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Adoption and the Stages of Development
 
Now that you have adopted a child and life is beginning to settle down, you may find your thoughts moving to the future. When shall I tell my child that s/he is adopted? How will s/he feel about it? At what point will s/he want more information? What will s/he want to know from me? How can I help my child feel comfortable about being adopted?
 
Whether children are adopted as infants or when they are older, whether they are healthy or have physical or psychological problems, their adoption is bound to influence their development. You need to understand how and why.
 
Learning about the developmental stages of children and what can be expected in each stage is important to all new parents. When your child has been adopted, there are additional considerations. In these pages, we will be looking at specific issues—separation, loss, anger, grief, and identity—and show how they are expressed as your adopted child grows up. Some of these issues will be obvious in all stages of development; others surface at specific times. The more thoroughly you can understand how your child behaves and why, the more likely it is that you can be supportive and help your child to grow up with healthy self-esteem and the knowledge that s/he is loved.
 
While the stages described below correspond generally to a child's chronological age, your child's development may vary significantly. Some children progress more quickly from one stage to another; others may continue certain behaviors long past the time you would have expected. Still others may be substantially delayed in entering and moving through new stages. Many characteristics of adolescence, for instance, may not even appear until your child's twenties and may persist until your child's identity has formed.
 
The First Year
 
The primary task of a baby is to develop a sense of trust in the world and come to view it as a place that is predictable and reliable. Infants accomplish this through attachment to their caretakers. During their early months, children have an inborn capacity to "bond" to ensure their survival. They express it through sucking, feeding, smiling, and cooing, behaviors which, ideally, stimulate loving responses from their parents (or caretakers). These pleasant interactions and the parent's or parents' consistent attention form the parent-child bond and the foundation for a child's sense of trust.
 
During this period, a consistently nurturing and tension-free environment makes a child feel secure. The most valuable thing you can do is to show, through attention and affection, that you love your child and that your child can depend on you. If you generally respond to your child's cries, s/he will learn trust. If you hug and smile at your child, s/he will learn to feel content.
 

Although the need to attach continues for a long time, the process of separation also begins in the first year of a child's life. A milestone is reached when children learn to separate from their parents by crawling and then by walking. At the same time, babies often become fearful of separation. Psychological separation begins too: babies start, non-verbally, to express their own wishes and opinions. Many experts in child development view early childhood as a series of alternating attachment and separation phases that establish the child as an independent person who can relate happily to family members and friends, and be capable of having intimate relationships with others.

 
The Second Year
 
Toddlers continue the attachment and separation cycle in more sophisticated ways in the second year. They learn to tell you how they feel by reaching their arms out to you and protesting vigorously when you must leave them. Anxiety about separating from you heightens, and they may begin to express anger. During this stage, when you must guide and protect your child, you become a "no" sayer. It is not surprising that your child becomes frustrated and shows it in new ways. Helpless crying usually comes first. Later your child may exhibit aggressive behavior such as throwing things, hitting, pushing, biting, and pinching. Much of this behavior is directed toward you but some is directed at the child's peers. Such behavior often puzzles and frightens parents. You may wonder if your child is normal. Adoptive parents often worry that an unknown genetic trait is surfacing or that the "orneriness" has something to do with the adoption. Sometimes they think ahead to the teenage years and wonder if these are early warnings of trouble ahead.
 
It helps to know that this kind of behavior is typical of toddlers, who have conflicting wishes about their push toward autonomy and their anxiety about separating from you. Almost all children go through a "me do it myself" phase, accompanied by temper tantrums and toilet training battles. Handling tantrums, setting limits, and encouraging language development and the expression of feelings consume most of your time and patience.
 
In the first 2 years, the stages of attachment, the beginnings of separation, and the expression of anger and aggressiveness probably are the same whether your child is adopted or not. Even in homes where the word "adoption" has been used frequently and the child can pronounce it or even say, "I'm Susie, I was adopted from Chicago," the words have little meaning. What is especially important is that your adopted child has the opportunity to pass through the attachment and early separation stages in the same way as a child born to you.
 
When older babies or children are adopted, their capacity to form relationships may have been disturbed. A series of caretakers and broken attachments through the first months of a child's life can complicate adjustment and compromise the ability to develop trust. You may need to work much harder to let your child know that you care and that you will always be there. Even if your baby received nurturing care before joining your family, s/he can still benefit from your understanding the significance of attachment and the importance of loving interaction.
 
If you adopt cross-culturally, it will be helpful for you to learn about attachment behavior in that culture. Consider for instance a family who had adopted a 7-month-old Asian baby. When the baby cried, she could not be comforted by holding; she would only quiet down if she were laid on the floor near her mother and spoken to softly. Once she became calmer, she would crawl into her mother's lap for a hug.

There is another example of a baby adopted from Peru who needed to sleep with an adult for the first few months following adoption. His new crib went unused until he was 15 months old, when his parents were able to help him adjust to sleeping alone. Children who are adopted when they are older usually follow the same attachment and separation paths as other children, but possibly in a different time sequence. This gives you the opportunity to make up for what might have been lost or damaged in earlier relationships.

 
The first 2 years are crucial to personality development and dramatically influence a child's future. As you grow into your roles as parents, your children also will grow into their place in your family. The next sections provide more information on these techniques.
 
Ages 2 to 6
 

If you thought a lot was happening in your child's development in the first 2 years, you will find that the preschool years are filled with activity and nonstop questions. Once children learn to speak, they need only a partner, and the world becomes theirs for the asking and telling. This is when parents begin to feel pressure to explain adoption to their children. It is also when children's ears are wide open to adult conversation and they take in so much more than adults once thought they could. Parents are busy answering as best they can questions such as why the sky is blue, why leaves fall off the trees, why people are different colors, how birds fly, and why a baby brother cannot join the family right now. The more comfortable parents are in trying to answer questions honestly, the more encouraged their children will be to learn. A lack of interest in learning often results from having questions met with too many "I don't knows" or the obvious indifference of parents to their children's curiosity.

Sometimes parents feel so embarrassed about not knowing all the answers to their child's questions or are so afraid of giving the "wrong" answer that they ignore a question or change the subject. In doing so, they often miss a chance to discuss critical feelings with their children. For instance, a little girl visiting a museum with her father asked him why a woman in a painting was crying. She wanted him to pick her up so she could see the painting better, but he felt uncomfortable, took her hand, and moved on. This would have been a good opportunity to discuss why people are sad sometimes and why the little girl thought the woman in the painting was sad.

Children between 2 and 5 years of age have fears, especially about being abandoned, getting lost, or no longer being loved by their parents. They also engage in "magical" thinking and do not distinguish reliably between reality and fantasy. They may be afraid of giants, monsters, witches, or wild animals.

 

Children in this age group become increasingly familiar with separations from loved ones, often because they are attending daycare or preschool programs. They also make new friends outside their family, and their interests broaden. At the same time, they notice that their parents do not know everything and cannot control everything that happens to them. This can be frightening because it threatens their sense of security.

As you observe your children and others, you will notice that both boys and girls imitate their parents' nurturing and care-taking activities. They carry, feed, change, and put to bed their dolls and stuffed animals. They kiss them and sometimes throw them or hit them.

They are mimicking attachment and separation behaviors. If a baby enters the family, many 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds insist that it is their baby, that they "borned" it or "adopted" it. Sometimes a girl will tell you that it is her baby and that Daddy is the father. A little boy might say that he is going to "marry Mommy when Daddy grows up and dies." If you listen, you will see that your child is trying to make sense of the relationships in the family and to find a way to express the strong emotions of love, hate, and jealousy.

It is puzzling for children to understand why mom and dad get to sleep together while they have to sleep with two trucks and a bunny. You are witnessing what is known as the Electra complex in girls and the Oedipal complex in boys. Little girls may feel jealous of their mothers' grownup relationship with their fathers. They experience a mix of feelings which includes wanting to marry Daddy but feeling competitive and fearful that they will not "measure up." Little boys may want to be mommy's partner in everything and show off their developing "manliness." They do not understand why Daddy should be included but worry that Daddy will be upset with them for the way they feel. All of this behavior is normal for children this age.

There is also an aggressive, competitive side to this stage. You may notice behavior that is challenging, stubborn, and argumentative, usually directed toward the same-sex parent. Girls argue with their mothers about what to wear, what toys to leave at home, and who is the boss of the baby. Boys want to talk about what they will do when they grow up, and even in the most peaceful of families, they will turn all sorts of items into weapons which they yearn to use on the draperies, the baby, and, in frequent moments of frustration and anger, on Daddy.

These behaviors are part of children's working out their awareness of their smallness and insignificance compared to their parents and their urges toward autonomy and independence. They want to be big but also want the benefits of infancy. If they cannot be Mommy or Daddy's partner, they want to be their "lap babies."

Gradually, the intensity of these feelings abates. Children's love for their parents allows them to reconcile the Oedipal or Electra complex by eventually exchanging the wish to marry the parent of the opposite sex for the more realistic desire to grow up to be like the parent of the same sex.

Some version of this scenario occurs in most children, even those raised by a single parent. Sometimes the behavior is expressed directly; other times it is subtle, recognizable only through recalling dreams or in pretend play.

 

Children who have been traumatized or abused may not show the kind of behavior described here. They may be seductive or fearful, uncertain about the appropriateness of being affectionate, or show symptoms associated with sexual abuse. These children need special help from their parents and possibly from a skilled therapist before they can feel safe enough to express loving or sexual feelings in their new families. The Child Welfare Information Gateway (Information Gateway) factsheet entitled "Parenting the Sexually Abused Child" is helpful in such cases.

During the preschool years, you may want to respond to your child with humor and tactfully explain that when your child grows up, s/he will find someone just like Mommy or Daddy. Adopted children inevitably wonder to which Mommy and Daddy you are referring. Some researchers believe that this is not the appropriate time to emphasize a child's birth family (Wieder, Schecter). It is difficult enough for children to find their place in the family (as the youngest child, the oldest, etc.) and to come to terms with their gender without having to ponder the meaning of birth parents. It probably is not even possible for a child this age to understand this concept yet.
 
The Facts of Life: Where Do I Come From? How Did I Get Here?
 

Most 3- to 6-year-olds do not yet understand the meaning of "being born." If they watch " Sesame Street" or "Mr. Rogers" on television, they may have learned something about how animals are born, and more recently, about how babies are born. They may then start to ask questions about this fascinating subject. Although parents traditionally are nervous about discussing the facts of life with young children, the children usually are curious, unembarrassed, and eager for information. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce the subject of where babies come from, how they get here, and how families are formed. This information is a valuable stepping stone in helping your child understand the concept of adoption. It is a time, too, that may awaken painful memories about your own infertility if that was the reason you chose adoption. Discussing birth and the creation of families with your child can be an enriching—and freeing—experience for the whole family.

At this time, adoptive parents must determine what and when they will tell their children about their adoption. Many adoption workers advise parents to introduce the word "adoption" as early as possible so that it becomes a comfortable part of a child's vocabulary and to tell a child, between the ages of 2 and 4 that s/he is adopted. However, some child welfare experts believe that when children are placed for adoption before the age of 2 and are of the same race as the parents, there probably is little to be gained by telling them about their adoption until they are at least 4 or 5 years old. Before that time, they will hear the words but will not understand the concept.

Dr. Steven Nickman, author of the article "Losses in Adoption: The Need for Dialogue," suggests that the ideal time for telling children about their adoption appears to be between the ages of 6 and 8. By the time children are 6 years old, they usually feel established enough in their family not to feel threatened by learning about adoption. Dr. Nickman believes that preschool children still have fears about the loss of their parents and their love and that telling them at that time is too risky. In addition, there is some question about whether a child under 6 years of age can understand the meaning of adoption and be able cognitively to work through the losses implied by learning that s/he was born into a different family.

Although it is obvious to adults, young children often believe that they are either adopted or born. It is important, when telling them about their adoption, to help them understand that they were born first—and that all children, adopted or not—are conceived and born in the same way. The birth came first, then the adoption.

Waiting until adolescence to reveal a child's adoption to him or her is not recommended. "Disclosure at that time can be devastating to children's self-esteem," says Dr. Nickman, "and to their faith in their parents."

 
Children Who Are Adopted When They Are Older or Who Are of a Different Race
 
Children who have been adopted when they are older than 2 or when they are of a different race from their adoptive parents need to be told about their adoption earlier. With older children, who bring with them memories of a past, failure to acknowledge those memories and to have a chance to talk about them can reinforce the attachment problems inherent in shifts in caretakers early in life. In these cases, parents should "work to safeguard the continuity of the child's experience by reminding him or her of his earlier living situation from time to time, still bearing in mind that too frequent reminders might arouse fears of losing his present home," Dr. Nickman suggests.

If your adopted child is of a different race or has very different physical features from your family, you must be cognizant of signs that s/he is aware of the difference. Your child may have noticed it, or someone else may have commented on it. You will want to explain to your child that the birth process is the same for everyone but acknowledge that people in different cultures have distinguishing physical features and their own rich heritage. Sometimes children who look different from the rest of their family need to be assured that their parents love them and intend to keep them.

For children with developmental disabilities, explanations about birth may be simplified or adjusted to match their ability to comprehend. When children have expressed no interest in the subject, it may be that they are not yet able to benefit from a discussion about it.

In any case, it takes years of periodic returns to the subject of adoption before your children will fully grasp its meaning. Meanwhile, it is most important that you provide an environment that nourishes and encourages learning and the understanding of all important family issues, such as love and aggression, hate and jealousy, sex and marriage, illness and death. At least two studies (Kirk, Hoopes and Stein) suggest that adopted adolescents were better adjusted if they came from families where all emotional issues including adoption were discussed among family members beginning in early childhood.

Children who learn early that it is all right to ask questions and be curious usually carry this behavior over to school and develop a sense of mastery over their lives. That is why both attachment and separation behaviors should be encouraged and endured patiently by parents. Both are necessary for children to create their identity and to develop and sustain intimate relationships.

 
Emotional Impact of Adoption
 

Preschoolers' reactions to adoption are almost entirely affected by the way their parents feel about the adoption and the way they handle it with their children. Children of preschool age will be as excited about the story of their adoptions as other children are by the story of their births. To help make your children feel connected and an important part of the family, share with them the excitement that you felt when you received the telephone call about them, the frantic trip to pick them up, and how thrilled everyone in the family was to meet them. As time goes on and bonds of trust build, your children will be able to make sense of their unique adoption stories.

 
Elementary School Years
 

Adoption studies of children in this stage of life are contradictory. While some say that adopted children experience no more psychological problems than nonadopted children (Hoopes and Stein), others find that teachers and parents report more personality and behavior problems and find adopted children to be more dependent, tense, fearful, and hostile (Lindholm and Touliatos, Brodzinsky).

In general, children who have been adopted are well within the normal range academically and emotionally; however, emotional and academic problems may be greater if children were adopted after 9 months of age or if they had multiple placements before being adopted. Since these children are at greater risk of having attachment problems, their families should consider early intervention and treatment services similar to those available for other adopted children with special needs.

Middle childhood has often been described as a blissful period when children play and visit grandparents, get involved in interesting activities, and have few responsibilities or worries. Nonetheless, as adults we know from our own experiences, that there is a different side to this period between the ages of 6 and 11. The more worrisome serious period is usually experienced in children's inner lives, as indicated by their dreams and fantasies. There their feelings are played out about themselves and their families, their wish to belong outside of the family circle, to have attributes that make others admire them and seek them out, and their contrasting fears that they are dumb, ugly, mean, and useless.

 

At the same time, their horizons are expanding and they are ready to learn from school, friends, and other adventures outside of their homes. Competitive games and team projects attract them and make them nervous; they search everything and everyone for signs that they are loved and acceptable, while worrying that bad things might happen to pay them back for their seemingly evil deeds and thoughts.

The chief task of elementary school-aged children is to master all of the facts, ideas, and skills that will equip them to progress toward adolescence and independent life. During this time, children are supposed to consolidate their identification with parents and cement their sense of belonging to their family.

It is no wonder that in such a state, even without contemporary pressures resulting from divorce or other family disruptions, that emotional and behavioral problems frequently beset elementary school-aged children. Common problems include hyperactivity, poor school performance, low self-esteem, aggression, defiance, stubbornness, troubled relationships with brothers and sisters, friends, and parents, lack of confidence, fearfulness, sadness, depression, and loneliness. Adoptive parents wonder whether and how much these problems are caused or influenced by adoption or a history of faulty attachment.

Smith and Miroff state in their book, You're Our Child: The Adoption Experience, "It is extremely important, and also reassuring, to realize that the most common source of problems are developmental changes which follow a child from infancy to adulthood, not the fact that the child was or was not adopted."

 
Why Was I Given Away? Loss and Grief in Adoption
 

Loss is a feeling that runs through the lives of children who have been adopted. It shows itself in different ways at different stages of their lives. But knowing that their birth parents made an adoption plan for them, and then not hearing a lot of information about the birth parents, often makes adopted children feel devalued and affects their self-esteem. Sometimes they feel as though their status in society is ambiguous.

The full emotional impact of that loss comes to children, usually between the ages of 7 and 12, when they are capable of understanding more about the concept of being adopted. It happens because they live more in the world outside of their families and are more tuned in to the world inside their heads. While this is a giant step toward self-reliance, it leaves parents in a quandary about when and how much adoption information to share, and uncertain about whether their child is wanting or dreading to hear it. It is especially difficult at this time to decide what to do or say to children who do not inquire about their birth parents.

Although it may feel awkward, it sometimes helps to think back to your child's life and death questions during the preschool years and introduce the subject yourself. You might preface your conversation with what you would say to an adult. For example, "I just want you to know that if you want to talk about your adoption, I'd be glad to" or "You haven't asked much about it lately, and I thought, now that you're older, you might be thinking about it in a more grownup way." Such an introduction gets across to children that you are interested in talking about the subject and that you are aware of their getting older and more sophisticated in their thinking. In any case, your willingness to "connect" with your children about their adoptions and not to deny the difference between being adopted and being born into a family can help them grieve this important loss.

 

You can help your children work through their loss if you can be nondefensive about their adoption as well as sensitive to how much they want or need to talk about it at a given time. Do not, however, place undue emphasis on the adoption, as this is likely to make children feel painfully self-conscious about it. But if facts and feelings about adoption are not discussed at all, children's fantasies about their backgrounds may be acted out unconsciously, thus carrying out their unconscious self-identification as an unworthy person.

Once they have understood the biological facts of life, and something about the social and cultural aspects of family life in their community, children of elementary school age begin to imagine things about their birth parents. One 7-year-old asked if her birth mother looked like their 15-year-old neighbor. An 8-year-old boy asked if his birth father could have been a friend of the family. A 9-year-old reported to her mother that she was looking in the shopping malls for a woman who had a nose like hers.

Although preschoolers want to hear how they were adopted and entered their homes, older children discover the reality that their birth mother relinquished them for adoption and ask why. Just as preschoolers try to make sense of reproduction by developing their own theories and mixing them with what their parents told them, older children try to reconcile their own theories with the available facts. What they learn produces a gamut of emotions ranging from incredulity to sadness, disappointment, anger, and guilt. Children may not express these feelings, but they have to be acknowledged, lived with, and digested before they develop a new understanding of adoption and themselves.

 

Some researchers think that children must grieve for the loss of the birth parents much in the same way that infertile couples grieve for the loss of a biological baby. Some children feel that they were given up because there was something wrong with them or because they were bad. Some become fearful that they will hurt their adoptive parents' feelings or make them angry if they want to find out more about their birth parents. Where preschoolers would often be quite open about expressing these feelings, older children have a greater sense of privacy and are not sure that their parents can tolerate their questions or feelings. Older children may, therefore, keep much more to themselves.

A common situation in children of this age, which you may recall from your own elementary school days, is imagining that they had been adopted or kidnapped from another set of parents who were usually better in every way than their own. These parents might have been rich, or even royalty, and they did not make you take vitamins, eat spinach, go to bed at 9 p.m., or refuse to let you watch MTV. When life at home was unpleasant, we could daydream about this "better" family to soothe our angry or sad feelings.

These fantasies provide an outlet for times when children are infuriated or disappointed by their parents, and when they do not know how to cope with their anger toward them. Usually, as a child recognizes that love and hate, anger and affection, can be felt toward people without ruining the relationship completely (i.e., the preschooler's—"I won't be your best friend any more" changes to the 8-year-old's, "I'm so mad at Jenny that I won't sit near her at music today"), these thoughts of another family fade. Then your children can continue to identify with your characteristics, activities, and values.

The fantasy world of the adopted child is complicated by the existence of the birth parents, and is influenced by whatever information is available about them. Sometimes the facts make it more difficult for children to idealize their birth parents or put pressure on them to "choose" to "be just like" or "totally unlike" one or the other set of parents.

 
Psychological Identification
 

If your child has had several homes before yours, there is often a brief honeymoon period where s/he will try to be perfect to ensure your love. But soon the sense of loss, hurt, and anger surfaces. Your child may, consciously or not, break your rules, steal, lie, or act out physically or sexually. The child's message is "I'm going to leave here anyway, so I'd better make sure I don't get too close" or "Families don't last, and I'm angry about that."

You will need to help your children build trust and gain confidence that you will not abandon them. Part of that job is helping your children to develop the psychological identification that distinguishes them as individuals.

What is this identification process that is so critical to success and confidence in later life? It takes us back to the initial attachment process, when it is important for babies to make an emotional connection that shape their personalities and make them someone who is a unique individual as well as a member of a particular family.

During the elementary school-age years, children's identity comes from a combination of their genetic heritage, their experience with their families, and what happens to them as they try to find their place in the wider world. They want to be like their peers and their families.

 

The creation of a family tree, a common elementary school assignment which asks children to construct a portrait of their geographical, ethnic, historical, and birth connections, offers an opportunity and a challenge to the adoptive family. This assignment will bring to the surface knowledge and ignorance about your child's background and legitimize discussion of family facts and secrets.

If there has been openness about adoption and a sensitivity to not insisting on discussing adoption when a child is not receptive, parents will be able to discover from their child what can and cannot be included in the family tree assignment. A 10-year-old, after moving to a new school, said she would like to be the one to decide whether to tell new classmates that she was adopted, because now she was the boss of that information. Is it farfetched to think that a 10-year-old is old enough to be "boss" of her adoptive information? At this age, the child's self-esteem will flourish if she can feel her parents trust her as she learns and masters new facts about herself and the world.

Sometimes during the elementary school years, before or after the family tree experience, children learn about heredity, genes, and "blood relationships." At this time, the adopted child realizes at the highest cognitive and emotional level so far, the differences between biological and adoptive relationships. Reactions to this information are probably as varied as the children and include feelings of relief, a sense of enlightenment, heightened interest in learning more about birth parents, denial of any interest, or feelings of loss and grief.

 

Remember that all adopted children have feelings about their adoption, and that many times in their development they will struggle with why their birth parents made an adoption plan for them. You can help your children by letting them know that they are not alone in these feelings and that it is all right with you if they express them and try to get explanations for what puzzles or troubles them. The more open family discussions have been from the beginning of verbal communication, the more likely it is that communication will continue no matter how intense or complex the subject becomes.

You may also want to remind yourself and your child that learning about adoption, like learning about life, is an ongoing adventure that you want to share with your child as much as you can, but that you understand that some of this learning has to be pursued alone as well. At this point, your child is old enough to choose the pace at which s/he wants to consider these new ideas. However, you as parents, are still in a position to guide, instruct, and set limits. A 9-year-old who wants, suddenly, to look for her birth mother the day after a fight over bedtime can be told that Mom feels she has to do some maturing before she is ready for that step.

Since these are the years when youngsters appear to seriously confront the "sad side" of relinquishment and adoption, opportunities to meet with and talk to other adoptees their age, as well as with adolescent and adult adoptees, are beneficial. It helps children see a bit into their own futures.

Foreign adoptees can benefit from cross-cultural experiences appropriate to elementary school-aged children. Some children are thrilled to attend an adoption family camp or summer program. Others prefer to process their feelings within their adoptive families or even alone. The more sensitive to your child's feelings you can be, and the more experience you and your child have in discussing feelings together, the more consoling and comforting you can be to each other. You will then survive and eventually triumph over this period of self-discovery and grieving.

 
Adolescence
 

No sooner do your children begin to understand the wonders of biology than their own bodies begin the surge of growth toward puberty and the awesome stage of adolescence. Adolescence, for all its newness—it was not considered a distinct stage of life until after the first World War—has quickly acquired a reputation as a difficult and trying period for children and parents. Physical growth changes the person from a child to an adult, in preparation for procreation, but mental and emotional development may take years to catch up with the body. Adolescents' behavior is in transition and not fixed; their feelings about the world and their place in it are tentative and changeable, like a chameleon's.

The adolescent's primary task is to establish a secure sense of identity; the process is arduous, time-consuming, and intense. Establishing a stable identity includes being able to live and work on one's own, to maintain a comfortable position in one's family, and to become a contributing citizen in one's community.

It is the nature of all adolescents, adopted or not, to question everything and everyone. It is also in their parents' nature to worry about their children's futures and their own survival in this period. Almost everyone agrees that, although often extremely difficult, open communication can smooth the process.

Adolescence is a time of trying on and choosing in all aspects of life. Two major aspects of adult identity formation will be choice of work and choice of a partner to love. Teenagers look for and imitate role models. They critically examine their family members (as they did in elementary school), peers, teachers, and all the other heroes and anti-heroes the culture offers from rock musicians and movie stars, to ball players and politicians, to grandparents and peers' older brothers and sisters. They idolize and devalue people, ideas, and religious concepts. They often bond tightly with peers in small groups that are intolerant of all outsiders. They vacillate between criticism of others and harsh self-criticism. They are sometimes supremely self-confident and often in the depths of despair about their abilities and future success.

 

If normal adolescence involves a crisis in identity, it stands to reason that adopted teenagers will face additional complications because of what some have called "genealogical bewilderment" (Sants). The fact that the adoptee has two sets of parents raises more complicated questions about ancestral history now that intellectual development has assumed adult proportions. The search for possible identification figures may cause the adolescent to fantasize more about birth parents, become interested in specific facts about birth relatives, or wish to search for or meet them.

Although all adopted adolescents have to struggle to integrate their fantasies and future goals with their actual potential and realities, foreign, biracial, and other cross-cultural adoptees (as well as teenagers with physical or emotional disabilities) have additional challenges. They may suffer more from what Erik Erikson calls "identity diffusion," i.e., feelings of aimlessness, fragmentation, or alienation. They may appear outwardly more angry at adoptive parents, and more critical of what their parents did or did not do to help them adjust to their adoptive status. They may withdraw more into themselves, or conversely feel they need to "set off to see the world" in hopes of finding their true identity.

Adolescents often express their reactions to loss by rebelling against parental standards. Knowing that they have a different origin contributes to their need to define themselves autonomously. According to Dr. Nickman, "An adopted son or daughter cannot be expected to be a conformist. If he is, he may be inhibiting an important part of himself for the sake of basic security or out of a sense of guilt or responsibility to his adopters."

It probably helps a child to be told by adoptive parents that they understand their son or daughter's need to take control of his or her own life, and that they stand ready to assist in any way that they can, including giving their blessing to a child who needs "to go it alone" for a while. Of course, a youngster under 17 years of age might be asked to wait until s/he could realistically manage in whatever environment would be encountered.

 
Searching for Birth Parents
 

Current adoption practice has mixed opinions about whether, when, how, and with whose help, adoptees should look for more information about or try to initiate a reunion with birth parents. Information on this process is available through Information Gateway. Adoptive parents tend to think about their children's wish to search when they first adopt, and again when confronted with their angry toddlers. The topic resurfaces in adolescence, either raised directly by the child, or when rebellious, defiant behavior such as threats to run away, makes parents wonder if their child is wanting or needing to contact a birth parent. It takes a parent with sturdy self-esteem and more confidence than most of us have to withstand the stony silences and stormy confrontations with teenagers in turmoil.

Parents are often tempted to escape perhaps by abandoning their teenagers who are having toddler-like tantrums, but you and your family will benefit more if you remain calm, stand up for the values you have taught, and continue communication efforts. For some adolescents, searching can be useful, while for many, the urgent activities and decisions of daily life are so pressing that they feel uninterested in or unable to confront such a heavy emotional undertaking. Waiting till they have reached adulthood when their lives will be more settled may be better for the latter group.

 
Anger, Sex and Aggression
 

Adopted adolescents have the same trouble searching for a comfortable identity as do nonadoptees. Problems involving aggression, sexual activities and pregnancy, delinquency and substance abuse, social isolation and depression are the most common ones faced by teenagers and their families. Although there appear to be more adoptees percentage-wise in adolescent psychiatric treatment programs than nonadoptees, the majority of these patients tend to be the multiply placed children whose problems stem from a variety of sources, often the least of which is their adoption.

Although sexual identity is an issue for all adolescents, adopted girls have the additional burden of conflicting views of motherhood and sexuality. On one hand there is their perhaps infertile adoptive mother and, on the other, the fertility of their birth mother who did get pregnant and chose not to keep her baby, or possibly had her child taken away from her.

No matter how open communication has been, it is often next to impossible for adolescents to discuss their feelings about sex with their parents. Additionally, the adopted girl, unless she has close friends who are adopted as well, would have difficulty finding an ear understanding and sophisticated enough for this discussion. This may be a time to encourage meeting with other adopted teenagers, either through an organized group or informally, to provide your child with support for some of these sticky issues. Looking for solutions outside of the family is also appropriate for an adolescent for whom one major developmental task is to learn to separate and live independently.
 

As adolescents move toward greater autonomy, a parent's most difficult task is to create a delicate balance of "to love and let go." Although there are many times when you could encourage your toddler—"me do it myself"—or elementary school-aged child to "try things alone" or learn a new skill, an adolescent needs to assert his/her independence by establishing differences from you, and real distance. The adolescent needs to take his or her independence or autonomy, rather than be given it.

This often means a period of estrangement, lessened communication, or outright strife. You may want to listen and talk to your friends who have weathered adolescence with their biological children to note the similarities, and as you have tried to do all along, to understand the differences, acknowledge them, and try to work on them with your child.

No matter how much you wanted to be parents, there are many times during the years of child rearing when you might ask, sometimes in humor, and sometimes in sadness, "Why did I ever sign up for this job?" Sometimes you can only reply feebly, "Well, it sure makes life interesting." But finally, you must have faith that the bonding that occurred in the early years between you and your child, the trust that has built as s/he grew up, and the communication that you have established, will come full circle and provide rich and rewarding relationships for you and your adult children.

 
When You Need Help
 

In the last 15 years increasing interest and research in child development and parenting has given adoption more attention. Until recently, once a child was placed for adoption by an agency, little else was offered about general child development or rearing; and if the adoption was a private one, there were no professional helpers. Adoptive parents tried to educate themselves through Dr. Benjamin Spock's 1945 edition of Baby and Child Care which offers helpful but brief guidance about adoption.

Now, in addition to Child Welfare Information Gateway, located in Washington, D.C., and the National Adoption Center (NAC) located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, there are State and local organizations and programs sponsored by adoption agencies that provide parenting education and other "postadoption" services. Workshops, conferences, and seminars keep parents current with knowledge in the field. There are also support and self-help groups that offer educational and social activities.

The goals of these services are to support and maintain healthy family life, to prevent problems through education, and to make counseling and mental health services available as soon as problems appear. For a list of these agencies, please contact Child Welfare Information Gateway at 1.800.394.3366              1.800.394.3366       or the National Adoption Center at 1.800.TO.ADOPT              1.800.TO.ADOPT       or 215.735.9988              215.735.9988       in Pennsylvania.

 
How Do You Know You Need Help?
 

Usually a parent notices that something is wrong, either in the family atmosphere or in a family member. If you have educated yourself about normal child behavior at different ages, chances are you will find yourself questioning behavior in your child that seems out of the ordinary. Sometimes, a teacher, relative, or friend asks if you have noticed a problem. Perhaps your child seems unduly sad or anxious, unable to concentrate, is angry or flies off the handle for no obvious reason. You may see behavior that is unusual or not characteristic of your child; sometimes it is the increasing degree of a certain behavior that is troubling.

Perhaps there has been an upsetting event or change, such as a move or loss of job for you or your spouse. Children react to any parental problems that threaten their security. Elementary school-aged children tend to have problems around school; often that is the setting where problems are noticed. Adolescents tend to have identity concerns and authority struggles with their parents or other adults.

All of these possibilities can occur in any family. The adoptive family has the added concern of trying to decide whether or not it is an adoption issue that is troubling the child. If the child is over 6 years of age, it is usually impossible to distinguish adoption from other psychological, social, and educational issues. Treatment must evaluate the child and family and should consider his or her stage of development and the nature of the child's relationship with you (and sometimes with his or her birth parents).
 
Finding Help
 

Before seeking professional counseling, use your parenting skills to discover if you can help your child yourself by listening, talking, or making changes in the environment. If you feel your child cannot communicate with you or that your relationship might be part of the problem, it is wise to seek outside assistance.

Because it is so difficult to disentangle adoptive issues from those of normal development, especially once the child has reached elementary school-age, the adoptive family can benefit from professional helpers who have experience working with adoptive families. There are many varieties of therapy, and advantages and disadvantages to each. Sometimes the whole family needs to be involved in therapy. Sometimes your adopted child needs to deal with problems alone.

Ask your agency social worker, a friend with adopted children, your pediatrician, a representative from an adoptive parent support group, your local mental health center, or your local family service agency for recommendations of appropriate helping professionals. You can also contact Information Gateway or NAC for referrals.

Source: The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse (Bibliography and related Articles and Research Report Links can be found through the Child Welfare Information Gateway
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Helping Your Foster Child Transition to Your Adopted Child
 
For foster families who choose to adopt the child or children in their care,1 there are a number of ways to help these children make the emotional transition from being "a ward of the State or the Court" to being "a son or daughter" of specific parents. While parents may appreciate the difference in the child's role within their family, children may not clearly comprehend the difference between being a foster child versus being an adopted child when they continue to live in the same family. There are specific things families can say and do to help children understand these differences. This factsheet describes:
 
Talking with children about the changes
Activities to help children understand their own history and background
Helping children adjust to losses
Helping children transfer attachments
 
Talking With Children About the Changes
 
In preparing to talk to children about the changes that occur with adoption, parents and other caring adults in children's lives should remember to engage the child in the process and listen carefully to the words the child uses and to the questions the child asks. Questions about the birth family and their status may need to be addressed. It is important to always tell the truth—even if it is painful—and to validate the child's experience and feelings. While these talks may bring up painful feelings for children, and for parents who love them, helping children to grieve can also help them to move on to a feeling of permanency in their foster/adoptive family.
 
Talks between parents and children about the differences in status within the foster family and the adoptive family will probably need to be repeated several times and in a variety of ways, so children can fully understand at their own level. It is best if these conversations take place when the parent and child are engaged in activities together. Adoption professional H. Craig-Oldsen (1988) offers the following suggestions for making these talks beneficial for the child:
 
 
  • Plan the discussion. In collaboration with the social worker, the parents should decide if they want to talk with the child first and have the social worker reinforce what was said in a later conversation, or if they would like to talk to the child together about the change from being in foster care to being adopted. Parents should be prepared to answer the child's questions that may be raised by the discussion.
  • Help the child talk about the perceived difference in his or her own words.  The parents should ask open-ended questions of the child such as, "How do you think being adopted will be different from being in foster care?" or "What do you think the biggest difference will be, when you are adopted?"
  • Help the child draw analogies to something in the child's own life.  For instance, a parent might say, "This is like the time when....".

There are a number of changes in status that will affect the child, and these should be discussed, depending on the child's developmental level.

 
  1. To help the child understand the legal differences between foster care and adoption, foster parents might talk about how the adoption court hearing is different from other court hearings the child might have remembered from foster care. Some parents may explain adoption by using marriage as an analogy. The court hearing is like the marriage ceremony, and the adoption certificate is like the marriage certificate that makes the relationship legal and permanent. (Parents who use this analogy should be prepared for questions about divorce, depending on the child's experience.)
  2. Older children who are aware of the foster care board payment or adoption assistance their parents receive might be helped to understand the financial differences inherent in foster care and adoption. These payments might be compared to a child's allowance; older children may be able to understand the payments as costs to meet the child's needs. Experienced adoptive parents note the importance of honesty, compassion, and developmental appropriateness in conversations with children regarding these issues (Laws, 2004).
  3. To help children understand the parenting differences between foster care and adoption, parents might remind the child that when in foster care, the parents had to get a permission slip signed by an agency social worker to go on a field trip, spend the night at a friend's house, or travel across State lines; now that their foster parents are their legal parents, the parents can sign permissions for these types of things without needing to go through an agency or court.

One way to explain the changes from foster care to adoption is to talk about the roles that different parents play in the child's life. (See box below.)

Aspects/Roles of Parenting for Children in Placement

Birth parents—give children life, gender, physical appearance, predisposition for certain diseases, intellectual potential, temperament, and talents. These aspects never change.

Legal parents—provide financial responsibility, safety, and security; make major decisions (where to live and go to school), and are legally responsible for the child's actions. While children are in foster care, the court/agency plays this role with a child. Upon adoption of a foster child, this role is transferred to the adoptive parents.

Parenting parents—provide love, discipline, daily needs (food, clothes, toys, etc.), homework help, transportation, life skills, values, religion, and more. Foster and adoptive parents play this role in the child welfare system. If children are in residential care, this role might be played by house parents or childcare workers (Fahlberg, 1991).

Helping Children Understand Their Own History
 

Parents can help children review and understand their previous life experiences to clarify what happened to them in the past and help them integrate those experiences so they will have greater self-understanding. Foster/adoptive parents and children's therapists and social workers can help children in answering important questions about their lives—both to assess their readiness for and to prepare them for staying permanently in their family (Henry, 2005).

Questions for children to assess where they are on the permanency continuum (Henry, 2005)

  • Who am I? (question related to identity)
  • What happened to me? (question related to loss)
  • Where am I going? (question related to attachment)
  • How will I get there? (question related to relationships)
  • When will I know I belong? (question related to claiming and safety)

Children's answers to these questions will change, depending on their developmental stage. Their responses can guide parents and therapists in helping the children achieve feelings of permanency.

There are many ways families can help children in answering these important questions and in understanding their unique history. Life books, ecomaps, lifemaps, and lifepaths are all tools used by foster/adoptive parents and children's therapists to help children of various ages understand and find ways to visually represent the answers to questions of how they came to be separated from their birth family and where they will ultimately belong (Fahlberg, 1991).

 
 
  • A lifebook, is essentially an account of the child's life in words, pictures, photographs, and documents. While lifebooks can take many forms, each child's lifebook will be unique to that child. Foster parents can assist in creating a lifebook for a child by gathering information about a child and taking pictures of people and places that are—or were—important to the child.
  • An ecomap is a visual representation of a person and the important people and activities in his or her life. A child's ecomap may have a circle in the middle of the page with a stick figure of a child, along with the question "Why am I here?" Lines are drawn out from the circle like spokes to other circles representing the court, other foster families, siblings, school, or to other topics such as "things I like to do" to visually represent what and who is important to a child and to help the child understand how he or she came to live with the adoptive family (Fahlberg, 1991).
  • Lifemaps or lifepaths are visual representations to help children understand the paths their lives have taken and the decision points along the way. They may have stepping stones to represent a child's age and a statement about where and with whom they lived at that age. They may have lines that go to a drawing of a house representing any foster homes a child lived in, the years the child lived there, and a mention of who lived with the child at that house, if known (Fahlberg, 1991).
 

 

Possible items to collect/include in a child's lifebook:

  • Developmental milestones (when a child first smiled, crawled, walked, talked, etc.)
  • Common childhood diseases and immunizations, injuries, illnesses, or hospitalizations
  • Pictures of a child's birth parents and/or birth relatives and information about visits
  • Members of the foster family's extended family who were/are important to the child
  • Pictures of previous foster families, their homes, and their pets
  • Names of teachers and schools attended, report cards, and school activities
  • Any special activities such as scouting, clubs, or camping experiences
  • Faith-based activities
  • What a child did when he/she was happy or excited and ways a child showed affection
  • Cute things the child did, nicknames, favorite friends, activities, and toys
  • Birthdays or religious celebrations or any trips taken with the foster family (Falhberg, 1991)

The most important information to include in any of these tools to help children understand their past history is information about the child's birth and an explanation of why and how the child entered foster care and how decisions about moves and new placements were made. A baby picture and pictures of birth parents should be included, if possible. If no information is available, children can draw a picture of what they might have looked like. Statements such as, "there is no information about Johnny's birth father in his file," at least acknowledge the father's existence. The importance of honesty, developmental appropriateness, and compassion in any explanation of difficult and painful circumstances that bring children into care is important for children.

Working with these tools provides an opportunity for the child to experience and work through the feelings of loss; therefore, they are beneficial therapeutic methods to help children with the grieving process.
 
Helping Children Adjust to Losses
 
Adoption experts acknowledge the importance of helping children integrate their previous attachments to important people in their lives in order to be able to transition that emotional attachment to a new family (Donley, 1988; Fahlberg, 1991; Henry, 2005). Integration is a way of helping children cope with the painful realities of the separation from their birth families that often impact their future behaviors and can create extraordinary stress between them and their foster/adoptive parents. The five-step integration process, first described by adoption pioneer K. Donley (1988), is an effort to clarify the child's permission to be in foster care, to live with new parents, to be loved by them, and to love them back.
 

Steps in the Integration Process:

  • Create an accurate reconstruction of the child's entire placement history. Creating a lifebook, lifemap, or ecomap with a child helps a child to see and understand his or her own history.2
  • Identify the important attachment figures in the child's life. Foster parents might be able to learn who these important people in a child's life are by listening to the child talk about people from previous placements. These attachment figures might be parents, but they could be siblings, former foster parents, or other family members.
  • Gain the cooperation of the most significant of the attachment figures available. If possible, parents should cooperate with the birth mother during a child's visits or gain the cooperation of a birth grandparent or relative to whom the child was attached. Even if the birth family is not happy about a child's permanency goal of adoption, there is likely to be one important person (a teacher, a former neighbor) who will be willing to work with foster/adoptive parents or the agency to make a child's transition to adoption easier.
  • Clarify the permission message. It is important for children to hear and feel from people who are important to them that it is all right to love another family. The important person in a child's life who is available to give the child that message should be sought out to do so.
  • Communicating it to the child. Whether the "permission to love your family" comes in the form of a letter or phone call from grandma or from the birth parent during family visits, it is important that children hear from that person that it is not their fault they are in foster care and that it is all right to love another family. This "permission" will go a long way to helping a child relax and transfer his/her attachment to the new family (adapted from Donley, 1988).

In working with children during this transition phase it will be important for parents and others working with the child to use the following skills (Henry, 2005).

  • Engaging the child
  • Listening to the child
  • Telling the truth
  • Validating the child's life story
  • Creating a safe space for the child
  • Realizing that it is never too late to go back in time
  • Embracing pain as part of the process
 
Helping Children Transfer Attachments
 

Once it is clear that a child will be adopted by the foster family, there are many things parents can do to signal to a child that his or her status within the family has changed. Some of these include:

  • Encouraging the child to start calling the adoptive parents "mom" and "dad"
  • Adding a middle name to incorporate a name of family significance
  • Hanging pictures of the child on the wall
  • Involving the child in family reunions and similar extended family activities
  • Including the child in family rituals
  • Holding religious or other ceremonies to incorporate the child into the family
  • Making statements such as, "In our family, we do it this way" in a supportive way
  • Sending out announcements of the adoption (Falhberg, 1991)

Conclusion

While on the surface it may seem easy for a child to stay in the family in which he or she was living as a foster child, in reality, the internal process for a child and family is much more complicated. Allowing children to just "drift" into adoption without acknowledging the very significant changes for the family may lead to later difficulties. Foster/adoptive parents need to help children consider and understand their own history and reasons why they cannot live with their birth family, help them adjust to this loss, and help them transfer their attachments to the foster/adoptive family. In helping children, families will need to consider each child's needs as they are related to the child's age, health, personality, temperament, and cultural and racial experiences.

Other foster/adoptive parents can be a great resource for families. The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory has a list of foster and adoptive support groups in each State. Go to http://www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/index.cfm.

