Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Warehousing Kids

A decision has been in the works about one of our sons for the past few weeks which has brought up some interesting conversations in my life. It has also resulted in a lot of frustration for me and others.

Our son, who is now seventeen and a half has spent the last 3.5 years in group homes, detention centers, psychiatric hospitals and shelter homes. He has spent a few months in our home, unsuccessfully, and even fewer months in three different "very skilled" foster homes. Every time he was placed in a residential treatment he was promised that if he did well, he would go back to foster care or back home or into a family setting. I blogged about the whole cycle over a year ago.

Our county has a policy that, in principle, I agree with. It involves the not "warehousing kids." They believe that kids should be in the "least restrictive environment." And so, after a designated period of time and the kids are doing well, they "deserve to be given a chance."

I could not agree more with the principle. But at what point in time do we conclude that certain children cannot function without more supervision? At what point in time do we determine that there are some kids who not only need a more restrictive environment as children, but as adults as well? Maybe setting up a setting to transition kids with mental illness from a supervised setting as juveniles to a supervised setting as adults would be more preferable than letting them be free at 18 and be forced to seek a restrictive environment for themselves (jail)?

I don't have answers. I just have a lot of questions. But in theory I must admit that I agree that kids should be given a chance. I consistently attempt to seek families willing to commit to kids who are in residential treatment with a plan to attempt to let them move into their family setting.

But after a child has proven time and time again that a family setting is impossible for them, then is it really fair to the kid to set them up for a perceived failure time and time again?

I hope and pray that this time my son proves me wrong. I hope he is extremely successful. I pray that he can hold it together and do as well as everyone dreams he might. And I will be thrilled to report, in this situation, that I was wrong, and that he was ready for this transition.

But until then I will fear for him, for the safety of those with whom he comes in contact with, for his younger siblings who are affected by his behavior, and for his older sibling who might lead him down a wrong path.

And until then I will know that there are those who believe that my pessimism will determine a negative outcome. But history has shown that my optimism or pessimism has not changed behavior. It is what it is.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


One of the biggest mistakes that I ever made as a pre-adoptive parent was to believe that my children were going to be grateful for what we were doing for them. Coming out of poverty, some living in cars, not always enough food -- I figured the things we were providing them were going to be enough that they would be grateful. It didn't happen.

Recently I started thinking about how ungrateful we all are. Some of us have reached a plateau where we feel content with our lives and don't complain, but most of us mutter some. We might have a good job that pays fairly well, but there are things we don't like about the job and we voice them to someone. We're smart enough not to voice them too often to the one who pays us, but we mutter. We complain about many things.

Kids have complaints too, but where do they go with their compliants? They come to us and we become frustrated. I just bought you three new shirts and you're complaining that one of them isn't quite the right color? I just made you a huge meal and you complain about the green beans -- maybe you'd like to cook sometime. I take time to give you a ride and all you can do is complain because I won't let you turn the radio to the rap station? There are a million examples.

I wonder if maybe God might have a similar reaction. I give you a rainbow, but you complain about the rain that came before. I provide usnshine and it's too hot, moisture via snow and it's too cold. I provide you with many blessings, and yet you complain.

I believe that many children appear ungrateful because they cannot, especially at their maturity level, view the big picture.

In addition, I believe that there are other groups of kids who truly are grateful, but then cannot tell their parents how they really feel because they are afraid of sounding ungrateful. Kids adopted transracially usually have many inner struggles that don't get shared with parents becuase they don't want to hurt our feelings.

So, are children adopted out of foster care ungrateful? Yes, they probably are. But maybe not much more so than we were when we were their age, but our parents didn't expect us to be.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Many times kids who are adopted out of foster care, and sometimes kids adopted internationally take things. We call them thieves and we call it stealing, but again, we need to take into account the WHYS and possibly choose a different term. In the first section I will talk about kids with FASD or organic brain damage.

1) Kids with organic brain damage do not understand boundaries. What belongs to who doesn't enter their heads. So, picking up something and putting in their pocket is not a conscious thought.... We have a son with FASD who is 18. He just recently started having contact wth us again after spending some time in jail. He came by and was only visiting our home (we got him another place to stay) and I saw him with a hat on that looked a lot like one that our second to youngest got for his birthday. I asked him where he got it and he said, "I don't know. It's not mine." So I pointed out to him that if it wasn't his, maybe it shouldn't be on his head as he walked out the door.

2) Kids with organic brain damage are impulsive. They grab things and stick them in their pockets without thinking. One mom of a kid with FASD that i heard about was able to think outside the box -- she sewed all her sons pockets shut and immediately solved his "stealing" problem.

3) Kids with organic brain damage take things very literally. Our son, when he was 14, "got arrested for shoplifting at an amusement park." However, he will tell you to this day that he did not get arrested. it was a security guard who wrote him up, not a cop, and he wasn't stealing the item -- he was just taking it to show a friend.

And then there are children who do not have organic brain damage, but who are practicing learned behavior:

1) Their parents taught them to steal because they needed to steal to eat. Sneaking into a store to grab a loaf of bread or some milk for a hungry baby was perfectly acceptable and even necessary.

2) They have been neglected to the point that they have had to take food in order to eat. This also leads to hoarding and other food issues.

3) They may not have been taught to steal but there was no morality taught in their home. Knowing that stealing is "right or wrong" -- nobody has ever taught them.

And finally there is just the good old button pushing that kids from the system do to test new parents. Taking our stuff is a major button pusher.

So again, as in the concept of lying , we has to ask the question of intentionality. Does not the idea of someone being a thief mean that the person can control impulses, know that stealing is wrong, not have deveoped the habit as an impressionable child out of necessity, and realize that the item does not belong to them?

Stealing and being Thieves may not be the right words for what our children do.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

We Must Do Better

A cross post from my other blog, but it really belongs in both places:

If you have a while, read this report about Aging out of Foster Care. It was most disturbing. The one statisti that is most troubling for me is that since the beginning of the collection of statistics in 1998, the percentage of children aging out of foster care without a family has gradually increased. In 1998 the percentage was 3.1. By 2005, the last year that statistics have been processed, the percentage was 4.9.

To tell you the truth, I was shocked. With the addition of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 2007 I was hoping that statistics would have been reversed. But this is not the case. Instead, the percentage of kids aging out has grown.

We have to do better than this. We have to find families for children -- even the most disturbed ones --that will make that commitment to kids that they need, regardless of the behavior of the child. States need to provide assurance that families will not come to financial or social ruin if their children need residential treatment or congregate care. Because whether a teenager is living in a family setting or in a facility, they still need advocates.

We're doing our best, but statistics are showing that our best isn't good enough and we have to do better because statistics are so troubling. I quote from the article:

Many studies have documented that the outlook for foster youth who age out is often grim:

• One in four will be incarcerated within the first two years after they leave the system.

• Over one-fifth will become homeless at some time after age 18.

• Approximately 58 percent had a high school degree at age 19, compared to 87 percent of a national comparison group of non-foster youth.

• Of youth who aged out of foster care and are over the age of 25, less than 3 percent earned their college degrees5, compared with 28 percent of the general population.

It's a national issue and one that so few know about, but it affects every facet of our society. What more can you do? What more can I do? We all need to ask ourself that question.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Many times kids in the system struggle with food issues. They can range from anorexia to obesity. Some do not know when to stop eating and some cannot make themselves eat. And it all stems from years of not having enough or not knowing if you'll have enough.

Many scenarios could have taken place in the past to cause these issues. Many times, children have gone hungry, or there has just been a lot of uncertainty as to where the next meal might come from. Food stamps might have been traded for drugs, the house might not have any food it in, and the child is hungry. And so they either go hungry, or they have to find their next meal. Maybe a neighbor would feed them or they could find food in the trash bin at the fast food place down the street.

If it is a sibling group, the oldest child feels responsible to get food for the younger children. If the baby still needs milk in a bottle and is crying for it, it might be up to the 5 year old to find some milk. Either way, having enough food becomes a central issue. The survival instinct takes over and it becomes not only an important thing, but the ONLY important thing.

Fast forward ahead five years to when the child is placed in a safe, loving adoptive home where there is always enough food to eat and nobody ever grows hungry. There is breakfast served as soon as you get up, a morning snack if you aren't in school yet, lunch, an after school snack, supper, and evening a bedtime snack. The kids can look in the fridge and see that it has food. They can look in the freezer and see it stocked. They can see that the cubhoards have enough food to feed the entire family for weeks.

