Creating a Life Book For Your Adoptive/Foster Child

 

 

 

Creating Lifebooks for our children is one of those things in life that some parents follow through better than others, like sending out Christmas cards. The desire is there, we’ve pictured the outcome, we understand the appreciation it will bring others, and some have gotten as far as making a Shutterfly account. But then, before we know it, it’s December 24th, December 25th, January 1st, January 30th and we’ve convinced ourselves that next year we will do better.

I get it, life is busy, especially now that we’re parenting. But unlike Christmas Cards, that are eventually thrown away or tossed into a drawer, Lifebooks serve as  lifelong tools for our children. It connects a child with their past. It helps them make sense of their experiences, the good and painful. It’s a vehicle that facilitates discussion about the often-messy circumstances leading to their adoption, helps navigate their grief of losses and past traumas, and aids to dispel magical thinking or false beliefs that somehow they caused the separation from their birth family.  All of which, if handled correctly, contributes to strengthening a child’s positive self-identify.

Through a quick internet search, you can find a lot of wonderful resources about creating a Lifebook for your adoptive/foster child. Most of the blogs and articles are better than I could ever recreate. Here are some of the highlights that I’ve learned from my thirteen years working in the adoptions and foster care field.

 

  1. Lifebooks are not reserved for the Pinterest parent. Lifebooks are not meant to be perfect or even pretty. They are filled photos, artwork, words, historic information and journal entries. No Shutterfly account needed. Use a book were pages can be added and rearranged, such as a three-ring binder.
  2. Don’t know where to begin? Start with important dates and places. Stuck again? Search the web for template pages and ideas. Iowa’s Foster and Adoptive Parent Association IFAPA has created over seventy free life book pages for foster and adoptive families and social workers to use. http://www.ifapa.org/publications/ifapa_lifebook_pages.asp
  3. Do a little legwork. I know of one fost/adopt family whose daughter attended twelve schools in only eight years. To help fill in her story, they retrieved the names of the schools from former case workers and spent one summer visiting each school, taking photographs of the schools and asking the school offices for their daughter’s yearbook picture.
  4. Involved the masses. Contact important individuals from your child’s past and ask them to contribute notes and memories. These people may include case workers, foster parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc. Even if you don’t have many contacts from your child’s past, you must have had contact with a social worker who facilitated your adoption.
  5. Involve your child. The life book is for your child and in order for it to be a useful therapeutic too., they must contribute. When they are young it may be a drawing they made of their birth family. As they get older they can contribute more. They also must be allowed to handle it, carry it around, land ook at it when they please.
  6. Remain honest. A Lifebook should provide a child the truth about their own life history. The story can become more sophisticated as the child grows older. As painful as it may be, recording the reasons for the child’s adoption is important because truth dispels false beliefs that a child may otherwise have that they caused the circumstances that led them to be separated from their birth family and false guilt that may affect their self-worth. Lifebooks also allow for feelings, complicated and real, such as how much a child loves their birth parents and positive memories living with their birth family even when those parents may have been neglectful, abusive or primarily absent
  7. Leave lots of blank pages to continue to document your child’s growth, development, school progress, hobbies, and relationships etc.

The simple fact is there is no right or wrong way to make a Lifebook, but by not doing a Lifebook you’re missing a powerful way to positively impact your child’s sense of self and the way they view their past, present and future. It’s also a great way to deepen the parent/child relationship. The Christmas cards can wait until next year, your child’s Lifebook should not.

3 Things I Learned from Dr. Karyn Purvis

 

 

As most families and agencies would say, Dr. Karyn Purvis, who lost her valiant battle with cancer on April 12, 2016, has been one of the most influential teachers for adoptive families. There are few conversations I have with adoptive families where I do not reference her words, wisdom, and expertise. “Be gentle”, “Are you asking or telling?”, and “Use your words” are so ingrained in me that they come out to just about any child (or adult) that I come across, in my adoption world or not. As a TBRI Educator, I was beyond blessed to sit and learn from Dr. Purvis at their intensive training, countless conferences, and Empowered to Connect before her passing. Each time I read her words, whether in the book The Connected Child or notes from past trainings, her lessons sink deeper, and I hope that I can turn to our clients and impart even a fraction of her wisdom as they care for their children from hard places. I took some time to reflect on all that I learned from Dr. Purvis and want to share those words with you today.

