Imagine buying a brand-new car without doing any research, without asking any questions, and without taking it for a test drive!  Imagine buying a house without ever stepping foot inside or even looking at a picture or consulting with a realtor. Or what about attending a college without viewing their website or visiting the campus or speaking with a college recruiter?  As it is with those examples, so it is with adoption. If you are interested in adoption, you may have an urgency to jump into the deep end of the pool! That urgency is natural, especially after learning how many children there are to adopt out there.

Common objections to training

In Arizona, many foster-to-adopt parents are required to attend preservice training in order to adopt.  The responses vary. Some are delighted to know more. Some are resistant. Here are some common objections to adoption training:

  1. “I’m already a mom.”  Being a regular parent is far different from being an adoptive parent.  Your experience as a regular mom or dad is good, but it will only go so far since there are things you will experience with an adopted child that you would never have experienced with your biological child.  Why?  Because your adopted child has experienced things that your biological child has never even thought of. If you are adopting from overseas, your child has experienced war, poverty, and abandonment. If you are adopting children here in the states, many adopted children have experienced abuse and neglect.  Training will add to your vast experience as a parent.
  2. “I’m a grandma.”  Kinship or relative adoption is on the upswing.  Kinship adoption is positive in this respect: grandma knows her grandchildren, for the most part.  But grandma still needs additional training. It is a tough thing knowing that your children are unable to care for your grandchildren.  But having a little bit of knowledge can help that grandchild to recover and can also help to avoid the mistakes of the past.
  3. “I don’t need no book learning.”  Many foster-to-adopt parents and many kinship parents who are seeking to adopt may be resistant to formal training.  Also, many adoptive parents are now older and may have been out of school for many years; therefore, formal learning may be a bit uncomfortable.  However, the trend in preservice training now leans towards experiential learning. Trainers realize that some learners are not visual learners and not auditory learners, but rather experiential learners.  Therefore, trainers strongly urge group learning, where learners can learn and grow together. This is a bit less intimidating than simply reading a book or manual.    

Why do I need to be trained for adoption?

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  This is an adage that is true in almost any field of study.  A teenager must study before taking a driver’s test. A doctor must go through a year of study before being licensed to practice medicine on his own.  There are as many different types of children as there are color schemes.  

  • Trauma.  Many adopted children have gone through trauma that we could only imagine.  From physical abuse to sexual abuse, from extreme hunger to homelessness, from living by themselves for days to living with drug-addicted parents; these little ones have had life-threatening and life-changing experiences.  Adopted children’s behaviors are so extreme because it is the result of living in such extreme situations. Being prepared for behaviors such as food hoarding, self-harm, sleeping issues, and feeding issues will go a long way in helping to mitigate these issues.  
  • Attachment issues.  Because many adopted children never became properly attached to their biological parents, they have trouble attaching to their adoptive parents.  Think about this: if your child didn’t know when his next meal would be served or if he would have a next meal, don’t you think there would be some anxiety about food when he came into your home?  Getting your biological child to attach and trust you was easy because she never missed a meal. This is not so with your adopted child! You will literally have to train your adoptive child to trust you by simply doing one thing: providing 3 square meals a day, every day, for as long as she lives in your home.  Once she realizes she will never miss a meal again, attachment will come. Information on attachment disorders, reactive attachment disorder (RAD) and PTSD could be especially helpful when adopting children who have resided in orphanages Europe and Asia.   
  • Developmental disabilities.  From autism to Downs syndrome to epilepsy to cerebral palsy many adopted children have disabilities that they are born with.  These children will need assistance, guidance, and care round the clock. Training and information can help you to care for these children, some of which will need lifelong care.
  • Substance-exposed newborns.  Some adopted children are substance exposed (SEN), meaning their mothers continued to abuse drugs or alcohol while they were pregnant.  As a result, these kiddos may be medically complex. Some may need oxygen; others may need feeding tubes; others still may have fetal drug or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.  They all will need to be seen by a specialist monthly, if not weekly, until they become stabilized. The effects of drugs can sometimes be lifelong.

What adoption info websites are out there?

In this Internet age, information of any kind is right at the click of a mouse.  We no longer have to trudge through libraries or bookstores in order to gather our information.  We can be trained in our pajamas, without ever leaving our house! This convenience should motivate us to get as much information as possible.  Below is some info and web links that will help you in your quest to be as knowledgeable as possible about adoption.  

