For adoptive families, the adoption process is only one part of the journey. Finalizing the adoption becomes a consuming focus, a joyous moment often achieved after long waiting periods. But completing the legal portion of the adoption is not the end of the journey – it is often just the beginning of an adjustment and attachment stage which can present new challenges, especially with older children or children adopted internationally.
Children adopted from foster care or international adoption may require skilled therapeutic services to help them adapt to living in a healthy family environment. Not only are the children dealing with issues related to abandonment, but many have experienced abuse, neglect or other traumatic experiences. These experiences impact a child’s ability to transition from a “survival” mode into a trusting parent/child relationship and affect their ability to form attachments. Behavioral issues may be mild to moderate, or may be more extreme in children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder (“RAD”). Families should address any issues immediately by utilizing their post-placement resources and seeking counselors experienced in adoption and attachment issues.
Most recent media stories have focused attention on the negative cases, which are perplexing and heartbreaking. These cases are rare exceptions, but it is a reality that families must be prepared and realistic in addressing the needs of an older child. Anyone contemplating adoption of an older child must be committed to completing adoption education in advance of referral and placement; competent education with experienced professionals can help prospective adoptive parents understand potential attachment issues. One theme that seems to emerge from the negative news stories and adoption disruption cases are parents indicating they were not prepared or had little information about their child. Adoption professionals must do a better job of sharing all known information with prospective adoptive parents and not fall into the habit of only focusing on the positives in order to encourage referral and placement. Of course, in many situations, very little information about a child’s social or medical history is available. Adoptive parents cannot place blame solely upon the orphanage or agency. Instead, they must acknowledge that there are risks and unknowns with adoption and they must be proactive about educating themselves, utilizing all resources and generally anticipate that there will be at least some adjustment and attachment issues.
Counseling alone may not be effective if a counselor is not experienced in working with children who have attachment and trauma issues. Families experiencing the behavioral issues related to attachment problems may feel ashamed, guilty and overwhelmed. They may feel inclined to seek a disruption or dissolution of the adoption. Before proceeding with a disruption, talk with an experienced attorney about the legal processes and seek additional resources. At JHDJ Law we have handled numerous adoption and disruption matters and have also helped families successfully avoid disruption or reunify with a child who was in respite placement. We can recommend a number of counselors in the Indianapolis area (as well as Northwestern Indiana) who are experienced in post-adoption counseling, attachment and trauma.