Bio for Expert Guest & Author:
Jenell M. Jones is an early education entrepreneur, currently operating multiple early learning centers, which specialize in providing high quality learning experiences to children who experience trauma in low-income areas. Her education background includes earning a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis on autism spectrum disorders from Arizona State University. A native of Phoenix, Jones has provided her expertise to families for the last decade and currently hosts private discussions with other foster and adoptive parents on current issues affecting the nontraditional home. Through her life experiences, passion is the source by which she governs herself to make a difference. The goal is not to be perfect but to assist others in rising through difficulties. Jones’ blueprint of success can be summed up in a few statements: Be tenacious, be kind, be loving, but most of all…be forgiving. Find out more about her at JenellJones.com.
Press Release about our expert guest, plus more detailed interview notes from a past interview about her new book:
Adoptive mother shares first-hand experiences of under-supported foster and adoptive parents
PHOENIX, Arizona – Adoptive and foster parents assume there will be adequate resources to support their growing families – but too often, the system doesn’t follow through. In “Shattered” (AuthorHouse, May 16, 2023), Jenell M. Jones tells the raw truth behind America’s foster and adoption system, sharing the day-to-day realities and challenges of raising children with mental and physical limitations, and tells parents (and would-be parents) what they most need to hear: It won’t be what you expect, and you are not alone.
With the trajectory of today’s society, we can all agree that parenting is difficult. Choosing to foster and adopt proves to not be an easy feat. Parents are in constant competition with societal influences and sometimes feel it’s an uphill battle. These same parents are often told they will be supported in the rearing of their children and that adequate resources would be made available. But what happens when you discover the system that promised to help you, would betray you? What happens when you decide to enter into another realm of difficulty – fostering and adopting children who come with mental and physical baggage?
Meet Jenell M. Jones, an adoptive mother who is still trying to find the answers to these questions. In these pages, you will see through a mother’s eyes as she shares her deepest pain for her daughter, “Mercy.” In the end, justice is necessary and peace is questionable.
Jenell M. Jones | May 16, 2023 | AuthorHouse | Memoir
Paperback | ISBN 9798823000314 | $19.99
Hardcover | ISBN 9798823000338 | $28.99
Follow Jenell Jones on Facebook
Before we dive into everything, can you introduce us to your family?
I feel I am a normal mom with extraordinary children, who I have been blessed to raise. I am a mother of seven children, ages 33, 28, 25, 22, 20, 17 and 16. I have three girls and four boys. I live in Laveen, Arizona, with my four toy poodles. I have three children living at home (26, 22, and 17 years old). Mercy, 16, is currently living in a group home near our house. As a mom, I often battle with my mistakes, all the millions of things I have done wrong and all the things I could do better. I am a very imperfect person that struggles daily to be a good mom. One of my most pressing issues is to maintain my relationship with my daughter, Mercy, and do what’s right and not beat myself up for issues. I also have an autistic child and must monitor the safety issues that may be present. However, with all that, my children have always been the most important thing to me in the world. I feel children need to be protected and advocated for. I feel children need to be loved and nurtured and grow up in a safe and loving environment that allows developmentally appropriate choices. As a parent, I have always tried to provide my children with opportunities and to foster an environment that allows, supports, and encourages them to become self-sufficient and well-rounded adults. I tried to create a family structure that allowed this to happen. Each member of my family is unique and different, but that is what allows my family to be great.
When and why did you first get involved in the foster and adoption system?
“What’s one more?” These are my husband’s famous words that have always gotten us into trouble. I would find a child in need, or we would come across a child who needed a temporary home, and this was always his response.
I became a foster parent because I love children, and so does my spouse. When my adopted 17-year-old son needed a home at birth, I took him home. I saw him, fell in love with him and called my husband. The same happened with Mercy when she was 8 years old. I never planned on adopting, but I am the kind of person who will help any child in need. Mercy needed a home; typically, older children do not get adopted, especially by a two-parent home. I felt, we are an African American two-parent family; we can offer this child a home. I felt we could do our part to help children in need. I just wanted to make a difference in Mercy’s life.
When did you first realize that you wouldn’t have the expected support from the adoption and foster care system, and how did you continue to navigate this without that support?
I realized I wouldn’t get the support I needed when I started calling the therapist who had stated she would be there to assist, but she didn’t return my calls. That’s when I knew I wouldn’t have the support of all the people who promised. I really got the impression very quickly that the social workers and caseworkers I met didn’t have my child’s best interest at heart. They tuned out as soon as they found a parent to take care of Mercy. They didn’t even understand basic child development. I understand I may have more experience in some areas than most, but we have laws that govern childcare centers and schools. The child protective services don’t have to abide by the strict regulations, and children are not being cared for properly. They are the ones monitoring, but who monitors them? The foster and adoption care system frequently withholds information to foster and adoptive care parents; lacking that information can be detrimental. Unfortunately, my child has suffered as I learned this information the hard way. They caused Mercy physical harm with mistakes and neglect. Some of it has been so harmful that if any parent made these mistakes, they would attempt to remove the child from parental care. However, they treat the children like pieces of paper in a file drawer, not like the individuals they are.
Can you tell us about Mercy’s background before she became a part of your family? Can you explain some of the physical and emotional challenges she faces, and how others can support children like her?
