We agreed for a little girl to live with us while her parents sorted things.
Dad is in jail, mom was on drugs but is trying to get clean.
She is ten, with thick, frizzy brown hair pulled back in a low ponytail. Round, sweet face, eyes made owlish by thick glasses with dark purple frames.
She wears a purple puffy jacket, which should be my first clue it’s a dream.
Those went out of style decades ago. Then again, trends cycle. Maybe she’s ahead of the curve.
We meet at a small, family-owned restaurant with a store attached. Evidently this is where she has spent her after-school hours starting back in pre-school. Her babysitter used to work here but is long out of the picture.
“She was such a good little girl” that everyone else agreed to jointly keep an eye on her until her mother sent a ride home or wandered in to pick her up. Someone noticed she wasn’t growing much in kindergarten and they started providing after-school snacks and a hearty dinner. The undernourished waif grew into a hale and healthy ten year old.
The last few months, they’ve been giving her rides home at closing. A light was always on and she had a key, but finally the cook decided to walk her to the door and found mom sprawled on the floor in a drugged stupor.
She called the police, who called social services. Our small town had no other foster homes available. Since the cook claimed to be a distant cousin and had a clean record, they let the child stay with her for 48 hours while the social worker looked for a foster parent.
These people have been her family for six years. None of them are happy to learn I live clear across town.
“You have to bring her back to see us. Come for dinner at least once a week. On the house,” the owner cajoles.
The cook chimes in, “yes, please do,” in a tone I recognize as, “I’m asking nicely but you can expect a consequence if you don’t comply.”
The child has gone back to her small play area in the rear of the store to tidy up. I follow.
As I pack her things into a plastic green suitcase, the social worker calls my cell. Mom entered the rehab program. This may be a very temporary placement.
For their sake, I hope so, but I won’t mind if this sweet girl stays with us longer.
Suddenly I realize we never finalized sleeping arrangements. I guess we’ll put her in the guest room for now. I wonder if our two will be jealous she gets the big bed.
For that matter, how will they all get along? Will a new addition send them into a tail spin?
Should I put her in class with one of them or in one of the other 5th grade classes?
It’s getting late. I haven’t even thought about dinner. I tug her heavy case toward the door, starting to feel overwhelmed. Will she even like us?
I pause by the door, ready to call her name and realize I’ve forgotten it.
The cook gives me a piercing glare.
“What?” I say.
She replies, “nothing,” but I feel her eyes on my back as I turn.
I shake my head, stress washing over me.
What was I thinking, taking this on? I just started a new job. My kids may not respond well and I forgot to tell them about it. Hubby’s out of town for a week. Wait, who is with MY kids? I suddenly can’t remember.
The girl reappears, hugging the staff as she makes her way to me.
“I’m ready,” she tells me, pushing past through the wooden screen door to the country porch.
I follow, panic rising, and stop, face to face with a huge young buck. I eye his antlers, uneasy with the proximity, and glance around for the girl.
He snorts, demanding my attention, and stomps his hoof on the echoing porch floor boards. He touches his nose to mine, huge brown eyes glaring.
I wake, wild-eyed, stressed and panting, nose-to-wet-black-nose with my German Shepherd.
He needs to potty. He snorts and stomps his paw on the bed once more.
I shake my head and let him pull me out of bed.
Thank God, it was a dream.
Later that day, I pull up photo listings on adoptuskids.org, searching for a round, sweet face with owlish eyes.
Once again, Wendy’s and the super-fabulous Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption are raising money to help kids stuck in foster care.
Grab a drink, show some heart (with your hand!) and post a pic tagged with #share4adoption. Wendy’s will donate five bucks every time. SWEET.
Pressed from Rainorshineblogger.com …you should stop by. I love this one:
So this week we had to choose our criteria for our future children. It felt a little bit like going to Subway: I’ll have a six inch Hearty Italian with tuna, NO cheese. Toasted, but with the …
Source: “What can I get you?”
The photo may seem incongruous. Just wait…
During our first year, our girl ate like a wild thing. She and her brother were undernourished, so I allowed them to have seconds and sometimes thirds.
