Thursday, February 8, 2018

Helping Others Understand Adoption

I have a friend named Judy.  Judy is both an adoptive mom and an LCSW and I don't think she's even aware of this, but I've heard her say two things regarding adoption that have always stuck with me.  I'd like to pass them on in case they're helpful to anybody else. 

The first example:

Judy recounted how she heard someone once tell her "But I just don't understand how you can love a child if they're not biologically related to you?"

Judy's calm but oh-so-wise response to the woman who expressed this concern was:

Judy:  Do you share your husband's genes?

Woman: (Somewhat puzzled) Of course not!

Judy:  But do you love your husband?

Woman:  Well, of course!

Judy:  But you don't share any genes with him- how can you love him?

Woman:  Oh . . .

That simple explanation was enough for this woman to "get it" and understand something she didn't quite relate to previously.

The second example is not something that Judy actually said but that one of her adopted daughters has told people in response to the question:

"How long have you known you were adopted?"

Her daughter's similarly rhetorical reply is "How long have you known you were a boy or a girl?"  In other words, when something is never questioned or hidden but just explained as an obvious fact, then there is no sudden "A-ha" moment of realization because it's as natural as having a belly button- you don't question how it got there- it's just always been there.

I share those examples in the hopes that they might be helpful in explaining adoption to others or in reassuring any prospective adoptive parents out there that if you share with your child that they were adopted from the very beginning, it just becomes a part of who they are, which can be beneficial in preventing less identity confusion or resentment from not knowing later on in life.

Social Work & The "This Is Us" Superbowl Episode

I admittedly only watched about five minutes of the Superbowl this year- but I was glued to my T.V. during the infamous This is Us Superbowl episode and gave strict instructions to any who were within the sound of my voice that there would be NO INTERRUPTIONS while I watched.  It was an  intense episode, to say the least.

One of my first reactions upon seeing Rebecca receive the news of Jack's death in the hospital was:  "Where's the hospital social worker?  Someone get her a hospital social worker to talk to- STAT!" (Beginning next fall I will be getting my practicum hours in a hospital setting- so, there's my plug for medical social work.)

My absolute favorite scene and new development was when Randall was talking to a distraught Tess.  He asked her how she felt about fostering and the way the writers presented things I thought for sure the Pearsons would be getting the little boy shown at the beginning of the episode as a  new foster placement (and I believe there was a hint of him in a previous episode as well).  But they didn't because, come to find out, Deja was back and TESS was the little boy's social worker in the future.  She ends up working with foster children- how cool is that?! 

The fact that they showed Randall as an old man made me wonder, "Will there be a This Is Us spin-off in the future- for the next generation- or will it continue to have multiple seasons?"

Here's the clip which warmed my heart:

Wednesday, January 24, 2018


Tomorrow our licensor is coming to do a walk-through inspection of our home as we have decided to renew our foster care license for another year.  It's funny because when we first started fostering we would cross our fingers to get placements where there was a high likelihood of us adopting them, but now, twelve years later, and with three permanent children to call our own in our home, our preferences have changed.  I think this is the first year where we've told our licensor and RFC that we are interested in fostering but not necessarily adopting.

The first obvious consideration in deciding whether to open up our home to more foster children or not is physical space.  Our family is growing and kids take up space-especially as they grow!  We currently have room for two more children in our home & cars but we're starting to feel a little cramped.

Another important consideration in taking a placement is what ages would work with the kids in your home.  At this point in time my husband and I both feel more comfortable with not disrupting the birth order of our children.  Because of that, we prefer children no younger than our youngest and no older than our oldest.  I miss caring for babies and toddlers even though they are a LOT of physical work.  However, one advantage of fostering babies and younger children is that cribs and toddler beds take up a lot less space in rooms than "big boy" or "big girl" regular beds.  I think I might actually cry when we get rid of the last spare toddler bed in our home. 

I have also recently learned that beginning next fall I will be working twice a week to get hours for my LCSW license.  This has necessitated arranging day care for our two youngest children when I'm not at home- something I've never had to do before as I've been able to stay at home during the day.

