Promoting Successful Adoptions: Practice with Troubled Families
This book offers a clear, well-documented view of troubled adoptive families. It focuses on adoptive families after the legal finalization of the adoption has taken place and is full of case examples, detailed case histories and presentations of various practice strategies.
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1: Special Needs don't Disappear with Adoption: The Case for Post-Adoption Services
- Trends in Adoption
- Adoption as a Lifelong Process
- Research on Adoption Outcomes and Problems of Adopted Children and Families
- Increased Vulnerability of Children with Special Needs
- The Need for Post-Adoption Services
- An Overview of the Illinois Adoption Preservation Project
- Chapter 2: Every Clinician is in Post-Adoption Practice
- Adoptive Families and Social Services
- Core Issues of Adoption
- Range of Professionals involved with Adoptive Families
- Chapter 3: We Never Thought it Would be Like this: Presenting Problems of Troubled Adoptive Families
- Family Problems
- Parental Attitudes upon Seeking Help
- Children's Concerns and Perceptions of Problems
- Previous Coping Attempts
- Family Dynamics in Troubled Adoptive Families
- Common Themes
- Running on Empty
- Chapter 4: They Cry Out in Many Different Ways: Behavior Problems of Special Needs Children
- Framework for Understanding Children's Adjustment Issues in Special Needs Adoptions
- Behavior Problems as Coping Strategies
- Insights from Research on Adopted Children
- Behavior Problems of Children Served by the Adoption Preservation Project
- Behavior Problems and Placement Instability
- Links between Behavior Problems and Child's History
- Behavior Problems and Underlying Emotional Issues
- Chapter 5: Adoption Means Somebody Loves you and Somebody Doesn't: Separation, Grief, and Attachment Issues in Work with Families
- Overview of Attachment Theory as it Relates to Adoption
- Barriers to Resolution of Loss for Adoptees
- Sibling Connections
- Children's Feelings of Anger and Fear
- Barriers to Attachment for Adoptive Parents
- Insights Related to Attachment Problems
- Children's Expressions Related to Separation and Loss
- Goals and Strategies of Intervention to Support Attachment
- Chapter 6: Invisible Wounds: Trauma and its Wake
- Traumas Experienced by Special Needs Children
- The Physiological Effect of Trauma
- Traumagenic States
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Dimensions for Understanding Traumatic Experiences of Special Needs Adoptees
- Overview of Intervention with Traumatized Children
- Goals for Facilitating Healing from Trauma
- Chapter 7: I Just want to know more about who i am: Identity Issues
- Self-Integration and Identity Confusion
- Adoption and Identity
- Identity issues throughout the Life Span
- Barriers to Identity Achievement
- Identity Issues in Children Placed across Race
- Strategies for Assisting in Identity Development
- Assisting in the Search
- Kinship and Foster Parent Adoption
- Reconstructing the Past: An Intervention
- Chapter 8: A Place to Turn when there's No Place Else to Go: An Overview of Adoption Preservation Services
- Philosophy of Adoption Preservation
- Central Elements of Adoption Preservation Work
- Is it Ever too Late?
- Adoption Preservation Services in the Whitman Family
- Chapter 9: No Longer all Alone in the Twilight Zone: Support Groups for Children and Parents
- Benefits of Support Groups for Adoptive Families
- Benefits to Children
- Types of Groups Offered for Adoptive Families
- Chapter 10: Parenting Developmentally Disabled Children
- Overrepresentation of Adoptees among Special Education Populations
- Disabilities among Children Served by the Illinois Project
- Research on Adoption Outcomes of Developmentally Delayed Children
- Parental Attitudes toward Children with Disabilities
- Assessment and Information
- Accessing Appropriate Educational Services
- Achieving a Balance in Expectations of Children
- Gaining Access to Support Systems and Needed Resources
- Chapter 11: Toward a Better Future: Partnerships to Strengthen Adoptive Families
- Current Adoption Trends
- Adoption Support and Preservation
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PROMOTING SUCCESSFUL ADOPTIONS: Practice With Troubled Families
by SUSAN LIVINGSTON SMITH & JEANNE A. HOWARD
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Smith, Susan Livingston.
