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Improving Long-term Outcomes in Older Child Adoption

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This month we had the opportunity to contribute to the National Council for Adoption’s monthly publication, Adoption Advocate. You can read it here.

We wrote about pre-adoption education needs of families unique to older child adoption. Further, we wrote about post-placement support families need to be successful. We closed with recommendations for professionals to considering when approving families to adopt older children.

We would love to hear your thoughts!

Maximizing Success in Transracial Adoption

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Being aware of the issues your family will face is key to maximizing your family’s success! Race must be an open topic of discussion in transracial adoptive families.

  • Consider your surroundings. Is your neighborhood racially and culturally mixed so that your transracial family does not appear unusual? Will your child be accepted as a teen the same as a toddler or child? Is there access to other transracial and cross-cultural families? Does your school have a variety of races and cultures represented in the classrooms, by both students and teachers? Ideally, it would be best if your child was surrounded by other children from his/her own culture or racial heritage. At the very least, your community should have some visible diversity so that your child does not stand out or become isolated. You may want to consider adopting more than one child from the same race or culture to reduce your child’s isolation and give your child an ally. However, only if you always wanted more than one child.
  • Teach your child about his/her heritage. Instill a sense of pride in your child’s heritage. Attending special ceremonies or holiday events–equivalent to cultural tourism–is not enough. Incorporate books, magazines, dolls, toys, games, foods, greeting cards, calendars, audiovisual media, and artifacts that reflect your child’s culture and ethnicity. Perhaps everyone in the family attends language classes to learn the child’s language or attends a church representative of the child’s background.
  • Seek relationships with others of his/her heritage. Find and develop personal relationships with people who are from the same background as your child. Seek mentors, groups, organizations, and activities from your child’s race or culture. Find hairdressers and health professionals of the same racial or ethnic origins. Your child will need ongoing relationships with others of his/her heritage, but keep in mind that your participation should be done to the extent the child is comfortable and the child’s comfort level might change at different stages. Not any person or organization just because of race or culture will suffice. Find people who are from the same area or from the same linguistic group.
  • Seek out other adoptive families of mixed race or culture. You will have more in common with the subculture of adoption than with either of the races or cultures involved. Your family and your child need reinforcement that comes from time with other transracial or cross-cultural adoptive families who face similar challenges. They can support you on issues of raising children in a multiracial family as well as experiences you have as a transracial adoptive family. There are several culture camps advertised in national adoption magazines that provide a chance to experience being the majority for an intense period of time. It also gives youth a chance to spend time with others who can share the joys and pains of growing up in a transracial adoptive family.
  • Educate your child and family about racism and intolerance. Transracial families often experience stares and people commenting on the mixed race of their family. Prepare ahead of time and give your child effective tools and techniques to combat racism. Create scripts for how your family wants to respond to stares and comments such as “Are those your children or are they adopted?” Most important is not how you respond, but that your response has been agreed upon with your child.
  • Do not tolerate racial or cultural slurs or jokes. Deal with racial or cultural slurs immediately and directly. Your child needs to know that is wrong and no one is allowed to say anything bad about his/her race or culture, no matter what the person’s intent or how important that person is to you or the family. Explain that prejudice will come from members of the racial majority and from members of his/her own ethnic group in the form of name calling, racial slurs, inferior treatment, exclusion, preconceived expectations, or physical violence. Help your child to understand it is the person saying or doing things that has the problem, not your child. Explain the history behind slurs and that they are hurtful. If you struggle with explaining or addressing these issues, seek out and attend courses or seminars to help challenge and confront racial or cultural prejudices. If one does not exist in your community, consider organizing one.
  • Validate your child’s feelings. The teen years are typically the hardest. It is important for your child to witness you investing in his/her culture and seeing others you rely on for their skills and abilities. However, as your child reaches teen years, he/she may need you to back off and let him/her be alone with his/her heritage. Your child may become embarrassed by his/her transracial family. Try not to take it personally and to respect that stage while your child is going through it. Friends whom the child related to may become uncomfortable. For example, some friends may no longer be willing to go out at night with a black adoptee for fear that the police will hassle them. This kind of prejudice is rarely articulated by teen adoptees, yet such racism can be a significant factor in the life of an adolescent adoptee in a transracial family. Regardless of what someone says or does, what is most important is validating your child’s feelings.
  • Acknowledge differences. Your experience of the transracial or cross-cultural adoption will be different than your child’s. You may feel your adoption has been successful with love for your child, your child appearing to do well in life, and your family never facing significant issues related to racial or cultural challenge. However, your child may have always experienced a sense of loss and alienation from his/her own culture but did not feel he/she had the right to express it. There may have been things your child never mentioned either to protect you or because the child feels shame and humiliation and is internalizing prejudice.
  • Practice responses. Empower your child to gain control of the situation. Discuss your child’s immediate response and alternatives. Act confidently. Teach your child problem-solving skills, including non-responses (e.g., ignoring the speaker) and verbal (e.g., whispering a response or asserting “They are my parents. I am adopted.” “My mother says that people who say that are ignorant.”) and nonverbal responses (e.g., staring back). Have your child practice these responses and model them when he/she is with you. Ask your child what he/she would like you to do, if anything, and then follow your child’s lead. However, if a racist act involves adults or an institution, such as the school, then you must take direct and decisive action yourself.
  • Understand where your child is developmentally. Have frequent check-ins to assess your child’s self-esteem and racial identity. The greatest challenge in raising children of a different race is teaching them to combat racial prejudice while building a strong self-esteem and racial identity.

