Most Adoptive Parents assume that when they are presented with a child from Foster Care to adopt that they are given “everything” about that child. The Laws in most states allow that a family should be given Full Disclosure about the child they are adopting. However let’s look closely at this process and be honest, real and hold no punches from either side.
In the First Stage, Adoptive parents have usually seen a picture, and these days its more than likely a beautiful portrait of their child, highlighting their deep blue eyes, infectious smile accompanied by a brief generalized description that glosses over any underlying challenges. Seasoned Pre-Adoptive Parents know the lingo incased in positive Adoption Language though ….” needs to be an only child “, ” needs a family who is patient and understanding “, ” is best in a home that can keep up with his energy”. Outside of knowing they have a connection to a child because he has your uncle Johnny’s ears, families learn about the food, television shows and activities a child likes. Adding to this are videos highlighting the child talking and playing, and match events where families and kids can meet and hang out. Overall emotionally safe with very little disclosure. This is how almost all Adoptive Families first begin to fall in love and learn about “their “child.

Notice I say “their ” child because their hearts have already begun to love , to connect to dream about all the possibilities. Depending on the practice, state and agency next the family is given a Child Study to read, after signing a confidentiality agreement. Now this document historically was created to be the complete history of the child. Over the years and depending on the agency this practice has varied from very poor 5 page documents to 42 page documents with a lot of technical jargon cut and pasted. Seeing it all over the years, one thing is constant: very few Adoptive Parents understand completely what it all means. For example what do DSM? SIPP? MDST? Level of care? Safety Plan? ALL mean? After that families usually have a face to face meeting with the Adoption Worker, or in some cases a team and hear personally that the child is stubborn, doesn’t listen, yells at their foster siblings, has attachment issues. Both sides are accessing the other while this disclosure is happening.

Families read and listen intently. But… do they understand the Child Welfare jargon? Were they able to interpret the mental health assessments and diagnosis pasted into the Child Study? Most families will have a basic understanding but the reality of what they are reading and being told doesn’t sink in. There are reasons for this. One, families on their long adoption journey have already selected and fallen in love with “their” child, and a connection has formed from the first picture to the 30 minute conversation they had together at the picnic. No matter how much was disclosed the Adoptive Family is unable to to fully listen and absorb much less understand such technical information. This does not make them a “bad ‘ adoptive family , in fact it puts them in the majority of most Adoptive Families in this process.

Another factor , if we are all honest we will find that most Adoptive families and Case Workers believe they will be the “different family or worker” or rather the one who finally makes it all better for this child. We ALL love to be the good guy. Somewhere in Adoptive families consciences is the belief , ” I can do better than that Foster parent did, than that Parent, that Grandparent….” The facts are that if they unconditionally accept and claim their child and commit to their child healing, they WILL be better, but getting there is a long and exhausting journey.

I specialize in disruption and dissolution in Adoption, having seen well over a thousand in my professional career. I also witnessed my own son’s Adoption Dissolution by his first Adoptive Family when he was 8 years old. In almost all of these situations I heard the Adoptive Parents say…” they never told me, it was not in the study…” There was always a lot of blame because of the guilt.In cases where I pulled the files for review there were instances were in fact things were not documented in the study nor given to the family. As practices improved over the years and Adoption Workers were trained better I saw many cases where files and assessments were attached to the paperwork before finalizations to insure families had “everything”. My question was…. But did families understand what you gave them? I watched as full disclosures became cases of Case Workers “covering their asses” verses really explaining to families all the technical descriptions and predictable patterns of trauma that can affect children years later.

The only way for an Adoption to move forward with that child’s best chances in mind, are to have Adoption Workers prepare fully the child study and all paperwork, leaving nothing out and then to spend as much time needed to ensure that the family understands every word and can discuss the effects that early trauma and neglect may effect their child in the future. To have that family understand that what you see, is not always what you get because when children are finally safe and secure in their adoptive families what they have lived through surfaces as they heal and attach.

There is NO CRYSTAL BALL to predict the future of our children, but there are open, blinders off discussions that can take place before , during and after Adoption. Challenging Adoptive families to set aside any facades of saving a child, or being the perfect family. Slowing the disclosure process down to invest in real conversations about what early trauma can bring later on. Factual Cause and effect and then techniques and supports that will help. Ensuring that all Adoptive families are connected to other Adoptive families so when the time comes they are supported and understood . This is what we CAN do.

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