One of the busiest shopping seasons of the year are the days leading up to Christmas. But the day after Christmas is also busy. Why? Because that is the day when people bring back items they bought before Christmas, seeking a refund. On occasion, foster/adopt parents are not satisfied with the child that was matched with them and want to back out, or “disrupt” their placement. This is understandable if things are not working out. However, foster children are not items you can just return for a refund at your local big box store.
Frustration and hopelessness are fully understandable when you are caring for a child who you are not fully prepared to care for. Guilt, embarrassment, and shame creep in. Self-doubt is not uncommon. Then, the questions from the community start and many preconceived ideas about adopted kids don’t help.
But consider this: every time a child disrupts from a foster home, he is set back six months emotionally. Children adopted from the foster care system have already undergone tremendous trauma, whether through abuse, neglect, or abandonment, these kiddos have seen much that even adults have not seen. When they move to a new home, their feelings of trauma start all over again. They go through feelings of being unwanted, unloved, and abandoned. Fighting through those feelings will take a resilient young person.
Reasons for foster care adoption disruption
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, if you want to adopt a child out of foster care, you need to be prepared. What are some areas of unpreparedness? What are some of the reasons you may want to disrupt a pending foster care adoption? Keep reading:
– Unrealistic expectations. Somehow, you feel that the child presented in the cute little profile on that photolisting website was not quite the child that was placed with you. Or perhaps, you may feel there was not full disclosure doing the process, and the child has lots more special needs than you were prepared to handle. Or maybe you wanted to adopt a Lebron James and ended up with a Steve Urkel! Whatever the case, it is normal to feel betrayed. Bottom line: you may need to adjust your expectations.
– Unprepared for little people with big feelings. Unusual behavior is a key element of many foster children’s lives. Meltdowns, temper tantrums, food hoarding, self-injurious behavior, lying, and stealing are all to be expected with adopted kids. And for older kids, sometimes it seems like the behaviors get worse the closer it gets to the adoption date. It almost seems like they are trying to sabotage the adoption! This is common for lots of foster kids about to be adopted. They don’t know what to expect after the adoption. Will my name change? Will I be treated differently? Will things get better or worse? The bottom line is that these kids have never known a life of stability and consistency and so they are entering the world of the unknown. That can be scary! Chaos and instability is their norm, while love and normalcy may be uncomfortable.
A second reason youth may resist adoption is because they have gone through many disruptions previously. They may be testing you to see if you will follow the same pattern of abandonment that everyone else has. In other words, they are thinking, “I am going to reject you before you reject me.” If you don’t reject that child, but accept him into your family, warts and all, you pass the test! But that will take time, patience, and a lot of broken items in your home before that happens.
– Unprepared for the disruption to your family dynamics. Remember what is was like when you got married? Remember the loss of your freedom? Remember the compromises you had to make in order to make your relationship work? What to eat. When to shower. Where to live. Whose family to see on the holidays? Compromise is necessary when adopting as well! Adding any child will change your family dynamics. How much more an adopted child from foster care! Counseling, special needs doctors, family visits, school meetings, court, team meetings… the list goes on and on! Of course, some of these items come to an end once adoption is finalized. But some of these continue. Some families are not prepared for these changes.
– Unprepared for the lifestyle changes. Remember what it was like when you were you had no children? Remember when you had your first child? Remember how many things had to change in your life in order to care for your little one: change in your sleep patterns, change in your work hours, change in your eating habits, or having to arrange babysitting. Many things had to change in order to accommodate your new bundle of joy! Was it worth it? Absolutely! Accommodating an adopted child is the same thing.
What to do before you disrupt
Deciding to disrupt is not one event, but a process. If you must move the child out of your home and if you must “back out” of your adoption, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Here are some “do’s and don’ts.”
– Speak to your caseworker. First of all, if you are considering disrupting your potential adoptive placement, communicate with your social worker. They may have insight from the file or previous placements that will shed light onto the child’s behaviors. Perhaps your caseworker can call a meeting or speak privately to the youth. The caseworker is the legal guardian, and therefore, they must make final decisions about final placement. Speak often and early about your misgivings. Silence will only sabotage your success.
– Do not give ultimatums. Rest assured, when you say to a pre-adoptive youth, “If you do that one more time, you’re out of here!” the probability is, he will do that again! It seems like the youth is trying to sabotage the adoption. That is because the youth is entering into uncharted territory: permanency. He has never had that before. So, when you threaten him, you put him into his comfort zone. He is used to disappointing people. He is used to foster homes having “revolving doors.” So why would an adoptive home be any different? Your ultimatum doesn’t scare him! It emboldens him! It challenges him! He wants to see which promise you will keep: the promise of a “forever family” you gave six months ago or the ultimatum you just gave. Which will you choose?