But even a year or two after they are placed you still find moldy cheese under their beds, cracker crumbs under the pillow, and chips shoved in backpacks. You still find a kid that doesn't know what it means to feel full and overeat until they are ill. You still have a kid who might overeat and then go make herself throw up.

Trying to behavior modify children from their food issues is practically impossible. You can consequence, take away, threaten, etc., but the issues are not going to go away. You cannot take away that basic instinct survival feeling from a child, no matter how hard you try.

Acceptance and supervision and gentle attachment will help it to slowly disappear. Maybe not completely, but the symptoms will lesson. Have patience, remember the whys, and help them heal, regardless of how long it takes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Case File is Not A Fortune Teller

I am reposting this from my personal blog because I think that it has some value here.

This morning Cindy posted a very helpful post about the severely disturbed older adopted children. It reminded me of some new words that I've started to say lately to parents who are thinking of adopting children.

When they state their fears, I ask them to go down the road of that fear and ask themselves if they will survive. Everyone's fears are different -- fear of a child ending up in jail, or of a child dying, or of a child growing up to return to their birth parents. Or maybe the fear is that they will raise a child who will become pregnant as an unwed teen or "come out of the closet" as an adult. Whatever our worst fears are, we have to face them.

I guess my worst fear would be that one of our children would kill Bart or I. Certainly carrying myself down that mental road is not something that I like to do often, but sometimes I let myself and I realize that even so, it would eventually be OK. The person killed (the lucky one) would be in heaven, enjoying a stress free eternity with God. The person left would eventually be OK. I have a big faith in a bigger God and I know that God's love and strength would sustain me, that forgiveness would not be easy, but would come, and that in the end, after it was all over, we would be OK.

One of Kyle's turning points was the first time he threatened to kill Bart. In a sinister voice, very sinister for an 11 year old, he angrily said to Bart, "Some day I might have to kill you." To which Bart responded, "and if you do so son, I will die loving you." I don't think he ever seriously threatened to do it again.

Part of the reason we have arrived at this point may come from the fact that some of our biggest fears have already come to pass. We have already had a child in prison, two different children in the psych hospital, and a "Child in Need of Protection or Services" Petition filed against us. Our children have accused us of abuse, we have had our lives threatened. Many of our fears have come to pass and ... we're OK.

Pre-adoptive parents often want a crystal ball. They want the child's file, or the caseworkers, or the therapist, or a teacher to tell their fortune and promise them that everything is going to be OK. That none of their worse fears will come to pass.

But the truth about life is that we do not know the future and we can't know it. Every day, every step is a risk. I learned from the rebellious choices of my brothers that even when parents do everything right from conception to age 18, each person's freedom of choice determines their future.

So now when I go through paperwork with a family who is considering a child, I tell them to expect the worse. I suggest to them that there is no way to predict the outcome of any human life, but that they should expect life to be hard. I tell them about the behaviors they can expect.

I am completely convinced that any person can parent any child -- they just have to be willing and decide how much of their quality of life they are willing to give to the cause.

I quote Pat O'Brien

I often get asked the question “what kind of people will offer their home permanently to a teenager?” My answer is always the same. I always say “any and all kinds of people who, after a good preparation experience, are willing to unconditionally commit themselves to a child no matter what behavior that child might ultimately exhibit.” Teenagers need first and foremost at least one adult who will unconditionally commit to and claim the teen as their own. Any thing less is an artificial relationship. Teenagers need unconditional commitment before anything else constructive can happen.

This is the key. Claiming the child and knowing that you will never give up on them. They might not always be able to live with you, but regardless of what happens, they will never cease being your child. And if you can make this commitment, which you can, you can keep it.

Monday, July 2, 2007


One of the things I noticed soon after becoming an adoptive parent to older kids is that it appears that they can't tell the truth no matter what.

Having parented them for ten years now, I ahve noticed that sometimes lying isn't lying as we know it. We use the word "liar" to describe someone who intentionally deceives. Sometimes I think we need to use different words.

For children who have developmental disabilities or have organic brain damage due to pre-natal exposure to drugs or alcohol, they really cannot remember. It seems almost impossible for those of us with "regular" brains to beleive, but they really do not remember things. Even things that happened just a few minutes before don't pop into mind when they are asked.

The challenges, as these kids get older, is that they realize that they are SUPPOSED to remember. The response, "I don't know" when the question, "Where were you this morning" is asked they realize is not acceptable. They might remember a little bit, but they don't remember it all. And so they fill in the details. And sometimes what they come up with is so rediculous that we can't believe it.

So, when we here a story our fully functioning brains send messages to our appropriately functioning emotions like, "How stupid do you think I am to believe a story like that?", or "If you're going to lie, at least make it believable" or, "I am going to so ground you and teach you to become an honest person?". And we become angry and it doesn't take long for us to really work ourselves into a fury.

Another piece of "lying" is self-protection. If as a small child I learn that if I admit to wrong doing, I will be beat nearly unconscious, my initial instinct is to deny any involvement. It's a learned behavior and very hard to unlearn because it is at the very center of the individuals desire to keep themselves physically safe.

Rethinking "lying" as parents, will keep us more sane, more compassionate, and more stable. Because the idea behind lying is the concept of deception, which may not be the issue at all.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I am 6. I have two little sisters. I get left home with them a lot. Sometimes we get very hungry and thirsty and when we look for food there isn't any. My mom gets drunk a lot. Sometimes I have to look in her purse and see if there is any money so that I can go to the store and by some milke for my sisters because they cry a lot. My mom brings her boyfriends to our house and we have to go hide under our bed so they don't see us. Our clothes are dirty sometimes and my baby sister doesn't have diapers. I try to do my best to take care of them.

Fast forward five years and I am eleven. I have been adopted by really good parents. But I still can't stop thinking about how important it is that I make sure that I take care of myself. I sometimes wonder if there will be enough food, so I always take the biggest piece of meat on the plate. When they take me shopping for clothes, I have a hard time making a decision because I am worried that it has to be just right . . . because I might not get anything else. I try to believe my parents are going to take care of me, but sometimes I just know that I have to make sure that I take care of me.

Many kids from the system are hypervigilant and always looking out for themselves. What can easiliy be interpreted as selfishness is really self-preservation. It is very hard, when basic trust has not been secured, to be certain that adults can be depended on. Therefore a child has to "look out for number one."

There are other reasons why children who come from dysfunctional families appear selfish. One is the sense of entitlement that many individuals on welfare have that makes them not understand any act that is not beneficial to them. Another is that they have not had role models of others who possess skills like empathy and compassion.

It is a hard road to teach someone who has known nothing but selfishness how to be selfless. It is done by example. It is done by consistency. It is done with a lot of hard work. But the starting point I believe, is recognizing that this is a learned behavior, not necessarily chosen and that it must be addressed with compassion.


Yes. Children who are adopted from the foster care system are immature. They are behind developmentally and this can be due to many factors. Whether it be early neglect or abuse or organic brain damage due to chemical use during pregnancy, the greatest offender being alcohol, many children do not develop emotionally as they should. This makes them appear very immature.

Erickson's developmental stages certainly apply here. I will attempt to discuss each from the perspective of an adoptive parent, with my quotes coming from the above linked website.

1. Learning Basic Trust Versus Basic Mistrust (Hope)

Chronologically, this is the period of infancy through the first one or two years of life. The child, well - handled, nurtured, and loved, develops trust and security and a basic optimism. Badly handled, he becomes insecure and mistrustful.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is the result of not having that happen, or attachment issues of some kind. I find it interesting that Erickson was not even discussing attachment disorder or adopted children, but that he concludes that in order to develop hope, young children must develop basic trust.

So, in pursuing my theory, if a child does not accomplish basic trust, then they may get stuck in this developmental stage and emotionally may not be much more beyond the age of two even if they arrive in your home at the age of 15.

2. Learning Autonomy Versus Shame (Will)

The second psychosocial crisis, Erikson believes, occurs during early childhood, probably between about 18 months or 2 years and 3½ to 4 years of age. The "well - parented" child emerges from this stage sure of himself, elated with his new found control, and proud rather than ashamed. Autonomy is not, however, entirely synonymous with assured self - possession, initiative, and independence but, at least for children in the early part of this psychosocial crisis, includes stormy self - will, tantrums, stubbornness, and negativism. For example, one sees may 2 year olds resolutely folding their arms to prevent their mothers from holding their hands as they cross the street. Also, the sound of "NO" rings through the house or the grocery store.

