In 'Safe,' Mark Daley reflects on foster care, adoption and parenthood Mark Daley always knew the goal was reunification — but he was still devastated when the young boys in his care returned to their birth family. He writes about the experience in his new memoir, Safe.

A foster parent reflects on loving — and letting go of — the children in his care

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TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. No matter how hard we tried, we just couldn't get pregnant, jokes my guest, Mark Daley, in the opening sentence of his new memoir. It wasn't a fertility problem. It was that Daley's spouse was his husband. They both wanted to have children, which meant their choices were surrogacy, which they were ambivalent about, private adoption, which could take years or foster children. In 2016, they chose fostering. They soon became the foster parents of two brothers, 3 months and 13 months old, Daley and his spouse, Jason, fell in love with the children, and the boys thrived. But when the boy's birth parents decided to fight in court to get the boys back, Daley was alarmed at the possibility of losing the children he loved. He worried about them being returned to their birth parents, who were dealing with mental health and addiction issues and seemed to be indifferent to their children, and even worse, neglectful.

Through the ups and downs of his family's story, Daley writes about the larger foster care system and the ways in which it's a dysfunctional bureaucracy. Daley started consulting for child welfare nonprofits before fostering. Although he thinks the system failed him, he recognizes the importance of foster care and founded the organization thefosterparent.com, a national platform to connect interested families with foster organizations. He also founded One Iowa, the state's largest LGBTQ organization. He was a communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. His new book is called "Safe: A Memoir Of Fatherhood, Foster Care, And The Risks We Take For Family." He and his husband, Jason, are now the parents of three adopted siblings.

Mark Daley, welcome to FRESH AIR. I found this book very moving and also very informative about foster care. Why did you decide to foster instead of surrogacy?

MARK DALEY: Well, thank you so much for having me, Terry, first and foremost. You know, this was a decision that we took very seriously. I have three cousins that entered our family through foster care, so it was something that I've known about for almost all of my life. I really can't imagine my life without those cousins. And so it was something that I was passionate about and something I thought that maybe we would do at some point in time. But we were really pursuing surrogacy, thinking that was really how we were going to get started. And just by chance, we happened to go out and have breakfast with a friend of ours who was graduating college, and she would had aged out of the foster care system, herself.

And over the breakfast, she confided a few things in us. She said, you know, first, that she was raised by some wonderful, maternal women who were not her mother, of course, but that they had always had biological children who had come before her. And she always felt like maybe she came second. And, you know, we left that breakfast with two realities sort of striking us in the face. The first was, of course, that as two men, our child would be raised without a mother. And the second one was that if we were to do surrogacy first, would we sort of unintentionally be putting a foster child in the same situation that our friend found herself in? And so we left, you know, that breakfast, and we got in our car and started talking. And before we knew it, we had changed plans and decided to foster first.

GROSS: Once you decided to foster, you had to go to preparatory meetings about what to expect, with an emphasis on the difficulties you'd likely face as foster parents. Difficulties because the children would have likely been exposed to trauma. That is one of the main reasons children end up in the foster care system. So tell us about some of the more alarming warnings you were given at these meetings.

DALEY: Yeah. You know, one of the exercises we did in particular was they made us watch this video, and it was about a 7-year-old boy, and he had gone through so many different things. And at the end of it, we had to explain sort of the differences between what is a loss that is something that everyone experiences, you know, something that just with maturity or maturational loss, this idea that maybe we'd go to school for the first time and we have a babysitter, our parents leave, we have this sort of separation there, but every one of us has sort of gone through that. And then there's situational losses. And these are the differences that oftentimes kids in foster care experience. Maybe it is, you know, dealing with a parent or caregiver who struggles with mental health issues, addiction, poverty, violence, you know, death of a loved one, abuse, whatever it might be, and sort of counting, you know, the number of different situational losses that this child in this video had experienced and understanding how commonplace that was in foster care.

That was really a hard thing for, you know, us to just think about, this idea that, you know, we wanted to take in this child and really, you know, love them and give them opportunities and everything that everyone wants for their babies but realizing at first that in order to do that, we'd first have to help them heal.

GROSS: Did you doubt that you'd be capable of doing that?