References

Craig-Oldsen, H. L. (1988). Foster parent adoptions: Talking with children about the difference between foster care and adoption In H. L. Craig-Oldsen, (Ed.), From foster parent to adoptive parent: A resource guide for workers [training materials]. Atlanta, GA: Child Welfare Institute.

Donley, K. S. (1988). Disengagement work: Helping children make new attachments. In H. L. Craig-Oldsen, (Ed.), From foster parent to adoptive parent: A resource guide for workers. Atlanta, GA: Child Welfare Institute.

Fahlberg, V. (1991). A child's journey through placement. Indianapolis, IN: Perspective's Press.

Henry, D. L. (2005). The 3-5-7 model: Preparing children for permanency, Children and Youth Services Review, 27(2).

Laws, R. (2004). Talking with children about adoption assistance, Adoptalk, North American Council on Adoptable Children. Retrieved February 4, 2005, from http://www.nacac.org/adoptalk/talkingaboutaa.html

1 For information on deciding to adopt from foster care, read the Information Gateway factsheet Foster Parents Considering Adoption: A Factsheet for Families. back
2 V. Fahlberg describes more about these techniques and how to use them with children of various ages in her book, A Child's Journey Through Placement (1991). back

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway

 

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Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons
 
As discussion of the adoption process becomes more open and accepted in American society, and as more Americans have experience with adoption, there is also more attention focused on those involved in adoption—the adopted person, the birth parents, and the adoptive parents (often referred to as the adoption triad or, more recently, the adoption constellation). People who have experienced adoption firsthand are coming forward to talk or write about their experiences, and researchers are conducting scientific studies to find out about the impact of adoption on all members of the adoption triad.
 
This factsheet examines the impact of adoption on adopted persons who have reached adulthood. While it is difficult to make sweeping statements about such a large and diverse group as adopted persons, it can be said that adopted persons generally lead lives that are no different from the lives of nonadopted persons; however, they have experiences that are unique to being adopted, and these experiences may have an impact on their lives at various times.
 
There are several themes that emerge from both the personal accounts of adopted persons and from the studies of academic researchers. This factsheet addresses these themes, which include loss, the development of identity and self-esteem, interest in genetic information, and managing adoption issues.
 
The Adoption Issues section looks at some of the issues that adopted persons may face, including developmental and emotional issues and the need for genetic or medical information.
Managing Adoption Issues reviews some of the ways that adopted persons handle adoption-related issues.
Resources for adopted persons includes books, articles, websites, and more.
 
Adoption Issues
 
Loss and Grief. The loss of the birth parents as a result of adoption sets the stage for the feelings of loss and abandonment that many adopted persons may experience at some point in their lives. Even those who are adopted as newborns at times experience a loss of the early bond to the mother, although this loss may not become apparent until the child is older and able to understand the consequences. In the book Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self, authors Brodzinsky, Schechter, and Marantz (1992) suggest that dealing with the loss of the birth parents, coupled with a search for self, are two processes that can contribute to shaping the psychological development of adopted persons. These authors outline developmental tasks that an adopted person should address at each stage of life in order to make a healthy adaptation and to cope with the feelings of loss and the search for self.
 

Loss, as well as feelings of rejection and abandonment by the birth parents, are frequent themes throughout the books and articles written by adopted persons about their experiences. Adopted persons, as children and as adults, may wonder why they were placed for adoption or what was "wrong" with them that caused their birth parents to give them up. Grief is a common reaction to the loss of the birth parents, and grieving may begin when the child is old enough to understand what being adopted means. Young children who are able to comprehend that they have gained adoptive parents are also able to understand that they have lost birth parents, and comprehension of this loss may trigger grief. The adopted child or adult may have a difficult time finding an outlet for this grief, since grieving for birth parents is not a reaction that society acknowledges. If the adoptive family is a generally happy one, the adopted child or adult may even feel guilty for grieving.

Along with grief and guilt, the adopted person may react to the loss through the normal feelings of anger, numbness, depression, anxiety, or fear. These feelings may occur during childhood and adolescence, as well as during later points in life, especially during emotionally charged milestones, such as marriage, the birth of a child, or the death of a parent. In addition, new losses may trigger memories of the loss of the birth parents. For instance, some adopted persons who face divorce or death of a spouse may find the experience especially difficult, because this new loss reawakens the old fears of abandonment and loss. Adopted persons who experience feelings of loss or abandonment during adulthood may or may not recognize a connection between their current feelings and their old feelings about the initial loss of the birth parents.

Adopted persons may also suffer secondary losses. For instance, along with the loss of birth mother and birth father, the adopted person may experience the loss of brothers and sisters, as well as grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. There may be a loss of cultural connection or language (in cases of intercountry or transracial adoption). For those who were adopted as older children, there may be a loss of siblings, friends, pets, foster families, schools, neighborhoods, and familiar surroundings. All of these losses may trigger grief and may require some outlet or some form of resolution.
 

Identity Development and Self-Esteem. Adopted persons' questions about identity often occur first during adolescence. The task of identity development during adolescence is often more difficult for the adopted teenager because of the additional adoption issues. The adopted adolescent's identity development includes questions about the biological family, why he or she was placed for adoption, what became of the birth parents, whether the adolescent resembles the birth parents in looks or in other characteristics, and where the adolescent "belongs" in terms of education, social class, culture, peer group, and more. The question of the influence of nature (inherited traits) versus nurture (acquired traits) may become very real to the adopted adolescent, who is trying to determine the impact of all of these influences on his or her own identity.

Identity issues may continue into adulthood. The birth of a child to an adopted person may bring up some of these issues, as the new parent may experience a biological connection to a family member for the first time. For this person, there is now someone who "looks like me." This new connection may cause the adopted adult to revisit earlier issues of identity. The new parent may also be prompted to think about what his or her birth mother experienced in giving birth and what the birth mother and father may have experienced in making the decision to place the child for adoption. Adopted adults who become new parents may be sympathetic to the difficulties of their birth parents, or they may wonder how their birth parents could ever have placed them for adoption.

Accompanying these issues of identity are issues of self-esteem-that is, how the adopted person feels about him or herself. A number of studies have found that, while adopted persons are similar to nonadopted persons in most ways, they often score lower on measures of self-esteem and self-confidence (Borders, Penny & Portnoy, 2000; Sharma, McGue & Benson, 1996). This result may reflect the fact that some adopted persons may view themselves as different, out-of-place, unwelcome, or rejected. Some of these feelings may result from the initial loss of birth parents and from growing up away from birth parents, siblings, and extended family members; some may also result from an ongoing feeling of being different from nonadopted people who do know about their genetic background and birth family and may be more secure about their own identity as a result.
 

Genetic Information. Adopted persons often lack genetic and medical history, as well as other family information. A routine visit to the doctor's office, where the adopted person is asked to supply medical history information, may make adopted persons acutely aware of how they differ from those who were not adopted. Those who find out only later in life that they were adopted as infants are sometimes put at risk by their long-held assumption of a family medical history that they later find is completely incorrect.

When an adopted person plans to get married or become a parent, the need for genetic information may become more important. Adopted persons have different questions about the child they will produce, such as what the child will look like, and if the child will inherit any genetic disorders that were unknown to the adopted person.

In many cases, nonidentifying information, such as medical history, may be placed in the adoption file by the birth parents or agency at the time of the adoption. Adoption agencies or attorneys may allow adopted persons to have access to this nonidentifying information. In some States, adopted persons can petition a judge to have their adoption records opened, and some judges will agree to do so in order to provide urgently needed medical information. (See the Information Gateway legal factsheet Access to Family Information by Adopted Persons. However, obtaining access to information provided by the birth parents at the time of the adoption may not be sufficient to provide a full medical history. It is more useful if birth parents, over the years, have updated the file that is kept with the adoption agency or attorney. In that way, an adopted person may learn if a birth parent or grandparent later developed a genetic disease or condition.

 
Managing Adoption Issues
 

Research shows that most adopted persons are similar to nonadopted persons in their adult adjustment (see research papers by Kelly, Towner-Thyrum, Rigby, & Martin; Borders, Penny, & Portnoy; Feigelman; and Smyer, Gatz, Simi, & Pedersen). However, there is also significant research, along with the personal accounts of adopted persons, that suggest that many adopted persons struggle with issues of loss, identity, and self-esteem. There are a number of ways that adopted persons manage these issues.

Support Groups. Many adopted persons are helped by support groups where they can talk about their feelings with others who have similar experiences. The support group may provide a long-needed outlet for any lingering feelings of loss or grief. Adopted persons may also find support for new losses that occur during their adult years. In addition, support groups may provide help for the adopted person with the decision of whether to search for birth relatives or other issues. Listings of support groups by State may be found in the Information Gateway's National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.

Counseling. Some adopted persons may need more help than they find from family and friends or through a support group. In these instances, adopted persons may seek professional counseling. It is important to identify a counselor who has experience with adoption issues. Sometimes, the original adoption agency may be able to provide a referral. Also, support groups may have experience with local counselors and be able to make a recommendation. The Information Gateway website carries a factsheet, Selecting and Working With an Adoption Therapist.

Education. For many adopted persons, reading about the experiences of others can be a helpful coping mechanism. Knowing that there are others who have gone through similar experiences can provide reassurance that these feelings and experiences are normal. A growing number of books and websites deal with adoption, and the adopted person who has the time to seek these out should be able to find stories and information about people with similar experiences. These may include information about persons adopted domestically as infants or as older children from foster care or persons adopted from another country.

Searching. More and more adopted persons are acting on their desire to search for their birth families. This is reflected in the number of websites and books about searching and even in the change in some State laws that regulate access to adoption records. Reports of adoption reunions are mixed; some lead to happy new relationships, and some do not. Regardless of the result, most searchers report that they are content to have found the truth about themselves and that the truth has filled a void for them.

The searching process actually encompasses a number of steps, from making the decision to search for birth parents or other birth kin, to conducting the search, and, if successful, arranging the reunion and establishing a postreunion relationship with birth family members. The decision to initiate a search is a personal one, and many adopted persons never search. For those who do, the decision may be triggered by a life event, or it may be the culmination of many years of unanswered questions. The search process itself can be stressful and time consuming; however, the rewards can be great when it results in a reunion that is desired by both parties. Adopted persons who are interested in searching should refer to the Information Gateway factsheet Searching for Birth Relatives.

Searchers will find that there is no Federal law that governs whether an adopted person can access information about birth parents, the adoption, or an original birth certificate. Instead, access to adoption information is regulated completely by the laws of the State in which the adoption took place, and these State laws vary dramatically. Information about access to birth family information and documents can be found in the Information Gateway legal factsheet Access to Family Information by Adopted Persons; a search about access can be conducted on a State-by-State basis at the Information Gateway website. Support groups for adopted persons may also be a good source of practical information about searching.
 
Resources
 

The following list of resources is designed to be a starting point for adopted adults who are interested in further information about the impact of adoption. The resources include books and articles by members of the adoption triad, studies by researchers, and websites. A brief description of each resource is included.

Books

Brodzinsky, D. M., & Schechter, M. D. (Eds.). (1990). The psychology of adoption. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

The various chapters of this book are written by leading researchers in the field of adoption, and they cover such topics as theoretical perspectives on adoption adjustment, outcomes in adoption, identity formation, interracial adoption, family therapy, social policy, and open adoption.

Brodzinksy, M. Schechter, M. D., & Henig, R. M. (1992). Being adopted: The lifelong search for self. New York, NY: Doubleday.

This book outlines developmental tasks at each of seven stages throughout the life of an adopted person.

Eldridge, S. (2003). Twenty life-transforming choices adoptees need to make. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinon Press.

The author, a reunited adopted person, interviewed 70 adopted persons for this book, which addresses some of the hard questions that adopted persons face, and offers advice about taking control through making choices.

Freundlich, M. (2001). The impact of adoption on members of the triad. Volume 3 in the Adoption and Ethics Series. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

This volume examines impact on all members of the adoption triad; for adopted persons, the topics of adjustment and well-being for children and adolescents, identity formation, and search and reunion are addressed.

Lifton, B. J. (1998). Lost and found: The adoption experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

The author draws upon her experience as an adopted person and upon her work with all members of the adoption triad to explore the psychological issues faced by adopted people before, during, and after their search for their birth family.

Pavao, J. M. (1998). The family of adoption. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

The author, an adopted person and an adoption therapist, describes the developmental stages and challenges for adopted people, and includes real-life examples to illustrate these stages.

Rosenberg, E. B. (1992). The adoption life cycle: The children and their families through the years. New York, NY: Free Press.

Written by a clinical professor in psychiatry, this book draws on case examples to show how the different members of the adoption triad influence each other and to describe developmental tasks for those in the adoption circle.

Schaefer, C. (1991). The other mother: A true story. New York, NY: Soho Press, Inc.

The author tells her story of being a birth mother and of later searching for and finding her son.

Schooler, J. (1995). Searching for a past: The adopted adult's unique process of finding identity. Colorado Springs, CO: Pinon Press.

This book was written by an adoption coordinator and discusses the emotional and psychological issues that adopted persons face in the different phases of searching for birth parents.

Articles

Borders, L. D., Penny, J. M., & Portnoy, F. (2000). Adult adoptees and their friends: Current functioning and psychosocial well-being. Family Relations, 49, 407-418.

The authors of this study found more similarities than differences when they compared 100 middle-aged persons who had been adopted as adults with 70 nonadopted adults.

Feigelman, W. (1997). Adopted adults: Comparisons with persons raised in conventional families. Marriage and Family Review, 25(3/4), 199-223.

This research article compared adult behavior patterns of 101 adopted persons with those of 3,949 adults raised in broken families and 6,258 adults raised with both biological parents. Results showed that adopted persons resembled nonadopted persons raised in intact families on most measures; however, adopted persons did have a higher incidence of adolescent identity crisis issues.

Grotevant, H. D., Dunbar, N., Kohler, J. K., & Lash Esau, A. M. (2000). Adoptive identity: How contexts within and beyond the family shape developmental pathways. Family Relations, 49, 379-387.

This paper discusses the development of the adoptive identity in terms of the intrapsychic component, family environment, and contexts beyond the family; implications for practitioners are included.

Kelly, M. M., Towner-Thyrum, E., Rigby, A., & Martin, B. (1998). Adjustment and identity formation in adopted and nonadopted young adults: Contributions of family environment. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 68(3), 497-500.

Adopted college students were compared with nonadopted college students on measures of adjustment and identity formation, and the two groups were found to be largely similar.

Lifton, B. J. (2001). Shared identity issues for adoptees. In V. Groza & K. F. Rosenberg (Eds.), Clinical and practice issues in adoption: Bridging the gap between adoptees placed as infants and as older children, (pp. 37-48). Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey.

The author discusses the identity issues common to children adopted as infants, those adopted as older children, and those adopted from a foreign country.

Sharma, A. R., McGue, M. K., & Benson, P. L. (1996). The emotional and behavioral adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: Part I. An overview. Children and Youth Services Review, 18(1/2), 83-100.

In a comparison of adjustment and family functioning in over 4,000 adopted adolescents and over 4,000 nonadopted adolescents, small but significant differences were found between the groups, with one finding showing lower self-confidence and optimism in adopted persons.

Silverstein, D. N., & Kaplan, S. (1988). Lifelong issues in adoption. In L. Coleman, K. Tolbor, H. Hornby, & C. Boggis (Eds.), Working with older adoptees (pp. 45-53). Portland, ME: University of Southern Maine. Retrieved April 23, 2004, from http://fairfamilies.org/newsfromfair/1999/99LifelongIssues.htm

The authors describe seven issues that all members of the adoption triad must address.

Smyer, M. A., Gatz, M., Simi, N. L., & Pedersen, N. L. (1998). Childhood adoption: Long-term effects in adulthood. Psychiatry, 61, 191-205.

Researchers studied adult outcome variables in 60 pairs of twins who had been separated as infants or children, so that one was raised in the biological family and one was raised in an adoptive family; results emphasize the impact of socioeconomic status on adult outcomes, such that adopted adults were better educated but also showed greater psychological distress.

Support Groups

Child Welfare Information Gateway compiles the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory, which lists support groups on a State-by-State basis.

Websites and Other Resources

American Adoption Congress

The American Adoption Congress (AAC) is an international network of individuals and organizations committed to adoption reform. Through education and advocacy, they promote honesty, openness, and respect for family connections in adoption, foster care, and assisted reproduction. Membership is open to adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, professionals, and all others who share a commitment to the AAC's goals.

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

The Adoption Institute seeks to improve the quality of information about adoption, to enhance the understanding and perceptions about adoption, and to advance adoption policy and practice.

Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network

This organization links adopted persons, adoptive families, and other Korean-Americans, providing resources, a newsletter, and a conference.

Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project

This site provides research findings from this major study of variations in openness in adoption and the effect of openness on all members of the adoption triad.

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Information Gateway offers information on all aspects of adoption for professionals, policymakers, and the general public. Information Gateway develops and maintains a computerized database of books, journal articles, and other materials on adoption and related topics, conducts database searches, publishes materials on adoption, and gives referrals to related services and experts in the field. Information Gateway also maintains a database of experts knowledgeable in various areas of adoption practice.

National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning's packet on Searching (PDF - 124 KB)

This packet for adopted persons includes a factsheet on searching, a list of references and websites, and a summary of the debate about searching.

Stars of David International, Inc.

This is a Jewish adoption information and support network for all members of the adoption triad.

Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway

 
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Parenting Your Adopted Preschooler
 
Parenting an adopted preschooler is very similar to parenting any preschooler. As parents, you should not ignore the fact that your child is adopted or their experiences prior to the adoption. But you need not worry unnecessarily about these issues, either.
 
Children ages 3 to 5 are limited in how much they can understand about adoption. Like all children of this age, adopted children are naturally curious and may ask many questions. They are also growing and changing rapidly. As their abilities develop, so will their understanding of their place in their families and communities. These early years are a good time for you to start practicing how to talk about adoption in a positive and relaxed manner. This will set the stage for open communication as your child grows.
 
This factsheet is designed to help you understand your preschooler's developmental needs. It also provides practical strategies to promote a warm and loving relationship with your child based on honesty and trust.
 
Adoption and Child Development
Communicating about Adoption
Discipline Considerations
 
Adoption and Child Development
 
It is important to understand the typical developmental tasks and needs of preschoolers, as well as how adoption-related experiences may affect your child. This knowledge will help you better meet his or her needs, build a close relationship with your child, and promptly identify and address any delays.
 
Preschooler Development
 
Preschoolers don't need special classes or expensive toys to learn and grow. Simple everyday interactions such as singing, talking, touching, rocking, and reading can help create a bond with your child and support healthy growth. The following are common characteristics and needs of preschoolers:
 
What preschoolers are learning:
 
How to jump, hop, climb, ride a tricycle, throw a ball (large muscle development)
How to color, draw, cut with scissors, brush teeth, use forks and spoons (fine muscle skills)
How to put words and short phrases together
How to concentrate on a task
How to recognize family members and friends
How to name simple emotions such as happy, angry, sad or scared (children this age will also begin to show more complex emotions such as jealousy or empathy, although they won't understand the names for them until much later)
How to express emotions and interact with others appropriately
How preschoolers think:
 
  • They believe in magic and imaginary characters such as fairies, elves, and monsters.
  • They believe that they cause life-changing events and that everything revolves around them. 
  • Their thoughts are often occupied by fantasies and fears.
How parents can help:
  • Provide space, activities, and playthings to stimulate both large and small muscle groups.
  • Provide chances to play and talk with others.
  • Teach appropriate social skills through words and by example.
  • Model and talk about healthy ways to cope with emotions.
  • Calm their fears. ("See, there are no monsters hiding under your bed.")
  • Help them understand cause and effect. ("You went into foster care because your parents had grown-up problems that kept them from being able to take care of you, not because of anything you did.")
  • If possible, when transitioning a preschooler into your family, use familiar foods, clothing, and blankets—little things that will help them feel comfortable and ease the transition.

Adoption Considerations

It is important for adoptive parents to understand how their child's prior experiences, as well as their individual mental and physical capacity, might affect their development. Many children will catch up developmentally; some children will always have challenges. The following experiences sometimes contribute to delays or disabilities, but they do not affect all children in the same way:

Poor prenatal care. Poor prenatal care or nutrition can harm a child's physical or mental development. Prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs may damage a child's developing brain or lead to specific disabilities.

Child abuse or neglect. Early neglect or abuse may limit a child's physical, mental, emotional, and social development. Often, the longer a child has experienced abuse or neglect, the greater the impact on development. Children whose early lives are harsh and/or unpredictable may not be able to develop the trust needed for healthy emotions. Sexual abuse can have an especially negative impact on young children by altering a child's understanding of appropriate roles and relationships. Physical abuse and harsh physical punishment may affect how a child responds to discipline.

Institutionalization or multiple moves. Young children in institutional care (e.g., orphanages) are at risk for delays in mental, social, and physical growth. They also may have challenges processing sensory information or challenges with balance and movement. Institutionalization or multiple moves from family to family may limit a young child's ability to form a healthy attachment to a primary caregiver. This can delay emotional and social development.

Grief and loss. Children who experience separation from their birth parents may feel an unresolved sense of grief or guilt. Even children adopted as infants will experience grief about the loss of their birth parents and a potential life with them. These feelings may recur over their lifetime, even when their adoption is a positive experience. Unresolved grief can affect a child's emotional and mental development.

Addressing Children's Developmental Gaps

If your child spent a lot of time living in an institution or was in an abusive family situation, he or she may not have been taught or shown how to communicate or regulate feelings. He or she may not have had chances to learn to play with other children, take turns, or just have fun. Developmentally and experientially, your child may be much younger than his or her chronological age, and it may be helpful to think of the child in that way. As a result, your child may need time to "catch up" to children in the same age group in some skills. If English is not your child's first language and he or she was placed after beginning to understand language, there may be additional delays and challenges.

You can help your child overcome these developmental gaps by adjusting the way you interact with your child to his or her developmental needs, rather than his or her age. Allow your child to learn at his or her own pace. Break tasks down into smaller, doable steps so that the child can feel a sense of mastery and accomplishment.

The following are some examples:

  • Teach your child new ways to interact and communicate. Use both actions and words. ("I am waiting for my turn to throw the Frisbee." "John showed his anger with words, not fists.")

 

  • Teach your child about safety, privacy, and healthy family relationships. Demonstrate appropriate behavior and explain. ("In this home we go to the bathroom one at a time," or "We do not keep secrets.")

 

  • Use simple games and activities that help your child develop and coordinate all five senses. Finger-paint in the bathtub with colored shaving cream, practice writing with foam rubber letters, play dress-up with multifabric clothing and accessories, identify toys and point out their different characteristics (red, yellow, smooth, soft, big, small). Allow your child to play with "baby toys" designed for much younger children. A child cannot catch up without experiencing earlier developmental steps.

Parenting to Build Attachment

You can also use knowledge of your child's developmental needs to help enhance your child's attachment to you. Offer yourchild the kind of attention, nurturing, and physical closeness that he or she may have missed during early months and years.

Here are some things you can do to build attachment with your preschooler:

  • Smile at your child often, make loving eye contact, and use frequent praise.
  • Increase your physical contact (hug, hold hands, let your child sit on your lap). Be careful to use "safe touch" with children who may have been sexually abused. (For more information, see the Information Gateway factsheet, Parenting a Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused.)
  • Spend as much time with your child as possible. Consider reducing your work hours or taking a leave of absence during the child's initial placement, if you are able.
  • Allow your child to go back to an earlier developmental stage, such as rocking on your lap cuddled in a blanket. Play baby games like peek-a-boo, feeding each other, and pat-a-cake.
  • Show your child how to play, how to have fun, and how to be silly.
  • Establish regular routines, guidelines, family activities, and traditions.
  • Plan future events to reassure your child that he or she will always be part of your family. Show your child where he or she will go to grade school, middle school, and high school. Talk about the future in your conversations (e.g., next Thanksgiving, next summer, on your sixth birthday).
  • Help your child grieve losses. Talk about former caregivers, and look at their photos together, if available.
  • Help your child remember his or her past.

When to Seek Help

Children learn skills (talking, walking, kicking a ball, recognizing letters) at their own pace. Don't become alarmed if your child is slightly behind others his or her age in one, two, or more areas.

However, any child, adopted or not, may have a developmental delay or disability. This is defined as a significant delay in one or more skill areas. Some delays are present at birth while others become more evident as the child grows. You should be prepared to nurture and assist your child if you discover a developmental delay. This is the role of all parents, adoptive or not. Joining a support group or parent group, particularly with other adoptive families, may help your family cope with these issues.

If you notice significant delays, loss of previous skills, or extreme behavior, contact your child's doctor. You should also report if your child has excessive reactions to touch, light, sounds, and motion. A professional can help assess your child's development and determine if serious delays exist. Often it is fairly easy to address developmental issues, and interventions may have more impact if the child is very young.

There are many things you can do if you feel that your child's birth family history or early experiences may put him or her at risk for developmental delays or disabilities:

  • Talk to your child's doctor about the possibility of a developmental delay or disability. Choose a doctor who has experience with children who have been adopted or those in placement, if possible.
  • Contact your State's postadoption resource center or adoptive parent association. See the Postadoption Services section of the Information Gateway website for more information: www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/postadoption.cfm
  • Seek support and advice from experienced adoptive parents of children similar to yours. Join an adoptive parent support group.
  • Ask for a professional assessment. Under Federal law, a young child who might have a physical, sensory, mental, or emotional disability is guaranteed the right to an assessment. If your child receives Medicaid, screening is free through the Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment (EPSDT) program. For more information see: www.hrsa.gov/epsdt/family.htm
  • Attend ongoing training on adoption and special needs.

If your child is found to have a disability, he or she might be eligible for Early Childhood Special Education. This can include speech therapy, occupational or physical therapy, and counseling. Some services can be provided at home, while others may be offered at a child development center.

As always, it is important that you maintain a positive attitude and establish a tone of loving support and encouragement by showing you are willing to meet the child where he or she is developmentally. Recent research shows that nurturing environments and loving relationships can build resilience in children.

 
Communicating About Adoption
 

Parents who project an attitude of acceptance and comfort with adoption are better able to help their children explore their own feelings and fears. With young children, how you say something is more important than what you say. Stay relaxed and matter of fact. Your tone of voice is important. Parents who grimace or tense up when the topic of adoption is raised may send the message that something is wrong with being adopted. Similarly, keeping information "secret" implies that adoption is negative, bad, or scary. This section provides strategies to help you communicate effectively with your preschooler.

Talk Openly About Adoption

Preschoolers love stories and will want to hear their own adoption story again and again. These years are a great time to practice approaching the topic comfortably and honestly. Preschoolers are limited in how much they can understand about adoption, so simple explanations will work best. Be concrete and use props such as dolls, simple drawings, and story books. Don't feel you have to cover everything at once; you and your child will have many chances to talk about adoption.

Preschoolers generally feel good about having been adopted but may still have questions. At this age, they are beginning to notice pregnant women and wonder where babies come from. The most important idea for the preschooler to grasp is that he or she was born to another set of parents and now lives with your family. (Some adopted preschoolers have thought that they were not born.) You can help your child understand this idea using clear and simple explanations. ("Babies grow in a special safe place inside their birth mothers' bodies.") Don't worry if they initially reject the explanation.

Children this age are also self-centered and concrete in their thinking. They often blame themselves for life events. Language is an important consideration whenever discussing adoption, both with your child and in responses to other people's questions when your child is present. Tell the adoption story in words that will help him or her build a positive identity, calm fears, and understand his or her personal story.

Consider the following word choices:

Instead of:

Say:

"Real" mother/father OR
"Natural" mother/father

Birth mother/father OR
First mother/father

We could not have our own baby

We could not have a baby born to us

Your birth parents were not able to take care of you.

Your birth parents had grown-up problems, so they could not take care of a child.

They gave you up for adoption.

They made a plan for you to be adopted.

 

Use a Lifebook

A "lifebook" contains the background and story of your child's life. It is a sort of personal history book, where your child can collect pictures of important people, places, and events, as well as objects and other memorabilia that have a personal meaning. Here are some tips to help you create this book with your child:

  • Start at the beginning of your child's story—with his or her birth, not with the adoption.
  • Present facts simply, in ways that the child can understand.
  • Maintain contacts with birth family members, orphanage staff, and previous caseworkers and caregivers to gather photos and memorabilia for the book.
  • If your child was adopted internationally, include visuals from his or her native country (postcards, woven fabrics, popular folk images, native cartoon characters).
  • Allow your child to decide when and with whom to share this valuable book.
  • If necessary, put aside sensitive information until the child is old enough to understand it.
  • See the Lifebooks for Children section of the Information Gateway website for more resources: www.childwelfare.gov/outofhome/resourcefam/foster/lifebooks.cfm

Support Birth Family Relationships

"Open adoption" refers to maintaining contact between the child (adoptee) and his or her birth parents or other birth relatives. Like not keeping adoption a secret, an open adoption can have great benefits for the adoptee as well as the adoptive parents and birth families. Many adoptive families choose to maintain some level of contact with their child's birth family members, although the degree of openness varies.

Families can select an arrangement that best suits their child's needs. In some adoptions, adoptive family and birth family members contact each other directly. In others, information is shared through an agency, caseworker, or lawyer. Some families choose to share only medical histories and other background information without identifying information such as last names or addresses. Families should learn more about the benefits of open adoption by working with their adoption agency and by reading and educating themselves about adoption issues.

Adoptive parents sometimes worry about relationships with the birth family. Sometimes their initial reaction to the idea of openness and contact is one of fear. (Will their child prefer the birth parent? Will the child reject the adoptive family? Can the child become confused about having two families?) Because of these fears, adoptive parents may want to refuse any contact. Adoption experts note that contact with birth family members generally has a positive effect on children. Contact with the birth family helps a child develop his or her identity, build self-esteem, and feel more—not less—attached to the adoptive family. Like all relationships, these types of relationships may feel awkward at first. Sometimes an outside adoption expert, such as a counselor or agency social worker, can help everyone define and feel comfortable with their respective roles. Early meetings may need to take place at a neutral location, or initial contact may be by letter, email, or phone.

Preschool-age children have limited understanding of their relationship to their birth parents. (One little boy said, "Susan is my birthday mother because she comes to my birthday parties.") Help your preschooler see that these other "parents" or relatives are important. Speak of them respectfully and comment on their positive qualities. Seeing that you value his or her birth relatives or previous caretakers will help your child feel better and closer to you.

Families may look quite different from one another. In today's families, it is not unusual for a child to have both a dad and a stepdad or multiple grandparents. This variety in families may make it easier for you to talk to your child about his or her birth family. It may also help your child to have separate labels for each family member (Grandpa, Pappy, Grandfather; Mommy, Birth Mother).

For internationally adopted children with no birth family member contacts, show your interest in finding as much information as you can. Help your child learn about his or her country of origin—its culture, history, language, native foods and manner or dress, and current events. Talk about the possibility of a future family trip there, if financially possible.

Help Children Cope With Adoption-Related Losses

Children adopted as preschoolers often feel sad or angry about their separation from the people they remember. These may include birth family members, foster parents, and orphanage "brothers and sisters." Some preschoolers adopted as babies show sadness when they begin to grasp the concept of adoption and the people they have lost, even if they have no conscious memory of them.

Young children, like all people, experience grief and need to mourn and work through loss. You can help them by answering their questions honestly, accepting their feelings, and helping them remember important people in their past. Learning to be comfortable with your own feelings about adoption, why you choose to adopt (e.g., infertility), or missing out on your child's earlier experiences creates a positive and significant bond with your adopted child. Acknowledge their feelings without trying to sweep them away or clear them up. You may also acknowledge your own sadness by saying something like, "I'm sad too that I didn't get to be with you when you were just a little baby, but I'm happy that your birth mother (and father) had you and that you came to live with me."

Accept sadness as a normal part of a child's coming to terms with adoption. Don't deny your child this feeling or rush him or her through it. Even children adopted as infants, with no memory of their birth parents, will experience these losses, issues, and feelings. This is a part of adoption, not only for the adoptee, but also for the birth parents and adoptive parents who grieve what might have been. Your own understanding of adoption issues will better prepare you to respond to your child's questions and feelings. However, if your preschooler seems sad or angry much of the time, seek help. Extreme behaviors or moods (control issues, withdrawal, apathy, extreme fearfulness, poor appetite, aggressiveness) may result from unresolved grief. If your child shows these behaviors, look for a therapist or counselor who specializes in young children and truly understands adoption. Ask other adoptive parents for recommendations whenever possible.

Address Adoption Fears and Fantasies

Young children who have already lost one home might be very fearful of losing another. This may lead to increased insecurity. Fears may take the form of sleeping or eating difficulties, nightmares, separation difficulties, nervousness, or increased allergies and illnesses. Here are some things you can do to build your child's physical comfort level and emotional security:

Build a safe environment.
Install nightlights, buy soft cuddly clothing, prepare favorite foods, and give your child extra attention. Whenever possible, keep important toys, clothes, and other objects from your child's past. Establishing consistent routines and rules will also help your child feel safe and secure.

Let your child know that you will always be there.
Reassure your child that your family and home are permanent. If your child was adopted past infancy, he or she may experience separation anxieties. When you leave the house, make sure to point out that your departure is temporary. Ease the child into visiting a new location or getting to know a new caregiver. Talk in advance about where he will go, what he will do, and when you will come to get him. Visit the site together if possible. Help your child select a comfort item from home to bring along or to play with together later at home. Always pick him or her up on time.

Acknowledge fantasies.
Many children fantasize about an alternate family life. Some children dream of a "real" mother who never reprimands or a father who serves ice cream for dinner. The fantasies of an adopted child may be more frequent or intense because another set of parents really exists. Accept your child's pretending or wishing without defensiveness.

Give your child permission to talk about birth family members and/or wonder about family they have not met.
You can even take the lead by saying, "I bet your birth mom thinks about you," or "I wonder if your birth dad had such clear blue eyes like yours." Teach your preschooler that it is okay to care about both adopted parents and birth parents.

Incorporate Adoption Into Family Traditions/Rituals

The preschool years are a wonderful time to start family rituals that celebrate your child's cultural heritage. They are also a good time to celebrate the role of adoption in forming your family. Birth parents and grandparents can be remembered on Mother's Day and Father's Day by special cards, prayers, or candle lightings. International adoptive families can celebrate significant events of their children's countries of origin, such as the 15th of September (Guatemalan independence) or the Chinese New Year. In addition to a birthday celebration, your family can develop a special way to acknowledge the child's "adoption day."

Be Sensitive to Daycare/Preschool Concerns

Parents often wonder whether they should talk to their child's teacher about adoption or the child's past. A good rule to follow is to share only the information needed to ease the child's adjustment and to keep your child and his or her classmates safe. Ask that adoption be included in materials and discussions. Consider donating appropriate picture books about adoption. Help teachers use positive adoption language and be aware of situations that may be hard for adopted children (for example, assignments involving bringing in baby pictures, creating family trees, or discussing family histories).

The preschool years are when children become aware of physical and cultural differences. They can also learn some basics about the different ways families are formed. Ask the school to include books, dolls, and playthings to represent cultural, ethnic, and family diversity.

 
Discipline Considerations
 

The purpose of discipline is to teach, re-teach, and assist children in developing their own internal controls. Discipline should take into account your child's abilities, learning styles, and family history. There are many resources available to help parents learn and use positive discipline. This section provides information about a few specific strategies that may be particularly useful for parents of adopted children.

Note that parents need to be especially careful with children who have been abused or neglected. Physical punishment and threats of physical punishment should not be used as forms of discipline.

Establish Routines and Rules

Young children thrive on consistency and routine. Routines and rules help children begin to organize their worlds and regulate their own emotions; they can be especially helpful for children whose worlds previously felt chaotic. Children are generally more cooperative and secure when they know what to expect.

Preschool children need just a few simple rules to promote child safety and family harmony. From the moment your child joins your family, establish the household routines that will ease everyday life. Routines for meals and bedtime are especially important. Children who were placed in institutions or who had chaotic pasts may take a while to become comfortable with family routines. Children who have been placed in several foster or relative homes will have experienced different rules and expectations in each setting. Be patient when explaining and demonstrating your rules and routines. Be cautious about varying the routines until you are sure your child is used to them and feels secure.

Use Developmentally Appropriate Rewards and Consequences

Children respond better to praise and positive rewards than to scolding or correcting. Preschoolers love being told that they have done something well. Praise reinforces positive behaviors.

Be sure to notice and praise specific behavior. For example: "You did a great job waiting your turn" is more effective than "You're a good girl." In fact, nonspecific labels such as "good girl" may backfire with adopted children who were neglected or abused. Their self-esteem may be so low that they cannot believe they are good or worthy.

As preschoolers mature, they begin to see the connection between cause and effect. With this ability, they are ready to learn through both natural and logical consequences. Natural consequences occur without parental intervention. The natural consequence of leaving a toy outside overnight might be that it gets rusty or stolen. Logical consequences are determined by the parent. For example, a logical consequence of running into the street may be to come inside for the rest of the afternoon.

When using logical consequences, it is important to be extra sensitive to a child who has experienced poverty or neglect. For such a child, the loss of a toy might seem so tragic that it interferes with the lesson to be learned. Coach, explain, and give second chances.

Natural and logical consequences work only if your child can understand the connection between actions and consequences. Adjust your discipline strategy to fit your child's abilities and developmental stage. If your child was prenatally exposed to alcohol, he or she may have extra difficulty understanding the connections between actions and consequences. Work with a knowledgeable therapist or parent coach to develop an appropriate discipline strategy.

Use Time In Instead of Time Out

Many parents and teachers of preschoolers like to use a brief period of isolation to help a child regain self-control. This is known as time out. For children who have developed a secure attachment to others, a few minutes of time out are often effective. These kids don't like to be alone, and they will improve their behavior quickly so that they can rejoin the group. If you use time out for your 3- to 5-year-old, keep it short, and remain in sight of your child.

However, the time out method is not the best approach for children who have been neglected, abused, or institutionalized. The main challenge in parenting these children is to help them form healthy attachments. In these cases, use the time in method. Time in is useful because it avoids distancing kids from parents, playmates, and the rest of the family. When your preschooler's behavior indicates out-of-control emotions, take him or her aside and say: "Time in. You need to stay right here with me until you are ready to join the group." Keep the child physically close to you until he or she is calmer. If the child is extremely agitated, you may need to sit him or her securely on your lap. This will send a message of support without the need for a temporary separation. Attending parenting classes or reading parenting books specific to adoption, attachment, or children exposed to trauma also will be helpful.

 

Summary

The preschool years are the perfect time for adoptive parents to increase their comfort with and sensitivity to adoption issues. These years also play an important part in creating a bond between parent and child based on honesty and trust. With a few adjustments, these early years can provide the foundation for healthy development and a warm and loving parent-child relationship.

Acknowledgment: This bulletin was developed by Child Welfare Information Gateway, in partnership with Claudia Hutchison, private adoption consultant and former program manager of the Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center. This document is made possible by the Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The conclusions discussed here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views or policies of the funding agency.

 

Suggested Citation: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2009). Parenting Your Adopted Preschooler.Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

 Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway.

 
 
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Parenting Your Adopted School-Age Child
 
School-age children—those between the ages of 6 and 12—are learning critical skills and gaining interests that will carry into adolescence and adulthood. Adoption can add layers of complexity to their developmental tasks. Adoptive parents can best support their children by learning as much as they can about child development and by being aware of how adoption may influence their child's emotional growth.
 
This factsheet is designed to help you understand and respond to your adopted school-age child's developmental needs. It provides simple, practical strategies you can use to foster healthy development, including approaches for building attachment, talking honestly with your child about adoption, acknowledging his or her adoptive history, using appropriate discipline, and enhancing your child's school experience. Because some adoptive families will need extra help addressing their children's mental health needs, the factsheet also discusses when and how to seek help.
 
Table of Contents
 
1 Understanding child development and the impact of adoption
2 Communicating about adoption
3 Disciplining effectively
4 Improving your child's school experience
5 Seeking help for mental health concerns
6 Summary
 
Understanding Child Development and the Impact of Adoption
 
School-aged children go through many significant developmental changes. It is important for parents to understand the typical tasks and needs of school-aged children as well as how adoption-related experiences may affect children. Knowing what to expect will help you meet your child's needs, strengthen your relationship, and identify and address important emotional or physical concerns.
 
The section below is an overview of growth and development patterns for school-age children; the sections that follow address issues related to adoption, their potential effects on child development and school experiences, and specific ways that you can help your child meet these challenges. It is important to remember that not all of these issues apply to all adopted children; personal histories and experiences vary greatly from child to child.
 

Developmental overview

Developmental changes common to 6- to 12-year-olds include:

  • Physical changes. Children in this age group develop rapidly in their physical strength, skills, and coordination. Both the large muscles (legs, arms, and body trunk) and the small muscles of the hands and fingers are developing.

 

  • Ability to process information from the senses (sensory integration). By grade school, most children are able to react appropriately to information they get from their five senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch).

 

  • Enhanced thinking and language abilities. Problem-solving skills improve and expand in this stage of development. Children ask more detailed questions and demand more thorough explanations. They create and understand increasingly complex sentences. In the later grade-school years, children start to think in abstract terms (e.g., understanding symbols and representations).

 

  • Social and emotional development. School-age children learn to describe and control their feelings. As they mature, their relationships deepen. They discover empathy—the ability to consider others' feelings and points of view.

 

  • Greater sense of self. In middle childhood, children develop an identity based on who they are in relation to their family, classmates, ethnic group, and community members. This is a major developmental task, particularly in the upper age range of this group.

 

  • Growing independence. School-age children become more independent and increase their activities and social contacts out of the home. Peer relationships become more important as they approach adolescence.
A child's history and adoptive experience can affect his or her development. When thinking about their child's progress, parents should consider factors around their child's adoption, such as its social and emotional impact; developmental delays; and effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol or other drugs, child abuse and neglect, or multiple moves.

Social and emotional impact of adoption

School-age children form a stronger sense of who they are. Much of that identity comes from their family and the relationships with the people in their lives. For adopted children, developing an identity is more complicated. They must merge two separate families and histories as they explore how they fit in. In middle childhood, children adopted as infants or toddlers often start thinking about themselves and their pasts more carefully. They begin to sort through critically important questions about who they are. Those who felt "special" and "chosen" because they were adopted may begin to realize, at least subconsciously, that someone else "unchose" them. Many struggle with issues of self-worth, self-esteem, and being different. Newly adopted children may be grieving for previous homes or caretakers. Some adopted children may have difficulty with social relationships outside the family. These emotional tasks can interfere with concentration and distract children from schoolwork.

Other social and emotional concerns that adoptive parents should be aware of are:

  • Children who did not spend enough time with emotionally healthy adults may have difficulty identifying and controlling their emotions.

 

  • Children from orphanages or group care settings may not have had many opportunities to see or practice healthy social interactions.

 

  • Children who were maltreated may not have learned how to empathize with others, may have learned to relate to others in a violent way, or may reenact trauma they have experienced.

 

  • Children who have been separated abruptly from previous caretakers or who have insecure attachment to their primary caregivers (see below) may be anxious when they are away from home.

 

What you can do:

  • Using age-appropriate language, talk with your child about his or her relationships with others.

 

  • Help your child remember the places where he or she has lived and the people who were in his or her life before coming to your home.

 

  • Speak positively about birth family members and prior caretakers.

 

  • Teach your child the words for various feelings.

 

  • Explain to your child how to handle and express emotions.

 

  • Be a positive example to your child as you express emotions. ("I feel so angry right now, I think I'll take a walk until I cool down.")

 

  • Teach your child how to interact with others. Practice how to greet a playmate, how to ask for something, how to share.

 

  • Coach your child on how to see things from another person's point of view. ("I wonder how Sammy felt when no one chose him for their team.") This helps children develop empathy.

 

  • Make sure there is plenty of family time: routines, schedules, consistency, and a safe and secure environment.

The importance of attachment

Attachment refers to the emotional connection that develops between an infant and his/her primary caregiver. This process is very important to all aspects of a child's later development. Attachment is the basis for trust, and it shapes how a child will relate to the world, learn, and form relationships throughout life.