I have many times said that parenting a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder is like parenting a very large 2 year old. This is because they have not moved beyond this stage. They either never got to the stage because of their lack of being able to resolve stage on. (Erickson's theory was that "these stages are conceived in an almost architectural sense: satisfactory learning and resolution of each crisis is necessary if the child is to manage the next and subsequent ones satisfactorily, just as the foundation of a house is essential to the first floor, which in turn must be structurally sound to support and the second story, and so on.")

So if a child never learns basic trust, they are not going to be able to learn autonomy. To take this a step further, let's say that you adopt a child at age 8. They are stuck at stage one of emotional development -- basic trust. However, after they are with you for a couple years, they actually do learn to attach and trust you and you think the battle is over. But now it is time to go through stage two with a 10 year old. Tantrums, saying no all the time, etc....

3. Learning Initiative Versus Guilt (Purpose)

Erikson believes that this third psychosocial crisis occurs during what he calls the "play age," or the later preschool years (from about 3½ to, in the United States culture, entry into formal school). During it, the healthily developing child learns: (1) to imagine, to broaden his skills through active play of all sorts, including fantasy (2) to cooperate with others (3) to lead as well as to follow. Immobilized by guilt, he is: (1) fearful (2) hangs on the fringes of groups (3) continues to depend unduly on adults and (4) is restricted both in the development of play skills and in imagination.

One of the most interesting things I've found is that kids adopted as older kids really have no idea what to do with their time. They are perpetually bored. The fact that most foster homes use video games and television as convenient babysitters does not help them developo an imagination or learn play skills. So, until this stage is passed through you will have a child that is unable to play well with others, able to follow, or able to cooperate. Or, if the child has given up at this stage, you will have Anxiety Disorder and at the very least poor social skills. Let's go back to my original thought. Let's say that you adopt a child at the age of 8. You work with them and by the time they are 10 they are attached to you. Then you go through two years to help them resolve their opposition and you finally get them to autonomy. Then you have to begin to teach them to play, to imagine. And this is goign to take another two or three years. So, from 12-14 you spend teaching them social skills.

4. Industry Versus Inferiority (Competence)

Erikson believes that the fourth psychosocial crisis is handled, for better or worse, during what he calls the "school age," presumably up to and possibly including some of junior high school. Here the child learns to master the more formal skills of life: (1) relating with peers according to rules (2) progressing from free play to play that may be elaborately structured by rules and may demand formal teamwork, such as baseball and (3) mastering social studies, reading, arithmetic. Homework is a necessity, and the need for self-discipline increases yearly. The child who, because of his successive and successful resolutions of earlier psychosocial crisis, is trusting, autonomous, and full of initiative will learn easily enough to be industrious. However, the mistrusting child will doubt the future. The shame - and guilt-filled child will experience defeat and inferiority.

This is a stage that is supposed to take six or seven years, and here is where a bulk of the growing up occurs... It's where a child determines whether or not they can obey rules, learn teamwork, mastering school work. Kids who have been parented well, do well here, but kids who had early abuse and neglect do not. But here is our greatest dilemma. We have a 14 year old child who is able to now, after resolving the other issues, to focus on learning the skills of this stage, which was supposed to start when he was 5. No doubt he has not gotten a lot out of school in the past and he is finally ready to start learning the skills. But, in a traditional school setting, nobody else is going to be at his level, so it may have to happen at home.

Let's say we play catch up and we can get our kids to pack 6 years into three. We still have a 17 year old with a few stages left to go.

5. Learning Identity Versus Identity Diffusion (Fidelity)

During the fifth psychosocial crisis (adolescence, from about 13 or 14 to about 20) the child, now an adolescent, learns how to answer satisfactorily and happily the question of "Who am I?" But even the best - adjusted of adolescents experiences some role identity diffusion: most boys and probably most girls experiment with minor delinquency; rebellion flourishes; self - doubts flood the youngster, and so on.

Erikson believes that during successful early adolescence, mature time perspective is developed; the young person acquires self-certainty as opposed to self-consciousness and self-doubt. He comes to experiment with different - usually constructive - roles rather than adopting a "negative identity" (such as delinquency). He actually anticipates achievement, and achieves, rather than being "paralyzed" by feelings of inferiority or by an inadequate time perspective. In later adolescence, clear sexual identity - manhood or womanhood - is established. The adolescent seeks leadership (someone to inspire him), and gradually develops a set of ideals (socially congruent and desirable, in the case of the successful adolescent). Erikson believes that, in our culture, adolescence affords a "psychosocial moratorium," particularly for middle - and upper-class American children. They do not yet have to "play for keeps," but can experiment, trying various roles, and thus hopefully find the one most suitable for them.

As you can see, many kids from the system, If they ahve been adopted in time and had parents willing to work through the stages, they can catch up. But many times parents don't even realize what they need to do until after a child is in their home for a considerable amount of time.

So, for the sake of completion, let me tell you the last three stages:

6. Learning Intimacy Versus Isolation (Love)

The successful young adult, for the first time, can experience true intimacy - the sort of intimacy that makes possible good marriage or a genuine and enduring friendship.

7. Learning Generativity Versus Self-Absorption (Care)

In adulthood, the psychosocial crisis demands generativity, both in the sense of marriage and parenthood, and in the sense of working productively and creatively.

8. Integrity Versus Despair (Wisdom)

If the other seven psychosocial crisis have been successfully resolved, the mature adult develops the peak of adjustment; integrity. He trusts, he is independent and dares the new. He works hard, has found a well - defined role in life, and has developed a self-concept with which he is happy. He can be intimate without strain, guilt, regret, or lack of realism; and he is proud of what he creates - his children, his work, or his hobbies. If one or more of the earlier psychosocial crises have not been resolved, he may view himself and his life with disgust and despair.

This post is entirely too long as it is. But let me make a few closing remarks.

Kids from the system are immature because they are stuck in a developmental stage. They need adults to help them move out of it. In a sense, I almost believe that newly adopted children must go back to stage one, but that if they have already successfully passed through the stages, they can go through them much more quickly the second time around.

The trick in parenting these kids is being able to respond to them according to their developmental stage. For example, if I walk into the kitchen and I find my three year old child with cookie crumbs all over his mouth and I say, "Did you have a cookie?" and the child says, "No" I'm going to chuckle and laugh and say, "Of course you had a cookie. Look at the crumbs all over your face. Look at the crumbs all over the floor. Silly boy. Let's clean you up" and we might say, "You need to say sorry for taking the cookie without asking and for not telling the truth."

But, if I walk in on my 15 year old who is already 5'10" and weighs 220 pounds and he has cookie crumbs on his face and I ask if he had a cookie and he says no, my automatic response is not going to be to chuckle. My internal response is going to be, "You sneaky little theif. You are such a liar. You have cookie all over you. I am so sick and tired of you stealing and lying about it. You are going to have severe consequences for this. I can't beleive I can't trust you."

The better approach would be to determine the developmental age of the child and respond to that age. And the chuckle, wiping the mouth, and the say your sorry approach might actually be more effective.

They have a reason to be immature. And the only way for us to help them not to be immature is to guide them through the developmental stages one at a time, no matter how long it takes.

Friday, June 8, 2007


During the first few months of placement, you may discover that your older adopted child is always angry.

But take a minute to think about how you felt when you read their case file. Weren't you angry? Angry that the birth parents abused or neglected them? Angry that the system didn't protect them? Angry that they were moved too many times? Angry that nobody stepped in to help earlier? Maybe even angry at God for allowing it all to happen?

So they are angry. But is it not logical? Doesn't it makes sense that they would be?

Emotions are tricky, especially for boys. I have found that with my sons, fear, sadness, insecurity, frustration, grief, abandonment, and all inner pain is masked in fiery anger. When they are feeling any negative emotion whatsoever, it is released in anger.

So when parenting these children, they key to survival is looking beyond the anger. Redefine the anger for what it is -- asking, "is he afraid? Is she sad? Is she going through a stage of grief? Is he anxious?" Endure the anger, but when it is over ask yourself what triggered the outburst, what the underlying emotion really is, and how best to address that issue.