DALEY: I think that I definitely had concerns about it. You know, I knew that we had a tremendously amazing group of friends and family around us. We had support systems. We are resourceful people. And so, you know, I was up for the challenge. But, you know, what we really wanted, honestly, Terry, was a baby. You know, I - in my work in foster care, I thought that - well, I had heard all these stories about, you know, moms who maybe went out of the maternity ward to go smoke a cigarette and never returned. And so what I was hoping is we would get this child who needed parents and wanted to be raised, and hopefully, we would get them so early in life that we could spare them some of the more, you know, terrible situations that kids in foster care often find themselves in.

GROSS: When you got the call that you - that there were two brothers aged 3 months and 13 months old who you could foster, what were you told about them?

DALEY: We - I had a list of questions. I thought - I knew that it would be a very emotional moment. And so I, you know, I pulled out these questions and I started asking, you know, things like, are they - you know, do they have any other siblings who are in the system that have been adopted, you know, and so on and so forth. And it turns out they did in that case. They had an older sibling who had already been - the parental rights had been terminated, and he'd been adopted by an aunt or uncle and that relative was not either able or willing to take in the younger boys, as well. I asked things about, you know, what was the deal with the parents? Did we know anything? And truthfully, what happens is when a child enters the system, the social workers are just trying to find, you know, a home that can take them. It's more about finding a home than it is about finding the right home. And that's really due to the lack of available homes that we have.

GROSS: So what were you told, and what were you not allowed to be told about the parents and the boys?

DALEY: So when we first got the call, we didn't know very much. In fact, the very first time my husband spoke to them, he was told that they were, you know, Latino twins. And then when they called back a little bit later when he was able to reach me, we were told that, no, in fact, they were not twins. They were actually, you know, white boys, and they were 3 months and 13 months old. And so it's very much the game of telephone, you know?

And then when we first met with the social worker who came to our house, you know, I wanted to ask a million questions, but, you know, you're in this really difficult situation because just because you're caring for someone's children doesn't really give you, you know, courtside seats to their life, either. I mean, these people are obviously experiencing the most difficult time of their life, and you have to be respectful and mindful of that. But there was also a curiosity factor to it, of course. But even more than more than that, really, was this idea that if the children had been exposed to anything, I wanted to make sure that I could get them any specialized help or care that they needed.

GROSS: And were you allowed to be told what kind of trauma they had experienced, if any?

DALEY: I think we would have been told if that was known from the front end. I think that it was - there was very limited knowledge of what had really happened. We got the greatest sense of this later, you know, as we were talking to the - the parents themselves actually told us more than anybody.

GROSS: What did they tell you?

DALEY: You know, they just talked about their own childhood and the stuff they'd gone through, where they were living, you know, once the boys were removed. And this is, you know, what happens. You know, they were living with their - with the grandmother. And once the boys were gone - they had been sharing a mattress on the floor in the family room. But when the boys were detained, they then - the parents then moved to the car that they had leased, which then took away his job because he was driving for Uber. And then ultimately that lost their income, so eventually the car would be repossessed.

And, you know, it's just this one domino that fell that just sort of triggered this whole series. And it's just far too common, not just in our story, but in America now with poverty and things that people are dealing with.

GROSS: And you learned that the mother, Amber, had bipolar disorder and wasn't taking her medication. And both she and her husband had addiction problems, and they were in and out of rehab. So that's, you know, a lot of problems to have.

DALEY: It is a lot. I remember we were at a - really early on, we were at sort of a meeting between the social workers and the biological parents and us and the children. And there was a therapist there who was doing some work with the kids. And the mother was going on about how - you know, to the social worker about how she never should have lost her children. And the social worker was just remaining very, very calm. And then eventually she just turned and said, hey, Amber. Look. I don't even have a clean drug test from you yet, and which sort of, you know, changed the tone of the room, you know, immediately. And I would learn a few weeks later that the mother was pregnant again with their third child. All I could think to myself is, here's this child that's now, you know, probably being exposed.

GROSS: Yeah. Statistically, what were the odds that they were going to remain with you permanently?

