For a little over two years I worked as an adoption prep worker, which means I prepared children for adoption, selected homes for children waiting for adoption, monitored adoptive placements, and really had to get to know my children so that I could find appropriate homes for them. This work for me was very stressful because families can often look like a good fit and then for some reason the placement disrupts or breaks down. From my experience an adoptive placement disruption is harder on children than initial removal from their families of origin as their birth families rarely gave them up of their own free will. All together I worked in the child welfare arena for 5 plus years, I initially worked with family facing permanent removal of their children from their homes.
I learned many things during this time about all sorts of subjects including basic human nature. One of the things I never really got over was how seemingly easy it was for potential adoptive families to give up on children they wanted to make a part of their family initially. So here are some tips for those considering adopting especially those considering children that have been in foster care for several years.
- Don't get so caught up on diagnoses. Ask about the child's behavior from the caseworker and foster parents. Diagnoses are good information but don't automatically disqualify children from your search just because of a certain "unfixable" diagnosis.
- Whatever your ideal picture of the child/family after adoption is, let it go. The child will not meet these expectations, even if you have had children before you have not had a child with this child's story. Accept the child for exactly who they are and they will eventually do the same.
- Don't give up too easily. Try everything you can when things get difficult with your new child. Try radical things even, try everything. If you give up after a few hard times the child will feel they were right to have reservations and will be that much more resistant to ever trying again.
- Think about your birth children and their reactions to the new child. This sounds simple but you would be surprised at how many families fail to think of how they would handle this situation. You have a stronger bond with the children you have had longer, naturally, and if the "new" child causes them some sort of distress your natural instinct may be to protect your birth child from the adoptive child.
- Believe the history of a child. If you are made aware that a child has sexualized behavior due to their past and you are told what this looks like, don't be surprised if you see this same behavior. Again it sounds simple but you would be surprised at what it feels like to see this in your home with people you know.
- Be prepared to grow and change. Just like having a child naturally you will learn new things, be tested, and have to change. You need to be prepared for this even though you can't completely prepare for every eventuality.
- Remember the child is not a pair of jeans. You should enter into this with a no return policy. Just like the way marriage used to be. Think of the commitment from day one, for better or worse. Can you handle the worst of what the child has displayed in the past? If not this is not the child for you.
- Expect the worst. Children/teens, often subconsciously, will push you away and resist bonding with you. Allow them this room, give them space, but also make yourself available.
- Celebrate the small accomplishments. Did they come home and tell you about their day? Did they not curse you out today? Did they initiate healthy physical touch with you? Hooray!
- Involve the child's birth family from month 1 or 2. If the child is allowed contact with their birth family, don't fear this. Encourage this, be a part of it, discuss it in therapy, have some therapeutic phone calls with the therapist as well. You don’t want to be seen as a boundary to their past/ family.
- Attend therapy. As a family, a couple, and maybe individually. You are undergoing a MAJOR change and feelings you hadn't expected are surfacing, don't be afraid to address them.
- Take time for yourself (selves). This is vital maintain your independence and romance. You don't want to get to a place where you blame the child for a change in your freedom/ coupledom.
- Throw out the time table. Some families are perfectly bonded and adjusted in six months; some don't reach that point until after the adoption is finalized. What's really important is getting to that place that is right for your family.
These are just a few tips that came to mind when I considered this topic. I hope that they can help those thinking of adopting, awaiting a placement, or adjusting as a family. Adopting a child is such a noble and amazing thing to do and it is one of the hardest things I think as well.