Adult Attachment Inventory

“We can only lead a child to a place of healing if we know the way ourselves.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis’s instruction on evaluating adult attachment has not only been instrumental in my own personal journey, but is crucial for adoptive families to explore. As we consider taking children into our homes that have experienced trauma, we must give space and time to our own healing journey. These children are likely to trigger our own past wounds, no matter how big or small, and as the quote says above, we must lead the way into healing.

I took a flight a few days ago where I was struck again by the instructions to place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping a child. The idea here is that you cannot help a child if you are passed out or harmed yourself by the lack of oxygen. If oxygen is flowing to you, you can quickly come to the aid of a child, calming them down and providing the oxygen they need to survive. The same principle applies to our own healing journeys. You cannot help a child if you are preoccupied with your own needs. You cannot guide a child toward healing if you don’t know what a healthy, secure person looks like for yourself. How do you know where to lead them? How do you teach them secure relationships if you are not secure yourself?

So what are the characteristics of a securely attached adult? Dr. Purvis outlines them simply as an adult that is able to:

  • give care to another
  • receive care from another
  • be autonomous
  • negotiate their own needs

Do you struggle with any of these areas? I can give care very easily but receiving that care from another person is quite difficult. Parents must be honest with themselves about their own childhood experiences and how that impacts you as an adult. Take some time to give real consideration to the list above that describe a securely attached adult. Which of these areas do you struggle with in your romantic, family, and friend relationships? If you struggle to receive care, you won’t be able to receive the love your child wants to extend to you. If you don’t know how to negotiate your needs, you will lean toward anger or distrust in your relationships. Perhaps you don’t trust that someone will meet your needs if you say them out loud, so you stay silent and grow resentful.

I encourage you to be honest with yourself and give grace and kindness to the areas where you struggle. This will make you better in all of your relationships, especially with your adopted child. When you learn to give love in a healthier way, your child learns to receive real love. If you can learn to be autonomous your child learns to trust others and trust themselves. Seek out the perspective of a counselor, pastor, friend, or spouse to identify the reasons you struggle with any of these areas. Journal, pray, and bring it to God to start your own healing journey to mark the path for your child to follow.

Finding and Giving Voice

“Tell your children ‘you are precious, you are valuable, and nobody else is created like you’” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

I have heard people speak of going into orphanages in Eastern Europe, filled with babies and toddlers, and describe the eerie silence. Is that what you would expect to hear from a room full of 2 year olds? What was discovered is that neglected children will stop crying once they learn that their cries are not attended to. If no one will respond and connect with you when you cry out, why take the time to cry out and feel that repeated rejection? Crying is a way of expressing a need, especially for a child that is not old enough to put their needs into words. If they experience neglect or abuse as a young child, they begin to feel as if they do not have a voice. As I mentioned above, learning to negotiate your needs requires an environment where you feel safe to express your needs and trust that you and your needs will be valued by a response. This cycle starts for us when as infants. You cried when you were hungry, your mother heard your cries, and fed you. This creates a cycle of trust, value, and love. Our children from hard places often have that cycle disrupted which solidifies the message that their needs are not important and no one will respond with care for them. As they grow, they stop speaking out their needs and develop strategies to meet their own needs. This often manifests in negative behaviors such as lying, stealing, manipulation, or aggression.

“Use your words” is one of my favorite catch phrases from Dr. Purvis because it teaches children to ask for what they need instead of using tantrums, lying, or acting out to communicate. It reinforces that their words, over negative behaviors, have power to get their needs met. They don’t need to hoard food if they learn they can ask for a snack and food will be provided to them. They don’t need to steal toys from their siblings if they learn they can ask to play with them.

