Advice for Adoption and Fostering

My Child Contact have access to experts in the field of adoption.

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ScienceDaily — Children who experience the stress of separation at birth from biological parents and are brought up in orphanages undergo biological consequences such as changes in their genome functioning, Yale School of Medicine researchers report in a new study.

Published online in the current issue of Development and Psychopathology, the study reports differences in DNA methylation, one of the main regulatory mechanisms of gene expression, or genome functioning. The investigators compared two cohorts: 14 children raised since birth in institutional care and 14 children raised by their biological parents.
Senior author Elena Grigorenko, associate professor at the Yale Child Study Center, and her colleagues took blood samples from children aged 7 to 10 living in orphanages and children growing up in typical families in the northwest region of the Russian Federation. They then profiled the genomes of all the children to identify which biological processes and pathways might be affected by deprivation of parental attention and care.
The team found that in the institutionalized group, there was a greater number of changes in the genetic regulation of the systems controlling immune response and inter-cellular interactions, including a number of important mechanisms in the development and function of the brain.
"Our study shows that the early stress of separation from a biological parent impacts long-term programming of genome function; this might explain why adopted children may be particularly vulnerable to harsh parenting in terms of their physical and mental health," said Grigorenko. "Parenting adopted children might require much more nurturing care to reverse these changes in genome regulation."
Other authors on the study included Oksana Naumova, Maria Lee, Roman Koposov, Moshe Szyf, and Mary Dozier.
The study was funded by the Foundation for Child Development, the USA National Institute of Mental Health, and Edna Bennett Pierce.

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What about you?

“Isn’t being an adoptive parent the same as other parents?”  “We all have the same struggles as you do”, “just treat them like you would any child and they’ll be fine”.

If you’re an adoptive parent these are words I’m sure you’ve heard many times from friends, family and well-meaning random people you meet. Yes our children do have the same features, i.e. they run around like headless chickens at times, they cry and shout, they fight with their siblings, they respond negatively to the word ‘no’, BUT there are mayor differences. Children who have experienced early trauma, to varying degrees, are impacted by that trauma. You may not see it on the outside but the effects of their loss, neglect, and/or abuse is devastating to them.

So why am I saying all this? Well this article is about YOU as the adoptive parent.  Your children get lots of attention, support, love and understanding, and so they should - but what about you? If you answer yes to the following questions then read on:

1.    Are there days when you wonder why you went through the pain of the adoption process?
2.    Have you felt exhausted by the relentlessness of trying to understand your children?
3.    Has there been a strain on any of your meaningful relationships, due to the stress of bringing up your children?
4.    Do you find it difficult to relax as you are always waiting for the next crisis to happen?
5.    Do you wish you could explain to people around you how demanding your child can be?

Secondary trauma is a phrase used much in adoptive circles. It’s the effect of being around trauma that others have experienced. Charles Figley (1995) defines secondary traumatic stress as "the natural consequent behaviors resulting from knowledge about a traumatizing event experienced by a significant other. It is the stress resulting from wanting to help a traumatized or suffering person."

The constant battles and demands that come from trying to help those who’ve experienced trauma can be very wearing. To the extreme it can mean a breakdown or depression, on a smaller scale physical effects might be lack of sleep, poor diet, low energy.

I have been an adoptive parent for three years now to three beautiful children. It was a baptism of fire to go from 0 to 3 overnight. When they came to us they were 4, 5 and 7, now 7, 8 and 10. I have learnt lots about them and how to help them. Read many books, been on training courses, support groups and generally immersed myself in the world of adoption. The one thing that strikes me that is missing is the essential element of how to look after you. It’s no good knowing all the theories and understanding what makes our children tick, but then having no energy, patience, compassion and self control to implement those things, in the heat of the moment.

So where do you stand today on self-care? How important is looking after yourself in comparison to caring for your child? My guess is you are maybe struggling to answer that question! Without being strong, grounded, peaceful and resilient yourself, you will find it incredibly difficult to help your child.

So here are three tips to help you today:

Quietness is a rarity now. When you have three children descend on your quiet life it does inevitably create noise and chaos. Not that I’m complaining about that - but in order to stay sane there does need to be some times of peace, quiet and a chance to find that still point.

We are all so different - some of us need more quiet and alone time while others thrive on the hustle and bustle of big family life. Whichever you might be there’s still time needed to slow down and stop especially in the adoption journey. Our kids have a chaotic, complicated life inside them and it’s important for them to be able to regulate that inner noise. The same is true for us.

Nancy Thomas, a renowned expert in the field of extreme trauma in children suggests that you need at least 30 minutes of quiet every day! No music, No TV, nothing! This may seem unachievable to some, but I have personally found it essential to keeping my own sanity.

Along these lines also is about finding that ‘still point’ inside when you can feel calm and centered. I’m not much into meditation and such, but since we’ve had our children I do find my need to really connect with peace a lot stronger.

So how can we do this? - Here are a few ways: -

Breathe... Yes breathe some more! We all know how to breathe don’t we? Well yes of course we do but we tend to shallow breathe much of the time, we don’t really concentrate on our breathing, deep breaths so that our bodies can relax and our lungs can really fill up with air.

Try big, slow deep breaths. You will soon see the difference and feel the difference between shallow, short breaths and deep, long, slow breaths.

Be in the now. We spend much of our lives in the past or the future. In doing this we miss the calmness and peace of now.

Take a look around you right now - what do you see? What can you hear? Smell? Feel? In doing this again it slows you down, grounds you and allows you to connect with what’s happening right now. Each minute changes - the line you just read is in fact in the past!

