The Perils and Rewards of Adoption: How to Avoid Disaster While Bringing Healing to Children
Pros and Cons of Fostering or Adopting Children
What You Face with Fostering or Adopting Children
The idea of adopting a child or children, for those that have that desire, is one of the more emotional experiences that any potential parent could have, and yet the reality is it's fraught with potential danger and rewards; those considering it as an option need to know exactly what they're facing when or if they make a decision to go forward.
For the purpose of this article, I'm not talking about adopting babies or infants here, but adopting children that have been either abandoned or abused, having undergone some sort of trauma as a result.
I've adopted or fostered four children with different levels of abuse and responses to that abuse, so I speak from experience when talking about the pros and cons of it.
In this article I'll try to bring up almost every type of situation you'll face in order to understand the details so you can make an intelligent and informed decision.
Social services or adoption agencies aren't always totally honest about the level of damage some of these children have endured, and in some cases, really don't know the depth of the damage. Many times you never know until the children - through actions or communication once they trust you - reveal it to you in the setting of your home.
Know What Type of Child or Children You Want - Don't Deviate
I've known a lot of adoptive or foster parents because of going through the system together or being a part of a support network, and I can guarantee you one of the biggest mistakes many people make is in deviating from the type of child or children they want to take into their home.
It may sound cruel or lacking compassion, but the truth is there's a reason you want a certain type of child, and you should trust your instincts. For example, if you feel you can only handle a young girl five-years-old or younger, then you should stay within those parameters when making a decision. Obviously, if the child just turned six you make make an exception. The point is to not go too far outside the guidelines you've imposed upon yourself.
The reason that's important is because once you enter into the process you're going to have your heart strings tugged on extremely hard, and if you make an emotional decision alone without considering your own strengths and limitations, it could, and most likely will, turn into a disaster for you.
Another factor is there can be a lot of needy children that are available to foster or adopt at any one time, and officials can attempt to push you toward those that are difficult to adopt because of extreme behavior that is very hard to control, or possibly because they're older and harder to place.
Many times I've known prospective adoptive or foster parents to excitedly take a child under their wing, and the next day return them to the agency. Why? Because some children are very street smart and wise beyond their years. Many also have the false hope that they will return to their birth parents. Consequently, they willfully misbehave in radical ways in order to get you to bring them back in order to maintain their false hope.
Probably the most consistent form of bad behavior is to moan and groan while you try to interact with them, or if they are sent to a corner by you for discipline, they will moan endlessly until they totally wear you down.
Be aware that all of this happens after you go through a period of training with and agency and you're excited to get a child. Also be aware that outside of an infant, this is going to be a very troubled child. If it's more than one child, meaning siblings, usually there is one that is troubled and more difficult than the other.
This is another area to be careful with. Some officials have the conviction they shouldn't break up siblings if they don't have to. Be careful you don't cave into this if you aren't able to handle it. You may think you can, but if you didn't think of more than one child before the adoption, you shouldn't change your mind because of wanting to keep the siblings together.
I'm not suggesting there may not be an exception under the right circumstances, but only if the two children are fairly healthy. You'll know because you should have a period of time where they live with you in your home, where you get a chance to interact with and observe them before being allowed to finalize the decision to foster or adopt them.
Adoption Can Be Very Fulfilling When Done Right
Be Aware of the Numbering System
I don't know what it is called officially, but in the U.S. there is a system agencies use that identify the level of damage or challenges a child has endured and faces; at least that's the case in the state I adopted and fostered children in.
In the state I lived in it was a numbering system of 1-6. One represented a child with little damage, which had a lot of potential to work with. If a child was a six, it literally meant close to being put in a straight jacket and a padded room. You may think I'm exaggerating here, but that's literally what my case worker described it as when talking to him after the disaster we had to endure occurred.
The problem was we weren't made aware of this, as we were trained to handle children more in the 1 or 2 range, rather than the deeply troubled children that require a different way of working with. As a matter of fact, children with higher designations really shouldn't be placed in the home a person in the first place, in my opinion.
We had a child designated as a 5 placed in our home because the case worker didn't want to break up a set of siblings.
The point is to be aware that there are different levels of damaged children, and some are damaged so badly they can't function in a normal home. It can get worse if you have biological children as well.
Whatever you do, don't convince yourself you're the exception and have the wisdom and ability to deal with extremely damaged children. I'm aware of one family that took in two teenage girls that were very damaged, and when the adoptive mother told them they couldn't go out a particular night because of some issue, they took a pillow and smothered her with it, taking her life.
Again, very damaged children can be beyond your help, and in many cases are psychopaths and/or have no empathy. The situation above was an obvious exception, but it's not the only time something like that has happened.
This shouldn't scare you from adopting or fostering, but it should push you toward caution and reality, rather than emotion and illusion. It should also cause you to take an inventory of what your real strengths are and whether your not you can handle the whirlwind that is about to hit you.