Healthy attachment occurs when the infant experiences a primary caregiver as consistently providing emotional essentials such as touch, movement, eye contact, and smiles, in addition to the basic necessities such as food, shelter, and clothing. A healthy primary attachment teaches young children that their needs will be met. This attachment frees them to explore, play, learn, and develop relationships.

If the attachment process is disrupted, the child may not develop the secure base necessary to support future healthy development. Factors which may impair healthy attachment include: spending early years in orphanages or large group homes, multiple moves from caregiver to caregiver, invasive or painful medical procedures, sudden or traumatic separation from the mother, hospitalization at critical developmental periods, neglect, sexual or physical abuse, prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, and neurological problems.

A child with insecure attachment might show traits of young child in the "oral stage," with abnormal speech patterns and eating patterns. Children with insecure attachments may show developmental delays (see next section); however once these children are placed permanently in a family where there are stable parents and no substance abuse, they often make great strides.

If your child had inconsistent care in his or her early years, you can parent in ways that repair and develop healthy attachments. Think about the age of your child at the time he or she experienced trauma (such as being moved from one caregiver to another). In some ways, your child may be "stuck" at this stage of development. When you interact with your child according to his or her emotional and physical needs, you improve attachment. A skilled adoption counselor or professional can help you and your child strengthen your attachment to each other.

A word of caution: Avoid "attachment therapies" that use questionable techniques such as physically restraining, isolating, or placing children in residential care away from their families. Attachment runs along a continuum; most children with insecure attachments do not have the most severe form of attachment disorder, called Reactive Attachment Disorder. Beware of therapists who are quick to use that terminology or diagnosis.

What you can do:

  • Give your child the amount and type of structure, nurturing, attention, and supervision you would normally give a child several years younger.

 

  • Establish consistent one-to-one parent/child time.

 

  • Talk to and play with your child every day, even if only for a few minutes.

 

  • Make eye contact and smile before you address your child.

 

  • Offer gentle words of encouragement and praise often.

 

  • Use "time in" rather than "time out" with children who have attachment issues.

 

  • Find age-appropriate ways to have physical contact (hugs, combing hair, kneading dough together).

 

  • Place notes with kind messages in lunch boxes and leave small surprises for after school.

 

  • Engage your child in planning future events.

 

  • Speak positively about birth parents and other caregivers from the child's past.

 

  • Fuss over your child at every opportunity.

 

  • Nurture, nurture, nurture!

Developmental delays

Some adopted children may have developmental delays. A developmental delay is defined as a significant lag in one or more skill areas. Delays can be caused by genetic factors (such as Down syndrome) or environmental factors (including exposure to alcohol or other drugs during pregnancy, trauma, neglect, or insecure attachment). In some cases it is difficult to know what caused a developmental delay.

Children learn skills and develop at different rates, so don't worry if your child is slightly behind peers in one or two areas. Also, learning a second language or adjusting to a new culture may create temporary delays. While many children will catch up developmentally, others will not.

What you can do:

  • Ask your school or doctor for a professional assessment if you notice:

   Significant lags in many developmental areas

   Loss of previous skills

   Extreme behavior

   Signs of sensory difficulties, such as extreme reactions to touch, light, sounds, or motion




  • Access screening and other resources through Medicaid's Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnostic, and Treatment (EPSDT) service, if they are available to your family: www.cms.hhs.gov/MedicaidEarlyPeriodicScrn/

 

  • If an assessment reveals that your child has a disability:

   Focus on building and maintaining a strong foundation of attachment with your child (see previous section). Children with insecure attachment to primary caregivers may be cognitively younger than their actual age.

   Advocate for school personnel to work with you to develop an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) that will ensure special education services to address your child's needs.

   Learn about your child's condition. For a list of organizations that provide information about children with special needs, see: www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?subjID=3&rate_chno=11-11286

   Join a support group, in person or online, for adoptive parents or other parents of children who have your child's specific disability.

 

  • Inform your child's teacher about his or her condition. Provide specific information about how the delay or disability affects your child's ability to succeed in school. Ask the teacher to:

   Give your child more time to complete tasks

   Assign worksheets or tests with fewer problems per page

   Provide him or her with extra classroom space or a quiet location to improve concentration

 

  • Make sure your child's teacher is sensitive/informed about adoption issues.

 

  • Create a less distracting environment for homework. Provide homework assistance or tutoring if needed.

 

  • There are many resources to help teachers and parents explore additional strategies. For more information, see the Resources for Teachers section of the Information Gateway website: www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/nam/teachers.cfm

Effects of child maltreatment and trauma

Exposure to child maltreatment and trauma affect how children learn, think, feel, and interact, even after they join safe and stable adoptive homes. For example, maltreated children:

  • May exhibit speech or other developmental delays

 

  • May have experienced chaotic home conditions that lacked consistent schedules, consequences, and expectations

 

  • May not have witnessed healthy relationships, had appropriate role models, or learned how to communicate with others

 

  • May have not developed appropriate social skills or personal hygiene habits, due to a lack of consistent and appropriate parent-child interaction

 

  • May not have attended school consistently, learned study habits, or had a stable home life that supported learning

In addition, children who were sexually abused may have sexual feelings, knowledge, and questions not common to children of the same age. They may need loving guidance and redirection to learn how to deal with those memories and feelings in a socially acceptable manner. For more information, see Parenting a Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused: A Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents on the Information Gateway website: www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_abused/index.cfm

What you can do:

  • Interact with your child according to his or her developmental needs instead of the child's chronological age.
  • Teach your child acceptable patterns of interaction and communication for his or her age. Use simple explanations, examples, and practices.
  • Give your child clear information about sexuality and sexual development.
  • Teach your child about safety, privacy, and appropriate ways of showing affection.

Base Interactions on Developmental Needs, Not Age

If your child came from an institution or an abusive family situation, he or she may have missed out on some important tasks, such as learning to communicate with others and express feelings appropriately. Playing with other children, taking turns, or just having fun may be new experiences. As a result, your child may need time to catch up to children in the same age group in some skills. If English is not the child's first language, he or she may have added delays and challenges.

You can help your child overcome such lags by using parenting strategies based on your child's developmental level, not just his or her age. For example, a 7-year-old child may need the bedtime routine of a 3-year-old. A 12-year-old may need to learn appropriate social interactions in groups of two or three friends before he or she is ready to join a larger group activity. Allow your child to learn at his or her own pace. Break tasks down into small, manageable steps, so that your child will feel a sense of success and accomplishment. Let progress be guided by your child's readiness to move on to the next developmental stage.

 
Communicating About Adoption
 

Parents who feel good about adoption, are comfortable talking about it, and can openly acknowledge their child's feelings are best able to help their children do the same. Parents who tense up when the topic is raised or who keep it a secret may send the message that something is wrong with being adopted. This section presents tips for communicating about adoption and recognizing your child's history in a positive way.

 

Choose your words carefully

Talk openly and honestly with your school-age child about adoption. However, be aware of the words you use. Consider the following word choices—

 

Use:

Instead of:

Birth or first mother, father, family

Real or natural mother, father, family

We could not have a child born to us.

We could not have our own child.

They were not able to take care of a child (or any child) at that time.

Your birth parents were not able to take care of you.

Intercountry adoption

Foreign adoption

Your birth family (or the judge) made a plan for you to be adopted.

They gave you up for adoption.

In communicating with your child:

  • Think about how your words might be understood by your child. Many adoptive parents try to build their child's self-esteem by saying things that may seem positive but that can be misinterpreted. For example:

 

   "Your birth mom gave you up for adoption because she loved you so much." A child may start to wonder if the adoptive parents also will send him or her away because of their love.

 

   "You are very lucky to be adopted." Adopted children should not be expected to be grateful to have a family or to be cared for. This can lead to a self-esteem issue (i.e., Why am I less deserving of a having a family than other children?)

 

   "We chose to adopt you—you are special." Adoptees may later realize the loss that is implied by being "chosen" (they first had to be "unchosen").

 

  • Do not sugarcoat the adoption experience. Doing so denies children the support they need as they grieve their unique adoption losses. For example, talking only about how wonderful it was for your child to be adopted ignores the fact that gaining your family also means losing the experience of being raised with the birth family. All adoption involves loss.

 

  • Practice talking about adoption in an adoptive parent support group or with others in your support network, and let them give you feedback.

There are many books, articles, and online resources available to help you and your child learn more about how to communicate sensitively about adoption.

 

Handle difficult information sensitively

Adoptive parents often try to protect their children from the more painful aspects of their histories. You may wonder what to tell and what to hold back from your child. Here are some guidelines that can help you handle difficult information:

  • Decide how and when to share difficult information, not if—not telling is not an option. Your child is likely to find out eventually and has a right to his or her own history. You are the best person to give your child the facts and to help him or her understand them.

 

  • State the truth simply. Do not tell your child details that might be too complex for him or her to understand at this time. Give more information as your child develops and is able to handle more, using age appropriate language. A professional can guide you in this process.

 

  • Present the facts about your child's history or birth family without judgmental comments or criticism.

 

  • Help your child understand that the choices and mistakes birth family members made have no bearing on the child's value. Explain that the actions of that adult do not mean that they didn't care for the child.

 

  • Realize that all adoptive children "own" their birth parents. Criticism of a birth parent will at some point be reflected in how the child feels about him- or herself.
 

Use a lifebook

A "lifebook" records your child's personal history. It contains pictures, objects, news clippings, and other memorabilia that have a personal meaning. A lifebook is an excellent way to preserve information and help your child understand where he or she came from. Use the book to help your child understand more about his or her history and to continue to process losses at each developmental stage. Your child should be involved in helping to create his or her lifebook. Creating this book together is a good way for you to build attachment with your child and demonstrate that you value your child's important relationships from his or her past.

Here are some tips to help you and your child create a lifebook:

  • Start at the beginning of your child's story—with his or her birth, not with the adoption. (Some adopted children have thought they were never born.)

 

  • Gather and preserve as much information as you can about your child's birth circumstances and birth family, origins, and history.

 

  • If you don't have specific information about the birth family, you can still provide information about your child's birth country, State, city, and/or neighborhood. Do not make up details you do not have.

 

  • Present facts simply, in ways that the child can understand.

 

  • Ask birth family members, former caregivers, orphanage staff, and previous caseworkers to gather photos and memorabilia for the book. You can ask the placing agency to help you make contacts.

 

  • If your child was adopted in another country, include visuals from his or her native country, such as postcards, woven fabrics, popular folk images, native cartoon characters.

 

  • Make copies of all pictures and protect the pages of the life story book.

 

  • Allow your child to be involved in creating the book and deciding when and with whom to share it.

 

  • Update the book together regularly.

Honor people in your child's past

Find ways to acknowledge and show respect for your child's birth parents and birth family members:

  • Take the initiative by talking about birth families and prior caregivers: "I bet your birth mother is thinking about you today," or "I wonder if you miss the people who took care of you before you came here."

 

  • Speak kindly of people in your child's past. Children identify with their birth parents even if they have no contact with them or memory of them. As your child matures, he or she can understand more about his or her birth parents' weaknesses—the child will not need you to point these out.

 

  • Resist the temptation to make up information or put a better spin on your child's history. Highlight the positive without denying reality.

 

  • Offer an alternate viewpoint if your child criticizes his or her birth parents ("Your mom was a victim herself" or "Your dad was too young to make good judgments"). Your child's attachment to you is strengthened by your show of respect for the family he or she came from.

In an open adoption, there is some level of contact with birth family members or with previous foster parents or caregivers. Contact can vary, from exchanging letters and photos through a third party (often an agency), to face-to-face visits. Contact with the birth family or others from the past helps the adopted child understand his or her history. It promotes identity development, self-esteem, and attachment to the adoptive family. As with any extended family relationship, there may be inconveniences and challenges. Handle these with sensitivity and respect. Seeing that you value his or her birth relatives or previous caretakers will help your child feel better about him- or herself and closer to you.

For children with no birth family contacts, you can:

  • Show your interest in finding as much information about your child's past as you can.

 

  • For transracial or transcultural adoptions, help your child learn about his or her race or birth country—its culture, history, language, and current events. Attend adoption or culture camps, participate in events in your child's community of origin, and/or build relationships with adults from your child's racial or ethnic background.

 

  • For intercountry adoptions, learn with your child about the food, history, and traditional dress of his or her country of origin. Find activities you can do together, such as making a flag from that country. If possible, plan a future family trip to the child's homeland. Many placing agencies and adoption organizations arrange homeland trips.

Incorporate adoption into family rituals

School-age children who have been adopted enjoy special family rituals to honor and remember their past and celebrate adoption. Creating your own adoption rituals can be a shared family activity. Here are some ideas:

  • Adoptive families can honor birth parents and grandparents on Mother's Day and Father's Day with special prayers, cards, or candle-lighting ceremonies.
  • Adoption anniversaries can be acknowledged with special meals or events.

 

  • Holidays and significant events of a child's birthplace can be celebrated (for example, the date your child's country of origin recognizes its own independence day, thanksgiving, or the new year).

 

Help your child cope with loss and trauma

You may need to help your child cope with adoption-related grief and loss or past trauma. Here are some ways you can promote communication and acknowledge your child's feelings:

  • Address the issue early. Do not wait for your child to bring up the subject of adoption, express sadness about his or her family history, or start missing birth family members. Even if your child never mentions his or her birth parents, most adopted 6- to 12-year-olds have frequent thoughts about them. If you are open and matter-of-fact about the subject, it will help your child feel more comfortable, too.

 

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings. They are a normal part of coming to terms with adoption. Tell your child that it is natural for adopted children to think about their birth families and to feel sadness about the loss of family members or unknown family histories.

 

  • Resist the urge to rush in and cheer up a grieving child. You cannot take away the losses of adoption. Just as children need the chance to learn and develop in their own ways, they need to work through grief and loss issues. You can help your child by being supportive. ("You seem sad. I wonder if you are thinking about your birth [or other] family.") Efforts to lessen their pain, on the other hand, can make children question the value of their feelings and reduce their confidence in their abilities to cope.

 

  • Interact with your child according to his or her emotional needs, not the child's age. Help your child express sadness in the manner that best fits his or her stage of emotional development. A school-aged child may need to sob like a toddler and to be held and comforted like one.

It's also important to remember that not all issues and emotions will be related to adoption. Some will arise from your child's unique personality or developmental challenges.

Address adoption-related fears and fantasies

Children who have experienced the loss of a least one family or home may be fearful of losing another. Fears may take the form of sleeping or eating difficulties, nightmares, separation difficulties, nervousness, and even increased allergies and illnesses. To lessen fears:

  • Reassure your child that you intend to be his or her parent forever. Demonstrate this in both words and actions.

 

  • Engage the child in planning future family events (e.g., "Next Thanksgiving, would you like to…?").

 

  • Purchase a photo album with spaces designated for school photos and memorabilia all the way through high school.

All children fantasize about an alternate family life—a "real" mother who never reprimands, a father who is a famous person. Sometimes adopted school-age children use fantasy to attempt to undo their losses. They may imagine their birth parent returning for them, or the adoption agency calling to report that they mistakenly placed the wrong child. To address fantasies:

  • Encourage your child to talk about fantasies and express his or her feelings about adoption.

 

  • Reassure your child that it is normal for adopted children to imagine what their lives might have been like had they not been adopted. Point out that everyone, adopted or not, does this occasionally. ("I wonder what would have happened if I had … [gone to a different college, taken another job, been born into another family].")
Disciplining Effectively
 

The purpose of discipline is to teach children acceptable behavior and how to develop their own internal controls. Discipline should take into account your child's abilities, learning styles, and family history. Many resources are available for helping parents learn and use positive discipline. This section offers a few strategies that may be particularly useful for parents of adopted children.

 

Establish routines and rules

Consistent routines and rules are important for school-age children. They help children learn what to expect, which helps them to feel more secure and confident. Be patient when teaching family rules and routines to your adopted child. Children who were neglected, who had frequent changes in caretakers, or who lived in group settings may need extra time to understand healthy family structure and consistency. They may have to unlearn past patterns as they learn new ones.

Consider your child's skills and previous experiences when you set rules or decide if a particular activity is allowed. A neglected child often needs more parental supervision than other children of the same age. You may need to protect and supervise as you would a younger child.

 

Use rewards and consequences

Make every effort to recognize and reward good behavior. Praise can go a long way in encouraging your child's positive behavior. Be sure to praise specific behavior ("Great job cleaning your room," "I appreciate how nicely you shared with your little sister!") rather than say something general ("You're a good girl").

Also help your child understand the consequences of his or her negative behavior. Imposing a consequence or taking away a privilege (not going to the playground or less time for video games) is more effective in teaching better behavior when the child can see a logical connection to his or her actions. If, for example, your child rides his bicycle on a busy street where he has been told not to ride, then a fitting consequence might be no after-school bike riding for the next 3 days.

Neglected children and children with learning delays or prenatal substance abuse effects may need help understanding cause and effect. In some cases, children suffering from prenatal effects may never be able to make a connection between behavior and rewards or consequences.

 

Consider time in rather than time out

Many parents like to use time out—placing a child in a safe place to think things over or cool down alone. This time out method, however, is not always appropriate for children who have been maltreated, who have attachment issues, or who were raised in orphanages. The first goal in parenting these children is to help them form healthy attachments. In these cases, it is better to have the child remain close to you until he or she regains enough control to return to the previous activity (time in). This is useful because it avoids isolating children from their parents, playmates, and the rest of the family.

Forming Strong Attachments

Parents must concentrate first on forming a positive relationship with their children before focusing on discipline. While some discipline will be needed from the beginning, these efforts will be more effective after a strong attachment is established between you and your child. Likewise, children with serious attachment problems may not respond to discipline in the same way as children who have a healthy, secure attachment with their parents. Children who have been abused should not be subjected to corporal punishment; other methods should be used. For more information on attachment and attachment issues, see the following sections of the Information Gateway website:

 

 

 

Improving Your Child's School Experience
 

Being adopted can affect your child's school experience. Peers may pose innocent questions that cause hurt feelings, or they may tease an adopted child about being adopted. Some classroom assignments may create tension, self-consciousness, or sadness. Children with learning disabilities may struggle to complete assignments, while children with emotional or behavioral problems may find it challenging to succeed socially or academically in school.

While you cannot protect your child from all of these possibilities, you can take a proactive approach to ensure that adoption is taught and respected as a valid way to create a family. Following are some actions you can take to improve your child's school experience.

Note: This section focuses specifically on adoption and school. Other delays and disabilities that may affect adopted children are not covered here, although they may also affect your child's school experience. These might include sensory integration difficulties, lack of trust, difficulty with transitions, and issues with self-esteem. For more information on other issues that may affect children who have been abused or neglected, see the following areas of the Information Gateway website:

 

 

Another resource you may find helpful: 7 Core Issues in Adoption (Kaplan-Rozia and Silverstein):
www.adoptionsupport.org/res/7core.php

 

Talk to teachers about adoption

Raise the topic of adoption at school:

  • Ask your child's teacher(s) to include adoption in lessons on family diversity and nontraditional families.

 

  • Offer to make a presentation about adoption to the school staff or to your child's class (but only with your child's input and approval).

 

  • Encourage school personnel to use positive adoption language. (See "Choose Your Words Carefully" on page 7.)

 

  • Donate books and materials about adoption to the school library.

In deciding how much information to share with school personnel about your child's history, follow the "need to know" rule. Share only the information needed to ease your child's adjustment and ensure his or her needs are met.

 

Advocate for adoption-sensitive and -inclusive assignments

Common grade-school assignments about families can raise concerns for adopted children as well as for other children in the class who lack access to family history or early family photos. Family tree or family history assignments are challenging to children who may feel they must choose between birth and adoptive families. Assignments about life histories can leave adoptive children feeling left out, as they may not have access to the information or photos requested. Ask your child's teacher to make simple adjustments to these assignments that will offer other ways for children to complete a project without changing the goals and objectives of the curriculum, such as:

  • Instead of asking children to bring in a baby photo, ask them to bring in a photo of themselves when they were younger or to draw what they liked to do when they were younger.

 

  • Instead of requiring children to draw a traditional family tree with all family members, provide an option to show roots and branches, allow children to create two or more trees, or replace the tree with a more flexible structure altogether (such as houses and rooms) for those who know little about their "roots" or birth family history.

In any case, request that the teacher discuss with the whole class any options for children who are adopted or who have other family structures.

 

Prepare your child to handle adoption questions or comments

Help your child decide how to talk about adoption with classmates and others:

  • Ask your child to think in advance about how he or she wants to respond to questions about adoption.

 

  • Offer "What if … ?" scenarios and practice responses with your child.

 

  • Teach your child that that it is up to him or her to decide how much personal information to share.

 

  • Help your child understand the possible results of what he or she tells others.

 

  • Coach your child in using phrases such as "That's private," or "I don't want to talk about that."

 

  • Work with your child to master some general statements about adoption that can be used to educate peers.
 
Seeking Help for Mental Health Concerns
 

Adoptive families, like other families, sometimes need help to address mental health concerns. Sadness, anger, and behavior challenges are normal as children in grade school learn more about their family histories and come to terms with adoption. Some children may need a professional to help them grieve and move on. This need for extra assistance may occur even in children who previously adjusted well, as they grapple with developmentally appropriate issues such as identity formation. Do not allow difficulties with peers to go unaddressed. A child with poor interpersonal skills may be picked on or excluded, leading to more social and emotional problems down the road.

 

Signs and symptoms

It is a good idea to seek professional help if your child or other family members show any of the following signs:

  • Extreme emotions and behaviors. The child:

 

   Is sad, angry, or depressed much of the time

 

   Shows rapid changes in behaviors or moods

 

   Is withdrawn, apathetic, extremely fearful, or has a poor appetite

 

   Is prone to screaming or other aggressive behaviors

 

   Starts to challenge authority at school

 

  • A difficult family relationship. The child or other family members:

 

   Interact poorly and are stressful or angry

 

   Avoid each other while at home

 

   Feel unsafe while at home

 

   Threaten to run away

 

  • Difficult peer relationships. The child:

 

   Shows extreme anger or aggression with peers

 

   Has no friends (is a "loner")

 

   Is bullied at school

 

   Starts avoiding social activities and school events

  • Substance abuse. The child:

 

   Shows sudden and unexplained changes in physical appearance (red or watery eyes, change in weight)

 

   Experiences unexplained physical symptoms (changes in appetite, vomiting, tremors)

 

   Has unexplained changes in behavior, mood, attitude, or personality traits

 

   Loses interest in hobbies or friends he or she once enjoyed

 

   Shows unexplained changes in school performance

Finding the person who can help

Postadoption programs, adoption support groups, and other adoptive parents are good sources of information about adoption-competent mental health professionals. Look for a therapist or counselor who:

  • Has experience working with children and families

 

  • Knows about adoption

 

  • Includes the entire family in at least some of the therapy sessions

 

  • Makes clear to the child that he or she is not the problem

Find more information and resources about connecting with adoption-competent providers on the Information Gateway website:
www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/postadoption/families/counseling.cfm

 

Summary

Parenting an adopted child during the elementary school years, as he or she ventures further into the outside world, is both challenging and enriching. Chances are that you will learn as much from your child as he or she will learn from you. With sensitivity to adoption issues, honest communication, and effective discipline, parents can support their child's healthy development during these exciting years.

 
 
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Parenting Your Adopted Teenager
 
During the teenage years, youth form an identity that is separate from their parents. They also learn and practice adult life skills. Adoption adds complexity to the normal developmental tasks of teenagers, even for those who were adopted as newborns. Adopted teens have varying degrees of knowledge about and contact with birth family members. These factors, as well as their perception and understanding of their adoptive history, influence their development and experiences. Adoptive parents can best help their teens by understanding these issues and being aware of how adoption and related experiences might affect their youth.
 
This factsheet is designed to help you, the adoptive parent, understand your adopted teenager's needs, so you can respond with practical strategies that foster healthy development. It presents tips for talking about adoption with your teenager and for helping your teenager talk about adoption with his or her peers. It also offers strategies for providing your teen with guidance, appropriate discipline, and opportunities to master adult tasks as he or she takes on greater independence. Finally, because some adoptive families will need additional help addressing their adolescent's mental health needs, the factsheet discusses when and how to seek that help.
 
Table of Contents
 
1 Understanding teenage development and the impact of adoption
2 Communicating with your teenager about adoption
3 Helping your teenager communicate with others about adoption
4 Disciplining effectively
5 Preparing your teenager for adulthood
6 Seeking help for mental health concerns
7 Summary
 
Understanding Teenage Development and the Impact of Adoption
 

Thirteen- to nineteen-year-olds experience rapid physical and hormonal growth. In later grade school years, girls may develop breasts and get their periods; boys may grow facial hair and have their voices deepen. By the mid-teen years many adolescents look like young adults. Do not let their physical stature and sexual development fool you! Teenagers are still primarily children.  They need continued parental supervision, emotional support, guidance, and interaction with caring, grounded adults. 

Adolescence is a time of significant brain development.  In addition, the social and emotional development of a teenager occurs in three critical areas--identity formation, independence, and intimacy-all of which are affected by adoption.   

Brain development

Because 95 percent of the brain is formed by age 5 or 6, experts once believed that brain development peaked in early childhood. We now know that significant brain growth occurs during the teen years.

In particular, teenagers experience rapid growth and change in the section of the brain that governs their abilities to:

  • Reason
  • Control impulses
  • Regulate moods
  • Empathize with others
  • Limit inappropriate behavior
  • Set priorities
  • Make sound judgments

This development is not complete until the mid-20s. The frontal lobe of the brain, which is involved in higher thought—critical thinking, math, philosophy—also develops at this age. Teen brains are less efficient at cause-and-effect thinking; teens need guidance from adults and to be allowed to learn from mistakes.

To become more efficient, the brain goes through a "use it or lose it" process. Put simply, the brain builds strength in the areas where teens focus their energy and may lose capacity in other areas. As explained in the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy's The Adolescent Brain: A Work in Progress: "If a teen is doing music, sports, or academics, those are the connections that will be hard-wired. If they're lying on the couch or playing video games, those are the cells and connections that are going to survive."1

While adoption itself may not significantly affect brain development, early life experiences do. Prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, early childhood neglect, or trauma can damage the brain or influence the way it develops.

What you can do:

  • Expose your teenager to healthy academic, social, and cultural activities. Set reasonable limits on isolated or passive activities. Teens adopted from neglectful situations, in particular, need more time interacting with others in person and less time in front of a TV or computer screen. All recently adopted children need to spend a lot of quality time with parents to build their attachment and security in the family. Parents can foster attachment and set a good example for their teens by participating with them in social and community activities.

 

  • Ask for a learning disability assessment if your child struggles in school. Even teens who do not qualify for special educational services can be assisted by simple changes in the classroom. Work with teachers, counselors, and, most importantly, your son or daughter to discover helpful strategies.

Identity formation

All teenagers struggle with the questions, "Who am I?" and "Where do I belong?" They must define their own values, beliefs, career and educational paths, and expectations of self. They must figure out how they are similar to, and different from, their parents, other family members, and their community. They develop a sense of themselves that is separate from and independent of their parents. Younger teens start to define a sense of self by "trying on" various roles. They start to identify more with peers and less with family. They often express their individuality through clothing, hair, music, and body décor (piercings, tattoos, etc.). They must be allowed some leeway to express how they are "different" from their parents.

Adopted teens may question who they are more deeply than nonadopted peers, as the questions they face are more complex. Although both biology and environment shape all of us, forming an identity is complicated for adopted teens because they have two sets of parents/families. They must consider birth family members as they figure out who they are like and who they are different from. Adopted teens may feel that parts of their identity are missing. Unknown or missing information may prevent them from knowing where certain characteristics, abilities, or talents come from. They may worry that they will take on undesirable characteristics or repeat behaviors, tendencies, or mistakes of a birth parent. Teens whose race or ethnic background is unknown (completely or to some degree) or whose race or ethnicity is different from their adoptive parents may feel that they do not fully belong in their family or community. They may have a strong interest in meeting or spending time with birth family members or others of a similar race or ethnic background.

What you can do:

  • Give your teenager the facts about how and why they were placed for adoption. Help them find missing information. As their logical thinking skills and abilities develop, adopted teenagers need more details. If information cannot be found, explore with them what might have occurred. (For example: If your child was adopted internationally, what was the situation in their country of origin at the time of their birth? Could a single mother have provided for a baby at that time in that place?) See the section on creating a lifebook on page 8.

 

  • Give them all the information you have about their birth parents. Help them learn more if they do not have an open relationship with birth family members. Include information about their birth family''s cultural, racial, and religious backgrounds. Adopted teens long to know all they can about their birth parents and other birth family members. Teens in transracial or transcultural adoptions especially need this kind of information as they work to form their identities. Share photos if available. All adopted persons share normal curiosity about whether they look like someone in their family, be it their birth parent, grandparents, siblings, etc.

 

  • Help your teenager develop a balanced view of his or her birth parents. Limited or one-sided information (such as early pregnancy or lack of ability to parent) does not allow teens to consider all of their parents' experiences and characteristics in developing their own identities. Talk about birth parents as complex people with both strengths and faults.

 

  • Avoid agreeing or participating when your teen criticizes the birth parent. Because their critical thinking skills are still developing, teenagers can be extremely judgmental of others. Adopted teens may be angry at birth parents without yet having developed empathy regarding their difficult situations. Parents can help by offering a balanced perspective. Remember that all adoptees "own" their birth parents to some degree and will internalize criticism of the birth parent.

 

  • Provide contacts with other adopted teens and young adults. This normalizes the adoptive experience. Look for an adoption support group or mentorship program that includes members with the same racial, cultural, or national background as your son or daughter. Adopted teens find peer support especially helpful in forming their own identities.

 

  • Point out the similarities between yourself and your adopted children. Feeling that they are like their adoptive parents in some ways helps strengthen teens' attachment to their families. A strong attachment helps them to feel safe as they enter the adult world.

Independence

All teenagers must separate emotionally from their families. They go back and forth between wanting more freedom and wanting the protection of family. Younger teens start separating without leaving home (e.g., spending more time alone in a bedroom). Teens may seem embarrassed by or not want to be seen with their parents ("Please drop me off at the corner, Mom!").

Adopted teens, especially those adopted as older children, may fear leaving the security of the home and family. Some may adapt by acting more mature, more independent, or "tougher" than they feel to cope with fears and intimacy issues. Again, this is not unlike typical adolescent behavior but may be more evident in adopted teens. Adopted children who experienced previous neglect or abuse often need extra time and practice to learn life skills. Newly adopted adolescents face the task of establishing themselves into the family at a time when normal development would have them pushing away from family.

What you can do:

  • Decrease parental control very gradually as your teenager shows signs of readiness. Remember that teens who were adopted from neglectful situations, who have been exposed to trauma, or who have attachment issues may not be ready for the responsibilities at the same time as other teens their age. Recently adopted teens need to spend a lot of quality time with parents to build their attachment and security in the family.

 

  • Give your teen a voice in decisions. If developmentally appropriate, ask your child if he or she feels ready for particular responsibilities and privileges. This is especially important for teens who came from situations where they felt powerless. Teenagers who feel heard and respected are more likely to cooperate with family rules.

Intimacy

Most teenagers deepen their friendships with peers and start to explore romantic relationships. Younger teens think about their ability to attract other youth but do not usually engage in romantic relationships. Mid-teens date and pair up, but usually these relationships are short term. Older teens start to move beyond mere physical attraction to form more intimate emotional relationships. Those who are also struggling with questions of sexual orientation may experience additional difficulties.

Adopted teens may think a lot about their birth parents as they begin to explore romantic relationships, although some of this may be at a subconscious level. While some adopted teens may have a relationship with their birth family, many lack information about birth parents, which can complicate the identity formation process. For example, if all they know about a birth parent is that she was sexually active, faced early pregnancy, or drank, then they may become sexually active or drink (or engage in other risky behavior) as a way to identify with the birth parent. If their past relationships were inconsistent or abusive, some adolescents (whether adopted or not) will have difficulty trusting others. Some will use sexual activity to ease painful memories or to fill feelings of emptiness. Adolescents who have been sexually abused may engage in sexual activity as a means to feel mastery and control over their bodies, or they may be somewhat more likely to become victims of additional sexual abuse. Many adopted teens may date outside their race due to deep-seated fears that dating within their own race could result in them becoming involved with a biological sibling or relative. (This, too, may be subconscious.)

What you can do:

  • Talk openly about sexuality with your teenager. Communicate your values on dating, sex, and relationships. Educate youth about abstinence, safe sex, and birth control.

 

  • Express compassion for your teenager's birth parents' situation. Tell your children that they can make choices for themselves and that they do not have to follow the same path as their birth parents, while continuing to provide as much positive information as possible about the birth family's history.

 

  • Clearly state your values regarding alcohol, drugs, and other risky behaviors. If your teen came from a birth family where alcoholism or substance abuse was a problem, explain that he or she may be genetically at greater risk for addictions. A teen who previously lived in a substance-abusing home may need extra education and guidance in this area.

 

  • All teens do better in homes with consistent, clear boundaries and expectations, flexible and compassionate parenting, and a nurturing and guiding atmosphere that allows them to incrementally develop and work through their normal adolescent developmental stages.

1 D. Wienberger, B. Elevag, and J. Giedd. (2005). The adolescent brain: A work in progress. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Available: www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/BRAIN.pdf Back

Communicating With Your Teenager About Adoption

Adopted teenagers wonder about their birth families and think about adoption more than most parents realize. They need parents who are comfortable talking about adoption, who aren't threatened or hurt by the discussion, and who can help answer their questions and discover information about their pasts.

Children are best served by parents who talk about adoption from the youngest ages with openness and in a matter-of-fact way. Teens should not be "surprised" with new information about their adoption. Keeping secrets generally implies something is wrong and often has more to do with the adoptive parents' own losses, fears, and comfort than with the child's needs. Do not wait for your teen to raise the topics of adoption and their birth family. Let your child know that it is okay to talk with you about adoption issues, and make sure that it is. Some children never raise the subject, for fear of offending their adoptive parents. Others act disinterested, when in reality they yearn for more information or for a safe place to express their feelings about adoption.

Learn about the seven core issues in adoption for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents on the Center for Adoption Support and Education website:
www.adoptionsupport.org/res/7core.php

 

Use teachable moments

Find appropriate times and ways to talk about adoption. Rather than trying to force adoption discussions, parents of teens may have more success by using "teachable moments." Look for events that naturally lend themselves to the topic of adoption. The arrival of a newborn in the neighborhood can lead to discussions of pregnancy, birth, and adoption. Mother's Day or Father's Day are logical times to offer help in researching additional information about birth family members and roots, if little is known. Take advantage of an international news special to talk about your child's homeland. Articles about foster care can spur discussions of child protective services and your child's experience, if relevant.

With teenagers, less is more. Avoid lengthy one-sided lectures. Instead, offer short, non-judgmental, open-ended statements that invite conversation. For example: "I can imagine a boy your age might be curious about his birth father"; "I wonder if you think about your birth mother when you see China in the news"; or "It must be hard sometimes to have parents of a different race."

Provide opportunities for your adopted teen to talk to others about adoption without you around. An adoptive teen group (meeting in person or online), other adoptive families with teens, or an adoption mentor (an older adopted person) can provide a safe outlet for expressing confusion, anger, or sadness.

 

Provide full disclosure

Teenagers need more detailed information about their past than they could understand at younger ages. This information should now include all that you know or can discover about their genetic histories and their birth and adoption circumstances—including information that may be upsetting or difficult to share.

Adoptive parents often struggle with sharing negative information about their child's birth circumstances, such as if the child was abandoned or if the birth parent had a criminal history. When their adoptive parents are not straightforward in sharing full information, however, teenagers often imagine something even worse than what really happened. Youth placed at older ages may have inaccurate memories of the experience. Further, some teens may become resentful if the truth is revealed later. Withholding information that they have a right to know can be harmful to building a trusting relationship with your teen.

As teenagers develop, they increase their ability to understand and consider situations from many viewpoints. This is an ideal time for adoptive parents to help their sons and daughters make sense of their histories, to come to terms with what happened, and to think of their birth families with compassion.

A Note About Case Records

Experts advise adoptive parents to question case records and to learn more fully what the words used might indicate. For example, in intercountry adoption, "abandoning" a baby by leaving him or her at an orphanage or in a public place might be the only way to ensure the baby will survive and be cared for. A birth mother may say she doesn't know who the birth father is rather than reveal his identity. Help your teen think about what the case records may actually mean. Often the information that social workers are legally required to collect is not as important to adoptees as birth parents' hobbies, interests, skills, and other descriptive information.

If your child was adopted from the foster care system, case records may be incomplete; they may be dominated by negative information such as criminal records, or some information may not have been known or even asked about. Offer to support your teen in searching for more information or connecting with people from his or her past who might be able to help, either now or in the future.

Develop a lifebook

Information about our origins and histories contributes to the development of our identities and our understanding of how we are influenced by our pasts. Some sort of permanent document can help us remember our life journeys. For adopted persons, such a document should include information about the time before they were adopted, photos and reminders of birth family members, and information about their genetic and cultural roots.

If your teenage son or daughter does not have a lifebook or similar tool that records personal history, now is the time to help create one. Adopted teens have created photo-essays, videos, and blogs or Facebook pages to tell and preserve their stories. Adoptive parents can help by teaching teens about Internet safety, making backup copies of all documents and photos, and keeping these valuable records in a safe place.

Offer to help your teen find people from his or her past who might provide photos, information, and even alternate viewpoints about the family's circumstances and the need for adoption. You may need to do a bit of detective work, especially if the adoption occurred years ago. If your child was adopted from another country, help research the economic, political, and social situation at that place and time to shed light on possible birth and adoption situations. Your teen might want to interview a representative from the placing agency or orphanage to gather more information.

If your teen is not interested in gathering this information, keep the door open. Remind your teen that you are available to help whenever he or she is ready. You might even proceed on your own. The longer from the adoption date you wait, the more difficult it is to make contacts with people who can provide information. Preserve the information, photos, and memorabilia until your son or daughter is ready for it. For some adopted persons, this interest or curiosity does not arise until they become parents themselves. Then, they truly appreciate their parents' efforts to preserve their histories.

Prepare for search and/or reunion

We all have a need to know who we are and where we come from. Many adopted adults want to know of and make contact with birth family members or others who share their ethnicity, race, or country of origin. An adoptive child's adolescence is a good time for parents to prepare themselves emotionally for future searches for birth family members and possible reunions.

Remember that "search" and "reunion" do not have to go together. Many adopted persons want only to search for the identities of birth relatives. Not all want to take the next step of contacting and meeting those family members. Many need time to think and process information before taking that next step. The interest in doing so may be episodic, with more interest around birthdays or holidays, other significant dates, or special life milestones such as graduations or marriages.

When searching, teens must be prepared for a range of reactions if there has not been ongoing contact with the birth family. As the adoptive parent, you can assist by preparing your child and ensuring that any contact is appropriate. Often it is a matter of clear role definition for all parties. Professional social workers or therapists who know about adoption may be able to provide assistance.

Adoptive parent support groups and parent mentors can be helpful resources during this process. A professional counselor or therapist who knows about adoption issues can help you identify and address your feelings, fears, and grief, so that you can maintain an open and honest relationship with your child. Adopted persons may be terrified of hurting their parents when they search for their birth family. Your unconditional love and support will be very important if and when your son or daughter is ready to take this step.

Start preparing now by gathering information about how an adoption search is conducted in the State where your child's adoption occurred. Private placing agencies may have their own resources and methods for assisting adopted persons in locating birth family. Professional search groups, registries, and the Internet can be helpful. International adoption agencies can help with communications and search services in other countries. Many State agencies maintain postadoption services, an adoption registry, or offer a confidential intermediary (someone who acts as a go-between) to help adopted persons, birth parents, and siblings who want information or to locate each other. The age requirement to participate in these services is usually 18 or 21.

For more information, visit the Search and Reunion section of the Child Welfare Information Gateway website: www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/search

Helping Your Teenager Communicate with Others About Adoption

Being adopted can affect peer interactions. Teens are capable of more sophisticated understanding and discussions about adoption, but they can be quite narrow in their judgments. It is common for teens to believe that "giving up" a baby for adoption is wrong, for example. Similarly, people who have no personal experience with adoption can at times make unintentionally hurtful comments. A teen whose adoptive status is obvious due to being of a different race or ethnicity from his or her family may encounter innocent questions or even judgmental comments from peers.

Adoption issues may also arise in the context of school, where the majority of many teens' peer relationships occur. Parents have less involvement in their children's schools in the later grades than they did early on. It becomes the responsibility of the teens to decide if they want to bring up the subject of adoption in their classes. They may even ask their teachers to include adoption in the academic curriculum (for example, in biology, genetics, or family life classes). The parents' role is to raise the topic and ask if their teens want coaching on how to advocate for themselves with school personnel.

What you can do:

  • Help prepare your teen for these issues to arise. If your son or daughter is newly adopted, classmates will want to know about those circumstances. Help teens anticipate potential questions and practice how they could respond.

 

  • Help your teen understand that personal family information does not have to be shared with schoolmates. He or she should decide in advance what and how much to tell. Having a prepared "cover story" (a version of his or her story that is true but very limited in detail, to use when your teen does not choose to share more personal information) is not dishonest; it is learning to set healthy boundaries about how much and with whom to share. For example, "My first parents couldn't take care of me, so now I live with my new parents."

 

  • Help your child avoid being a "spokesperson" for adoption, unless he or she wants and is prepared for that role. Some adopted students have taken great pride in researching many aspects of adoption, writing in-depth papers, or making class presentations. Your teen should feel free to say, "I don't know about that" or "I'm not an adoption expert," when asked general questions about adoption.

 

  • You may find additional ideas and support by participating in an adoptive parent group—particularly one for parents of teens. Find an adoption support group near you by searching the National Foster Care and Adoption Directory: www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad
Disciplining Effectively

As teenagers assert their emerging identities and independence, while also navigating peer pressures, they frequently will test the boundaries of family rules. Be clear and consistent about your expectations and set reasonable limits (e.g., curfews). At the same time, allow your teenager to make choices and to see the natural consequences of his or her actions. Seek out additional resources on positive discipline approaches for teenagers, if needed.

For discipline to be effective with adopted teens, these requirements should be met:

  • Focus on attachment and relationship building first, especially for children who have been maltreated or were recently adopted. Parents should work hard to create avenues of open communication that build a strong relationship and attachment with their teens.

 

  • Discipline should respect the youth's previous experiences. Some parents use removal of privileges as a consequence for a misbehavior or for poor grades. Adopted teenagers who experienced previous neglect and deprivation, however, may not respond well to the removal of privileges or possessions. Similarly, for children who have been neglected or who have some degree of attachment issues, requiring a teen to spend some quiet time near you at home may be a better option than isolating the youth in his or her room. If your child struggles with peer relationships or low self-esteem, do not remove an activity (such as a youth group or sport) that provides an opportunity for growth in these areas.

 

  • Discipline should match the teen's abilities. Use of logical consequences is a fine way to encourage good behaviors and discourage undesirable ones. (For example, "If you drive irresponsibly, you will lose your driving privileges.") But this technique will work only if the teen can understand the relationship between the behavior and the consequence. If a teen cannot clearly see the connection between actions and consequences, then this approach is not a good match for his or her abilities.

As you explore various discipline techniques, ask yourself if they are appropriate for your child and fit with his or her developmental level. Don't hesitate to ask your child for help! (For example: "What can we do to help you remember to clean up the kitchen after you have used it?") Being invited into the problem-solving process shows your respect for your teen's abilities and motivates him or her to be part of the solution. As with all parenting, flexibility and a sense of humor go a very long way in helping both you and your teen navigate the adolescent years!

Preparing Your Teenager for Adulthood

An important part of parenting teenagers is creating the conditions in which they can master adult tasks and take on greater independence.

 

Mastering adult tasks

Teenagers need time to gradually learn and practice adult life skills, such as finding a job, managing finances, doing laundry, preparing meals, driving a car, and arranging medical appointments. Some adopted teens need extra time, attention, and encouragement to learn adult tasks. They may not be ready for adult responsibilities at the same age as their peers. Help your child learn to be comfortable with his or her own situation and abilities.

