Saturday, May 12, 2012

Transition from foster care to adoption

Learning to live with Loss, big and small, is an every day occurance for any child. Just think of the tantrum of a 2 year old as he begins to learn about parental guidance and the word 'No'.  Hopefully, coping with loss is one of the many essential life lessons, along with play and exploration that your child will learn.  For a child who has been in  fostercare, small every day losses can  feel like big losses. Every day changes, separations and transitions can feel monumental. Sometimes I have worked with children who have been in 5 placements before the age of six before landing in their adoptive home.  It is this unmetabolized experience of  early loss and trauma that can make a child vulnerable to learning challenges. The bottom line is that we do not engage in healthy curiosity, and exploration and  learn something new when we  feel insecure; uncertain and afraid.  So as a  parent,  how can you help your foster-adopt child differentiate between the small and big losses in life and encourage a sense of curiosity and play? How can you help the child begin to manage the adjustment to a new home and not have it overwhelm the child and every body in the family? How can you help the child feel more secure and less afraid?

If we take the situation of concurrent planning and the constant adjusting to visits to see birth parents and then back to the foster home then we are talking about big feelings and big losses for the child, that will need to be managed by the foster-adopt parent.  This is not an easy task for either the child or the parent as the foster-adopt home is often a recent home for the child and not yet a secure place to be and the reminder of the loss of the birth parents and siblings can be immense after each visit.  It is, emotionally, like going through the rapids on a raft that is breaking up.
How the child got there in the first place is not clear. Where they are going to end up is not clear. And worst of all the adults involved can not give answers that make sense to a child. So, what does make sense at these times? How can you help the child negotiate the rapids?
Here is a list of things that I have found may help, and I know that each child is unique in what works.  What is important to know is that the child needs  somewhere to land (physically and emotionally). He needs reassurance in the present moment, as the future is uncertain and you, the foster-adopt parent, can not guarantee. the outcome of placement yet, even though you may want to do so. Present time, feel good, familiar sensory input will be more helpful than talking through the confusion and big feelings at these times. This will give some of the sense of security and safety needed at these times to be with the big feelings and confusion. There will be time for making sense of the situation later.
  • It is best if you, the foster-adopt parent can be a calm and neutral presence as much as you can be at these times.
  • Empathic responses are more helpful than joining in a story line with the child.
  • Give hugs and respectful reassuring touch
  • Avoid power struggles
  • Remember to not compete with birth parents
  • Remember to not bad mouth or criticize the birth parents
  • Express empathy and understanding for any big feelings the child expresses
  • Stop any unsafe expression of big feelings
  • Maintain a Structure and routine 
  • Stay open to listening to the child when driving places.
        Have your child engage in any of the following:
        Draw with color on a big sheet of paper in large strokes and little strokes
        Pound clay or bread dough
        Make food together
        Plan together to cook the child’s favorite nurturing meals/food after the
        Physical exercise; rhythmical movement
        Make time to relax or run off the excess emotional energy.
Stay strong in what you know about yourself; your parenting style and your own ability to manage and survive loss.