Dr. Purvis encourages families to learn how to say “yes” over always saying “no”. This does not mean you become a pushover that spoils your child. You can learn to say yes to your child, even while technically saying no. For example, let’s say your child wants to watch a TV show or play with a particular toy but you are in a situation where they cannot do that in that moment. Instead of saying “no, we don’t have time for that” you can instead say, “right now we are doing this activity but tonight after dinner you can watch that TV show”. This message still keeps you on track for what you are doing in that moment while also telling the child that you heard their need (or want) and will meet that need, just not in that exact moment. Think over the last few days and all the times you said “no” to your child. Sometimes you must say “no” in situations where they are trying to run into the street or touching something that could harm them. However, I bet there are at least a few things that could be easily rephrased to turn your “no” into a “yes” and reinforce connection, trust, and security between you and your child.

Sensory Integration Disorder

“Deprivation and harm suffered early in life impact all the ways that a child develops – coordinator, ability to learn, social skills, size, and even the neurochemical pathways in the brain.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis identifies 6 risk factors for children from hard places. Abuse, neglect, and trauma are the first factors that most people identify but Dr. Purvis also emphasizes earlier exposure to risk for the child in a difficult pregnancy, difficult birth, and early hospitalization. These risk factors influence the way children think, trust, and connect with others and these will impact our children regardless of the age they are adopted. One main area that these risk factors can hinder is our ability to process sensory input. Dr. Purvis states that our senses serve four primary functions:

  • To alert the body and brain to important cues
  • To protect the body and brain from becoming overwhelmed
  • To select what is important to pay attention to
  • To organize the brain automatically

We take in the world around us through our senses – taste, smell, see, hear, and touch. We will add to this list common list the senses of proprioceptive (deep tactile pressure) and vestibular (balance, body in relation to the earth). Our senses help us take in input from our environment, organize that input, and send us a message. For example, if we smell something burning, our brain very quickly processes that smell by telling us what the smell is (burning food or burning materials) and tells our body how to respond (look for fire in the house, run away from danger, stay calm because it is just a campfire, etc). When our children have a breakdown in processing, their brain is not able to compute the input their senses are giving them as quickly or in the same way are someone with typically functioning sensory processing.

For our children from hard places, a disruption in sensory processing often results in frustration, overstimulation, or dysregulation. If your child is oversensitive in one or more of their senses, they are taking in too much information and their brain cannot organize it in a way to keep us calm and understanding. These are children that cannot wear certain fabrics in their clothing because the feeling on their body is overstimulating. They may not be able to say to you this issue is occurring but if their brain is preoccupied with the feel of their clothes, they are not able to compartmentalize that input and are unable to focus in school or at the dinner table. They may be too easily startled by loud noises and their brain is not able to calm them down as quickly or interpret any loud noise they hear as a threat. Other children may be under stimulated by sensory input and need stronger or more intense input in order to organize their world and thoughts.

Children that have experienced any of the 6 risk factors that Dr. Purvis outlines are at risk of Sensory Processing Disorder. These children will often display these struggles with sensory input in their behavior and parents should keep watch this. Perhaps your child is aggressive when others come too close, shriek when their hair is brushed, or refuse to participate in certain activities. If your child has a complete meltdown when eating certain textures of food or certain articles of clothing, this could be misbehavior, but it likely indicates an issue with sensory processing.

Here are some things you can do if you think your child may be struggling with sensory input:

  • Keep a log of your child’s odd or problematic behavior to see if there are patterns. Perhaps your child always has aggressive behavior after you come home from a crowded activity (party, church, grocery store, shopping, etc). This could indicate your child was overstimulated by the noise or bumping into others and their brain is not able to calm them down like it should once they are away from the overstimulation.
  • Give your child lots of sensory rich activities each day. This will help them meet their sensory needs and teach their brain to sense, organize, and respond to sensory input. You can search online for sensory activities you can do at home with your child.
  • Have your child evaluated for Sensory Processing Disorder by an Occupational Therapist. They will do an evaluation and treatment plan to help your child learn to regulate and get sensory needs met.

