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.

New model of foster care launches in Adams County

From https://co4kids.org/community/new-model-foster-care-launches-adams-county

Thornton, Colorado –  Adams County Human Services and Nightlight Christian Adoptions have opened two homes designed to provide safety, comfort and security to children in foster care at a time when they are most vulnerable: immediately after being removed from their home. This new model of foster care, called Homes for Hope, is designed to provide temporary foster care for children in emergency situations within Adams County.

“We are absolutely thrilled to partner with Adams County for this project. We feel this is a perfect opportunity for children to have a safe haven – a warm smile and warm bed at a time when they are most vulnerable. It’s not enough for children to be safe, they must also feel safe,” Meaghan Nally, foster care program manager for Nightlight Christian Adoptions, said. “It is an absolutely new model, and we hope it can become a national model for emergency foster care.”

Two single-family homes have been renovated specifically for the program, accommodating eight to 10 children at a time. The program will allow the children to stay in their current school and community and ensure sibling sets are kept together. The program allows Adams County time to find suitable long-term treatment options.

Homes for Hope is the first of its kind in the country and could serve as a model to support children and families in all communities. Prioritization will be given to children from birth to 10 years old, but will serve children up to 18 years old to keep sibling sets together. One of the homes is set up to accommodate teen mothers.

Nightlight Christian Adoption is currently looking for interested families who would be willing to become foster parents and live in the homes full-time. “There is a shortage of foster parents across Colorado, and we need the community to provide the safety and care children and teens in Adams County need,” Nally said. “The ideal Homes for Hope foster parent is trauma-informed, has parenting experience, and is willing to move into one of the two homes. They are teachable, flexible and tenacious.”

Nightlight Christian Adoptions is a child placement agency located in Loveland, Colorado. The agency has provided foster care and adoption services since 1959 with licensed offices in nine states. Nightlight is currently recruiting for two families to move into the homes and families interested in becoming foster parents. To learn more, contact Meaghan Nally at mnally@nightlight.org, call (970)663-6799 or visit www.nightlight.org.

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.

Behavior Management for the Aggressive Child Part 1

So what do you need to know in order to manage aggressive behavior? First you need to adopt a philosophy of behavior management, then provide consistency and create a predictable and therapeutic environment.

It is important for the child and the family to be fully involved in planning their “system”. All aspects of the child’s “system” must be able to be understood by the child himself. Realize that all behavior is an attempt to meet a need and therefore has meaning. Relationships between the child and parent should provide opportunities for him/her to learn and practice appropriate ways to express feelings, manage daily tasks, and get needs met. Remember, children are best served by parents and families who practice teamwork.

Blending

What is Blending? Blending is a concept, which uses the strengths of the family, child, and the community.
  • Physical Blending = force with force/passive resistance
  • Verbal Blending = using non threatening and supportive language
  • Non Verbal Blending = using non threatening and reassuring techniques

Let’s have a look and get a better picture of Verbal and Non-verbal blending and become familiar with the roadblocks to these types of blending.

Here are some examples of Verbal Blending below:
  • Call the Child’s name and pull them to the side rather than redirecting them in front of their peers
  • Get information by asking questions
  • Use appropriate voice, tone, and volume
  • Use non-judgmental statements or questions
  • Use “We” statements rather than “You” or “I”
What are some common Roadblocks to Verbal Blending?
  • Ordering
  • Threatening
  • Excusing
  • Lecturing
  • Preaching
  • Prying
  • Diagnosing
  • Judging
  • Yelling
  • Arguing
  • Blaming
  • Condescending
Here are some examples of Non-Verbal Blending
  • Maintain a neutral and respectful facial expression
  • Be aware of your child’s spatial preferences
  • Walk away to avoid power struggles
  • Keep your arms out front or at your sides with your hands open
  • Look at your child, but don’t stare
  • Take slow, deep, easy breaths

What are some common Roadblocks to Non-Verbal Blending?
  • Eye rolling/Neck rolling
  • Disrespectful or disinterested facial expressions
  • Pointing, crossing your arms over your chest
  • Talking to your child while engaged in another tasks rather than giving them the attention they need

Realistic Expectations

Let’s talk about realistic expectations. What are our expectations of our children and are they realistic? There can be a danger in having too high of expectations as well as having to low of expectations. See some of the effects of both below.

Danger! What happens when my expectations are too high?
  • My child feels like failure
  • I feel frustrated
  • My child’s self-esteem is eroded

Danger! What happens when my expectations are too low?
  • My child may begin to doubt all abilities
  • I may see my child as lazy or irresponsible
  • My child may cease to grow in one or more areas

Now, with all that said, let’s stick to keeping expectations realistic! How do you do this?—by understanding adolescent development and how it affects behavior, modeling through my behavior to match expectations, and adjusting my expectations to match my child as a whole.

