Adoption in and of itself can be traumatic for a child. Many children who spend their first few years in another setting may also be susceptible to other forms of trauma, such as child abuse and neglect. If they happen to come from another country where their language and culture is different from our own, their situation becomes that much more complicated.
So what are adoptive parents to do? Most parents who go through the process to adopt are eager to love, care, and provide for a child who needs a permanent home. But if the child has been traumatized, there are likely to be significant challenges along the way. Still, while there are some programs and services to help parents work through the challenges that trauma can present, professional assistance is often lacking in many parts of the country.
Additionally, there are times when trauma can beget trauma. In my own situation, for example, I was adopted fairly expeditiously at three months old. My parents then chose to adopt two older children when I was two, and life immediately became chaotic. I don’t know that I can necessarily label what I experienced in those first few years after the adoption of my two older brothers as trauma, but I can certainly label the sexual abuse I experienced at the hands of my oldest brother when I was eleven as trauma.
While neither my parents nor I know what happened in the foster home of my two brothers before they were adopted at ages four and six, it is a pretty safe bet that something did and that it resulted in trauma. Shortly after they moved in, there were behavioral issues that began to surface on a regular basis. By the time they were teenagers there was no longer any control or hope for a regular family life.
But while the issues were certainly evident, nobody had prepared my parents for what they ended up having to deal with. They were certainly at a loss for dealing with the situation on their own. Perhaps if there had been some kind of education or training available to my parents to recognize the signs of trauma and employ effective responses to the behavioral issues that were clearly present, our family would have eventually gelled and I would have never experienced the trauma imposed upon me by my oldest brother.
I am happy to see that the impact of trauma is becoming understood in a much better way in recent years. There seems to be a recognition that coordinated, effective responses need to be put in place for families dealing with trauma, many of whom are adoptive families with eager parents who want nothing more than to love, care, and provide for a child in need.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) was established by an act of Congress in 2000, and brings a singular and comprehensive focus to childhood trauma. Current or prospective adoptive families who are unsure of how to handle or respond to their child or children who may have experienced trauma can learn about empirically supported treatments through this excellent resource.