Support helps to build a strong foundation in every relationship, including those surrounding adoption. We will be focusing on the importance of support for prospective adoptive parents during each stage of the adoption journey. The Child Welfare Information Gateway created a very informative fact sheet that will be referenced through this post, if you wish to read it in its entirety, you can find it here.
Before Starting the Adoption Journey
The decision to adopt is emotionally charged and there are lots of factors that need to be considered and addressed by the prospective adoptive parent(s).
Questions to Consider (from Child Welfare Information Gateway)
- How will a new child fit into your life and relationship?
- How will a new child affect family dynamics—especially if your family already has children?
- What changes are you willing to make to ease the child’s transition?
- How do you feel about open adoption—contact with the child’s birth family?
- How do you feel about welcoming a child from foster care or an institution who may have experienced abuse or neglect?
- How have you addressed your own past trauma or losses? Have you considered how adopting a child with a similar history might affect you emotionally?
- Is there anything in a child’s history that you feel you would not be equipped to cope with, emotionally or financially (e.g., past trauma, sexual abuse, fragile medical condition)?
- Are there any behaviors that a child could manifest that would make it too hard to maintain him or her in your family?
- In cases of transracial or transcultural adoption, how do you feel about accommodating, helping, and promoting your child’s positive cultural and racial identity?
- How will you inform family members and friends, and how will you deal with questions from family, friends, and strangers about adoption?
- How will you answer your child’s questions about adoption, his or her background and history, birth family, and your reasons for adopting?
- What are your dreams, fantasies, and expectations for your child and family’s future? How do you typically respond when reality does not match your expectations?
- How willing are you to learn new parenting strategies that work better for children who have experienced loss and trauma?
- How willing and able are you to seek help for yourself or your child when necessary?
During the Adoption Process
The life changing decisions that are made during the adoption process are exciting and also stressful. The home study process can feel invasive and might bring up emotional issues that have not fully been explored as a couple or individually. There are long wait periods that you might experience and uncertainty that comes along with that, so it is not uncommon for it to become difficult to go about your routines and to feel anxious.
One survey showed that the majority of adoptive families identified some ongoing issues that made daily life challenging—including emotional, behavioral, and school concerns (Stevens, 2011).
A good agency and social worker will be there by your side throughout the adoption process to help manage stress, worries and to provide insight in the decision making and learning processes along the way. So, one place to start is with your adoption agency. Many agencies offer some kind of post adoption support and services. Adoptions from the Heart offers extensive support for all members of the adoption community as well as support groups for adoptive and birth parents.
Other services that adoptive families have found beneficial include the following as outlined by CWIG:
- Support groups, whether online or in person, provide parents an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations, vent their feelings in a safe environment, receive supportive feedback, and learn new strategies from more experienced adoptive parents.
- Adoption-competent counselors or therapists can provide targeted therapeutic services to children, parents, and the family as a whole to address adoption-related issues.
- Adoption subsidies are available for some families who adopt from the child welfare system to help with the costs of caring for children with special needs.
- Educational advocates help parents of children with special needs to understand their child’s educational rights and to work effectively with the school system to identify and access accommodations, programs, and services to help their child succeed
You can find more support groups in your area here: http://www.americaadopts.com/adoptive-parent-support-groups/
Many think that completing their adoption placement means that the most difficult and trying time is behind them, but settling into parenthood or the “post adoption period” can mean a different set of obstacles for parents. Here is what the Child Welfare Information Gateway had to say about some of the issues that arise for adoptive parents post placement:
Parents may have difficulty attaching to the new child and may question their parenting capabilities. They also may be hesitant to admit that there are any problems after a long-awaited adoption.
In some cases, these feelings resolve on their own as parents adjust to their new life. If these feelings last for more than a few weeks or interfere with your ability to parent, peer support or professional help (with a therapist skilled in adoption issues) may help you to address the issues causing the depression and assume your parenting role with greater confidence.
If you have adopted from foster care, you may have had visits with the child, or the child may have actually lived with you before the adoption. Even so, the finalization creates a permanent family situation, and you and your child may take some time to develop a bond and evolve into your new identities, just as a couple adjusts to marriage after dating for a long time.
If you have adopted an infant, received a child in an emergency placement, or adopted through an inter country adoption, the suddenness of the child’s arrival may leave little time for becoming accustomed to your new identity.
Strategies for Adjustment
There are a lot of different things that can be down to help a family adjust after an adoption. Whether you need the support right after placement, or years down the road, it is important to address identity and adoption issues throughout the life of your adopted child. Some things you can do include:
- Establish family traditions or rituals
- Create a family story
- Connect with your child’s birth culture
- Prepare to respond to outsiders including relatives, friends and strangers about the adoption
Perhaps the most important thing is to connect with parents who have completed a similar adoption. Learning firsthand how other parents have made the adjustment and have dealt with challenges can be reassuring. More experienced adoptive parents can serve as role models to newer parents as well. Parent support groups, like the ones explained above, are meant for just that—supporting and lending a hand and an understanding ear to parents who need it. Reach out to your adoption social worker or agency for the contact information of other adoptive parents who would be willing to help you through your journey. The adoption community is tight knit and surrounded by love, there are resources available and people who want to support and see you succeed in parenthood!