Because of this new development, I think it would be best to take foster children who are at least in 1st grade. Although it's not impossible to be a foster parent who works full-time I think it would be difficult to do so, especially with younger children, because foster parents have to foot the bill for their day care (at least in my state).  Besides that, the time needed to take kids to weekly visits with their bio family and court hearings and lots and lots of doctors appointments or other appointments if they have special needs or need therapy or early interventions.- can really add up. 

Case in point: I was going through some old papers and forms of Jack and Jill's (my two youngest children who were adopted from foster care after being in our home for over a year) and I calculated that in between the both of them I took them to 26 medical appointments- including early intervention/speech therapy- during the 16 months that they were in our care before being adopted- including at least one trip to the E.R. and a hospital stay at a children's hospital.  Those appointments did not include weekly visits with their birth family, team meetings, or court hearings.  It would be very difficult to arrange time off of one's work to attend all those appointments, visits, and meetings.  I was able to do it because I was a stay at home mom at the time.

Honestly, as I've remembered how time consuming weekly visits and regular check-ups are for children in foster care I start to get a little discouraged about taking any more placements.  Isn't our family busy enough with appointments of our own?!  

I know that for a lot of people the biggest fear they have about fostering is reunification and while that can be a very painful process, lately I've found myself having much more pragmatic concerns.  As we've debated whether or not to continue fostering I have found myself worrying more about the sheer physical time and energy it takes to transport a child to appointments and visits and court hearings.  We've already dealt with the pain of saying goodbye to foster placements before- some cases are much harder than others- but at this point any reluctance I have to taking any more foster children in our home is simply the devotion (time, energy, and love)  it takes to be a foster parent and to advocate for a child.

We got a call earlier this month about a little boy the same age as our little boy who needed to be placed.  The story of how he came into care is one that left me shaking my head and thinking, "Its just not fair what some kids have to deal with in life."  After getting more info on his case and realizing that his placement might be more of a temporary than permanent situation as kin were in the process of being tracked down, my children and I were allowed to visit this little boy at the temporary shelter he was staying at for the purpose of seeing if he would be a good fit with our kids and into our family.

Unfortunately, it became very evident at the visit that this little boy was overwhelmed and resistant to "coming home" with our family.  [Even though the transitional worker made it very clear to him that we weren't there to "take" him but just wanted to come and hang out for a bit].  Perhaps if I were by myself without my kids this little boy would have felt more comfortable- or maybe not.  Whatever his reasons, this innocent little child had already been passed around and suffered too much disruption since initially being placed into foster care a few short weeks ago.  Although we were willing to take him into our home, the team of case workers and other staff felt it would be best, given his response to meeting us, if he could go to a home where he could receive more individualized attention (perhaps less children in the home) as well as a home which would be open to adopting him in the case that a placement with kin didn't work out.

I hope that little boy gets placed in a home where he can get the care he so badly needs.  In the meantime, it inspired me to be a little more nurturing and attentive to my own children.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Open Adoption as a Protective Factor for Adoptees

Another excerpt from an assignment last semester which applies to adoption: 
Competency #2- Critically evaluate the current research evidence on how adoptive families fare.
Statistics show (DeAngelis, 1995a)- p. 284, Ashford text, that about 25% of adoptive children, compared with 15% of non-adoptive children, require clinical intervention for severe behavioral problems.  However, an adoption researcher from Rutgers University who has been studying adoption for more than 20 years reported that 75-80% of adopted children are within the “normal” psychological range.
Researchers at the Search Institute in Minneapolis conducted a study of 181 adopted adolescents and found that “most of the teens were functioning within the normal mental health range” and the teens described themselves as attached to their parents.  It was also found that in the case of open adoptions, adopted children who maintained contact with their birth mothers weren’t confused about their parents’ identity- they still view their adoptive mother as their mother and view their birth mother more as more of an aunt or friend.

How does understanding this competency apply to my own personal development?