Belly laugh - My kids love to laugh! I’m sure you can remember those times when you were young and you laughed so hard your belly hurt and you thought you might have an accident! If you can’t remember that of course just watch children when they laugh uncontrollably - it’s amazing.

There are times around our dinner table when I’m not in a laughing mood! Kids never know when to stop - that’s the point I suppose - they are so uninhibited in that moment that they can’t stop themselves. I love that.

So my second tip is belly laugh - as hard as possible and as often as possible! Laughter is known to be good for healing - look up laughter on the Internet, - there are even laughter clubs now for those who need help with finding things to laugh about or ways to release their inhibitions.

So when thinking about how to keep ourselves sane laughter is a good component of that. How can you bring laughter more into your every day life?

Finally family pressures - families are great aren’t they! We don’t choose them and we can’t get away from them (well we can I suppose). Whatever your extended family is like today I can guarantee having adopted children has changed that dynamic in some way or another. Whether they are finding it difficult to understand your children and your approaches to parenting, or whether they are fully involved and on board - there are always pressures that arise.

The thing I’ve noticed recently is around claiming and belonging with my children. It’s a very strange situation when you adopt - it’s like being in no man’s land. Certainly for us when we adopted our children who were 4, 5 and 7 at the time. It was like being a new mum with all the new mum feelings and challenges but with children going to school, talking, walking, expressing feelings and opinions. All my friends had grown into being a parent in the natural way - from pregnancy, birth, babies, toddlers to children at school. For us it’s more like being parachuted into this world of parenthood and having to get used to those emotions and experiences in 10 seconds flat.

Claiming and belonging is about your children knowing they belong to you and you knowing they are yours. With children who are ‘looked after’ there can be the feeling that everyone is responsible for them - the school knows best, the GP knows best, the social worker knows best - and what about you as the adoptive parents? Where do you fit in?

So how do you build that bond while dealing with any family pressures that may be there? Someone described it to me recently like a game. Your family is the board and how you want it to be played is up to you.  So if you need people to back off, then you have to write those instructions in. If you need more support from your family and more understanding - then you write those instructions in.

Whatever you feel you need is in your control. This is the difficult part I know and for many of us those patterns of how we relate to our families are well entrenched. BUT this is your time to take control. For your sanity and the wellbeing of your core family you need to take this game seriously.

So if you would like more tips to maintain your sanity on this great adoption journey download a free copy on

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Birth Parents Need Help

The very fact that a child has been adopted suggests that the birth parents were ‘bad people’ un-loving, not caring. Not so! Over the years I’ve been involved in hundreds of adoptions. I was once a local authority adoption officer and I have an adopted daughter. In the vast majority of cases the birth parents I met and worked with absolutely wanted their child and had just as much love as any other parent. The problem was, usually, that for a host of reasons the birth parents were not capable of ensuring that their child was safe and well. Not because they wanted to harm the child but because their skills were not there. Sometimes this was due to mental health issues and sometimes it was simply due to the parent’s own early learning.

Julie, was in this category. At birth she was taken into care; by the time she was 7 she had been placed with six different sets of foster-parents. None of these were professionally trained and all failed to properly engage her. In one of the foster placements she was subjected to a regime that included her being put into a cold bath when and if she wet the bed. Social workers were well aware of this practice but failed to remove and protect her. She stayed in that placement for 13 months eventually being moved at 5 for her ‘bad behaviour’.

At 7 she was labelled as ‘disruptive’, placed in a children’s home with 11 other children ranging in age from 18 months to15 years all with complex needs. She was then subjected to years of disruption, children coming, children going, not to mention the 16 changes of her social workers and 58 different members of care staff.

At 15 she was sexually assaulted by one of her residential care-workers, removed from the home she’d been in for 8 years and placed in an ‘out-of-county’ children’s home more than one hundred miles away from her home town.

At 16 she was forced to leave her care home and found herself living on her own in a run down area in a one room bed-sit. A social worker visited her once a month, but often didn’t bother. Here she met Keith. They had two children before they married at 20 and a third was born before they were 21. Julie had post-natal-depression. Without any extended family help or any idea of how families work, Keith and Julie lived in a volatile, physically abusive and brutal relationship, subjecting their children to continuous episodes of domestic violence often ending in one of their parents leaving the family home sometimes for weeks at a time.

Eventually social workers removed the children and placed them for adoption. It was accepted at the freeing for adoption hearing that both parents loved their children but did not have the skills to properly care for them.

Neither parent has seen the children since. Keith is now in another more stable relationship with no children. Julie at 26 had too much to drink one night, slept with a guy she can’t remember and is homeless and 7 months pregnant. She is adamant that she will hide from the authorities and keep her baby.

I wish I could say that this is an unusual set of circumstances but it’s not. This is happening everywhere.

In part it happened to my daughter and we insisted that she should have regular contact to her mother and birth family including her 5 siblings (we couldn’t track dad down).

It’s easy to dismiss birth parents but they too need help to come to terms with the adoption of their children.

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What is adoption?

Adoption is a way of providing a new family for children who cannot be brought up by their own parents.

It's a legal procedure in which all the parental responsibility is transferred to the adopters.

Once an adoption order has been granted it can't be reversed except in extremely rare circumstances.

An adopted child loses all legal ties with their first mother and father (the "birth parents") and becomes a full member of the new family, usually taking the family's name.

What is the difference between adoption and fostering?

Foster carers share the responsibility for the child with a local authority and the child's parents.

Fostering is usually a temporary arrangement, though sometimes foster care may be the plan until the child grows up. This longterm or "permanent" fostering cannot provide the same legal security as adoption for either the child or the foster family but it may be the right plan for some children.

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