The Characteristics of Children from Foster Care Redefined

I am working on a series of characteristics of children who are adopted out of foster care. The characteristics are listed in negative terms so that they can be redefined later. I am thinking about children who are placed in adoptive homes after the age of eight as I develop the list, though it certainly can apply to children adopted during an earlier stage.

If you have any to add, please let me know.












Friday, April 27, 2007

The Child Protection System

Before I began my journey as a foster and adoptive parent, I was sure that I knew who children needing protection from. I assumed, as do most, that children needed protection from their parents, period.

But now that I have been through our journey of the last several years, I am coming to understand that once children have received protection from their parents, they may spend their teen years needing protection from themselves.

We have two sons who have chosen a rather tumultuous adolescense. I say chose because they made small choices along the way, but with their disabilities, I'm not sure how much of what they did was actually a choice. But their choices, and ours, led them into the "Child Protection System."

The "Child Protection System" intervened because we were unable to keep them safe at home. This isn't because they were being abused and neglected -- we, in fact, were the ones that were the recipients of the abuse. But since they could not live at home, someone needed to take care of them.

Their stories are told, in way too much detail, sporadically, in my personal blog, but the conclusion so far has been this. One of our sons was put into structured environments to protect him from his own choices as a result of FASD. He functioned very well in a place where he was told what to do consistently from sunup to sundown. As soon as he was placed in a less restrictive environment, he couldn't handle it. He is now wandering around our town, has quit school within weeks of his graduation, and is unemployed. We don't know where he is sleeping.

Our other son is in a boys ranch and doing very well there. He is in a place where very large guys can restrain him when he gets angry or violent. He is receiving OK grades, working 25-30 hours a week, and maintaining very well. My theory is that he is doing OK there because he feels safe . . . not safe from us, but safe from himself. He knows that if he looses it, he is not going to be arrested or kicked out -- because there are big guys that will remove him from the situation before it gets out of hand.

I am coming to believe that there are many young people who do not feel safe from themselves. They are afraid of what they might do if given enough freedom. They have proven, again and again, that to be somewhere without those built-in guidelines, means they can't handle themselves.

My conclusion is that it is OK for some kids to grow up in group care. They don't feel safe anywhere else. What is NOT okay is for those kids in group care to have no one. Maybe recruiting families to be there for them WHILE they are in group care is the answer.

So I've come to a new point of understanding. It isn't always the children who need protecting. There are occasions when it is the parents. And sometimes the children need to be protected not from other people, but from themselves.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Children with Special Needs

A very interesting view from Chuck Colson on children with special needs.

The Only Criteria for Parental Relationship

According to the INS in this article is DNA testing and a genetic link. Apparently, it doesn't matter, if I have claimed a child and raised them as my own, believing them to be mine, if I want them to join me in the U.S. they have to be related by blood.

While this is not directly an adoption issue, it is certainly a demonstration of our culture and how they define the parental relationship and it is disturbing. No wonder it's hard to convince potential adoptive parents that a blood relationship does not define parental love when society certainly demonstrates this bias.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Al Anon and FASD

I came across this chapter from Al Anon -- the group for people who have a loved one with an addiction. I am amazed at how much it applies to those of us who are parenting a child with FASD. I only have to change one word to make it completely relevent -- the word alcoholism becomes FASD.

In Al-Anon meetings we hear the three Cs describing our powerlessness over [FASD]: we didn’t cause it, can’t cure it, and can’t control it. We begin to learn the basic Al-Anon premise of taking our focus off of the [child] and keeping the focus on ourselves. Hard as it is to look at our own part in our problems, acceptance of Step One brings relief from impossible responsibilities. We were trying to fix a disease – and someone else’s disease at that!

How I wish I would have known from the beginning what I know now... it would have saved so much grief.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Serenity Prayer and Adoptive Parents

Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

As an adoptive parent, all three of these pieces are significant.

First of all, there are many things about our children that cannot be changed and we must accept them. We can't go back and change their traumatic histories. We can't change their genetic makeup. We can't change their organic brain damage or mental illness. We can't change their personalities.

Then, we have to have the courage to change the things we can. We can't back down and walk away when children need confronting. We have to work on behaviors, learn what we can about various issues, try different approaches, and work to change what can be changed.

But I think the greatest need for adoptive parents is the wisdom to know the difference. Meeting a child when he/she is 4 or 8 or 12 or 16 doesn't give us the background we need. We struggle for a long time to discover the difference between "can't" and "won't". We don't know if our children are being oppositional or simply can't do any better.

And discovering whether it's "can't" or "won't" is a difficult process for both us and our children.

I'm going to start praying the serenity prayer daily as I attempt to parent my hurt and healing children. But my emphasis is going to be a plea for the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and cannot change.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Teen Attachment Cycle

Anyone who has had pre-adoption training has heard about bonding and the attachment cycle. They have heard about how a baby has a need and expresses that need and how the parent meets the need and trust is developed.

This weekend, amidst the ups and downs of parenting a bunch of teens, I realized that teens and preteens reenact the attachment cycle over and over again with a slight twist. Because their physical needs are now being met, they don’t have to worry about them any more. So instead, they test their attachment every time they make a mistake.

So, the teen or preteen screws up. It can be something small, like manipulating by not telling the truth, or as big as getting arrested. Immediately, they go into a period not accepting responsibility and taking it out on their caregiver. This can take many forms. In my family alone, each person’s response is different. For one, it means sulking and whining. For another it means continuous arguing and not relenting. For another it means blaming me for the way I handled the confrontation. For another it means slamming doors, kicking walls. For another it means getting very angry at the person that reported their wrongdoing. I think you get the picture.

This part of the cycle can last for minutes or for days. It is a relentless unwillingness to accept responsibility, apologize and move on. It takes many forms.

Finally, though, the teen, often when they need something, must rebuild the relationship and move on. So they apologize. And, we forgive. And then they realize, “Hey, they really do love me! They’re not giving up! I didn’t screw up so bad that I can’t be forgiven!” Trust is once again rebuilt and they are calm again . . . until the next time they make a mistake and it starts all over again.

If you have heard the song “We Live” by Superchick you know that the song has a circular melody. It keeps repeating itself just as the pattern of forgiving teens must repeat itself in the lives of adoptive parents.

We live, we love, we forgive and never give up
Cuz the days we are given are gifts from above
And today we remember to live and to love

Those lyrics have been going around and around in my head as I have gone around and around the teen attachment cycle these last days. The key is to not get caught up in the myriad details, but to simply remember that each day is a test.

My kids are saying to me, “will you continue to love me no matter what? Will you accept me even if I don’t please you? Are you really there forever?”

And so just as a new parent dances the dance of attachment with a newborn, we who adopt older children must dance the attachment dance with teens. Just as a new parent is exhausted with the strain of caring for a newborn, we are exhausted with the stress of going through the cycle of blame and hatred day after day. But just as the parent of a newborn cannot get into the mode of blaming a newborn for expressing their need for a clean diaper or a bottle, neither can we get caught up in blaming an adopted teen for expressing their need for unconditional commitment and love. And finally, we cannot have expectations that are too high for our teens just like a parent of a newborn cannot demand, after six months, that the baby start feeding themselves or changing their open diaper.

I don’t know how old a child has to be before they fully believe we will love them forever. I have heard it said that it is double the number of years they lived without a family (thus, an 11 year old will feel like a member of the family when he/she hits 22). But I think for each kid it may be different, and for some people, it may take a lifetime.

For several years I think I was trying to stop the cycle. I was trying to prevent it from beginning by keeping my kids from making mistakes, hoping to avoid the trip around the forgiveness merry go round, especially the blaming, raging part. But I’m coming to realizes that I’d have no more luck getting a newborn to stop needing to be fed and changed.

And so I’ll keep on keeping on, recognizing one more piece of the puzzle that helps me to patiently do an exhausting tasks with results that are long in coming.

And I will remind myself that none of my teens chose to enter the world as a baby that nobody picked up and held. They didn’t choose to have birthparents who were addicted to drugs or alcohol. They didn’t ask to scream and cry and not be cuddled, changed and fed. They simply arrived on this earth like we all did and didn’t get what they should have. And so it’s my responsibility to make it up to them. And what I wasn’t there to do with bottles and clean diapers, I’ll do with enduring their rage and forgiving them again and again until they discover that they are worthy of love and that there is someone committed to them forever.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Step 6: Preplacement Visits

Before even discussing pre-placement visits, it is my personal opinion that these visits are not a test-run. If you are not committted to the kids, don't agree to a pre-placement visit. It is very harmful for children to meet you and then have you change your mind. So, the visits are NOT, and I repeat NOT, to help you decide. They are the beginning to a lifetime relationship.