These three lessons are simple concepts but take a lot of intention and practice for you as a parent. Contact us at the Post Adoption Connection Center to learn more about how to integrate these concepts into your parenting, especially if you are experiencing difficulties with your child.

Post Adoption Connection Center

 

 

In December of 2017, I received an e-mail from a family who had adopted their 6-year-old son through international adoption the year before.  In their e-mail they expressed feelings of hopelessness.  They were writing to tell me that they were considering dissolving their adoption.  In their e-mail they stated, “At this point we have exhausted all our resources”.  I was particular struck by that statement.  How could they have exhausted all of their resources, when they had not reached out to me, their adoption advisor.

Prior to this e-mail, I had already been dreaming about a way to stay connected with our adoptive families.  I had long realized that after the adoption is final, many families do not return to their placing agency.  In fact, some families feel that their agency has “dropped” them and doesn’t care.  The staff person that they were previously working with has moved on to help the next family home with their child, and their time is limited.  They are unable to reach out to alumni families and offer support.  We remain here for our families, and It is our hope that families needing support will reach out to us.  Unfortunately, that is not usually the case.  I had begun to think and dream of a way to change this phenomenon.

Out of that dreaming and planning, came the Post Adoption Connection Center.  I am thrilled to see this vision become a reality.  On November 1, 2018, Nightlight Christian Adoptions officially launched the PACC.  It is our goal to use this center to stay in connection with our adoptive families.  We will be reaching out to you instead of waiting for you to reach out to us.  We want you to know that we are here, and that we want to be your first point of contact for anything that you are facing.  In addition, we desire for the PACC to be a place for birth mothers to stay in connection and receive support from our team.  We are offering mentoring and education resources, as well as, counseling services.  For more information about the PACC and how we can help, please click this link.

I am happy to report that the family I mentioned above is doing well today. I was able to put them in touch with our counselor on staff and through skype meetings and assistance, they made the decision not to dissolve their adoption.  They were able to overcome the hurdles they were facing and move forward as a successful family.  Nightlight Christian Adoptions serves our adoptive families for life.  We are here for you even after your adoption is final.  It is my hope that the PACC will assure our families that we care and that we are here for the long term.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10: 24-25

Adoption Support: What Is Helpful from Family and Friends?

So… you are parents and you’re in your home loving on your baby.  Friends and family are excited and want to celebrate with you, however, they may not quite know how to support you during this time.  They may wonder if it’s okay to stop by, deliver a meal or offer to babysit.  They may have additional questions as to what you need.  While I’m an advocate of telling people what you need, not all people hear when there’s a baby involved!  Let’s look at a few ways family and friends can support you while you bond and spend time snuggling with your little one.

In asking several adoptive parents how they either received support or would have liked to receive support, I compiled a list of things to consider as your family and friends champion you and your child:

  • DO pray!
  • DO accept our decision to adopt without question and how we choose to share about our personal life and decisions.
  • DO accept our choice of a child regardless of their race, heritage or age.
  • DO offer practical help if you don’t mind giving us your time.
  • DO respect that we need bonding time with our child.
  • DO respect our parenting style.
  • DO speak of the birth family with favorable words – We want to honor them with our words and our actions. Speaking negatively of our child(ren)’s biology can transfer to them.
  • DO be willing to learn and educate yourself about adoption.
  • DO show our child unconditional love.
  • DON’T feel sorry for our adopted child.
  • DON’T tell us that now that we’ve adopted we’ll get pregnant with a child of “our own”.
  • DON’T make demands for our time and attention during our adjustment to this new phase.