DALEY: Well, in California, 55% of children reunify. And that, you know, is - and the remainder either go on to - some of them are adopted by either, you know, family members, by foster parents. Some go into legal guardianship, some age out of the foster care system, you know, some run away. There's different numbers there. That was always something - you know, in foster care, the goal is always reunification, and it should be. I really, wholeheartedly believe that. You know, we obviously wanted to take in a baby, but like I said before, we wanted to take in a child who needed a family. We didn't want to take one from someone else, parents who are able to care for and keep a child safe.

GROSS: But, you know, you fell in love with these two boys and you wanted them in your life forever, but you weren't sure if the parents would want or get them back. So you didn't know whether to prepare for handing them back to their parents or save money for their college education. It's a very emotionally perplexing and anxiety producing way to live.

DALEY: Absolutely. I'm not a person who does well with the gray, you know? I like to have a certainty, you know, whether it's yes, it's no, it's here's the plan. And, you know, when you're sort of living at the mercy of whether or not the system decides they're staying or going - you know, there were certain things the parents did where they were having real successes. And, you know, you would have to be a heartless individual to not root them on when they're having those, you know, and we certainly were supportive in that sense. But there were other things that you would experience when you were with them that you were like, oh, gosh, I just don't know that if they go home, they're going to be safe. And it was a really difficult challenge. Plus, you know, as you said, the moment you see these babies, you fall in love. That's just what happens.

GROSS: Well, let's take a short break here, and then we'll hear more of your story and more about the foster care system. If you're just joining us, my guest is Mark Daley, author of "Safe: A Memoir Of Fatherhood, Foster Care, And The Risks We Take For Family." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF PATTI SMITH SONG, "SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Mark Daley. His new memoir, "Safe," is about the experiences he and his husband Jason had in the foster care system, fostering two brothers who came to them at 3 months and 13 months old.

So I want to get back to the idea of not knowing whether these children would stay with you or whether they would be back with their biological parents. What are the rules for defining, you know, for judging whether children stay with the foster parents or return to their biological parents?

DALEY: You know, I believe it varies by places of where you live around the country. But, you know, here in California, you know, there's a whole entire justice system set up to protect the rights of children and families. And so ultimately, the courts have the final say at the end of the day. But in court, you know, the biological parents, the children and the county, you know, the agency that has detained the child, all are represented by attorneys that, you know, have their own cases to make here. So it usually is something that's ultimately decided by a judge.

GROSS: But you as the foster parents don't have an attorney, right?

DALEY: No, no, foster parents really don't have a say. You know, we were allowed to submit a document into the court that just really asked very direct questions about health and well-being. But that was really the only voice that we had.

GROSS: You were surprised and baffled when the parents started trying to get their two children back. Why were you so surprised?

DALEY: I think, you know, the surprise came in because there was so many opportunities where they just hadn't stepped up, so that when they finally did, it was like, wait a minute, what's going on here, you know? Like, I just - I think I had kind of told myself that, you know, they're not - there were so many things that the court had ordered them to do, whether it was go to rehab, take parenting classes. And they weren't doing any of it - you know, get drug tested, these different things. None of it were steps they had done. So when they did, it was just sort of like, oh, wait a minute. And I think at that point I had sort of told myself, well, they're not - the babies aren't going to stay. They're never going to go home if they don't do these certain things. And then when they started, I was like, oh, wait a minute, you know, the game just changed here on that sense, you know?

GROSS: They were allowed supervised - what? - three-hour visits with the children. And you were there for some of the visits, but there were also visits at their biological parents' home, which you weren't always there for. So when you had visits together with the parents and the children, what were your impressions of the parents and how they reacted to their own children?

DALEY: You know, there were often times where the older child would walk in, and the mother would just run to him and hug him and kiss him and so on. And the baby, you know, she just seemed very indifferent towards. And I really struggled with it because, you know, obviously I was crazy about both of these children, and I just hated for him to have to experience that, not even knowing whether or not he was even processing, you know, who she was at that point, you know? But it was really hard to see that.

GROSS: And also, yeah, you thought that the parents were kind of indifferent to the kids a lot of the time. They ended the visits early. They didn't show up for some of them. They showed up late for other visits. And when the kids went to the parents' home, they'd return with problems. What kind of problems?

