In this issue
America 's Untold Foster Care Story:513,000 U.S.
Youth in Search of Brighter Futures
"Giving children permission to express
the feelings they have toward all who have been a part of
their past is extremely important to their future success."
Adoption and the Jewish Family
Adopting Older Children
's Untold Foster Care Story:513,000 U.S. Youth in Search of
National Foster Care Month
Calls on Caring Adults to Help "Change a Lifetime."
On May 1st, National Foster
Care Month kicked off its 20th annual awareness campaign
on behalf of America 's half a million youth in foster care. This effort,
presented in partnership by 17 national child welfare organizations
and led by Casey Family Programs, connects these vulnerable children
to concerned, nurturing adults and other resources they need throughout
Over 513,000 American children are in foster care because their own
families are in crisis and unable to provide for their essential
well being. Like all young people, youth in foster care deserve and benefit
from enduring, positive relationships with caring adults. Now is the
time to get involved.
This May, National Foster Care Month will serve as a platform for connecting
more of these vulnerable children with concerned, nurturing adults. Join
America's leading child welfare agencies, advocates, experts, and more
than 12 million foster care alumni as they come together to address the
needs of young people in foster care. Their message is simple: No
matter how much time you have to give, you have the power to do something
positive that will “Change a Lifetime” for a young person in foster care.
Many of these formerly abused or neglected children and teens will either
safely reunite with their parents, be cared for by relatives, or be adopted
by loving families. But others are less fortunate. Every year, more than
20,000 older youth “age out” of foster care and are left alone to face
life's challenges. No matter their age, all young people in foster care
need a meaningful connection to a caring adult who becomes a supportive
and lasting presence in their lives. Research shows that foster
care alumni are far more likely than their peers in the general population
to endure homelessness, poverty, compromised health, unemployment, incarceration
and other adversities after they leave the foster care system.
Across the nation, caring individuals are helping foster children build
brighter futures by serving as their foster parents, relative caregivers,
mentors, advocates, social workers and volunteers. But much more help
If nothing changes by the year 2020:
- Nearly 14 million children will be confirmed as victims of child
abuse and neglect;
- 22,500 children will die of abuse or neglect, most before their fifth
- 9,000,000 more children will experience the foster care system;
- More than 300,000 children will age out of the foster care system,
most with inadequate support to build successful adult lives; and,
- 99,000 former foster youth, who aged out of the system, can expect
to experience homelessness.
“In 2008, we celebrate an important milestone. Twenty years ago, then
Senator Strom Thurmond introduced a resolution proclaiming May
as National Foster Care Month. This helped draw more attention to the
urgent needs of so many young people in out-of-home care,” says Candice
Douglas of Casey Family Programs and the campaign's chair. “Today, we
call on all Americans to do something positive that will change a lifetime
for a youth in foster care in their own community.”
The National Foster Care Month campaign is presented by 17 of the nation's
foremost child welfare organizations and is led by Casey Family Programs.
For more information about National Foster Care Month, planned community
events, and the many ways in which you can make a lasting difference
for America 's children and youth in foster care, visit www.fostercaremonth.org or
call 888-799-KIDS (5437).
Back to top
children permission to express the feelings they have toward
all who have been a part of their past is extremely important to
their future success."
- Ellen K. Baron
When Ellen Baron was the Special Needs Adoption Coordinator for
Prince George 's County Department of Social Services in Maryland , she discovered
how important it was to incorporate books into her training
programs for potential adoptive parents.
"Before each training session, I would put together a
selection of reading materials for parents that related
to the topics we
covered in training. On Adoption Day , I especially
liked to give children books that related to their adoption
story." She soon realized that, even though the majority of
adoptions she saw involved children from foster care, there
was no book just for them. That is what inspired her to creating The
Following is her own account.
I decided to try and put together a story for children that allowed
them to think about their past and present, in order for them to come
to some conclusion about who they were and where they have been. So often
their workers did not have the time to sit and talk with them about their
situations and were not able to follow through on making the children
life books. What I was seeing were children whom I thought of as "fragmented"-keeping
separate each of their individual living situations along with the motions
that accompanied these placements. This did not seem mentally healthy,
and I feared that this might keep the children from making a firm commitment
to yet another placement that was supposed to be permanent.
