When our child first came to us, she was in therapy with a counselor. She was assigned to our child when the judge changed the permanency plan to adoption. The counselor’s focus of therapy was to “prepare” for the adoption. Now, I don’t know what exactly was covered in those sessions from January to June. I know that the biological mother made an appearance and said goodbye. After our daughter moved in with us, we continued with weekly sessions. The counselor inquired how things were going? were there any new problems? did she have any accidents? was she eating? sleeping? were we following her advice on talking about first mommy, second mommy, and me as the third mommy?
The counselor did a certain weekly exercise with my daughter. She got out a floor mat that had 12-15 faces with different facial expressions. She piled rocks on the side. She said to my child: put rocks on the faces you have been feeling this week. Sometimes S piled them all on the happy face. Other times each face received a stone. Another time, a different arrangement. I had to reach down deep to hold back my smirks. During one session that my husband and I both attended, the counselor was persistent on addressing the timeline of parents for our daughter. She went over Mommy number one and Mommy number two. She asked several questions and reviewed the actual answers with our child: your first parents were so-n-so, do you remember? and your next parents were the foster parents and their names are such and such. She kept drilling this information to which our child started grunting in response. She regressed before our very eyes, letting out non-verbal gutteral sounds. It was painful to watch. My mouth went dry. I looked sideways at my spouse– his mouth and eyes open, frozen like. I endured these sessions for a few months, then I insisted to our caseworker that WE needed help.
This should be read by all forever mommies
We were blessed to get approval to transfer to a counseling clinic in our part of town. There, the therapists are trained specialists in the areas of foster care and adoption. The first few sessions, our new therapist Beth observed S and myself interacting in the playroom office. She then interviewed my husband and me. Another time, she interviewed just me. Finally, after weeks it was time. In that session, she informed me that she had read over the case records and previous mental health assessments. Then she started talking of why my daughter behaved, reacted, and responded the way she did. I can only say that the best analogy is having a translator interpret a small provincial dialect. The fog lifted. I heard words that made sense. There was finally clarity.
We adopted from the state foster care system a few years ago. She was just under four years of age. Several months later, our therapist informed us that she has special needs. The concept of special needs is broad. And for most of us, we need professional help to really understand these kids. Children who have experienced disruptions to their home environment will likely have emotional and behavioral problems. Some will present with temporary difficulties, others with long-standing. A number of children in foster care have significant psychiatric conditions. I highly recommend finding a therapist who specializes in foster and adoptive families.
I have visited several blogs by parents who write about having kids with special needs. My heart goes out to them. I truly appreciate these amazing people who have taken on children with severe problems. The bloggers identify the medical conditions and/or psychiatric disorders that they have, that they live with all day long. Their days are long. The spectrum is vast and long. I am not sure exactly where my daughter falls on the scale. Some days her placement is higher, other days low. I wonder if it is fair to other families to even consider my kid as having special needs. I don’t want to be in any way disrespectful. Is it ok for me to gripe about my difficult days? Is there a catch phrase that I can use for my life with a kid who has maladaptive behaviors, but is smart and who does not require a teacher’s aide? What group are we in…?
In any case, parenting a child with developmental issues off the usual course is challenging. Adopting a kid that was raised by others for a period of time is challenging. Adding a child to a home which has biological children of the parents can be challenging. My intention is not to compare difficulties or challenges, but rather to reach out to anyone who struggles with parenting. I never know what kind of day we’re going to have, ever. I just know that I am not alone. I remind myself each day, or at least I try to, of how far we’ve come and I give myself a lot of credit. Somebody has to.
We adopted from the state foster care system. It was risky, the outcome unknown. We found our child from a single page narrative written by her caseworker. The first paragraph was about what had brought her into the state system– a few sentences about neglectful parenting. The second covered her placements. The next had a brief description of her foster household. Then, a few statements about the current lack of medical conditions or developmental concerns. At the end, there was a descriptive sentence of a preferred permanent home. The caseworker was hoping for a loving, non-violent home where the caregivers are willing to provide to the child’s needs.
