Adoption is a lifelong process for all parties to an adoption. While the vast majority of adoptions have positive outcomes for the children and their families, many adoptive families need supportive services at some time. AFFCNY is dedicated to promoting the availability and sustainability of adoption support and preservation services in New York State in order to ensure a permanent, loving family for every child.
A family created through adoption can often face unique challenges throughout a child’s life. Several issues—such as loss and identity development—affect all adoptive families. While a child who was removed from their original home due to abuse or neglect might show signs of obvious trauma, even a child adopted as a newborn faced a traumatic separation that can affect them at various times throughout their life. Even after reaching adulthood, persons adopted can often have different needs. Parenting is difficult in the best of circumstances, but there can be additional struggles with parenting children with hard beginnings.
Why Your Family Might Need Support After the Adoption
Most of the time, children and youth who have been adopted are not thinking about adoption and its complexities. Like other children and youth, they are busy with schoolwork, sports, and social events. But there are developmental stages as well as milestones and events that can trigger emotional or behavioral responses or prompt new questions and thoughts related to being adopted. As you think about your child’s development, it’s important to keep in mind that experiences of trauma, abuse, and neglect can affect how and when children reach various developmental stages.
Some children are very resilient and little to no effort will be needed beyond typical child-rearing skills. We celebrate when families end up in that situation. However, most children who join their families through adoption may have deeper wounds can often behave in ways that don’t respond to our parenting efforts. It’s not the same as parenting a child you gave birth to and, no, love is sometimes not enough.
The Foundation of Traumatic Loss
Adoptive families – no matter how they came to be – do represent a “hard beginning” and often need support even if they don’t realize it. Many families need assistance through their life-long journey. Indeed, it is normal to not know all the answers and healthy to ask for assistance.
While many children adopted have special physical, mental health, and developmental needs that can be easily seen, every child adopted carries the separation of their original family with them. With children adopted as infants or small babies, the memories are often pre-verbal which adds another layer of complexity as the adoptee doesn’t even have the language to talk about their feelings. Even if adoption is the best outcome for that child and creates a new family, the foundation is trauma.
“Whether adopted from birth or later in life, all adopted children have experienced some degree of trauma. Trauma is any stressful event which is prolonged, overwhelming, or unpredictable. Though we are familiar with events impacting children such as abuse, neglect, and domestic violence, until recently, the full impact of trauma on adopted children has not been understood. …Scientific research now reveals that as early as the second trimester, the human fetus is capable of auditory processing and in fact, is capable of processing rejection in utero. In addition to the rejection and abandonment felt by the newborn adoptee or any age adoptee for that matter, it must be recognized that the far greater trauma often times occurs in the way in which the mind and body system of the newborn is incapable of processing the loss of the biological figure. Far beyond any cognitive awareness, this experience is stored deep within the cells of the body, routinely leading to states of anxiety and depression for the adopted child later in life.”Bryan Post; Post Institute
Post Adoption Child Development, Triggers and Milestones
Children and youth understand and feel differently about their adoption at different points in their life. For example, children adopted as infants may first learn about their adoption story as toddlers or young children. When entering school, a child may become aware that most children were not adopted and may be challenged to respond to questions and comments from peers. During adolescence, as youth go through the normal process of exploring identity issues and independence, they may have new questions about their birth families and their relationships and they may begin searching for birth family members. Additionally, as people who are adopted become parents or become old enough to consider parenting, they may experience desires to reconnect with birth relatives or know more about their genetic history. Consequently, people who are adopted have questions, concerns, and needs that often change over time.
In addition to developmental stages, multiple milestones and events, such as the ones below, can trigger adoption issues and tap into powerful emotions.
- Birthdays of the adopted child, siblings, parents, or birth parents
- Anniversaries of placement into foster care, an orphanage, or the adoptive family; or the date of adoption finalization
- Holidays and ceremonies (especially Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, but any holiday or event that involves family gatherings and sentiment)
- School projects in which a child is asked to talk about his or her family, such as “family tree” assignments, the history behind their name, or identifying inherited family traits
- A doctor’s visit in which an adopted person is asked to supply medical history information
- Adopted mother’s pregnancy, birth of a child, or adoption of a sibling, which may upset the adopted child’s sense of security in a family
- Any loss such as divorce, death of a family member or pet or deployment of a military family member
- Any rejection or perceived rejection; loss of a friendship and change
- Contact with a birth relative, whether unexpected or planned
During these times, you should watch for signs indicating that your child—or you—needs special support. Signs might include changes in mood, eating habits, or sleeping habits. Parents can prepare children and youth by discussing the possibility that these triggers may cause a reaction. Let your children know that you understand what is happening, it is normal and expected and you will be there to help, including getting additional support if needed
It is Normal to Need Post Adoption Support
Children in adoptive families do better when their families are fully prepared and supported to address needs or issues as they arise, rather than waiting for challenges to reach a crisis level. Post-permanency services definitely are a vital support to families raising children with often-serious behavioral, emotional, or physical disabilities, but all adoptive families benefit from post adoption support. With support programs, families are able to remain committed and effective parents as they raise their children to be happy, healthy adults.
- NYS Preventive Services and Post-Adoptive Services Regulations (pdf)
- Keeping the Promise: The Case for Post Adoption Support and Preservation – 2014
- Keeping the Promise: The Critical Need for Post- Adoption Services – 2010 (pdf)
- NYS OCFS Post Adoption Services Regulations (pdf)
- A Step by Step Guide to Post Adoption Services (pdf)
- Strengthening and Preserving Adoptive Families: A Study of TANF Funded Post Adoption Services in NYS (pdf)
- Post-Legal Adoption Services For Children with Special Needs and Their Families: Challenges and Lessons Learned
- Post Adoption Services Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Children Adopted from Foster Care (pdf)
- A White Paper on Post Adoption Services from Parsons Child and Family Center (pdf)
- Assessing the Field of Post Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models and Evaluation Issues