Teens who experienced unstable living situations may not be ready to live away from their families until well past the teen years, even if they are developmentally able. Some may choose to live at home and attend a local community college rather than go to a university where they would need to live on campus. Some adopted teens have even experienced sudden drops in their grades as graduation approached, due to fears about having to leave home before they feel ready.

Teens with learning delays or disabilities will require extra time and effort to learn adult life skills. They may need to experiment with alternatives and adjustments for skills—such as driving—that are not within their reach.

What you can do:

  • Teach and re-teach your teens adult life skills (balancing a checkbook, paying off a credit card balance, cooking, laundry, car maintenance, making doctor appointments, etc.). Provide abundant opportunities for supervised practice.

 

  • If you adopted your child as a teen, check to see if they are eligible for any of the State's Independent Living services.

 

  • Check with your teen's school about any transition services the district may provide.

 

  • Explore substitutes or assistance for skills that are not manageable. Your family is the best judge of when your teenager is ready to partially or fully manage adult tasks.

Leaving home: Independent versus interdependent living

Very few young adults are ready for full "independent" living. We all need ongoing support and encouragement from family as we learn to negotiate the adult world. Launching adopted children from the family home brings some unique challenges. "Interdependence" rather than "independence" is a more fitting goal for young adults as they venture into the world.

What you can do:

  • Explain how you will help your teen move into adult life. Teenagers need to know how long they can live at home and whether or not their parents will help them with their first apartment rental, pay college tuition, keep them on the family health insurance, etc.

 

  • Base your support and expectations on your child's abilities, level of emotional security, and history—and not on their chronological age or what their peers are doing.

 

  • Provide ongoing emotional and tangible support even after your young adult moves out of your home. Parents who visit frequently, assist with household management, help to fill out tax forms, and so on help young adults not feel too overwhelmed as they adjust to life away from the family.

 

Special considerations for youth with disabilities

Under Federal law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, by the time a special education student reaches age 16, the school is to provide a plan that may include help obtaining further education, getting a job, or living independently. Parents need to advocate for these services. Communicate respectfully, clearly, and often with your school's "transition coordinator" about your child's transition plan.

Seeking Help for Mental Health Concerns

For many adopted persons, growing up in an adoptive family involves some additional complications and challenges. Adoption issues may come up episodically throughout an adoptee's life, as well as throughout the lives of the birth parents and adoptive parents. (See the box about core issues in adoption, on page 6 in Communicating With Your Teenager About Adoption.) An occasional session with a counselor or therapist who is skilled with adolescents and knowledgeable about adoption issues, when needed, may be helpful. However, unless there is an urgent need for professional attention, having an adopted peer, a mentor, or a teen adoption support group can also be effective at addressing issues as they arise.

Adolescence is a time when mental health conditions may surface, including some with genetic links. Having a birth parent with a mental illness, such as depression or bipolar disorder, does not mean that your son or daughter will develop this condition, but he or she may be at greater risk.

 

Signs and symptoms

Adoptive parents should learn the signs that can indicate when to seek a professional opinion (medical or psychiatric). These include:

  • Extreme moods or emotions. The teenager is:

   Angry, sad, or depressed much of the time

   Extremely fearful or anxious

   Withdrawn or apathetic

 

  • Risky or out of control behaviors, including:

   Self injury

   Harmful sexual activity

   Eating disorders

 

  • Substance abuse. The teenager:

   Shows sudden and unexplained changes in physical appearance (such as red watery eyes, rapid change in weight)

   Experiences physical symptoms (changes in appetite, vomiting, tremors)

   Has unexplained changes in behavior, mood, attitude, or personality traits

   Loses interest in hobbies or friends once enjoyed

   Shows unexplained changes in school performance

 

  • Anger management or relationship problems. The teenager:

   Shows extreme anger or aggression with peers

   Finds family interactions stressful

   Avoids family members and friends

   Has inappropriate peer relationships

   Has no friends (is a "loner")

Risky behaviors might be an acting-out of inner turmoil. Adopted teens may be at increased risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as for eating disorders, due to previous abuse or neglect. Depression, anxiety, or relationship problems might indicate posttraumatic stress syndrome due to earlier maltreatment. Childhood trauma does not resolve itself; it needs to be treated by a qualified mental health provider.

Finding the right person to help

Postadoption programs, adoption support groups, and other adoptive parents can be good resources for information about local mental health professionals. Look for a therapist or counselor who:

  • Has experience working with youth and families
  • Is knowledgeable about adoption
  • Understands any special needs your teen might have (attachment issues, medical conditions, learning disabilities, etc.)
  • Includes the entire family in at least some of the therapy sessions
  • Makes clear to the child that he or she is not "the problem"

For more information about life after adoption, visit the Help for Families (Postadoption Services) section of the Information Gateway website:
www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/postadoption/families

Summary

Despite the challenges, raising adopted teenagers can be very rewarding. With clear communication, supervision, guidance, and support, parents can help their teenagers prepare for healthy, happy, and productive adulthoods. Parents who respect their teens' histories and birth families will foster strong and lasting relationships with their young adult sons and daughters.

Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway
 
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Postadoption Services
 
It is common for adoptive families to need support and services after adoption. Postadoption services can help families with a wide range of issues. They are available for everything from learning how to explain adoption to a preschooler, to helping a child who experienced early childhood abuse, to helping with an adopted teen's search for identity. Experience with adoptive families has shown that all family members can benefit from some type of postadoption support. Families of children who have experienced trauma, neglect, or institutionalization may require more intensive services.
 
This factsheet provides the following information regarding postadoption services:
 
Postadoption issues that most adoptive families encounter
Milestones (and developmental stages) that may trigger a need for postadoption support
Types of postadoption services
Finding postadoption services
Paying for postadoption services
Resources for adoptive families
 
Postadoption Issues That Most Adoptive Families Encounter
 
Because of the lifelong impact of adoption, members of adoptive families may want or need additional support, education, and other services as their children grow. The following are some issues for which families typically seek postadoption support.
 
Loss and grief. All adopted children experience loss at one or more points in their lives, and they may grieve their loss as they come to understand the role that adoption has played in their lives. They may struggle with understanding why they were placed for adoption and how that affects who they are. These feelings may change and reappear at different stages of life. Some adopted children may be confused by conflicting emotions about their birth parents—anger at having been placed for adoption or having their birth parents' rights terminated or worry about their birth parents' circumstances. All of these feelings may be acted out as hostility toward their adoptive parents.
 
Adoptive parents also may experience loss and grief issues of their own, often stemming from infertility issues or the stresses of the adoption experience itself. For some adoptive parents, these issues may cause strains in their marriages.

Understanding adoption. Children's understanding of adoption changes as they mature and can begin to comprehend its complex social and emotional foundations. Parents need to know how to answer children's questions at each stage of development.

Trust and attachment. Children who have experienced abuse, neglect, or institutionalization prior to joining their adoptive families often have not known consistent love and affection and may have difficulty trusting and attaching to their new family. In fact, any child separated from birth parents has experienced a break in attachment. These children may need help to begin to make sense of their history and come to terms with what has happened in their lives.

School problems. Children adopted from foster care often have experienced multiple placements among homes, as well as multiple moves among schools. An educational consultant or a child psychologist may be able to test for educational status and work with teachers from the child's school to ensure an appropriate education. School problems and the need for the services of an educational consultant may also be helpful for older children adopted through intercountry adoptions who already have some school experience in their former country.

Other school issues can arise around classroom assignments that are insensitive or inappropriate for adopted children, such as traditional "family tree" assignments or basic genetics lessons (e.g., identifying inherited family traits). Additionally, school is where many adopted children are first challenged to explain adoption to their peers, often as they themselves are just beginning to understand what it means. Some materials have been developed for adoptive parents and educators to use in the classroom and to educate teachers and other school personnel about adoption. Support groups may be especially helpful in pointing adoptive parents to appropriate materials.

Post institutionalization issues and behaviors. Children who have spent more than a few months in an institutional setting may have missed out on important developmental activities due to a lack of stimulation and suboptimal nutrition. They may have difficulties with feeding, sleeping, and speech, as well as difficulties in forming healthy attachments.

Identity formation. Teenagers who were adopted at any age may experience identity confusion as they confront the primary questions of adolescence—"Who am I? How am I different from my parents? Which of their values will I take as my own?" Young people who joined their families through adoption also must try to determine how these questions relate to their birth parents, who may be unknown and even unknowable. These questions may be further complicated if the child's race or birth culture differs from that of the adoptive family.

Birth relative contact. During the past decade or two, the professional adoption community has learned that many adopted children and adults desire or even need information about their birth family or to reconnect with birth relatives. This desire in no way reflects upon adoptive family relationships or the quality of parenting that adopted children received. Agency staff and private specialists can assist in providing information about birth relatives or in initiating contact, if desired, and mediating the relationships that may form.

Medical concerns. Children who have been in multiple placements may not have received regular medical care. These children, as well as children adopted through intercountry adoptions, often have medical information that is inaccurate and/or incomplete. It is important for all children to have as complete and accurate a health history as possible. Assessment by an adoption-competent physician will provide a plan to update a child's health and immunization status.

Racial issues. Adults who parent children of different races or cultures need skills to prepare their children to function successfully in a race-conscious society. A survey of adults who had been adopted from Korea as infants or children found that racial discrimination was one of the most profound issues they faced.2 Parents who do not have personal experience as a target of racial prejudice must learn how to prepare their children as much as possible. (Information Gateway provides a factsheet on this topic, Transracial and Transcultural Adoption.)

Parenting the Adopted Child

Child Welfare Information Gateway (Information Gateway) has a wealth of material on parenting the adopted child. To link to these resources, visit the following Information Gateway web page: Postadoption Services

Milestones That May Trigger a Need for Postadoption Support

Children understand, think, and feel differently about their adoption at different developmental stages. For most adopted children most of the time, thinking about adoption and its complexities does not occupy a large amount of time and focus. They are busy with schoolwork and sports activities, religious functions, social events, family gatherings, and squabbling with their siblings.

But there are times and events that predictably trigger adoption issues. Parents should watch for signs, such as changes in mood or eating and sleeping habits, indicating that their adopted child may need special support during these times. Children can be prepared by discussing the possibility that these triggers will cause a reaction, which a child likely cannot control. Parents should let their children know that they understand what is happening and will be there to help and find other resources as needed.

Common adoption issue triggers:

  • Birthdays (of the adopted child, siblings, parents, birth parents)
  • Anniversaries (of placement into foster care, an orphanage, or into the adoptive family, or the date of adoption finalization)
  • Holidays (especially Mother's and Father's Days, but any holiday that involves family gatherings and sentiment, such as Christmas, Passover, or Thanksgiving)
  • Entering kindergarten and first grade (which may be the first time an adopted child must explain adoption to peers; it can be the first time the child realizes that most children were not adopted into their families)
  • Puberty (as children become sexually mature and able to conceive or father a baby themselves, thoughts of birth parents may arise)
  • Adoptive mother's pregnancy and birth of child, or adoption of another child (may trigger doubts about the adopted child's place in the family)
  • Adopted person's pregnancy and birth of child or fathering of a child (often a powerful trigger that may ignite interest in reconnecting with birth relatives, if only to obtain medical histories and updated information)
Types of Postadoption Services

The extraordinarily wide range of issues that can be addressed with postadoption services means that the services themselves must be diverse. Here are the most common types of postadoption services, including those that families have identified as most helpful.

Adoptive Parent Support Groups. In an adoptive parent support group, adoptive and prospective adoptive parents come together to offer and receive information and support from their peers. Parent groups offer their members and other participants a support system, friendships, educational programming, social interactions with other adoptive families, and advice from experienced adoptive parents. Parent groups exist throughout the country and vary extensively, from small playgroups for toddlers adopted through intercountry adoptions to large regional groups offering a range of programs and services to their members (who can number in the hundreds). Most parent groups are organized and administered by adoptive parent volunteers.

Parent groups may restrict their focus to families with children who share certain characteristics (such as having been adopted from a specific country or having been adopted through a public agency), or they may include all adoptive families in their programming. A number of national parent groups are organized into local chapters. Local adoption agencies and State adoption offices also may have information on newly formed groups. Parent groups can be located through Information Gateway's National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.

Programs and services commonly offered by parent groups include:

  • Telephone warm lines
  • Buddy families
  • Respite care
  • Lending library
  • Workshops/conferences
  • Pre-adoption support
  • Social activities
  • Children's support groups
  • Ethnic heritage activities
  • Newsletter
  • Legislative advocacy
  • Information and referral

Online support groups. Available 24 hours a day, Internet support groups now number in the thousands. Through participating in these groups, parents will likely find families who have experienced exactly what they are going through and who will be able to provide helpful suggestions. Parents should remember, however, to use the same precautions with online support groups that are used for any Internet activity.

Psychological therapy/counseling. Members of adoptive families may at times want or need professional help as concerns or problems arise. Timely intervention by a professional skilled in adoption issues often can prevent concerns from becoming more serious problems. The type and duration of therapy will vary depending on the kinds of problems being addressed. Some families build a relationship with a therapist over years, "checking in" for help as needed. Others find they need a therapist's help only occasionally.

There are many types of therapeutic interventions and many kinds of clinicians offering adoption therapy. For information about adoption therapy, the kinds of issues that it can address, and how to find the right mental health professional, see Selecting and Working with an Adoption Therapist.

Respite care. Sometimes parents just need to get away for a while, reframe their problems, and get some rest. Respite care is a service that offers parents a temporary break from their parenting responsibilities. It is meant for families with children who require more skilled care than babysitters can provide or for parents going through a crisis of their own. Respite care can be in-home, meaning the respite worker comes to the house and stays with the children while the parents go out. With out-of-home respite, the parents take the children to a designated site.

Respite care may be available on a regularly scheduled or crisis basis from a State postadoption unit or local adoption agencies, or through a local adoptive parent group.

Seminars/conferences. Many adoptive parent support groups, adoption agencies, and postadoption service organizations offer education in adoption issues through workshops and conferences that range in length from a few hours to a few days. At an adoption conference, parents can learn about the adoption topics that are most important to them, have questions answered by the experts, socialize with other adoptive family members, and have the opportunity to purchase adoption-related books and other informative materials. Topics covered at these trainings may include how to discuss adoption with children, strategies for building attachment, parenting challenging children, dealing with adoption at school, parenting children who have been adopted transracially, search and reunion issues, supporting cultural heritage in international adoption, and much more. Adoption agencies will often offer seminars on such topics as specific types of child behavior, child development, and talking to children about adoption. (Search the Information Gateway conference calendar.)

Scholarships are sometimes available to help with the cost of attending adoption education conferences and seminars. State postadoption funding may be available for families who adopted through public agencies. Parents can check with conference organizers regarding scholarship opportunities.

Books and magazines. There are many helpful books on adoption for children and adults. Many of the children's books explain the "whys" of adoption and describe the process by which children are adopted. Some may help as children begin to question and discuss their own adoption story. Some of the books help parents look at the unique aspects of adoptive parenting. Others are written specifically for those who have adopted children with particular needs or who are parenting children from other cultures.

There also are a number of magazines for adoptive families, available by subscription or online. Each provides parenting information and support specifically for families formed through adoption.

Camps/recreational opportunities/heritage camps. Overnight camps or retreats are a powerful way for members of adoptive families to connect not only with others like themselves, but also with their own family members. Such events, typically weeklong, often combine adoption and ethnic heritage education and support with traditional camping activities. Family camps offer activities for all members of the family.

Other camps serve children of certain ages and/or ethnicities. Often siblings of children who have been adopted internationally are also included in heritage camp and find it enlightening to be among the minority, as their siblings frequently are. Heritage camp counselors are frequently older adopted youth, who provide critical role models for their younger counterparts. Frequently, camp attendees form powerful friendships with other adopted children, and they provide each other ongoing support all year long. In recent years, highly specialized camping experiences have become available for siblings separated by adoption to establish, reestablish, or strengthen their relationships with each other.

Finding Postadoption Services

Details about postadoption services in a particular area are available from local, State, and national information resources. Parents should call the public and private adoption agencies in their area and ask to be placed on their mailing lists for postadoption events. While some of these may be restricted to families who adopted through the agency, many postadoption services offered by agencies will be open to all adoptive families. Adoptive parent support groups also will have information about local agencies and organizations that provide postadoption services and their upcoming events.

The following is a listing of resources for information about local postadoption services.

Public and private adoption agencies. Many adoption agencies have a postadoption specialist on staff, and many larger agencies have complete postadoption services departments. Agencies may offer counseling by on-staff clinicians, or they can refer parents to adoption-competent therapists. Among the postadoption services offered by agencies are support groups for parents and children, educational workshops and events, cultural heritage events, respite care, and support with birth family relationships.

Specialized postadoption services organizations. Agencies offering postadoption services exclusively are becoming more prevalent throughout the country. They typically offer the same kinds of postadoption services as do adoption agencies, but they do not place children for adoption and may not be affiliated with any specific adoption agency.

Adoptive parent support groups. Parent groups offer information about local postadoption service providers and referrals to adoption-competent therapists. Educational events, respite care, and cultural events are among the many kinds of support a parent group may offer.

State and county adoption offices and postadoption specialists. Most State and county adoption offices have identified staff who are responsible for adoption and postadoption services or adoption subsidies. Larger jurisdictions may offer services themselves, but all will have information about local postadoption services and providers.

Adoptive parents can find out if their child is eligible for these services by contacting the adoption specialist for that jurisdiction. To find contact information for all of the State Adoption Specialists, search the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.

State postadoption resource centers. Some States now provide a resource center specifically for postadoption services. Some of these resource centers serve only those families who have adopted children through domestic foster care, while other centers may have no restrictions on who is eligible to use their services. Most offer programs and all provide information about local postadoption services and providers.

Public and private mental health service providers. Mental health service providers will offer counseling on issues affecting adoptive families. Parents should be sure that the provider is adoption competent (has experience and is skilled in working with adoptive families) or willing to learn about the special issues and dynamics of adoptive families. (See Selecting and Working With an Adoption Therapist.)

Community health organizations. Local public health organizations provide mental health services and referrals to local clinicians. Parents should check to find out if the provider has experience with adoptive families.

Parents can find local contact information for these resources from Information Gateway's National Foster Care & Adoption Directory).

Paying for Postadoption Services

While many postadoption services are not free of charge to adoptive families, there may be Federal and State funding to support services for families who have adopted children from a public agency. Many children adopted from public agencies qualify for adoption assistance (subsidies) and Medicaid. These benefits are often used to purchase postadoption services. An adoption assistance agreement should spell out the types of postadoption services that will be reimbursed (such as respite care or counseling). To find out about postadoption services that are paid for by adoption assistance programs in a particular State, parents can access Information Gateway's webpage on Adoption Assistance by State.

If adoption assistance programs are not available, parents can check with their health insurance company or health maintenance organization regarding mental health benefits that may be applicable.

Some States may have additional funding to support families in attending seminars, conferences, and other educational events, or for other postadoption services. Parents can contact their State postadoption specialist for information on State postadoption funding, programs, and services that may be available.

Conclusion

Seeking out postadoption services is a common way for adoptive parents to find information or someone to talk to; for adoptive families who need more intensive or specialized services, there are places for them to turn. Such activities have become normal and expected for adoptive families. Clearly, there is nothing wrong (and everything right!) with a family that seeks postadoption support at any time throughout the lifelong process of adoption.

Resources

Child Welfare Information Gateway offers resources for adoptive families, including the following:

The North American Council on Adoptable Children provides resources for transracial families, a database of parent groups, and information on starting an adoptive parent support group.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a listing of pediatricians who specialize in adoption and foster care medicine, including international adoption clinics.

ARCH National Respite Network provides information about respite care and a searchable database of respite care providers.

National Adoption Magazines

Acknowledgment: This factsheet was developed by Child Welfare Information Gateway, in partnership with Susan Freivalds. This document is made possible by the Children's Bureau, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The conclusions discussed here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not represent the official views or policies of the funding agency.

Suggested Citation: Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2005). Postadoption Services: A Factsheet for Families. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

1 The Federal government currently funds demonstration projects in postadoption services and marriage education in seven States, as well as the Healthy Marriage Initiative; both of these efforts may help couples with the stresses associated with these losses. Back

2 Freundlich, M., & Lieberthal, J. A. (2000) A gathering of the first generation of adult Korean adoptees: Adoptees' perceptions of international adoption. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Retrieved August 2005 from http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/proed/korfindings.html

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway

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Searching for Birth Relatives
 
While interest among adopted persons in finding their birth families has always been high, the percentage of adult adopted persons who take action to initiate a search appears to be on the rise. This trend is accompanied by a growing interest on the part of many birth parents in searching for their (now) adult children who were placed for adoption many years earlier. The expanding number of organizations that advocate searching for birth relatives and provide advice and resources for doing so indicate both increased interest in and acceptance of this process. New legislation in some States permits more access to birth information, and new technology has the potential to make the searching process faster. A recent study shows that adopted persons are more likely to seek out information about their birth families now than in the past (Harris Interactive Market Research, 2002). And a study that reviewed estimates abroad and in the United States suggests that 50 percent of all adopted persons search at some point in their lives (Muller & Perry, 2001a).
 
The purpose of this factsheet is to provide some guidance on the search process and information access, as well as resources for further help in conducting a successful search. This factsheet is designed to address the concerns of both adopted persons who are searching for birth parents or other birth relatives, as well as birth parents (both mothers and fathers) who want to locate a child who was adopted. While not a complete "how to" guide to searching, this factsheet provides information on:
 
The decision to search
Steps in the search process
Hiring a professional searcher
International searching
Reunion issues
 
In addition, a list of resources is included at the end. The list includes websites on searching, books and articles, and more. Child Welfare Information Gateway website is a good starting point for resource information.
 
The Decision to Search
 
Adults who were adopted as infants or young children are the most common group of people searching for adoption information and birth relatives. This group most often searches for birth mothers first (Muller & Perry, 2001b), but may later seek out birth fathers, siblings, or other birth relatives. An event in the life of an adopted person, for instance, the birth of a child or death of an adoptive parent, may trigger the actual search (American Adoption Congress, 2002).
 

Other groups that search include birth parents searching for children placed for adoption years earlier and a growing number of adoptive parents who search in order to know more about their adoptive children's background or medical history (Freundlich, 2001). In addition, some national organizations that work with children in foster care report increased interest by siblings in finding their siblings who were placed with other families. 

The question of why an adopted person or birth parent searches for birth relatives has as many answers as there are searchers. Some of the more common reasons include the following:

  • General family information. Searchers may want to know the names of their birth relatives, where they live, and what they are like. Birth parents may want to know whether their birth children have been happy and well treated.
  • Family traits and personalities. Many adopted persons and birth parents want to know how their birth relatives look and act and whether they share similar traits.
  • Medical history information. Information on genetic diseases and conditions can be crucial for safeguarding an adopted person's own health and the health of their biological children. (The desire or need for family medical history is sometimes the only reason that will compel a judge to open sealed adoption records.)
  • Circumstances of the adoption. Often, adopted persons feel a need to know why they were placed for adoption or why the rights of the birth parent were terminated and how that decision was made. Birth parents may want the opportunity to explain the circumstances to their child.
Steps in the Search Process

Every search is unique in its unfolding, but there are a number of steps and resources common to most searches. This section of the factsheet addresses the steps in the search process, including:

  1. Emotional preparation
  2. Assembling known information
  3. Researching relevant State laws
  4. Registering with reunion registries
  5. Obtaining missing documents
  6. Filing court petitions

1. Emotional preparation. Both adopted persons and birth parents should expect to prepare emotionally for the search process. Such preparation may include reading about other adopted persons' or birth parents' search and reunion experiences and talking to others who are going through or have gone through the same process. Support groups for adopted persons or for birth parents who are searching can be extremely helpful, not only in providing emotional support, but also in sharing practical information. (For a State-by-State listing of support groups, see Information Gateway's National Foster Care & Adoption Directory.)

Gathering emotional support from family and friends also can be helpful. Adopted persons may be reluctant to share their decision to search with their adoptive parents for fear of hurting their feelings. However, in many cases adoptive parents can be an enormous source of support, as well as a source of information. Adoptive parents may take some comfort from knowing that an adopted person's decision to search usually has nothing to do with dissatisfaction with the adoptive parents (Brodzinsky, Schechter, & Henig, 1992).

The search process may trigger a number of different emotions at different stages for the searcher. At certain stages, some searchers may feel that they need more emotional or moral support than they are receiving from family, friends, and support groups. In these situations, they may want to talk to a professional counselor. Searchers who seek professional counseling will want to ensure that the counselor is familiar with adoption issues. (See Information Gateway's factsheet on selecting adoption therapists.) In addition, some State laws require a meeting with a counselor before a reunion takes place.

2. Assembling known information. Once a decision has been made to search, the first step involves gathering all known and easily obtainable information. For adopted persons, this may mean talking to adoptive parents to find out the name of the adoption agency, attorney, or facilitator involved in the adoption. It also means pulling together all readily available documents, such as the amended birth certificate, hospital records, and any other information, no matter how unimportant it may seem at the time. Birth, death, marriage, divorce, school, church, genealogy, health, military, DMV, and property records related to the birth kin all have potential usefulness for leading to a name and location of a birth parent or birth child. It may be helpful to organize and record all information in a central place for easy reference.

3. Researching relevant State laws. Searchers may want to become informed about State laws regarding adoption and records access in the State(s) in which they were born and adopted, keeping in mind that some State laws vary according to the applicable years. Access to information about State laws as well as which States offer reunion registries can be found at the Child Welfare Information Gateway website. (Other websites that maintain databases or updates on State laws are included in the Resource List at the end of this factsheet.)

4. Registering with reunion registries. A number of States, as well as private organizations, offer reunion registries that allow adopted persons and birth parents to register the fact that they are searching for each other. Most of these reunion registries are "passive," meaning that both parties (e.g., the adopted person and the birth mother) must independently register in order for a match to be made. When both parties register at the same passive registry and a match is made, registry officials share the mutual information and help to arrange for contact. Passive registries do not actively search for the other party.

The largest passive registry is the International Soundex Reunion Registry . This is open to all adopted adults over 18 years of age, all birth parents, and all adoptive parents of adopted children under 18 years of age.

There are also a number of "active" registries that charge fees to actually go out and search for the birth relative. Some of these are State registries that will initiate a search for a fee. Others are maintained by private search and support groups.

There are few reliable statistics on the success rate of these registries; however, as expected, passive registries tend to show a much lower match rate than active registries. One study of passive State registries found an average success rate of less than 5 percent in 1998, with only two States showing double-digit success rates (Mitchell, Nast, Busharis, & Hasegawa, 1999).

5. Obtaining missing documents. At this point, the searcher may want to attempt to acquire some of the missing documents that could help with the search. There are many types of documents that may lead to locating a birth parent or child or provide a breakthrough to this information. The following is a list of potentially helpful documents:

  • Adoption agency records-If the name of the adoption agency is known, the searcher can request nonidentifying information or even records. For instance, in her 1998 book, Search: A Handbook for Adoptees and Birthparents, Jayne Askin provides an extensive list of possible questions to be addressed to the agency, including questions about siblings, medical information, and consent to release information. Askin also recommends that the searcher supply a waiver of confidentiality to the agency, so that information about the searcher can be provided to the birth child or birth parent, if that individual also contacts the agency.
  • Hospital records-Hospital records, when they can be obtained, may provide information on the birth mother, birth father, attending physician, and incidental health information. Adopted persons generally need to know their birth name, as well as the hospital's name and location. If the searcher has difficulty obtaining these records, a request made by a doctor may have a better chance for success.
  • Birth records-Most adopted persons will not have their original birth certificate but will have, instead, an amended document listing their adoptive parents' names. However, there are a few States that allow adopted adults to have access to their original birth certificate. (See the Information Gateway information on access to family information by adopted persons.) In other States, the original birth certificate may be available if the adopted person petitions the court.
  • Court adoption file-The court adoption records consist of a number of documents, including the original, unaltered birth certificate; petition to adopt; finalization papers or final decree; consent to adopt from birth parent(s), relinquishment papers, or orders terminating parental rights; and any agency or attorney papers, including information about birth parents. Many of these documents may also be available elsewhere. For instance, adoptive parents should have copies of the court proceedings finalizing the adoption, although the final court order will not provide the names of the birth parents. If this is not available, an adopted person searching for birth parents may be able to contact the attorney or law firm that handled the adoption to obtain it. A request may also be made to the court. Often, identifying information will be blacked out of the court-supplied document; however, there may be some remaining clues that are helpful. The final adoption papers should provide the name of the attorney, judge, and agency involved in the proceedings. This information may lead to discovering other useful clues.
  • Other court records-While most or all of the court records may be officially sealed, in some cases a searcher may be able to view the court's Docket Appearance Book, a daily record of who appeared in court and why on a particular day, or even the Minute Book log, with the results of each court appearance (Culligan, 1996). Also, local newspapers from the time of the adoption may carry a notice of the filing of the Petition to Adopt in the classified section. This normally includes the name of the couple adopting, as well as the birth name of the child/infant and the name of the social worker assigned to the case (Culligan, 1996).
  • Other types of records-Other potentially useful records may include physician records, newspapers (for birth announcements), cemetery and mortuary records, probate records, Social Security information, records of military service, school records (including yearbooks), marriage licenses, divorce or annulment papers, DMV documents, and death certificates.

6. Filing a court petition. If none of the above have been successful, adopted persons may petition the court to have the sealed adoption records opened. Whether this is successful may depend on the State, the particular judge, the reason given for the request, and any number of other factors. Petitioning the court does not require an attorney's services, but a petitioner may choose to hire an attorney.

The judge may deny the petition completely or agree to release only nonidentifying information or a summary. In some States, the judge may appoint an intermediary, such as the original adoption agency or a professional searcher, to locate the birth parents and determine whether or not they want to release information or be reunited with the adopted person. In other cases, the petitioner may be able to request the appointment of a confidential intermediary, who will conduct a search (for a fee) and determine if the birth parents are willing to be contacted.

Following these steps may lead the searcher to enough identifying information that birth relatives can be located. In cases in which the search seems to be leading nowhere, the searcher may want to review information or begin to research such things as alternative spellings of names or places. In some cases, information may have been falsified, making it difficult or impossible to continue the search without new information.
Hiring a Professional Searcher

Adopted persons or birth parents searching for birth relatives have the option of hiring a professional searcher. In some cases, it may be useful to hire a professional searcher if specific information needs to be located in another State. For instance, a professional searcher may be able to search courthouse or church records in a faraway locality. This limited professional help may be enough to allow the adopted person or birth parent to continue his or her own search.

Individuals who choose to hire a professional searcher should research the reputation of the searcher or company. There are some searchers who have a certification from Independent Search Consultants , a nonprofit organization that trains in adoption searching. Other searchers may be licensed as private investigators by a particular locality. Individuals should ask whether private investigators have specific adoption search experience before making a decision to hire them. Other professional searchers may be experts in a particular locality or a particular field but may not have a certification. Before hiring anyone, it is crucial to call references and to check with the Better Business Bureau. In addition, support groups can be a ready source of information about professional searchers.

In some cases, a court or agency may refuse to open sealed records or provide full information in response to a petition or request; however, the court or agency may appoint a professional searcher. In such cases, this professional searcher serves as an intermediary whose job is to locate and contact the birth parents (or birth child) and to find out whether they want to have their name and address revealed and whether they want to resume contact. The professional is given access to sealed records, but the petitioner (who generally receives no access to records) pays the fee of the professional searcher. If nothing is found, or if the found person refuses to release information or agree to contact, there is generally no recourse (except that the adopted person or birth parent can continue to search on his or her own).

International Searching

People who were adopted from outside the United States (through intercountry adoptions) face unique challenges in locating birth parents. Each country has its own laws governing information access. In addition, there is great variation in record-keeping practices across countries and cultures, and in many cases, searchers will find that no information was ever recorded, that records were misplaced, or that cultural practices placed little emphasis on accurate record-keeping. However, in a very few cases, it may actually be easier to gain access to an original birth certificate in a foreign country than in the United States, since some countries do not seal their vital records.

The child-placing agency is the best beginning point for an international search. The U.S. agency should be able to share the name and location of the agency or orphanage abroad and, perhaps, the names of caregivers, attorneys, or others involved in the placement or adoption. The agency, or its counterpart abroad, may be able to provide specific information on names, dates, and places. They also may be able to offer some medical history, biographical information on parents, and circumstances regarding the adoption.

Some other resources for international searchers include the following:

  • Adopted persons seeking documents (such as a birth certificate) that the U.S. or foreign child-placing agency is not able to provide may want to apply to government agencies in the birth country. Mailing addresses of offices of vital records in foreign countries can be found on the U.S. State Department website.
  • Searchers adopted from another country can contact the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to receive copies of their immigration records.
  • An international agency that may offer help is International Social Services, which provides a broad range of social work services, including helping adopted persons find birth families abroad. Their U.S. branch has a website at www.iss-usa.org .
  • Support groups for adopted persons from particular countries may be able to offer help and information on searching. Countries that have placed a large number of children with families in the United States, such as Korea, have support groups and organizations with websites and search information. (See the Resource List at the end of this factsheet.)

In general, searching overseas is more difficult than searching in the United States. In cases in which the search for the birth parent is unsuccessful, some adopted persons may derive some satisfaction from visiting their birth country and experiencing their birth culture. Many agencies and support groups have begun to organize homeland tours for adopted persons and adoptive families. These tours generally provide an introduction to the country and culture. Visiting the birth country for the first time as part of such a group may provide searchers with some emotional security, because the people in the tour group are often looking for answers to similar questions. (The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory lists groups that offer homeland tours.)

Reunion Issues

Reunions between long-lost birth family members have been the subject of books, articles, and television shows. Two important themes emerge from these accounts:

1. Participants should be emotionally prepared for the reunion experience. Adopted persons and birth parents may carry a picture in their mind of the perfect family, but the reunion experience may not live up to that ideal. In preparing for contact and reunion, adopted persons (and birth parents) should prepare for a whole range of realities, including rejection. Although most birth parents are agreeable to further contact, research indicates that a minority, perhaps 9 to 15 percent, reject any contact (Muller & Perry, 2001b).

2. Pacing the contact can be key to having a successful reunion and relationship. In a small study of adopted women who experienced reunions with birth kin (Affleck & Steed 2001), it was found that successful reunion experiences were associated with (1) preparation with a support group and (2) a slower pace between initial contact and actual meeting, involving letters and phone calls. This interval between contact and meeting allowed information to be exchanged and gave the "found" relatives some time to become accustomed to the idea. Such an interval can also give the found relatives time to share the news with spouses and 2. children in their family, if they desire.

Some factors that may increase the possibility of a successful longer term relationship include (Muller and Perry, 2001b):

  • The establishment of limits regarding each others' lives
  • Support from adoptive parents
  • Minimal expectations
  • Similar lifestyles and temperaments
  • Acceptance by other family members

In many cases, a successful reunion with a birth mother may prompt the adopted adult to continue the search process for the birth father. Meeting with birth siblings also may occur, and each reunion experience requires preparation and time to evolve.

Conclusion

Each search for a birth relative is guided by a unique set of circumstances. The outcome is uncertain and, even when the birth relative is located, the reunion experience does not always turn out as expected. Nonetheless, many adopted persons and birth parents have conducted successful searches and built successful relationships with their new-found relatives. For those who are just beginning the search, the best preparation may be finding out about the search experiences of others. To that end, a list of resources has been included below. In addition, support groups for adopted persons and birth parents across the country can be found in the online National Foster Care & Adoption Directory on the Information Gateway website.

References Cited

Affleck, M. K., & Steed, L. G. (2001). Expectations and experiences of participants in ongoing adoption reunion relationships: A qualitative study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 71(1), 38-48.

American Adoption Congress. (2002). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved March 12, 2004, from http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/faqs.php

Askin, J. (1998). Search: A handbook for adoptees and birthparents, 3rd edition. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx Press.

Brodzinsky, D. M., Schechter, M. D., & Henig, R. M. (1992). Being adopted: The lifelong search for self. NCY: Doubleday.

Culligan, J. J. (1996). Adoption searches made easier. Miami, FL: FJA, Inc.

Freundlich, Madelyn. (2001). Access to information and search and reunion in Korean American adoptions: A discussion paper. El Dorado Hills, CA: Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network. Retrieved April 5, 2004, from the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network at http://www.kaanet.com/whitepaper.pdf (PDF - 181 KB)

Harris Interactive Market Research. (2002). National Adoption Attitudes Survey. Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption & The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. Retrieved March 12, 2004, from http://www.adoptioninstitute.org/survey/Adoption_Attitudes_Survey.pdf (PDF - 151 KB)

Mitchell, M., Nast, J., Busharis, B., & Hasegawa, P. (1999). Mutual consent voluntary registries: An exercise in patience and failure. Adoptive Families 32(1), 30-33, 63.

Muller, U., & Perry, B. (2001a). Adopted persons' search for and contact with their birth parents I: Who searches and why? Adoption Quarterly 4(3), 5-37.

Muller, U., & Perry, B. (2001b). Adopted persons' search for and contact with their birth parents II: Adoptee-birth parent contact. Adoption Quarterly 4(3), 39-62.

Additional Resources

Books and Articles

Bailey, J. J., & Giddens, L. N. (2001). The adoption reunion survival guide: Preparing yourself for the search, reunion, and beyond. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Byrne, M. (2000-2001). Search and reunion etiquette: The guide Miss Manners never wrote. American Adoption Congress (Winter/Spring), 11-13. Retrieved April 14, 2004, from http://www.americanadoptioncongress.org/search_byrne_article.php

Cox, S. S.-K. (2001). Considerations for international search. Retrieved April 21, 2004, from http://www.holtintl.org/reunionsearcharticle.html

Lifton, B. J. (1988). Lost and found: The adoption experience. NY: Harper & Row.

McColm, M. (1993). Adoption reunions: A book for adoptees, birth parents and adoptive families. Toronto: Second Story Press.

Strauss, J. A. (1994). Birthright: The guide to search and reunion for adoptees, birthparents, and adoptive parents. NYC: Penguin Books.

Websites

Resources for beginning the search:

Resources for international searches:

Resources on State adoption laws:

The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory on the Information Gateway website contains information on State adoption officials, State reunion registries, adoption agencies, and support groups.

Other information on the Information Gateway website includes resource lists on such topics as organizations that provide adoption research and factsheets on such topics as intercountry adoption.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway

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Stepparent Adoption
 
Adopting a stepchild is the most common form of adoption. A stepparent who adopts agrees to be fully responsible for his or her spouse's child. After the stepparent adoption occurs, the noncustodial parent (the parent not living with the child) no longer has any rights or responsibilities for the child, including child support.
 
Legal issues
Steps to take
Help for parents
 
Legal Issues
 
Stepparent adoption, like all other forms of adoption in the United States, is governed by State law. Most States make the adoption process a little easier for stepparents. For example, your family may not need to be represented by a lawyer. You may not be required to have a home study, as parents in other types of adoption are. However, every State is different. For example, some States require a criminal background check even if a home study is not required. Be sure to find out what the laws are in your State.
 
How long your adoption will take also varies by State. Some States will not approve a stepparent adoption unless you have been married to the child's parent for 1 year or longer.
 
Adoption by a stepparent generally has no effect on a child's legal right to inherit from either birth parent or other family members. For more information about how each State and territory handles legal inheritance, see Intestate Inheritance Rights for Adopted Children at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/inheritance.cfm
 
Consent of the Other Parent
 
If you want to adopt a stepchild, you must have the consent (or agreement) of both your spouse and the child's other parent. By giving his or her consent, the noncustodial parent gives up all rights and responsibilities, including child support. Sometimes getting the child's other parent to agree to your adoption can be difficult.
 
The way to obtain consent is different in each State. In many States, the noncustodial parent can give a written statement. In other States, he or she may have to appear before a judge or file papers with the court. Some States require the parent to receive counseling, have the laws and his or her rights explained to him or her, or talk to a lawyer.
 

Some State adoption laws do not require the other parent's consent in some situations. However, it is important to do everything the law requires to obtain proper consent.  Some States' laws allow for consent to be revoked, and for an adoption to be challenged or overturned, if these requirements are not met or fraud has occurred.

 

Some States' laws allow stepparent adoptions to occur even if the noncustodial parent objects or contests the adoption. For example, this may be allowed if the noncustodial parent has not contacted the child for a certain period of time. These situations may be complicated. You may wish to consult with a lawyer. If you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, you may be eligible for free legal help. In some States, the court will also appoint someone to represent your child (a guardian ad litem, sometimes called a "GAL").

 
Resources
 

The Child Welfare Information Gateway State Statutes Series provides summaries of State laws regarding certain aspects of adoption, including:

Information Gateway's Online Resources for State Child Welfare Law and Policy provides links to public websites for full-text State laws and policies related to adoption: www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/resources.cfm

 
Steps to Take

1. Check out your State's laws on stepparent adoptions

You may begin by reading the laws discussed in the previous sections. However, nothing can replace the qualified legal advice of an adoption lawyer admitted to the Bar in your State. Adoption lawyers will know the relevant laws and will be able to research how decisions in prior cases might affect your situation.

2. Contact the court in your county that handles adoptions

In some States adoptions are handled in juvenile court. In other States the family court or surrogacy court handles adoptions. If you are not sure which court handles adoptions in your area, you may want to read the Information Gateway publication, Court Jurisdiction and Venue for Adoption Petitions: www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/jurisdiction.cfm

Ask to speak to the court clerk or another person who can give you information about stepparent adoptions. (Court employees may not give legal advice.) Many courts have an information packet that can be mailed to you. If the court does not have a prepared packet, find out during your phone call:

  • Whether the court requires you to hire a lawyer, or whether you can represent yourself
  • Where you can find the required legal forms (in some States, they will be available online)

3. Find and submit required legal forms

Many States allow certain publishing companies to stock and sell legal forms to the public for court procedures. In other States, they are available online.

These forms will ask questions about you and the child you want to adopt. For example, they may ask:

  • The child's current name, and what it will be after the adoption
  • How long you have been married to the child's parent
  • Where the child was born

Typically you will need to provide some proof of this information, such as a child's birth certificate, a marriage license, and a copy of the noncustodial parent's consent. If you hire a lawyer, he or she will take care of this step for you.

4. Go to the hearing

Once your forms have been submitted, a hearing (court) date will be assigned. How long it takes to get a hearing varies based on where you live and how busy the court is. It may be anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. You may be notified of the date by mail or by your lawyer.

You will probably be required to go to this hearing. A judge (or magistrate) will ask questions of everyone involved. Your lawyer can give you more information about what happens during hearings in your area. At the end of this hearing, the judge or magistrate will set a date for the adoption to be finalized.

5. Finalize the adoption

Adoption certificates are issued at a second hearing, which may be a few months (or longer) after the first hearing. You may wish to request extra copies of this legal document for your files. Your lawyer or the court will tell you whether or not you need to go to this hearing.

6. Apply for a new birth certificate

When the adoption is final, you can apply for a new birth certificate for your child. This certificate will have the child's new name, if changed, and list the stepparent as his or her parent.

 
Help for Parents

Adoption does not end with finalization. It is a process rather than a one-time event. Your child and family may need time to adjust to being a new kind of "blended family." Parenting is a lifelong job. Adoptive families, like all families, sometimes face challenges. Child Welfare Information Gateway offers a number of factsheets on issues that some adoptive families share. Some of these include:

Adoption and the Stages of Development
www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_stages/index.cfm

Postadoption Services: A Factsheet for Families
www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_postadoption.cfm

Selecting and Working With an Adoption Therapist
www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_therapist.cfm

Child Welfare Information Gateway's National Foster Care and Adoption Directory lists adoption support groups in every State. Search it online at www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/.

Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway.

 
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Transracial and Transcultural Adoption
 
Transracial or transcultural adoption means placing a child who is of one race or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another race or ethnic group. In the United States these terms usually refer to the placement of children of color or children from another country with Caucasian adoptive parents.
 
