National Down Syndrome Awareness Month

Jay and Kait Lakhani are currently in the process of adopting a little girl from China. They have named her Joanna.  Joanna was born with Down syndrome.  Ironically, after a 16 month journey, Jay and Kait will be traveling to bring her home at the end of October.  October happens to be National Down Syndrome Awareness month!  Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition, occurring in 1 of every 700 births here in the United States.  Although we do not know the statistics for births in other countries, this special need is particularly close to my heart due to the sheer number of children we advocate for with this diagnosis.  Each of these children need a loving home where they can have access to the love of a family and medical care they deserve.

Jay and Kait felt a calling to adopt, even before they married. They have a history of working with the fatherless as they lived in Uganda for a time and worked in orphan care while living there. Having both worked in the medical field, Jay and Kait are aware of many complicated medical needs and were called to care for a child who cannot care for themselves. When they first began exploring adoption, they knew that they wanted to adopt a child that was harder to place. They were seeking to give a home to a child that would not have a home otherwise.

They began considering adoption from the country of China and specifically a child born with Down syndrome.  China’s shared list currently has 3,570 files on it and a huge number on that list contains files of children with Down syndrome. This condition is not unique to China. There are children throughout the United States and all over the world in need of a loving family willing to care for them. Many websites advocate specifically for children with this condition because the need for families to parent these children is so great. The National Down Syndrome Adoption Network works to connect families with children available for adoption domestically and through the foster care system.  Reece’s Rainbow advocates for children with Down syndrome and other special needs as well.  You can search for waiting children available through Nightlight’s programs by visiting Adoption Bridge.

Adopting a child with an identified medical condition can be scary. There are many unknowns in the process regardless of your child’s medical needs. Kait shared some of her fears about their upcoming adoption. She is worried about how this will impact the life of her biological children. Jay and Kait have a son and a daughter that are very young.  When they bring Joanna home, they will have 3 children all within 9 months age of one other – toddlers at that!  Another fear are the unknowns associated with international adoption. It is not always easy to have the most up to date information when you are adopting internationally. There is a lot they will not know about Joanna until they bring her home and have her fully evaluated by medical professionals.  Of course, like all international adoptive parents, Kait worries that their happiest day – the day they finally meet Joanna – will be her hardest because Joanna will be leaving everything she has ever known. Finally, Kait stated they are going into this adoption knowing they will likely provide care for Joanna for the rest of their lives.

While there are many fears that go along with adopting a child with a special need, there are even more things to look forward to.  Jay and Kait are excited to parent Joanna and seeing her life follow God’s special plan he has laid out for her. They want to show her, each day, how wonderful and wanted she is. Of all things, Kait wants to make sure that Joanna knows how much she is loved. She hopes she will understand that God did not make a mistake when he made her and that she is perfect the way she is. They also look forward to raising their three children together and have already started teaching their other children that everyone is created with different needs and that Joanna’s needs are going to be different from theirs.  They also look forward to their children growing up together, learning from one another and hopefully becoming the best of friends.

We are thrilled that God has called this special family to adopt Joanna and we know that he has a special plan for her life. She will grow up in a home where she is loved unconditionally. I encourage you to read a short story, Welcome to Holland, by Emily Perl Kingsley. She gives a great metaphor for parenting a child with special needs.  If you are interested in adopting a waiting child, visit Adoption Bridge, or call one of our Inquiry Specialists at (502)423-5780 to learn more.

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!

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.

 

Feel Good Friday: Reunification in Uganda

It was only yesterday that we welcomed baby Grace into our home.  She was born a preemie at 7 months and her mum plus sibling both passed away at birth. She weighed only 1.2 kgs and was still very under-developed, even the hospital didn’t expect Grace to make it.  She was feeding through an ng tube and her skin was so pale.  We spent the whole night praying that she would survive.  She was severely dehydrated and needed lots of care and feeding.  We fought, prayed and believed for Grace’s miraculous survival.  Little did we know that Grace was as much determined to make it as we were.  She was a fighter.