One adoptive mother’s story:  When we brought our child home (directly from the hospital) we had very few items.  We struggled for years with infertility and it was too painful to have baby items in our home.  Our child was born a month early (we had no idea of gender prior to birth) so we stopped at Babies R Us (while traveling home) to get what we needed.  Upon arriving home, I borrowed from friends (bottles and necessary items) to get through until a baby shower was planned.  I think everyone thought we must have everything that we needed (despite being registered at Babies R Us!) because at the baby shower we received only clothes and small items.  In addition, not one person brought us a meal or offered to help out in any other way.  I also didn’t get paid maternity leave!  We were not angry, we never expected anything from anyone, but I was hurt.  For years I had been supportive, excited, and giving (of time and resources) when my friends welcomed their children into the world.  In fact, when I confided in one friend about how sleep deprived I was she stated “well, isn’t this what you wanted?”.  This was what I wanted, but I was tired!  Everyone thought I should spring right in to motherhood, but I didn’t.  I was struggling terribly (with what later was pointed out to me, by an adoption worker, as post adoption blues).  I didn’t feel worthy of being my baby’s mom.  I would stay awake at night wondering if his birth mother was hurting, missing him.  I wondered if he missed her.  If I would ever be good enough.  I was sad, confused, and felt guilty during what should have been one of the happiest times of my life.  So… support me, on my terms.

Let’s work together to help those in the adoption community as they begin this wonderful stage of the journey! Be aware, and be sensitive/understanding and look for ways you can help, so that these new parents feel empowered and prepared to welcome home their new little one.

What Is a Putative Birth Father Registry?

 

 

If you have researched domestic infant adoption, you may have heard the terms putative father, putative father registry or birth father registry.  A putative father is a man who is believed to be the biological father of a child when he is not married to the mother at the time of birth.  Unfortunately these men are only known to adoption agencies or attorneys if the birth mother names them.  If the birthmother is unwilling or unable to identify the father of her child, it is impossible to locate him.  As such, this gentleman may not be informed of the child’s birth or the potential adoption process.  In some cases, he may not even know that he has fathered a child.  States are faced with the question of how to protect the parental rights of these men.  A man has the right to know he has fathered a child and the right to choose to parent the child if he desires and is able, just as the birth mother has the right to do so.

 

Each state has its own law on how to proceed with an adoption involving a putative father.  Some states require a man to support the birthmother and be involved in her life during the pregnancy to establish his parental rights.  Generally a set period of time has to pass after the birth of the child without any supportive action from the putative father for a court to proceed with terminating his parental rights.  If a birthfather is unknown, there can be increased legal risk for the adoptive placement.  When a gentleman becomes aware of his child after being placed for adoption, a long legal battle can ensue with possible disruption after a child has attached to their adoptive parents.  The case of baby Jessica [1993], removed from her adoptive parents at the age of 2 years to be placed with her biological father, is an example of this.

 

Many states have responded to this ethical dilemma by using putative birth father registries, which require a man to register if he believes he has fathered a child and would like to assert his parental rights.  Currently over 30 states have such registries and each operates slightly differently.    There is generally a limited time period for him to register after the birth of his potential child.  Registration commonly includes providing his name, verifiable identifying information, location and contact information, as well as any information he has for the woman with whom he was intimate, including approximate date.  During an adoption process, an adoption agency or attorney checks the registry for matches to the birthmother making the adoption plan.  If a match is found, the man is then notified of the birth and the adoption proceedings.  If he does not respond, his parental rights can be terminated along with the birthmother’s so the adoption may proceed.

 

One of the limitations of the current system is that each state operates their putative father registry separately.  If a child is conceived in one state but born in another, a man may not know to register in both states.  It is entirely possible for a child to be born outside of the state where the man is registered and he is therefore never notified.  The Permanency for Children Act of 2017 (HR 3092) proposes a national putative father registry to prevent such issues, assisting states in locating putative fathers in other states.  This bi-partisan bill proposes expanding the use of the Federal Parent Locator Service to cooperate with state systems and cross-reference to exchange information.  The FPLS is currently used to establish paternity and locate parents specifically for child support obligations.  This framework and system is a logical starting point for national cooperation and oversight of a federal putative father system.

 

If you would like to learn more, I encourage you to do the following:

 

  1. Read Mary Beck’s scholarly article “Toward a National Putative Father Registry Database
  2. Review this fact sheet from the National Council for Adoption on the Permanency for Children Act of 2017
  3. Personally call your representative and ask them to support this bill

Embryo Quality: Does It Really Matter?