In writing THE WHOLE ME, it was my hope that not only would the children
be able to identify with the story of several moves and memories of past "parent" figures
(birth and/or foster), but that in having the adoptive parents read this
book to them, it would open the door for discussion and sharing of information
that the children may have felt should not be revealed. Giving children
permission to have feelings toward all who have been a part of their
past is extremely important to the success of the present placement.
Additionally it allows the children the opportunity to pull together
the pieces of their history and to recognize that they are made up uniquely
of all of these experiences and influences. The child learns that it
is not necessary to erase the past in order to form a new meaningful
relationship with the adoptive parents. Through the process of sharing
this information, the new parents come to have a greater understanding
of their child, and the child comes to know their WHOLE ME! This process
is a comfortable way to bridge the gap between past and present for both
child and parents without the adults feeling intrusive or unknowledgeable
as to how to approach the child's past history.
I was fortunate to have a co-worker, Marsha Goldfine, with extraordinary
art skills, who agreed to illustrate the story and create a wonderful
format and background for my words. Besides its original intent for adoptive
and foster children, this book has been a useful tool for social workers,
agencies and therapists in the United States, Canada and Europe .
Back to top
the Jewish Family
by Ellen Singer, LCSW-C
“She's not really Jewish, is she?” joked a fellow synagogue
congregant to an adoptive mother as her nine-year-old daughter
looked on, puzzled. The woman was referring to the fact that
the young girl's blond hair and blue eyes were not typical physical traits
for American Jews. What she didn't realize was that she was talking to
an adoptive family and that, in fact, the young girl was not born a Jew.
The woman's remark was not intended to hurt anyone; in fact, it was
meant to be a friendly compliment about the girl's gorgeous hair and
bright eyes. However, Carol Hartman, the mother says, “I had wanted the
ground to open up and swallow either her or me and my daughter.”
Like many adoptive Jewish mothers, one of Carol's biggest worries
is that her child won't feel that conversion to Judaism
does indeed mean she is as authentic a
Jew as anyone born to a Jewish mother. “In that very instant,
I couldn't explain this woman's remark to my daughter and chose
not to explain my daughter's appearance to this woman. I was just
Jewish adoptive parents share in all the joys and challenges
that other adoptive parents experience; however, as Shelley
Rosenberg writes in Adoption and the Jewish Family, “For
a Jewish adoptee and adoptive family, an additional
lens filters each event, encounter, and question through
thousands of years of history and generations of traditions,
as well as through the experience of contemporary Jewish life.”
Ms. Rosenberg's statement reflects the complexities found in
the observance of Judaism. There are conflicting messages that
exist in Jewish law, known as halakhah, and Jewish tradition
with respect to adoption – and there are conflicts between the
different factions of Jewish observance – Orthodox, Conservative,
Reform and Reconstructionist.
While Judaism certainly embraces adoption as a valid way to
build a family, at the same time, it also places great emphasis
on bloodlines and ancestry. According to Jewish law, adopted
children must be officially converted to Judaism if the birth
mother is not Jewish. Reform and Reconstructionist Jewish movements
may waive this requirement if the birth father is Jewish and
Orthodox will only recognize conversions performed by Orthodox
rabbis. (It is complex, indeed. Please be advised that this
article is not intended to be a resource on halakhah, or Jewish
law, and that prospective/adoptive parents should consult their
rabbis to learn more.)
These complexities add to the unique challenges faced in adoption.
Some examples--Orthodox prospective adoptive parents once told
a therapist that they were troubled by the fact that one parent
would not be able to have physical contact with the child of
the opposite sex past the age of 12. Another parent shared how
troubled they were when a rabbi told them that they did not
need to have a brit milah (circumcision) for their adopted son
on day eight after his birth because he hadn't yet been converted.
They arranged this despite his “advice”, not wanting to miss
out on the experience of this important Jewish life cycle event.
