National Adoption Month is coming to a close. Each year, groups across the nation hope to find a way to encourage the adoption of the estimated 115,000 children in foster care. Those of us who have opened our hearts and homes to a foster child want to be encouraging as well.
At any given moment, you feel as though you are on a roller coaster of emotions experiencing the wildest ride in your life. Moments of joy are often punctuated by longer dark moments of frustration. We hold onto the bright moments hoping they won’t disappear and cling to our support group in the dark times.
The challenge is that most adoptive parents want to cover up all the pain a foster child has felt with a big hug and cookies. Some adoptive parents travel down the road of adopting a foster child because they want a child who will love them. A few believe if you change the child’s environment, clothing, and diet, he or she will be fine. If you believe these statements are true, you should think twice about adopting a foster child.
The truth is that when you adopt a foster child, especially an older one, it’s a very long road to healing – one that may never develop into the picture we often see of smiling faces on the families portrayed in the ads for National Adoption Month.
The Child Welfare Information Gateway does a good job of providing the information families need before considering adopting a foster child. If you or someone you know is serious about bringing a foster child into their home, take the time to learn the truth about what happens to a child’s brain and abilities when they have abused and/or neglected. NSCAW found that nearly 75% of the children placed in out-of-home care due to abuse or neglect tended to score lower than the general population on measures of cognitive capacity, language development, and academic achievement.
As the child grows older, the difficulties often become more pronounced. One long-term study revealed that as many as 80 percent of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21. Some of the problems may appear to be in the realm of somewhat normal teen behavior - depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. Other conditions are beyond what even the most caring of adoptive parents are prepared to manage - panic disorder, dissociative disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, anger, posttraumatic stress disorder, and reactive attachment disorder.
All of the cookies and Hollister clothing in the world will not change the inside of a child who has experienced complex trauma from abuse and neglect. What may heal the child are very large doses of unconditional love, perseverance, and ability to set boundaries. Attach.org and radzebra.org are great resources with support groups for families considering adopting the older foster child.
Liza Weidle is the NC Mom Congress delegate and adoptive mother of a 15-year-old foster child.