Today we celebrate a miracle as we see grace being reunited with her biological father.  We are in awe of this great and amazing journey of hope. Grace has grown into a beautiful and happy girl who is full of energy. She is a feisty girl and will fight her way through any crisis.  She is very strong willed, fearless, and opinionated.  She has a smile which is contagious, when she chooses to show it. 

Who knew that this little girl could actually be here to tell her story?  Who knew that this tiny baby would grow into a lovely and flamboyant beauty?  Who knew that even when people give up on you, God can actually redeem and restore?

Grace was loved by many.

We are so proud of the girl she is today.  We are so thankful for what God has done and continues to do in her life.  We are so grateful to God for giving us the opportunity to change her story.  We are so grateful that our hope was not in vain.

Grace was inconsolable on the day of reunification.  It was difficult to see her in tears as we said our farewell, but we were comforted that she was in the hands of her parents who were excited and very grateful to have her home.

It was a hard day for grace and her nanny as they bid farewell

Grace will always be loved and remembered in the home.  Her smile and energy are missed every day.  God has indeed been good and we can boldly say Ebenezer. 

—-Ken and Cathy Nganda (Tender Hearts Baby Home)

Hosting: Why it Makes a Difference

 

1995 was the first year Nightlight Christian Adoptions brought a group of children from a foreign orphanage for a hosting program. Children from a Russian orphanage had performed a wonderful program of traditional songs and dances for Ron Stoddart, Nightlight’s President, during his visit. He brought that group of children, ages 7-14, to California where they performed at churches, community parks and Disneyland. It was a success, as all of the children who came on that tour, ended up with permanent families. None of the families who hosted or saw the children perform and later adopted them, had any idea that they would be led to adopt after seeing and meeting those children. However, over the 23 years that Nightlight has sponsored tour programs, bringing well over 300 children to the US, the majority of those children have found permanent, forever families here in the US.

The intent was always to give these older children an opportunity to spend at least a few weeks in a loving, nurturing home with an intact, stable family. Even for those children who did not find their ‘forever family’, some by choice and some due to circumstances out of their control, they did have a wonderful vacation! Many of the children stay in touch with their host families long after the host experience. That is a reminder that the few weeks or month that a host child spends with the host family can be life-changing! My husband and I have hosted close to 70 children in our home over the past 23 years. It has been a wonderful experience for us and our children as we have been able to share our family with children from all over the world and learn more about their culture, while sharing ours. Our family is certainly a mixture of cultures as we adopted two of those hosted children, in addition to four others that were adopted internationally as ‘older children.’ It has been a reminder to our children about the children left behind, probably one of the reasons our children have always been such wonderful ambassadors, sharing about what it means to be adopted as an ‘older child.’

A few months ago, I was in a Starbucks waiting for my order. A young woman approached me and introduced herself. She had been on one of our earlier tours in the late 1990’s. I recognized her name and we hugged. She thanked me for bringing her on that tour! We reminisced and caught up on her life over the past 18 years. What an impact these hosting programs have had on the lives of the children and families!

Nightlight is partnering with Kidsave, a hosting organization, to bring children from orphanages in Colombia to stay with host families throughout the United States this summer. Ten children will be staying in Southern California, experiencing the ocean, bowling, museums, parks and likely Disneyland. When we ask the children towards the end of their stay about their most favorite part of their visit, we have received the same response consistently over the past 23 years. Over and over again, the children speak about the warmth and love showered on them by their host families. They certainly enjoy Disneyland and all the other activities, but it is the relationship they developed with the host family, over a period of a few weeks, that will last a lifetime! Nightlight has hosting programs during the summer and over the Christmas holiday season. Consider opening your home and heart to a child, hoping to spend some quality time with a family here in the US. Even if you are not able to host, there are other ways to participate, volunteering, donating funds towards their activities or the program itself. For those who host and volunteer, it is a wonderful opportunity to share your culture and learn about another culture, while giving a child the chance to possibly meet their forever family.

Nightlight’s Hosting Program: An Adoption Story

Did you know that Nightlight was the very first adoption agency to do hosting?  In the early 90’s Nightlight brought over a tour group of older children from Russia. Today’s Feel Good Friday story is brought to you by hosting.