Here are some of my ideas about how a person should act and what one should do during pre-placement visits.

1) Keep things low key and as close to family living as you can so that expectations are not created. If your family goes to Chuck E. Cheese's once a month, but only gives out a dollar of tokens, for example, don’t give the new kid a $5.00 bill the first time you meet him ... or from now on it’s going to be an expectation. Doing lots of things that cost money will make them think that is always the way it is. If your family never orders dessert, don’t do it during the first visit.

2) Do not give them a lot of gifts. Again, you’re setting up an expectation and they are going to think this is only the tip of the iceberg. Many kids in foster care have attachment issues and they are not looking at a new family as “someone to love me” but as “someone to buy me stuff.” So, the more stuff you buy upfront, the more they will look forward to stuff, stuff and more stuff.

3) If you do give gifts, give gifts that focus on the relationship. A photo album or something with the family name on it are good options or a CD of family pictures, or of favorite family songs. Things that will make connections.

4) Plan activities that will involve interraction -- watching a movie is NOT a good example. Something active or something that involves communication -- board games, card games, etc. allowing for plenty of conversation are appropriate.

5) Realize that this is the ultimate in a honeymoon. It’s OK to fall in love, but don’t think that this visit is what it is always going to be like.

First visits are fun. Enjoy them. But be careful not to set an unrealistic tone.

Step Five: Making a Final Decision after you are Matched

After you are matched, you still have to read through the case file and decide if you are willing to proceed with adopting the children. This step is much more difficult than you might seem have you never read a case file. Here are some tips based on my experience.

1) Start with the most recent information first. You are adopting a child for who he/she is today, not for who they used to be. Many families start at the beginning and by the time they read through the first year of a child's life in foster care they are sure they can't parent the child. Get a good understanding of how the child is functioniing right now before reading through the history.

2) Understand the the Difficulty of Care Cunnundrum. If you understand this you may understand a little more about why the case file reads as it does.

3) Realize that information given to a psychiatrist for an evaluation is given by someone, and that someone may have an ulterior motive. If a foster parent is having a psych eval done in order to prove that they cannot take care of the child in their home, then they will present certain information. If a parent who is disrupting an adoption is trying to justify their decision, they may paint a more negative picture of the child.

4) Realize that every situation is unique and that the way a child is doing in one situation is not a predictor of how they will do in another. Every situation and every child is different and the mix is unpredictable.

5) Remind yourself that there are no guarantees. Every adoption (just like the birth of every child) is a risk. You never will know how things are going to turn out until they do.

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out, Part Four: A Scrapbook

You may also want to prepare a scrapbook for situations in which your family have made the finals and you are going to staffing for a child. This scrapbook can also be used later as a gift for the children you are matched with.

I'm not going to tell you how to make your own family scrapbook. This is something that you need to determine based on your own family. But use it to tell the story of who you are. I have seen many and they are all unique, but they do a good job of explaining who you are. Try to use the best pictures you can that make sense. I could show you lots of bad examples, but won't do so for the sake of the dignity of those in the pictures.

The scrapbook can be a great tool in giving you the edge over other families in the staffing.

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out, Part Three: Collateral Information

Ask yourself what one other possible piece of information might be helpful to your specific situation.

Haven't parented before? Have someone write a letter who has seen you with children -- a neighbor, a friend you've babysat for, a pastor in whose church you have taught Sunday school.

Have a lot of kids? Include something like 15 Reasons why Large Adoptive Families Make Great Resources for Waiting Children.

Looking to adopt a medically fragile child? Include a letter from a clinic or hospital where you have volunteered.

The idea with this collatoral information is that it shows people that you have thought things through. It can be as unique as you are.

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out, Part Two: A Cover Letter

Often, writing a cover letter to go with a study that is going to a PARTICULAR worker for a CERTAIN child or sibling group is a good plan.

This letter should be addressed to the social worker of the children. You may not know their name, but it could be simply: Dear Caseworker of Joe and Mary.

In this letter, based on the description of the children, you can write why you the children would fit into your home. Show how some of their interests match yours. Conclude with a statement of commitment once again.

When you ask your worker to send your study, let her know that you have a letter made up to go with your profile and your home study. Sending this can often make a direct tie to the children.

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out, Part One: A Profile Page

(click to see larger image)

So, you're going to have your homestudy submitted to caseworkers for a particular child or sibling group. You want to stand out and be different from everyone else.

Ask your social worker if they would be willing to include a Profile of you when they send out each study, and then prepare a good one.

A good profile starts with one GREAT picture. Many people are tempted to include several pictures of their family doing all sorts of stuff, but I think that one really good picture of the family is sufficient. If you don't have a photo that is professional, see if you can get one done. Otherwise, have a friend who is a good photographer take one. It would be best if everyone is dressed nicely and color coordinated. If you want to use more than one picture, make sure the central one is eye catching.

Then the profile should be no more than a couple paragraphs that are well written and in first person. Have a few people proofread it for you to make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors. In those two paragraphs, include some basic information: What do you and your spouse do for a living? What is your house and neighborhood like? What hobbies do you enjoy? And what makes you unique? Try to make your house and home kid friendly.

Finally, I would add a few sentences about commitment and your understanding about children in the system. For example, "Having spent time talking with other parents who are adopted, we understand that raising children with special needs can be a difficult undertaking. We realize that simply providing them a loving home and a permanent family may not be enough to change their behaviors, immediately heal their hearts, or fix their mental health issues. However, we are committed to raising children for the long haul and are pledging ourselves to stick by them regardless of what may come."

A great layout and fancy design is eye catching, but not necessary. If you do not know how to do layout on the computer, have a friend help. Being able to have it saved in PDF format is very helpful since a lot of social workers are now emailing profiles.

If your agency does not provide a service of making profiles, make color copies and take them to your agency. Ask your social worker to include a profile each time they send out your study.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Step Three: Checking Out the Photolistings

I confess that I am a photolisting junkie and I admit that my husband and I decided to pursue older child adoption after our first evening of looking at pictures of darling children on internet photolistings. We fell in love with a couple of boys and when we inquired we found out we needed a homestudy. That was the beginning of our search.

The first principle to remember when dealing with photolistings is that they are more than just a matching tool. In fact, they probably fulfill a recruiting function to a greater extent than they do a matching function.

Secondly, regardless of how hard any one person tries, there are many children on photolistings who are no longer available. Often times the person who updates the website is two or three people away from the social worker with the child and so many things can happen to any of those people: medical leave, maternity leave, resignation, transfer, or just overwhelmed. The message that a family has been located may not go through the line of people and get to the person updating the website in a timely matter.

Third, the labels listed (mild, moderate, severe) are the opinion of one person. I have read thorough case files on children who I would rate as mild who are listed as severe and the other way around. There is no guarantee that those levels are a guarantee.

Children with no issues do not exist. There is not a child who has a history of abuse, neglect, and multiple moves that does not have any issues. The children who have "none" listed in every category may be stable right now, but they have issues.

And finally, a child who is mild now, won't be mild forever. An extremely small number of children adopted from the foster care make it through their entire lives without a few days, weeks, or months of "moderate" or "severe" behaviors.

So, photolistings are a great place to see the kinds of kids that are out there. If there are children that you are specifically drawn to, send your study. But don't be surprised if the child is no longer available or the level of care is inaccurate.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Matching Principle: It's About the Kids

I've heard it said 100 times by social workers. "We are not trying to find children for families. We are trying to find families for children."

In the process, putting the children first seems to be abusive to prospective parents. There are so many different ways in which families can get hurt in this process. In the list of ways a match can fall apart you can see how parents can get emotionally devastated. But if you can separate yourself from the situation and remind yourself that "it's not about you" it makes the process easier.

We tend to get tunnel vision when it comes to wanting children into our homes to the point that we don't put the kids first. A great example is when a local family is chosen for the children. Sure, we believe that we would have been just as good for the kids and it wouldn't be so hard for them to move across the country. But if a child is perfectly content in Florida and there is a family for them there, is Montana a better choice for them simply because I live there. Would moving across the country to a different climate with folks with a different style of living be best for the child? It may not harm them, but it's possible that allowing a child to be in a similar environment would be best for them.