  • Research.  Below are some websites containing evidence-based research on adoption:
    • Adoption.com is the world’s most-used adoption website and has the world’s largest adoption community.  It contains photolistings of children available for adoption, a reunion registry, prospective adoption profiles, adoption directories, adoption guides, and a vast array of adoption articles on virtually any topic on adoption you wish to research.
    • Casey Family Programs is a nonprofit organization that partners with local communities to strengthen and support families and keep kids safe. 
    • The Dave Thomas Foundation created by Wendy’s restaurant founder, Dave Thomas, promotes foster care adoption, contains photolistings, and contains information about adoption-friendly workplaces.
  • Training.  Training on adoption is twofold: 1) preservice training.  This may be required from your adoption or foster care agency before you begin the process of adoption.  This type of training prepares you for adding a child into your family. 2) Ongoing training. This is additional information you may need after you have started on your adoption journey.
    • Foster Parent College contains preservice as well as ongoing training for foster and adoptive parents.  The preservice curriculum is hybrid (online and classroom) in nature and usually takes 20-30 hours.  Some of the topics include the following: discipline, trauma, the child welfare system, normalcy, and behavioral health.  In addition, some of the ongoing training courses include these: trauma-informed parenting; workshops in self-injury and noncompliance and defiance.  Preservice training may be subsidized by your agency. Ongoing training comes with a small fee for each course.
    • The Foster Care and Adoptive Community is an online training service that provides lots of training for adoptive parents.  There are also courses for adoption professionals. Topics include the following: life books, behavioral issues, foster care issues and racial and cultural issues.  Some states will issue continuing education credits for the completion of courses. Each course comes with a small fee. 

National conferences.  National Conferences are becoming a thing of the past with the advent of the Internet.  But there are still some good ones out there for those who don’t mind the travel.

  • CAFO.  Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) is a faith-based organization that seeks to promote international and domestic adoption as well as foster care.  Their annual conference, called the CAFO Summit, usually held in May, serves the adoption community. Their conferences include music and speakers from the faith community, workshops, intensives, coaching tables and of course, sponsor tables and exhibits. This is a great way for adoptive and foster parents to network, get more information, and track the latest trends in the adoption community worldwide and also in their local adoption community.  It is also a good way for the local church to network to find how they can better meet the needs of hurting people in the community.
  • American Adoption Congress.  This is an international organization that focuses on adoption, foster care, as well as assisted reproduction.  Their annual conference includes those who are parenting as well as professionals.  

Podcasts

Podcasts are basically the Internet version of books on tape.  Rather than a book or a radio program, a podcaster has a particular theme, topic, or subject.  Podcasts can usually be downloaded right to your smartphone from a particular website or platform such as iTunes, Amazon, or iHeart Radio.  Podcasts are free and can be listened to in the car, on your iPod, or air pods. The podcasts below are produced by professionals and adoptive parents.  They come from many different walks of life and many different perspectives. If you are new in your adoption journey, here are a few great podcasts.

  • reframed Podcast.  This is a podcast sponsored by the Gladney Center for Adoption which focuses on adoption and foster care issues and is geared towards parents as well as professionals.
  • The Forgotten Podcast.  This is a faith-based podcast, which supports foster and adoptive parents by encouraging advocating and bringing awareness to the issues in the adoption community.  
  • Creating a Family.  This podcast also focuses on adoption with the added element of supporting families with fertility issues.  

There are many other podcasts out there on foster care and adoption.  It is just a matter of finding the right one that meets your needs in your specific situation.  

Support Groups

Foster parents like to be Lone Rangers!  The secret thought of many is, “If I admit I need help, I may not be viewed as a good parent.”  That is not uncommon.   I know that firsthand because I used to think that way. We were tempted to disrupt on more than one occasion. Our first child was defiant, stomped his feet at us, spit at us, and had terrible night terrors his first year.  Realizing that we could not do it alone, we reached out to counselors, teachers, and pastors. At first, the attitude we received was, “Well, fostering is your job, not mine.”  After a time, we found a support group with like-minded people where we received training, guidance, and emotional and spiritual support. 

Support groups give you a community with whom you can share common experiences, learn together, help one another, and have an added shoulder to cry on.  Support groups are a safe place to share what you are going through and are a place to vent, not necessarily to search for advice, but just a place where you will not be judged.  There are local support groups that meet in various agencies, and there are also online support groups where you can receive virtual advice. Look for the one that best suits your needs.  

Adoption information, education, and training have exploded over the past 20 years!  No longer do prospective foster and adoptive parents need to feel that they are helpless or that they are wandering is a desert!  Whether it is a local class or support group or an online community or a national conference or a podcast or radio program, whatever the issue, there is information out there.  It’s just a matter of looking for it! Make a list of the topics, issues, or concerns that you have or anticipate, then do a word search for information in your area or online. You don’t have to go it alone.  Knowledge is empowering! And the more info you have, the better you will be able to meet the needs of your little one. 

 

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 journeys. He and his wife started their own adoption journey in 1993 and have 8 children, 6 of whom are adopted. His adopted children are all different ethnicities, including East Indian, Jamaican, and Native American. He loves traveling with his family and is an avid NY Mets fan! Foster care and adoption is a passion and calling for Derek and he is pleased to share his experiences with others who are like-minded.