DALEY: Yeah. You know, when the children would go to their house, you know, they would come back and there was regression issues. So there was, you know, biting or pinching or - you know, or having tantrums and meltdowns, you know, it was very clear that they hadn't had naps or, you know, the food was sort of, you know, just thrown at them whenever, like in the sense of, you know, they were eating, you know, junk food. And, you know, which I don't judge anyone for feeding junk food in that sense, either. But it was, you know, it was very clear that just these kids were exhausted. There was no schedule. You know, and I can't - I don't say that with a judgment towards them. I think it's more about the behaviors that the kids were having when they came back where I just - they were so well adjusted, and it was hard for them.

GROSS: And there was also, like, the diaper rash and the diarrhea that they'd return with.

DALEY: Absolutely. And your heart just breaks. You've got these children with these terrible diaper rash, and you'd work all week to try to get it to go away. And then they'd go spend the weekend with their biological parents and come back with a new one the next week. You're just thinking, how long are they sitting in the soiled diaper?

GROSS: Yeah. Your husband, Jason, had dealt with addiction. He'd been sober for 15 years but had problems with alcohol in the past. Was he especially understanding of the problems the parents were facing with addiction?

DALEY: Jason was really understanding. In fact, there were times where, you know, the mom in particular would call and, you know, they would be on speakerphone having a conversation, and I would be, like, the third wheel in the room just listening to them because he really understands what it's like. And, you know, the one day at a time mentality and the fact that, you know, what addiction means and what it can do and how hard it is. And so it really - I mean, it was a moment where I even fell more in love with him.

GROSS: So you were torn between wanting the family to be reunited, you know, the children to return to their parents and wanting to keep the children yourself because you love them, because you worried about the kind of care they'd get if they were reunited with their parents.

DALEY: Yeah, it was an absolutely - I mean, it was really such a hard situation to be in because you really - the last thing I'd ever want to do is make my family on the back of another family. You know, that realization that for my family to stay together meant that another family had to break apart, that is a really difficult pill to swallow.

GROSS: Do you think most foster parents enter the system with the idea that this is something they're willing to do temporarily, or do you think most foster parents want the children to remain with them permanently?

DALEY: I think that there is definitely a divide in there. I think that there - I hope that we are able to attract more people who see it as the temporary, you know, I'm helping a family going through a really difficult position. But that being said, you know, not all kids do reunify. And so we do need families that are willing to open their homes and lives to a child in need.

GROSS: I guess some people are fostered by several different parents because, you know, the parents might not want to foster indefinitely. So they're back in the system and then back with different parents.

DALEY: Yeah. I mean, you know, kids - one of the major pushes in the system is to try to keep kids within their family. And I think what they find is that children who are moved to an aunt, an uncle, a grandparent, you know, they tend to have fewer moves. And also, just from a trauma standpoint, the idea of being removed from your family and, you know, your school and moving into a stranger's home is just traumatic. You know, where if you're going to stay with your aunt or uncle, it's not as traumatic in that sense.

GROSS: So we need to take a short break here. So let's do that, and then we'll talk more about your experience as a foster parent and your experience within the foster care bureaucracy. So we'll be right back. If you're just joining us, my guest is Mark Daley, and he's the author of the new memoir, "Safe: A Memoir Of Fatherhood, Foster Care, And The Risks We Take For Family." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JON BATISTE'S "KINDERGARTEN")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to my interview with Mark Daley. His new memoir, "Safe," is about the experiences he and his husband Jason had fostering two brothers. The boys were 3 months and 13 months old when they arrived in 2016. Mark and his husband, Jason, fell in love with the boys and were plagued by the uncertainty of whether their birth parents would want them back and concerned about what would happen to the boys if they were returned to their parents. In telling this family story, Mark Daley writes about the frequent dysfunction within the foster care system, but he still sees the importance of foster care for both foster parents and the children and for society as well. He founded the organization thefosterparent.com, a national platform to connect interested families with foster organizations. He also founded One Iowa, the state's largest LGBTQ+ organization. He was a communications director for Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. Mark and Jason are now the parents of three adopted siblings.

Let's talk about the dysfunction within the foster care bureaucracy that you found so frustrating and often infuriating. First of all, the number of, like, meetings and the amount of time you spent waiting for, like, the judge to hear the case - you kept wondering, how would somebody who has to show up for work between 9 to 5 possibly be able to deal with this? You owned your own company, so you could make your own hours when you needed to, although you had to cancel meetings at the last minute. I mean, it was a problem for you, but you imagine it would be even worse for somebody with inflexible hours. What were some of the things that you had to drop everything for in order to appear for whichever kind of meaning it was?

