The Center for Adoption Support & Education
Message from the CEO
As we enter 2012, CASE is pleased to share some exciting opportunities. On Thursday, January 26, I had the honor of being invited to be one of three guests on National Public Radio - NPR’s popular Diane Rehm show. The topic of the show was “Adoptees using DNA to find family: Adult adoptees are turning to DNA tests and social media to find biological family members and trace their roots: balancing privacy with the need to know.” Ms. Rehm asked excellent questions that provided me with the opportunity to help listeners understand how adoptees feel about being adopted and why many adoptees desire to seek connection with birth family members. I found the discussion to be extremely valuable as we explored important issues around openness in the world of adoption. I invite you to listen to the broadcast which can be accessed here (http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2012-01-26/adoptees-using-dna-find-family).
C.A.S.E. is also pleased to announce its new partnership with the Dave Thomas Foundation’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. For many years, the Dave Thomas Foundation has been an ardent supporter of our post adoption work. I deeply value our relationship and the tremendous impact the Foundation has through its Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) program, under the leadership of CEO and President, Rita Soronen. WWK has recruiters in every state who work to provide proactive, child-focused recruitment programs to help move America’s longest-waiting children from foster care into adoptive families. We are honored to be a partner of WWK and welcome Matt Shaffer, recruitment specialist, to our staff. Matt is currently supporting the efforts of several Maryland child welfare agencies to ensure permanency for children waiting for a family to call their own. Those agencies include Baltimore, Wicomico, Montgomery counties as well as Baltimore City. We are thrilled that C.A.S.E. has the opportunity to partner with the Dave Thomas Foundation on this important initiative.
On behalf of our talented staff , dedicated Board of Directors and committed partners, I am proud to share that we are about to enter our 15th year of providing support services to the foster care and adoption communities. To celebrate this milestone, we are holding a special event, Dancing with the Stars Fundraiser on Thursday, May 10 in Silver Spring, MD. C.A.S.E. is pleased to honor the true “stars of adoption” – the men and women whose hard work and dedication help to make a difference in the lives of adopted children and families. We hope those of you who have been a part of our local CASE “family” will join us for an evening of celebration, where you will have the opportunity to dance with our stars of adoption. Please visit www.dancewiththestars.eventbrite.com for more information on a fun evening of food and drinks, silent auction, and more.
Finally, we want to thank the hundreds of folks that visit our website to learn about the services, special programs, and publications that C.A.S.E. offers, and to read the excellent articles we provide for your use. To make the acquisition of information even easier, we are excited to be launching our new website next month.
Thank you for staying in touch with C.A.S.E.
Debbie Riley, LCMFT
Open Adoption Can be Scary but Successful
Kendra’s birth family tried to raise her. Her birth mother was only 14 when she was born, and maternal grandparents did the best they could. Then tragedy struck. Kendra’s grandfather died suddenly, and her grandmother could no longer support the family. By the time Kendra was 3, the family was homeless. Kendra often stayed with relatives and friends who neglected and abused her. She eventually came into care and parental rights were terminated.
Traumatized and later diagnosed with ADHD, Kendra was not an easy child to parent. She was always on the go and prone to temper tantrums. She went from one foster home to another until she was placed with the Martins, who fell in love with this “little bundle of energy.” The Martins already had two rambunctious adopted sons, and were thrilled to have a daughter. Kendra just seemed to fit into their family. And so they adopted her.
At age 9, Kendra began to have difficulties at home and at school. The Martins told their C.A.S.E. therapist that she seemed angry a lot at home, didn’t listen to them, and was getting into fights at school. Kendra loved her adoptive family. But it soon became crystal clear that Kendra was thinking about her birth family and longing to see them. She knew they lived nearby and she knew her story, but she didn’t understand why they didn’t want to see her. Kendra said, “I need to SEE them, to SEE who I look like. I need to know what has happened to them…if they are all right…if they ever think about me.”
The Martins wanted to help Kendra. They knew they had to try to open this adoption. But what if that meant “losing” her? What if that meant she wouldn’t feel the same way about them? If she had another mother in her life, what would Mrs. Martin be to her? What if they didn’t like the birth family? What if they were so different – had nothing in common? The Martins worked through their hesitations and fear with their C.A.S.E. therapist.
Contacting the birth family was not without challenges. Messages were left, phone calls unreturned; the C.A.S.E. therapist persevered for over a year. When she finally reached Kendra’s birth mother, she learned that Kendra’s birthmother, too, was filled with fear and hesitation. What if Kendra hated her and was angry at her for not raising her? What if she (birth mother) didn’t like the adoptive parents? What if they didn’t like her? What if she disagreed with how Kendra was being raised? What if Kendra wasn’t happy? What if they didn’t love Kendra enough? Supported by the C.A.S.E. therapist, as well as the birth grandmother and other relatives who were ecstatic to see Kendra again- this young birth mother finally agreed to a meeting.
Kendra changed her clothes at least five times the day the reunion was to happen. The Martins brought a feast of yummy food and treats to feed their family of 5 and 5 birth family members. The pictures taken say it all. The natural affection, the love was palpable. But Kendra was understandably overwhelmed as well. She had a lot to process. Kendra obtained answers to her questions, which generated more questions.
With each subsequent visit, some things got easier, some things got harder ....for everyone involved. But everyone can see the change in Kendra. Her mother says Kendra just seems happier…more relaxed. She helps around the house. She cuddles with her mother.
Opening an adoption requires support and guidance for everyone - adoptive parents, birth family, adopted child, and siblings. These unique relationships can present unique challenges. CASE has been there and will continue to be there for this life-changing journey.