There are a variety of methods used by medical professionals to grade frozen human embryos, to project the likelihood of pregnancy success. This often includes Preimplantation Genetic Diagnostic (PGD) and Preimplantation Genetic Screening (PGS) testing.

However, research has shown that these tests are not always accurate. Even lower quality embryos, when thawed and transferred, may result in healthy babies just as higher quality embryos do.

According to World Magazine, “Over the last few years, a handful of physicians in the United States and Europe have reported that embryos deemed abnormal by early tests could still grow into normal pregnancies—and they have the healthy babies to prove it. That means physicians have thrown away perhaps tens of thousands of embryos deemed abnormal that could have been healthy.”

One Snowflakes family knows this first hand. This family adopted six embryos and chose to thaw all of them. Four embryos survived the thaw and two embryos were transferred. The remaining two embryos were re-frozen, but were deemed by the medical staff as “incompatible with life.” Unfortunately, the family’s first frozen embryo transfer did not result in a pregnancy. Against the advice of the doctor, the family chose to thaw and transfer the remaining embryos, believing all embryos deserve a chance at life, not just the “good quality” embryos. The family ended up pregnant with twins from those embryos!

There are many embryos in frozen storage at this time who are not being used for family building purposes because they are deemed “low quality” or “poor quality.” Though these embryos could result in perfectly healthy children!

To hear more personal stories from families who took the chance of life with lower quality embryos, you can watch our webinar Personal Stories: Snowflakes Beating the Odds.

To learn more about embryo adoption and donation, visit Snowflakes.org.

Preparing To Travel For An International Adoption

 

 

We thought of our trip to meet and then adopt our children as our ‘first family adventure’ together! This helped when unusual circumstances occurred and we would just look at one another and say, ‘another adventure’ rather than, ‘another catastrophe!’ I truly think our attitude of being flexible and looking at the trip as an exciting adventure, helped us to stay positive with the challenges that came our way during these trips. After all, who would expect that between the morning of departure when we’d notarized ‘final’ documents, the country would change everything by the time we arrived and met with our coordinator two days later, requiring us to re-do all of our documents yet again! Or who could anticipate that the weather would change and all of the spring clothing I’d packed for us and our newly adopted children would not be warm enough to deal with the frigid unseasonable weather! Little did my husband anticipate that the street signs would not be easily found as he took his early morning jog, resulting in him getting lost and barely making his way back to our hotel in time for an important meeting.

 

Here are some tips that helped us as we prepared to travel.

  1. Learn as much as you can about the culture of the country or area you are visiting to adopt your child.
  2. Check out blogs of other adoptive parents from your child’s country, but take them with a ‘grain of salt’ as your experience may be quite different than their experience and approach to life.
  3. If you don’t know the language, learn it! Or at least learn 100 of the most common phrases. It will make your life so much easier! Most importantly, your child, unless you are adopting a teen, expects that you speak their language, as to a young child, everyone speaks the same language, don’t they?
  4. Pack as light as possible, people won’t remember what you’re wearing and that you’ve worn it previously. Make sure everything can be washed in the sink and that it is all wash and wear, mix and match. If you’ve had a kid vomit on you, you know what I’m talking about!
  5. Pack as though you’re going camping on a desert island. Some of the items that I’ve really appreciated, a flashlight, net laundry bag, zip-lock bags of every size, paper clips, plastic envelopes to hold important documents and snacks that will tide you over when you don’t feel like going out. FYI – individually packaged salami sticks although a great source of protein, will get you pulled over in security. Bring protein bars or nuts instead.
  6. Bring small toys/games that don’t require language, but can easily entertain your child when you are stuck somewhere, waiting, and need something to occupy them. Wrap these items individually as it makes them more appealing. The $1.00 bin at Target was ideal for finding small toys and activities that wrapped well.
  7. Small candies, such as Hershey’s kisses are wonderful if you need a quick treat or bribe to encourage your child to put on a seat belt or just because. Goldfish crackers also pack well and are a good treat for your child.
  8. Parenting is difficult at best when traveling in a different country. Focus instead on learning about your child and increasing your comfort level with one another. Be silly and play games together!
  9. You can’t spoil your child at this point. You are working on attachment and learning to bond as a family, so plan on cuddling and holding your child as much as he/she will allow and play games that encourage contact like peek-a-boo; catch with a blow up ball; bubbles; dance; counting games with fingers and toes; puppet play.
  10. Have fun and count your blessings!