DALEY: Yeah. I mean, there were days where we would get calls and say, it's 4 o'clock on a Thursday, and the social worker was coming the next morning at 10 a.m. And we'd say, well, you know, no one's planning to be home. You know, we have to work. And she'd say, well, it's the last day of the month. I have to be there. It's like, well, you know, you couldn't have given us any more notice? There were so many times we were told to be at the courthouse by 9 a.m. We would get there. We would check in. But your case didn't get called until it got called. So you could be there all day.

And it just - as I'm sitting in there, I kept thinking about all these families around us and how many of them had to go out and get jobs to try to get their kids back, to prove to a judge they're doing everything they can. And so imagine being in week two of your new job, going into your boss and saying, hey; I need some time off to go try to get my kids back. Like, how does that make you look, and how does that make you feel? It just - my heart broke for these families.

GROSS: Yeah. And the caseworker who called you and said, so we'll have a meeting at 10 in the morning, and it's like there's no notice at all - she was an example of an incompetent caseworker. Can you compare for us the difference between working with a competent and an incompetent caseworker as an adoptive - as a foster parent?

DALEY: We had a couple of social workers who were just remarkable. They were very professional. They always - we knew where the line we could cross was - you know, not to cross. But they arrived when they told us they would be there. You know, if they were running late, they called. All the paperwork was submitted on time. The things that we asked for, they got us answers to. And then we had one who, you know, wouldn't respond to emails or calls, or she would try to schedule visits and then change the times and - or set them up for - one day she scheduled a visit at our house. At the same time, she scheduled a visit with the biological parents. It's like, how are the kids going to be in two places at once?

GROSS: Yeah. One of the things you found - among the many things you found very disturbing was that the judge didn't seem to know much about any people in this drama - not about you, not about the children, not about the parents. And even this - Amber, the mother, was pregnant again, and the judge had no idea until - I guess until he saw her and then congratulated her. But that's a pretty critical thing to know if you're ruling on something as important as, can you take care of the children? And now it would be, like, three children, two of whom I think would be under 2.

DALEY: Yeah. There were so many times we would hear from social workers, oh, I've got to get my reports in. I've got to file this, you know, so we have it in time for court. And, you know, I've got to update this record to make sure it's in to the judge on time. And then, you know, you're sitting in the courtroom. And the parents walk in, and they have their infant with them. And the judge looks up and, you know, says hello and then says, and who's this? And they, you know, introduce the baby. And the judge says, oh, congratulations. And it's just mind-blowing to think, oh, wait. You didn't know there was a third one?

GROSS: Right. That's right. She had already had the baby. She wasn't pregnant.

DALEY: Yeah.

GROSS: So is that the judge who made the final ruling?

DALEY: So the judge actually said that they would stay with us for another six months, but that was the same judge who had actually ruled in their detention, which was actually ultimately overturned. The judge ruled that they should stay with us for another six months. And we kind of expected at that time that, you know, this was really make or break time for the parents, whether or not the kids would be able to go back depending upon whether or not the parents were able to finish with their recovery, figure out what they're going to do as far as a place to live, employment, how they're going to provide for their kids. And what had happened was the parents had filed an appeal of the initial detention, saying they never should have been taken away in the first place. And that's really what interfered with our case. And so the kids went back prematurely because the California Court of Appeals ruled in their favor.

GROSS: What was it like for you to find out you had to give back the children?

DALEY: I think...

GROSS: How long had it been, by the way, since you had been parenting them?

DALEY: It'd been about 15 or 16 months that they had been with us. You know, we fully expected at some point we might have to. And - but, I mean, it certainly didn't make it any easier. And what really gave us the big fear was that we just didn't know what it was going to be like. We just felt like they weren't ready yet. It wasn't that they could never be ready. It was just that it was too early. You know, we had just started doing more visits with them. You know, things weren't looking great when they were coming back, but with continued support, they could start to look better. And so it was really upsetting.

GROSS: What was your goodbye like with the children? - because they were too young to understand what was happening. They were too young to understand what a foster parent is or why they weren't with their parents. I'm not sure if they even understood which parents were which.