This is part two of a series on transracial adoption. If you missed last month’s blog about self-esteem and racial identity, you can read it here.

Self-Esteem and Racial Identity

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Transracial adoption usually refers to families in which parents adopt a child who is of a different race. Transracial adoptees are typically not only racial minorities in mainstream culture but also in their own families. They often feel like imposters in their adoptive families AND feel like they do not fit in with the race and culture of their biological ancestry. Some live in a state of incongruence.

Identity formation is a difficult process for all of us. Race, ethnicity, and culture can make identity formation even more complicated. When transracial adoptees are placed at an older age, it is more complicated due to years of separate histories, rituals, and traditions as well as their history of chaos and trauma. Further, they are expected to adjust to yet another family and new environment which likely includes a new socioeconomic climate, different norms and values, and perhaps an entirely different language or religion.

At the older age, children begin the development of a social identity (related to themselves in the context of their communities), a psychological identity (how they identify with and relate to others), and an interpersonal identity (how they think about themselves).

Developing a sense of ethnic identity in a racially dissimilar environment can become a major challenge. These children frequently observe others who are not like them. They observe or experience prejudice, discrimination, and stereotypical remarks. Through those negative experiences, they may internalize they have more limited options and their groups are somehow “not as good” as the prevailing cultural group. They may feel alienated based on the differentness of their physical features. They may feel lost, without a true connectedness to their birth culture or their adopted culture.

Issues of loyalty are often raised with these children. They may choose to distance themselves from memories and recollections of their birth family, or they may be attracted to groups and activities similar to their birth families or what they perceive as “their people.” They may struggle trying to develop both autonomy from their adoptive family and their identity. All of these struggles can negatively affect the child’s confidence, self-view, worth, self-respect, and goals.

Building a strong racial identity is a two-part process based on developing a strong self-esteem and a sense of pride in ethnic heritage. The biggest concern about the issues of identity is whether children will have a secure sense of who they are as a racial and ethnic minority and whether they can learn the skills to deal with discrimination and prejudice. The adoptee must be able to answer the question “Who am I?” and feel good about themselves, despite both subtle and blatant messages that tell them otherwise.

