Adoptive Families Who Need Support Are Finally Getting a Voice

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This month the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute released a 98-page research study titled “Keeping the Promise: The Critical Need for Post-Adoption Services to Enable Children and Families to Succeed.” This report compiles the most exhaustive collection of post-adoption service information to date. Its thrust is to convince the adoption community to move its focus from being centered mostly around creating families through adoption, to balancing this with supporting these children and families after placements are made.

Mom Hugging Son

As a mother parenting two children with a history of trauma, I am quite familiar with the frightening gaps in post-adoptive care for families who are struggling. Our private insurance would not cover any of the attachment therapists in our state, leaving us floundering to get our child the specialized therapy she desperately needed. Emails arrive in my inbox weekly from parents who are frantically navigating their child's issues, while having no access to adequate therapy or support. I have friends who have had to choose between relinquishing their child to get long-term treatment and services, or have that child self injure or harm another family member leaving the parents responsible for the action.

It seems, though, that these struggling families have a voice for the very first time and there is some muscle behind the words. The organizations endorsing this study include some of the biggest names in adoption, including: the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, Bethany Christian Services, the National Council for Adoption, the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and the Child Welfare League of America.

The report states that most adoptive children from a history of early deprivation or maltreatment are at a higher risk for developmental, physical, psychological, emotional and/or behavioral challenges. The types of layers and trauma which exists in these children are not only misunderstood by the parents, but typically by the other professionals in their lives: teachers, school personnel, pediatricians and others. The research also indicated that most mental health professions have not received adequate training to meet these specific needs of these children.

“What it means is that these children live with the emotional, psychological and developmental consequences of having been abused, neglected or institutionalized before they were adopted,” said Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Adoption Institute. “The good news is that most of them, and their families, are doing just fine; the bad news is that the ones who need help too often aren’t getting it.”

This is no surprise to many adoptive families, but many of us feel as though we are the only ones aware of the issue, or it is simply too big for anyone to tackle. There is always a concern over this type of research and discussion, because most adoptees navigate their loss and trauma and move forward in their lives without the need for ongoing therapy or residual effects. You hear concern in adoption circles over how discussing the realities of extreme trauma will deter others from adopting. Yet, to do so, continues to place traumatized children in unprepared families, recreating the cycle over and over again without support services in place.

The report did reveal several exemplary services which have been created. However, these federally funded programs and initiatives are supported by the state child welfare systems. Many of these services are only available to families who adopt from foster care. My family grew by adopting children who were being disrupted from a previous adoption. We are an example of a home that does not fit into these fabulous programs. They are just out of our reach.

The recommendations from this research include:

  • the creation of a national task Force to provide strategic planning and legislative leadership for the development of post-adoption services.
  • developing private and public finding partnerships to bridge the gap that exists for families who do not qualify for federal and state services, emphasizing the importance of such support.
  • reevaluating budgets and public policy to see if there is a balance between forming families and supporting them post-adoption.
  • better preparing and educating professionals on the university, graduate and continuing education levels, on the subject of these adoption issues.

Other recommendations directly address the scenario presented above. It calls for state policies to end which corner adoptive parents and require them to relinquish their children to the child welfare system in order to receive services they need. The report reads:

"Everyone’s interests are better served when these children and youth are permitted to get services, such as residential treatment, while remaining as members of their families.”

Findings show that Americans have provided families for over a quarter of a million children in the last 15 years, who were otherwise living in institutions all over the world. In the same time period, there have been aggressive federal government legal and policy changes which have place almost three-quarters of a million children from foster care into adoptive homes.

The report's summary ends with:

“Now it needs to act just as forcefully to sustain them. We have a long way to go on the road toward finding safe and loving homes for the most vulnerable members of society, but we have made honest progress. Now it is time to refocus our attention and broaden our priorities if, as a culture, we are to move beyond well-intentioned rhetoric – and be good to our word.”

What are your thoughts on the released findings? How has your family been dealing with these issues?


Christine Moers has five children, three of whom joined her family through adoption.  She blogs at www.welcometomybrain.net

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