DALEY: Yeah. The day they left, we had, you know, packed up a bunch of their stuff. And one of the social workers from the nonprofit that we were - fostered through, licensed through had come over to pick them up so that we really didn't have to drive over there and drop them off 'cause she just knew it was going to be really emotional for us. And so, you know, we helped get them in her car. And, you know, I remember the - putting the baby in the car seat, and his brother was asking for him. And I just, you know, it broke my heart. But all I could think was, you know, thank God they have each other, you know, they were so close and so tight.

GROSS: So what happened to the children?

DALEY: So ultimately, we waited. We knew that they were going to come back in. It was just in my heart. I just - I knew it wasn't right yet. But, you know, they were in a position because they were so young. And even though they had a younger sister, too, they weren't really exposed to any reporters. There were no teachers or doctors or nurses or anything that they were coming in contact with regularly who would lodge any sort of complaint. And, you know, we obviously hoped that they would be OK. But a little over a year later, I woke up to a text message from a friend of mine that said, you know, there are - she said, I'm not sure you're ready for this, but my adoption worker was at the house today and she has three kids that have just been assigned to her that their parents are no longer in the reunification, you know, getting reunification services, and they're available for adoption, if you're interested.

And so I ran it by Jason. You know, I wasn't really sure what to think. And he said, let's find out their story. And so we did. We got into a potential match situation, and a few months later, the kids moved in with us. And those are, of course, the kids that I've adopted. But if you fast-forward, you know, 10 months after our children moved in with us, we got a call from the county that the boys and the younger sister were now back in care. And would we consider taking them in...

GROSS: That...

DALEY: ...Which would have...

GROSS: ...Must have been such a hard decision. You love those boys. But - now, they were babies when you got them. They were, like, 3 months and 13 months old, and this was two years later. So...

DALEY: Right.

GROSS: ...They were more developed and they did that development in the home of their birth parents, who you thought probably weren't quite ready yet to parent the children. So what kind of math did you do in your own head to decide what was best for all your children - the three adopted children and the two boys who you'd fostered, and what was best for you and your husband?

DALEY: It was absolutely a horrific position for us to be in. You know, we obviously love all six children in that situation, but at the end of the day...

GROSS: Wait. There's...

DALEY: ...You know...

GROSS: ...Five children, right? Who did I miss?

DALEY: Well, no. The boys had a younger sister now. Yeah.

GROSS: So they were offering - right. So the three of them had to be together.

DALEY: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: Yeah.

DALEY: So we would have gone from three to six kids. And, you know, our house is only so big, but the county said they would have worked with us. And I think our initial reaction was, yes, OK, let's do this. And then we started to talk, and the agency that we had gone through thankfully said let's get on the phone and talk this through before you make a really emotional decision. And so we got on the phone with them and they said, you know, look. We talked to the social worker, and the kids have been through a lot since they left your care. And the boys are much more aggressive than they were. And all I could think about is the children that we have adopted now and - or were on the way to adoption with and, you know, they're very petite, and any sort of, you know, roughhousing would really hurt them. And I had to protect them.

But also, would I be doing what was right for the other three kids bringing them in, knowing that my attention would be divided amongst six children, that all of them have their own, you know, needs and things that we need to take care of and, you know, the help that we need to get them, the therapy appointments, the doctor's appointments, the school, the extracurricular, the fun stuff, you know? And not to mention, they're in a situation now where they could still go back to their biological parents and we'd have to go through this again, but only this time, you know, what if we bonded as a large family in the sense we now have children to worry about, you know, meaning the kids that we're adopting. So oftentimes I think about it, and I remember the decision that the boy's grandmother ultimately made at the beginning when she said I can't do this even though I love them. And that was - to find myself in her position was just really - it was terrible.

GROSS: Well, let me reintroduce you again. If you're just joining us, my guest is Mark Daley, author of the book "Safe: A Memoir Of Fatherhood, Foster Care, And The Risks We Take For Family." We'll be right back. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GILAD HEKSELMAN'S "DO RE MI FA SOL")

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my interview with Mark Daley. His new memoir, "Safe," is about the experiences he and his husband Jason had in the foster care system fostering two brothers who came to them at 3 months and 13 months old.