How to Educate Your Child’s Teacher & Advocate For Your Foster Child

 

 

There are many different approaches to take when educating teachers and advocating for our foster children. If we share too much, will teachers make assumptions? If we don’t share enough, teachers might not be able to help our child flourish.

Some parents feel it is best to share as little as possible. Many times, teachers who are not trauma informed hear they have a foster child in the classroom and suddenly our child becomes the classroom scapegoat. Minor issues—issues every child has—suddenly turn in to “red flags” and, more often than not, expectations are lowered to unreasonable standards.

On the other hand, some parents feel it is best to share as much as possible because knowledge is power. Educating your child’s teacher, telling their story, may help the teacher understand your child’s moods and behaviors in the classroom setting. When we know the “why” behind behaviors they can be addressed in a way that helps create new pathways leading to long lasting behavior change.

We know that parenting, and sharing, is not black and white. Therefore, let’s find balance in the gray area, as we strive to share on a need to know basis. Working together as a team, both at home and in the classroom, creates a sense of “Felt Safety” for our child.  It is helpful for teachers to know what triggers to watch for, and what intervention works best, when our child is triggered. Sharing on a need to know basis allows for understanding, for example—“Thursdays are rough because of visits on Wednesdays”.

It is not necessary for teachers to know private details of the birth parents, the case, or how the child came to live with you. Sharing on a need to know basis allows the teacher to have enough information to support your foster child, while simultaneously ensuring that we respect the details of a story that is not ours to share.

Calling All Teachers: School Assignments to be Prepared for Regarding Adopted Kids

 

 

With the start of the new school year comes the onslaught of homework and class assignments. While well intended, many assignments can be difficult for foster and adopted children as they require the child to know details about their genetics, heredity, and family history. Our children may feel uncomfortable or too embarrassed to publicly disclose to their teacher or their classmates that they don’t know some of their history or their knowledge is incomplete or missing. If they decide to share their story, they could face well-meaning but intrusive and very personal questions they’re not prepared to answer. The child may wind up feeling different from their peers and experience an increased sense of isolation.

 

We recommend scheduling a meeting with your child’s teacher ahead of time to find out their knowledge of adoption. This could be a great opportunity to educate them and advocate for your child and other children in the classroom coming from non-traditional family backgrounds. Some of the more common school assignments to be aware of and alternative options:

 

Baby Pictures: This can be distressing for a child who may not have any baby pictures of their childhood. Instead, the child could draw a picture of themselves or the assignment could focus on “All About Me” and include the child’s favorite things.

 

Family Tree: Many children have non-traditional family structures. A family garden or forest allows the child to include as many individuals in their family as they desire, whether it be step-parents, half siblings, adopted and biological parents, grandparents, aunts and cousins, etc. This is a great opportunity for children to learn families can be all shapes and sizes. Or the assignment could focus on those who have cared for the child, a “caring tree,” including previous teachers, foster parents, doctors, nannies, etc.  If the child wants to share that they’re adopted, an alternative assignment is the “Rooted Tree.” The child is the trunk, the roots are members of the biological family, and the branches are members of their current family.

 

Nationality/Heritage/Country Studies: Rather than having a child pick the country their heritage is from, they should be able to pick a country of their choice.

 

Autobiographies: Many children coming from painful or traumatic backgrounds lack information about their early years or it’s private and difficult to discuss. Alternatives could be to ask the child to write about a special event or person in their life, their life in the past year, or their entire life with less emphasis on their childhood.

 

Your child may react differently to each assignment, they may be excited to share information about their adoption or they may desperately want to fit in. Regardless, it’s important to prepare them ahead of time and talk through how they might handle particular situations. A great tool to prepare your child is the WISE Up! Book. WISE Up! empowers children to learn their story is unique, personal, and that they have the choice in how much information they decide to share about that. They can:

 

  1. Walk Away or ignore what it said or heart
  2. It’s private and I don’t have to answer it
  3. Share something about my adoption story
  4. Educate others about adoption in general

 

You can purchase the book online and listen to the companion webinar.

