Adopting a child can be an event filled with excitement, anxiety, and pronounced adjustment. The reality is that people do not generally cope well with change. For foster children who are transitioning to a new home, even if it is a permanent, adoptive home, this change is always a challenge. Adoptive parents typically do not understand just how much their lives will change when a foster child comes to live with them. As a result, they are often unprepared to handle the transition of adopting a foster child.
Give the Child Stability
Adoption equals a stable home life for a child coming from a foster home. While this is a great gift for both the foster child and adopting family, there can be a lot of baggage a foster child brings to the situation. Foster children are placed in care due to traumatic and emotionally damaging situations, causing them to be more prone to stress and its adverse effects.
Stress is defined as a biological reaction to a sensory event, in this case: adoption. The body goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode, activating the central nervous system. The foster child becomes hyper vigilant, and truly believes that every event or individual involved – including the adoption process and the adoption social worker – are a threat to their survival. They can overreact, become quickly frustrated, get frightened easily, and often cannot cope well with even the most positive of events. This can be traumatic for the adoptive parent(s) as well, since they are doing everything in their power to make the transition a positive and happy time. The solution? Adoptive parents need to create a stable environment, form a positive relationship, and follow through with repetition of positive behaviors. This will help the child relax, and reduce their hyper vigilant state of stimulation, allowing them to adjust and benefit from a content, established home life.
Asking for Assistance
Finding respite and the ability to regroup through the adoption process is OK. As noted by the North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), you may find a partnership during the transition with the previous foster parent of the child. This can be key in the adoption transition, especially when adopting an older child. Keep in mind that not all former foster parents may be willing, or legally permitted, to stay in contact with the foster child. In this instance, request help from the child’s caseworker, especially those who have spent entire careers in social work. Ask about any upcoming day or weekend camps for adoptive foster children that your adoptive child can attend, which can get their mind off the transition and provide tools and experiences to help cope with the change. These professionals should also be able to share other strategies for helping foster children through a transition.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, offers an extensive list of resources to help ease the transition.
Learn the Child’s History
The NACAC notes that every time a foster child is placed with a new family, they may lose some ability to attach and bond with the new family and outside friends. Furthermore, abrupt and unexpected moves cause foster children to disconnect and block memories from past placements. This means they are also missing memories from periods in their lives, which can be detrimental to their emotional and mental growth. If the new family can connect with the previous foster parents or caseworkers to learn anything more about the child’s history, it is highly advised. Additionally:
- Request copies of photos of the child and their biological family, if appropriate and not detrimental to the child’s welfare.
- Find out about the child’s heritage, the community in which they were born, and their ethnicity. Native American children, those from immigrant families, and ethnic minorities can truly benefit from this connection.
- Expand on this information by working with the child to self-identify with their background. While the past is likely not a positive one, the ethnic roots of a child can be reestablished in a positive and uplifting manner.
- Continue or create a Lifebook, which is similar to a baby book, but focuses on life events that occur during the transition from foster care to adoptive placement.
Provide the Child with Tools of Knowledge
Give the child a chance to blossom in the relationship by providing them with reading materials that help them understand the adoptive process. Iowa Foster and Adoptive Parents Association offers a list of reading resources created for foster and adopted children.
Check with your local library to find more great resources for kids who are dealing with:
- Moving to a new city, state or neighborhood
- Fitting in at a new school
- Making friends after moving
- Stress associated with moving and how to cope
- Being adopted and what that means
- Understanding the benefits of adoption
By giving the child the tools and knowledge they need to cope with the transition process, they are more capable of being in control over the feelings and emotions they will experience. This will bolster the relationship between the child and the adoptive parent along with any new siblings.