Since “thirds” seemed to help them feel secure, I made portions smaller once they reached a healthy weight—they were eating the equivalent of maybe one-and-a-half helpings. As they settled, third helpings became unnecessary.
Then, one school day she neglected to finish her lunch. I mentioned she needed lunch to fuel her brain for the afternoon. She asked lots of questions. We spent about thirty minutes discussing nutrition.
I thought we’d made a breakthrough; it was our first real connection. The inaugural Mother-Daughter Conversation of True Meaning.
The next day, she’d eaten even less, but then we had another great conversation.
By the next week, she’d stopped eating lunch.
Within a month, she barely ate anything. Every meal was a struggle. Some days, we actually resorted to spoon-feeding her to get her to finish a meal. She was eight.
We went to the psychiatrist and pediatrician and ended up in a Children’s Hospital feeding program (outpatient) after six months. By that time, she was emaciated.
I was terrified she was developing an eating disorder. Foster children are at high risk for eating disorders; one study found a quarter of the foster children monitored engaged in “aberrant” eating behaviors. Others show similar numbers.
Their psychologist is an understanding genius. She helped me understand what I’d done, though inadvertently, to foster the behavior—and how to reverse the process.
Ignore the negative behavior and make it inconvenient for her. Reward ANY move toward positive behavior.
She patted my shoulder. “You can’t blame yourself. You didn’t know. But you can’t EVER give attention to a behavior unless you want it continued. It’s her way of controlling her world.”
She recommended that we ignore her eating issues altogether and substitute the worst-tasting Ensure-type product I could find. Give her only the meal substitute for a few days, then put both a meal and the bottle in front of her.
“Tell your daughter, ‘we don’t have a preference for which you ingest; either way, whatever you eat needs to be finished within half an hour. If you are finished when I return, you can go to bed five minutes later.’ Walk away,” the psychologist said, “then come back in half an hour and remove anything left over, without comment.”
Our girl was eating again within a week.
This was only the beginning. Now, I am always on alert…hypervigilant, if you will…in my quest to protect her from scheming against herself.
As parents, it’s easy to make mistakes. Here’s the great secret: almost no inadvertent mistakes cause permanent damage, as long as you make changes.
The best way to avoid those mistakes:
- Surround yourself with individuals who are experienced with similar situations.
- Find a mentor in an adoption professional you trust.
- Talk to a counselor (either the child’s or a separate one for you) about your tactics. Ask them to be honest about whether they recommend what you’re attempting. Beforehand, make sure the counselor is experienced with foster/adopted children and their issues.
- Read blogs and articles and medical journals and social work websites.
- IGNORE (or be selective* in taking) advice from anyone who has never adopted or fostered. *Instances may occur in which one of these individuals brings an epiphany.
- Don’t allow others to guilt you into anything (e.g., “She fell down AGAIN? And you didn’t pick her up to soothe her? You totally missed a bonding opportunity.” No, in my case, I prevented seventeen more falls).
- Go with your gut: as you learn this child’s triggers and nuances, you’ll know when to avoid certain situations or try a tactic others might consider ridiculous. If you think it will work, try it. Trust yourself.
And finally, if you have been through the wringer, SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE. Someone needs help.
Yes, you. Right now. Start typing.
Can’t wait to hear what you have to say. Add your advice below.
In most cases, disrupted adoption happens quietly. The children are “moved” with little fanfare.
She requested a child with no problems, being a single mother. When the child had developmental delays—and then seizures—she returned the boy and went to court so the record would show she was not at fault (and the judge agreed).
She’s now looking for a 3 to 6 year old.
Many factors affect disruption, including
- placement instability
- multiple siblings
- special needs (behavioral or physical)
- parental expectations
Disruption of adoptions involving older children can be up to 25% higher than for children under 3 (several sources linked here noted lower stats but did not provide actual numbers).
Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the likelihood of disruption rises 6% for every year the child’s age increases. The chance of disruption also rises with multiple siblings of 2 or 3 (but surprisingly, drops when there are 4 or more siblings adopted).