The identity development process is different for each transracial child as their experiences are all different. Some are quite capable of holding themselves in this world in a very impressive way while others have a more difficult time. The capacity to identify, access, and utilize resources and relationships to help them develop their sense of self is critically important. The identity and values of transracial adoptees will largely depend on the circumstances of the birth parents and adoptive parents, agency preparation, support of the adoptive family, the community in which the child grows up, and the family’s knowledge and comfort about transracial adoption.

Part 2 of this series, “Maximizing Success in Transracial Adoption,” includes recommendations for maximizing success in transracial or cross-culture adoptions.

Parenting in Hard Seasons

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

It has been a challenging year. Parenting is stressful, but parenting in a hard season can push one to the brink.

For most, school is a time of respite for both parents and children. Kids get a break from their parents and parents get a break from their kids. However, with school closed this spring, parents moved into the role of parent and teacher. You were with your kids 24/7. Your stress level may have increased as your time away diminished (or vanished completely).

And now school is out; summer is here. (Am I the only one who felt like summer break started back in March?) Goodness, it is going to feel like a long summer.

So if you are struggling, here is a list of resources to help you survive what may be the longest summer break in history.

Overcoming Exhaustion
Parenting Survival Guide
Loving your Child When it is Hard
Strengthening Your Support System
Adjusting Your Expectations

How do you cope in hard seasons?

Family Game Night Ideas

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources

Are you looking for some new ideas to have fun with your kids without screens? Here is a list of family favorite games from who have regular family game nights.

A qualifier for the games on this list was whether the game required a knowledge of language and/or culture. Many kids who moved around often in foster care or are new English language learners have gaps in their education. Typically, these kids struggle with games requiring spelling or vocabulary.

The games are listed by category to make it easier for you to determine what might work for your family. For many of the games, I have linked a video explaining how the game is played to help you determine whether or not it would be a good game for your family. The game links are affiliate links, but the videos are not.

Dice Games

Chicken Foot (How to play)
Farkle (How to play)
Left Center Right (LCR) (How to play)
Mexican Dominoes (How to play)
Nada (How to play)
Tenzi (How to play)
Rummikub (How to play)
Yahtzee

Card Games

Dos (How to play)
Egyptian Rat Screw (How to play)
Exploding Kittens (How to play)
Kings in the Corner (How to play)
Hearts (How to play)
Skip-Bo (How to play)
Spades (How to play)
Throw, Throw Burrito (How to play)
Uno

Board Games with Minimal Reading

Blokus (How to play)
Forbidden Island (How to play)
Guess the Mess (Description of the Game)
Sequence (How to play)
Ticket to Ride (How to play)
Tsuro (How to play)

Games Requiring Spelling and/or Vocabulary

5 Second Rule (How to play)
Alias (How to play)
Balderdash (How to play)
Bananagrams (How to play)
Blurt (How to play)
Pictionary (How to play)
Rory’s Story Cubes Several versions available (How to play)
Scattergories (How to play)
Scrabble

Check out connecting with your family and other game sites for more ideas. What your family’s favorite games to play?

Launching Your Child into Adulthood

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Our oldest moved out last summer. Before she moved out, I felt so much panic with the realization that I only had a few more months to teach the necessary skills to live independently! Thankfully, we began working on some of them at age 16 and have progressively covered the majority of them. Consequently, we spent the last few months focusing on the areas that needed improvement before officially launching on her own.

Did I expect her to be 100 percent successful? NO! I realized she was going to make mistakes (I made plenty…and still make them). However, if she learned the basic skills, she would be able to make small mistakes (such as overspending one week) instead of large ones (such as being unable to pay her rent).