Any child removed from their initial environment and placed in another home is likely to have an adverse reaction. A kid with multiple placements is more likely to be traumatized. The age of the child can be an additional major factor. Our child was removed from her biological parents when she was an infant. She was placed briefly with a relative, then lived in the same foster home for 3+ years. When we read that she had been in this one home I figured we were getting a less traumatized, less problematic child. I was wrong.
When you adopt from the state foster system, you are adopting a child that will be susceptible to emotional disturbances related to the disruptions in their home life. You are also adopting a kid that was raised by others. Yet, no one tells you in detail about the nurturing and child caring practices used in the foster home. I made assumptions about them. No one told us what we had to do or should do or what is expected when it comes to contact with the foster family. I was not prepared for how different we could be.
Soon after we were informed that we were matched to our child, the foster mother emailed us. Mrs. Foster informed us of their daily schedule of activities– wake up time, breakfast, one tv show, outdoor time, lunch and so forth. I was told by the caseworker to try and follow the schedule as closely as possible when she was in our home.
The Actual Domestic Adoption Process that We Endured
We plowed into researching options for domestic adoption. After making the decision to pass on international adoption, I called the 1-800 number and had a lovely conversation with a worker about adopting from the foster care system in Oregon. It was a little strange to call the Department of Human Services. There had been a number of years when as a social worker I had been a mandated reporter and had to call the DHS hotline. I had this conversation in December. The next step was to take classes, another round was scheduled for January.
We took several hours of classes at the local DHS site. The classes were in the evenings. At first we took turns attending, then we hired a sitter for the boys and went together. Alone or together, it didn’t matter, these classes were boring, painful, and dry. As a former social worker and as a decent parent, I could not believe the course content for these classes AND the questions from the class. One class was devoted to logistics of being a foster parent. The dos and don’ts. I did not get why I had to listen to countless questions of: when I buy a pair of shoes for my foster kid, what form do I use to get reimbursed. Or, when we go on a weekend trip to another state, why do I have to get approval?
I really felt like so much of the coursework should have been divided between foster families, kinship homes and adoptive families. The fosters had different questions than the kinships, the kinships had all sorts of issues related to their kin being the children’s failing parents, and us adoptive people just wanted to get a kid into our home. Finally we completed the course work and had permission to get assigned to an adoption worker. His name was Mike. He came to our house several times to interview us. We also had to fill out piles of paperwork, including essay style questionnaires on our childhoods, family of origin, interpersonal conflicts, methods for handling stress and childrearing. He did a thorough walk through of our house checking off boxes on his list: bedrooms, smoke alarms, stairs and so forth. He interviewed the boys. He interviewed three personal references on us as parents. We both got background checks done. A part of me was impressed by how thorough the inquiries were, another part of me nervous. Would we pass the test?
Adoption Options: Domestic or International Adoption?
There were a few different adoption options. However, the day after we discussed moving forward with adoption, I was on the internet exploring international adoption. While the boys were in school, I spent h-o-u-r-s viewing websites of adoption agencies. The number of agencies, the countries each agency covered, the different timelines, and the varying financial costs were overwhelming to me. I poured over countless websites of agencies — local, in state, nearby states, and across the States. We narrowed down our search to a few in state agencies that covered Asian adoptions.
Each country had specific guidelines. We reviewed the qualifying requirements. For a number of countries, we were at the older end of the age limit. We had two biological children. With these two factors, already we were not identified as a highly desirable adoptive couple. I felt guilty when thinking about childless couples struggling with infertility. We considered adopting a child with special needs — a child with a medical or emotional condition, a child with a physical impairment. We started sharing our dream with others, talking openly about our desire to adopt and our efforts. We sold our second car to raise funds. Then we were told no.
My husband does not drink, smoke, or use recreational drugs. He makes a decent income as our primary breadwinner. He has a health body mass index. He does take an anti-anxiety medication. We were informed that most Asian countries flat out refuse applicants who were prescribed psychotropic medications for emotional conditions.