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.