Imagine a four-cornered dinner table with only three legs. What would happen if you were to set that table for dinner for four? Everything would come crashing down. In the same way that dinner tables need support, adoptive families also need support as well. Without a team of supportive people around them, an adoptive family would come crashing down just like a table with only three legs. Many adoptive parents try the “lone ranger” technique by navigating the turbulent waters of adoption alone. Support groups can come alongside you as your compass to steer you in the right direction before, during, and after adoption.
Twenty-five years ago, there was little, if any, support for foster parents. We had to go it alone. We had to go to libraries to borrow books that were years outdated or travel to conferences that were hundreds, if not thousands, of miles way to get the information that we needed or to meet with people who were going through the same things we were. We rarely came across foster parents, and when you did, there was so little time to interact with them because of the demands of foster parenting.
Adoptive parent support often stops at the final court hearing. If a person adopts out of the foster care system, there is professional support such as social workers, counselors, CASAs, GALs, licensing workers, etc. But once that child is legally yours, many of those supports drop away. And while many foster/adoptive parents may breathe a sigh of relief thinking, “Whew! Now I have my time and privacy back!” The reality of the matter is that many of those parents wish they had that professional support when tough times come.
What is needed for both foster and adoptive parents is support along the way, at all times, through the foster or adoption journey. Whether it be online support, a formal classroom support group, or supports like family and friends, foster and adoptive families need support. Statistics show that those families who receive support when times get rough tend to last longer as foster parents, tend to experience less disruptions, and tend to better aid the well-being of the child, which is really the main goal, isn’t it?
You might need to be a part of a support group if…
– You are a first-time parent. Many times, I hear a foster parent complete preservice training, I hear that parent say, “I wish I had this training when I raised my own kids.” Parenthood doesn’t come with a manual or guidebook. So, adopting or fostering your first child ever can be quite a task! You will definitely need some support!
– You are a first-time foster/adoptive parent. Comparing your foster child to your biological child is not fair. Your biological child may not have grown up with significant grief or loss. So, viewing your foster kid as a “bad” kid will not help the problem. Your foster child may have been abused, neglected, or maltreated. Your adoptive child may have experienced war, poverty, or homelessness. That child’s behaviors will be significantly different because her life experiences revolve around survival. Being a part of a support group will help you to view these behaviors through the lens of trauma.
– You are a parent of a child with high needs. Foster children are in foster care through no fault of their own. They have been abused, neglected, or maltreated. As a result, they have behaviors that may not be the norm for “normal” kids. Behaviors such as food hoarding, self-harm, sleeping issues, hygiene issues, and others present a real challenge. Troubleshooting these issues in a support group or attending an advance training in a support group will go a long way in mitigating these issues.
– You are a parent of a child with developmental disabilities. Even if you have taken training on disabilities such as Down syndrome, autism, epilepsy, or fetal alcohol disorder, you will still need support. A network of people who already have experience in these areas are a great resource!
– You are the parent of a sibling group. If you are considering fostering or adopting a sibling group, there are other unique challenges. Going from zero children to two or three is quite an undertaking! Situations such as additional food, toiletries, clothing, schooling, and transportation all need to be taken into consideration. Also, parents must be prepared for changes in transportation, sleeping arrangements, and schooling. But even so, support groups can help when a frazzled mom is at her wits end.
– You are a parent of a teen. Teenagers. Adolescence. Puberty. Need I say more? I think every parent of a teen ought to have a support group whether their youth is a foster child or not! Having a foster youth presents its own unique challenges. If you have a foster youth, he is more likely to have many multiple moves from one foster home to another; more likely to run away; more likely to have more run-ins with the law; and less likely to be adopted. Teens can be a challenge, but they have been let down by their previous caregivers so often that earning their trust will be a challenge. Still, they will need unconditional love and permanency. And you will need a support group to survive those years.
– You are an experienced foster-adopt veteran! One thing you may not have considered is that there may be another parent that needs you! Someone with whom you can guide, mentor, and be an example to. If you have already gone down the path of foster care and adoption and you have had some success, consider attending a group or even facilitating one or even starting one! You may make a difference in the life of another adult, who will, in turn, make a difference in the life of a foster or adoptive child!
What do support groups provide?
