Thursday, December 19, 2013

Five Reminders for Older-Child Adoptions

123RF Stock Photo
1) Respond to your child's emotional age rather than the chronological age.
2) The child's biological family is always present. Whether they are physically in the child's life or not, they are a part of the child's history and psyche.
3) Your child likely experienced multiple parenting styles before you and thus has a complex attachment history.
4) Your child has a history that you weren't present for. Thus, there can be many emotional triggers of which you are not aware.
5) Educating yourself about trauma is essential!

This post was originally published at

Monday, November 25, 2013

Trauma-Informed Everything

"Trauma-informed parenting." "Trauma-informed therapy." "Trauma-informed social policies."

It seems that the word "trauma-informed" is popping up in more and more contexts these days, and from my point of view that's a very good thing.

As foster-adoptive parents, the primary parenting challenges that my husband and I faced when our daughter moved in with us were the result of her trauma -- not just (or even primarily) from events that happened in her original home, but also as a result of her separation from the biological family and things that happened during her time in foster care. We understood that every behavioral issue was rooted in trauma -- we didn't have a "bad" child; we had a hurt one. Because of my family's history, I'm a huge advocate for increased trauma-awareness across the spectrum of individuals who interact with children in the child-welfare system.

According to the The National Family Preservation Network (NFPN), here are a couple of steps that child-welfare agencies can take to be better prepared to help children and families affected by trauma:
  • Help workers understand the nature and effects of trauma. Basic training on trauma is available through a resource developed by the New Jersey Child Welfare Training Academy and is available on the NFPN website:
For additional resources, please click here.

When it comes to better serving foster and adopted children, trauma awareness is crucial -- but it must also be paired with an awareness of this population's specific needs. At a recent Re-Envisioning Foster Care in America gathering, Dr. Sally Popper (a clinical psychologist with a practice focused on working with foster and adopted children and their families) emphasized that effective treatment for foster and adopted children must combine trauma-based therapy with an understanding that such children may be feeling torn between families. An adoptee myself, I nodded in enthusiastic agreement as Popper reminded the audience that foster and adopted children have complicated livesParents, therapists, social workers, teachers -- all of us can benefit from keeping Popper's wise words in mind as we interact with the foster and adopted children in our lives.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Foster Kids Have Feelings

The above graphic was created by K. Dahlquist & R. Bangert and originally shared on facebook. Credit for the words is given to a foster alumni who writes about foster care, including tips for caregivers, at and

To learn more about ways that you can support children and youth in foster care, please visit the Foster Club.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Post-Adoption Support: An Urgent Need

It's National Adoption Month, a time to raise awareness about children and youth awaiting adoption from foster care. I appreciate the above graphic, which highlights the goal of moving children and youth in the U.S. foster care system into permanent families. Every year in the U.S. 25,000 young Americans “age out” of the public foster care system without attaining permanency. That's a problem that absolutely deserves our attention.

But I'd also like to call attention the the fact that, while adoption may be a valid goal for children and youth who are not able to safely remain with or return to their families of origin, adoption does not guarantee the end of struggles for former foster children. Such children and youth typically come into their new families with serious trauma histories. Often, the greater part of the healing journey occurs after adoption finalization.

Are adoptive parents being adequately prepared to walk beside their foster-adoptive children on the long and at times bumpy road to healing?
In the worst situations, adopted children not only leave all they have known, but all they have known was abuse, neglect and/or deprivation. This is why the core issues of adoption are grief and trauma and why finding a permanent family is a start, but not by itself a solution. Cultural differences, attachment and bonding challenges, and special needs add to the complexity of new families forming in the wake of that grief and trauma. With this in mind, it’s not hard to understand why families need support to ensure that adopted children can focus on healing and never again experience the loss of family.... 
Pre-adoption preparation and post-adoption supports such as respite care, counseling, therapy, support groups and parent education and training help parents meet the specific needs of their adopted children and can be the key to preserving adoptive families. Trauma-informed, attachment-focused, and adoption-competent services should be readily available for all adoptive families.
As we focus on the important goal of moving children and youth from temporary care to permanency, let us also ask what more can be done to ensure their long-term success.