I have to say, although you're sympathetic to the plight of the parents, it also doesn't make them look like terribly responsible parents. So this book will be published, and it might do really well. So how - do you think about the parents finding out about it and reading it and feeling perhaps like they were misrepresented because they don't - I mean, you're very sympathetic to their plight, but they don't come off very well in the book in terms of being responsible and being capable of overcoming their problems.

DALEY: You know, I went to painstaking lengths, obviously, to sort of hide their identities and do whatever I could, you know, to change names and locations and all those things, you know, to make sure that they were protected. I think the truth is that, you know, I'm only one person in this whole story and that we all have our own different perspectives. And there were different times that that came to light, you know, for me, in living this, just when I was complaining about the issues with the social worker, and then all of a sudden, when the mom said something about it, I was like, right, you know, I mean, I have a car, and I have a job, and I have all of these resources that she doesn't have. It must be so much more difficult for her. You know, I think it just - so I think that, you know, certainly, she's probably not going to like the way that she's presented in this. But I'm also just trying to share my perspective really with the hope that we can do more across the board, you know, that people will step up and recognize the challenges of addiction, mental health, poverty.

GROSS: Also, I wonder if this went through your mind, that the person with more privilege and more money shouldn't be the person who wins. It shouldn't by default be the person who wins.

DALEY: I completely agree. I mean, look. It is not fair to compare what we have and what they have, right? I mean, I have - very fortunate to have grown up in a, you know, loving, working-class family. And I've been afforded opportunities that these parents have never had, you know? I don't deal with the intergenerational trauma and the abuse that they've gone through and experienced or, you know, the mental health issues that they struggle with. It is not a - we didn't start this with a level playing field. That being said, they should never prioritize folks like myself over families that can get it together and keep their child safe. You know, a kid doesn't need a lot to be - to grow up to be a success. They just need the minimum, you know?

GROSS: And they need love, which you weren't sure they were getting.

DALEY: And the love, the love. I know that they - I don't question that they love their children. It's just that, you know, love doesn't keep you safe, you know? It doesn't make sure that you're not left alone in the bathtub.

GROSS: Right. One of the things you don't write about in your memoir is the obstacles you faced as husband and husband, as a gay married couple fostering children and being accepted by the foster care system. So I'm assuming that that was not an issue.

DALEY: You know, I live in Los Angeles. And Los Angeles is not a microcosm of the United States, so I say this with that disclaimer out there. But they knew that we were there because it was a very deliberate decision. We had talked long and hard about it. We had done our research, and so we were treated extremely well throughout the process.

GROSS: Are there obstacles in other states?

DALEY: Absolutely. There's more than a dozen states that do not have laws on the book that prevent discrimination against LGBT families from fostering. What is so shortsighted about that is that today, same-sex couples are two times more likely to be fostering than heterosexual couples.

GROSS: Do you think that's because of the obstacles to getting children if you're a gay couple?

DALEY: I think it's a combination of that. I think that it is definitely the obstacles. But also, you know, as gay folks, we've grown up where we have a lot of friends and family who have experienced being disowned, you know, by their friends and family. And so the sense of your chosen family runs a little bit deeper in the gay community than it does in probably most circles. And I think that adoption and foster care sort of lends naturally into that. Plus, we have a foster system that has 30% of the youth identify as LGBTQ, so we need families that are affirming.

GROSS: I think your doorway into activism - and now you're, like, an activist in terms of the foster care system, but you started as a gay activist and founded this group, One Iowa, to fight for marriage equality. Do you still consider yourself an activist in LGBTQ issues?

DALEY: I'd like to. I think that right now I am a dad who spends a lot of time at a soccer field and at dance classes.

GROSS: Right, yeah.

DALEY: But there's a lot of activism that needs to be done around the protecting of LGBT families, I'm learning, and I think that is a really big thing that, you know, I see myself stepping more into.

GROSS: It's been a pleasure to talk with you, and congratulations on the family that you have.

DALEY: Thank you so much for having me, Terry. This was amazing.

GROSS: Mark Daley's new memoir is called "Safe." Larry David's HBO comedy series "Curb Your Enthusiasm" began its 12th and final season Sunday. Our TV critic David Bianculli will have a review after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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