So, what exactly is a support group? Is it like a 12-step where you sit in a circle and introduce yourself by saying, “Hi, my name is Derek, and I’m a foster parent”? Not exactly. Support groups can look different according to what their purposes are. Support groups can be anywhere from 5-20 participants. Some meet weekly, others meet monthly or quarterly. Some are parent-led while others have an official leader from an agency. Some are informal discussions around a particular topic while others contain a formal training. Some provide childcare. Some provide meals or a potluck. The bottom line is that they meet regularly to provide support for foster and/or adoptive families. If a foster or adoptive family feels supported, then they will, in turn, provide the appropriate support to the child who is recovering from the trauma of being separated from his family. Below are some of the things that are provided to participants in a support group.
– A sense of community. If you have ever been to a sporting event, you know the comradery and community that it provides. You feel as if you have something in common with others and that you are experiencing the same thing at the same time. This is the same thing that support groups provide: community. Realizing that you are not alone goes a long way to providing the child with the care that she needs.
– A place to be trained. Foster and adoptive parents need to be trained. Fostering a child is much different than raising your own child. The reason for that is because these children have undergone immense trauma that “normal” children will never endure. You will need preparation and interventions to help the child recover from this trauma.
– A place to vent. The first person that people usually vent to when they are having issues at home is their mom. Unfortunately, mom may not have all the answers regarding foster care or adoption. Support provides a place to talk where people will listen and empathize with you because they have gone through the same thing.
– A safe space. Many times, foster and adoptive parents feel judged—like when their child is having a meltdown in the middle of church or steals something from Walmart or ends up in the principal’s office more than a few times a semester. Support groups offer a place where you will not be judged, and you feel safe to express your concerns.
– A shoulder to cry on. Fostering is hard! International adoption is excruciating! Sometimes, the unexpected occurs such as false allegations, behavioral issues, undiagnosed illnesses, and disruptions, just to name a few. A support group should be a place to “let your hair down,” if necessary. Of course, counseling should always be an option.
– A place to feel appreciated. Foster parents are some of the most under-appreciated people in the community. They sacrifice their time and family to take in a stranger with little to no information. They put their family at risk for the sake of one child. Fostering is truly a step of faith because we really don’t know what is going to happen in the future. As such, these brave individuals ought to be appreciated. A support group offers a sense of appreciation.
– A network of people that can provide what you need at the right time. Let’s face it, is in order to be successful at anything, you need someone in your corner rooting for you. That’s what a network is. Also, just like a substitute teacher, you need someone who can cover for you in case you need to “call in sick.” Whether it’s respite or babysitting or providing a meal the first week of a new placement or providing free diapers or formula, help from your network of support can go a long way to helping you not only survive in foster care, but also to thrive!
Where can I find a support group?
Google is not the first place I suggest you go to find support groups for foster and adoptive parents. You may end up in a group you weren’t prepared for. However, if you search for websites below, you may have more success.
– State Child Services Website. Every Child Protective Services website should have additional information on foster care/adoption and support. Each state is different, so finding a support group in your area may be different.
– The Faith Based Community. Different churches, denominations, etc. may have support groups that meet at their facility on a regular basis. They may be faith-based in nature, but many are not, they simply meet at their place of worship.
– Local adoption or foster care agency. Your foster care or adoption agency should have a support group linked to them or at least should be able to refer to one.
– Nonprofit organizations who promote adoption. Nonprofit organizations in your state should be able to refer you to local support groups if they do not run one themselves.
What types of support groups are there?
There are about as many different foster/adopt support groups as there are Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream. All serve a different purpose and serve different communities. Adoption.com has a vast array of support groups, both online and locally across the country! Below is only a portion of the support groups available.
- RAD support group
- Birth mother support groups
- Adult adoptee support groups
- Grandparent support groups
- Faith-based support groups
There is no longer a stigma of adoption and foster care in this country. It has become more mainstream and accepted in the culture at large so that we see celebrities adopting, and we see more adoption-friendly TV shows and movies that depict the realities of these special families. With the advent of the Internet, there are more web-based support groups and a myriad of information out there including online support groups, webinars, and online training that is only a click of the mouse away! So, support is worldwide as well as down the street. Choose the one that will serve you and your child best.
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.