People choose to adopt transracially or transculturally for a variety of reasons. Fewer young Caucasian children are available for adoption in the United States than in years past, and some adoption agencies that place Caucasian children do not accept singles or applicants older than 40. Some prospective adoptive parents feel connected to a particular race or culture because of their ancestry or through personal experiences such as travel or military service. Others simply like the idea of reaching out to children in need, no matter where they come from.
 
Adoption experts have different opinions about this kind of adoption. Some say that children available for adoption should always be placed with a family with at least one parent of the same race or culture as the child. This is so the child can develop a strong racial or cultural identity. These people say that adoption agencies with a strong commitment to working with families of color and that are flexible in their procedures are very successful in recruiting "same race" families. Other experts say that race should not be considered at all when selecting a family for a child. To them, a loving family that can meet the needs of a particular child is all that matters. Still others suggest that after an agency works very hard to recruit a same-race family for a certain period of time but does not find one, the child should be placed with a loving family of any race or culture who can meet the child's needs.
 
Despite the experts' differing opinions, there are many transracial and transcultural families, and many more will be formed. If you are or wish to be a parent in one of these families, this factsheet will help you by answering two questions: (1) What should you do to prepare for adopting a child of a race or culture different from yours? and (2) After adoption, what can you do to help your child become a stable, happy, healthy individual, with a strong sense of cultural and racial identity?
 
How You Can Prepare for a Transracial or Transcultural Adoption
 
Preparation for adoption is important for anyone thinking about adopting a child. It is even more important for parents considering transracial or transcultural adoption because it will introduce you to all aspects of adoptive parenthood, help you learn about adoption issues, and help you identify the type of child you wish to parent. Any adoption agency that conducts and supervises transracial or transcultural adoptions should provide this important service. If you are undertaking an independent adoption, you should seek counseling and training in these areas.  You should also read as many articles and books as you can on the subject. (See the resource list at the end of this factsheet.)The following sections describe some issues to consider as you prepare for a transracial or transcultural adoption.

Examine Your Beliefs and Attitudes About Race and Ethnicity

While you may think you know yourself and your family members very well, it is important to examine your beliefs and attitudes about race and ethnicity before adopting a child of another race or culture. Try to think if you have made any assumptions about people because of their race or ethnic group. There are two reasons for this exercise: (1) to check yourself -- to be sure this type of adoption will be right for you; and (2) to prepare to be considered "different."

When you adopt a child of another race or culture, it is not only the child who is different. Your family becomes a "different" family. Some people are comfortable with difference. To them, difference is interesting, wonderful, and special. Other people are not so comfortable with difference, and are scared by it. Thus, some friends, family members, acquaintances, and even strangers will rush to your side to support you, while others may make negative comments and stare. During the pre-adoption phase, you should think about how you will respond to the second group in a way that will help your child feel good about himself or herself. (We'll give you some ideas a little later.)

When your child is young, an extra hug and a heart-to-heart talk might be all it takes to help him or her through a difficult situation. While the hugs and the heart-to-heart talks never stop, as your child gets older, you and your child will need more specific coping skills to deal with the racial bias you might face together as a family. Are you ready to fully understand these issues and help your family deal with whatever happens?

Think About Your Lifestyle

Before considering a transracial or transcultural adoption, take a look at your current lifestyle. Do you already live in an integrated neighborhood, so that your child will be able to attend an integrated school? If not, would you consider moving to a new neighborhood? Do you already have friends of different races and ethnic groups? Do you visit one another's homes regularly? Do you attend multicultural festivals? Do you enjoy different kinds of ethnic foods? How much of a leap would it be to start doing some of these things?

It is important for children of color growing up with Caucasian parents to be around adults and children of many ethnic groups, and particularly, to see adult role models who are of the same race or ethnic group. These people can be their friends, teach them about their ethnic heritage, and as they mature, tell them what to expect when they are an adult in your community. Can you make these types of relationships available for your child?

Consider Adopting Siblings

It is always good for siblings to be adopted together. It is no different in the case of transracial or transcultural adoption. Siblings who are adopted together have the security of seeing another person in the family who looks like them. They are able to bring a part of their early history and birth family with them to their adoptive family, which may help them adjust better. And with internationally adopted children, being together might mean they will be able to keep up their native language.

Let's say, then, that you have examined your beliefs and attitudes about race and ethnicity. You have thought about your lifestyle and considered adopting siblings. You are sure you want to adopt a child from another race or culture. What comes next?

How You Can Help Your Child to Become a Stable, Happy, Healthy Individual with a Strong Sense of Racial or Cultural Identity

The seven parenting techniques listed below were compiled from books and articles on adoption and by interviewing experts in transracial and transcultural adoption. Some of these "techniques" are common sense and apply to all adopted children. However, with transracially or transculturally adopted children, these techniques are especially important.

Parents in a transracial or transcultural family should do the following:

  • Become intensely invested in parenting;
  • Tolerate no racially or ethnically biased remarks;
  • Surround yourselves with supportive family and friends;
  • Celebrate all cultures;
  • Talk about race and culture;
  • Expose your child to a variety of experiences so that he or she develops physical and intellectual skills that build self-esteem; and
  • Take your child to places where most of the people present are from his or her race or ethnic group.

The next sections provide more information on these techniques.

Become Intensely Invested in Parenting

Dr. Larry Schreiber, former president of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), an umbrella organization for a large number of adoptive parent support groups in the United States and Canada, wrote a column about his transracial adoption experience in the Winter 1991 issue of Adoptalk, 1 the NACAC newsletter. He characterizes transracial parenting as a "roller coaster of exaggerated parenting." As a Caucasian adoptive father of African-American, Latino, Korean, Cambodian, East Indian, and Caucasian children, he describes transracial parenting as the most joyous experience of his life. He admits that he doesn't really know what it is like to endure the racially-biased name-calling that his children have experienced, but he was always there for them when they needed to be comforted and to help them get through those difficult times.

Dr. Schreiber says that transracial parenting has both complicated and enriched his life. He had to work hard to help his children develop their cultural pride and self-esteem in a world that sometimes does not understand or is unkind to people from different cultures. However, he believes his children did overcome these difficulties and were able to develop positive cultural identities, mostly because of the help his family received from adoptive parent support groups and from other adults of the same cultural groups as his children.

Ms. RoAnne Elliott is another experienced adoptive parent in an interracial family who has written about the importance of investing in parenting. An African-American woman, Ms. Elliott encourages parents in transracial families to empower themselves and believe strongly that their family belongs together. She writes, "You need the firm knowledge in your heart and in your mind that you are the best parent for your children. This empowerment is key, since you can't parent well if you don't feel confident, competent, and entitled to do so."2 She says that being in an interracial family is the opportunity of a lifetime, allowing you to embark on "a journey of personal transformation, growing in your ability to nurture your children along the way. This involves an alert awareness of difference and an optimistic expectation that cultural differences among us will lead to rewarding personal connections and friendships."3

The message, then, is that transracial parenting is not laid-back, catch-as-catch-can parenting. According to these two experienced adoptive parents, the demands are great, but so are the rewards.

Tolerate No Racially or Ethnically Biased Remarks

As adoptive parents in an interracial or intercultural family, you should refuse to tolerate any kind of racially or ethnically biased remark made in your presence. This includes remarks about your child's race or ethnic group, other races and ethnic groups, or any other characteristic such as gender, religion, age and physical or other disability. Make it clear that it is not okay to make fun of people who are different, and it is not okay to assume that all people of one group behave the same way.4 Teach your children how to handle these remarks, by saying, for instance, "I find your remark offensive. Please don't say that type of thing again," or "Surely you don't mean to be critical, you just don't have experience with . . ." or "You couldn't be deliberately saying such an inappropriate comment in front of a child. You must mean something else."

Try to combat the remarks while giving the person a chance to back off or change what has been said. This way you will teach your child to stand up to bias without starting a fight -- which could put your child at risk. In addition, by being gracious and giving others a chance to overcome their bias/ignorance, you can help to change their beliefs and attitudes over time. Positive exchanges about race will always be more helpful than negative ones.

Surround Yourselves With Supportive Family and Friends

While you were thinking about adopting transracially or transculturally, did you find some people in your circle of family and friends who were especially supportive of your plans to become a multicultural family? If so, surround yourself with these people! In addition, seek out other adoptive families, other transracial or multicultural families, and other members of your child's racial or ethnic group. You will be surprised by how helpful many people will want to be, whether it is to show you how to cook an ethnic dish or teach you some words in their language. According to Ms. RoAnne Elliott, "You need a supportive community comprised of many races -- those who will be role models and provide inspiration, those who will stimulate your thinking, those who fill your desire for cultural diversity, and those who will challenge you in constructive and respectful ways.5

Celebrate All Cultures

As a multicultural family, you should value all cultures. Teach your child that every ethnic group has something worthwhile to contribute, and that diversity is this country's and your family's strength. For example, you might give your Korean daughter a Korean doll, but you might also start a collection for her of dolls of many different racial and ethnic groups. If your child is from South America, go to the Latino festival in your town, but also visit the new Native-American art exhibit, eat at the Greek fair, and dance at the Polish dance hall. Incorporate the art, music, drama, literature, clothing, and food of your child's ethnic group and others into your family's daily life.6 Invite friends from other cultures to celebrate your holidays and special occasions, and attend their events as well.

The area of religion brings up special concerns. You may wish to take your child to a place of worship in your community where most of the members are from the same ethnic group as your child; for example, you could bring your East Indian child to a Hindu temple or your Russian child to a Russian Orthodox church. What an opportunity to meet people of his ethnic group, find adult role models, and learn the customs of his heritage! However, before you do this, be sure you could be supportive if your child decides to practice that religion. If you have your heart set on raising your child in your own family's religion - one that is different from the religion practiced in the place of worship you will visit -- tell your child that the visit is for a cultural, not religious, purpose or perhaps decide not to visit at all. Practically speaking, you can impose your religious practice on your child for only a few years. As an adult, your child will ultimately decide whether to practice any religion at all, and whether it will be one that people of his or her heritage often practice, your family's religion, or yet another one that he or she chooses.

While it is important to teach your child that differences among people are enriching, it is also important to point out similarities. One expert suggests that in an adoptive family the ratio should be two similarities for each difference.7 For instance, to a young child you might say, "Your skin is darker than Daddy's, but you like to play music, just like he does, and you both love strawberry ice cream." As much as you want to celebrate your child's distinctive features, he or she also needs to feel a sense of belonging in the family.

Talk About Race and Culture

How has race or culture defined you? What is life like for a Latino person in America? What is life like for a Caucasian person? An African-American person? An Asian person? How are persons of different ethnic groups treated by police officers, restaurant employees, social organizations, or government agencies? What do you think about interracial dating and marriage? As a multicultural family, you need to address these and other racial matters.

Talk about racial issues, even if your child does not bring up the subject. Use natural opportunities, such as a television program or newspaper article that talks about race in some way. Let your child know that you feel comfortable discussing race-the positive aspects as well as the difficult ones. On the positive side, a child of a certain race may be given preferential treatment or special attention. On the other hand, even a young child needs to know that while your family celebrates difference, other families do not know many people who are different. These families are sometimes afraid of what they do not know or understand, and may react at times in unkind ways. It can be difficult to deal with such issues, especially when your child is young and does not yet know that some adults have these negative feelings, but you have to do it. You will help your child become a strong, healthy adult by preparing him or her to stand up in the face of ignorance, bias, or adversity.

Stand behind your children if they are the victim of a racial incident or have problems in your community because of the unkind actions of others. This does not mean you should fight their battles for them, but rather support them and give them the tools to deal with the blows that the world may hand them. Confront racism openly. Discuss it with your friends and family and the supportive multicultural community with which you associate. Rely on adults of color to share their insights with both you and your child. Above all, if your child's feelings are hurt, let him talk about the experience with you, and acknowledge that you understand.

Ms. Lois Melina,8 a Caucasian adoptive parent of Korean children and a noted adoption writer, lists five questions for you to ask your child to help him or her deal with problem situations:

  • What happened?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • What did you say or do when that happened?
  • If something like that happens again, do you think you will deal with it the same way?
  • Would you like me to do something?

It is important to leave the choice of your involvement up to your child. This way, you show that you are available to help, but also that you have confidence in your child's ability to decide when your help is needed.

Expose Your Child to a Variety of Experiences so That He or She Develops Physical and Intellectual Skills That Build Self-Esteem

This parenting technique is important for all children, but it is especially important for children of color. Children of color need every tool possible to build their self-esteem. While society has made strides in overcoming certain biases and forms of discrimination, there remain many subtle and not-so-subtle color or race-related messages that are discouraging and harmful to young egos. Be alert to negative messages that are associated with any race or culture. Point them out as foolish and untrue. Emphasize that each person is unique and that we all bring our own individual strengths and weaknesses into the world. Frequently compliment your child on his or her strengths. Draw attention to the child's ability to solve math problems, play ball, dance, play a musical instrument, ride a bike, take photographs, perform gymnastics, or any other activity that increases confidence. Self-esteem is built on many small successes and lots of acknowledgement. A strong ego will be better able to deal with both the good and the bad elements of society.

As your child gets older, keep in touch with his or her needs: this might mean buying him or her a few of the in clothes or enrolling him or her on the popular teams. Stay in tune with your child's natural skills and talents, and do whatever you can to help him or her develop them at each age.

Take Your Child to Places Where Most of the People Present are from His or Her Race or Ethnic Group

If you bring your African-American child to an African-American church, or your Peruvian child to a Latino festival, your child will experience being in a group in which the number of people present of his ethnic group is larger than the number of Caucasians present. Adoptive family support group events are other places where this might happen. Children usually enjoy these events very much. If you adopted a young child from another country, you might consider taking a trip to that country when the child is older and can understand what the trip is all about. Many adoptive families who take such a trip find it to be a wonderful learning experience.9

Another benefit of such an experience is that it might be one of the few times when you feel what it is like to be in the minority. This will increase your awareness and ability to understand your child's experience as a minority individual.

Other Sources of Information

Transracial adoption is a "hot" topic in the media and in adoption circles. There is quite a lot of activity in this area of adoption practice. We offer the following brief sections for your information.

Where Can I Find Out More About Transracial or Transcultural Adoption?

Child Welfare Information Gateway often receives questions about which adoption agencies place children transculturally or transracially. The answer is twofold. Their names often signal the kinds of adoptions they conduct (for example, if they have the word "international" in their name). These agencies are marked with an asterisk in Information Gateway's National Foster Care & Adoption Directory. However, many agencies are not as open about their policy on transracial adoption because of some of the controversial issues surrounding this type of adoption. Ask your local adoption agencies about their policies in this area, especially if you are strongly considering this type of adoption.

Legislation

In 1994, transracial adoption was the subject of a bill before Congress submitted by Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio. After intense debate, the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) passed both houses of Congress. One positive outcome of the debate is that people who historically have been on opposite sides of the question are beginning to reach some common ground. One point that everyone agrees on is that adults of all cultures need to work together to help adopted children of all cultures reach their highest potential.

Statistics

Although available statistics are rough estimates, several sources show that the percentage of transracial or transcultural adoptions in the United States is significant. For example, one source estimates that 1,000 to 2,000 African-American children are adopted by Caucasian families each year.10 Data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service show that U.S. families adopted 7,088 children from other countries in 1990. This means that there were roughly 8,500 transracial or transcultural adoptions in 1990. In that same year, there were almost 119,000 adoptions of all kinds.11 Since approximately half of the adoptions in any year are stepparent or relative adoptions, in 1990 there were about 59,500 nonrelative adoptions. The percentage of transracial/transcultural adoptions (8,500 of 59,500) then, comes out to more than 14 percent.

Conclusion

Adopting a child of another race or culture can be a richly rewarding choice for many families, although there are also many unique challenges and concerns. Hopefully the information provided in this factsheet will provide food for thought and become part of the ongoing discussion in your home. The resources listed at the end of this factsheet should also be helpful.

Bibliography

Abramovitz, Melissa. "Living in a Racially-Mixed Family: A Question of Attitude." OURS, Jul-Aug 1991, v24 n4, p. 27.

Ahn, Helen Noh. Identity Development in Korean Adolescent Adoptees: Eriksonian Ego Identity and Racially Ethnic Identity. Berkeley, CA: University of California School of Social Welfare, 1989.

Barnes, Donna. "Building a Family: One Color at a Time." AdoptNet, Nov-Dec 1992, v3 n6, pp. 7-8.

Bartholet, Elizabeth. Family Bonds: Adoption and the Politics of Parenting. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

Bates, J. Douglas. Gift Children: A Story of Race, Family, and Adoption in a Divided America. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1993.

Brooks, Dorothy Elizabeth. "Black/White Transracial Adoption: An Update." OURS, Jul-Aug 1991, v24 n4, pp. 19-21.

Caldwell-Hopper, Kathi. "Adopting Across Lines of Color." OURS, Jul-Aug 1991, v24 n4, pp. 23-25.

Darden, Edwin. "Biracial and Proud!" F.A.C.E. Facts, Jan-Feb 1991, v14 n3, pp. 10-11.

Elliott, RoAnne. "Can White People Nurture Black Kids Effectively?" Pact Press, Autumn 1992, v1 n3, p. 8.

F.A.C.E. "How to Keep Racism from Defeating Your Child." F.A.C.E. Facts, Apr-May 1991, v14 n4, p. 22.

Flango, Victor Eugene and Flango, Carol R. "Adoption Statistics by State." Child Welfare, May-Jun 1993, v72 n3, pp. 311-319.

Frey, Susan. "Interracial Families." AdoptNet, Jul-Aug 1991, v3 n4, pp. 40-41, 46.

Gilles, Tom and Kroll, Joe. Barriers to Same Race Placement. St. Paul, MN: North American Council on Adoptable Children, 1991.

McFarlane, Jan. "Self-Esteem in Children of Color: Developmental, Adoption, and Racial Issues. OURS, Jan-Feb 1992, v25 n1, pp. 24-29.

______________. "Building Self-Esteem in Children and Teenagers of Color." OURS, May-Jun 1992, v25 n3, pp. 28-33.

McRoy, Ruth G. and Zurcher, Louis A., Jr. Transracial and Inracial Adoptees. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1983.

Melina, Lois. "Cultural Identity Goes Beyond Ethnic Foods, Dolls." Adopted Child, Dec 1988, v7 n12, pp. 1-4.

____________. "Transracial Adoptees Can Develop Racial Identity, Coping Strategies." Adopted Child, Jan 1994, v13 n1, pp. 1-4.

Neal, Leora and Stumph, Al. "Transracial Parenting: If It Happens, How White Parents and the Black Community Can Work Together." Adoptalk, Winter 1993, p. 6.

Nelson-Erichsen, Jean and Erichsen, Heino R. Butterflies in the Wind: Spanish/Indian Children with White Parents. The Woodlands, TX: Los Niños International Adoption Center, 1992.

O'Rourke, Lisa, Hubbell, Ruth, Goolsby, Sherrell and Smith, Debra. "Intercountry Adoption." Washington, DC: Child Welfare Information Gateway Fact Sheet, 1988, revised 1994.

Pederson, Jeff. "Traveling to Your Child's Country of Origin." OURS, Mar-Apr 1992, v25 n2, pp. 40-42.

Pohl, Constance and Harris, Kathy. Transracial Adoption: Children and Parents Speak. New York: Franklin Watts, 1992.

Raible, John. "Continuing the Dialogue on Transracial Adoption." Adoptalk, Summer 1990, p. 5.

Register, Cheri, M.D. "Are Those Kids Yours?" American Families with Children Adopted from Other Countries. New York: Free Press, 1991.

____________________. "Are White People Colorless?" OURS, Jan-Feb 1994, v27 n1, pp. 32-34.

Richmond, Ann Freeman. "The Transracial Debate: A White Perspective." Adoptalk, Winter 1992, pp. 16-17.

Schreiber, Larry, M.D. "From the President." Adoptalk, Winter 1991, p. 2.

Simon, Rita and Altstein, Howard. Adoption, Race, and Identity: From Infancy Through Adolescence. New York: Praeger, 1992.

Thorp, Judy. "Our Trip to Chicago's Little India." OURS, May-Jun 1992, v25 n3, pp. 36-38.

Van Gulden, Holly. "Attachment and Bonding in Adoptive Families," Workshop at Families Adopting Children Everywhere (F.A.C.E.) Conference, Towson, Maryland, May 1992.

1 Schreiber, p. 2. back
2 Elliott, p. 8. back
3 Elliott, p. 8. back
4 Melina, 1988, p. 2. back
5 Elliott, p. 8. back
6 Thorp, p. 36 back.
7 Van Gulden, F.A.C.E Conference Workshop, 1992. back
8 Melina, 1988, pp. 3-4. back
9 Pederson, p. 42. back
10 Brooks, p. 10. back
11 Flango and Flango, p. 317.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway.

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Adoption Options At-a-Glance
 
This guide focuses on one way to think about how choices in adoption may flow from one another:
 
Where Will Our Family's Child Come From?
There are two types of adoption: domestic and intercountry.
 
Domestic Adoption
 
Agency Oversight: Agency oversight varies from licensed and accredited agencies to unregulated facilitators.
 
Voluntary Surrender or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): Children are legally freed for adoption either through voluntary relinquishment or involuntary termination of the parental rights of their birth parents.
 
Child Characteristics: Every age child is available, including sibling groups of multiple ages. Children may be healthy or may have special physical or mental health needs.
 
Cost: Cost ranges from free or very little to $40,000 or more.
 
Potential Wait: Waits can be unpredictable and range from very short to 2 years or more.
 
Adoptive Parent Characteristics: Adoptive parent characteristics sought by birth parents vary. Specific characteristics have been found common to successful adoptive parents of children from foster care.
 
Post-Placement Support: Post-placement support varies from none to a wide array of services.
 
Potential Birth Parent Involvement/Access to Family History: The more "open" the adoption, the more potential access to a child's birth family history.
 
Intercountry Adoption
 
Agency Oversight: Agencies facilitating intercountry adoptions must adhere to U.S. State and Federal regulations and regulations of the child's country of origin.
 
Voluntary Surrender or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): For immigration purposes, children must be considered "orphans" to be adopted.
Child Characteristics: Depending on the country, children available for adoption may include infants, school-aged children, sibling groups, and those with special needs due to parental substance abuse, poverty, or institutionalization.

Cost: Costs range from $7,000 to $30,000 or more, depending on the country and number of trips required.

Potential Wait: Waits vary depending on the country. Some countries are able to predict time from "matching" to "placement" so families can plan their lives accordingly.

Adoptive Parent Characteristics: Requirements for adoptive parents are country-specific regarding age, marital status, background, number of children in family, and other characteristics.

Post-Placement Support: Post-placement support ranges from none, to post-placement visits and required reports to the child's country of origin, to country-specific adoptive parent support groups.

Potential Birth Parent Involvement/Access to Family History: Agency oversight varies from licensed and accredited agencies to unregulated facilitators.
 
If We Adopt Domestically, What Type of Adoption is Best For Our Family?

Two types of domestic adoption are domestic infant adoption and foster care adoption.

Domestic Infant Adoption

Agency Oversight: Oversight varies from accredited and licensed agencies to unregulated facilitators.

Voluntary Surrender or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): Most domestic infant adoptions are voluntary on the part of birth parents.

Child Characteristics: Health status of domestic infants can vary greatly depending on prenatal care, substance abuse, genetics, etc.

Cost: Costs range from $5,000 to $40,000 or more depending on the agency or facilitator and State laws regarding allowable expenses.

Potential Wait: Wait varies greatly depending on the kind of child a family is looking for, timing of the family's home study documents and child's need, and birth parents' choices of adoptive parents.

Adoptive Parent Characteristics: Agencies may have specific requirements regarding faith (if a faith-based agency), age, marital status, or other characteristics.

Post-Placement Support: Post-adoption support varies greatly from none to support groups for families and children.

Potential Birth Parent Involvement/Access to Family History: Many adoptions involve some level of contact between birth and adoptive families. Access to history varies greatly depending on the situation and type of agency or facilitator.

Foster Care Adoption

Agency Oversight: Foster care adoptions can occur through public social service agencies (overseen by the State) or licensed private agencies (must meet State licensing standards and may be accredited).

Voluntary Surrender or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): Most children are freed for adoption by the involuntary termination of their birth parents' rights. Each State has its own Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) law.

Child Characteristics: Most children in foster care are older children or sibling groups of different ages. The average age of a waiting child is over 8 years old.

Cost: Foster care adoption may be free or involve minimal fees, such as attorney costs, which can often be reimbursed.Federal or State adoption subsidies may also be available depending on the child's special needs.

Potential Wait: The wait for placement of children from foster care varies greatly depending on the type of child(ren) the family hopes to adopt and the family's ability to meet the child(ren)'s needs.

Adoptive Parent Characteristics: Qualities of families who successfully adopt children from the foster care system include flexible expectations and a tolerance for rejection.

Post-Placement Support: Post-adoption support may include Federal or State adoption subsidies, foster/adoptive parent support groups, respite care, individual or family therapy, and other services.

Potential Birth Parent Involvement/Access to Family History: Potential birth parent involvement varies from none to regular contact with the birth family (if in child's best interest).Agencies generally share all they know regarding a child's birth family history.
If We Choose Domestic Infant Adoption, Who Will Assist Our Family?

Professionals who assist families with domestic infant adoption include licensed private agencies, independent attorneys, and facilitated/unlicensed agencies.

Licensed Private Agency Adoption

Agency Oversight: Licensed agencies must meet State or other licensing standards.

Voluntary Surrender or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): Varies by State and type of adoption. Agencies must have surrenders and/or termination of parental rights for both the birth mother and father.

Child Characteristics: Licensed private agencies may place domestic infants, children in foster care, orchildren from other countries.

Cost: Generally the expenses are predictable and will be known up front. Cost ranges from nothing to $40,000 or more.

Potential Wait: The wait for a child varies greatly; intercountry adoptions may have more "predictable" waiting periods.

Adoptive Parent Characteristics: Adoptive parent characteristics vary depending on the type of adoption and child requested.

Post-Placement Support: Post-adoption support varies depending on the region, agency resources, type of adoption, and needs of the child.

Potential Birth Parent Involvement/Access to Family History: The "openness" of the adoption varies by agency, type of adoption, and preferences of all involved.

Independent (Attorney) Adoption

Agency Oversight: Independent adoptions generally do not involve as much oversight as adoptions with licensed agencies. They must comply with State laws and regulations (not all States allow for this type of adoption). Assisting attorneys must adhere to the standards of the State's Bar Association.

Voluntary Surrender or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): Generally voluntary relinquishments by birth mothers and/or birth fathers. Situations will vary by laws of the involved States.

Child Characteristics: Characteristics of children placed independently can vary greatly due to prenatal care and genetics.

Cost: Costs can be unpredictable but generally average between $10,000 and $15,000. State law regulates allowable expenses (e.g., birth mother's medical care).

Potential Wait: Time to find a potential match and have a child placed is unpredictable and may be shorter or longer than a wait for an infant placement through a licensed private agency.

Adoptive Parent Characteristics: Since expectant parents choose a family, adoptive parents' characteristics depend on individual expectant or birth parent's wishes.

Post-Placement Support: Post-placement support varies depending on the region and the child's needs.

Potential Birth Parent Involvement/Access to Family History: Birth and adoptive families have direct contact with one another, often allowing for exchange of medical and family history.

Facilitated/Unlicensed Agnecy Adoption

Agency Oversight: This type of adoption involves the least amount of oversight. Some States regulate facilitators, while in other States anyone can declare themselves to be an "adoption facilitator."

Voluntary Surrender or Termination of Parental Rights (TPR): Generally voluntary relinquishments by birth mothers and/or birth fathers. Situations will vary by laws of the involved States.

Child Characteristics: The health status of domestic infants vary greatly, as with any newborn, due to prenatal care, genetics, etc.

Cost: Expenses are regulated by State law but can still be unpredictable. Facilitated adoptions can cost as much or more than licensed private agency adoptions.

Potential Wait: The wait can vary tremendously depending on the situation and involved parties.

Adoptive Parent Characteristics: Since expectant parents often choose a family through a facilitator, adoptive parents' age and other characteristics will depend a great deal on the individual expectant or birth parents' wishes.

Post-Placement Support: Post-placement services vary depending on the region, agency resources, and the child's needs.

Potential Birth Parent Involvement/Access to Family History: Birth parent involvement and access to the child's family history vary depending on the facilitator and the wishes of involved parties.

 

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway
 
<< Back
 
Adoption Options
 
Prospective adoptive parents have many adoption options. The way you choose to adopt will depend on what is important to your family, including how you feel about contact with birth parents, how flexible you can be about the characteristics of the child you wish to adopt, the resources you have available for adoption fees, and how long you are willing to wait for your child. This factsheet provides some basic information about adoption options; for more information, see the resource list at the end of this document.
 
Child Welfare Information Gateway National Foster Care & Adoption Directory offers State-by-State listings of public officials, public and licensed private adoption agencies, and support groups for adoptive parents or people searching for birth relatives.
 
This factsheet focuses on one way to think about how choices in adoption may flow from one another:
 
Where will our family's child come from? (Domestic or intercountry adoption?)
If we adopt domestically, what type of adoption is best for our family? (Domestic infant or foster care adoption?)
If we choose domestic infant adoption, who will assist our family with the adoption? (Licensed private agency, independent [attorney], or facilitated/unlicensed agency adoption?)
 
For more specific information about these choices, see the companion table, Adoption Options-at-a-Glance.
 
Domestic or International Adoption?
 
One of the first decisions many prospective adoptive parents make is whether to adopt a child from the United States or from another country. Some considerations in deciding between domestic and intercountry adoption may be how you feel about parenting a child whose background differs from your own and how you feel about potential involvement of the child's birth parents.
 
Domestic Adoption
 
Children adopted domestically often (though certainly not always) have more in common with their adoptive parents in terms of racial and ethnic background. Whether you adopt an infant or an older child, the potential also exists for some degree of contact between your family and the child's birth family after the adoption (referred to as "openness"). Even if the adoption is not open, persons adopted domestically may have an easier time locating their birth families if they decide to search as adults.  

The Information Gateway factsheet, Openness in Adoption: A Fact Sheet for Families, and the bulletin, Openness in Adoption: A Bulletin for Professionals, offer more information about potential advantages and disadvantages of open adoptions.

Intercountry Adoption

Birth parent involvement is less likely in an intercountry adoption. In order for children to achieve orphan status (and be eligible for adoption) in many countries, the birth parents must have died or "abandoned" them. In these cases, search for birth families as an adult can be more difficult and, in many cases, impossible.

Strict immigration requirements apply to adoptions of children from other countries. It is important to choose a licensed, knowledgeable organization for intercountry adoptions because the process is often lengthy and complex. Expenses for this type of adoption include agency fees as well as transportation, legal, and medical costs. Total costs can range from $7,000 to $30,000 or more, but they are generally predictable.

While intercountry adoption can be more expensive than domestic adoption (particularly adoption from foster care), the wait for an infant or younger child is generally more predictable than in domestic infant adoption (depending on the country and agency).

Licensed private agencies with intercountry programs are indicated in the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory. For more information about intercountry adoptions, see the Information Gateway factsheets, Intercountry Adoption and Transracial and Transcultural Adoption.

Domestic Infant or Foster Care Adoption?

If you choose to adopt domestically, you will need to decide whether you wish to adopt an infant or adopt a child (or children) from the foster care system. In making this decision, you may want to consider your support system, what resources you have available for adoption expenses, and how flexible you can be about the characteristics of the child you wish to adopt.

Infant Adoption

Many prospective parents seek to adopt healthy infants, often of a background similar to their own. Waiting times for infant adoptions vary tremendously and can be as long as 2 years or more. Many agencies now involve birth parents in choosing adoptive parents and have discontinued traditional "waiting lists" (first come, first placed) because so few infants are available through agencies. In the United States, agency criteria for prospective adoptive parents are often more restrictive for infant adoptions than for adoptions of older children, again because fewer infants are available. Expenses for domestic infant adoption can range from $5,000 to more than $40,000. (An amount between $10,000 and $15,000 is common).

Foster Care Adoption

Foster care adoptions, sometimes called "special needs adoptions," are typically handled by public agencies (local Departments of Social Services). Most children in foster care have been abused or neglected and, as a result, may have physical, emotional, or mental disabilities. These children often are older (grade school through teens) or are sibling groups who have a goal of being adopted together. Adoption services through a public agency are usually free or available for a modest fee. Federal or State subsidies are sometimes available to assist families adopting a child with special needs as defined by the Children's Bureau Child Welfare Policy Manual. For more information about adoption subsidies, see the Information Gateway factsheet Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted From Foster Care: A Factsheet for Families.

Costs of Adopting: A Fact Sheet for Families, an Information Gateway publication, discusses resources to help defray the cost of adoption. The Information Gateway factsheet, Foster Parent Adoption: What Parents Should Know reviews issues that foster parents should consider when making the decision to adopt their foster child. For all types of adoption, a Federal adoption tax credit of up to $10,160 is available for qualifying families. Some employers also offer adoption benefits to offset the cost of adopting.

Licensed Private Agency, Independent Adoption, or Facilitated/Unlicensed Agency?

While public agencies handle the adoption of children in the State child welfare or foster care system, if you wish to adopt an infant from the United States, you may choose to work with a licensed agency, an attorney (sometimes called "independent adoption"), or an unlicensed adoption facilitator (if allowed by laws in your State). Licensed private agencies need to meet State standards for licensure and have more oversight to ensure quality services. Unlicensed agencies and facilitators often do not have the same State oversight and consequently there may be more financial and emotional risk for adoptive and birth families using these services.

Licensed Private Agency Adoption

In a licensed agency adoption, the birth parents relinquish their parental rights to the agency. Adoptive families then work with adoption agency professionals toward placement. Licensed agency adoptions provide the greatest assurance of monitoring and oversight of professional services, because these agencies are required to adhere to licensing and procedural standards. The wait for an infant through a licensed private agency may be longer. Prospective parents may not have an opportunity to meet the birth parents face to face. Social workers in agencies make decisions about the match of a child and prospective adoptive parent. In addition, agencies may give preference to certain types of individuals or couples (e.g., due to faith or marital status). Expenses range from nothing (if a private agency contracts with a public agency to place children from foster care) to $40,000, but they are generally predictable.

Independent Adoption

In an independent adoption, attorneys assist families; however, birth parents typically give their consent directly to the adoptive family. You will interact directly with the birth parents or their attorney if you choose this option. Attorneys who facilitate independent adoptions must adhere to the standards of the Bar Association. Some attorneys who specialize in adoption are members of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys , a professional membership organization with standards of ethical practice. State law regulates allowable expenses (such as the birth mother's medical care) that can be reimbursed by adoptive parents. Read State Regulation of Adoption Expenses for more information. Expenses in this type of adoption can be less predictable. Not all States allow for independent adoption; check with your State Adoption Specialist.

Even if the birth mother and adoptive parents locate one another independently, they may still take advantage of services offered by a licensed agency. This is called "identified adoption." The agency's role is to conduct the home study for the adoptive parents and counsel the birth mother and father, if available.

Facilitated/Unlicensed Agency Adoption

Adoptive placements by facilitators (or those by unlicensed agencies) offer the least amount of supervision and oversight. A facilitator is any person who links prospective adoptive parents with expecting birth mothers for a fee. Adoption facilitators are largely unregulated in many States; families often have little recourse should the plan not work out as expected. Some States do not permit adoptions by paid facilitators. Check with your State Adoption Specialist.

How Will the Placement Process Vary?

In every case, adoption starts with an educational and home study process. Adoption: Where Do I Start? has more information. How you choose to adopt will impact how and when a child is placed in your home. The following information gives a brief overview of how placement may proceed depending on the type of adoption you choose. For more assistance comparing the different types of adoption, see Information Gateway's companion chart, Adoption Options at-a-Glance.

Intercountry Adoption

The placement process for intercountry adoption varies depending on the agency you choose and the child's country of origin, but it is typically somewhat predictable. As a child becomes available for adoption, he or she is matched with prospective parents who can meet that child's needs. Families often have the opportunity to review a child's information prior to accepting a placement. Some pediatricians specialize in helping parents evaluate that information.

Often, families need to travel to the child's country of origin to pick up their child. Some countries require more than one trip. The State Department Web site provides the most comprehensive information regarding intercountry adoption, including the most common countries of origin. Necessary forms and frequently asked questions regarding intercountry adoption can be accessed through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Foster Care Adoption

There are many children in foster care waiting for adoptive families. Check with your local Department of Social Services to learn about children who need homes in your area. Adoption exchanges provide photolistings with pictures and brief descriptions of children in the foster care system across the State or region. Once a match has been made between a family and child, and you have reviewed and feel comfortable accepting the child's social and background information, you and the child begin visiting at the direction of the involved adoption professionals. Pre-placement visits vary depending on the situation and the age of the child. After the successful completion of these visits, the child is placed for adoption and comes to live with your family. For more information, read Obtaining Background Information on Your Prospective Adoptive Child: A Fact Sheet for Families .

The AdoptUSKids Web site provides a national online photolisting of children in foster care waiting for families. Information Gateway provides a complete listing of State Child Welfare Agency Websites.

Domestic Infant Adoption (Licensed Private Agency)

Adoptive parents working with private agencies often have little control over the process of identifying a child. This process varies greatly depending on the agency. Some agencies are faith-based and give preference to families from a particular religious background. Many agencies allow birth parents to choose a prospective adoptive family for their child based on profiles or books that families create to share information about themselves. As a result, the wait for your child may be unpredictable and, in some cases, quite long. The Information Gateway factsheet, Openness in Adoption: A Fact Sheet for Families, has more information .

Independent Adoption

Families adopting independently identify the birth parents without an agency's help. Each family's situation is different; it is impossible to predict the length of time you may wait for a child to be placed. Some adoptive parents and expectant mothers have found each other and made a plan within a week, other adoptive parents search for 1 to 2 years. Infants are usually placed with the adoptive parents directly from the hospital after birth.

What Other Choices Should We Consider?
 

Facilitated Adoption

The placement process for families adopting through an adoption facilitator will vary greatly depending on the facilitator and the situation. Placements through an adoption facilitator may be much like placements through independent adoptions.

The following Information Gateway publications may help with other important decisions as you determine which path to adoption is right for your family.

Openness in Adoption: A Bulletin for Professionals
Information about potential advantages and disadvantages of open adoptions.

Parenting a Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused: A Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents
Information about child sexual abuse and special considerations for parents who adopt children who have experienced abuse.

Transracial/Transcultural Adoption
Tips for families preparing to adopt a child of a race or culture different from their own, including what can be done post-adoption to help the child develop a strong sense of cultural and racial identity.

Additional Resources

General Adoption Resources

Adopting.com
Extensive index of adoption resources on the Internet.

Adoption: Where Do I Start?
An overview of the adoption process.

Adoptive Families Magazine
Bimonthly information source for families before, during, and after adoption.

American Association of Open Adoption Agencies
Information and resources developed by agencies practicing openness.

Fostering Families TODAY Magazine
Issues and answers surrounding international and domestic adoption.

How to Make Adoption an Affordable Option
Booklet available from the National Endowment for Financial Education (current through 1997).

Insight: Open Adoption Resources & Support
Resources and support for birth and adoptive families involved in open adoptions.

IRS Adoption Tax Credit
Printable version of IRS Publication 968 "Tax Benefits for Adoption."

National Foster Care & Adoption Directory
A comprehensive State-by-State adoption resource.

Perspectives Press
Books on infertility and adoption.

Tapestry Books
Books on adoption.

Foster Care Adoption Resources

National Adoption Center-10 steps to Adoption
Explains steps to adoption of children in foster care.

State Child Welfare Agency Websites
Contains links to each State's adoption and foster care information as well as the photolisting of children in the foster care system waiting for families.

The Collaboration to AdoptUsKids
The national online photolisting service of children waiting for families in the foster care system.

Intercountry Adoption Resources

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS)
Frequently asked questions regarding adoption.

Developmental Evaluations of International Adoptees
Nationwide listing of physicians and clinics specializing in assessments of international adoptees.

Intercountry Adoption
An overview of intercountry adoption with resources for more information.

Joint Council on International Children's Services
Membership agency that promotes ethical practices in intercountry adoption among its member agencies.

State Department Web Site
International Adoptions booklet, important notices, and country-specific information.

Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway
 << Back
Adoption : Where Do I Start?
 
Introduction
 
This factsheet is a "gateway" to the many possible paths to building your family through adoption. It will help give you an understanding of the basic steps in any adoption process and guide you to resources at each step.
 
Step 1: Educate Yourself
 
What You Should Know
 
At times, the adoption process can seem complicated, time consuming, and frustrating. However, many resources exist to help prospective adoptive parents educate themselves about adoption.
 
Local community colleges, adoption exchanges, adoption agencies, hospitals, religious groups, and other organizations may offer adoption preparation programs.
Adoptive parent support groups often are willing to assist people considering adoption. In addition, regional adoption exchanges, local agencies, and State adoption specialists can send you information to help get you started.
 
There are also many books, magazines, and Websites on this topic. See the resource list at the end of this factsheet for more information.
 
Some Places to Go
 
To learn more about what to expect when pursuing specific types of adoption, see the related Child Welfare Information Gateway factsheet Adoption Options: A Fact Sheet for Families and companion chart Adoption Options at-a-Glance, as well as the resources listed at the end of this document.
 
The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory, available from Information Gateway, provides lists of adoption resources in every State, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to assist families in their pursuit of adoption.
 
Step 2: Understand the Law
 
What You Should Know

State laws and regulations govern U.S. adoptions. Learning about the adoption laws in your State, or any States involved with your adoption, can help avoid frustrating situations.

Some Places to Go

The State Statutes Search highlights specific adoption-related topics and provides a quick overview and comparison of laws across the States. Information regarding who may adopt, timeframes for consent and revocation of consent to adoption, and termination of parental rights laws are provided in the database, and can be searched by State, territory, or region.

 
Step 3: Explore Your Options/Select an Agency

What You Should Know

Families wishing to adopt have many options. The following is one way to think about how choices in adoption may flow from one another:

  • Where will our family's child come from? (Domestic or intercountry adoption?)
  • If we adopt domestically, what type of adoption is best for our family? (Domestic infant or foster care adoption?)
  • If we choose domestic infant adoption, who will assist our family with the adoption? (Licensed private agency, independent, facilitated, or unlicensed agency adoption?)

The way you choose to adopt will depend on the characteristics of the child you wish to adopt, how long you are willing to wait for your child, and other concerns.

Some Places to Go

For more information, see the related Information Gateway factsheet Adoption Options and companion chart Adoption Options at-a-Glance.

 
Step 4: Complete a Home Study

What You Should Know

No matter what type of adoption you choose to pursue, all prospective adoptive parents must have a home study or "family study." A home study involves education, preparation, and information gathering about the prospective adoptive parents. This process can take from 2 to 10 months to complete, depending on agency waiting lists and training requirements. States vary regarding home study requirements, so you should check with your State adoption specialist to learn about the specific regulations in your State.

Some Places to Go

The Adoption Home Study Process, an Information Gateway factsheet, provides more information regarding what is generally included in a home study. The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory, on the Information Gateway website, lists the State Adoption Specialist in each State and Territory.

 
Step 5: Engage in the Placement Process

What You Should Know

Once your home study is completed, you are ready to begin the placement process—the time when a specific child is identified for your family. Depending on the type of adoption you are pursuing, this process and the potential time involved in waiting for your child vary greatly.

  • If you are pursuing an independent adoption, an attorney or facilitator may help you identify expectant parents or you may locate them on your own if allowed by State law.
  • If you are using a licensed private agency to pursue a domestic infant adoption, the expectant parents may select your family from among several prospective adoptive families.
  • In the case of foster care adoption or intercountry adoption of older children, you may review information about a number of children who are waiting for families. You will often have the opportunity for pre-placement visits, to get to know a child before he or she moves into your home in foster care adoption. Also, many foster parents in the United States adopt the foster children in their homes if the children become available for adoption.
  • If you are adopting an infant internationally you may receive a referral during this time.

Some Places to Go

The Information Gateway factsheet, Obtaining Background Information on Your Prospective Adoptive Child provides suggestions for obtaining a child's medical, social, and educational history.

Information Gateway has a number of resources for expectant parents who are considering adoption including a factsheet Are You Pregnant and Thinking About Adoption?