Over Christmas 2009, I was working in the South Carolina office and we were assisting a hosting agency to bring over a group of children from Ukraine.  While the children were in the air between Ukraine and the US, one of the family’s backed out of hosting.  I sent out an urgent e-mail to families who had inquired with us.  One family sent the e-mail to the youth pastor at their church.  Bucky and Julie Rogers were youth pastors at the time, and they had previously adopted two children (one child through domestic adoption and one child from Guatemala).  They had only adopted babies and had no intention of adopting an older child.  However, because they were youth pastors, they figured they could do a good job hosting.

Sasha was 13 years old at that time.  He arrived and won all of our hearts.

I remember even the van driver (bringing the children from the airport) told me that he was her favorite of the group.  Within 2 days, Bucky and Julie called and wanted to know exactly what they needed to do to adopt Sasha.

Fast forward to travel, Mount Eyjafjallajökull erupted bringing air travel over Europe to a halt.  This happened the very day that Bucky and Julie were scheduled to fly to Ukraine.  They rebooked their flight to Germany and the gate agent told them that he could not guarantee that once they got to Germany they would be able to get to Ukraine. Julie told the gate agent, “If you get me to Germany, I’ll find a way to get to my son!

Sasha has grown into such a loving, respectful, young man who loves Jesus and his family.  Bucky and Julie are now full time missionaries in Uganda, and Sasha has spent a lot of time there as well.  Sasha is now 21 years old and getting married this fall.  A few weeks ago, Sasha sent me a message on Facebook asking for my home address.  I said, “Is it time for wedding invitations?” and he responded that it was.  I am so thrilled to be invited to witness this young man’s wedding.  He has been a blessing to all of us since his arrival here, and I am so humbled that God used me in a small way to change his story.  I am also especially overwhelmed by the fact that this is the first child that I have helped in the adoption process who is now old enough to get married.  I guess that means there are more to come.  I’m getting up there.  Hosting programs are a lot of work and sometimes stressful, but there are so many more children just like Sasha who would not have found a family otherwise.  This is why we do hosting and why we do what we do each day!

—Lisa Prather, LMSW | Vice President of Operations

For more information about our Hosting Programs, please contact Natalie by emailing her at natalie@nightlight.org.

What To Do If Your Agency Loses Accreditation

 

 

Today, six Hague accredited agencies lost their accreditation to do international adoption.  In the first 3 months of 2018, eleven agencies (representing 7% of all Hague accredited adoption agencies) have lost their accreditation.  In light of this alarming trend, we wanted to give some insight and advice to people who find themselves in this difficult situation.

First, be aware of what a “case transfer plan” means.  When agencies have their accreditation revoked, refused, or expired, the State Department always sends an email to prospective adoptive parents stating,

“When an agency’s or person’s accreditation or approval expires, they are responsible for transferring cases and records.  Families working with [the agency] should contact the agency directly with questions about case or record transfer. We also encourage families to review the information published by the Council on Accreditation about selecting a primary provider/adoption service provider and the accreditation/approval requirements.  The Department of State does not review or approve case transfer plans and has a limited role in their execution. We do, however, communicate with foreign Central Authorities and competent adoption authorities about the accreditation status of agencies and persons and case transfer plans, as needed.”

It is important to note that the case transfer plan does not mean any agency is required to accept your case. Agencies are becoming more reluctant to take client cases from other agencies, even when they have a case transfer plan in place.  There is fear that if the prior agency had any difficulty supervising cases, and this led to the loss of accreditation, then the new agency may have similar problems with supervision of the case.  Your agency will want to know the following information before agreeing to take your case:

  1. Are you matched with a child?
  2. What circumstances led to that child being orphaned?
  3. Can you give a copy of the official referral?
  4. What type of investigation, done by whom, has substantiated the child’s orphan status?

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any of the money you have paid will transfer to any other agency.  Our agency has acquired the files and cases of dozens of agencies, and we have never received a penny from other agencies as a result of a case transfer plan.

But the arrangement of a case transfer plan does indicate that another agency has communicated with your agency, and expressed a willingness to review your case and consider taking you as a client.  So the agency with the case transfer plan should be your first choice in your effort to continue your adoption plan.

