A non-profit adoptive family support center
Serving families, professionals and educators since 1998

 

E-Newsletter - May 2008

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 

 America 's Untold Foster Care Story:513,000 U.S. Youth in Search of Brighter Futures

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 the year.

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 is needed.

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 birthday;
  • 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). 

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"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."  
- 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 Whole Me. 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 .

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Adoption and 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 dumbfounded.”

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 key.

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.

RESOURCES

Stars of David – Jewish Adoptive Parent Support Group www.starsofdavid.org
Adoption and the Jewish Family by Shelley Kapnek Rosenberg
Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens by Debbie Riley
The Blessings of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel

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Adopting Older Children by Ellen Singer, LCSW-C

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.

RESOURCES

Adopting the Older Child by Claudia Jewett
Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray
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

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  Updated 15 May, 2008                 top See Our Privacy Statement | Contact Us  
 
15 May, 2008