Promoting successful adoptions: Practice with troubled families / by Susan Livingston Smith, Jeanne A. Howard.
p. cm.—(Sage sourcebooks for the human services series; v. 40)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-7619-0656-8 (cloth: alk. paper)
ISBN 0-7619-0657-6 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. Adoption—United States. 2. Special needs adoption—United States.
I. Howard, Jeanne A. II. Title. III. Series.
HV875.55 .S653 1999
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
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To the families who created us and the families we created, with appreciation for your encouragement and patience[Page vi]
Adoption is a unique phenomenon that involves profound life events—the creation of life and the creation of families. Although only about 2% of Americans are themselves adopted, adoption touches the lives of many more. Adoptive parents, spouses, and children of adopted individuals, birth parents who relinquish children, and other family members all confront issues in their lives that are linked to adoption. Those of us who are not directly affected by adoption often underestimate its complexity and effect. When helping professionals work with families touched by adoption, they need adoption-related knowledge, sensitivity, and competence.
This book seeks to build on our own research on adoption disruption, adoption dissolution, and postlegal adoption services to provide a knowledge base for work with troubled adoptive families. We conducted a 4-year study of an adoption preservation program in Illinois that was developed to serve adoptive families at risk of child placement or adoption dissolution. We also completed a project for the U.S. Children's Bureau to synthesize the work of the approximately 65 postlegal adoption projects that it funded over a 6-year period. Through our research, we have come into contact with many adopted children and families struggling to heal from past losses and traumas. We have heard many painful stories of adoptive families' encounters with helping professionals that compounded their difficulties rather than relieved them. It is common for families seeking help from the Illinois Adoption Preservation Project to have seen many mental health professionals over a 5- to 10-year period without achieving any notable improvement in [Page xii]their family situations. In fact, some of these families felt that they had been harmed by professionals who encouraged them “to give their children back” (as if that were possible) or blamed parents for family problems.
There is a great need for social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, residential treatment staff, teachers, and others who work with adopted children and families to understand the issues, dynamics, and strategies intrinsic to adoption preservation work. Such understanding is even more important for professionals working with special needs adoptive families. Our purpose is to present a comprehensive overview of adoption preservation work that is linked with the available empirical literature on adoption, theoretical knowledge underlying adoption practice, practice knowledge in this area, and the insights gained from our adoption preservation research.
This volume is grounded in both empiricism and practice wisdom. As researchers, we are familiar with the body of adoption research and the need for empirical testing of long-held assumptions. We also are social work educators with child welfare practice backgrounds. In addition, through our close relationships with adoption clinicians, we have gathered many practice-based insights related to adoption work. In this volume, we are seeking to integrate theoretical, research-based, and practice literature relevant to understanding the variety of issues intrinsic to post-adoption services. These issues include attachment, grief, identity, the effect of trauma, common family dynamics in troubled adoptive families, and other topics. All case material in this book reflects real family situations, although the identifying information has been modified to protect the confidentiality of the families.
It is important to recognize that the stories presented in this volume are not representative of all adoptions, or even of all special needs adoptions. The focus of this work is primarily troubled adoptions. All adoptive families must confront certain issues and tasks, which are discussed in this book. The majority of adoptive families are able to navigate their lives successfully without professional help. This is not to say that they may not benefit from special educational or therapeutic services from time to time as they confront specific adoption-related issues. It does mean that these issues do not pose extraordinary difficulties to their ongoing functioning as a family or as individuals. Yet, some adopted individuals and their families are not able to incorporate or to adjust to specific aspects of their adoption situation without the help of [Page xiii]others having special understanding of adoption. This book is written for those families and the professionals working with them.
Like all authors, we bring a set of assumptions to our work. Our views on adoption have been formed through our own research, the research and experience of other professionals, and the stories of adoptive families. Over time, we have developed the following assumptions about adoption, assumptions that guide our research and this book.