Or what about a child who grew up in the inner city? Sure, we think our fresh air is preferable on our dairy farm, but what if the kid LIKES the city. What if that is familiar and comforting? If a child can stay in the same are where there are positive connections, might that not be best?

Some social workers take this to an extreme and sometimes almost mistreat prospective adoptive families. But there focus is going to be on what is best for that child, not how the "rejected" hopeful adoptive familiy feels. They know the children, we don't. They are going to do their very best to come up with the best option for them.

Yes, we are going to be upset when we are not selected. But we need to remember that it isn't about us. It's about the kids and THAT is how the workers will make their decisions.

Matching Principle: Stay as Distant as Possible

I've told myself several times that I should write a book on "101 Ways a Match Can Fall Apart." I kept track during 2005, and while 96 children came home, 120 children were matched with families that they were never placed with. Here are the top five reasons that I have seen for a match not turning into a placement (not necessarily in order).

1) The foster parents change their minds and decide to adopt. This happens SO often. Foster parents, who for years have been saying they are not interested, are doing so because they really never believed that the time would come that they would have to say goodbye. So they wait until the last minute before they say, "HEY, WAIT. We want these kids." I never get too upset when this happens because I do matching for the sake of the kids and most of the time it is best for the kids to stay with a foster family that they are bonded to, even if that family is slow in making a commitment. I have seen the foster parents step in and insist on taking the kids as late as two or three days before the selected adoptive family was supposed to meet the kids. It is a horrible thing to go through, but it happens a lot.

2) The family that is matched changes their mind about the kids after reading the case file. My experience is that MANY adoptive families decline the first child whose file they read. Case files are horrible nasty things that detail the abuse the child has suffered and their behaviors from their first day in foster care until the day they are waiting to be adopted. So there is a great deal of yucky stuff, to use a professional term, in the case file. Many matches fall through at this time.

3) A surprise appeal is filed. Birth parents can file an appeal to the Termination of Parental Rights decision and when they do so a hold is placed on the case and the social worker cannot proceed with a placement. So often it the adoptive parents do not want to wait and they move on. Or, once and a while, the birth parents win.

4) A relative comes forward. Social workers are supposed to do an extensive relative search BEFORE letting other non-relatives know about the available children. But sometimes a relative cannot be found that turns up after a family is selected. The case is put on hold until it is determined if it is in the child's best interest to be adopted by the relative and it is often determined that it is best for the child to go to a relative.

5) The case is delayed and the family just can't wait and they move on. There are so many ways that a placement can be delayed. A worker has a death in the family, or goes on maternity leave, or goes on vacation. A worker quits and the case has to be reassigned. The Interstate Compact Office in one state or the other takes a long time or puts a hold on the placement. The child becomes unstable and needs a psych hospitalization or a stay in a residential treatment center or a medical procedure. The supervisor or program director can request more information. The subsidy negotiations take too long. Paperwork is missing and needs to be collected. The homestudy is now out of date and needs to be updated. Some families after waiting three or four or six or ten months just can't wait any longer and give up.

There are variations of these five things as well as a few other reasons that aren't as common. But the bottom line is that even if you are matched with kids it doesn't mean they are moving in. People ask me "when should I get emotionally involved with the child?" and after doing this for four years, I often respond, "When you see them sleeping in their own bed in your own home you can begin."

Matching Principle: Don't Fall in Love with a Picture

One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen people in the matching process do is to fall in love with a picture. Here are a list of reasons why you should never fall in love based on a picture (even if it is next to a one paragraph summary).

1) If it is a cute picture, a WHOLE BUNCH of other people are going to be in love with it too. They are going to have the picture on their fridge, bulletin board, or desk. They are going to think the kids are SO CUTE or that "there is just something about that kid." A captivating photo will captivate many, and as you know, the more people that are captivated, the more families will be interested in the child.

2) Many children who are on photolistings are already matched. One of the hardest parts of the adoption matching process for those who are involved in matching and placing children is keeping photolistings up to date. There are many children who are already matched on websites.

3) Falling in love with a face can keep you from really listening to the information presented about the child. Wanting a child very badly because of a cute picture can cause people to not make reasonable decisions.

4) Very few people are matched with the first kid they fall for. In fact, because there is only one family chosen for each situation, there are many many others who are not selected. I remember hearing about one sibling group of children and the Texas website received over 100 homestudies submitted within the first 24 hours they were on the website. Theoretically that would mean that 99 homestudies were rejected and only 1 selected. Ironically, these three children, all under the age of five, were so difficult that the worker ended up putting the children on hold and none of the 100 families were chosen. The children were not matched until almost a full year later.

5) Photolistings, while they are great matching tools, are also recruiting tools. I remember the first kids we fell in love with back in 1997. I came across the old "Faces of Adoption" website and was immediately in love with these two kids. We didn't even have our homestudy done. But even though we realized that we had no chance of getting those kids because the process took so long, they drew us into the adoption process. So you may never be matched with children you see on a photolisting.

6) Finally, and most unfortunately, even getting matched does not mean that the children will come to your home (which I will discuss in a later post). But seeing a picture for the first time is definitely way too early in the process to be getting excited.

Step Two: Networking

Once you are confident that you have the best agency and the most accurate homestudy that you can acquire, then, in the midst of preparing yourselves and your family, it's time to start networking.

Of course, you aren't going to blame me for recommending that you register, if you haven't already, with Adopt America. But once that is done you can start to do your own networking.

One main point to remember is that there are a lot of agencies and social workers who will only have "worker to worker contact." That means that families are not able to talk to workers directly. For this reason, it is more important to build your network of people who already know social workers who have children available than it is to build a network of social workers who may never talk to you in the first place.

The first rule is to never throw away a piece of contact information. Invest in a good contact manager for the computer or a nice notebook and then NEVER throw ANY phone number, email address, regular address, or name away.

Start by talking to any family that you can find that has adopted from the foster care system and let them know that your homestudy is done. Ask them if they would be willing to talk to the social worker who had their kids on their caseload. Have them help you get the word out that you are waiting.

Next, you can subscribe to several email support groups that have waiting families. You can find them at yahoo groups or other groups and join. Ask questions and make connections there.

Photolistings are a great starting point but I haven't had great success with using photolistings alone. What I used to do, when matching our family, was to follow up persistently once I got ahold of the contact information. For example, if a worker had my study and called me to tell me that the child I was interested in was no longer available, I would respond, "Are there any other children on your caseload that might be a good match for my family?" Or, I might ask, "Are there other workers in your unit that might be interested in our family." I always took things one step further, and then another step after that.

The bottom line is that you need to continue to make as many connections as possible with as many folks as possible. Finding the right child or children for your family is a time consuming process. Don't give up easily -- keep building your network and making yourself available.

Step One: Assessment, Part Seven: Putting it All Together

So, it's time to put it all together and make some decisions. You may need to make some changes right now in order to make it easier for you to get matched.

Ask yourself the following questions (or, if you are a couple, you each need to ask yourselves):

1) Do I need to change my expectations about the kind of child I might be able to get matched with?

2) Do I need to change my agency in order to adopt children from another state or to have more cooperation in the matching process?

3) Do I need to represent myself better to my agency so they can write an addendum to my homestudy that includes things that I may have left out? (Remember, workers are looking for people who have been through tough things.)

4) Do I need to gain some more experience in order to better prepare myself?

5) Do I need to go in a completely different direction, such as foster parenting first?

6) Do I need to ask for some help?

After you ask yourself all those questions and come up wtih some answers, act on them.

Step One: Assessment, Part Six: How Prepared Are We

One of the main things that impresses social workers is experience. Yes, you've had a trainng, but do you know anyone who is parenting kids with special needs? Have you ever had a child in your home who has any issues? Have you ever sat down and talked to anyone (besides your social worker) who has parented a child like this?

Parenting experience is good, but often social workers don't believe that parenting "normal" kids, or parenting in a "normal" way is adequate preparation for parenting kids with a history of abuse and neglect. Even parenting adopted children who were adopted at birth or internationally doesn't necessarily mean that there it will be perceived that a family knows how to parent "system kids."