Second, you are entitled to a refund for post adoption report fees that you may have pre-paid.  But you are probably not entitled to a refund for any other fees.  Adoption fees are generally billed when services are rendered, and are not held in trust, nor are they refundable.  But if your agency required you to pay for post adoption reports which have not been completed, you are entitled to a refund for those fees.

Third, you may be able to receive a courtesy fee waiver from your new agency.  Although this is not a requirement, agencies often try to mitigate the difficulty of having your agency lose accreditation by offering to let you come into their program at the same fee-phase where you currently are at.

Fourth, you are likely to need an answer for “why” this is happening.  It is a complicated question with several answers, and therefore it is difficult to channel the blame in any one direction.  International adoptions have been on the decline since 2004 and agencies which have not diversified to offer many types of services are finding it difficult to stay in business.  With the projected 300% increase in the cost of accreditation for agencies under IAAME, many agencies who have already been operating in the red for several years in a row cannot envision a viable future under the new accrediting entity. Sometimes agencies lose accreditation due to alleged violation of specific Hague standards.  Agencies can fight those allegations in court, but since they are ultimately fighting the Department of State (through the accrediting entity), is often more realistic to just forfeit accreditation.

Fifth, there is a difference between losing accreditation and going out of business.  It is possible that your agency will allow you to switch to another adoption program besides international.  For instance, they may allow you to switch to domestic, foster, or embryo adoption.  As a courtesy, they may even offer to waive part or all of the fees as a result of this change.

Finally, although the word “journey” is often associated with adoption because the experience can be difficult, long, and frustrating, it’s helpful to recognize that many people have been on the same journey with many detours but ultimately God put together the family that they had dreamed.  My wife and I accepted the referral of two girls who then changed their minds and decided to stay in permanent foster care.  Next we accepted the referral of a girl who was placed with a distant relative instead.  We were sad and frustrated, but we knew God placed adoption on our hearts and He had a child in mind for us.  We later adopted a girl from a different country than we had originally intended.  While we know God doesn’t cause bad things to happen on purpose, we do know that God works all things together for good (Romans 8:28).

If you would like more information on the current crisis in inter-country adoption policy please see www.SaveAdoptions.org.  There you can see several articles about the events that have led to the rapid decline in the number of adoption agencies and adoptions, as well as sign a petition asking the White House to address this issue.

Daniel Nehrbass, Ph.D. | President

Disabilities Awareness Month: An Adoption Story

 

 

Lilly, born in China, was welcomed into the loving arms of her mom and dad, Jenny and Daniel, at the age of 3 years.  That was nearly a decade ago, not long after I began working with the China program!  I recently reconnected with Jenny to talk about Lilly’s journey over the past ten years.   Jenny fondly recalls the excitement of being matched with Lilly.  Although they were thrilled to become parents, there were looming questions about her diagnosis which had the potential to cause great fear.  Lilly was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, both of which were surgically repaired in China shortly after her birth.  Jenny shared that while she and her husband were hopeful that the surgeries had been successful, they did not know the extent of damage or what her future would hold.

As directed, they researched her medical needs and spoke to a physician specializing in international adoption.  They learned of worst case scenarios while staying cautiously optimistic.  Jenny stated it was easy to allow fear to slip in as they waited to travel.  While worrying about mobility issues, possible paralysis, cognitive deficits, future needs and surgeries, they also began thinking about accommodations that could be made to ensure she was given the best life they could provide for her.  Through it all, they trusted God would provide and pressed forward.

Lilly came to them as a tiny 28 pound 3 year old wearing 12-18 month clothing.  She could barely walk and had many other physical delays common of children coming from less than optimal care.  These deficits were quickly overcome through short term therapy. Jenny reports, however, that the personality that emerged within a few days of placement in China is the same personality Lilly exhibits today which has allowed her to overcome and flourish.