Avoiding the Misuse of My Power

As parents, the misuse of your power can render a child powerless, feed adolescent impulse control (aggression), and aggressiveness in the child—power struggles emerge, child becomes passive or over compliant, and depending on the aggressions, resulting in them being institutionalized.

Keys to Avoiding the Misuse of Your Power
  1. Be aware of your own stress level.
  2. “I will not say “no” when “yes” is just as easy.”
  3. Analyze your own use of power.
  4. “I will not use my power as a last resort to win a struggle with my child.”
  5. Some questions to ask when faced with a struggling child.
  6. What are you doing?
  7. What are you supposed to be doing?
  8. What’s going to happen if you keep doing what you are doing?
  9. Do you want that to happen?
  10. What are you going to do now?

Honoring Your Child’s Birth Mom on Mother’s Day

 

 

 

Mother’s Day can be an emotional time for women.  Some women have lost their mothers while some have lost children, others are struggling with infertility, and some women have blessed others by way of adoption.  I was a woman who, for many years, struggled on Mother’s Day due to the pain and loss experienced during my own infertility journey.  Once I became a mother through adoption it was not lost on me that I had not come to motherhood on my own.  I would forever share that day, willingly, with my children’s birthmothers.  My husband and I set a tone in our household early on of honoring our children’s birthparents.  They were not simply a means to an end for us.  Our children’s birthmothers had won a place in our hearts that is precious and absolutely unexplainable.

 

Children adopted through international adoption may never have the experience of knowing their birthmothers.  Children adopted through domestic adoption may or may not have regular contact with their birthmothers.  In either scenario, however, it is important for families to be able to honor their birthmothers, especially on Mother’s Day.

 

One way to honor your child’s birthmother can be through the telling (and re-telling) of their adoption story.  This narrative should be shared with our children more than once.  I like to take time before we go to church on Mother’s Day to sit on the couch with my son and daughter and remind them of the moment their birthmothers shared them with me.  I remind my daughter of the special moment that her birthmother was holding her in her arms, stroking her cheek, crying.  How, in that instant, she kissed her gently and placed her in my arms and how I loved her birthmother so much that my heart ached.  My son knows that, during our adoption hearing in court, his birthmother reached out for my hand and held it as my husband was on the stand.  We were united as mothers in that moment, for him. Our children were loved and considered important, above all else.

 

Some other ideas for honoring your child’s birthmother on Mother’s Day are:

  • Purchasing a flower or plant in honor of her and planting it together
  • Sending her a homemade card with artwork by the child, along with photos and a letter
  • Creating a photo book of the past year for her
  • Sending her the child’s handprint or artwork made from the handprint
  • Releasing a balloon that contains a special note to a birthmother in another part of the world with whom you do not have direct contact

 

Make your own tradition.  Follow your child’s lead.  Some children may not want to talk about their placement or birthmother from one year to the next.  That’s okay; however, revisit it the next year because as our children grow and develop, they do become more curious and open to discussion.

 

It is so important that we allow our children the opportunity to love their birthmothers openly.  I once told my kiddos “Just like I can love both of you at one time, you can love me and your birthmother at one time.”  Make it okay.  Make it intentional.

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

Help Ian Save Adoptions

The Hinton Family wants to make sure that you are aware of the petition to the White House to save adoptions. If you haven’t already, please take time to sign it! Here’s how you can help!

Go to adoption.com or saveadoptions.org and you will see a link to sign the petition. This only takes a minute or so. REMEMBER, you must check your email to verify your signature so it will be accepted.

Also, please contact your U.S. Senators & U.S. Representative to put this on their radar. You can call, email or mail them, and you don’t have to be an expert the matter to contact them. You can let them know the following:

(1) You are concerned that inter-country adoption has declined over 80% since 2004.

(2) To increase the number of adoptions, as long as ethical, pro-adoption leadership is needed in the U.S. State Department’s Adoption Division in the Office of Children’s Issues.

(3) You oppose new fees and unreasonable rules being imposed on adoption service providers (ASP) and families by the U.S. State Department and their new accrediting entity, IAAME. These could cause some ASPs to close their doors.

Pictured is Ian and his family! He was adopted in 2014 from our Uganda Program. His mother says, “I hate to think of all the Ian’s worldwide in 5-10 years whose only alternative is inter-country adoption, and have no adoption service providers to advocate and facilitate adoptions for them, and no families to adopt them.”

Join Nightlight, the Hinton Family, and other adoption advocates in doing your part to advocate for international adoption and all the children whose prospects of having a loving family are in jeopardy.

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.

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.