Compared with an infant, a child older than four is 13 times more likely to have a disruption. Placement instability (the number of times a child is moved) also impacts a child’s ability to succeed in adoption.
The North American Council on Adoptable Children site recounts several stories of disruption stemming from out-of-control behavior.
You may know the “Disney effect” (young girls believe their prince will arrive, bringing “happily ever after,” then grow up disillusioned with their imperfect relationships).
Adoptive parents enter the arrangement with the same starry-eyed expectation. The “Jolie-Pitt family effect.” Just look at that beautiful, happy, diverse family! Adopting a bunch of kids will be AMAZING!
Sure, we all agree. We took the class and understand that kids have issues. But our family will be different. We’re going to change the world for one starfish.
(Pretty sure you’ve read that story, but if not…there’s the link.)
We will beat the odds. This kid will be different. Our love will overcome!
-Every Adoptive Parent, Ever
And then reality crashes down.
Part of the blame belongs with the agency facilitating the placement; in one survey, 45% of respondents said they did not receive all the information available about the child.
Some of the blame belongs simply on inexperience; it’s no one’s fault. Hubby and I attended many classes, read many books, researched like grad students. We had an idea of the trauma to come. None of it prepared us for the actual experience.
Imagine the difference:
- reading “Astronauting for Dummies”
- rocketing into space
It’s impossible to be prepared for all eventualities, but parents should receive all background information about a child before a placement and especially prior to adoption.
Our kids have multiple risk factors:
- placed as a group of two siblings,
- they were older children (then 5 & 7)
- moved seven times in 2.5 years (at least twice due to uncontrollable behavior)
- they needed services for physical issues (speech therapy, occupational therapy, heart surgery)
- both had severe behavioral problems requiring in-office counseling, in-home counseling and (for him) a dedicated behavioral aide during school hours
- social services did not provide full disclosure of the extent of their special needs
We not-so-affectionately dubbed our first two years, “HellonEarth” and “DefCon1,” respectively.
4.5 years from D-Day (D for Drop-off), we’re able to relax and “be a family” most of the time.
Hubby and I acknowledge that we contemplated disruption. Like other bright-eyed new foster parents, we had no concept of life with traumatized children. What saved our family? He and I never freaked out at the same time.
Throughout the summer of HellonEarth (I stopped working to be with the kiddos), I called Hubby every day around 4 pm, angry, frustrated, frazzled and tearful. He joked darkly to a friend that one day he’d come home to the three of us drowned in a bathtub.
Although drowning was never a true danger, there were definitely times I empathized with families who disrupt. He and I experienced weekly “step away from the cliff” moments in which one of us freaked out and the other played negotiator.
These conversations became sporadic during DefCon1, then obsolete.
By the adoption date, we had full knowledge of the meaning of “I will.” As we said those words, we’d already agreed that dissolution would never be an option.
We survived HellonEarth and DefCon1 thanks to
- multiple counselors
- support from our family and church
- Hubby’s tenacity and strength
- my hypervigilant attitude
- our unshakable faith that God put these kids in our lives and will continue to give us grace to deal with their (now occasional) insanity
I’d like to name this year “Cautiously Optimistic.”
There are still days (and weeks) of frustration, but we’ve invested our hearts. We tell our kids, “There’s no such thing as ‘un-adoption’ in this family.”
In heated moments, we remind each of them, “No matter how horrendous your behavior, regardless of what you say and do, and even when you destroy things like a wild hyena, we will never, EVER let you go. We will always love you.”
After almost five years, I think they finally believe it.
Up yours, statistics.
Coming soon—Part 2: Resources for Preventing Disruption
*Some information in this post is from a previous post. Additional research and information added to update.
If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in …
Reading at meals is considered rude in polite society, but if you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway.
A friend at church handed me Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter. I started it last night and only put it down when my eyes and brain rebelled against being awake any longer.
The story would be shocking and unbelievable, except it so closely mirrors my own daughter’s experience (and, by extension, my own).
Back in a bit…gone readin’.