Due to the spina bifida, Lilly has some hip displacement and wears braces on her legs requiring occasional appointments at Shriners Hospital for adjustments.  Because of the hydrocephalus, she has a shunt and sees a neurologist every other year.  She also requires annual visits to an ophthalmologist to check the pressure behind her eyes.  Despite the braces, mobility is not an issue and she even cheers for an Upward basketball team!  She is actively involved in choir, musicals and theatre and does not allow her orthotics to limit her abilities. Cognitively, she is fine and does well in school.  Other than medical visits to monitor her conditions, Lilly is a typical pre-teen on the brink of celebrating her 13th birthday next month.

Jenny told me that as a parent, her greatest challenge has been advocating for her daughter medically.  While she trusts her treating specialists and referred to them as “amazing,” she also trusts her own instincts as Lilly’s mother.  She shared that the neuro department wanted to perform a procedure on Lilly’s shunt, however, Lilly was not showing any neurological symptoms to indicate intervention was needed at the time.  Despite the surgical recommendation, they made a decision together as a family to wait after learning there were more risks with having the surgery than not.  They realize that surgery may be needed in the future and will face that when the time comes.

Jenny and Daniel have also taught Lilly how to deal with curious questions from her friends as well as prying questions from others.  They have given her the confidence that her adoption story and tough beginning are HER story and she can choose to share the details or keep them private.  Her outgoing personality works to her favor in this regard.

When I asked Jenny what she would like other parents to know as they consider a special needs adoption, she said, “Disability does not mean constant illness and inabilities.”  She shared that Lilly is a very healthy child and in the past 10 years, has probably seen her pediatrician for sick visits only 3-4 times.  She also reiterated all of the positives in Lilly’s life and above all she wanted to share that Lilly had taught her and the rest of their family to persevere.  Watching Lilly navigate the hardships in her life “has been amazing to see!”  In talking with Jenny, it became clear long before she said it that, “As her mother, she makes me so proud!”

2 Timothy 1:7 For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

New Life & New Beginnings: An Adoption Story

 

As we welcome the first day of spring we enter the season for rebirth, growth, beauty, and all things new. The journey of adoption brings hope and new beginnings to families and their child.

The Meares family recently brought their daughter Cana home from a small Eastern Asian country. At Cana’s farewell party, one of her caregivers gave a letter to Cana’s new family. Included in the letter were some verses written by Paul in Philippians. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14.

The caregiver then went on to explain that Cana’s life had turned a page now. Though her story started with pain and hardship, she now has a forever family to walk alongside her. The letter encouraged Cana to press on toward Christ in the new life that she has been given. Cana is not the only one who has been given this new life with a forever family though.

This is a new beginning for the Meares family as well as their family has grown and changed for the better. Cana’s mother shared:

“Our lives have dramatically changed in the best way. Adoption is not easy, but in the challenges, we have this opportunity to pursue Christ and cling to Him in a way that we never had before. Cana is a daily reminder of God’s grace in our lives and a beautiful picture of this new life and journey that God has brought us to. We are more alive than ever before as we see the hope and goodness that we have access to in Christ. He makes all things new and this new journey is one that we are humbled and excited to take with Him.”

Nutrition & Your Adopted Child

When children are adopted, they often have had trauma in their lives that can affect many aspects of their lives, with eating being one of them.  In fact, nearly 80% of children with developmental issues also have feeding issues.  So it is no wonder that our children who are adopted, who are often developmentally delayed and have experienced many issues, such as bottle propping as infants and then given mushy and limited number of foods often have eating problems.

These issues do not just apply to internationally adopted children but can be seen in children who have been in foster-care.  If your child was adopted from foster care, she may be normal weight, but she may have been deprived of certain foods, given lots of snack foods, and may not have been provided any structure around meal time.  On the other hand, if your child is from an orphanage, he may have had overly structured meal times and had to consume limited amounts of food very quickly.

In the  book Love Me Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More ,  Katja Rowell, a medical doctor, does not so much  provide nutritional goals for the adopted  child but  she explains the best ways to establish a positive relationship between you and your child.  Food and dietary habits can become an integral part of what Dr. Rowell call the Trust Model for establishing attachment with your child.  This Trust Model helps to provide nurture as well as means of establishing healthy eating habits in your child.  You may be asking, “But what about my other kids who have not had difficult starts in life? How am I going to make meal time different for all my children?  As with any positive attachment and trust model, this model can be used with all children.