Another family agonized over the fact that in order to convert
their three-year-old son adopted from Kazikstan, he would have
to undergo a surgical procedure for circumcision.
In addition, Jewish parents must carefully consider how they
will communicate respect for the religion of their child's birth
family. How will they address their child's questions – particularly
about how their birth parents might feel about them being raised
in a Jewish home? If Jewish adoptive parents have no relationships
with people who are of the same religion as their child's birth
parents, what might that communicate to a child? In an age where
more adoptions are open, it is important to consider “How will
I feel if my child's non-Jewish birth parent sends a Christmas
gift?” or “What if the birth family invites us to celebrate
Christmas?” As with all relationships, good communication is
Carol's daughter, now 20, fully embraces her Jewish identity.
She finds the startled reactions of new people she meets—humorous--
when they learn she is Jewish. However, for many adoptees that
are not born Jewish and who are also of a different race or
culture – feeling “connected” with the Jewish community can
be especially daunting, especially when the community itself
questions that identity. For example, one couple's
daughter adopted from China was told by a fellow student in
Hebrew school, “Chinese
people are not Jewish.”
For many Jewish adoptive parents, feelings about their child's
birth religious/cultural heritage are certainly complex. As
Sheryl, single adoptive mother of a 24-year-old African-American
daughter now in reunion with her birth mother, admits “It was
hard when my daughter spent Christmas with her birth mother.
I didn't know whether I was still getting used to them forming
a relationship, or if my difficult feelings were really about
Christmas. I know I did the best I could to help Becky develop
a strong Jewish identity. I respect the challenges this presents
for her as an African-American woman. I have to let her make
her own choices.”
Forming a cohesive identity is a challenge for all adoptees – and
in some very specific ways for Jewish adoptees. Please join
Ellen Singer, LCSW-C and Beth Lutton, Director of Adoption Options
at the Jewish Social Service Agency (JSSA) on Thursday, June
12 from 7:00-8:30 for Adoption and the Jewish Family – a program
to explore the common concerns of Jewish adoptive and prospective
adoptive parents. The workshop includes a panel of Jewish adopted
adults and a rabbi. See
details of workshop here.
Stars of David – Jewish Adoptive Parent Support Group www.starsofdavid.org
and the Jewish Family by Shelley Kapnek
Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens by
The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy
Back to top
Older Children by Ellen
There are many reasons why prospective parents choose to adopt children
who are older (defined as typically three and up.) For some
it is their own age – because they are “older parents” - either first-time
parents, or having already raised biological/adopted children, it makes
sense to them to parent older children. Marla, 47 mother of two adopted
children, ages 8 and 10 says, “I didn't want to have children in college
when I'm getting ready to retire!” For others, there's a feeling of wanting
to provide a home for a child who really needs one. “Everyone wants babies,” says,
Rebecca. “We felt that older children are sometimes forgotten. They need
good homes, too!” For others, caring for infants and young children is
either not that appealing or doesn't feel practical. “Doug, Rebecca's
husband says, “My wife and I work full-time and have no family in the
area to help out. We felt that an older child would fit more
easily into our lives.”
Whatever the motivation, the decision to adopt older children must come
after careful consideration ( KNOW THYSELF!) and education as to both
the many rewards as well as the challenges involved. Older children come
with histories – whether having lived in foster care, orphanages, or
with birth family. Their pre-adoptive experiences may leave them with
unresolved emotional issues. Such issues include significant loss – of
birth family, possibly including siblings, previous caregivers, and sometimes – culture,
religion, etc. In addition, some children may have experienced trauma – physical,
emotional, sexual abuse; neglect, witnessing violence, substance abuse,
parental psychiatric disturbance, etc.
All adopted children need help to grieve the losses they have experienced.
Placed in permanent families where they experience their new parents'
commitment and loving support, they are often able to address their issues.
Empathetic listening, compassion, and patience from their parents can
help them further develop the resiliency they already have that enabled
them to survive difficult life experiences.
Parenting older children is therefore a very special and important job.
