Radical Non-Judgement: Adoption After Foster Care

By Des Anthony

Jessica McManus loves being an auntie. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and leadership from Portland State University, owns an integrated mental health clinic, has an itty bitty pitty named Naya, and dabbles–just for fun–in real estate. She also just so happens to be my best friend.    

In the ’80s, the rules were not as strict as now. But in 1987, at age two, Jessica and her siblings, an older brother and younger sister, entered the foster care system. Daniel, the oldest, ended up in a kinship placement in Texas and was adopted when their biological mother’s parental rights were terminated. But for the next eight years, Jessica and her sister Tori would experience placement in a dozen different homes. Because of this, the girls were reunified and removed from their biological mother on multiple occasions. Each time, a tremendous trauma.  

Today, Jessica is a grounded and successful Portland resident and an advocate for children experiencing foster care. Over the years, she has been asked the same question repeatedly. “How did you turn out so normal?”    

The answer? Radical non-judgment.    

Jessica and Tori were placed in multiple homes. But through all of them, no matter how different, one thing always remained consistent. They were placed in homes that did not “demonize” their biological mother while never underestimating the reality of their situation. The girls cannot recall a single time they heard any of their resource parents speaking poorly of their biological mother. Nor did they make them feel unwelcome or like outsiders in their homes.    

Jessica was ten when she and her sister were adopted into a family of a single mother and four new siblings. It took them a while to feel truly at home in their new normal, but one thing was always consistent. Their adoptive mother also practiced radical non-judgment. Jessica would never sugar-coat the hard stuff of experiencing multiple removals, subsequent reunifications, and adoption. However, their adoptive mother never allowed them to doubt that their biological mother loved them dearly and that she was doing the best she could with the tools and resources she had available to her. There was never an ill word whispered. Never a passive-aggressive comment. Never a disagreement witnessed.   

Jessica believes that is the most impactful reason she has grown up with a sense of stability, self-worth, deep loyalty for her chosen family, and gratitude for the people who helped her grow up. She also holds a great deal of appreciation for her own determination. She is a community helper, a businesswoman, and a pioneer in the mental health community. Additionally, Jessica and her siblings have remained connected, including a little sister that came after they had all been adopted. They have maintained a strong family bond even though their lives took them in multiple different directions, on many unique paths. Thanks–in part–to the selfless individuals who opened their homes to two little girls all those years ago.   

“We don’t just desperately need resource (foster) parents. We desperately need emotionally intelligent resource parents who can hold space for these traumatized kiddos, knowing that they have the power to make a lasting impression on a child’s life.”   

-Jessica McManus