The key takeaway from this is no child in the foster or adoptive system is going to be fully healthy or normal. There will always be something missing in them, even if it's primarily from being taken away from their birth parents without being sexually or physically abused. It could be from neglect or drug abuse, or other types of behaviors that put the child at risk, without being forcibly abused.
When you're getting trained, ask directly what type of children you will be receiving into your home as a result of your training, and what type of system they have in place to identify various levels of behavior in the children.
What to Consider if You Have Biological Children
Some people with their own children really do want to help a disadvantaged child, and there's nothing wrong with that. That said, there are certain things that should be taken into account if you want to add troubled children to your family.
First, you really need to know what the bad behaviors of the child or children coming in are. Since no one will never know exactly what behaviors may emerge, certain assumptions must be made that these children could end up being abusers themselves. Many of them, at least, can be violent and hit the adults in their lives, i.e. you.
But if there are young, vulnerable children in the home, it would be better to decide on children at least several years younger than yours so they can't harm your biological children.
If your children are still young, it would be better to wait until they get a little older before fostering or adopting. Having children of similar age or a little older could result in a lot of heartache if they start abusing your biological children.
Another factor I've heard is when people have brought in children that are close in age and of the opposite sex, as they grow up they can get too physically close to one another. The reason for that is even though they may consider themselves a brother and sister, there is still the fact they aren't biologically the same, and consequently can let their boundaries down and enter into inappropriate sexual behavior with one another.
Dealing With False Accusations
Last but definitely not least is the reality that many of these children could falsely accuse you of abusing them. My original caseworker told me she had been accused numerous times by these children of abusing them in one way or another, adding that all the caseworkers she worked with also had been accused.
This goes back primarily to the illusion mentioned earlier that these children are trying to get out of your home because they believe they can work out a way to go back to the way things were with their biological parents. I can't overestimate how strong that urge is, and what some of these kids will do in order to try to make it happen.
The truth is, being taken out of their original home can be as traumatic as the abuse they were receiving at the hands of their parents, extended family, or possibly older siblings.
As far as how to handle the lies, the first thing to do would be to contact your case worker and let that person know what is going on. In the case of one of our adopted children, his lies got so bad while he kept running away, that he ended up bringing the police into our lives time and time again. He was the one that was a 5 on the scale mentioned earlier, and shouldn't have ever been allowed into the adoption system (our second caseworker told us that). He should have been assigned to a facility with other children with similar levels of behavioral problems.
If the lies are somewhat harmless and just localized, meaning spoken within the home, this is probably frustration and pain over the loss of their biological parents; this is something that probably can be solved within the confines of your family and the team your working with to make the process a success for the children or child.
But if a child escalates and brings it to a level beyond the family to the legal system, meaning talking to the police after running away, or maybe lying to someone if they're going to school, you'll need to make the decision on whether or not to keep them in the home. If they're already adopted in not in the trial period, then the parent or parents have the responsibility to make a decision that is best for the whole family. If you don't, it could end up destroying your lives if the child turns the system against you. I've seen that happen. It's a nightmare for the victims of the lies.
To me, the time to avoid most of the potential pitfalls of fostering or adopting is on the front end of the process. Decide what type of child or children you want, and how many, and then stick with your plan no matter how long it takes.
The first two children we adopted took almost a year before we were offered to opportunity. That can be a long time when you have a lot of emotion invested in the outcome. Even so, we made the mistake, because of the length of time, to take in two siblings that didn't align with the type of children we felt we could work best with; it's one of the reasons that triggered me to write this article, so you don't make the same mistake. We forgot or neglected our plan because of the length of time it took to get a chance to adopt, so we jumped at the opportunity.
Stick within the parameters you've put in place concerning the type of children you want to foster or adopt. If you have biological children of your own still in the home, I advise you to wait until they're older before bringing some younger children into the home, in order to protect them. Last, don't ignore a child if they appear to be accelerating their accusations against you to the point they may start being believed. Cut that off before it gets a chance to grow to the place it could emotionally, legally and financially destroy your family.
Adoption and fostering isn't for the feint of heart, but it can be rewarding if you follow the suggestions above, and if you understand you have to lower your expectations for what these children will bring to your home and lives.
You can see them grow and achieve satisfying levels that make you proud, but they never quite grow in the way a child raised in a healthy home can and does.
If you manage the process and are patient in waiting for your children, it can be a very good experience. If you allow the agencies to push children on you that are disruptive beyond what the parents and family can handle, and it will turn into a nightmare.
Get ahead of the process and don't allow yourself to be swayed into helping children beyond your capabilities because you feel compassion or are made to feel guilty.
Taking all this into account, don't be afraid to go forward if you have the desire and gift or calling to help children like this. Just be aware you can't save all of them, and be content with doing what you can with those you really can help protect, grow, and give a chance at success in their lives. As human beings that's all we can do.