Join C.A.S.E. for a webinar on this topic on March 29th at 9:00 – 10:30 p.m. (EST): A New Definition of Family: Relationships in Open Adoption. Mari Itzkowitz, C.A.S.E. Program Director, will be joined by a panel of adoptive parents who will provide invaluable insights around how to achieve successful relationships with the birth family. Click here (http://yhst-28828629093147.stores.yahoo.net/olw32912.html) to register.
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OUR HOME OUR FAMILY: A New Way to Strengthen Foster and Adoptive Families
C.A.S.E. is continuing to recruit couples to participate in this unique evidence-based program that was created especially for parents with challenging children. Described by a former participant as “one of the best things that happened to us as a couple and a family,” the program does require a significant time commitment in order to bring about change quickly. Nine two hour sessions will take place in a combination of Saturday and evening meetings, with a beginning target date of Saturday, March 24. (We will not schedule meetings during the Spring/Passover/Easter break.)
WHEN: The program will begin on Saturday, March 24rd.
WHERE: C.A.S.E. main office in Burtonsville, MD. Nine two hour sessions will be covered in approximately 5 weeks with a combination of some Saturday sessions (which will include two 2 hour sessions) and Wednesday evening sessions.
FEES: $75 per COUPLE per two hour session, and a one-time materials fee of $50 per COUPLE. The cost of this program may be covered through grant funding, reduced fee through scholarship funding, and may be reimbursable through your insurance.
Interested couples have expressed the need for CHILD CARE, and we are looking into offering this as well.
Please contact us at 301-476-8525 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in participating in the program and/or want more information. Please view our January 2012 e-newsletter for more information on OHOF here (http://adoptionsupport.org/newsletter/2012/jan2012.php#home). You can also learn more about OHOF at ourhome-ourfamily.org.
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Dear Ellen: SHARING VERY DIFFICULT INFORMATION
I know that adoption experts advise sharing “difficult” information related to a child’s adoption story before the beginning of adolescence. My daughter, Emily, 12, was the result of an extramarital affair. Her birthfather was married, and her birth mother did not feel equipped to raise a child on her own. Emily only knows that last part of her story as well as the fact that her birth parents weren’t married and had broken up by the time of her birth. I dread having to share the rest of the story, and honestly, I don’t really understand why Emily ever needs to know this “truth.”
Generally speaking, adoption experts DO encourage parents to reveal the most difficult details in pre-adolescence because pre-teens can cognitively comprehend the information, and remain emotionally open to parental support as they absorb it. As Holly van Gulden explains in Real Parents, Real Children, they will certainly process this information in new ways during adolescence, but it is best that they are “revisiting” the information rather than learning it for the very first time. In addition, if parents wait until the teen years to tell, they risk that the initial reaction will be anger that the information wasn’t shared sooner, followed by mistrust.
It is completely understandable for parents to have much anxiety when it comes to sharing difficult information. Parents are naturally concerned that their children will be hurt and distressed by the information. Many parents worry that their tweens are still too young to learn about life circumstances that they have no ability to really comprehend – mental illness, criminal behavior, incarceration, sexual abuse, rape, violence, etc. Other parents worry that their children’s positive self-esteem and personal identities will be negatively impacted. Will their tween think they are “bad” or “flawed” if their birth parent did something “bad? “ It is natural for parents to want to protect their children.
I have encountered many parents who adamantly state that they will never tell their children “the whole truth.” These well-meaning parents are unknowingly doing their children a huge disservice for a number of reasons. First, as opposed to being hurt by the truth, many children who are trying to make sense of why they were placed for adoption find the difficult information enlightening. For example, a teen who knows that his birthmother was suffering from mental health or substance abuse problems may have an easier time accepting that she could not care for him. It can help a teen to believe that the birth parent’s inability or decision not to parent was not due to anything he did.
Second, secrets have a way of coming to light despite parents’ best intentions. It can be very damaging to the relationship between parents and their children if the information is learned from someone other than the parent.
Third, all adoptees have a fundamental right to their complete histories. Adult adoptees tell us over and over that instead of being “protected”, they want to be told the truth, with parental guidance to cope with their feelings. Integrating knowledge from their past fills in pieces of their puzzle, especially when reunion with birth family may not be possible.
Authors Betsey Keefer and Jayne Schooler in their wonderful book, Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child provide excellent guidance around introducing very difficult information from a developmental perspective from pre-school age on up through adolescence. When sharing information, parents must be careful not to denigrate birth parents. It is important to always try to separate people from the choices they have made. Parents can help tweens and teens to develop empathy for their birth parents’ circumstances that may have led to problems. Teens may not feel empathy initially, as the information about birth parents may leave them feeling confused and angry. If parents are careful not to fuel their teen’s anger, they will be in a much better position to help their teens sort through their feelings and come to terms with the information.
Parents must also always remember that they do not have to be the only source of help to their teen. A teen that is processing difficult information can benefit from professional individual counseling or participation in a teen group. No matter how difficult or scary the information may seem to a parent, your children know on some level that adoption did not happen because of good things. They know that there is a “story” that has to be told. What they want more than anything is to be told the truth by parents that they trust to be able to guide them through the complexities of adoption.
Here’s what you might say to Emily: “I know that I told you that your birth parents weren’t married and had broken up before you were born. What we also know is that your birth father was married to another woman and had planned to stay married to her. Your birth father may not have kept his vow of fidelity for any number of reasons, and your birth mother may have believed that someday he would be with her. I don’t know the specifics of their relationship, but let’s talk about what might have happened and how you feel about it.”
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