Intercountry Adoption, another Information Gateway factsheet, provides more information on the placement process when adopting a child from another country.

Foster Parent Adoptions: What Parents Should Know, an Information Gateway factsheet, outlines considerations in this type of adoption.

Most adoptions of children from foster care are handled by public child welfare agencies. The national online photolisting AdoptUSKids provides pictures and general descriptions of children in foster care around the country who are waiting for families. The Information Gateway resource listing, State Child Welfare Agency Websites provides links to photolisting services in each State.

 
Step 6: File Necessary Legal Documents

What You Should Know

All adoptions need to be finalized in court, though the process varies from State to State. Usually a child lives with the adoptive family for at least 6 months before the adoption is finalized legally. During this time, a social worker may visit several times to ensure the child is well cared for and to write up the required court reports. After this period, the agency or attorney (in the case of independent adoption) will submit a written recommendation of approval of the adoption to the court, and you or your attorney can then file with the court to complete the adoption. For intercountry adoptions, finalization depends on the type of visa the child has and the laws in your State. The actual adoption procedure is just one of a series of legal processes required for intercountry adoption. In addition to your State laws, you must also follow the laws of the child's country of origin, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' (formerly INS) requirements.

Some Places to Go

The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory provides an attorney referral service for each State. The Information Gateway factsheet Intercountry Adoption provides more information.

 
Step 7: Parent Your Child

What You Should Know

The final, and most important step, in the adoption process is to parent your adopted child. Adoption is a lifelong process. Your family, like many families, may need support adjusting to life with your new child. Your family and your child may have additional questions at different developmental stages.

Some Places to Go

Read more in the following Information Gateway publications:

Adopting Children with Developmental Disabilities

Adoption and the Stages of Development

Postadoption Services: A Factsheet for Families

Foster Care Adoption: What Parents Should Know

Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons: A Factsheet for Families

Parenting a Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused: A Guide for Foster and Adoptive Parents

Selecting and Working With an Adoption Therapist
 
Additional Resources

General Adoption Resources

Adopting.com
Extensive index of adoption resources on the Internet.

How to Make Adoption an Affordable Option
Booklet available from the National Endowment for Financial Education. (Information current through 2001.)

Domestic Adoption Resources

American Association of Open Adoption Agencies
Information and resources developed by agencies practicing openness.

Perspectives Press
Books on infertility and adoption.

Insight: Open Adoption Resources & Support
Resources and support for families involved in open adoptions.

Adoptive Families Magazine
Bimonthly information source for families before, during, and after adoption.

Tapestry Books
Books on adoption, including many children's books.

Foster Care Adoption Resources

National Adoption Center—10 Steps to Adoption
Explains steps to adopt children from foster care.

State Child Welfare Agency Websites
Contains links to each State's photolisting of children in the foster care system waiting for families.

The Collaboration to AdoptUsKids
National online photolisting service of children in foster care waiting for families.

Intercountry Adoption Resources

U.S. Department of State Web Site
International Adoptions booklet, important notices, factsheets, and country-specific information.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly INS)
Downloadable forms and frequently asked questions regarding adoption.

Hague Conference on Private International Law
Full text and explanatory report on the Hague Conference on Private International Law, an intergovernmental organization working for the progressive unification of the rules of private international law.

Joint Council on International Children's Services
Promotes ethical practices in intercountry adoption.

Intercountry Adoptions Finalized Abroad
This Information Gateway legal product has more information about States' laws regarding intercountry adoption finalization.

Developmental Evaluations of International Adoptees
Nationwide listing of physicians and clinics specializing in assessments of international adoptees, from Information Gateway.

Kinship Adoption Resources

Kinship Caregivers and the Child Welfare System: A Factsheet for Families
The factsheet outlines the benefits, barriers, and resources for kinship placements including subsidized guardianships.

Kinship Care/Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Resource Listing
Linked list of resources for grandparents raising grandchildren.

AARP Grandparent Information Center
Information on being a good grandparent, visitation rights, and raising grandchildren.

AARP, State Fact Sheets for Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children
State-by-State information about kinship care.

Generations United, National Center on Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children
Seeks to improve the lives of these caregivers and the children they are raising.

Tools for Working with Kinship Caregivers (PDF - 130 KB)
From the Casey National Center for Resource Family Support.

Special Circumstances Adoption Resources

Military Families and Adoption: A Fact Sheet for Families
A factsheet answering questions often asked by military families.

Openness in Adoption: A Fact Sheet for Families
This factsheet can help you decide if open adoption is right for your family.

Stepparent Adoption
Factsheet explaining steps involved in stepparent adoption.

Transracial and Transcultural Adoption
Factsheet providing tips and considerations for transracial and transcultural adoptions.
Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway
 
 
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Intercountry Adoption : Where Do I Start?
 
Introduction
 
The number of Americans adopting children from other countries grew dramatically from 1990, when 7,000 children received visas to come to the United States for adoption, through 2004, when 22,884 children received such visas. After peaking in 2004, these numbers began to decline, and the statistics for fiscal year 2008 show that 17,433 children were adopted through intercountry adoption that year.1
 
Intercountry adoption continues to be an option for parents who choose to adopt. This factsheet provides an overview of the intercountry adoption process. Depending on your State, your adoption services provider, and the country from which you adopt, the steps in this adoption process may vary. For example, some families will first select an adoption services provider; their choice of country will then be limited to the countries with which that agency works. In every case you must meet the basic requirements of U.S. immigration law.
 
Table of Contents
 
Deciding if intercountry adoption is right for your family
Deciding what country your child will come from
Finding an adoption services provider
Adopting your child
Meeting immigration and citizenship requirements
Adjusting to your new family
Additional Resources
 
The Hague Convention
 
The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Convention) is a multilateral treaty between the United States and approximately 75 other countries. The Convention provides safeguards to protect children and families involved in adoptions between participating countries. The Convention also works to prevent the abduction, sale, or trafficking of children.
 
The process for adopting from Convention and non-Convention countries differs. Adopting a child from a participating country and working with a Hague-accredited adoption services provider is the best way to ensure your adoption will reflect the safeguards enacted by the Hague Convention. For more information, see the Information Gateway factsheet Intercountry Adoption From Hague Convention and Non-Hague Convention Countries at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/hague.pdf1 Numbers courtesy of the U.S. Department of State: http://adoption.state.gov/news/total_chart.html
 
Deciding if International Adoption is Right for Your Family
 

What You Should Know

Intercountry adoption is just one way to build a family through adoption. Other options include adoption from domestic foster care and domestic infant adoption. Many families consider the following issues when deciding whether intercountry adoption is right for them:

  • Adoptive parent requirements. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which must approve all intercountry adoptions, has two basic eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents: Petitioners must be U.S. citizens and, if unmarried, must be at least 25 years old when they file the petition to adopt.  For married couples, USCIS has no age requirement and only one spouse must be a U.S. citizen.
  • Timeframe. Like any adoption, intercountry adoption involves some uncertainty. The length and predictability of the process vary depending on the country, agency, lawyer, and individual child involved, but it generally takes from 1 to 4 years to complete an intercountry adoption.
  • Child circumstances. Children in other countries need adoptive families for many of the same reasons children in the United States need foster care and adoptive families. These reasons may include abandonment, poverty, illness or death of the parents, or family issues such as substance abuse, child abuse, or neglect. Children may have health or emotional problems related to these reasons. There also may be cultural factors that contribute to the child's need for a permanent family, including the government's policies on population control, the country's economy, or others. It is helpful to understand what these factors are in the specific countries you are considering.
  • Child's age. The Office of Immigration Statistics, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, reports that in 2006 approximately 42 percent of children adopted internationally were younger than 12 months old, and another 42 percent were between 1 and 4 years old. According to U.S. immigration law, children must be younger than 16 years old on the filing date of the immigration petition in order to be eligible to immigrate to the United States for purposes of adoption. (There are some exceptions to this. See page 2 of I am a U.S. Citizen: How Do I Immigrate an Adopted or Prospective Adopted Child or Help My Adopted Child Become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident? at www.uscis.gov/files/article/A3eng.pdf.)
  • Eligibility for adoption and immigration to the United States. U.S. Immigration laws (the Immigration and Naturalization Act and the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000) require children entering the United States for purposes of adoption to be classified as "orphans" (if they are from non-Convention countries) or as "Convention adoptees" (if they are from Convention countries), as defined by these laws. Convention adoptees must have parents who are "incapable of providing proper care." (See I am a U.S. Citizen: How Do I Immigrate an Adopted or Prospective Adopted Child or Help My Adopted Child Become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident? at www.uscis.gov/files/article/A3eng.pdf.)

Adoption of Relatives

Prospective adoptive children who are related to the petitioners/prospective adoptive parent(s) must qualify for adoption and immigration to the United States under all the same criteria as unrelated children. Relatives may be able to adopt if the children qualify as orphans or Convention adoptees. The requirements depend on the country in which the relative lives. (Information regarding specific requirements can be found on page 3 of I am a U.S. Citizen: How Do I Immigrate an Adopted or Prospective Adopted Child or Help My Adopted Child Become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident? at www.uscis.gov/files/article/A3eng.pdf.)

 

Some Places to Go

Compare the different ways to adopt. Read the Child Welfare Information Gateway (Information Gateway) publications Adoption Options: A Factsheet for Families (www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_adoptoption.cfm) and Adoption Options at-a-Glance: A Companion Guide for Families (www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_adoptoptionglance.cfm).These and other Information Gateway publications can be located through the Publications Catalog on the Information Gateway website: www.childwelfare.gov/catalog/

 
Finding an Adoption Services Provider

What You Should Know

The country from which you plan to adopt may help determine which adoption services provider you use. Only Hague-accredited adoption services providers may place children from Convention countries and provide other adoption services in a Convention adoption. Accredited (or "approved") adoption services providers must comply with the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 and Hague regulations, which are designed to protect everyone involved (adopted children, adoptive parents, and birth parents). For example, providers must disclose to prospective adoptive parents an itemized list of fees and estimated expenses prior to providing any adoption services.

For some non-Convention adoptions, you may work through a licensed adoption agency or you may work with an adoption lawyer or a private adoption agency as required by State regulations. The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends that families work with a reputable provider licensed by the State in which it is located and experienced in intercountry adoption. Nonagency intercountry adoptions may incur additional risks (including unethical practices, potential for an adoption to be overturned, and immigration difficulties). To help you determine whether an adoption services provider is reputable, see the tips in Information Gateway's How to Assess the Reputation of Licensed, Private Adoption Agencies (www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/twenty.cfm).

Take time to research and carefully select your adoption services provider. An experienced, reputable adoption services provider should be willing to walk you through the adoption process, help you prepare to become adoptive parents (through educational classes on parenting and adoption issues or referrals to such programs), contact USCIS about immigration regulations and forms, help you handle problems along the way, and provide support after you bring your child home. Before deciding on a provider, attend information sessions or orientations and ask questions about the services provided. Reputable adoption providers will answer your questions openly. These initial sessions are usually free. Visiting several different providers may help you find the one that best meets your needs.

Questions to ask adoption services providers:

  • Is the provider accredited for Hague Convention adoptions?
  • By which State is the provider licensed? Is the license in good standing?
  • How long has the provider been involved in intercountry adoptions?
  • In which countries does the provider have intercountry adoption programs? How long have they had programs in those countries?
  • How many children has the provider placed (from the country of interest)?
  • What are the provider's minimum requirements for prospective parents?
  • How does the provider prepare parents for an intercountry adoption?
  • Does the adoption provider have its own overseas staff or use the services of facilitators or lawyers?
  • How do the provider's contacts (such as facilitators or lawyers) working in other countries identify children needing families?
  • What are the fees? (Ask for a detailed list of expenses and schedule for payment.)
  • What, if any, is the refund policy if an adoption does not occur?
  • What services are provided after your child comes home? How long are they available?
  • Does this provider offer all adoption services? Which other organizations may be involved in providing some of these services in a specific case? (For example, if your adoption provider is only helping conduct your home study, ask which other providers may be helping to identify a child for adoption, obtain the termination of the birth parents' parental rights, or monitor the case until the adoption is finalized. See the Information Gateway factsheet Intercountry Adoption From Hague Convention and Non-Hague Convention Countries for more information: www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/hague.cfm

Find more questions to ask in "What to Ask Before Choosing an Adoption Agency" from Adoptive Families magazine: www.adoptivefamilies.com/articles.php?aid=327 .

Some Places to Go

The U.S. Department of State maintains a list of adoption services providers accredited or approved to provide services in Convention adoptions:
http://adoption.state.gov/hague/accreditation/agencies.html.

Some countries allow only organizations that are permitted by that country's government to place children internationally. The U.S. Department of State's Country-Specific Adoption Fliers provide information about whether a specific country has such a requirement: http://adoption.state.gov/countryinformation.html.

 
Adopting Your Child

What You Should Know

Your adoption services provider should provide you with all of the information you need to successfully meet eligibility requirements to adopt your child. For example, all prospective adoptive parents will need to complete a home study, submit immigration forms, and put together a dossier (a collection of the family's personal records—which vary by country but may include proof of a family's identity, finances, health, and character—required in order for the country's legal system to process the adoption).

A few months to a year or more after completing the required paperwork, your family will be matched with a specific child for possible placement. This process varies greatly depending on the country and adoption provider involved. In a few non-Hague Convention countries, families might be allowed to be directly involved in this step by visiting orphanages and viewing photolistings of waiting children. Waiting to be matched with a child is often one of the hardest and most unpredictable parts of the adoption process. Tips for helping families deal with the wait are in the Joint Council on International Children's Services publication Coping and Difficulties and Delays As You Wait For Your Child at www.jcics.org/Waiting.pdf.

When a specific child is identified, you will receive a referral (a packet of information about the child). This packet usually includes the child's picture and information on the child's health and history. In the case of an abandoned child, medical information and history may be limited to the period of time since the child's placement in the orphanage or institution. You will have a period of time to review the information and decide whether you can meet this child's needs. Ask your provider or a doctor any questions you have before you accept the placement. Take as much time as you need to feel comfortable with your decision, paying particular attention to the information related to the child's health, prenatal health (if known), placement history, and expected emotional or mental health needs. It is better to stop the process prior to meeting the child if you are unsure about whether you can make the changes necessary to incorporate him or her into your family.

Health information. The type and quality of available medical information will vary depending on the country. Reputable providers will give you as much information as possible about a child's background and medical history, but they cannot guarantee the information is accurate or complete. Many factors influence the health of children who need families in other countries. Children often have health conditions that are common in developing countries but can be prevented or easily treated in the United States. Children's health also can be affected by living in institutions. A doctor familiar with intercountry adoption can help you understand the information you receive about the child's health and development. Prospective adoptive parents who plan to make two trips to the child's country might even make a video of the child on the first trip and ask a doctor to evaluate it. See the Some Places To Go section below for links to international adoption clinic websites.

Expected emotional or mental health needs. Children in other countries enter their country's child placement systems for many of the same reasons children enter foster care in the United States, including parental substance abuse or prenatal exposure to alcohol and other drugs, physical abuse, or neglect. In many countries, children waiting for adoption live in institutions, where they are sometimes exposed to physical or sexual abuse and/or neglect. It is important to be aware of the possible effects of these experiences on children's emotional and mental health, so you can have realistic expectations about your child's future needs. While the vast majority of adoptions are successful, research shows that families that have realistic expectations about what it will take to meet a child's needs and how those needs might affect family life, the parents' relationship, and other children living in the home are more likely to be successful.

The legal adoption or guardianship process begins after you accept a referral for a specific child. In some countries, families are required to travel to the child's country of origin to finalize the adoption in the foreign court. In others, guardianship of the child will be transferred to the prospective adoptive parents or to their agency, but they must finalize the adoption in U.S. courts to fulfill USCIS requirements.

Caution

In the case of a child from a Convention country, it is important that you do not adopt or accept legal custody of the child until:

  • USCIS has provisionally approved the petition to classify the Convention adoptee as an immediate relative (Form I-800) AND
  • The U.S. Department of State has advised the Central Authority of the child's country that the prospective adoptive parents have been found suitable and the child appears eligible to come to the United States if adopted or if legal custody for the purpose of adoption is granted

 

Even if a trip is not required, experiencing your child's country of origin firsthand can give you a deeper understanding of what his or her life was like before joining your family. Traveling with a group of other prospective adoptive parents can help you form supportive relationships with other adoptive families that can last for years.

Some Places to Go

The USCIS publication The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children explains USCIS regulations, details requirements for prospective adoptive parents, and provides links to forms for intercountry adoption: www.uscis.gov/files/nativedocuments/adopt_book.pdf.

The University of Minnesota's International Adoption Clinic website provides information about the health of children adopted from other countries:
www.med.umn.edu/peds/iac

The American Academy of Pediatrics provides a State-by-State directory of pediatricians with a special interest in adoption and foster care medicine:
www.aap.org/sections/adoption/default.cfm

Prepare for travel to your child's country of origin by reading the Adoptive Families magazine article "The Top 10 Secrets of Successful Adoption Travel":www.adoptivefamilies.com/pdf/10_tips.pdf

 
Meeting Immigration and Citizenship Requirements

What You Should Know

There may be additional actions required by U.S. immigration law, State law, your child's country of origin, or your adoption provider before or after you bring your child home. Requirements will vary depending on the type of immigrant visa your child received (see box). Your adoption provider can tell you more about what must be done in your specific case.

You may need to:

  • Submit postplacement reports and pictures. Not all countries require follow-up reports; some require annual reports for 5 years or longer. Ensuring these reports get filed in a timely manner helps foster positive relationships between the United States and your child's country of origin, paving the way for future intercountry adoptions.
  • Readopt your child in a U.S. court and obtain a U.S. birth certificate. It is generally a good idea to readopt if your child is not from a Convention country. If your child is from a Convention country, readoption is not required. See the Readoption section of the Information Gateway website for more information on State laws and why readopting in the United States may be beneficial in some cases: www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/types/intercountry/readoption.cfm.
  • Obtain proof of your child's U.S. citizenship. A Certificate of Citizenship issued by USCIS, or a U.S. passport, provides proof of U.S. citizenship for children who become citizens through adoption (see box).
  • Obtain a Social Security Number for your child. The Social Security Administration will assign your child a social security number before you obtain proof of U.S. citizenship; however, you will need to provide proof that a full and final adoption has been completed. Records will not show your child is a U.S. citizen until you provide this proof.

Proof of Citizenship

A Certificate of Citizenship issued by USCIS or a U.S. passport issued by the U.S. Department of State provides proof of U.S. citizenship for children who become citizens through adoption. This is different from the certificate provided with Convention adoptions, issued at the time of adoption and affixed to the foreign adoption decree by the U.S. Department of State, stating that the adoption is in compliance with the Convention. For more information about Convention adoptions, see the Information Gateway factsheet Intercountry Adoption From Hague Convention and Non-Hague Convention Countries at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/hague.cfm.

The process for obtaining the Certificate of Citizenship depends on the type of visa your child was issued. Ask your agency which type of visa your child was issued, or check the stamp in his or her passport.

  • IR-3 Visa: A child with a full and final adoption in his or her country of origin, entering the United States on an IR-3 visa, generally automatically becomes a citizen upon entering the country. In these cases, the child will receive a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS within 45 days of entering the United States. (There are exceptions to this process for U.S. military employees and those who work for the U.S. Department of State.)
  • IR-4 Visa: If your child entered the United States on an IR-4 visa, you must finalize your child's adoption in a U.S. court to satisfy Child Citizenship Act requirements (unless the child was officially adopted in the child's country and the child's State of residence in the United States recognizes the foreign adoption without a requirement to readopt). Your child automatically will become a U.S. citizen on the day the adoption is finalized in the United States provided the child is under the age of 18 on the date of adoption. You may then apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by submitting Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship and the filing fee to the local USCIS district office or suboffice (www.uscis.gov/n-600).

It is possible to obtain a passport from the State Department (http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html) for a child before receiving the Certificate of Citizenship, but the adoption must be full and final according to Federal law. The "full effect" of a foreign adoption decree means that adoptive parents and adopted children have the same rights and obligations as they would have if a State court had issued the adoption decree.

Some Places to Go

The Social Security Administration provides information on how to prove citizenship for an adopted child: www.ssa.gov/immigration/children.htm.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 provides that foreign-born children who have been admitted for permanent resident status in the United States and adopted by a U.S. citizen parent living in the United States automatically become U.S. citizens as soon as the requirements of the Act are met. Find more about the requirements of the Act on the Citizenship section of the USCIS website: http://www.uscis.gov/citizenship.

Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, can be found on the USCIS website:
www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/? vgnextoid=a936cac09aa5d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a1RCRD&vgnextchannel=db029c7755cb9010VgnVCM10000045f3d6a1RCRD

 
Adjusting to Your New Family

What You Should Know

Adjusting to a new family and culture may be challenging for your child. Children who have spent most of their early lives in an institution must adjust to living in a family. Receiving one-on-one attention, sleeping alone, and owning things may be completely new experiences. Children often have trouble with new eating and sleeping schedules, in addition to changes in diet, tastes, smells, and numerous other cultural differences. Keeping some items familiar to the child, such as a favorite blanket or article of clothing or familiar-looking items from the child's country of origin, may ease the transition as well as provide important mementos for the future. Older children also may struggle with language, school, and cultural issues and will need more time to adjust.

Soon after your child arrives in the United States, you may consider taking him or her for a thorough checkup with a doctor who has experience in intercountry adoption. There are a number of clinics around the country that specialize in international adoption medicine. (See Some Places to Go, below.)

Your family also must adjust to your new status as a transcultural and possibly transracial family. Parents who have not joined an adoptive parent support group may wish to do so to share the joys of parenting, learn from each other's experiences, and help each other through challenges. Adoptive parents also need to be aware of the impact that the adoption of a child from a different country may have on other children in the family and on extended family members.

During this transition and throughout your lives as an adoptive family, adoption agency staff may be a valuable source of support. Some adoption agencies provide services for adoptive families, from about 6 months to several years after placement, to make sure your child is adjusting well. During this time, adoptive parents can also locate resources and referrals for additional services they need. It is normal for adopted individuals and their families to need support beyond this initial transition period. See Information Gateway's factsheet on postadoption services for more information about adoption services and their benefits: www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_postadoption.cfm.

Some Places to Go

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a directory of pediatricians with a special interest in adoption and foster care medicine: www.aap.org/sections/adoption/SOAFCAdoptionDirectory2.pdf

A listing of clinics that specialize in international adoption medicine can be found at: www.comeunity.com/adoption/health/clinics.html

View Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for vaccines and preparation for travel early in your adoption process to ensure you have time to complete any necessary series of immunizations.

Information about follow-up medical exams and screening tests for children adopted internationally is offered by:

Find more information about children's needs after adoption on the Information Gateway website:

Rainbowkids.com: The International Adoption Publication is an online resource designed to educate and support families built through intercountry adoption: www.rainbowkids.com .

 
Additional Resources

Office of Immigration Statistics. (2008). 2007 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Retrieved December 5, 2008 from www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/yearbook/2007/ois_2007_yearbook.pdf

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2003). How Do I Apply to Bring a Foreign-Born Orphan to the United States? Updated link retrieved December 15, 2008, from www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis/menuitem.5af9bb95919f35e66f614176543f6d1a/? vgnextoid=5da2194d3e88d010VgnVCM10000048f3d6a1RCRD&vgnextchannel=173e8c03ef929110VgnVCM1000004718190aRCRD

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2003). The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopted Children. Updated link retrieved December 15, 2008, from www.uscis.gov/files/nativedocuments/adopt_book.pdf

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2008). I Am a U.S. Citizen: How Do I Immigrate an Adopted or Prospective Adopted Child or Help My Adopted Child Become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident? Retrieved December 15, 2008, from www.uscis.gov/files/article/A3eng.pdf

U.S. Department of State. (2008). Total Adoptions to the United States. Retrieved December 15, 2008, from http://adoption.state.gov/news/total_chart.html

U.S. Department of State. Intercountry Adoption. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from http://adoption.state.gov/
 
Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway
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Obtaining Background Information on Your Prospective Adopted Child
 
Why Is Background Information Important?
 
In any type of adoption (agency or independent, domestic or intercountry), involving children of any age, it is important to obtain as much thorough and accurate medical, genetic, and social history information as you can about your prospective child. While adoption, like any form of parenting, involves a certain level of risk, background information is useful for the following reasons:
 
It enables you to make an informed decision about accepting a child. When you have complete and accurate knowledge of a child's needs (medical or emotional) prior to placement, you will be better able to determine if your family is prepared to care for this child. You are also able to consider whether you have the emotional and financial resources to meet any special needs that may be identified for the child.
It may enable you to access Federal or State adoption subsidies available for children with special needs. Adoption subsidies (sometimes called adoption assistance) are available for some children with special needs. Not all children will qualify for adoption subsidies. Child Welfare Information Gateway factsheet on Subsidized Adoption is one source for more information.
It provides an opportunity for your child to develop an accurate sense of his or her own history. Without accurate information, adopted children may develop unrealistic fantasies about their history or may blame themselves for the separation from their birth families. They may feel disconnected from their past or like a piece of themselves is missing and incomplete. As they grow older, they will also lack information critical to their own childbearing decisions.
It provides an opportunity for early diagnosis, treatment, and intervention for developmental problems and conditions. Knowledge of medical problems or genetic predispositions in a child's birth family may help you diagnose and treat conditions more quickly. Knowing whether a child has been tested for a specific disease or condition, and the results of such tests, avoids duplicative testing.
Where Would I Find Background Information About Waiting Children?

Contact your local agencies and ask about the types of children their agency usually places with adoptive families, the ages of children who generally are available for adoption, and the general backgrounds of the children. There are also many excellent books about adoption that can provide information (see Where can I go for more information? at the end of this factsheet). Keep in mind that each child is an individual with his or her own potential problems, as well as his or her own strengths, abilities, talents, and charms. Agencies will often share more specific information about each child after your family has completed a home study and expresses an interest in adopting that particular child.

The national online photolisting AdoptUsKids provides pictures and general descriptions of children around the country who are waiting for families. Because the descriptions in photolistings are so brief, it is important to understand what might be meant by certain phrases. For example, a description such as "very active, impulsive, needs a lot of attention and acts out" may suggest a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; a child described as "developmentally delayed" may be diagnosed with mild to moderate mental retardation. Be alert to any phrases that would indicate what it might be like to live with this particular child. After your home study is completed, talking with the child's caseworker and others who know the child, such as a child's former foster parents or teachers, will give you a more complete sense of a particular child.

 
What Questions Should I Ask A Child's Caseworker?

Once your home study is complete and you express an interest in a particular child, you will have an opportunity to talk in-depth with the child's caseworkers and, possibly, others in the child's life. Asking questions and listening carefully to the responses will help you better understand what it would be like to live with that child.

The questions you ask and the information you receive will depend to some degree on the child's age. With an infant, the birth parents' health history1, particularly the birth mother's prenatal history, will be most important. With an older child, you will be seeking more comprehensive information (including social, developmental, educational, and mental health histories). If the child has been in foster care, the questions you ask may be much more complex.

Keep the following questions in mind when listening to any child's background information:

  • What would a child with this history believe about him/herself?
  • What would a child with this history believe about parents/caretakers/the world?
  • What types of behaviors should I expect from a child with this history?
  • What special skills, abilities, or resources might be necessary to parent this particular child (e.g., medical knowledge or skills, accessible housing, special cultural or parenting training)?

Questions Regarding the Child's Medical and Family History

  • How complete is the social/medical history on the birth family, including extended family? What is missing? Is it possible to get more information?
  • What is the birth family's racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious background?
  • What is the general physical description of the child's birth parents, siblings, and other close relatives? Are there pictures? (Attempt to get pictures of a child's birth parents and relatives whenever possible, because this will enable you to answer the questions frequently asked by adopted children: "What did my birth parents look like?" or "Who do I look like?")
  • Is there a family history of drug or alcohol abuse?
  • Is there a family history of mental illness or other genetic conditions, or predispositions to diseases such as diabetes or heart disease?
  • What was the age and cause of death of close relatives in the birth family?
  • What is known about the birth parents' developmental history-physically, emotionally, cognitively, including language development?
  • What is known about the educational background of the birth parents and the child's siblings?
  • What are the special skills, abilities, talents, or interests of birth parents and family members?
  • Are there letters, pictures, videotapes, and gifts from the birth family?
  • What was the birth mother's health like during pregnancy, and what was the health of each parent at the time of the child's birth?
  • What prenatal care did the child receive, and what was his or her condition at birth?
  • When did he or she achieve developmental milestones, and have there been any developmental assessments reflecting deviation from typical development?
  • Are there prior medical, dental, psychological, or psychiatric examinations and/or diagnoses for this child?
  • Are there records of any immunizations and/or health care received while the child was in out-of-home care?
  • What is the child's current need for medical, dental, developmental, psychological, or psychiatric care?
  • What is the child's HIV status?

Questions Regarding the Child's Social and Placement History

  • Why did the birth parents make an adoption plan for the child, or why was the child removed from his or her birth family?
  • Did the child suffer any physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect? At what point in the child's life did he or she experience these traumas? How often? By whom?
  • How many placements did the child have, and where (e.g., relative placements, foster homes, orphanages, residential treatment facilities, hospitals)? What were the reasons for placements or re-placements? What does the child remember about his or her placements? What does the child believe about why he or she was placed or moved from one placement to another? (The child's belief may or may not be accurate, but it is important to understand a child's perception of his or her placement history.)
  • Where is the child currently enrolled and what is his or her performance at school?
  • What are the results of any educational testing and are there any special educational needs?
  • Are there significant events (early separations, multiple caretakers, abuse/neglect) in the child's life that could affect his or her capacity to relate to a new family?
  • What are the past and existing relationships in the child's life with people he or she has regularly lived with or visited (e.g., siblings, birth parents, foster parents, orphanage workers, teachers, therapists, nurses)? How has the child responded to visits with these persons in the past? Is future contact planned with any of these persons? How often? Who is responsible for seeing that it happens?
  • What are the child's strengths?
  • What are the child's special interests, talents, and/or hobbies?

You should seek assistance in interpreting this information by speaking with doctors, mental health professionals, education professionals, and parents who have adopted children with similar needs and issues.

 
Why Might All The Information Not Be Available?

Complex Family Histories. Social workers in the child welfare system make every effort to collect complete background information about each of the children for whom they are responsible. This often includes positive information about the child and family as well as problems. However, children in foster care often have complex and difficult family histories. They often are older, need to be placed with their brothers and sisters who may also have been removed from their birth family, have experienced trauma, and have experienced frequent moves both while in their family of origin and while in the foster care system. All these factors may make it difficult to obtain a complete background history.

Gaps in Recordkeeping. Children in the foster care system may have had many different social workers in various units of the social service system before becoming available for adoption. Recordkeeping may vary, and workers may have moved on. Children may have had multiple foster placements; foster families may no longer work for an agency.

Intercountry Adoptions. The only source of information in intercountry adoptions may be the agency, orphanage, and/or adoption facilitator in the country of origin. There may be no (or very limited) information about a child's birth family. Doctors or attorneys who facilitated an adoption may have retired or moved out of the area.

Many children placed internationally may have health and developmental problems, particularly if they were placed at an early age in an institutional setting. Some problems, such as certain vitamin deficiencies and scabies, are unique to children adopted internationally and may depend on the child's country of origin. Other problems, such as learning disabilities and the effects of prenatal alcohol or drug exposure, are similar to those that children in the United States experience. The resource listing Developmental Evaluations of International Adoptees has helpful information about where to have development assessed.

Limitations in Knowledge. Agencies, social workers, and intermediaries cannot disclose what they do not know. For example, children who have been abused may not feel comfortable telling anyone about the abuse until they are in a safe, stable environment. Indeed, an adoptive parent may be the very first person a child feels comfortable talking to about an incident of abuse.

 
What Should I Do If Some Or All The Information Is Not Available?

In domestic agency adoptions the family can ask the agency to try to contact the child's birth family (or others in the child's life) for additional information. Former foster parents can sometimes be the best source of information regarding an older child. Child Welfare Information Gateway has a listing of adoption statutes related to access to identifying and nonidentifying information in each State.

In any case, it is important to be honest with your child regarding what you know about his or her birth family and background information. How that information is shared with a child will depend on the family and the child's developmental level. Child Welfare Information Gateway factsheet Explaining Adoption to Your Children, Family and Friends has additional information.

 
Where Can I Go For More Information?

Internet Resources

National Child Welfare Resource Center for Adoption Back issues of their newsletter, The Roundtable , can be obtained through the Web site. This publication regularly has articles relating to children who have been adopted from foster care. Volume 10, #1 has an article for social workers by Kay Donley Ziegler regarding sharing children's background information (disclosure).

Child Welfare Information Gateway's Summaries of State Laws from Prevention to Permanency, Adoption
Find out how a particular State's statutes address issues pertaining to adoption, child abuse and neglect, and child welfare.

Books and Journal Articles

Carp, E. Wayne (1995) Adoption and Disclosure of Family Information: A Historical Perspective in Child Welfare, January-February 1995, pp. 217-239. (Available through CWLA c/o PMDS, P. O. Box 2019, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701-2019 800.407.6273              800.407.6273      , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , www.cwla.org .)

Edwards, C. Lynne (2002) Opening Pandora's Box: Helping Children Heal Through Storytelling, Conference Presentation, CWLA National Adoption Conference, Ft. Lauderdale, FL. (Available from author at Coordinators/2, Inc. 4200 Chamberlayne Ave., Richmond, VA, 804.266.2694              804.266.2694      .)

Freundlich, Madelyn and Peterson, Lisa (1999), Wrongful Adoption: Law, Policy, and Practice. Washington, DC: CWLA Press.

Keefer, Betsy and Schooler, Jayne E. (2000) Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child. Bergin and Garvey. (Available through Bergen and Garvey Trade, Westport, CT, Greenwood Publishing Group, 88 Post Rd. W., Westport, CT 06881, 203.226.3571              203.226.3571      , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , www.greenwood.com .)

Leshne, Liane (1999) Wrongful Adoptions: Fewer Secrets and Lies, But Agencies Still Fail at Full Disclosure, Association of Trial Lawyers of America, April 1999, pp 14-17. (Available through Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Washington, DC. Leonard M. Ring Law Center, 1050 31st St. NW, Washington, DC 20007, 800.424.2725              800.424.2725      , 202.965.3500              202.965.3500      , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , www.atla.org.)

Lorandos, Demosthenes A. (1996), Secrecy and Genetics in Adoption Law and Practice, Loyola University of Chicago Law Journal, Winter 1966, pp. 277-320 (Available from Fred B. Rothman and Co., 10368 W. Centennial Rd., Littleton, CO 80127 303.979.5657              303.979.5657      .)

Melina, Lois (1998) Raising Adopted Children: Reassuring Advice for Every Adoptive Parent, HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. (Available from Tapestry Books, P. O. Box 359, Ringoes, NJ 08551, 800.765.2367              800.765.2367      , 908.806.6695              908.806.6695      , This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , www.tapestrybooks.com .)

Van Gulden, M. and Bartels-Rabb, L. (1994) Real Parents, Real Children: Parenting the Adopted Child. Crossroad Publishing, New York, NY. (Available from Tapestry Books, 800.765.2367              800.765.2367      .)

1 Regulations issued as a result of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act 1996 (HIPAA) which went into effect April 14, 2003, may impact the amount or type of information about birth parents' health information that may be shared by agencies.
 
Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway.
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Openness in Adoption
 
What Is Open Adoption?
 
Open, or fully disclosed, adoptions allow adoptive parents, and often the adopted child, to interact directly with birth parents. Family members interact in ways that feel most comfortable to them. Communication may include letters, Emails, telephone calls, or visits. The frequency of contact is negotiated and can range from every few years to several times a month or more. Contact often changes as a child grows and has more questions about his or her adoption or as families' needs change. It is important to note that even in an open adoption, the legal relationship between a birth parent and child is severed. The adoptive parents are the legal parents of an adopted child.
 
The goals of open adoption are:
 
To minimize the child's loss of relationships.
To maintain and celebrate the adopted child's connections with all the important people in his or her life.
To allow the child to resolve losses with truth, rather than the fantasy adopted children often create when no information or contact with their birth family is available.
 
Is Open Adoption Right for Our Family?
 
Open adoption is just one of several openness options available to families, ranging from confidential, to semi-open (or mediated), to fully open adoption. In semi-open or mediated adoptions, contact between birth and adoptive families is made through a mediator (e.g., an agency caseworker or attorney) rather than directly. In confidential adoptions no contact takes place and no identifying information is exchanged.
 
 
D
Making an open adoption work requires flexibility and a commitment to ongoing relationships, despite their ups and downs. While this type of adoption is not right for every family, open adoption can work well if everyone wants it and if there is good communication, flexibility, commitment to the process, respect for all parties involved, and commitment to the child's needs above all.

There are many resources available to help you determine what level of openness might be best for your family. The chart included with this factsheet may help you consider some pros and cons of open adoptions. You can also:

Explore the Internet. Several Web sites provide research and issues to consider in open adoption:

Read. Several recent books about open adoption may be helpful:

  • Children of Open Adoption by Patricia Martinez Dorner and Kathleen Silber (1997, Independent Adoption Press). The topics in this book include the essential "ingredients" for successful open adoption and communication tips for talking about open adoption with children of all ages.
  • How to Open an Adoption by Patricia Martinez Dorner (1998, R-Squared Press). This book gives guidance to adoptive parents, birth parents, and adoption professionals in how to navigate more inclusive relationships.
  • Lifegivers: Framing the Birth Parent Experience in Open Adoption by James L. Gritter (2000, CWLA Press). This book examines the ways birth parents are marginalized. The author makes the point that adopted children are best served when birth parents and adoptive parents work together to ensure that birth parents remain in children's lives.
  • The Open Adoption Experience by Lois Ruskai Melina and Sharon Kaplan Roszia (1993, HarperPerennial). This complete guide for adoptive and birth parents touches on almost every aspect of open adoption.
  • The Spirit of Open Adoption by Jim Gritter (1997, CWLA Press). This book gives a realistic look at the joys and pains of open adoption for birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents.
  • What is Open Adoption? by Brenda Romanchik (1999, R-Squared Press). Written from the perspective of a birth mother in an open adoption, this pocket guide provides concise information and resources.

Abstracts of these books are available through the Information Gateway Library Search.

Talk with a Counselor or Therapist with Knowledge and Experience in Open Adoption.

Child Welfare Information Gateway has a tip sheet on selecting and working with an adoption therapist who is informed about issues of adoption. This factsheet describes the types of mental health professionals available and provides guidelines for choosing the best resource for your family.

Talk with Other Parents.

The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory has lists of foster and adoptive parent support groups in each State. Because each parent group will have its own focus, you might want to ask how many families attending the group are in open adoptions.

 
What Questions Should Our Family Consider in Open Adoption?

In open adoptions, families need to consider when and how much to tell a child about his or her birth family, and then if and how to involve him or her in that relationship. An adoption professional can help you address some of these issues. Some of the questions you may want to consider include:

  • At what age should a child be included in contact with his or her birth family?
  • What happens if one party decides to break off all contact?
  • What will the birth parents' role be in the child's life?
  • How will your child explain his or her relationship with birth relatives to his or her peers?
  • How will you handle other adopted siblings who have different levels of openness in their adoptions?

Summary

No one level of openness in adoption is best for everyone, and each adoption changes over time. Adoptees from all kinds of adoptions, from confidential to fully open, can be emotionally healthy. Using the resources listed on this factsheet, as well as the following tables, you can decide what level of openness is best for your family.

Table of pros of each type of adoption for the involved parties
Table of cons of each type of adoption for the involved parties

1 "Cooperative adoption" or "adoption with contact" refer to arrangements that allow some kind of contact between adoptive families and members of the adopted child's birth family after the adoption has been finalized.
 
Pros of Each Type of Adoption for the Involved Parties

 

Confidential Adoptions

Mediated (Semi-Open)

Open Adoptions

No contact between birth and adoptive families. No identifying information is provided.

Only nonidentifying information (e.g., height, hair color, medical history, etc.) is provided through a third party (e.g., agency or attorney).

Nonidentifying contact is made (via cards, letters, pictures) through a third party (e.g., agency or attorney).

Direct interaction between birth and adoptive families. Identities are known.

Birth Parents

  • Provides real choice for birth parents when compared to open adoption.
  • Privacy.
  • Some feel this provides a sense of closure and ability to move on with life.
  • Allows for some information transfer between birth and adoptive parents (and perhaps the child).
  • Some privacy.
  • Increased ability to deal with grief and loss.
  • Comfort in knowing child's well-being.
  • Sense of control over decision-making in placement.
  • Potential for more fully defined role in child's life.
  • Potential to develop a healthy relationship with the child as he or she grows.
  • Less pain and guilt about the decision.
  • May make the decision to place for adoption easier (compared to a contested termination of parental rights trial).

Adoptive Parents

  • No need to physically share the child with birth parents.
  • No danger of birth parent interference or co-parenting.
  • Greater sense of control over process.
  • Roles may be more clearly defined than in either confidential or open options.
  • Increased sense of entitlement compared to confidential adoptions.
  • Enhanced ability to answer child's questions about his or her history.
  • Increased sense of having the "right" to parent and increased ability for confident parenting.
  • Potential for authentic relationship with the birth family.
  • More understanding of children's history.
  • Increased empathy for birth parents.
  • Less fear of birth parents reclaiming child because they know the parent and their wishes.
  • Delight of being "chosen" as a parent.

Adopted Persons

  • Protection from unstable or emotionally disturbed birth parents.

Only true when relationship is "shared" with the adopted child

  • Genetic and birth history known.
  • Birthparents are "real" not "fantasy."
  • Positive adjustment is promoted in adoptee.
  • Direct access to birth parents and history.
  • Need to search is eliminated.
  • Identity questions are answered (Who do I look like? Why was I placed?).
  • Eases feelings of abandonment.
  • Lessening of fantasies: birth parents are "real."
  • Increased circle of supportive adults.
  • Increased attachment to adoptive family (especially if the birth parents support the placement).
  • Preservation of connections (e.g., with siblings, relatives).
  • Lessens loyalty conflicts (according to recent research).
  • Exposure to racial and ethnic heritage.
  • Ability for evolving, dynamic, and developmentally appropriate account of the adoption.
Cons of Each Type of Adoption for the Involved Parties

 

Confidential Adoptions

Mediated (Semi-Open)

Open Adoptions

No contact between birth and adoptive families. No identifying information is provided.

Only nonidentifying information (e.g., height, hair color, medical history, etc.) is provided through a third party (e.g., agency or attorney).

Nonidentifying contact is made (via cards, letters, pictures) through a third party (e.g., agency or attorney).

Direct interaction between birth and adoptive families. Identities are known.

Birth Parents

  • Less grief resolution due to lack of information about the child's well-being.
  • May encourage denial of fact that child was born and placed with another family.
  • Loss of potential for direct relationship with adoptive family (and/or child).
  • Increased grief in the initial years, less later.
  • Loss of contact if intermediary changes or leaves (i.e., staff turnover, policy changes, or agency closings).
  • Birth mother may feel obligated to place child due to the emotional or financial support given by the prospective adoptive parents.
  • Full responsibility for setting relationship limits and boundaries.
  • Potential abuse of trust (fewer safeguards).
  • Potential disappointment if adoptive family cannot meet all expectations or needs.
  • Birth mother may feel obligated to place child due to the emotional or financial support given by the prospective adoptive parents.

Adoptive Parents

  • Allows for denial of "adopted family" or fertility status.
  • Increased fear, less empathy for birth parents.
  • No access to additional medical information about birth family.
  • Less control: agency controls information.
  • Loss of the full relationship with the birth parents.
  • Lack of ability to have questions answered immediately.
  • Potentially troubling cards, letters, or pictures.
  • Full responsibility for setting relationship limits and boundaries.
  • Potential pressure: accept openness or no child.
  • Potential difficulty with emotionally disturbed birth parents.
  • Potential for supporting both child and birth parents (emotionally).

