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This is one of a series of Lesson-6 articles
on howtobe an effective parent in intact, divorcing, foster,
and adoptive families. Adopting stepchildren is specially complex, and is
explored in Lesson 7.
adults considering foster care or adoption, or who have
already taken one or more kids into their family; and for members of their
extended family; and for...
child-welfare workers at all
levels, including those who train and license them; and for
public and private
mental-health policy makers and program directors; and for...
professional and lay family
educators, counselors, and therapists; and for...
legal professionals who plead
and rule on child-welfare issues, including parental abuse and neglect,
adoption, child emancipation, and parental rights; and this article is for...
local, state, and federal
legislators who pass child-welfare laws, and for those who enforce those
There is a lot of information on foster care and child adoption in print and on the Internet. I suspect little or none of it includes a family-systems
viewpoint or any detail on the causes and effects
of inherited [psychological wounds + unawareness] in kids and adults. This article attempts to
fill both of those major omissions.
This article hilights...
the foster-parent and
adoption process; and...
why some adults choose to
foster or adopt others' kids; and...
typical extra needs that
foster and adopted children depend on their adults to fill; and...
and resources for parents and professionals interested in foster
parenting and/or child adoption.
For perspective, This brief video proposes six requisites for effective parenting
in any setting:
This article assumes you're familiar with (a) basic info about foster
care and child adoption, and (b) these articles...
the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the
premises underlying it
Pause and reflect - what do you hope to learn from reading this article?
Family adults share the responsibility of preparing their minor
childrentolivehealthy, productive liveson their own.
As typical children grow, they have a series of developmental needs they
depend on their adults to fill over two decades. The scope of modern
suggests most families don't succeed at this. Do you agree?
Most state or provincial
governments have a tax-funded child-welfare department to facilitate care
for abandoned, neglected, and abused ("troubled") young kids and teens and
Typical foster kids enter the
child welfare system because their family adults aren't able to nurture them
(fill their needs) effectively. The high majority of such kids have endured
significant adult neglect, abandonment, and abuse (trauma) during their
early years. This promotes significant psychological
wounds. which can slow
normal development and cause school, social, and health problems.
Millions of such traumatized
kids go unnoticed by their societies. Others are taken from their dysfunctional
families and become "wards of the state," They live in institutions until they...
return to their birthfamily,
with supervision; or...
transfer to foster or adoptive
out" and are forced to live on their own - often before they're
ready to do so.
Foster kids may be part of a sibling pair or group.
agencies try to keep siblings together.
Child adoption is the legal and
sociological process of transferring parental responsibilities and rights
from birth parents to
one or two qualified new parents. The new adults may be genetically
unrelated, or may be blood relatives like grandparents, aunts, or uncles.For a summary of adoption Q&A, see
and return here
For optimum parenting of someone else's child(ren), you need to stay aware
needs and limitations of everyone in each child's
birthparent/s and their relatives, and...
the new parent/s and their relatives and
any kids; and...
each adopted or foster child;
the needs of the social
caseworker/s, administrators, and lawyers that facilitate the placement and
Many factors shape the family environment that foster and adopted kids and
teens grow up in:
each adults' developmental
stage (immature >
adults' relationship status and priorites;
the prior parenting
experience of each adult (none > a lot);
the parents' and child's
cultures, language/s, and race/s (the same or not);
policies and state laws governing foster care and adoption;
the new parenting adults have biological kids, living with them or not;
age, gender, health, and knowledge of each child and each parent;
each parent's reasons for fostering or adopting (below);
the child is not living with her/his bioparents;
whether the bioparents have
given up their legal rights and responsibilities, and/or whether the
child is legally
how each parent reacts to
significant losses (repression > healthy grief)
of the new parents' relatives (supportive > indifferent >
the social and physical
environments around the family
the economic and social
resources available to the family
(add your own factors)
Option - prioritize this list from most to least impactful on the
long-term outcome of foster or adoptive parenting. Then ask other family
adults to do the same, and discuss your findings. One important
Typical Birth Parents
Infants, young kids, and
teens enter the foster-care system because some official rules that their
biological parent/s are unable to nurture them adequately. The reasons for
this span physical disability or death, or psychological or economic
disability, Tho individual circumstances
vary widely, usually...
One or both birth parents survived significant neglect, abandonment, and
abuse in their early childhood, This means they
inherited significant [psychological wounds +
unawareness] from their ancestors
without knowing it.