First, we believe adoption to be a beneficial response to children in need of homes. We believe that society should promote adoption, particularly for children whose families have been proven unable to meet their basic needs. We believe that adoption typically is better for children than remaining in the child welfare system, and that every child deserves a permanent home.
Second, we believe adoption is best understood ecologically. The process of adoption and the status of being adopted interact with a host of factors that can protect a child or predispose a child to difficulty. A child's adoption through the child welfare system often is associated with difficult life events—loss of attachment figures, abuse and neglect, insecurity and powerlessness. The history and personality of the child interact with the history and personalities of other family members. Both interact with a host of systems in the environment—the extended family, the school system, the neighborhood, the church, and friends. Further, adoption takes place in the context of the larger society. Thus, families are influenced by societal perceptions of adoption as a means to form a family.
Not all adoptive families struggle unduly. Not all adopted children feel desolate or abandoned. Some adopted children and their families struggle mightily, however. Adoption is another aspect of family life, one that can pose significant challenges. It must be incorporated into the family's identity and functioning, as are differences such as divorce.
Third, we believe that society has an obligation to support adoptive families beyond the point of adoption finalization. This obligation appears particularly clear to us for those who come to adoption through the child welfare system. The challenges presented by many of these children will persist. We believe that the public child welfare agency, in concert with a range of community supports, should provide families with the resources they need to function effectively.
We now present the case for post-adoption services, along with an overview of the needs of adoptive families, common dynamics in [Page xiv]troubled adoptive families, and a framework for understanding issues and interventions.
Many people helped us make this book a reality. We would like to express our appreciation to the following individuals and organizations for their contributions to our work: the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, for its vision and responsiveness in the development of adoption preservation services tailored to the needs of families; our colleagues, Mary Campbell, Judy Pence, Karla Uphoff, and Ivy Hutchison, for their ideas and assistance in the preparation of this volume; the adoption preservation workers who spent hours sharing insights and discussing the nature of this work with us, especially Linda Matesi Wolter, Janet Yelovich, and Dave Matthews; Gary Morgan, whose dedication to children has been an inspiration; and the adoptive families who have committed their lives to children who desperately needed families. Finally, we thank our husbands, Jim and Rhondal, whose tolerance and encouragement helped sustain us to the end.
Table A.l Family Strengths (N = 331) Strength Percentage Ability to communicate about concerns openly and directly 74 Parents committed to keeping adopted child 72 Demonstrate warmth toward the adopted child 70 Have previous parenting experience 65 Appropriately open about adoption 65 Have the ability to communicate openly with children 64 Have supportive friendships 64 Demonstrate confidence in the ability to parent 60 Have sustaining religious faith 56 Offer appropriately structured and stable environment 56 Reasonable degree of flexibility in dealing with children 55 Adequate financial base 55 Parents have interests outside the home 54 Have the ability to identify problems and generate strategies for resolution 54 Know and are comfortable with child's preadoptive history 50 Have supportive extended family 50 Demonstrate a tolerance for conflict 45 Have strong marital relationship 44 Demonstrate optimism 43 Have contact with others who have adopted 35
Table A.2 Association between Strengths Identified and Raising Dissolution Strength Chi-Square Significant Level Committed to keeping child 40.54 .0000 Demonstrate optimism 25.82 .0000 Demonstrate warmth 18.10 .000 Tolerate conflict 9.46 .0088 Contact with adoptive families 8.04 .0046 Flexibility in dealing with child 9.27 .0023 Maintain structured environment 10.04 .0182 Parents open about adoption 4.64 .0312 Communicate openly with child 4.33 .0376[Page 252]Table A.3 Current Feelings about Relationship with Child (in percentages)[Page 253]Table A.4 Mean Scores of Adoption and CBC SamplesTable A.5 Percentage Scoring in Clinical Range on CBC Scales
Table A.6 Behavior Problem Score by Age at Adoptive Placement Placement Age Behavior Problem Score Under 1 14.34 1–2 years 11.25 3–6 years 13.03 7 and up 13.19[Page 255]Table A.7 Parent Responses on Support Group Items (in percentages)[Page 256]Table A.8 Parents' Responses Related to Children's Support Groups (in percentages)
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