 

Why Do We Support Open Adoption?

 

 

I’ve been working in adoptions long enough to see the significant trend toward open adoptions over the past forty years. I recall sitting in meetings in the 70’ and 80’s with an Adoption Committee in the first agency where I worked doing the matching of birth parents and adoptive parents. Actually it was a matching of child and adoptive parents because the couple would never meet the birth parents; it was just important that the child had features or background matching that of the adoptive parents. The adopting couple received a piece of paper with information about the birth mother and birth father, and in turn, the birth parents would receive information about the couple. First names only, if that, and perhaps some additional non-identifying facts. Then, the baby, who had been in foster care from birth awaiting the legal work to be done, would be placed in the arms of the adoptive family. Happy endings? Yes, usually more so for the family than the birth parent. Could it be better? Yes.

Secrecy surrounding adoptions began in the 40’s and 50’s with good intentions. It was believed to protect all the parties involved.

• The birth parents were protected from the stigma of pregnancy without the benefits of marriage.
• The adoptee was protected from the stigma of illegitimacy and the concerns of “bad blood” which was loosely connected with what we know today about genetics and carried with it the overtones of the “sins of the father.”
• The adoptive parents, often an infertile couple, would be protected from the stigma of raising an illegitimate child.

 

They were protected from dealing with their infertility and from facing the differences between being a parent through adoption vs. being a parent by birth.

Closed records also precluded the possibility of birth relatives seeking out the child, or heaven forbid, set them up for a potential kidnapping. Fear was the driving force.

By the 70’s adoptees were beginning to speak out about the fact they did not know anything about their biological families and their heritage. They had been cut off from that part of their lives. As a result of their efforts over the past three or four decades, the practice of secrecy has taken a turn–for several reasons:

Adoptees have voiced their belief that they have the right to know more about their biological roots. Birth parents have said they want to know that their child has had a good life. If they haven’t said it out loud (which many could not in years gone by), they have thought it—every day.

Adoptive parents have come to desire that connection for themselves and their child. They understand that a relationship with the birth parent does not diminish their role in the child’s life – or heart. Single parenthood, being adopted and infertility no longer carry the stigma they once did.

Adoption professionals, lawmakers and counselors have listened to the voices and tried to make laws and policies that provide helpful answers for all. Underlying our effort at Nightlight is our confident belief that some level of openness is good and emotionally healthy for all parties. It can be in the form of meetings, visits, letters, pictures, texts, videos, Facebook page or any number of other ways to have contact. In order to be a good fit for individuals in the adoption triad, relationships must be customized, but all good open adoptions are characterized by open hearts, understanding and a good amount of trust.

When birth parents and adoptive parents meet, there is a “realness” that appears. These are no longer people in a book, or birthparents who don’t care about the baby. They are real caring families who want to be parents more than anything meeting with a woman who is trying to make the right decision for her child in spite of her own sadness. Fears on both sides melt away, and relationships begin.

As contact continues through the lifetime of the child, the relationship can change, as all relationships do. They may increase or decrease in frequency. Lives go in different directions, but the child will know that everyone in his life, whether contact is frequent or not, that he is loved by everyone in his world. We now have several years’ experience with openness in adoption and they have proven to have very positive outcomes.

It seems that society at large and those who have not had a recent connection with adoption continue to believe that closed adoptions are the best. Having a relationship with birth parents is a scary proposition… “we’d really feel better if we could just go on down the road and pretend there are no other connections out there.” But the truth is there is another dimension to the child’s life. Adoptive parents’ lives can be greatly enriched by opening their hearts and getting to know the person responsible for bringing life to their child. Meeting and establishing a relationship is the greatest honor that can be given to a birth mother–to the person that has entrusted her child, and all her hopes and dreams for him to the care of the adoptive parents. It is an act that binds them together.