Here are some of the areas we worked on to help her launch successfully:

Budgeting. I wish I could say that we saw great success in this area over the last four years, but I will say there was progressive improvement. The rate of improvement increased once the timeline to move out was determined. It is as though the impending move out date brought urgency to learn the skills necessary to be successful. We introduced the envelope system several years ago to introduce money management skills which works for many, but ultimately, your child needs to have some level of self-control. Self-control and impulse control are some of the areas that many older adopted children struggle with. But keep at it. Everything may not stick. Ok, most of it will not stick, but hopefully some aspect of what you are trying to teach will. And remember, you probably stumbled when you first moved out. And you child will too.  

Cooking Skills. One mom in our study shared how she required her daughter to meal plan, grocery shop and cook one complete meal a week. Every week it had to be something different to broaden her cooking skills. Mom was always available to ask questions or to assist, if needed, but she found her daughter’s confidence grew every time she tried a new dish. What a brilliant idea! I cannot guarantee that your child is going to appreciate the opportunity to learn to cook. However, perhaps asking them to cook along side you a few times a week will help them learn some basic cooking skills so they will not be living off microwaveable meals. But, if they do that, it is okay, too.

Housekeeping Skills. Several years ago, I realized that while my daughter successfully completed the chores I asked her to, I was the one making the request. It occurred to me that when she got her own place, she was going to need to think of these things on her own. We created a weekly rotation of chores so she would be in the habit of completing them regularly. There are certainly things we have missed (such as remembering to wash the bathroom towels regularly and remembering to wipe off kitchen counters), but overall, she confidently knows how to keep her apartment clean.

Wisdom from Adoptive Families: Joys and Challenges in Older Child Adoption has an entire chapter on preparing your child for adulthood. One dad shared how he helped his children learn to budget using a debit card that worked for his kids. The ideas that families shared on how they are teaching their child are excellent!

Remember, as parents, it is our responsibility to give our children the tools necessary to be successful. You can provide opportunities for them to learn skills, but it is still their responsibility to use them. Do not feel like you are a failure if your child does not take advantage of the teaching/learning opportunities you provide. I often tell my daughter, “I can give you all the tools you need to be successful, but it is your choice to use them or not.” If you are providing the opportunities, you have done what you can which is all that is asked of us.

An Interview with Christa

By | Blog, Resources

In honor of National Adoption month, we interviewed Christa Jordan from Spoonful of Jordan. We met Christa and her husband, Jonathan, at Tapestry Conference. Christa has written a workbook to help prospective adoptive families determine which type of adoption is best for their family. We hope you find this interview helpful.

Please tell us about yourself, and what experience you have with adoption or the adoption community?

Jonathan and I have been married for 9 years. I’m mama to our 6 year old son who came to our family through international adoption from Japan in 2014. Aside from being adoptive parents, we both have backgrounds in social work: I hold a BSW and Jonathan worked in foster care for 8 years. I’ve served the foster and adoption community in a variety of ways from mentoring to leading support groups for waiting families. My favorite job, however, is being stay-at-home mom and homeschooling our son! I love to write and process life through words so I started blogging before we began our adoption process. You’ll pretty much always find me with a cup of coffee in my hand and likely quoting something from Mary Poppins.

What led you to write the workbook Before You Adopt: A Guide to the Questions You Should Be Asking?

The workbook was born out of many conversations and what we wished we would have considered before adopting. Personally, we were the first in our circle who decided to grow our family through adoption. After we came home, I began getting connected to those interested in adoption or foster care through friends, my blog or social media. I started meeting with people and began asking the kinds of questions I included in the workbook. Over and over as I asked the hard questions, I would hear “I’ve never thought about that.” Additionally, I noticed a lack of practical education and preparation for families in the process. While trainings offered great stories, rarely did I see a holistic view or practical tools. Even though we that were really prepared for adoption, there were many things we struggled with or simply were not prepared for. I’ve watch many families walk through incredibly difficult things and feel some could have been prevented or less difficult with conversations had beforehand. But, you don’t know what you don’t know! I searched for a resource like this. When I could not find one, I decided to write it!

What would you like your readers to get from reading and utilizing this workbook?

