placement for her difficult to find. Had she been born before the passage of legislation Hillary championed tirelessly as First Lady, our daughter would have had essentially no human right to her own health and safety; she very likely would not have been able to be adopted.

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Under the previous law, reunification with her birth parent would have been the only goal, and years would likely have been spent searching for birth relatives. She would have been kept in the system until well after the age of 3, at which time kids are labeled "Un-Adoptable" -- meaning, their chance, statistically, of finding an adoptive home is nearly nonexistent. My daughter would be in foster care limbo still today, trapped in an endless cycle of reunification with her birth parents, and displacement into revolving temporary care -- with no permanent home or parents. Today, at 14, she would be on track to age out of foster care in four years, alone.

But Hillary Clinton changed the course of our, and our daughter's, life, five years before she was born.

Because of Hillary Clinton, the first two years of our daughter's life were dedicated to giving the state of California time to provide extensive health and counseling services to her remaining birth parent, working toward the goal of reunification. And while this very important work was happening, Hillary's legislation also gave our daughter the right to live with us. She was protected from chaos, loved and safe, while her social workers were able to develop a permanency plan. Deadlines passed, reunification became untenable, and when birth parental rights were terminated, we adopted our daughter. She was 2 and a half years old then -- and it was the most fortunate day of our lives.

In the 1990s, the plight of special needs children living in foster care in America was not a hot topic of concern in Washington, DC, politics. No lobbyists were clamoring to make those kids' voices, or the voices of dedicated, overworked foster parents and social workers, heard. Enter: First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997.

Previous foster care legislation had created the unintended consequence of states interpreting the law as requiring birth families be kept together no matter what, despite recorded history of abuse or neglect. Foster care became a cycle of removal and reunification into and out of unsafe environments, making adoption or other permanent living options impossible for many children, who consequently aged out of care at 18 years old -- alone, with no family or financial support of any kind.

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Hillary began holding public events and writing articles expressing concern for orphans in 1995. She met with US Department of Health and Human Services officials and private foundation executives, grilling them with policy questions and recommendations. As the act was being written, negotiations between Republicans and Democrats often broke down, and HRC was a central figure in finding compromise -- as always, fighting and determined to get the legislation passed.

The ASFA created the most fundamental change to child welfare thinking in the 20 years prior to its passage. First and foremost, in recognition that children have historically been removed from their birth families when poverty or different languages and cultures are misconstrued as "abuse" (which happens disproportionally to families of color), the act was written to retain and strengthen resources to help otherwise healthy families in need to stay together. But to this end, the act held a key difference: It granted children human rights by shifting the emphasis of policy toward children's health and safety concerns, and away from positioning reunification with birth parents (despite documented abuse and neglect) as the only option.

It made adoption more viable (increasing adoptions by 64 percent as of 2002), limited the amount of time children languished in foster care without a placement plan, and increased funding assistance for family members and foster parents to adopt children in need. This is good legislation. The ASFA is hard-won, well-informed by those working and living in foster care, and -- above all -- is meant to give children a voice and a right to the health and safety they are entitled to.

Hillary's commitment to children living in foster care did not end with the ASFA. As New York's state senator, she always reserved a spot in her internship program for young adults who had aged out of foster care. And she was instrumental in the creation and passage of the Foster Care Independence Act (FCIA) of 1999, holding youth conferences and lobbying Congress in support of the bill.

This legislation addresses helping kids aging out of foster care who are left alone at age 18 with no family and no health insurance to somehow support themselves. The FCIA broadened the eligibility requirements for Medicaid, increased funding to states for the design and creation of independent living programs to assist kids aging out with education about finances, substance abuse prevention, help with finishing high school, navigating college funding, finding employment and a place to live -- the daily skills to live independently.

The idea that children, and not just their birth parents, should have rights to their own health and safety seems an obvious notion to us now. But until Hillary Clinton took up this fight (working not only with congressional Democrats but also with Republicans who were, at the time, actively seeking to undermine nearly every executive decision made by President Bill Clinton), children in foster care had no agency, no voice, and no legislation to protect them the way the ASFA intends.

The narrative that Hillary Clinton is a policy-making machine is true. And that the majority of the policy she champions, creates, or has influenced is primarily on behalf of the most vulnerable citizens in our nation, and the world, makes her record even more impressive.

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Hillary Clinton gave my daughter parents. She gave us our family.

I would love nothing more this year, as I have watched Hillary Clinton, with grace, endure the most inane, misogynist nonsense thrown at her during this campaign, than to hug her and say, "I will never, ever be able to express the depth of my gratitude to you for saving my daughter's life. You have to keep going. Other kids need you, more families, we all need you."

Which might make her preemptively exhausted, and in all honestly I would be crying too much to ever get all those words out, but that's the speech I rehearse. I owe her a debt of gratitude I will never be able to repay. She will never stop working for us, and that is why my family will work for her, and be #WithHer. Always.

 

Jennifer Longo is a novelist (Six Feet Over ItUp to this Pointe, Random House Books). She lives in Seattle, Washington, with her husband and daughter. She's pictured above with her daughter, on the day they met.
 

Image via Jennifer Longo

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