Adoption is a life changer for thousands of children who are in need of a home and a stable family to love and nurture them. They need a family to provide the security and opportunity that all children deserve.
While adoption is love, adoption is also loss. It can feel confusing and even painful for children of all ages, regardless of circumstances. In other words, you may offer the most loving adopted home and it may be just that—no rose-colored glasses—but that doesn’t mean that your sweet child won’t have lots of questions or silently shoulder feelings of confusion or loss. That is why it is especially important to make sure we support adoptees and that adoptees have access to resources geared to support them throughout their lifelong journey.
Adoptees may find themselves looking for answers concerning a wide range of issues, including dealing with grief and loss of biological family; medical and/or mental health issues; acclimating to a new family or environment; change in routine, foods, and smells; different cultures; transracial issues; and even language.
It is important for adoptive parents to research all potential issues that adoptees face, not in expectation of them, but in anticipation of them. Your adopted child may or may not check these or other boxes, but it is naive to think an adoptee will go through life without questions, concerns, or problems that may be linked to life before adoption as well as post-adoption.
Where to Begin
By acknowledging that adoption is a lifelong learning process, you will be doing yourself and your adopted child a huge service. It is never too early to begin or too late to start to talk to your child about adoption—to become his very first resource. The only disservice you will do your child is assuming there are no issues or concerns.
You can be sure that if you fail to make this connection, he will search out other avenues that may not prove as healthy to deal with his problems. There are many online support groups for adoptive parents and birth parents. Considering Adoption is just one online group of many geared to support adoptees with links to various resources for different types of adoptee groups that may be beneficial to the individual.
Reaching Outside for Support
In addition to online support, Adoption.com provides a listing of adoption support groups by state here. You should speak with your agency or foster care provider to become aware of any and all adoption support networks in your area. Can’t find one? Consider starting one. You are not the first family to adopt or to have questions or concerns on how to best support your child in making the transition into her new home.
Even if your adopted child exhibits no signs of struggling with her experience with adoption or your well-meaning family at the moment, rest assured the majority of adopted children do and will at some point exhibit behaviors either to you or without your knowledge. Take, for example, author MK Menon’s article “Joining an Adoptee Support Group Lifted a Burden from Me” in which she discusses her decision to join an adoptee support group at the age of 36 in the article.
The following articles, books, and podcasts share stories and information relevant for parents of younger adoptees:
The following books share the stories and information relevant to teen and adult adoptees:
Dealing with Loss and Grief
Research is pointing more and more to the fact that all adopted children experience some degree of trauma as a result of the loss of their birth mother/family, regardless of age or whether or not their time has been spent in institutional care vs. a home setting. While this may sound scary, it is a fact that adoptive parents should feel be familiar with trauma and should become comfortable with investigating in order to provide the necessary support.
This does not mean that the child is “damaged” or will be incapable of moving forward. In fact, studies have shown that giving children opportunities for healthy bonding, attachment, and trust can significantly help even those who have been living in unstable conditions for years. The article “Affirming the Adoptee’s Reality: A Way to Intimacy“ discusses how this loss may feel to an adoptee and the importance of understanding their reality rather than trying to fix it or make sense of it in order to build attachment and trust.
The power of love, complemented by a steady diet of proven techniques is encouraged for adoptive families at any stage of their adoption journey. The Adoption.com article “Trauma and Brain Development: What Adoptive Parents Should Know“ discusses the effect of trauma on the structure of the brain and how this can significantly impact a child’s behavior. The following podcast offers additional insight: Healing Series: Is Adoption Trauma?
Medical Resources – How to Find the Right Care for Your Child
Regardless of whether your adoption is private or if you are adopting a child through foster care, it is imperative that you seek out experienced medical professionals educated in the needs of adopted children.
Seeking out the right medical team (pediatrician and specialists, if necessary) to care for your newly adopted child should be way up there on the to-do list, it should be above curtains for the nursery or a coming home outfit. Per the article “Finding a Pediatrician,” it is more than okay to interview your adopted child’s potential doctor to ensure a good fit for your child’s specific needs: “Doctors who are members of the AAP’s Section on Adoption and Foster Care will be well-informed about medical issues for children adopted domestically, internationally, and via foster care. They have the knowledge to evaluate referral information regarding birth parent genetic history or substance abuse, as well as the effect of institutionalization on child development. Some families see a specialist only to evaluate the referral or the birth parents’ medical histories, and for a post-adoption check-up, while others continue to see the specialist for ongoing care. Staying with a specialist may not be practical if it involves significant travel to a larger city, higher co-pays, or a referral for each visit.”
The Adoption.com article “All About Therapy For Older Adopted Children” discusses things to consider if you’re pursuing therapy for a child who has joined your family through adoption.
Adoptive families should make sure to let adopted children know that it’s always okay to discuss their feelings on their adoption without fear of hurting their adoptive or biological family members. It is encouraged to seek out professional help for children or adults struggling with any part of their adoption journey.