I want readers to learn how to think holistically and outside of the box. Often people come to adoption or foster care without previous knowledge or experience. They don’t even know what they should be thinking about and working through, or asking professionals and preparing for. My goal was not to give all the answers. I believe there are ethical practices and general guidelines that everyone should know and follow, but there are so many variables on the journey. The journey is going to look different based on your past, preferences, beliefs and worldview. My hope is that people will feel more empowered and less overwhelmed by working through the workbook.

What do you think is most important for those considering the journey of adoption?

There are several things. First, if you are married, it is essential that your decision is 100 percent unified. I have seen so many couples come into this with one being passionate while the other is dragged along. That will not work. It won’t be good for the child or children who may be coming into your family, and it is certainly not good for your marriage either. I intentionally designed the workbook for each person to have a copy to work through the questions as individuals, then come back together to talk about your answers. You will quickly identify areas you need to discuss, do more research and ask for help. If you’re single, I encourage you to find someone you fully trust who will be an essential part of your support to be your sounding board on questions. Secondly, I think every prospective adoptive parents need to closely examine at their expectations and motivations. I believe it so important that I dedicated an entire section of the workbook about that.

What do you think makes a good book on adoption?

I think one that encourages you to look at the complexity of adoption and foster care. Carissa Woodwyk calls it the “both/and” which is my favorite phrase. If a book only gives the beauty and doesn’t address any of the loss or pain in adoption and foster care, that’s a problem. Likewise, if it’s addressing only the pain and not the beauty, healing and restoration, that’s also a problem. Both can be held together, simultaneously, and I think that is incredibly important. Another big thing to look for: is it honoring to all members of the triad (birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents)? It is important to know how the book is centered as it impacts the narrative.

Are you working on anything at the present you would like to share?

I’m working on my second book which is scheduled to publish in January 2020! It is very different from my workbook. It is our story of how God has moved so many mountains in our lives from our marriage, to finances, and adoption. I’ve entitled it Moving Mountains, and I hope others will find it encouraging when in a difficult season.

If you are considering adoption (or know someone who is), we hope that you consider getting a copy of her workbook! You can find it here. It is a helpful resource.

Resources about Trauma for Teachers

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

As parents we often struggle to help our child’s teacher understand the impact of trauma in the classroom. We try to share information we have learned. So we try to share articles and resources from professionals “with credentials” with teachers and administrators.

Some teachers and administrators gladly accept the knowledge we share while others are less enthusiastic. I always struggle walking the fine line between being forceful and strongly encouraging their understanding.

Last month on Facebook, I posted a variety of resources that can be shared with teachers about the impact of trauma on the classroom. Here are a few of my favorites:

How Trauma Affects Kids in School

Helping Traumatized Children Learn (includes video lectures from a professor about the impact of trauma)

This is a Student’s Brain on Trauma

10 Things about Childhood Trauma Every Teachers Needs to Know

Hopefully, the teachers and administrators you share these resources with will be receptive to the research and become aware of students’ needs! Tell us how your teachers and administrators responded! We’d love to hear from you.

Things to Consider when Looking for a Therapist

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Finding a therapist with adoption experience – specifically older child adoption experience – who is trauma- or attachment-focused can seem nearly impossible. We have some recommendations for finding a therapist or counselor who uses a developmentally appropriate approach.

Seek Recommendations

  • Look for recommendations of therapists or counselors who work with children and families. Check with other adoptive families, professionals (such as pediatrician, family lawyer, social worker, pediatric occupational therapist, audiologist, school counselor), family and friends, your employer, or your insurance company.

Search Online

  • There are online services like GoodTherapy.org, PsychologyToday.com, and others that can be helpful in locating therapists in your area; however, keep in mind that listed therapists pay a fee for membership to be included on these lists. There are some great therapists listed, but there will be some great ones not listed, and others may be listed but not so great.
  • There are many professional organizations, institutes, and networks that contain directories of therapists and other support that may assist in your search (such as Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc; Association for Training on Trauma and Attachments in Children (ATTACh); The Theraplay® Institute; The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN); TF-CBT National Therapist Certification Program).