Now grant it, there are many children who are adopted internationally who have lots of issues: Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, etc. But there are a great number of very emotionally healthy children adopted internationally, a sad statement. A Third World Orphanage has done a better job of raising many children than our foster care system has.

So, social workers want to see experience. They are impressed if you go to many trainings, and you should. The more you read, the better prepared you will be. Blogs like the ones listed on Adoption Blog Central can give you a look into the lives of people who are doing what you want to do, and that will help prepare. But social workers who are choosing a family for children want to see that you are willing to get yourself involved, hands on, BEFORE the kids are in your home.

Foster parenting is great experience. Doing respite care for another family who as adopted is also awesome experience. Spending time on a regular basis with a family who has adopted very hard kids is also very helpful (and a lot of adoptive families are kind of short on good friends, so they'd probably welcome the help).

One of the families that I worked with had a stay-at-home parent. While she was waiting to be matched she volunteered in the Emotional and Behavior Disorders classroom for a school year to get an idea of what kind of behaviors were associated with which diagnosis.

If you want to adopt cross culturally, it isn't enough to have a few ethnic dolls or artwork in your home. You need to KNOW some people of color. You need to associate with them on a regular basis. You need to have them be a part of your life. You need to ask them tough questions about racism. You need to work through your own attitudes about other cultures by being with people of that culture.

So, am I saying that if you don't do any of these things that you won't get matched? Not at all. But I am saying that you have to do something while you're waiting for that match, and these are excellent ways to understand what you're really going to go through when the time comes.

Don't fool yourself into thinking that you don't have time for any of the stuff that I just mentioned but that you will have time to invite a stranger into your home who is suddenly your child and be able to learn everything then. If you don't have time to add a few extra people into your life, you won't have time to parent the kind of children who come out of the foster care system.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Step One: Assessment, Part Five: What Kind of Family Are We

Matching is a competition of sorts. The kind of issues a child has, the number of children in a sibling group, the age of the child and the child's race all determine how much "competition" there will be.

For example, I know that if I let the word out that I know about a 1 year old Caucasian boy with no issues, I will be able to, on my own, find 40 or 50 families, just in my circle of connections, that will want that child.

If I post a sibling group of six African American kids, ages 9-16, I won't get a single study.

In fact, I checked on a 16 year old Hispanic male that I had first registered with our agency almost 3 years ago and we never had a single study sent. Not a single family in 3 years was interested in him.

So, let's say that you are one of those families who has determined, for the sake of discussion, that the only child you are willing to parent is a 1 year old Caucasian boy.

Are you going to have what it takes to win the competition? I realize this may sound crass, but what is the "perfect family?"

Fortunately, the perfect family is defined differently by every social worker. And the perfect family for a particular child is different than it might be for another child.

But, if you're talking about a one year old caucasian boy with no issues, the perfect familiy might well be defined as:

» 2 parent, male/female couple
» middle class
» Caucasian
» Wealthy enough, but not too wealthy
» Stay at home parent
» No more than one sibling, at least 2 years older
» Great neighborhood, schools, etc.
» In the same state as the waiting child
» In an agency that has a good reputation with the social worker
» Endured enough negative things to show that you can handle some adversity, but not so much that it damaged you a lot.

If you differ from this, then you may get chosen, but your chances are more slight with everything that isn't "on the list."

And as I said, this could be the list. Or it might not be, depending on the worker.

Every once and a while I get surprised. A match that I thought had no chance of being a match became one. But realistically, there are certain kind of families that social workers look at for certain kinds of kids and the closer to the "traditional" family a family is, the more chances they have for the children that seem to be considered the "most desirable."

Step One: Assessment, Part Four: What Kind of Agency Do You Have

I have run across many individuals in the waiting process who started out with an agency. After their homestudy is completed and they have invested all that time in the training and paperwork for that agency, they realize that the agency really isn't going to give them what they need in regards to matching, but they are afraid to switch agencies because of their previous investment.

Many people head to their county for an adoption home study. Many counties provide excellent service and will often provide a home study without charge. If you come from a county which includes a large metropolitan area, you should have no trouble being matched with a child or sibling group from that city. However, if you live in a rural area, your county may have less than 5 children adopted from there each year.

Here are some questions to ask your county or your agency before getting your home study done, if possible, or if you are not matched and wondering why.

1) If there are no children available in this county (or this area) will you assist me in getting matched with a child from another part of this state?

2) Will you send my homestudy to other states for me to be considered for children from another state? Will their be an additional charge? If you will, have you ever done an out of state placement? From which states?

3) Will you allow me to have a copy of my homestudy?

4) Will I be allowed to advocate for myself and talk to social workers on my own behalf?

5) How much time are you as my social worker going to have to help me in the matching process?

6) Will I be allowed to register with an organization like Adopt America.

7) How do you go about matching a family?

8) How many of the families you have homestudied were matched within a year of their homestudy?

Finally, think about the kind of child you want, the kind of child that is out there, the demographics of your state, and then see if it is realistic that your agency, based on the answers to these questions, is going to be able to match you with a child.

Step One: Assessment, Part Three: What Kind of State Do I Live In

One of the facts about our country is that because of demographics, there are some states that have more children than adoptive families and some states that have more families than adopted children. For example in 2004, there were 56 children adopted from the state of Wyoming and over 2,000 children in that same year adopted from states like Ohio, New York, and Texas. This report will tell you how many children were adopted from each state in 2004.

If you live in Wyoming or a state with a low number of children available for adoption, you will most likely need to adopt from another state. If you live in California, New York, Texas, Illinois, or a similar state, you will have better chances of adopting a child that is closer to your preferences simply because there will be a greater number of children available.

Step One: Assessment: Part Two: What Kind of Children Are Available.

In doing an assessment, it is important to combine the specifics regarding what kind of children you are looking for with the reality of what kind of children are available.

The Adoption and Foster Care Reporting and Analysis System (AFCARS) gives the following information about the 114,000 children who were waiting to be adopted in September of 2005 (the last time a report was completed).

Here is what they report:

53% were male, 47% were female

51% of those children had been in foster care for more than 30 months, and 87% had been in foster care for more than 12 months.

40% were Caucasian, 15% Hispanic, and 36% African American.

63% were over the age of five.

60% of the children were adopted by their foster parents.

I don't see data that connects the two, but based on my experience a large majority of the 37% of children adopted under the age of 5 were a part of the 60% who were adopted by their foster parents.

So, if you are planning to adopt without fostering and you are hoping for a girl, under the age of five, who is caucasian and whose foster parents aren't already planning to adopt her, you can see where the odds lie.

Step One: Assessment: Part One: What Kind of Children Do We Want

The first step in matching is to thoroughly assess your situation. This may seem simple, but it is a multistep process.

First, you need to determine what kind of child you are looking for. In doing this, you need to understand some myths. (and I can guarantee you that I am going to be telling you some stuff you don't want to hear).

Myth Number One: The Younger the Child the Better

Most individuals believe that the younger the child is when they arrive the better your chances will be in seeing a child succeed. This is not true on many levels. First, the younger the child is the less you know about the issues they will face. A child who is two or three years old might appear to not have any issues at that time. However, later in life the same child may face many if not all of things that children who are 11-17 have already been diagnosed with when they become available for adoption. Getting a child when they are young does NOT mean that they will not have these issues. It just means that you will not know that they have them.

Secondly, the younger the child is the longer they will be in your home. Many people believe that this is a good thing, but when you are dealing with children who have multiple issues, fewer years with you is not necessarily a bad thing.

Third, the younger the child is the longer it will take them to realize that you are not the cause of their issues. Children who come as younger children tend to blame their adoptive parents for every issue they face, while children adopted as teens KNOW that it isn't their adoptive parents fault -- they are the ones who rescued them.

Myth Number Two: If I Get a Child When They Are Younger I Can FIx Them

More and more research is showing that many personality disorders, most mental illness, and as we know, many medical issues, are genetic. A child's personality as well as their behavioral issues are often times something that they come to us with, even if they come at birth. No amount of behavior modification, perfect environment, or positive parenting is going to be enough to erradicate these things.

Myth Number Two: We (or I) Can't Handle More than One or Two Chidren Coming at Once

Often adopting a sibling group can be easier than adopting one child, and sometimes a large sibling group can be easier than a group of two. Working to understand the family system that already exists and using the strengths of each member of the sibling group can actuallly make parenting the group easier. It is also true that children will take up all of the time that you have, so whether you have 2 or 10, they will take up all your time. The more children there are, the more people there are to interrract with.