– Keep confidentiality. Do not broadcast your frustrations on social media! Resist the urge to call mom and complain all about your little one. The worse thing you can do is to give every detail about the child. That would be a breach in confidentiality. Rather, speak to those people who already have knowledge of the child, like the caseworker or therapist. It is important to get your feelings out when you are frustrated, but keeping the child’s and the family’s confidentiality is important as well.
– Call for a Team Meeting. In Arizona these are called: child and family team meetings or CFT. This is a meeting for professionals that may comprise the following people: the caseworker, the child’s attorney, the therapist, the court-appointed special advocate, the foster/adopt parent, possibly the birth parents, and any other significant person in the child’s case. Calling this meeting prior to a disruption may be beneficial to preventing yet another move in this child’s life. They may be able to come up with a solution you haven’t thought of. And if preserving the placement is not a possibility, they may be able to may the transition to another placement as smooth as possible.
How to prevent a disruption before your next adoption
Disruptions can be emotionally exhausting! Perhaps it was a poor match. Perhaps your family was not prepared. Perhaps it was a bad time for your family. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try again, this time with more experience going in. Here’s what you should do the next time you want to adopt a child from foster care.
– Research the child file. Ask your social worker for the child’s file. In most states, prospective adoptive parents will have access to this. In it, you can find the original reason for Child Protective Services custody, family history, placement history, medical history, school history, behavioral health history, etc. This will give you a better picture of what to expect.
– Make a slow transition. Once you are matched with a child, take it slow. There is no reason to rush an adoption. Ask your case worker for day visits, then overnight visits, then weekend visits. Document your visits and review them with your social worker. Discuss any “red flags” you see. Ask questions. Don’t be shy. Each state varies when it come to a “waiting period,” but it is usually three to six months between when an adoptive child is placed and when the final adoption hearing is scheduled. Adjust during this time and use it to connect and bond with the child. If you feel you need to push back the adoption date, by all means, do so!
– Get the youth’s input. The best experts on foster care adoption are the adoptive youth themselves! In most states, foster youth can provide input in their adoption after the age of 10. From what their new name is going to be, to who is going to adopt them, to what their long-range plans are, foster youth need to have a say in their adoption. This empowers them and helps them to buy into the idea of adoption. Adoption is not just something that happens to them, and it’s not merely a transaction, but rather a relationship that must be built upon trust. In most courts, judges allow youth to speak at the final adoption hearing. This literally gives youth a voice in their own adoption. Seeking youth input tends to prevent adoption disruptions.
– Speak to the previous placements. When it is time to have day visits during the adoption transition, communicate with the current foster home of the child you wish to adopt. They may have insight into the child’s fears, joys, bedtime rituals, eating habits, strengths, and needs. They may have more insight than anyone else. An important question to ask is, “Why did you choose not to adopt this child?” This may be eye-opening. Or it may be nothing. Either way, keeping a connection with the previous foster home is vital.
– Get a trauma-informed education. Children and youth enter foster care through no fault of their own. They enter foster care due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. This type of trauma is sometimes lifelong. Though their mind may not remember the trauma, their body does and will react to protect them in ways that you may not be used to. Don’t compare your adopted child to other children, especially children who have not experienced trauma. You’d be comparing apples to oranges. What works for “normal” kids will not work for these kids. Get trained on trauma! Get prepared on what to expect and who to connect to these kiddos. A different perspective can go a long way and prevent a disruption at your next adoptive placement.
– Get support. Lastly, build a support network around you! I’m not referring to the professional team, like social workers and attorneys. I’m referring to a natural support system of people like family, friends, neighbors, church members, and other experienced foster/adopt parents who will wrap around you to meet you where you are. Choose people who will support you emotionally when you feel like giving up; who will be there with a meal or a pack of diapers, when needed; or who will be there with you in an emergency or at court dates; or who will provide respite when you just a break. Don’t be a Lone Ranger! Every successful person needs someone in their corner to cheer them on! Get support!
The term “forever family” is used to indicate adoptive families. But sadly, there are some children who, for whatever reason, don’t always succeed in a family setting. Rather than look where to place blame, look to the needs of that child. Adoption is not just a neat way to build a family. It is a unique way to place a child in stability and consistency where he has never known that before. It takes courage. Support that child, regardless of what you choose to do.
Derek Williams is an adoption social worker and has been in the field of child welfare and behavioral health since 2006, where he has assisted families in their adoption journey. He and his wife started their adoption journey in 1993 and have eight children, six of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities including East Indian, Jamaican and Native American. He loves traveling with his family, especially to the East Coast and to the West Coast and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption are his passions and callings for Derek, and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.