Coming Home/Making a Home/Feeling at Home
Despite your very best intentions and the fact that you worked tirelessly to make her room just perfect, bought her favorite foods, and made sure to put out items you know will help to put her at ease, coming into a new family is not easy.
While it is important to physically ready your home for your child, it’s the mental and emotional readiness that will prove more important in the long term. Just as you will need to seek out the proper pediatric care for your child, so should you consider searching for local support groups to help meet the needs of your growing family.
The article “Smooth Transition from Foster Care To Adoptive Home” offers readers several tips for a smooth transition which can be applied to private adoptions as well, including:
- “Talk to the Kids.” In other words, aside from meeting with professionals and talking to family and friends and everyone else involved in your world, make sure first and foremost to keep an open line of communication with your adopted child no matter the age! He is the most important piece of the puzzle and you will need to put on your listening ears to make sure he knows that you’re someone with whom he can and should confide on for support.
- “Plan for Pre-Placement Visits.” Depending on the circumstance, try and make the transition as easy as possible rather than something that comes with no warning. Being on the same page with your agency, social worker, a foster family, or an orphanage will help to ensure a less traumatic transition period. While this may prove more difficult with international adoption, there are programs set up for children to stay with prospective adoptive families ahead of the formal adoption process.
- “Talk to the Foster Family.” Again, take advantage of any resources you may have—foster families, caregivers, providers—and ask all of the questions you can! By reaching out ahead of placement, you will gain valuable information about your adopted child.
- “Create a Book of the Child’s History.” Your adopted child had a life before you, whether that was one day, one year, or 10 years. Honor your child’s history, if possible, by noting the people and places that were important to her. The more you know about your child’s history, the better for all involved.
- “Find Adoption Resources.” Again, the subject of this article—it’s never too early to find adoption resources to help your child and your family.
- “Prepare Your Home.” So, yes, it is important to make sure your child will enter a place that will feel comfortable or familiar in whatever ways possible. Providing some essential items to welcome him home is a must. As you get to know each other more and you learn his personality, you can work together to pick up decorations and items that he likes.
- “Don’t Hurry the Routine.” Depending on the age of the child, you will want to check with your employer regarding what amount of leave you may be able to take. This isn’t just to care for an infant, you’ll soon find out that teenagers oftentimes need just as much of your attention but in a different way. If your child is school age, plan ahead with your school administrators and teachers so that he is able to transition accordingly and is not taking on a whole new life all at once. Hold off on signing him up for too many activities until you’re settled in.
- “Give the Child Space.” We parents have a habit of wanting to make sure our kids are okay 24/7. Kids need space, even little ones, so that they can learn independence. Learn to be there without being all over her.
- “Be Prepared for Changes.” It goes without saying that you will have good days and bad together as you grow together as a family. As your child processes her situation, she also will come to new realizations and understandings at different ages. Be prepared to be there for your child at all stages of her development; be prepared to listen and to learn along with her as she comes to terms with her adoption and place in her forever family.
International and Transracial Adoption
Before you consider transracial adoption, read “10 Things You Should Know Before Adopting Transracially.” International and transracial adoptees have additional needs for obvious reasons, including some hard truths involving racism. Some families who “don’t see color” and are truly adopting for the love of a child are shocked to discover family and friends who do see color and/or who don’t understand the importance of honoring and nurturing an adopted child’s birth history—from ancestors to culture to customs and traditions. The article “3 Best Resources for Transracial Parents suggests that adoptive parents need to learn to navigate social media to find helpful transracial adoption support groups and platforms. Check out books and articles written by transracial adoptees to get a clear picture of what growing up in a transracial house feels like. Additionally, Adoption.com’s “The International Adoption Guide” advises parents to create and maintain a positive identity with their child’s birth culture.
The book In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories provides first-hand accounts of transracial adoptees.
Understanding Brain Development in Children from Trauma is a podcast to help breakdown issues associated with brain development in children adopted internationally who may have spent time in an institutional setting.
Birth Family Search/Reunion/Obtaining Birth and/or Adoption Records
At some point, your adopted child may become curious or show interest in searching for her first family. For adult adoptees interested in searching for biological family, Adoption.com is just one resource for helping in that process. The Adoption Reunion page is the most used adoption website with more than 400,000 adoption reunion profiles. The “Search and Reunion Guide“ provides basic steps to support adoptees who are thinking about finding biological relatives.
Adoptees interested in accessing birth or adoption records may want to reference The Child Welfare Information Gateway for state-by-state information concerning laws and steps needed to obtain adoption records. The site also provides a link for adult adoptees searching for biological family living abroad.
Your first step in your search and reunion journey is to register in Adoption.com’s Reunion Registry. Interested in hearing from people involved in adoption? Consider signing up for the Adoption Summit today!