Where this is true, their own parents and relatives are probably ''Grown Wounded Children''
(GWCs) also. Commonly, none of these adults know about this toxic
Implications for Foster and Adopted Kids
Minor children who are separated from both birth parents have a mix of special
needs superimposed on their normal developmental needs. They lack the
comprehension and vocabulary to express these needs, and they depend on
caregivers to help fill them. Common special needs include...
confusion and anxieties - e.g. forming believable answers to questions
this (family separation) happening to us? Is it my fault?"
gong to happen to me/us?"
going to take care of me (or us siblings)?"
(or we) go back home? When?"
More special needs...
and maintaining self esteem - letting go of self-blame and shame; and....
Adjusting their personal identity - "Who am I now?" This is
specially confusing for teens adjusting to puberty. And...
Understanding the real reasons for their family's dis-integration. This
usually requires family therapy, as opposed to individual counseling;
Identifying and grieving a cluster of major
losses. Often these kids
have not been taught how to
grieve well, Neither were their birthparents
And typical welfare kids and teens need to...
stable personal security: "I'm (or we are) safe enough now and in
the future!"; and...
stable hope for a better future; and to...
to new living and perhaps school conditions; and...
Separate themselves from
their troubled birthparents and/or caregivers; and...
to let go of feeling responsible for younger and/or troubled family members;
to reconcile religious teachings and beliefs with their real-life traumas
ad losses *"Does God really care about me?";
kids need to...
to trust some or all adults as reliable and well-intentioned; and
maintain progress at school, as they sort out and juggle all these
concurrent special needs;
How many typical child-welfare workers, policy makers, and parents and
do you think could name and describe all these concurrent special
needs and how to fill them effectively?
Foster Care and
Adoption Add More Needs
Most kids enter the child-welfare system by living in a state-run
institution (group setting). They're cared for by social workers and other staff
in hopes of either returning to their birthparents or being placed in a
home with foster or adoptive parents. The kids may live in one or more group
settings for months or years. They may have limited, supervised, or no contact with one or
both birth parents.
Transferring to a new home and family raises most of the questions and
special needs above again. This can be specially stressful if the
child hasn't had the time or help to fill their first set of special needs.
Some foster kids are placed with surrogate parents who are ultimately unable to fill
the youngster's complex mix of needs.
adults are often unrecovering
Grown Wounded Children who aren't
capable of mastering the mix of foster-parenting challenges
despite state assessments, training programs, and social-work assistance.
After several months or years, the kids are returned to group homes, and/or
may be placed in a new foster home. This often compounds their
shame, distrust, cynicism, and anxieties; and further slows their healthy
Kids raised by
psychologically-wounded adults (GWCs) start to develop their own wounds in
their early years. Infants may have started to form a "bad
me" self image (shame), and major distrust of some or all adults. Some
develop hyper-fear of abandonment, and/or may invent invisible companions to
ease their loneliness (reality distortion).
Beside food, shelter, and medical care, the overarching immediate and
long-tern needs that average foster and adopted kids have are:
consistency and security
in their physical and social environments; and...
learning to recognize and manage
inner pain in a healthy way, vs. with addictions, truancy, gangs or cults,
promiscuity, running away, crime, self-abuse, or suicide. Managing inner
pain includes grieving major losses (broken bonds)
And these pre-teens and teens need informed help with...
understanding, accepting, and healing their inherited psychological
wounds and forgiving their unaware ancestors;; and with...
continuing their normal development and education despite all these
simultaneous normal and extra needs.
Typical public and private foster-care and adoption agencies strive to
assess the parenting competence of adults seeking to bring children into
their homes. Applicants must pass a set of personal, family, and economic
requirements before being legally certified as surrogate parents.
experience as a family therapist suggests that
child-welfare workers and surrogate parents understand the lethal
[wounds + unawareness]
cycle and it's toxic
They also have
limited understanding of effective-communication
skills and healthy
grief, and how to promote both in troubled young kids and their
This means that parenting-competency
(child placement) assessments will usually be inadequate,
and some to many of these kids' needs (above) will not be filled in their
To understand foster and adoptive family dynamics, it's important to know...
Parents' Motives (Needs)
do some adults
adopt or foster other people's kids?
Human behavior is caused by
constantly trying to reduce current
discomforts (fill needs). Each foster or adoptive parent has a unique
mix of needs (motives), like these: "I need to...
..._ experience the satisfaction
of giving a needy child a good home;"
..._ raise a child though I'm
unable to have my own;" or to...
..._ feel like other adults who
are parents;" or to....