Adopted Persons

  • Possible adolescent identity confusion (unable to compare physical and emotional traits to their birth families).
  • Limited access to information that others take for granted.
  • Potential preoccupation with adoption issues.
  • Similar to confidential adoptions, if information not shared with the adoptee.
  • Potential perception that it is unsafe to interact with birth family directly.
  • No clean break for assimilation into family, which some feel is necessary.
  • Potential feelings of rejection if contact stops.
  • Difficulty explaining the relationship to peers.
  • Potential for playing families against each other.
Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway
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The Adoption Home Study Process
 
Introduction
 
The laws of every State and the District of Columbia require all prospective adoptive parents (no matter how they intend to adopt) to participate in a home study. This process has three purposes: to educate and prepare the adoptive family for adoption, to gather information about the prospective parents that will help a social worker match the family with a child whose needs they can meet, and to evaluate the fitness of the adoptive family.
 
The home study process can be a source of anxiety for some prospective parents, who may fear they will not be "approved." It may be helpful to remember agencies are not looking for perfect parents. Rather, they are looking for real parents to parent real children. With accurate information about the process, prospective parents can face the home study experience with confidence and the excitement that should accompany the prospect of welcoming a child into the family.
 
Specific home study requirements and processes vary greatly from agency to agency, State to State, and (in the case of intercountry adoption) by the child's country of origin. This factsheet discusses the common elements of the home study process and addresses some concerns prospective adoptive parents may have about the process.
 
If you are just beginning your journey to adoption, you may find the Information Gateway factsheet, Adoption: Where Do I Start? useful. Information Gateway also offers the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory, a searchable database listing public and licensed private agencies, attorney referral services, support groups, State adoption specialists, and more for each State, Territory, and the District of Columbia. These resources, as well as factsheets with specific information on special types of adoption (such as foster care or intercountry), can be found on the Child Welfare Information Gateway website.
 
Elements of the Home Study Process
 
There is no set format that adoption agencies use to conduct home studies. Many agencies include the following steps in their home study process, although the specific details and order will vary. For more information, talk with the agencies you are considering.
 
Training
 
Many agencies require trainings for prospective adoptive parents prior to or during the home study process. These trainings help prospective parents better understand the needs of children waiting for families and help families decide what type of child or children they could parent most effectively.
 
Interviews
You will probably be interviewed several times by the social worker. These interviews help you develop a relationship with your social worker that will enable him or her to better understand your family and assist you with an appropriate placement. You will discuss the topics addressed in the home study report (see below). You will likely be asked to explain how you handle stress and past experiences of crisis or loss. In the case of couples, some agency workers conduct all of the interviews jointly, with both prospective parents together. Others will conduct both joint and individual interviews. If families have adult children living outside the home, they also may be interviewed during this process.
 
Home Visit

Home visits primarily serve to ensure your home meets State licensing standards (e.g., working smoke alarms, safe storage of firearms, safe water, adequate space for each child, etc.). Some States require an inspection from the local health and fire departments in addition to the visit by the social worker. The agency will generally require the worker to see all areas of the house or apartment, including where the children will sleep, the basement, and the back yard. He or she will be looking for how you plan to accommodate a new family member (or members, if you are planning to adopt a sibling group). Social workers are not typically inspecting your housekeeping standards. A certain level of order is necessary, but some family clutter is expected. Some agencies would worry that people living in a "picture perfect" home would have a difficult time adjusting to the clutter a child brings to a household.

 
Health Statements

Most agencies require prospective adoptive parents to have some form of physical exam. Some agencies have specific requirements; for example, agencies that only place infants with infertile couples may require a physician to confirm the infertility. Other agencies just want to know the prospective parents are essentially healthy, have a normal life expectancy, and are physically and mentally able to handle the care of a child.

If you have a medical condition that is under control (for instance, high blood pressure or diabetes that is controlled by diet and medication), you may still be approved as an adoptive family. A serious health problem that affects life expectancy may prevent approval. If your family has sought counseling or treatment for a mental health condition in the past, you may be asked to provide reports from those visits. Many agencies view seeking help as a sign of strength; the fact that your family obtained such help should not, in and of itself, preclude you from adopting. However, each family's situation is unique, so check with the agencies or social workers you are considering if you have concerns.

 
Income Statements

You do not have to be rich to adopt; you just have to show you can manage your finances responsibly and adequately. (Some countries may have specific income requirements for intercountry adoption.) Usually, prospective parents are asked to verify their income by providing copies of paycheck stubs, W-4 forms, or income tax forms. Many agencies also ask about savings, insurance policies (including health coverage for the adopted child), and other investments and debts.

 
Background Checks

Most States require criminal and child abuse record clearances for all adoptive and foster parent applicants. In many States, local, State, and Federal clearances are required. While the vast majority of prospective adoptive parents have no criminal or child abuse history, it is important for children's safety to identify those few families who might put children at risk.

Public and private agencies need to comply with State laws and policies regarding how the findings of background checks affect eligibility for adoptive parents. However, do not hesitate to talk to agencies and social workers you are considering about specific situations that might disqualify you from adopting. Agencies are looking not just at your past experiences, but at what you've learned from them and how you would use that knowledge in parenting a child. Some agencies in some States may be able to work with your family, depending on the charge and its resolution. If the social worker feels you are being deceptive or dishonest, however, or if the documents collected during the home study process expose inconsistencies, the social worker may have difficulty trusting you.
 
Autobiographical Statement

Many adoption agencies ask prospective adoptive parents to write an autobiographical statement. This is, essentially, the story of your life. This statement helps the social worker better understand your family and assists him or her in writing the home study report (see below). If you are working with an agency that practices openness in adoption, you also may be asked to write a letter or create an album or scrapbook about your family to be shared with expectant birth parents to help them choose a family for their child.

While writing about yourself can be intimidating, the exercise is intended to provide information about you to the agency, as well as to help you explore issues related to the adoption. Some agencies have workers to assist you with the writing. Most have a set of questions to guide you through writing your autobiography.

 
References

The agency will probably ask you for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or four individuals to serve as references for you. References help the social worker form a more complete picture of your family and support network.

If possible, references should be individuals who have known you for several years, who have observed you in many situations, and who have visited your home and know of your interest in and involvement with children. Most agencies require that references be people unrelated to you. Good choices might include close friends, an employer, a former teacher, a co-worker, a neighbor, or your pastor, rabbi, or leader of your faith community.

Approval would rarely be denied on the grounds of one negative reference alone. However, if it were one of several negative factors, or if several of the references were negative, the agency might be unable to approve the adoption.

 
The Home Study Report

Typically, the above steps culminate in the writing of a home study report that reflects the social worker's findings. Home study reports often are used to "introduce" your family to other agencies or adoption exchanges (services that list children waiting for families) to assist in matching your family with a waiting child.

In general, home study reports include the above-mentioned health and income statements, background checks, and references, as well as the following types of information:

  • Family background. Descriptions of the applicants' childhoods, how they were parented, past and current relationships with parents and siblings, key events and losses, and what was learned from them.
  • Education/employment. Applicants' current educational level, satisfaction with their educational attainments, and any plans to further their education, as well as their employment status, history, plans, and satisfaction with their current jobs.
  • Relationships. If applicants are a couple, the report may cover their history together as well as their current relationship (e.g., how they make decisions, solve problems, communicate, show affection, etc.). If applicants are single, there will be information about their social life and how they anticipate integrating a child into it, as well as information about their network of relatives and friends.
  • Daily life. Routines, such as a typical weekday or weekend, plans for child care (if applicants work outside the home), hobbies, and interests.
  • Parenting. Applicants' past experiences with children (e.g., their own, relatives' children, neighbors, volunteer work, babysitting, teaching, or coaching), in addition to their plans regarding discipline and other parenting issues.
  • Neighborhood. Descriptions of the applicants' neighborhood, including safety and proximity to community resources.
  • Religion. Information about the applicants' religion, level of religious practice, and what kind of religious upbringing (if any) they plan to provide for the child.
  • Feelings about/readiness for adoption. There may be a section on specific adoption-related issues, including why the applicants want to adopt, feelings about infertility (if this is an issue), what kind of child they might best parent and why, and how they plan to talk to their children about adoption-related issues. If the agency practices openness, there may be information about how the applicants feel about birth families and how much openness with the birth family might work best. For more information, read Information Gateway's Openness in Adoption: A Fact Sheet for Families.
  • Approval/recommendation. The home study report will conclude with a summary and the social worker's recommendation. This often includes the age range and number of children for which the family is recommended.

Applicants also will be asked to provide copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses or certificates, and divorce decrees, if applicable. Some agencies allow prospective parents to read the home study report about themselves; others do not. You may want to ask the agency about the confidentiality of the home study report and how extensively your information will be shared. Agency policies vary greatly, depending on the type of agency and type of adoption. In many cases, the information will be shared with other agencies to help in matching the most appropriate child with your family. In some cases, the information may also be shared with birth parents or others.

Common Concerns About the Home Study

How long will the home study take?

The time it takes to conduct the home study will vary from agency to agency, depending on factors such as how many social workers are assigned to conduct home studies, what other duties they have, and how many other people applied to the agency at the same time. On average the home study process takes 3 to 6 months to complete. You can help speed up the process by filling out your paperwork, scheduling your medical appointments, and gathering the required documents without delay.

How much does a home study cost?

The cost of the home study depends on what kind of adoption you are pursuing. Agencies conducting domestic adoptions of children from foster care (such as your local Department of Social Services) may not charge a fee for the home study. If these agencies do charge a fee, they often are modest ($300 to $500), and once you adopt a child from foster care you can usually obtain reimbursement for this fee.

For domestic infant adoption, intercountry adoption, or independent adoption, a private agency or certified social worker in private practice might charge from $1,000 to $3,000 for the home study. Other services (such as an application fee and preplacement services) may be included in this fee. Be sure to discuss any fees thoroughly and ask for this information in writing to avoid any misunderstandings.

For more information about costs of adoption and resources to help defray those costs, see the Information Gateway factsheet, Cost of Adopting.

What might disqualify our family from adopting?

Aside from a criminal record or overriding safety concerns that would preclude agencies from approving your family under your State's laws or policies, characteristics that might disqualify a family in one situation may be seen as strengths in another. Remember, agencies are not looking for "perfect" families. The home study process is a way for a social worker to learn more about your real family, as a potential home for real children.

Who may adopt varies from agency to agency, State to State, and by the child's country of origin. Adoptions in the United States are governed by State law and regulations. Child Welfare Information Gateway has compiled States' laws regarding who may adopt in Statutes at a Glance: Parties to an Adoption. Some States also have their policies posted online. The Information Gateway publication, State Child Welfare Agency Websites, has links to each State's online adoption information. Within State guidelines, many agencies are looking for ways to rule families in rather than rule them out, to meet the needs of children in the U.S. foster care system waiting for adoptive families.

Thousands of children in the U.S. foster care system are waiting for families. The AdoptUsKids website provides a national online photolisting of children in foster care. Information Gateway offers a complete listing of State Child Welfare Agency Websites on its website.

How will the children in our family be involved in the home study?

Children in your family (whether they joined your family through birth, foster care, adoption, or marriage) will be included in the home study in some way. Older children may be invited to participate in age-appropriate groups during one or more of the educational sessions. They also might be asked to write a statement describing their feelings and preferences about having a new brother or sister.

The social worker will likely ask how the children do in school, what their interests and hobbies are, what their friends are like, and how their behavior is rewarded or disciplined. However, the emphasis will more likely be on how the children see a new sibling (or siblings) fitting into the family and whether they are prepared to share your time and attention. Children's input is usually quite important in the overall assessment of a family's readiness to adopt a child. The social worker will want to make sure that an adopted child or children will be wanted and loved by all family members from the start.

 

Conclusion

Although the adoption home study process may seem invasive or lengthy, it is conducted to help you decide whether adoption is right for your family, prepare your family for adoption, and help your family determine which type of child you could best parent. The process also serves to ensure children are placed in loving, caring, healthy, and safe environments.

Flexibility and a sense of humor are vital characteristics when raising children, and they can be useful during the home study process as well. With perseverance and a positive outlook, you will be able to team with the social worker to make this a valuable learning experience—one that will help you do the best possible job in parenting the child who will eventually join your family.

 
Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway
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Transracial and Transcultural Adoption
 
Transracial or transcultural adoption means placing a child who is of one race or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another race or ethnic group. In the United States these terms usually refer to the placement of children of color or children from another country with Caucasian adoptive parents.
 
People choose to adopt transracially or transculturally for a variety of reasons. Fewer young Caucasian children are available for adoption in the United States than in years past, and some adoption agencies that place Caucasian children do not accept singles or applicants older than 40. Some prospective adoptive parents feel connected to a particular race or culture because of their ancestry or through personal experiences such as travel or military service. Others simply like the idea of reaching out to children in need, no matter where they come from.
 
Adoption experts have different opinions about this kind of adoption. Some say that children available for adoption should always be placed with a family with at least one parent of the same race or culture as the child. This is so the child can develop a strong racial or cultural identity. These people say that adoption agencies with a strong commitment to working with families of color and that are flexible in their procedures are very successful in recruiting "same race" families. Other experts say that race should not be considered at all when selecting a family for a child. To them, a loving family that can meet the needs of a particular child is all that matters. Still others suggest that after an agency works very hard to recruit a same-race family for a certain period of time but does not find one, the child should be placed with a loving family of any race or culture who can meet the child's needs.
 
Despite the experts' differing opinions, there are many transracial and transcultural families, and many more will be formed. If you are or wish to be a parent in one of these families, this factsheet will help you by answering two questions: (1) What should you do to prepare for adopting a child of a race or culture different from yours? and (2) After adoption, what can you do to help your child become a stable, happy, healthy individual, with a strong sense of cultural and racial identity?
 
How You Can Prepare for a Transracial or Transcultural Adoption
 

Preparation for adoption is important for anyone thinking about adopting a child. It is even more important for parents considering transracial or transcultural adoption because it will introduce you to all aspects of adoptive parenthood, help you learn about adoption issues, and help you identify the type of child you wish to parent. Any adoption agency that conducts and supervises transracial or transcultural adoptions should provide this important service. If you are undertaking an independent adoption, you should seek counseling and training in these areas.  You should also read as many articles and books as you can on the subject. (See the resource list at the end of this factsheet.)

 

The following sections describe some issues to consider as you prepare for a transracial or transcultural adoption.

Examine Your Beliefs and Attitudes About Race and Ethnicity

While you may think you know yourself and your family members very well, it is important to examine your beliefs and attitudes about race and ethnicity before adopting a child of another race or culture. Try to think if you have made any assumptions about people because of their race or ethnic group. There are two reasons for this exercise: (1) to check yourself -- to be sure this type of adoption will be right for you; and (2) to prepare to be considered "different."

When you adopt a child of another race or culture, it is not only the child who is different. Your family becomes a "different" family. Some people are comfortable with difference. To them, difference is interesting, wonderful, and special. Other people are not so comfortable with difference, and are scared by it. Thus, some friends, family members, acquaintances, and even strangers will rush to your side to support you, while others may make negative comments and stare. During the pre-adoption phase, you should think about how you will respond to the second group in a way that will help your child feel good about himself or herself. (We'll give you some ideas a little later.)

When your child is young, an extra hug and a heart-to-heart talk might be all it takes to help him or her through a difficult situation. While the hugs and the heart-to-heart talks never stop, as your child gets older, you and your child will need more specific coping skills to deal with the racial bias you might face together as a family. Are you ready to fully understand these issues and help your family deal with whatever happens?

Think About Your Lifestyle

Before considering a transracial or transcultural adoption, take a look at your current lifestyle. Do you already live in an integrated neighborhood, so that your child will be able to attend an integrated school? If not, would you consider moving to a new neighborhood? Do you already have friends of different races and ethnic groups? Do you visit one another's homes regularly? Do you attend multicultural festivals? Do you enjoy different kinds of ethnic foods? How much of a leap would it be to start doing some of these things?

It is important for children of color growing up with Caucasian parents to be around adults and children of many ethnic groups, and particularly, to see adult role models who are of the same race or ethnic group. These people can be their friends, teach them about their ethnic heritage, and as they mature, tell them what to expect when they are an adult in your community. Can you make these types of relationships available for your child?

Consider Adopting Siblings

It is always good for siblings to be adopted together. It is no different in the case of transracial or transcultural adoption. Siblings who are adopted together have the security of seeing another person in the family who looks like them. They are able to bring a part of their early history and birth family with them to their adoptive family, which may help them adjust better. And with internationally adopted children, being together might mean they will be able to keep up their native language.

Let's say, then, that you have examined your beliefs and attitudes about race and ethnicity. You have thought about your lifestyle and considered adopting siblings. You are sure you want to adopt a child from another race or culture. What comes next?

How You Can Help Your Child to Become a Stable, Happy, Healthy Individual with a Strong Sense of Racial or Cultural Identity

The seven parenting techniques listed below were compiled from books and articles on adoption and by interviewing experts in transracial and transcultural adoption. Some of these "techniques" are common sense and apply to all adopted children. However, with transracially or transculturally adopted children, these techniques are especially important.

Parents in a transracial or transcultural family should do the following:

  • Become intensely invested in parenting;
  • Tolerate no racially or ethnically biased remarks;
  • Surround yourselves with supportive family and friends;
  • Celebrate all cultures;
  • Talk about race and culture;
  • Expose your child to a variety of experiences so that he or she develops physical and intellectual skills that build self-esteem; and
  • Take your child to places where most of the people present are from his or her race or ethnic group.

The next sections provide more information on these techniques.

Become Intensely Invested in Parenting

Dr. Larry Schreiber, former president of the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), an umbrella organization for a large number of adoptive parent support groups in the United States and Canada, wrote a column about his transracial adoption experience in the Winter 1991 issue of Adoptalk, 1 the NACAC newsletter. He characterizes transracial parenting as a "roller coaster of exaggerated parenting." As a Caucasian adoptive father of African-American, Latino, Korean, Cambodian, East Indian, and Caucasian children, he describes transracial parenting as the most joyous experience of his life. He admits that he doesn't really know what it is like to endure the racially-biased name-calling that his children have experienced, but he was always there for them when they needed to be comforted and to help them get through those difficult times.

Dr. Schreiber says that transracial parenting has both complicated and enriched his life. He had to work hard to help his children develop their cultural pride and self-esteem in a world that sometimes does not understand or is unkind to people from different cultures. However, he believes his children did overcome these difficulties and were able to develop positive cultural identities, mostly because of the help his family received from adoptive parent support groups and from other adults of the same cultural groups as his children.

Ms. RoAnne Elliott is another experienced adoptive parent in an interracial family who has written about the importance of investing in parenting. An African-American woman, Ms. Elliott encourages parents in transracial families to empower themselves and believe strongly that their family belongs together. She writes, "You need the firm knowledge in your heart and in your mind that you are the best parent for your children. This empowerment is key, since you can't parent well if you don't feel confident, competent, and entitled to do so."2 She says that being in an interracial family is the opportunity of a lifetime, allowing you to embark on "a journey of personal transformation, growing in your ability to nurture your children along the way. This involves an alert awareness of difference and an optimistic expectation that cultural differences among us will lead to rewarding personal connections and friendships."3

The message, then, is that transracial parenting is not laid-back, catch-as-catch-can parenting. According to these two experienced adoptive parents, the demands are great, but so are the rewards.

Tolerate No Racially or Ethnically Biased Remarks

As adoptive parents in an interracial or intercultural family, you should refuse to tolerate any kind of racially or ethnically biased remark made in your presence. This includes remarks about your child's race or ethnic group, other races and ethnic groups, or any other characteristic such as gender, religion, age and physical or other disability. Make it clear that it is not okay to make fun of people who are different, and it is not okay to assume that all people of one group behave the same way.4 Teach your children how to handle these remarks, by saying, for instance, "I find your remark offensive. Please don't say that type of thing again," or "Surely you don't mean to be critical, you just don't have experience with . . ." or "You couldn't be deliberately saying such an inappropriate comment in front of a child. You must mean something else."

Try to combat the remarks while giving the person a chance to back off or change what has been said. This way you will teach your child to stand up to bias without starting a fight -- which could put your child at risk. In addition, by being gracious and giving others a chance to overcome their bias/ignorance, you can help to change their beliefs and attitudes over time. Positive exchanges about race will always be more helpful than negative ones.

Surround Yourselves With Supportive Family and Friends

While you were thinking about adopting transracially or transculturally, did you find some people in your circle of family and friends who were especially supportive of your plans to become a multicultural family? If so, surround yourself with these people! In addition, seek out other adoptive families, other transracial or multicultural families, and other members of your child's racial or ethnic group. You will be surprised by how helpful many people will want to be, whether it is to show you how to cook an ethnic dish or teach you some words in their language. According to Ms. RoAnne Elliott, "You need a supportive community comprised of many races -- those who will be role models and provide inspiration, those who will stimulate your thinking, those who fill your desire for cultural diversity, and those who will challenge you in constructive and respectful ways.5

Celebrate All Cultures

As a multicultural family, you should value all cultures. Teach your child that every ethnic group has something worthwhile to contribute, and that diversity is this country's and your family's strength. For example, you might give your Korean daughter a Korean doll, but you might also start a collection for her of dolls of many different racial and ethnic groups. If your child is from South America, go to the Latino festival in your town, but also visit the new Native-American art exhibit, eat at the Greek fair, and dance at the Polish dance hall. Incorporate the art, music, drama, literature, clothing, and food of your child's ethnic group and others into your family's daily life.6 Invite friends from other cultures to celebrate your holidays and special occasions, and attend their events as well.

The area of religion brings up special concerns. You may wish to take your child to a place of worship in your community where most of the members are from the same ethnic group as your child; for example, you could bring your East Indian child to a Hindu temple or your Russian child to a Russian Orthodox church. What an opportunity to meet people of his ethnic group, find adult role models, and learn the customs of his heritage! However, before you do this, be sure you could be supportive if your child decides to practice that religion. If you have your heart set on raising your child in your own family's religion - one that is different from the religion practiced in the place of worship you will visit -- tell your child that the visit is for a cultural, not religious, purpose or perhaps decide not to visit at all. Practically speaking, you can impose your religious practice on your child for only a few years. As an adult, your child will ultimately decide whether to practice any religion at all, and whether it will be one that people of his or her heritage often practice, your family's religion, or yet another one that he or she chooses.

While it is important to teach your child that differences among people are enriching, it is also important to point out similarities. One expert suggests that in an adoptive family the ratio should be two similarities for each difference.7 For instance, to a young child you might say, "Your skin is darker than Daddy's, but you like to play music, just like he does, and you both love strawberry ice cream." As much as you want to celebrate your child's distinctive features, he or she also needs to feel a sense of belonging in the family.

Talk About Race and Culture

How has race or culture defined you? What is life like for a Latino person in America? What is life like for a Caucasian person? An African-American person? An Asian person? How are persons of different ethnic groups treated by police officers, restaurant employees, social organizations, or government agencies? What do you think about interracial dating and marriage? As a multicultural family, you need to address these and other racial matters.

Talk about racial issues, even if your child does not bring up the subject. Use natural opportunities, such as a television program or newspaper article that talks about race in some way. Let your child know that you feel comfortable discussing race-the positive aspects as well as the difficult ones. On the positive side, a child of a certain race may be given preferential treatment or special attention. On the other hand, even a young child needs to know that while your family celebrates difference, other families do not know many people who are different. These families are sometimes afraid of what they do not know or understand, and may react at times in unkind ways. It can be difficult to deal with such issues, especially when your child is young and does not yet know that some adults have these negative feelings, but you have to do it. You will help your child become a strong, healthy adult by preparing him or her to stand up in the face of ignorance, bias, or adversity.

Stand behind your children if they are the victim of a racial incident or have problems in your community because of the unkind actions of others. This does not mean you should fight their battles for them, but rather support them and give them the tools to deal with the blows that the world may hand them. Confront racism openly. Discuss it with your friends and family and the supportive multicultural community with which you associate. Rely on adults of color to share their insights with both you and your child. Above all, if your child's feelings are hurt, let him talk about the experience with you, and acknowledge that you understand.

Ms. Lois Melina,8 a Caucasian adoptive parent of Korean children and a noted adoption writer, lists five questions for you to ask your child to help him or her deal with problem situations:

  • What happened?
  • How did that make you feel?
  • What did you say or do when that happened?
  • If something like that happens again, do you think you will deal with it the same way?
  • Would you like me to do something?

It is important to leave the choice of your involvement up to your child. This way, you show that you are available to help, but also that you have confidence in your child's ability to decide when your help is needed.

Expose Your Child to a Variety of Experiences so That He or She Develops Physical and Intellectual Skills That Build Self-Esteem

This parenting technique is important for all children, but it is especially important for children of color. Children of color need every tool possible to build their self-esteem. While society has made strides in overcoming certain biases and forms of discrimination, there remain many subtle and not-so-subtle color or race-related messages that are discouraging and harmful to young egos. Be alert to negative messages that are associated with any race or culture. Point them out as foolish and untrue. Emphasize that each person is unique and that we all bring our own individual strengths and weaknesses into the world. Frequently compliment your child on his or her strengths. Draw attention to the child's ability to solve math problems, play ball, dance, play a musical instrument, ride a bike, take photographs, perform gymnastics, or any other activity that increases confidence. Self-esteem is built on many small successes and lots of acknowledgement. A strong ego will be better able to deal with both the good and the bad elements of society.

As your child gets older, keep in touch with his or her needs: this might mean buying him or her a few of the in clothes or enrolling him or her on the popular teams. Stay in tune with your child's natural skills and talents, and do whatever you can to help him or her develop them at each age.

Take Your Child to Places Where Most of the People Present are from His or Her Race or Ethnic Group

If you bring your African-American child to an African-American church, or your Peruvian child to a Latino festival, your child will experience being in a group in which the number of people present of his ethnic group is larger than the number of Caucasians present. Adoptive family support group events are other places where this might happen. Children usually enjoy these events very much. If you adopted a young child from another country, you might consider taking a trip to that country when the child is older and can understand what the trip is all about. Many adoptive families who take such a trip find it to be a wonderful learning experience.9

Another benefit of such an experience is that it might be one of the few times when you feel what it is like to be in the minority. This will increase your awareness and ability to understand your child's experience as a minority individual.

Other Sources of Information

Transracial adoption is a "hot" topic in the media and in adoption circles. There is quite a lot of activity in this area of adoption practice. We offer the following brief sections for your information.

Where Can I Find Out More About Transracial or Transcultural Adoption?

Child Welfare Information Gateway often receives questions about which adoption agencies place children transculturally or transracially. The answer is twofold. Their names often signal the kinds of adoptions they conduct (for example, if they have the word "international" in their name). These agencies are marked with an asterisk in Information Gateway's National Foster Care & Adoption Directory. However, many agencies are not as open about their policy on transracial adoption because of some of the controversial issues surrounding this type of adoption. Ask your local adoption agencies about their policies in this area, especially if you are strongly considering this type of adoption.

Legislation

In 1994, transracial adoption was the subject of a bill before Congress submitted by Senator Howard Metzenbaum of Ohio. After intense debate, the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) passed both houses of Congress. One positive outcome of the debate is that people who historically have been on opposite sides of the question are beginning to reach some common ground. One point that everyone agrees on is that adults of all cultures need to work together to help adopted children of all cultures reach their highest potential.

Statistics

Although available statistics are rough estimates, several sources show that the percentage of transracial or transcultural adoptions in the United States is significant. For example, one source estimates that 1,000 to 2,000 African-American children are adopted by Caucasian families each year.10 Data from the Immigration and Naturalization Service show that U.S. families adopted 7,088 children from other countries in 1990. This means that there were roughly 8,500 transracial or transcultural adoptions in 1990. In that same year, there were almost 119,000 adoptions of all kinds.11 Since approximately half of the adoptions in any year are stepparent or relative adoptions, in 1990 there were about 59,500 nonrelative adoptions. The percentage of transracial/transcultural adoptions (8,500 of 59,500) then, comes out to more than 14 percent.

Conclusion

Adopting a child of another race or culture can be a richly rewarding choice for many families, although there are also many unique challenges and concerns. Hopefully the information provided in this factsheet will provide food for thought and become part of the ongoing discussion in your home. The resources listed at the end of this factsheet should also be helpful.

Bibliography

Abramovitz, Melissa. "Living in a Racially-Mixed Family: A Question of Attitude." OURS, Jul-Aug 1991, v24 n4, p. 27.

Ahn, Helen Noh. Identity Development in Korean Adolescent Adoptees: Eriksonian Ego Identity and Racially Ethnic Identity. Berkeley, CA: University of California School of Social Welfare, 1989.

Barnes, Donna. "Building a Family: One Color at a Time." AdoptNet, Nov-Dec 1992, v3 n6, pp. 7-8.

Bartholet, Elizabeth. Family Bonds: Adoption and the Politics of Parenting. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.

Bates, J. Douglas. Gift Children: A Story of Race, Family, and Adoption in a Divided America. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1993.

Brooks, Dorothy Elizabeth. "Black/White Transracial Adoption: An Update." OURS, Jul-Aug 1991, v24 n4, pp. 19-21.

Caldwell-Hopper, Kathi. "Adopting Across Lines of Color." OURS, Jul-Aug 1991, v24 n4, pp. 23-25.

Darden, Edwin. "Biracial and Proud!" F.A.C.E. Facts, Jan-Feb 1991, v14 n3, pp. 10-11.

Elliott, RoAnne. "Can White People Nurture Black Kids Effectively?" Pact Press, Autumn 1992, v1 n3, p. 8.

F.A.C.E. "How to Keep Racism from Defeating Your Child." F.A.C.E. Facts, Apr-May 1991, v14 n4, p. 22.

Flango, Victor Eugene and Flango, Carol R. "Adoption Statistics by State." Child Welfare, May-Jun 1993, v72 n3, pp. 311-319.

Frey, Susan. "Interracial Families." AdoptNet, Jul-Aug 1991, v3 n4, pp. 40-41, 46.

Gilles, Tom and Kroll, Joe. Barriers to Same Race Placement. St. Paul, MN: North American Council on Adoptable Children, 1991.

McFarlane, Jan. "Self-Esteem in Children of Color: Developmental, Adoption, and Racial Issues. OURS, Jan-Feb 1992, v25 n1, pp. 24-29.

______________. "Building Self-Esteem in Children and Teenagers of Color." OURS, May-Jun 1992, v25 n3, pp. 28-33.

McRoy, Ruth G. and Zurcher, Louis A., Jr. Transracial and Inracial Adoptees. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 1983.

Melina, Lois. "Cultural Identity Goes Beyond Ethnic Foods, Dolls." Adopted Child, Dec 1988, v7 n12, pp. 1-4.

____________. "Transracial Adoptees Can Develop Racial Identity, Coping Strategies." Adopted Child, Jan 1994, v13 n1, pp. 1-4.

Neal, Leora and Stumph, Al. "Transracial Parenting: If It Happens, How White Parents and the Black Community Can Work Together." Adoptalk, Winter 1993, p. 6.

Nelson-Erichsen, Jean and Erichsen, Heino R. Butterflies in the Wind: Spanish/Indian Children with White Parents. The Woodlands, TX: Los Niños International Adoption Center, 1992.

O'Rourke, Lisa, Hubbell, Ruth, Goolsby, Sherrell and Smith, Debra. "Intercountry Adoption." Washington, DC: Child Welfare Information Gateway Fact Sheet, 1988, revised 1994.

Pederson, Jeff. "Traveling to Your Child's Country of Origin." OURS, Mar-Apr 1992, v25 n2, pp. 40-42.

Pohl, Constance and Harris, Kathy. Transracial Adoption: Children and Parents Speak. New York: Franklin Watts, 1992.

Raible, John. "Continuing the Dialogue on Transracial Adoption." Adoptalk, Summer 1990, p. 5.

Register, Cheri, M.D. "Are Those Kids Yours?" American Families with Children Adopted from Other Countries. New York: Free Press, 1991.

____________________. "Are White People Colorless?" OURS, Jan-Feb 1994, v27 n1, pp. 32-34.

Richmond, Ann Freeman. "The Transracial Debate: A White Perspective." Adoptalk, Winter 1992, pp. 16-17.

Schreiber, Larry, M.D. "From the President." Adoptalk, Winter 1991, p. 2.

Simon, Rita and Altstein, Howard. Adoption, Race, and Identity: From Infancy Through Adolescence. New York: Praeger, 1992.

Thorp, Judy. "Our Trip to Chicago's Little India." OURS, May-Jun 1992, v25 n3, pp. 36-38.

Van Gulden, Holly. "Attachment and Bonding in Adoptive Families," Workshop at Families Adopting Children Everywhere (F.A.C.E.) Conference, Towson, Maryland, May 1992.

1 Schreiber, p. 2. back
2 Elliott, p. 8. back
3 Elliott, p. 8. back
4 Melina, 1988, p. 2. back
5 Elliott, p. 8. back
6 Thorp, p. 36 back.
7 Van Gulden, F.A.C.E Conference Workshop, 1992. back
8 Melina, 1988, pp. 3-4. back
9 Pederson, p. 42. back
10 Brooks, p. 10. back
11 Flango and Flango, p. 317.

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway.

 
 
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Intercountry Adoption From Hague Convention and Non-Hauge Convention Countries
 
The process for adopting a child from another country (intercountry adoption) changed in some significant ways with the U.S. ratification of the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the Convention). The Convention went into effect in the United States on April 1, 2008. The Convention is designed to protect the best interests of children and prevent the abduction, sale, and trafficking of children. In this country, the U.S. Department of State has overall responsibility for implementing the Hague Convention, although the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within the Department of Homeland Security also plays a significant role.
 
Approximately 75 nations are parties to the Hague Convention. (See list of countries at www.adoption.state.gov/hague/overview/countries.html.) When a U.S. citizen wants to adopt a child from any of these nations, Hague Convention rules apply. When adopting a child from a country that is not a party to the Hague Convention (a non-Convention country), some different rules apply.
 
This factsheet is designed to provide basic comparative information about the two types of intercountry adoption, as well as resources for more detailed information. It is a companion piece to Intercountry Adoption: Where Do I Start? (www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_inter/index.cfm). Prospective parents are encouraged to read that publication for more complete information on the intercountry adoption process and decisions. Prospective parents should also check the websites of the U.S. Department of State (www.adoption.state.gov) and USCIS (go to www.uscis.gov and click on “Services & Benefits” and then click on “Adoption”).
 
Note: This factsheet is intended to provide a general overview of intercountry adoption. It is not intended to serve as a detailed directory of legislation, nor is it intended to provide legal advice. For more detailed information, check with an accredited adoption services agency or attorney.
 
What’s inside:
 
Table: Comparison of adoptions from Convention vs. non-Convention countries
Frequently asked questions
Resources for further information
<< Back
 
Are You Pregnant and Thinking About Adoption?
 
Table of Contents
 
Are you pregnant and not sure that you are ready or able to raise your child? If so, you might be thinking about placing your baby for adoption. This factsheet gives you information about adoption, and it directs you to resources in your community, as well as on the Internet. Information for fathers and for relatives is also provided. Being well-informed may help you feel better about whatever decision you make.
 
Exploring your options
Making the adoption decision
Placing your baby through an agency or independent adoption
Selecting adoptive parents
Staying in touch with your child after adoption
Taking care of yourself after adoption
Additional resources
 
Exploring Your Options
 
There are a number of places to find information about adoption and your other options when you are pregnant.
 
Your local library or bookstore and the Internet let you find information in private.
A counselor (e.g., a therapist or social worker) may help you make a decision based on your own personal situation and values.
An adoption agency or lawyer can provide adoption-specific information.
 
These three types of resources are discussed below.
 
Books and the Internet
 
If you are just beginning to gather information about adoption and other options, books and the Internet may be a good starting point.

Books. To get a complete view of adoption, you may want to look for books about:

  • Parents who placed their children for adoption (birth parents)
  • Parents who formed their families by adopting children (adoptive parents)
  • Children and adults who were adopted (adopted people or adoptees)

You may want to read about how other parents felt when they placed their children for adoption, and how they felt later in life.

The Internet. If you don't have a computer at home to search the Internet for information and support, you can usually use one at a library. Searching under the terms 'adoption' or 'pregnancy' may be too general to be useful. Here are some ideas for search terms if you use a search engine like Google or MSN. (Using quotation marks around the term usually allows you to search for that exact term.)

  • "Adoption options"
  • "Parenting"
  • "Teen Parenting"
  • "Single motherhood"
  • "Pregnancy options"
  • Adoption "birth mother"
  • Adoption "birth father"
  • "Adoption impact"
  • "Unexpected pregnancy"
  • "Adoption birthmother"
  • "Adoption birthfather"
  • "Healthy pregnancy"
  • "Support group" "birth mother"
  • "Adoption triad"

It's important to remember that information on the Internet can be one-sided or incorrect. Try to look at a number of different websites. You may have questions about what's true or what applies to your situation. If so, you may want to talk with a counselor, therapist, or social worker.

Counselors, Therapists, or Social Workers

While you are considering adoption, it's important to find a therapist or counselor who can provide information and answer your questions in a sensitive and neutral way. This means finding a counselor who doesn't stand to gain from whatever decision you make. Here are some possible questions to ask a counselor:

  • What are my options for this pregnancy?
  • Can you help me explore my feelings about my pregnancy and what I want for myself and my child?
  • If I decide to parent my baby myself, how can you help me?
  • If I want to place my baby for adoption, will you help me find an adoption agency or lawyer?
  • What are my rights and responsibilities? What are those of the expectant father?

There are many different places to find professionals trained to counsel pregnant women about unexpected pregnancy. Here are some places to start looking:

  • Departments of social services or family services offered by your county or city
  • Health departments or mental health centers at your local health clinic or through your local hospital or county or city government
  • Faith-based counselors, including pastors, rabbis, or others associated with a place of worship
  • An adoption agency that has pregnancy counselors or 'options counselors' (see section below for more information)

You can also dial 211 (available in some areas) or call your local United Way for help in locating a counselor.

No matter where you go, a counselor should always treat you with respect. A counselor's own feelings about adoption or other options shouldn't affect the information that he or she provides. In order to make up your own mind, it's important for you to get clear, full, and unbiased information.

Adoption Agencies and Adoption Lawyers

Talking with someone at a licensed adoption agency or with a lawyer who specializes in adoption may be a good choice if you are already leaning toward adoption. They can tell you more about the actual adoption process. Talking to an agency or lawyer doesn't mean that you're promising to place your child for adoption. You can get information from agencies and lawyers without making that plan. It's just another way to collect information so that you can make a well-informed decision. Some States also require that free counseling be offered to you and the baby's father by an agency or lawyer providing adoption services.

 
Making the Adoption Decision

The decision to place a child for adoption is never easy. Like the decision to parent a child, it takes courage and much love. Once an adoption is finalized, it is permanent, and it will change your relationship with your child forever. The adoptive parents will raise your child and have full legal rights as the child's parents.

The following are some questions you may want to think about as you make your decision:

Have I explored all my options? Pregnancy can affect your feelings and emotions. Are you thinking about adoption only because you have money problems, or because your living situation is difficult? If so, there might be other answers. Have you called Social Services to see what they can do? Have you asked friends and family if they can help? Social workers may be able to help you find a way to parent your baby if that is your decision. For instance, they may be able to help with finding a place to live or job training.

Have I involved the baby's father in thinking about adoption? You need to know what the laws in your State say about the father's rights, responsibilities, and role in adoption. Most States require that the father—or the man you think is the father—be told about the baby before the adoption. This is true even if you aren't married to the father. If you are married and your husband is not the baby's father, your husband may still have legal rights, responsibilities, and a role in the adoption.

Your baby's father (or your husband) may have to sign legal papers agreeing to the adoption—giving “legal consent”—before you can place your child.1 There are also laws requiring the father to pay child support if you decide to parent your baby.

In some States, if the parents are not married, the father has a certain amount of time to put his name on the State's "putative father registry" to claim that he is the baby's father. In other States, the father may be required to take other legal action to claim his rights as a father. If he doesn't do this within a certain amount of time, he may not receive notice of the mother's decision to place the child for adoption.2 If you don't know the father's name or where he is, some States require that a notice be published before the adoption can be completed. The notice is published in a newspaper in a place where the father is likely to see it. A licensed adoption agency or qualified adoption lawyer can explain to you what is required in your State.

If you're thinking about adoption, your agency or lawyer should be able to explain your State's laws about the father's role. In a few cases, agencies or lawyers have pushed through adoptions without telling the father and getting his consent. In some of these cases, the court has legally overturned the adoption and awarded custody of the baby to the father. Any agency or lawyer working with you must obey the law and obtain the father's consent if needed. If your agency or lawyer is not willing to do this, you may want to go somewhere else.

If you have a good relationship with your baby's father, he may be a source of support for you. You may be able to help each other in making this decision. The father of your baby may be asking some of the same questions about adoption that you are asking.

Have I involved my own family and the father's family in the decision?3 In a few States, if you are under 16 or 18 years of age (it depends on the State), your own parent or parents may also have to give permission for you to place your baby for adoption. Laws vary, and you need to find out the consent laws in your State.

If you decide to go ahead with adoption, there may even be someone in your family or the father's family who would like to adopt your baby.

How might I feel in 20 years if I place my child for adoption or if I parent my child myself? While it's impossible to know for sure how you will feel many years from now, you may want to consider the long-term effects of any decision you make. For instance, you may want to think about your future both with and without this child. What were your plans before you became pregnant? How would raising a child or placing a child for adoption change those plans? How might you feel if you go on to have other children and a family of your own?

Why am I placing my child for adoption? If your answer is because it is what you, or you and the father, think is best for yourselves and the baby, then it may be a good decision. It's important to gather all the information you can and to hear the thoughts of your family and friends. In the end, however, you must make a decision you can live with. Don't allow others to pressure you toward one outcome.

Why do some expectant parents choose to place their baby for adoption? Everyone's situation is different, but many women (and their partners) choose to place their baby because they feel that the baby will have a better life in an adoptive home with parents who may be better prepared to care for a child. These mothers feel that they are putting their baby's best interests ahead of their own by placing their baby with parents who are ready to welcome a child and to love and provide for that child for at least 18 years.

Why do some expectant parents choose to raise their baby rather than place the baby for adoption? Pregnant women (and their partners) who consider adoption but decide to raise their child themselves may do so because they feel that they have the time, resources, and support from family and friends necessary to raise a child for at least 18 years. They may feel that their biological connection with their child is more important than the advantages that the child might receive from an adoptive home.

When do I have to make the decision? You don't have to make the final decision about adoption until after your baby is born. You may prepare for adoption, and adoptive parents may be waiting for your child. However, the final and legal decision is made by you, or you and the father, after the child's birth.

Think of it as making the adoption decision twice—once while you are pregnant and then again after the baby is born. It's hard to know what you'll feel like after the birth. This is why most State laws require that the final decision to place a child for adoption be made after the baby is born. As of December 2006, only Alabama and Hawaii allow a birth mother to agree to adoption before the birth of her child. Even in these States, the mother can change her mind after the birth. Some counselors suggest that you wait until you have left the hospital before signing papers that make the adoption final.

1 For more information on laws in your State about consent, read Child Welfare Information Gateway's Consent to Adoption at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/consent.cfm. back
2 For more information, read Child Welfare Information Gateway's The Rights of Presumed (Putative) Fathers at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/putative.cfm. back
3 For more information on laws in your State about consent, read Child Welfare Information Gateway's Consent to Adoption at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/consent.cfm.
 
Placing Your Baby Through an Agency or Independent Adoption

If you are seriously considering adoption as an option, you will need to talk to some licensed adoption agencies or qualified adoption lawyers, or both. This section outlines the process of adoption through an agency (agency adoptions) and through an independent (private) adoption. Some legal considerations and infant safe haven laws are also discussed.