 I have three children and all of them are adopted so I was very interested in this research.  I readily admit that I am totally guilty of over-analyzing my children’s mental health [particularly their neurocognitive development as a result of their in utero development] and to a lesser degree, their physical health, and wondering, “How much of this is due to genetics and how much is due to their environment?”  I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to stop speculating about the “why’s” but focus my energy on seeking the earliest possible professional interventions, if necessary,  and advocating for any special needs they might have.
How does understanding this competency apply to social work practice in general?
Adopted children are most often referred to for clinical treatment for acting out & aggression at about 5-7 years of age because this is an age where they are beginning to understand that they’ve lost their birth family.  It’s imperative for social workers to understand that no matter how awesome an adopted child’s adoptive family is, adoptees will have to sort through issues of grief and loss.  David Brodkinsky, the adoption researcher from Rutgers I mentioned earlier, found that the coping styles of adoptive families affected the experiences of their adopted children: those whose families engaged in an assistance-seeking style of coping did much better than those with an avoidant style of coping.  This knowledge is very helpful so that social workers can aid in helping adoptive families model affective ways to process grief and loss.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

When Children Lose A Caregiver

The following is an excerpt from a paper I did a couple of months ago.  Because the topic is very pertinent to issues in fostering and adoption and because the assignment specifically asked that I share how the understanding of the concept or theories related to my personal experiences AND since I happen to have a blog called Adoption & Foster Care: My Personal Experiences, I now have new material to share on my neglected blog.  How convenient!

Incidentally, I was delighted to learn about the Skeels study mentioned in the second paragraph* because I was not familiar with it until I had finished my reading.  Upon further research, I learned that the women caregivers of the previously neglected infants functioned at the developmental levels of about six or seven years old.

Competency #1-  Identify and describe how loss of a caregiver affects a child after he or she has developed an attachment to that caregiver.
There were five or six attachment studies cited in Chapter 6, so I will just pick two of them which explain how the loss of a caregiver affects a child.   In 1980, John Bowlby, the founder of Attachment Theory, examined adolescents who had spent their infancy and childhood in institutions or foster care, often with several moves.  These adolescents displayed a lack of empathy and affection for others.  Because they were not shown love consistently as babies, they were unable to model showing love for others.  Further research on the subject (Trout, 1995). came to the same conclusion: many children who fail to form attachments as infants grow up to show lack of empathy and even delinquent behavior.
*The good news is that another study (Skeels, 1936) showed that the effects of early deprivation and lack of attachment can be reversed with care at a later age.  In 1936, two baby girls (13 and 16 months old) from neglectful families were admitted to an overcrowded Iowa orphanage.  Because these babies only functioned at about the level of a 6 or 7 month old, they were placed in a home for women with “retardation.”  Six months later the baby girls were lively, alert and functioning on much higher levels than they had been because the women in the home had provided these girls with plenty of stimulation and interaction. 

How does understanding this competency apply to my own personal development?
I’ve been a foster parent for over ten years now and about a third of my foster children have been babies and toddlers- who seem to be the most vulnerable to the effects of being separated from their primary caregivers.  Even though I’m a very nurturing caregiver and the babies and children I foster are in a safer environment than they were before being removed, I obviously worry about how these babies and children are going to adjust to being removed from, in some instances, the only caretaker they have ever known, and in a few cases, from moving to another foster home and being placed with me- a total stranger!  Fortunately, babies in foster care get more supervised weekly visits with their families than older foster children do, so that helps somewhat, not only for the child but for the child’s birth family as well.
I tend to worry even MORE when these babies or children have been in my care for 6-11 months, have clearly formed an attachment to me and my family (referring to me as “mom” in many cases) and then are sent back to live with their family or relatives whom they may or may not know.  How is this separation from me as their full-time primary caregiver for several months, going to affect them?!
Social workers need to be aware of the reasons behind attachment problems in both young children and adults.  “Research suggests that the quality of a child’s attachment with a primary caregiver is an excellent predictor of later functioning (Ciccheti & Wagner, 1990).”- p. 268, Ashford text.  Furthermore, the table in the text on page 269, “Exhibit 6.8- Assessing attachment problems in young children,” provides an overview of signs of attachment disorders broken down by behaviors which could be a very helpful assessment tool for social workers in recognizing attachment issues.
Research also shows that children who are separated from primary caregivers but are able to remain with a sibling or other family member, adapt more easily to the separation. (Bremmer, 1998).- page 273, Ashford text.  This is crucial for child welfare workers and policy makers to understand so that they can keep siblings together as much as possible in foster care and adoption cases.