Mercy entered the foster/adoption system at age 3. By the time she came to us, she was 8, and she had been in 21 placements. In addition, she had behavioral challenges and abandonment issues, but a lot of her problems were hidden from us. We found things out by accident, even about the 21 placements. I was told they suspected sexual abuse, but I have now confirmed that they knew about her sexual abuse. They just chose to hide it. In their words, “If we told you about her past, how bad it really was, you wouldn’t adopt her.” This is the problem—we should have been told. When you buy a house, you are told about floods, fires, and even murders in the disclosure process. However, you can adopt or foster a child, without receiving disclosures, which is detrimental to any family if there’s a history of abuse. All children need opportunities to experience a wonderful family, and families need to be supported and protected. Measures must exist to protect children and families. Mercy had experienced extreme trauma—behavioral, emotional, physical and sexual abuse—that was not disclosed to us. The lack of disclosure caused harm to her. Vital therapy time was lost, mistakes were made in treatment, opportunities lost. This is a deceptive practice.
Mercy has a twin brother, Michael, who she was separated from during adoption. Does she have a relationship with him or any of her other siblings? What are your thoughts on separating siblings in the foster care system? How does this impact them long-term?
Separating siblings is a horrible practice! Separating twins is even more horrendous! When a child has been taken away from their parents, for whatever reason, they have lost their entire family structure. So then to tear her barbarically away from the only consistent thing in her life, her twin brother, the person she shared her Mother’s womb with, is just outrageous, insensitive, and a ridiculous process! I want to know who thought this was okay; was this one person or a team of people? Were there any psychologists on this team? Why is the state trying to destroy this child? Why would anybody in their right mind think that this was acceptable? This was in no way developmentally or social-emotionally appropriate. Did a judge okay this? This is outrageous. Why did everyone fail these children? How many more children have been treated like this?
Mercy does not have much contact with her twin brother. He has exhibited a lot of sexualized behaviors because of his past, so the therapist thinks it’s best that we keep them apart. Of course, this therapist is paid by the state, and maybe because the damage is done, maybe because it reminds them of the inhumane separation, maybe because they hope if we ignore it, it’ll go away, maybe because they don’t want to be reminded that they failed these children! I would be okay with monitored contact because there is a side of her that greatly misses her twin. It’s obvious; when they are together, they finish each other’s sentences. My daughter cries for her twin often. I know that part of their brokenness has been caused because of their separation and how awful it was. I do let her have contact with her two older siblings. It is a challenge because their behaviors can be a bit extreme, and they’ve all faced so much abuse, but there’s a side of her that misses them, and she worries about them. I feel like either way it’s tough.
The process of separating siblings and twins needs to be revisited in all foster/adoption care systems. The emotional impact on these children needs to be researched and studied, and laws of protection need to be formed.
Children under the age of 18 often have no avenues to advocate for themselves, making them more susceptible to abuse. How does the system victimize children, and how can we create more accountability for those victimizing children?
I think children are more at risk of being victimized because stories of abuse are not told. There are so many mistakes made by the agencies that are supposed to protect them, and they get away with it. This is a part of the problem.
How did your experiences as a biological, adoptive and foster mother shape your ideas of motherhood? Did anything change significantly?
A few things shaped my ideas of motherhood – being a child raised by a single mom and experienced abuse, watching things happen to children that shouldn’t, and my experiences as a child advocate through the realms of preschool. I have a different perspective, and I understand what abuse and trauma does to children. If intervention doesn’t happen and therapy isn’t given, children don’t have a chance, and there will be a cycle, potentially in which they can abuse others as well, and nobody looks at these things. As an adoptive and a biological mother, my goal is to protect my children at all costs, get them the best care and advocate for them. I feel that I treat my children all the same way. It doesn’t matter if they’re biological or adopted; they’re my children. There hasn’t been a significant change in the way I parent, except my awareness was heightened throughout this journey with Mercy.
How does your faith play into your role as an adoptive parent?
Without God, I wouldn’t have made it this far. Forgiveness, love, kindness and prayer are all things I can find in my faith. I pray all the time for Mercy. It’s hard because Mercy is better off with me. I keep her safe, I protect her, and I take great care of her. She receives the best therapy with me because I will pay for private sessions, and I will drive and fly anywhere to get her the care she needs. I will research what she needs and then get her the care she needs. However, I don’t have anyone to protect me from her. Mercy only has me to protect her from them; they don’t look out for her best interest, and they have proven this over and over again. I know she is better with me, but I have to protect the entire household, and families deserve more options. This is why I am always praying because it grieves my spirit. It’s only God that allows me to keep going.
Can you tell us more about your work in Phoenix, Arizona — your hometown — and how you help other parents in nontraditional homes?
Both of my preschools have early Head Start grants, which focus on a 0 to 2 early intervention, working with low income children, who are exposed to trauma. These programs give high quality childcare to children who would not otherwise have it. We’re able to identify children that may have special needs at an early age and help them be more well-rounded with additional education opportunities.
What advice do you have to other nontraditional families looking to add family members, whether by fostering or adopting?
Ask a lot of questions and make them tell you the child’s history. Get support, and get everything in writing. Trust and verify. We need adoptive parents, but we need a better system.
What do you want readers to take away from your book? Do you have any calls to action?
We need to change the system for these children and families. We need to be concerned for every child in this system. We need justice and advocacy.