Travel Distance

  • Good and convenient often do not go hand-in-hand. You can probably find a therapist 10 minutes from your house, but you might find a better one who is worth a longer dive. A longer drive home can provide time to process feelings and thoughts from the therapy session.

One or More Therapists?

  • There are no easy answers to the question of should we have one therapist or multiple therapists. Discussing the pros and cons with the therapist will be helpful in avoiding potential pitfalls in your therapeutic work.

Therapist’s Gender

  • You will want to choose the gender you or your child prefer to work with. However, your reasons may be something you need to discuss with the counselor.

Things to Ask Therapists

  • Are you a licensed counselor or therapist?
  • Are you a registered therapist, or do you have any additional certifications?
  • What is your training or educational background?
  • What percentage of clients are adolescents (if you are seeking counseling for your teen)? …families? …foster, adoption, or attachment related issues? …trauma related?
  • How much of your work involves the use of art, play, or team building exercises with adolescents and with families?
  • What do you believe is required for healing?
  • Do you work with other professionals in your clients’ lives, such as medical doctors, psychiatrists, schools, or other interventionists?
  • Are you willing to work with both our family and our child individually, or do you suggest we have different therapists?
  • If you will be seeing our child individually, how involved or informed will we be?
  • Do you make referrals if you identify my child or family needs additional or different services?
  • Do you provide psychoeducational assessments* or do you have someone you recommend who does?  

*A variety of psychoeducational assessments are available to assess individual aptitudes, attitudes, abilities, achievements, interests, personal characteristics, disabilities, and mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

Ask About Their Fees

  • If you cannot afford them, tell them what you can afford because this could be a long-term process. Some may be willing to reduce their fees.
  • Many community clinics can provide counseling on a sliding scale fee.
  • Some universities have clinics where students-in-training provide counseling at a lower cost. However, they are students, and therefore they will not have the training and experience of a fully-trained therapist.   

Listen to Your Intuition

  • Is the person you are talking to trying to sell themselves or are they really telling you about how they work?
  • Who makes you feel the most relaxed and encouraged?

It is our belief that it is essential for therapists or counselors to network with caregivers, school personnel, and sometimes other professionals to obtain a complete and accurate picture of the child and his or her needs. We also like the use of assessments that are up-to-date, valid, and reliable. If you struggle to find a therapist or counselor who fits our suggested criteria, you may find one who is willing to research and learn. Remember, counseling is an investment that often brings great returns. 

Improving Your Support Network

By | Blog, Conferences, Resources, Wisdom

We are excited to be leading a breakout session at the 2019 Tapestry Conference which will be held October 18-19 in Irving, Texas. As we considered what to present, we consistently went back to the importance (yet challenge) of support. In preparing to grow their family, parents often focus on the paperwork and preparation aspects of bringing their new child home. However, too often we forget about the support we need after our child comes home.

When the new child is older, we fall into the trap of believing the addition of the new child will not significantly impact our daily routine of cooking and chores. What parents frequently find, however, is while the child does not have the needs of an infant, the stress of getting to know the child is exhausting. You are learning your new child’s non-verbal responses and personality. You are attempting to connect with your child as well. The emotional toll can be unexpected and exhausting.

What kind of support do you need to gather? Here a few we will talk about in our session.

  • Social Needs. This blog post can provide ideas on how to strengthen your support network. Don’t forget about the social needs of your kids, too!
  • Physical Needs. Help with meals, household chores and maintenance.
  • Emotional Needs. Find people you can honestly share your fears, frustrations and joys.

What support do you still need? Do not be afraid to be vulnerable and ask for help. Having a good support network can help create a smoother transition for you and your entire family.

You can find out more about the conference and the other speakers here. We hope to see you there!