Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How to Prepare for Adopting an Older Child

"Adoption is forever."  That's an often repeated phrase that seems simple.  Yet, many children that are in the adoption process don’t quite understand; especially the older children that may have been hoping for a forever family for some time.  Preparation is the key to a successful transition for the child and the new family, whether the child is being adopted domestically or internationally. I read an excellent article recently which discusses this in detail:  "Preparing Older Children for Adoption", by Rhonda Jarema, MA, in the National Council for Adoption Newsletter, Adoption Advocate, No. 54, 2012.
From the child's perspective, they have lived in the orphanage or in foster care for their entire life.  They are being asked to leave everything familiar behind.  The process of bonding during the initial visit with the new family is somewhat artificial and leaves the child with unnecessary anxiety.  Thoughts like, "What if this family doesn’t like me, or doesn’t pick me, or what if we get home and then they send me back."  The family doesn't get to know the child and how they naturally act during the preparatory visits.

During the preadoptive phase, it is strongly advised to include the child in the adoption discussions. They need to know and understand all of their possible options.  The child needs to be given the option of adoption along with the other possible permanency plans even if the child technically doesn't have to consent to the adoption.  After a child has chosen to be adopted, you have to allow time for them to process this change.  They have grown up in an orphanage or in foster care so they might not understand that they are not permanently leaving this place they know as home to be a part of the home you are bringing this child into.  Ms. Jarema has some great ideas such as skype visits between the child and the adoptive parents prior to placement and letting the child keep a transitional object, taking photos of their environment to put together a memory book later.   

Once the child arrives home, she suggests serving familiar foods and connecting the child with other adopted children and cultural events. As for the family, the greatest mistake I have seen made when the child comes home is to expect the child to immediately fit into their culture and routines.  Also, you can’t expect a child to have an immediate grateful and uplifting response to being adopted.  They just left behind everyone and everything they have ever known.  You are not the only one going through a change, they are as well, and you need to be sympathetic and understanding as to how they might be feeling.  Think about all the relationships in your life; what’s one of the number one things you need in order to keep that relationship strong?  Trust, it works the same way when it comes to adopting a child, they need to know that they can trust you.  A lot of kids, especially older ones, may have been moved from place to place throughout their life; even though you know that once they are with you they are going to stay with you, you need to find a way to express that and gain their trust so that they will believe you and you can begin a forever relationship with your newly adopted child.  Having open communication will greatly help the process is gaining a child’s trust. 
Ms. Jarema advocates that families have patience and take things slow.  There is often a honeymoon period which everyone is trying to be on their best behaviour.  After several months, the child and family let down their guard and negative interactions can escalate.  The parents need to remember that too many changes at once can be extremely overwhelming and can lead to anxiety for the child.   Don’t rush this new life style on them, it’s a big change right at once and you are living a different way than what they are used to. 
She also suggests that parents solicit the child's opinion regarding whether to change their name.  Most likely, they will be more than willing to change their name to be a part of the family but there are some children that have a strong view point and will want to keep the name that they have known their whole life. I find that most children are in favor of a name change but want to keep at least part of their former name as a way to connect the two parts of their history.
In my practice, I have also seen how important a support structure is.  The families that are part of adoption play groups, church or synagogue communities and strong extended family networks are better able to handle the challenges of integrating the child into their family.  At times, counseling is helpful and necessary.  Overall, parenting an adopted older child, like parenting any child, requires wisdom, love, patience and a long-term view.

Drafted by Brittany Alness, staff member of the Law Offices of Karen S. Law, PLC.


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