Selecting a Licensed Adoption Agency or Qualified Adoption Lawyer

There are some differences and similarities in agency adoptions and independent adoptions. Agencies are generally full-time organizations whose main work is adoption. They usually employ a number of people and work with many families and pregnant women in order to find the best homes for babies. In an independent adoption, the pregnant woman generally works just with a lawyer and the family that she selects to adopt her child. Read the descriptions below under “Placing Your Baby Through an Agency” and “Placing Your Baby Through an Independent Adoption.”4

You may not know which type of adoption will work best for you and your baby until you talk to some licensed agencies and qualified lawyers. Talk to several agencies or lawyers before making a decision and ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable. Here are some general questions to ask either an adoption agency representative or adoption lawyer:

  • Will I get counseling all through my pregnancy, after I sign the papers allowing my child to be adopted, and after my baby is placed?
  • Can my baby's father and other people who are important to me join me in counseling?
  • Will you help with medical, legal, and other costs?
  • If I change my mind about the adoption and decide to parent my child, will I have to pay for services I received?
  • How will you handle obtaining the consent of the baby's father?
  • How would you handle the situation if my baby were born with a disability?
  • Does your agency practice open adoption where I can meet and get to know the family who will adopt my child? [If this is what you want]
  • If you don't practice open adoption, what information will you share with the adoptive parents about my family and me?
  • Do the adoptive families receive education and training on adoption in addition to their home study?

Talk to your counselor or lawyer about the type of adoption that is best for you. Do you want to help decide who adopts your child, or would you rather allow the agency to select the best parents for your child? Would you like to be able to communicate with your child in the future through an open adoption, or would you rather not participate in this type of arrangement? If you have strong feelings about these things, work with an agency or lawyer who will listen to what you want.

If you choose to work with an agency, you should make sure that they are licensed to place children in your State. If you choose to work with a lawyer in an independent adoption, be sure that the lawyer has a license and adoption experience. It's important to check on the reputation, license, and authority of any agency or lawyer that you are considering. An honest agency or lawyer will have nothing to hide and won't mind answering your questions.

For information on how to find out whether or not an agency is licensed, follow the instructions provided in Child Welfare Information Gateway's How to Assess the Reputation of Licensed, Private Adoption Agencies at:
www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/twenty.cfm

Some States permit adoption facilitators to arrange adoptions between birth mothers and families seeking to adopt. State laws vary quite a bit on this topic. In some States, facilitators can be anyone at all. In other States, they need to be licensed. In some States, 'facilitators' is a general term that also refers to adoption lawyers who arrange adoptions. In other States, adoption facilitators are completely illegal. In these States, birth parents and adoptive parents who work with a facilitator also may receive penalties for disobeying the law.

Before you work with anyone, find out what the laws in your State say. In every State, there are people who may try to take advantage of your situation.5

Placing Your Baby Through an Agency

Once you contact a licensed agency, you will work with a counselor. The counselor's first job is to provide you with information and support as you consider your decision about your baby. The counselor will ask you to think about many of the same questions that you have been considering, such as your own hopes and dreams for yourself and your child. The counselor will ask about your living situation, family support, and educational and career goals. She or he may ask questions about the baby's father and your relationship with him. The counselor works with you to help you come to the decision that is right for you and your baby—whether it is to parent the child yourself or to make an adoption plan.

If you decide to make an adoption plan for your baby, the counselor will explain the agency process. This may include information about how adoptive parents are selected for babies, your role in the process, and how the actual adoption is finalized. The counselor will also ask questions and collect information about you and the baby's father in order to put together a medical and social history of the baby. This may include:

  • Your age, race, what you and the father look like, and other facts about you and the father
  • Medical history for you, your family, and the father's family
  • Any family history of mental illness
  • Whether you have been to see a doctor since you became pregnant
  • Whether you have been pregnant or given birth before
  • Whether you smoked cigarettes, took any drugs, or drank any alcohol since you became pregnant

It's important for you to be honest in your answers. The counselor asks these questions so that the best decision and placement can be made for the baby. It's also important for your baby to have a full medical history.

In some cases, the agency will collect both identifying and nonidentifying information for your baby's record or to share with prospective adoptive parents. Identifying information includes things like your name and address. Nonidentifying information includes things like the color of your hair and eyes and your medical history.

Agencies may provide you with a number of services, such as:

  • Providing counseling throughout your pregnancy and after your baby is born
  • Paying your medical, legal, and living expenses
  • Arranging medical care and the hospital stay for the birth

Most agencies will encourage you to look at descriptions and photo albums of families who want to adopt a baby. Many families write letters telling about themselves, their homes, and why they would love to adopt. Many agencies will arrange for you to meet the families, if you like.

Agencies also work with the couples who want to adopt—the prospective adoptive parents. The agency will visit them in their home and interview them. They will find out about their medical and family histories and check to see if they have a criminal record or a record of child abuse. If the prospective parents have such a record, it may mean that for your baby's safety, and for yours, the family will not be allowed to adopt. Safety is another reason for you to make sure that any agency or lawyer you work with is licensed by the State and experienced in adoption.

The agency will ask about the prospective parents' interests, careers, and hopes for a family. This does not guarantee that they will be perfect parents. However, they will have completed a home study process that shows their desire to adopt and their potential to be good parents and provide a safe home for the baby. Some agencies also require that prospective adoptive parents complete special training on adoption issues.

Placing Your Baby Through an Independent Adoption

This type of adoption is usually arranged by a lawyer, depending on the laws in your State. Independent adoption is legal in most but not all States. There is generally no agency involvement. Your lawyer works with the lawyer for the adoptive parents to arrange the adoption. All States require that the adoptive parents in an independent adoption complete a home study.

In an independent adoption, as with many agency adoptions, you would generally expect to meet the adoptive parents. In most cases, you, as the birth mother, or you and the birth father actually choose the adoptive parents. The information you receive about the adoptive parents will come directly from the family members themselves or their lawyer.

You should plan to have your own lawyer represent you and your baby, while the adoptive parents will have a different lawyer represent them. It's important that you have your own lawyer, especially if you change your mind about the adoption. In addition, it may not be legal in some States for the same lawyer to represent both you and the adoptive parents. Look for a lawyer who won't charge you a fee if you decide not to place your baby for adoption. In most States, adoptive parents are allowed to cover the cost of the birth parents' lawyer.6

Finding a lawyer. It is important to find a lawyer who is currently licensed in your State, is in good standing with the State bar association, and has experience with adoption. Remember, you need a lawyer who can represent you and your interests and is able to protect your legal rights and those of your baby.

Here are two organizations that keep lists of adoption lawyers:

Also, many States have a toll-free number you can call to find specific types of lawyers in your area.

Finding adoptive parents. In an independent adoption, there are many ways to find potential adoptive parents, including through your lawyer, doctor, family, friends, or faith community (church, synagogue, or mosque). Some couples who want to adopt run personal ads in local newspapers or magazines. This type of advertising is restricted or illegal in some States but is very popular in other places, as well as on the Internet. If you decide to answer a personal ad, you call the family and talk to them or you email them. After that, your lawyer can help you follow up, if you would like to do so.

With an independent adoption, the prospective adoptive parents generally pay for your medical and living expenses. There are strict laws in each State about what prospective parents and adoption agencies can and cannot pay for. These laws exist to make sure that "baby selling" doesn't occur and that mothers aren't tempted to place their child with the person willing to pay the most in money or gifts.7

Legal Considerations in Some Cases

Adoption agencies that receive Federal money are required to follow the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act. This states that agencies cannot delay or deny the placement of a child due to the race, color, or national origin of either the child or the adoptive family. It also requires agencies to find adoptive families that reflect the diversity of the babies and children available for adoption.

If your baby will be Native American (American Indian) because you or the baby's father are Indian or even part-Indian, then there are special laws that will affect the adoption.8 The Indian Child Welfare Act, a Federal law, states that if a baby is placed for adoption, the child's extended family must be given the chance to adopt. If they choose not to adopt, members of the child's Tribe, followed by members of other Indian Tribes, must be given the chance to adopt the baby. This law gives the Tribal court the right to decide on the adoption. Talk with a lawyer who specializes in adoption law if you have a question about this or how it could apply to your baby.

Infant Safe Haven Laws

You may have read about infant safe haven laws in many States. These are laws written to protect newborn babies when their mothers feel they have nowhere else to turn. These laws allow the mothers to leave their babies at certain places—often, hospitals or fire stations. Mothers can leave their newborns without giving their names or other identifying information. Some States require that a mother leave her child with a person working at an approved safe haven location within 72 hours (3 days) of the child's birth. Leaving a baby in a safe place is a much better choice than leaving the child in a place where there is not a responsible person who will make sure that the baby is safe and that the proper authorities are contacted to take custody.

Some States require that infant safe haven providers ask mothers for family history and medical information. If this information is not provided, the child may grow up with little or no information about his or her heritage and medical history. Also, it may be difficult for mothers who leave their babies at safe havens to receive medical care or counseling.9

4 Child Welfare Information Gateway has two factsheets that are designed for adoptive parents but may also provide good information to birth parents about the differences between agency and independent adoptions. See Adoption Options at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_adoptoption.cfm and Adoption Options-at-a-Glance at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_adoptoptionglance.cfm. back
5 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Use of Advertising and Facilitators in Adoptive Placements at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/advertising.cfm. back
6 See Child Welfare Information Gateway's State Regulation of Adoption Expenses at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/expenses.cfm. back
7 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's State Regulation of Adoption Expenses at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/expenses.cfm. back
8 For more information, visit the National Indian Child Welfare website at www.nicwa.org . back
9 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Infant Safe Haven Laws at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/safehaven.cfm
 
Selecting Adoptive Parents

If you're thinking about adoption, you're probably thinking a lot about the kind of parents or family you would want for your child. Whether you place your child through an agency or through an independent adoption, you will probably have a great deal of choice in selecting the parents or family for your child. Many of the considerations for selecting parents—either directly or through parent profiles—are the same, regardless of whether you use an agency or a lawyer.

Here are some questions to consider in selecting parents for your child:

  • Do I want my child to be raised by two parents?
  • Do I want my child to be an only or first child, or would I like my baby to have older brothers or sisters?
  • Should the family practice a certain religion?
  • Do I want the parents to be a certain age or have a certain income?
  • Does it matter if both parents work full-time outside the home?
  • Do I want my child raised in a certain part of the country or in a city or in a small town?
  • Does the family share my interests, for example, sports or music or pets?
  • What is the family's style of parenting and disciplining children?
  • Does the family share my values and beliefs?
  • Does the family feel the same way that I do about staying in touch after the adoption?
  • How much does the family know about the special issues associated with raising an adopted child?
  • Will I be able to see a copy of the family's home study?10

Talking to your counselor or lawyer and getting their answers to these questions may help you in choosing a family. If you talk to a prospective family—or to several families—you will want to ask them similar questions.

10 For more information, read Child Welfare Information Gateway's The Adoption Home Study Process at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_homstu.cfm
 
Staying in Touch with Your Child After Adoption

After the adoption, the birth mother and adoptive family often exchange pictures and letters. An adopted child may grow up knowing his or her birth parents through letters or email or, in some cases, through visits. Sometimes, this is called "open adoption" or "postadoption communication." Of course, the type of communication and how often it occurs vary greatly from adoption to adoption, depending on the people involved.11

When birth parents decide that they don't want contact with their child after the adoption, they may arrange a "closed" adoption. In closed adoptions, the birth parents and the adoptive parents never know each other. Adoptive parents receive nonidentifying information from the agency or lawyer about the birth mother and father that they might need to help them take care of the child, such as medical information or family history, but they don't know your name or where you live.

In most States, the court seals the adoption records of all adoptions (open and closed) at the time of the adoption, and no one is permitted to read them. The records remain sealed unless an interested party, such as the adopted person who has reached adulthood, petitions the court and can show good cause to have the records opened. Laws vary from State to State, so check with a lawyer if you have questions about access to adoption information.12

If You Want to Be in Touch With Your Child

If it's important to you to be in touch with your child after the adoption, you should find adoptive parents who will agree to an open adoption and who truly believe that it will be best for the child. You and they should work out in advance how you will keep in touch, how often, who will be involved, and how you might change this agreement later. Sometimes, lawyers or mediators can write up a 'communication agreement' for you and the adoptive parents to sign.

Your lawyer or agency should be able to tell you the laws in your State about these agreements, what they can include, and if they can be enforced in any way. In most cases, these agreements cannot be enforced. There is no State that lets an adoption be overturned if adoptive parents refuse to allow contact between their child and the child's birth mother.13

Finding Your Child Later

If you place your baby through an agency or an independent adoption that is closed, you will not be given the adoptive parents' names or address, nor will they have this information about you. This will make it harder to find out about your baby later in life, if you decide you want to know how your child is doing. Many birth parents do search for their children after the children are grown, just like many adopted people search for their birth families.14

Many States and some private organizations have set up mutual consent adoption registries to help birth relatives find each other. More than 30 States have adoption registries, where a birth parent or other family member (such as a brother or sister) can register to find the adopted person. If the adopted person also registers, then the registry can provide information to let them find each other.15

There is another way to allow your child to contact you later in life. Some adoption agencies and lawyers who arrange independent adoptions will hold a letter from you in their files. Usually, the letter says why you chose adoption and how to get in touch with you if the child ever wants to do so. If you move to a new address, it is your responsibility to contact the lawyer or agency so that your contact information remains up to date.

11 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Openness in Adoption at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_openadopt.cfm. back
12 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Access to Family Information by Adopted Persons at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/infoaccessap.cfm. back
13 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Postadoption Contact Agreements Between Birth and Adoptive Families at www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/statutes/cooperative.cfm. back
14 For more information, see Child Welfare Information Gateway's Searching for Birth Relatives at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_search.cfm. back
15 For more information, visit Child Welfare Information Gateway's National Foster Care and Adoption Directory at www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/.
 
Taking Care of Yourself after the Adoption

If you have an unexpected or crisis pregnancy, you would benefit from counseling both during and after your pregnancy. The counseling during your pregnancy may help you make the decision about whether to place your baby for adoption. Counseling after the birth should help you learn to live with whatever decision you make. Most licensed agencies will provide free counseling throughout your pregnancy. They should also provide counseling after the adoption—for as long as you need it. Most States let adoptive parents pay for counseling in independent adoptions. In fact, some States require that adoptive parents at least offer, through the birth parents' lawyer, to pay for this counseling.

Grief and loss are common reactions for birth parents after they place their child for adoption. Some birth parents also go through phases of feeling guilty and angry. It's important to admit these feelings to yourself and to know that they're normal. Counseling may help you through the grief process as you learn to live with your decision, feel good about yourself and your decision, and plan for your future. Whether you choose an adoption with a great deal of contact or a closed adoption, you will probably be helped by counseling as you learn to adjust to the new phase in your life.

There are many examples of birth parents who have gone on to live happy, productive lives after placing a child for adoption. Moving forward does not mean that you will ever forget your baby, just that you are ready to accept the adoption and move on to a new part of your life.16

16 For more information, read Child Welfare Information Gateway's Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_impact/index.cfm.
 

Additional Resources 

 If you do not have access to the Internet to get these resources (or those mentioned earlier, especially in the footnotes), please contact Child Welfare Information Gateway at 800.394.3366              800.394.3366      , and they will be sent to you for free.

Information for Pregnant Women
Child Welfare Information Gateway provides information for pregnant women. Visit the webpage:
http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/birth/for/index.cfm

Adoption Agencies
Use Child Welfare Information Gateway's National Foster Care and Adoption Directory to find agency information. Or, contact Child Welfare Information Gateway for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of adoption agencies in each State and the U.S. territories. The information is free.
www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/

 
Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway
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Impact of Adoption on Birth Parents
 
This factsheet discusses some of the emotional issues that parents face after making the decision to place an infant for adoption, in surrendering the child, and in handling the feelings that often persist afterwards. In addition, it addresses some of the emotional issues of parents whose children are permanently removed from them and whose parental rights are terminated. This factsheet may be a helpful resource for birth parents, as well as family members, friends, and others who want to support birth parents. It may also provide some insight to adopted persons and adoptive parents who want to understand the struggles faced by birth parents.
 
It is difficult to generalize about the feelings or experiences of all birth parents. Each has faced a unique experience and coped in his or her own way. A number of birth parents have written personal accounts of their experiences in placing their children for adoption; there are also a few research studies of the experiences of birth parents and the emotions that often linger long after the adoption. Certain themes emerge in both types of literature, including themes of loss, guilt, and resolution. As a framework for this discussion, this factsheet explores the experiences of birth parents by exploring some of these themes:
 
The Responses to Adoption Placement section looks at feelings and experiences that birth parents often describe, including grief over the loss, shame and guilt, identity issues, and long-term emotional issues.
The Gaining Control and Resolution section explores ways of gaining control of these feelings that have been useful for some birth parents.
The Resources section includes a list of resources to help birth parents find further information and to locate support groups of individuals with similar experiences.
 
Table of Contents
 
1 Responses to Adoption Placement
2 Gaining Control and Resolution
3 Resources
 
Responses to Adoption Placement
 
Grieving the Loss of the Child. Placing a child for adoption can cause a sense of loss that is all-encompassing. This sense of loss begins with the pregnancy itself as the expectant parents come to accept the reality of the unplanned pregnancy and the loss of their own immediate life plans. Most struggle with the decision to place the child for adoption; those who decide to do so begin to plan for a great loss in their own lives with the hope that placing the child for adoption will result in a better life for their baby and for themselves.

The actual physical separation generally occurs soon after the birth. Many circumstances can have an impact on the birth parent's feelings at the time, including mixed feelings about the adoption placement, support from other family members and the other birth parent, and whether the planned adoption is open (i.e., allowing some later contact with the child). The actions of the agency personnel (if an agency is involved), as well as those of the adoption attorney, adoptive parents, hospital personnel, and physician can all affect the feelings of the birth mother and father as they proceed through the process of the adoption and the termination of their own parental rights.

The birth and the actual surrendering of the baby may prompt feelings of numbness, shock, and denial, as well as grief, in the birth parents. All of these feelings are normal reactions to loss. This particular type of loss is different from a loss through death, however, because there is rarely a public acknowledgment, and friends and family of the birth parents may attempt to ignore the loss by pretending that nothing has happened. In some cases, the secrecy surrounding the pregnancy and adoption may make it difficult for birth parents to seek out and find support as they grieve their loss. In addition, the lack of formal rituals or ceremonies to mark this type of loss may make it more difficult to acknowledge the loss and therefore to acknowledge the grief as a normal process.

When birth parents first deal with their loss, the grief may be expressed as denial. The denial serves as a buffer to shield them from the pain of the loss. This may be followed by sorrow or depression as the loss becomes more real. Anger and guilt may follow, with anger sometimes being directed at those who helped with the adoption placement. The final phases, those of acceptance and resolution, refer not to eliminating the grief permanently but to integrating the loss into ongoing life.

 

Grieving Other Losses. Placing a child for adoption may also cause other (secondary) losses, which may add to the grief that birth parents feel. No one fantasizes about having a baby and then giving it up, so expectant parents who are planning to place the child for adoption may grieve for the loss of their parenting roles. They may grieve for the person their child might have become as their son or daughter. These feelings of loss may re-emerge in later years, for instance, on the child's birthday, or when the child is old enough to start school or to reach other developmental milestones.

Additional losses may occur as a result of the pregnancy and placement. In some cases, the birth mother loses her relationship with the birth father under the stress of the pregnancy, birth, and subsequent placement decision. The birth parents may also lose relationships with their own parents, whose disappointment or disapproval may be accompanied by a lack of support. In extreme cases, the birth mother may need to leave her parents and her home. The birth mother may lose her place in the educational system or in the workplace as a result of the pregnancy. Birth parents may also lose friends who are not supportive of either the pregnancy or the decision to place the child for adoption.

Guilt and Shame. Birth parents may experience guilt and shame for having placed their child for adoption, since societal values reflect a lack of understanding of the circumstances that might prompt birth parents to make an adoption plan for their child. At first, there may be shame associated with the unplanned pregnancy itself and with admitting the situation to parents, friends, co-workers, and others. Shame about the pregnancy may lead to feelings of unworthiness or incompetence about becoming a parent. Once the child is born, the decision to place the child for adoption may prompt new feelings of guilt about "rejecting" the child, no matter how thoughtful the decision or what the circumstances of the adoption.

The shame and guilt felt by birth parents is often supported by the secrecy surrounding the adoption process. Thus, keeping the pregnancy a secret, maintaining secrecy throughout the adoption proceedings, and then treating the experience as unimportant may promote a feeling of shame in birth parents, since the pregnancy and adoption are not even discussed. Birth parents who can discuss their feelings with supportive friends, family members, or professional counselors may more easily come to terms with their decision over time and be able to integrate the experience into their lives.

Identity Issues. Placing a child for adoption may trigger identity issues in some birth parents. They may wonder, "Am I a parent?" Some birth parents may experience a sense of incompleteness, because they are parents without a child. Generally, their status as parents is not acknowledged among family and friends. If the birth parents go on to have other children whom they raise, this may also affect how the birth parents view their own identity, as well as that of all their children.

These questions about identity may also extend to the relationship with the child when the adoption is open. Birth parents who participate in open adoptions may initially wonder how they will fit into that new relationship with their child once the adoptive parents become the legal parents. However, this relationship with the child and adoptive family in an open adoption may evolve so that the birth parents maintain an agreed-upon role in the life of the child. Still, there are few role models for birth parents to help clarify this issue of identity. (For more information about open adoptions, see the Information Gateway factsheet Openness in Adoption.)

Long-Term Issues. Many birth parents continue to mourn the loss of their child throughout their lifetime, but with varying intensity. For instance, birth parents may continue to track the milestones of their child's life by imagining birthday parties, first days of school, graduation, and more. Some birth parents experience longstanding grief, that is, grief that lasts a very long time and may continue to actually interfere with a birth parent's life many years later. Some of the factors that have been found to be associated with longstanding grief include:

  • A birth parent's feeling that she was pressured into placing her child for adoption against her will
  • Feelings of guilt and shame regarding the placement
  • Lack of opportunity to express feelings about the placement

The personal stories of some birth parents, as well as studies with birth parents in therapy, have indicated that some birth parents experience difficulties beyond longstanding grief (see, for example, Winkler & van Keppel, 1984). For instance, some birth parents may have trouble forming and maintaining relationships. This may be due to lingering feelings of loss and guilt, or it may be due to a fear of repeating the loss. Other birth parents may attempt to fill the loss quickly by establishing a new relationship, marrying, or giving birth again—without having dealt with the grief of the adoption placement. A few birth parents report being overprotective of their subsequent children, because they are afraid of repeating the experience of separation and loss (Askren & Bloom, 1999).

For some birth parents, the ability to establish a successful marriage or long-term relationship may depend on the openness with which they can discuss their past experiences of birth and adoption placement. Some birth parents never tell their spouses or subsequent children of their earlier child. Others are comfortable enough with their decision to be able to share their past.

 
Gaining Control and Resolution

Acceptance of the loss and working through the grief does not mean that birth parents forget their birth child and never again feel sorrow or regret for the loss. Rather, it means that they are able to move forward with their lives and to integrate this loss into their ongoing lives. For those in an open adoption, this may mean developing a new relationship with the child and the adoptive parents. For birth parents whose child was adopted in a closed adoption, it may mean learning to live with uncertainty about whether the parent will ever see the child again.

A number of birth parents have written about their experiences (for example, see the books by Brenda Romanchik listed in the resource section at the end of this paper). These authors describe a number of different ways of dealing with loss and grief:

Entrustment ceremonies. Some birth parents describe a ritual or ceremony that took place when they entrusted their child to the adoptive parents. In many cases, these entrustment ceremonies took place in the hospital. These ceremonies allowed the birth parents to say good-bye to their child and to maintain a sense of control over the placement. Such ceremonies may help with the later grieving process.

Ongoing rituals and traditions. Birth parents may find it helpful to create a tradition that honors the child and the decision that was made. For instance, planting a tree or writing a letter to the child (whether it is sent or not) are ways of acknowledging the loss. On special days, such as the child's birthday, birth parents may want to continue with that type of ceremony or tradition.

Taking time. Both birth parents and counselors advise that birth parents must allow themselves time to grieve and recover (Roles, 1989). There is no timetable that predicts when the grief will be resolved, and there may be occasions, even many years later, when the grief may resurface. Birth parents who allow themselves time to grieve and to accept the loss may be better able to move on.

Finding Support. Birth parents should seek out friends, support groups of other birth parents, or understanding counselors in order to have a safe place to communicate their feelings. Being able to openly share feelings can be helpful in moving through the stages of grief and achieving some resolution.

Education. There are a number of books and articles about adoption and the birth parent experience, as well as a growing number of websites that carry information on the topic. Many of these include first-person accounts from birth parents, which can provide some context for what some other birth parents experience. These can be helpful to birth parents who may feel that they are essentially alone in their loss.

Writing. Birth parents may find it useful to keep a journal or diary of their experiences and feelings. This may serve as an outlet for grief or other emotions, and it can also serve to provide some perspective over time. Keeping a journal also allows birth parents to remember details that might otherwise be forgotten over the years.

Counseling. Birth parents may find that they need more support than family and friends can offer, or they may be unable to move forward in the grieving process. In such cases, professional counseling may help the birth parent make progress in dealing with the grief or may reassure the parent that such feelings are normal. A counselor should be able to help a birth parent replace unrealistic fantasy with reality, to acknowledge what has happened, and to heal.

Birth parents should look for counselors who have significant experience with adoption and with bereavement. Referrals for counselors may come from friends, birth parent support groups, or from the adoption agency or attorney who helped with the adoption.

While the birth parent will never forget the child, it is important that the birth parent adapts to the new circumstances and comes to terms with any regret. When birth parents are able to integrate the loss into their lives and gain some feeling of control, they can then move on to deal with whatever else life presents to them.

 
Resources

Books

Clapton, G. (2003). Birth fathers and their adoption experiences. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Interviews were conducted with 30 birth fathers to relay information about their reactions and emotions during the pregnancy and postadoption periods.

Foge, L., & Mosconi, G. (1999). The third choice: A woman's guide to placing a child for adoption. Berkeley, CA: Creative Arts Book Company.

Written by two adoption counselors, this book takes birth mothers through the periods of pregnancy, adoption planning and placement, and grief and recovery.

Gritter, J. L. (1997). The spirit of open adoption. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

A pioneer in open adoption practice, the author gives a realistic look at the pain, joy, and beauty that open adoption holds for all members of the triad.

Jones, M. B. (1993). Birthmothers: Women who have relinquished babies for adoption tell their stories. Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

The stories of a number of birth mothers are told throughout this book, which addresses all of the issues birth mothers encounter, including the pregnancy, placement, dealing with grief, marriage, later children, searching, and reunion.

Mason, M. M. (1995). Designing rituals of adoption for the religious and secular community. Minneapolis, MN: Resources for Adoptive Parents.

This handbook describes religious and nonreligious ceremonies, such as entrustment ceremonies, that might be used in adoption.

Mason, M. M. (1995). Out of the shadows: Birthfathers' stories. Edina, MN: O.J. Howard Publishing.

The stories of 17 birth fathers are told to highlight the situation of this often forgotten group.

Pavao, J. M. (1998). The family of adoption. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

The author, an adopted person and an adoption therapist, describes the developmental stages and challenges for adopted people, and includes real-life examples to illustrate these stages.

Roles, P. (1989). Saying goodbye to a baby. Volume I: The birthparent's guide to loss and grief in adoption. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Written by a social worker and birth mother, this book covers all of the issues faced by birth parents, including the pregnancy, adoption decision, loss, later issues, and reunion.

Romanchik, B. (1999). Being a birthparent: Finding our place. Royal Oak, MI: R-Squared Press.

This handbook, written by a birth parent, discusses the role of the birth parent in an open adoption.

Romanchik, B. (1999). Birthparent grief. Royal Oak, MI: R-Squared Press.

This handbook, written by a birth parent, discusses the different phases of grief, counseling, and dealing with difficult times.

Romanchik, B. (1999). Your rights and responsibilities: A guide for expectant parents considering adoption. Royal Oak, MI: R-Squared Press.

This handbook, written by a birth parent, discusses the responsibilities and rights of birth parents at each phase of the adoption plan.

Rosenberg, E. B. (1992). The adoption life cycle: The children and their families through the years. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Written by a clinical professor in psychiatry, this book draws on case examples to show how the different members of the adoption triad influence each other and to describe developmental tasks for those in the adoption circle.

Schaefer, C. (1991). The other mother: A true story. New York, NY: Soho Press, Inc.

The author tells her story of being a birth mother and of later searching for and finding her son.

Research Articles

Askren, H. A., & Bloom, K. C. (1999). Postadoptive reactions of the relinquishing mother: A review. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, & Neonatal Nursing, 28(4), 395-400.

The authors identified 12 studies with a total of 625 birth mothers, and they report the studies show that mothers are at long-term risk for repercussions; grief reactions, long-term effects, efforts to resolve, and influences on the relinquishment experience are discussed.

Connelly, M. (2002). Given in love: For mothers who are choosing an adoption plan. Omaha, NE: Centering Corporation.

This booklet describes some of the emotions that many birth mothers experience when making an adoption plan and addresses such topics as naming the baby, keeping mementos, writing letters, and spiritual grief.

De Simone, M. (1996). Birth mother loss: Contributing factors to unresolved grief. Clinical Social Work Journal, 24(1), 65-76.

The authors surveyed 264 birth mothers an average of 25 years after placing their infants for adoption to solicit information on such topics as unresolved grief, extent of social support, moderating variables, and reunion experiences. Higher levels of grief were correlated with the mother's perception that she was coerced into the placement and with feelings of guilt and shame.

Deykin, E. Y., Patti, P., & Ryan, J. (1988). Fathers of adopted children: A study of the impact of child surrender on birthfathers. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 58(2), 240-248.

Questionnaire data provided by 125 birth fathers indicated long-term unresolved issues related to the adoption.

Fravel, D. L., McRoy, R. G., & Grotevant, H. D. (2000). Birthmother perceptions of the psychologically present adopted child: Adoption openness and boundary ambiguity. Family Relations, 49, 425-433.

Interviews with 163 birth mothers in the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project show that the child placed for adoption remains psychologically present.

Portuesi, D. (1996). Silent voices heard: Impact of the birthmother's experience—then and now. Adoption Therapist, 7(1), 1-4.

The author, a birth mother and psychotherapist, describes some of the emotional reactions of the birth mother, as well as ways that therapists can aid in the healing process.

Silverstein, D. N., & Kaplan, S. (1988). Lifelong issues in adoption. In L. Coleman, K. Tolbor, H. Hornby, & C. Boggis (Eds.), Working with older adoptees (pp. 45-53). Portland, ME: University of Southern Maine. Retrieved April 23, 2004, from http://fairfamilies.org/newsfromfair/1999/99LifelongIssues.htm

The authors describe seven issues that all members of the adoption triad must address.

Winkler, R., & van Keppel, M. (1984). Relinquishing mothers in adoption: Their long-term adjustment. Melbourne, Australia: Institute of Family Studies.

The authors studied 213 birth mothers who had placed children up to 30 years earlier and found that many had continuing experiences of loss, which were often worse for women who lacked social support and opportunities to discuss their loss.

Support Groups

Child Welfare Information Gateway compiles the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory, which lists support groups on a State-by-State basis.

One well-known national organization that also has some local chapters is Concerned United Birthparents (CUB).

Websites

American Academy of Adoption Attorneys

AAAA is a national membership association of attorneys who practice, or have otherwise distinguished themselves, in the field of adoption law. AAAA works to promote the reform of adoption laws and to disseminate information on ethical adoption practices. Their Membership Directory, including members from the United States and Canada, lists attorneys who are well versed in the complexities of adoption law as well as interstate and international regulations regarding adoption.

American Adoption Congress

The American Adoption Congress (AAC) is an international network of individuals and organizations committed to adoption reform. Through education and advocacy, they promote honesty, openness, and respect for family connections in adoption, foster care, and assisted reproduction. Membership is open to adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, professionals, and all others who share a commitment to the AAC's goals.

Concerned United Birthparents (CUB)

CUB's mission is to provide support to birth parents who have relinquished a child to adoption, to provide resources to help prevent unnecessary family separations, to educate the public about the life-long effects on all who are touched by adoption, and to advocate for fair and ethical adoption laws, policies, and practices.

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute

The Adoption Institute seeks to improve the quality of information about adoption, to enhance the understanding and perceptions about adoption, and to advance adoption policy and practice.

Insight: Open Adoption Resources and Support

This site provides resources for all parties interested in open adoption, including expectant parents, adopted persons, adoptive parents, and birth parents.

Minnesota Texas Adoption Research Project

This site provides research findings from this major study of variations in openness in adoption and the effect of openness on all members of the adoption triad.

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Information Gateway offers information on all aspects of adoption for professionals, policymakers, and the general public. Information Gateway develops and maintains a computerized database of books, journal articles, and other materials on adoption and related topics, conducts database searches, publishes materials on adoption, and gives referrals to related services and experts in the field. Information Gateway also maintains a database of experts knowledgeable in various areas of adoption practice.

Information on the issues facing adopted persons can be found in the Information Gateway factsheet Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons. The Information Gateway factsheet Searching for Birth Relatives. Information on open adoption can be found in the Information Gateway factsheet Openness in Adoption.

Source:  Child Welfare Information Gateway
 
 
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Foster Parents Considering Adoption
 
This factsheet is written for foster parents who are considering adopting one or more of the children in their care. While this factsheet does not address the specifics of how to adopt,1 it provides information on the differences between foster care and adoption, and it explores some of the things for foster parents to consider when making the decision about whether to adopt a child in their care. Specifically, the following topics are addressed:2
 
Differences between foster parenting and adopting
Trends in foster parent adoption
Benefits of foster parent adoption for all involved
Characteristics of foster families who successfully adopt children in their care
Characteristics of foster families whose adoptions failed
Resources
 
Differences Between Foster Parenting and Adopting
 
There are a number of significant differences between foster care and adoption for the foster/adoptive family involved, even when a child remains in the same household. Compared to foster care, adoption brings the following changes for the parents (Craig-Oldsen, 1988):
 
Full legal responsibility for a child. Legal responsibility was held by the agency during the time the child was in foster care.
Full financial responsibility for the child. Even if the family receives adoption assistance or a subsidy on behalf of the child, families are still responsible for financial obligations such as childcare and extracurricular activities.3
Full decision-making responsibility. While the child was in foster care, decision-making was shared with the agency and birth parent. When the child is adopted, adoptive parents take on this full responsibility.
Attachment differences. The family is no longer working with the agency to help the child reunify with his/her parents; rather, they are now working to incorporate the child as a permanent member of their own family.
 
Trends in Foster Parent Adoption
 
Prior to 1975, agencies discouraged foster parents from adopting the children in their care, and parents who asked about or chose to adopt were not always welcomed. Agencies discouraged adoption by foster parents for the following reasons: fear of losing good foster families when they were no longer available to take other foster children; concerns about how other foster children in the home who were not being adopted might be negatively affected; or fears about the impact of openness between the foster family and the birth family (Meezan & Shireman, 1985b). There was also a common assumption, even within the adoption community, that older children were not adoptable.

In the intervening decades, this practice has turned around as child welfare professionals and agencies increasingly recognize the benefits of foster parents adopting the children in their care if the children cannot be returned safely to their birth parents or relatives in a timely manner. The adoption field has come to acknowledge the benefits of this type of adoption for children, and shortened legal timeframes4 have made it easier for foster parents to approach their workers about adopting the children in their care. If foster parents do not suggest the possibility, their social worker may sometimes work with them to consider adopting children in their care who cannot return to the birth family. Some States now train foster parents as "resource families" for children, along with kinship and nonrelative prospective adoptive families (Grimm, 2003). The foster family's role now includes not only acting as a support and mentor to the birth family to help the birth parents successfully reunify with their child if possible, but also to love a child and be open to having a permanent role in the child's life (Lutz & Greenblatt, 2000).

National adoption and foster care statistics show that foster parent adoptions accounted for over half of the adoptions of children adopted from foster care each year from Fiscal Year (FY) 1998 through the end of FY 2002. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS),5 in FY 2002, 27,567 (or 52 percent) of the 53,000 children adopted from foster care that year were adopted by their foster parents (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005).

Who are the children in foster care in the United States?

Children in foster care are more likely to be older, members of a minority group, members of a sibling group, or survivors of abuse or neglect. In FY 2002, the average age of children in foster care was 10.2 years. The average age of children adopted from foster care was 7.0 years. A disproportionate number of the children in care are children of color (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2005).

Benefits of Foster Parent Adoption

Adoption by the foster family has the potential to benefit not only the child being adopted, but also the foster family and the child welfare agency. There are a number of reasons that a child's foster parents may be the best adoptive parents for that child:

  • Foster parents have a greater knowledge of a child's experiences prior to placement and know what behaviors to expect from the child. If they have sufficient background information about what happened to a child before this placement, some knowledge of how children generally respond to such experiences, and extensive information about this child's specific behavior patterns, the foster family is better able to understand and respond to the child's needs in a positive and appropriate way (Meezan & Shireman, 1985a, 1985b).6
  • Foster parents usually have fewer fantasies and fears about the child's birth family, because they often have met and know them as real people with real problems.
  • Foster parents have a better understanding of their role and relationship with the agency—and perhaps a relationship with their worker (if the same worker stays throughout the duration of the child's placement).

Benefits for the Child

The biggest benefit of foster parent adoption for a child is the fact that the child does not have to move to a new family. Even very young infants may grieve the loss of the familiar sights, sounds, smells, and touch of a family when they must move. Staying in the same placement means the child will not leave familiar people and things, such as:

  • Familiar foster parents and family
  • School, classroom, classmates, and teachers
  • Pets
  • Friends
  • Sports teams and other extracurricular activities
  • Bedroom, house, or apartment

Since the foster family may have met or cared for a child during the child's visits with the birth family, the foster family is better able to help the child remember important people from the past and maintain important connections.

Benefits for Others

Foster parent adoption also benefits the birth parents in many cases by allowing them to know who is permanently caring for their children. For foster parents, receiving the agency's approval to adopt affirms the family's love and commitment to the child. Agencies benefit from this practice as it enables them to move children into permanency more quickly (since finalization of adoption requires that a child be in a placement at least 6 months, and this requirement has already been fulfilled in foster parent adoptions) (Rycus & Hughes, 1998; Fein, Maluccio, & Kluger, 1990).

 
Characteristics of Foster Families Who Adopt Successfully

Child welfare experts have identified characteristics of foster families who adopt the children in their care. The National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice and Permanency Planning (NRCFCPPP; n.d.) provides characteristics of successful "permanency planning resource families":

  • These families like to give and help.
  • They are satisfied with their lives.
  • They are resourceful.
  • They are tolerant of loss, anxiety, and ambiguity.
  • They have a sense of humor.
  • They are involved with the child in the community.

Researchers who studied foster/adoptive families in the early 1980s found that the families who successfully adopted the children in their care had the following characteristics (Meezan & Shireman, 1985b):

  • They expected the children would be placed long-term and had the children in their home for a longer period of time than foster parents who did not choose to adopt.
  • They enjoyed the children and were able to be actively involved with them.
  • The foster parents had some acceptance of the birth family's positive attributes and were able to talk about them with their children. However, these foster families also perceived the children to be similar to themselves in some way.
  • The children who were adopted by their foster families had successfully resolved their ties to their birth families and were younger than children not adopted by their foster families.

This same study also found the following (Meezan & Shireman, 1985b):

  • Visits with birth parents were beneficial to the adoption process. Visits with the birth families did not inhibit the adoption process—in fact, just the opposite was true. The families who adopted their foster children were more likely to have met their child's birth parents in the year they were considering adopting the child. The benefits of birth parent visiting for the child include the fact that, through visits with their birth parents, children gain a more realistic view of their birth parents and a sense of their own identity (Littner, 1975; Fahlberg, 1991). Of course, the family circumstances for each child are unique, and visits with birth family members may not be indicated for some children.
  • A positive interaction cycle was established between the parents and child. Foster parents had the sense that things were "getting better" as the placement progressed.7 This positive cycle in which everyone's needs were met was found to a greater extent in the families who chose to adopt versus those families who chose not to adopt, and it was noticeably absent at the point of adoption disruption in the adoptions that failed. Families may remain responsive to their children only if they think their efforts are justified and their children are responsive. Children will respond to parents only under similar conditions (Meezan & Shireman, 1985b).
 
Foster Families Whose Adoptions Fail

Child welfare experts identified characteristics of resource families who did not adopt successfully (adapted from NRCFCPPP, n.d.):

  • Unresolved losses in the past and present, resulting in a need to revisit past relationships and an inability to meet the child's needs
  • Possessiveness of the child and an unwillingness to acknowledge and work with important people from the child's past
  • Desperation for a child, resulting in unrealistic expectations of foster care and adoption
  • High stress and anxiety levels
  • Aggressiveness
  • Power and control issues

A study of foster families in the early 1980s found that the foster families in the adoptions that failed were rigid and did not allow for changes easily. They might have had difficulty sharing parenting with the agency or the birth families. These families were poorly prepared for adoption and did not have open communication or an open relationship with their social worker. Some families felt coerced by their worker into agreeing to adopt the child. These families also experienced more worker turnovers than the families who were successful in their adoptions (Meezan & Shireman, 1985b).

 
Conclusion

The decision by a foster family to adopt a child in their care will be based on the unique factors associated with the child, family, and circumstances. To help with such decision-making, many States use mutual, informed decision-making in their training for foster/adoptive parents. Examples of training programs include the Model Approach to Partnership in Parenting (MAPP) (Pasztor, 1986) and Parent Resources for Information, Development, and Education (PRIDE) (Child Welfare League of America, n.d.).

Foster families who decide to pursue adoption should inform themselves as much as possible (see Resources) and work with their agency to ensure a smooth transition for the child and themselves.8 Successful foster parent adoptions are the result of a mutual decision by the foster parents and the agency about what is best for a specific child.

 
Resources

Lists of foster and adoptive support groups in each State can be found in the National Foster Care & Adoption Directory at http://www.childwelfare.gov/nfcad/.

Information on adoption assistance by State can be found on Information Gateway website at http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adopt_assistance/.

A resource list of national organizations that support adoptive parents is available at http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_dsp.cfm?svcID=135&rate_chno=AR-0050A.

References

Child Welfare League of America. (n.d.). The PRIDE program. Retrieved March 18, 2005, from http://www.cwla.org/programs/trieschman/pride.htm

Craig-Oldsen, H. L. (1988). From foster parent to adoptive parent: A resource guide for workers [training materials]. Atlanta: Child Welfare Institute.

Fahlberg, V. (1991). A child's journey through placement. Indianapolis: Perspective's Press.

Fein, E., Maluccio, A. H., & Kluger, M. P. (1990). No more partings: An examination of long-term foster family care. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America, Inc.

Grimm, B. (2003). Foster parent training: What the CFS reviews do and don't tell us. Youth Law News. Retrieved February 23, 2005, from http://www.youthlaw.org/fileadmin/ncyl/youthlaw/publications/yln/2003/issue_2/03_yln_2_grimm_cfs_rev_3.pdf

Littner, N. (1975). The importance of the natural parents to the child in placement. Child Welfare, 44(3), 175-181.

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1 For general information on getting started in the adoption process, read the Information Gateway publication Adoption: Where Do I Start. For specifics on how to adopt a foster child living in your home, talk with someone in the adoption unit of the public agency that has legal custody of your foster child. (back)
2 To find out about helping your child make the transition from foster care to adoption, read Helping Your Foster Child Transition to Your Adopted Child: A Factsheet for Families. (back)
3 For more information on adoption assistance, go to the Adoption Assistance Database on the Information Gateway website at http://www.childwelfare.gov/adoption/adopt_assistance/ or read the Information Gateway publication Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted From Foster Care: A Factsheet for Families. (back)
4 The Adoption & Safe Family Act of 1997(ASFA) is a Federal law that requires that courts consider termination of parental rights of a child's birth parents if the child has been in foster care for 15 of the last 22 months. (back)
5 States are required to report foster care/adoption statistics to the Federal Government through AFCARS. (back)
6 For more information on questions to ask in obtaining background information, read the Information Gateway publication Obtaining Information on Your Prospective Adopted Child. (back)
7 For more information on the positive interaction cycle and its relationship to attachment in children in placement, see V. Falhberg, A Child's Journey Through Placement (1991). (back)
8 For information on helping the child make the transition from foster care to adoption, read the Information Gateway's factsheet The Transition From Foster Family to Adoptive Family: A Factsheet for Families.
Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway
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