Key to the success of older adoptive placements is preparation, according
to Madeleine Krebs, Clinical Coordinator at CASE. She notes, “Both the
parents' and the child's expectations need to be carefully explored and
adjusted for what the realities are likely to be. For example, a child
coming from an orphanage may never have lived in a family and therefore
may have no idea as to how a family functions. Having experienced multiple
caregivers, he may have no model for being able to understand what a “Mom
or Dad” is. On a practical level, for example, he may never have ridden
in a car with a seatbelt, or been to a grocery store. And of course,
he is experiencing these cultural differences in a foreign language.”
Ms. Krebs notes that children may be very excited, and/or scared about
the new changes, and have difficulty adjusting to parental expectations.
They may be confused by how the reality differs from their fantasies
of what life would be like after adoption. Ms. Krebs describes how one
seven year old girl moving into a family with older siblings was terrified
of them because in her orphanage in Russia , the older children were
often in charge of the younger ones and were quite hurtful to them. The
parents' knowledge of their daughter's orphanage experience enabled them
to prepare the older siblings to adjust the ways they interacted with
their new sister until she grew comfortable with them. This meant a great
deal to the girl and enabled her to learn that the roles of older children – siblings – in
her family included that of protection of younger siblings, helping her
to feel safe.
An older child coming from foster care may have multiple models of what
parents are like and unfortunately, some of their experiences may not
have been positive ones. They too, may have a mix of feelings of excitement,
fear and confusion. Ms. Krebs says, “One little eight year old boy with
a history of physical abuse, adopted by a single mother, would hang his
head and become mute whenever he was upset, and then later get into trouble
with aggressive behavior toward peers at school. It was likely that his
birth parents told him to keep quiet and that his silence kept him from
further abuse.” With therapeutic support from his therapist and loving
encouragement from his mother, he learned how to verbalize his feelings.
He eventually became more confident in expressing his feelings in new
and positive ways.
Children involved in concurrent planning, where the plan may have been
reunification with the birth family are likely to be quite confused about
this plan and show signs of anxiety that may be difficult to understand.
Again, parents need to take into account the earlier chapters of their
older child's life experiences for clues to make sense of present day
behavior or emotions.
Ms. Krebs notes that in light of this understanding, parents need to
be very patient with themselves and with the children. Older children
will go through many changes as they learn how to develop reciprocal
relationships with their new family members. “It just takes time,” she
says. “It helps tremendously if parents have a good understanding of
the child's pre-placement history and are prepared to listen to their
child's stories from the past. They must be also be prepared to do a
lot of teaching about what is expected in their family – Parents must
continually state, ‘In our family, we don't do___. This is what WE do.
One ten year old boy stated that in previous placements, everyone ate
dinner in their own rooms. He had to adjust to the fact that in his adoptive
family, family members were expected to eat dinner together. Of course,
it is equally important that parents be open to incorporating some of
the child's wishes (such as traditions and rituals) into family life.”
One of the most difficult aspects of parenting older children is the
patience required for the time it may take for a mutually satisfying
attachment to occur. In her book, Attaching in Adoption , Deborah
Gray notes that it can take up to one to two years for the love to come.
Many children who have been traumatized may be quite resistant to love
for fear of being hurt and rejected. When parents can remember how long
their courtship took to lead to a committed relationship, they can have
more realistic expectations of themselves and their child.
Parents often report feeling guilty when there are times when they have
negative feelings about their children. Others feel lonely when family
or friends do not understand how hard it can be sometimes. Support is
critical for parents to know that what they are experiencing is normal,
and important for helping them to persevere.
Adopting an older child can bring great joy to both parents and the
child. The willingness to work with unique challenges is not right for
everyone, but for those who choose to bring an older child into their
lives, the hard work can bring great happiness.
Adopting the Older Child by Claudia Jewett
Attaching in Adoption by
Nurturing Adoptions by Deborah Gray
Building the Bonds of Attachment
by Daniel Hughes
Adopting the Hurt Child by Gregory Peck
Parenting the Hurt Child
by Gregory Peck
Back to top