There is a classic soul song from the 1970s written by Bill Withers called Lean on Me that says, “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on; for it won’t be long ’til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on. You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.”
Everyone needs a little extra support on occasion. The world of adoption is no different for all the members of the adoption triad: adoptee, adoptive family, and birth family. The need for support varies per person, but the good news is that there are plenty of resources available to help with healing, support, and adjustment. Here are some thoughts for you when you ask yourself, “Where can I find post-adoption support?”
For many years, there were not a whole lot of post-adoption services. Those that were offered were generally limited to the short period of time following the finalization of the adoption. However, adoption professionals have recognized that all parties involved in the adoption process need to have support services made available to them over their lifetime. Adoption does not just affect one moment in time, but rather every moment in the lives of all members of the adoption triad.
Why Do Adoptees Need Post-Adoption Support?
It is important to keep in mind that an adoptee’s perspective on adoption will change as they grow and develop, and because of this, the types of support services that may be needed may evolve over time.
Childwelfare.gov says that “most of the time, children and youth who have been adopted are not thinking about adoption and its complexities. Like other children and youth, they are busy with schoolwork, sports, and social events. But there are developmental stages as well as milestones and events that can trigger emotional or behavioral responses or prompt new questions and thoughts related to being adopted. …It’s important to keep in mind that experiences of trauma, abuse, and neglect can affect how and when children reach various developmental stages.
“…For example, children adopted as infants may first learn about their adoption story as toddlers or young children. When entering school, a child may become aware that most children were not adopted and may be challenged to respond to questions and comments from peers. During adolescence, as youth go through the normal process of exploring identity issues and independence, they may have new questions about their birth families and their relationships and they may begin searching for birth family members.”
As adoptees age, they may have medical questions, become parents themselves, or desire information on their genetic makeup. These thoughts can trigger interest in their biological family. For adoptees and birth families, certain events may trigger strong emotions. Things like birth family birthdays, anniversaries of placement into foster care, holidays, school projects, or even doctor’s visits can trigger emotions that the individual may need help working through.
Adoptive families may feel great sadness over a failed adoption, a sadness on Birth Mother’s Day and Mother’s Day, and a sense of loss upon filling out medical questionnaires for their adopted child. The proof that all triad members may need support is profound. Thankfully, adoption support has evolved over the years.
What Do Adoptees Go Through?
There are three groups of people that wonder, “Where can I find post-adoption support?” The first is the adoptee.
Adoption, by its very nature, is created from a hard place. Adoptees are separated from their first families, whether by death, government intervention, or their family’s inability to properly care for the child. For some children there is even a break in culture as they are brought from their country of birth to a new country, many having spent way too much time in an orphanage. They must deal with any trauma they have experienced in addition to adjusting to a whole new world.
Childwelfare.gov states that “all children and youth who have been adopted, even those adopted as infants, experience some level of separation and loss from their family of origin. They may grieve as they come to realize the role that adoption has played in their lives. They also may struggle with feelings of abandonment as they try to understand why they were placed for adoption and how that affects who they are and the person they hope to become. These feelings may appear and reappear at different stages of life, even when their adoption and family life is a positive experience. Children and youth who have been adopted may need support working through conflicting feelings, mourning their losses, and understanding their experiences in developmentally appropriate ways.
“…Any child or youth separated from their birth parents has experienced a break in attachment. Adoption requires the development of new attachments and bonds. Children who have experienced abuse, neglect, foster care, or institutionalization may have difficulty trusting and attaching to their new family. These children and youth may need help building healthy relationships. They may also need help understanding that they can build new relationships without having to end their existing relationships and attachments. Developing new relationships doesn’t mean they are replacing other important people and relationships in their lives.”
Why Does the Birth Family Need Post-Adoption Support?
The second group that may wonder, “Where can I find post-adoption support?” is the birth (or biological) family. Birth parents may especially struggle with the loss of the privilege to parent their child. Some birth parents voluntarily relinquished their child to adoptive parents. Some birth parents had their children removed from their homes. In either case, the loss they feel can be very deep.
Even though their child is technically alive, and they MAY have some form of contact, the fact that they cannot actually raise the child they birthed is tantamount to the loss of a child to death. There is no time limit on grief, and healing, even from a positive placement of a child in a safe home, can take a lifetime to obtain. Most agencies offer lifetime counseling services to families who make an adoption plan through their agency.
Why Does the Adoptive Family Need Post-Adoption Support?
The third affected group that may wonder where can I find post-adoption support is the adoptive family.
According to Childwelfare.gov, “Adoptive parents may experience loss and grief issues of their own, which may relate to infertility or grief over having the reality of adoption and parenting not match expectations. For some adoptive parents, these issues may cause strains in their marriages or partnerships. For others, it may lead to depression.” Fortunately, there is help available, and they need not suffer alone.
Pre-adoption support is very important to the post-adoption experience. Learn as much as you can about your adopted child’s country, culture, traumas, medical conditions, and, if known, interests. Knowledge is power and can help you head off some problems and transition into your new life as a family.