Myth Number Three: If They Split the Group, We Can Take the Younger Ones and They Will Be Fine.

Time and time again I have seen this happen and it does so much damage to everyone. A "parentified" oldest sibling can be a wonderful asset to parents who will include them in helping with the younger children. And losing the older siblings can be devastating to the younger ones.

Myth Number Four: We (or I) Can't Parent a Child of Another Race

There are many great support groups out there for families adopting transracially. There is also a great amount of enrichment that comes to parents who choose to adopt transracially as they have a new world opened up to them and learn a new culture as they attempt to teach culture to their children.

and finally, Myth Number Five: There are Certain Issues We Just Can't Parent.

Coming from someone who had a list like that and ended up, years later, finding out we were parenting everything on our "can't parent" list, I know that anyone can do anything they decide to do. Their quality of life may not be the same as it was, but anyone CAN do it. And unfortunately, case histories may accurately portray the past, but they can never predict the future.

Asking the tough questions and expanding ideas of what kind of children would fit in the home is a good first step.

A Series on Matching

In the first 5 years of my marriage, I filled our home with 9 children and we were matched with a tenth. I found that I had a gift (relentless and persistent, yet appropriate and inoffensive, nagging of all parties) which led to matches.

Running out of bedspace, I decided to focus my efforts in getting kids home, but into a different home than mine. In the next five years (which are the past five), I have helped 240 children make it home. I have over 60 more kids matched and waiting for paperwork to go through before they will be able to go home with their families. Through my work with the Adopt America Network and my employment with a private adoption agency, I match families with children. It is my passion and it fills much of my time.

When thinking about relevant topics to post on this blog, I decided to go with the one thing I know most about: the matching process.... both how it works, how to make a match happen, and how to keep from going crazy while you wait.

I will be happy to field questions, and hope that this series will develop into a useful tool for anyone in the matching process. Here are the posts in the series:

Step One: Assessment; Part One: What Kind of Children do we Want

Step One: Assessment; Part Two: What Kind of Children are Available.

Step One: Assessment; Part Three: What Kind of State Do I Live In.

Step One: Assessment; Part Four: What Kind of Agency Do I Have

Step One: Assessment; Part Five: What Kind of Family Are We

Step One: Asseesment; Part Six: How Prepared Are We

Step One: Assesment; Part Seven: Putting it All Together

Step Two: Networking

Matching Principle: Don't Fall in Love with a Picture

Matching Principle: Stay as Distant as Possible

Matching Principle: It's About the Kids

Step Three: Checking Out the Photolistings

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out; Part One: A Profile Page.

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out; Part Two: A Cover Letter.

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out: Part Three: Collateral Information.

Step Four: Making Yourself Stand Out: Part Four: A Scrapbook.

Step Five: Making a Final Decision After You Are Matched.

Step Six: Preplacement Visits.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Kid's Will Use What They Have or "You're Not My Real Mom"

I've often told prospective adoptive parents that kids will use what they have as ammunition. Birth kids say, "I wish I could run away. I hate this family." Or "I wish you weren't my parents." Or whatever else they can dream up.

Adopted kids say, "You're not my real mom" to which we can reply in many ways. We can be offended and sad and have hurt feelings. We can say something funny like, "I think if you feel me, you'll see I'm not fake. I'm not a robot, a pretend mom, or a doll." Or we can be sensitive and say something like, "I know that you feel sad about not living with your birthmom, but right now I'm the mom who is taking care of you every day and who loves you very much."

But when they're mad, they're going to say it. Why? Because they can.

And I bet there are a whole lot of birth kids who would say the same thing if it were possible. Because when kids are mad, they use what they have.

Tonight Dominyk got sent to bed early for making a mess he wouldn't clean up.

Using the ammunition he had, he responded (speaking of my husband, who is not yet home), "Guess SOMEONE's not going to be able to make Heart Bread with me!"

(Click here to read more about Heart Bread).

Friday, February 2, 2007

"If I Don't Get Adopted in Three Years . . . "

There is a new bill being introduced in Washington State which would allow for children to petition the court and ask to be reunified with their birth parents if they have not been adopted after three years. The bill in it's entirety can be read here.

The spirit of the bill is this situation, and I quote from the bill, "There may be cases in which a child will no longer be at risk of abuse or neglect by a former parent and it is in the best interests of a child who is legally free to be reunited with his or her parent." While this scenario happen ocassionally, and it would certainly be better for the child to have some adults in their lives instead of aging out of the parents have changed substantially and are able to have a healthy relationship, but I'm wondering if that might be the exception rather than the rule.

The implications I see, as a person who attempts to match children on a daily basis, is that this law, if understood by the children, could keep them from healing and moving on. Many older children are cautious about being adopted and they know how to manipulate the system. If their behavior is horrible, nobody will adopt them. What if there was that hope for them: If I just hold out three years then I can ask to live with my parents again. And, unfortunately, it is my belief that if the bill passes, the majority of these requests would have to be denied in order to preserve the best interest of the child.

So, I see a scenario like this one (not a true story, but certainly could be): Katie is very attached to her birth mother even though she has emotionally abused her for years and was sexually abused by many of her mothers boyfriends. Her mother was consisently attracted to men who were abusive to her and to her children. Katie is removed at the age of twelve. She's bright and she heard about a new law that says that in three years she can go live with her mom again if she hasn't been adopted."

Do you think this child is going to be helpful to her social worker in trying to find a new family? Will she understand that the request for ruinification is not a guarantee? Will she use her behaviors to make herself "unadoptable" on purpose?

I am sure that there are those who would say, "There aren't homes that will adopt teenagers anyway" but there are a few and I have seen several "success stories" in placing kids over 14.

I see pros and cons to this legislation. However, it appears to me that the benefit it might provide in a few situations might not be enough to compensate for the many children it would keep from being adopted. I'm interested in others opinions.

Thursday, February 1, 2007


I found it funny that Kari and I chose almost exactly the same blog title for our final posts last night and that this morning Cindy's Older Child Adoption Blog entry touched on some of the same things I was thinking about yesterday.

I have been amazed over the years the ways in which my circle of friends has changed. Before I was married, my friends were all pretty similar. We shared the same church affiliation in a small denomination and thus we thought alike. We came from similar backgrounds, we believed the same way and most of us lived in the same part of the country. I didn't even think that I could feel close to someone who had a different belief system than I did.

And then came tough kids into our lives and while our friends didn't cease to be our friends, they slowly faded into the background because they "didn't get it." They didn't understand why we were making the choices we were making and they certainly didn't understand why we had to parent the way we did or our childrens' special needs. And so our pool of friends started to change a bit.

Now I am connected through the shared experience of adoption with all kinds of people who are different from me. Many of them are of a different Christian denomination, and some even practice a different religion. Some of them are not Caucasian. Some of them are involved in same sex relationships. They come from every walk of life and we only have one thing in common. But that one thing is a big thing.

It's amazing how much that one thing has broadened my world. And that is something I don't take for granted.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Adoption and the Religious Community

this link is a post one of our readers (Kathleen) made on the Attachment Disorder Support Group board re:'s "Hope for Orphans" ministry.

I actually had come across this last night and her point is a good one. She is responding to this statement "Adopted children probably have many emotional issues I won't know how to handle." In reading that, we as adoptive parents would conclude that there is nothing to argue about in that statment. Except that it is one of their "Myths of Adoption." Kathleen goes on to point out that an adoption ministry should not only recruit people to adopt, but should also support parents after they have adopted.

I have heard way too many horror stories about the way that adoptive families are treated by the religious community. Obviously, as a pastor's wife and someone who has probably in 43 years missed less than 20 Sundays in church, our family has had a lot of exposure to the religious community. And we have received a great deal of support. But we have heard of many people who have stopped going to church because there is so much criticism and lack of understanding and they simply no longer fit in.

For some reason, it seems to be the goal of many individuals to discredit parents when their children misbehave or do not fit into the mold. It gets very tiring to have people constantly watching your every move to determine why your kids are doing what they do. Or there is the 'I don't know WHY you say this delightful child has special needs", suggesting that we are too critical of them because they save their rages for home.

Continuous educating gets tiresome for us as parents, but it's something we must do. Thanks to Kathleen for doing so and sharing her efforts with us.