..._ give my child a
sibling;" or I need to...
..._ strengthen my primary
relationship;" or to...
..._ distract me from my
emptiness / loneliness;" or to...
..._ create a purpose for my
life;" or to...
..._ care for an orphaned
niece, nephew, or grandchild; or to...
..._ rescue a disadvantaged
child; or I need to...
..._ feel that someone needs
and loves me; or to...
..._ gain the approval of
(someone);" or to...
..._ qualify for a financial
subsidy to increase my security;" or to
..._ have something in common
with family and friends;" or I need....
..._ to satisfy some other
needs (like what, specifically?)..
Each parent's' mix of needs and priorities will affect how
treat their adopted or foster child(ren). Option: Rate each of these
needs as healthy (+) to unhealthy (-) motives.
There are many possible stressors in fostering and/or adopting wounded
children. What are the least known and most important stressors?
Summary of Key Challenges
A "trauma" is any event or process that causes "significant" stress in a
person. "Stress" is some mix of anxiety + confusion + hurt + anger +
frustration + sadness + guilt + shame + fatigue + despair.
Minor children separated from both birth parents by death, disability, or
legal intervention must adapt to up to five major stressors
1) birth-parent neglect,
abandonment, and abuse for months or years before separation,
psychological wounds:a disabled true Self, and excessive shame, guilts, fears, reality
distortions, trust disorders, and an inability to empathize and exchange
genuine love. These may have started to cause school, social, and
physical health problems.
2) having strangers
("officials") remove the child from their home and family to a new
location and alien social environment (e.g. a group home); This
relocation causes each child major changes and
(broken bonds) and a mix of adaptation needs. Their new adult
caregivers may not know and consistently fill the child's mix of
concurrent normal and special needs;
3) Months or years later,
the child is moved to another alien setting - a foster or
adoptive home and family. This causes more
major losses and a mix of new adjustment needs; These stressors are
specially complex for inter-racial and international child placements.
4) If the new
caregivers mistreat the child, s/he may be taken back to a state-run
group home or setting, or transferred to another foster home, This
creates more losses and adjustment tasks.
For some foster kids, the
mistreatment (neglect, abandonment, and abuse) goes unnoticed by the
welfare system. They may "act out" or become "depressed," and be labeled
a "problem child." The real problems are (a)
wounded, unaware adults causing family dysfunction; and (b) the
child's unmet needs and increasing psychological wounds
5) Kids who are
not successfully placed in a new family eventually "age out" of the
state welfare system, They must live on their own. Most are poorly
prepared to do this. and many become homeless, gang members, addicts,
criminals, sick, and chronically depressed.
The high majority of such young
adults are bewildered Grown Wounded Children (GWCs), with little
support and few resources.
There are many variations of these stressors which can compound the
challenges for caregiving adults and kids in each setting. Six of these
legal battles between birth and new parents;
being placed in a new culture;
learning a new language;
attending one or more new schools;
integration into a confusing, conflicted stepfamily; and/or...
and family identities and roles after legal adoption.
Pause, breathe, and notice what you're thinking and feeling.
How many typical parents, relatives, counselors,
teachers, and child-welfare workers know
about these overlapping family and personal stressors and what to do about
Suggestions to Surrogate Parents and Supporters
How can caring adults avoid and master all these simultaneous problems?
All Family Adults and Supporters
__ 1) Adopt and
long-range (multi-decade) point of view.
__ 2) Learn what
you need to learn: take these
when your true Self is guiding you;
__ 3) Commit to
studying and discussing some or all these
young people need you to know and teach them these topics!
__ 5) Adopt a
point of view in child-care goals and decisions, rather than focusing on
individuals or dyads
__ 6) Commit to
preventing the need for foster care: work patiently to
the toxic inheritance of [psychological wounds + unawareness] in your and
others' families. If you don't do this - who will?
of your extended family and/or your family-service organization. Minor kids
needs are best filled in high-nurturance environments!
__ 8) Alertchild-care providers in your town county, and state to these ideas. This
includes lawyers, judges, police, educators, counselors, some medical pros,
social workers, churches, and parenting groups
Before You Foster or Adopt a Child...
In addition to the suggestions above, choose among these options when your
true Self is guiding you. Option - use this list periodically to keep you
aware and focused of your parenting. Finish this article before following
any of these links.
__ 9) Update
or create your family mission statement.
Long term, what do you adults want to accomplish together?
__ 10) Adapt this
worksheet to evaluate whether you're ready
to parent a (or another?) child.