This Trust Model promotes shared power: you the parent determine when, where and what your child will eat, and your child gets to determine if and how much to eat based on what foods are there.  This allows you to decide on what nutritional foods your child can select from and where and when your child will eat, but the child gets to decide on what food to select from and how much to eat.  Now, of course, an infant, who has nearly all the power when it comes to feeding, decides the when, where and how much to eat; you, the parent, just decide on what milk to give her.

The Trust Model gives children the structure that they need as they know what to expect. And as with feeding a baby, sometimes you must take your cues from your child.   For example, younger children need to be fed more often, so they will ask for snacks more often in-between meals.  If your child is malnourished, you may need to offer your child food more often until you get to know your child’s signals as to when he is hungry.

Feeding your child with the family helps your child see others eating, sets a model of portions, and to be able to know when he is hungry and full.  At meal time, it is best to have different types of foods at the table—especially those that your child likes based on taste and texture—so that your child can have familiar foods as well as try new foods in a non-coercive setting.

Giving your child a snack—in the afternoon—or perhaps two snacks—can help a child who gets cranky in the afternoon waiting for dinner to feel more relaxed and content  Do not be concerned with a “ruined appetite” before dinner.    Your child may eat less at meal time, but as long as the snacks provide healthful foods, your child will get the nutrients he needs.

Simple but practical solutions for children who come from difficult pasts can help solve food and meal time problems.  However, some children, especially those with medical and sensory problems, may require more therapeutic assistance.  Often an occupational therapist (OT) is the first professional who may become involved, as the OT usually assesses sensory and gross and fine motor skills and the child’s ability to feed herself.  A registered dietitian (RD) may assess the child’s nutritional intake and growth patterns and if more serious steps must be taken, such as tube feedings, are necessary.   As with any type of professional who is going to provide advice and some counseling, certain factors must be taken into consideration.  A mental health counselor would be involved to assess the parents’ and child’s interactions surrounding food and may also assess attachment issues.  The counselor would also work closely with the other professionals such as an OT and RD.

If you, as a parent, are having major food issues with your child, your child’s pediatrician may not give the advice you need, unless your pediatrician is very familiar with adopted children’s needs.  Instead, you may need to consult with a pediatrician at an international clinic for a referral to a feeding clinic or OT.

If you feel that your child is growing steadily but there are still major issues surrounding  eating issues, then you may want to consult with a counselor who has experience with adoption and attachment issues and can help you use trust based approaches in helping you and your child with behavioral issues surrounding food.  If your child is having eating issues and may also have sensory and other issues related to motor skills, then  the  counselor and OT  need to be working together.  The approach needs to be parent focused as adopted children need to be attaching to their parents—not separated from them.

Rowell has a list of questions you may need to ask before working with a professional:

  • How do you help the parents integrate the skills at home?
  • Am going to be involved in the treatment plan, or am I going to be separated from my child? (Parents are the ones who ultimately work with the child.)
  • Do you use negative/positive reinforcement? (Either type of reinforcement can feel like coercion to a child and can result in a power struggle.)
  • Do you require the child to eat food she does not want or hold food in front of the child until she eats it? (This leads to a power a struggle.)
  • What resources do you suggest?

Children who have had difficult starts in life had little control in their lives and often feel shame.  So any approach that takes away power from a child (instead of offering shared power with the parent) or shames a child into eating often leads to more problems.

Bad formal therapy is worse than no therapy.    But good therapy need not be formal–it can be done by the parents if the parents can take cues from the child.  The parent can trust the child to do the eating while the child trusts the parent to be “there” for him and builds upon the relationship.

To learn more about your child’s nutritional and feeding needs, these websites provide very valuable information, tools, and even equipment:

 

  • http://adoptionnutrition.org/ This website provides information related to the nutritional needs of adopted children—even by country—as well as addresses some feeding issues such as hoarding and children who will not eat.

 

  • http://mealtimenotions.com/  This site offers stories, articles and information regarding the feeding and nutritional needs of children with special physical and sensory issues.