You can find support groups for those waiting to adopt, many times even country or adoption-type specific groups.
According to Childwelfare.gov, “You can…learn about trends and patterns often seen in children adopted from the same country or similar situations. Parents can…connect with services that provide information about their child’s needs and earlier life experiences even in the absence of detailed medical and social histories. For example, there are several clinics around the country that have expertise in medical and developmental issues in children adopted from other countries and can conduct assessments to help adoptive families be more aware of their children’s developmental progress. You can search online to find international adoption clinics in your area.”
Research, research, research. Read everything you can get your hands on, and do not be afraid to ask questions. If you choose to adopt through an adoption agency they will most likely offer pre-adoption and post-adoption support. They are your biggest cheerleaders and will help you through the process and help you get ready to adopt or place your child for adoption.
Part of the fees associated with adoption cover lifetime counseling and support for birth mothers and the other members of the adoption triad. Here, also, is a list of states for resources local to where you live. Facebook has a myriad of “real-time” groups where members at any stage of the adoption process can exchange information, share experiences, and find a sense of “community.”
Post-Adoption Support Groups
Post-adoption support groups “can offer both adoptive parents and youth valuable opportunities to interact and share with others who have had similar experiences. Groups provide members with support systems, social interaction, and information resources. Groups may restrict their focus to families or children who share certain characteristics…or they may include all adoptive families in their programming.”
Online adoptive parent support groups are often organized by adoptive parent and are designed to bring together experienced and new adoptive parents to share experiences in a nonjudgmental atmosphere via discussion groups, websites, newsletters, and community referrals. These groups often arrange social activities, family events, workshops, and community referrals, along with so much more.
There is a myriad of services that can help adoptees, birth mothers, and adoptive parents of all ages and at all stages.
Adoption.com offers online forums for adult adoptees to communicate with fellow adult adoptees and share experiences, feelings, and thoughts. However, many times, people need more support than what can be obtained through online forums, websites, and blogs. It may be helpful to talk with a professional counselor or psychologist. These adoption competent professionals can help you work through the thoughts and emotions that you are experiencing.
There is no shame in seeking help from professionals; after all, that is why they offer services. The American Adoption Congress offers a guide of state-by-state post-adoption services and support groups. While this is not an exhaustive list, it is a great place to launch from as a person who has been adopted, as well the other members of the adoption triad.
The National Council for Adoption also has a list of resources that contains NCFA attorneys, NCFA service providers, and other NCFA affiliated resources.
It is very important to remember that everyone needs help at some point in their lives. Putting aside prideful thoughts of “doing it alone” or fearful thoughts of “no one will truly understand my situation” is key to successfully navigating life as a part of the adoption triad. For when you seek to help yourself, you are also helping those around you. Do not be afraid. The resources for post-adoption support are boundless.
Below, I have endeavored to provide a brief list of resources in which any member of the adoption triad can find support as they journey through life. Remember the words of the song by Bill Withers, “We all need somebody to lean on. I just might have a problem that you’ll understand. We all need somebody to lean on.” Check out the following links to find someone you can lean on.
Post-Adoption Support and Resources For Adoptive Parents:
- Adoption.com – Join the World’s Largest Adoption Community, 240,550 Members 2,960,000 Posts
- Adoption Council.org – Post-adoption support publications
- Center for Adoption Support and Education- “The Center for Adoption Support and Education is a national leader in mental health services for the foster care and adoption community.”
- National Foster Care and Adoption Directory Search – “The National Foster Care & Adoption Directory offers contact information for State child welfare officials, programs, organizations, and services with a focus on foster care, permanency, and adoption.”
- North American Council on Adoptable Children Parent Groups – “At NACAC, we believe some of the best support an adoptive, foster, or kinship care parent can receive is from another parent. We provide support and resources to parent and youth group leaders and share information with adoptive, foster, and kinship families about groups in their communities.”
- Show Hope – “In order to continue to restore hope, we work to provide practical teaching and resources to better equip parents, churches, and professionals in this journey.”
Post-Adoption Support and Resources for Birth Parents:
- Adoption.com – World’s Largest Adoption Community, 240,550 Members 2,960,000 Posts
- Birthmom Buds - “Providing Support to Birthmoms & Pregnant Women Considering Adoption”
- BraveLove – “A pro-adoption movement dedicated to changing the perception of adoption by acknowledging birth moms for their brave decision.”
- In This With You – “In This With You points to wise next steps for people struggling after an abortion or in crisis pregnancy situation while giving their friends practical ways to love and support them.”
- On Your Feet Foundation – “honors and values the choice birth parents have made to place their children for adoption, helps birth parents become self-sufficient, and provides support and community after placement.”
Post-Adoption Support and Resources for Adoptees:
- Adopthelp.com – “7 resources that every adoptee should check out”
- Adoption.com – resources to help support adoptees
- Holt International – Adoptees – “At Holt, we stand by adoptees for life, because we know adoption is a lifelong journey. Whether you want to connect with other adoptees, explore your history or heritage or read stories from other adoptees, you can learn more here.”