Catherine Norwood, LMHC

Catherine Norwood, LMHC

Catherine is a therapist, licensed foster parent, and a former foster child herself. She hopes each of the individuals she serves will be able to find meaning within themselves and in relationships with others.

Children want to feel that they are part of a family — that they belong just as much as any other family member biologically related or not. They want to feel included as if they were always meant to be there, not as if they are lucky to be there.

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Please note, the information in this post is not a replacement for personal medical advice.

In light of the tragic news of Myka and James Stauffer’s failed adoption,this seems like an important time to provide some tools to help prepare for a special needs adoption. Every child deserves to grow up in a loving home. But, it is important to know what you are agreeing to before you decide to open your door to a child in need.

According to the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute there are over 125,000 children in the United States who are in the foster care system and are eligible for adoption. While we don’t have the exact number of kids worldwide who are in need of safe homes, we can see that there are many young people who lack stable support. For that reason, many loving families want to step up and step in to provide care to kids all around the world. However, before you decide if this step is for you, please consider the following important pieces of an adoption journey.

Be prepared.

Just like the Boy Scout motto, you need to be prepared. Remember, the paperwork won’t cover everything and the child won’t show you everything. There are some things that even the social workers involved don’t know.

While no one wants to hide things from potential families, there is also the understanding that not all situations are understood, known, or revealed. This means that all overseas or foster adoptions should be assumed to be special needs adoptions.

A special needs adoption means that the child will have disabilities of some kind. The extent and extreme’s vary in each individual, but disabilities will be present. Each child has lost his or her family of origin, which is a severe trauma, Unfortunately, this is usually only one of the traumas a child has had to face. Trauma effects the way the brain works, and while it can be rewired for healing, this takes time, and not all trauma responses go away. 

Special needs adoptions will call for extra support. This may include mental health therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, medication management, specialized doctor visits, and supports within the school system. Adoption will be a strain on your finances as well as your time. The appointments include hours of advocating for your child’s best interest.

Remember, that while an adoption has the potential to do wonders for the life of your child and your family, it will also wear you out in new and different ways than you have ever experienced before. Be prepared for the time it will take to care for a special needs child. 

Know before you go.

Knowing about your child is only one part of being prepared. There are other things to consider and research BEFORE heading into a special needs adoption. First, locate your local resources. Other adoptive families can be a a treasure chest of knowledge, ask them questions. They have been in your shoes.

Next, ask the following questions of yourself…

  • What kind of child are we able to care for?
  • Are there barriers that would exist if we decided to take a child outside of what we are prepared for right now?
  • What impact will this have on our family?
  • What assistance do we have in place?
  • How will we make time to get away and practice self care?
  • Who can we look to who has done this before?
  • What can we learn to help up along the way?

Consider local or virtual support groups so you have a space for help when needed — because they WILL be needed. Just as new biological moms and dads go through exhaustion and intense transition with an infant in the home, an adoptive family will face things they did not expect as well. Educate yourself to avoid increased trauma to the child as well as to yourselves. 

Say out loud, “I am not a savior or a martyr.”

Because you are not. This point is not a fun or easy one to discuss, but it is important. When families choose to adopt, especially overseas or through foster care, they often feel that they have done this child a world of good. They feel that they are providing something that the child did not previously have, and while this is true it should not be the focus of the adoption, because when it becomes the focus there is a possibility for a child’s sense of belonging to be affected.

No person wants to feel like they are a project, or that he or she was so broken and lonely that they needed “saving.” Children want to feel that they are part of a family — that they belong just as much as any other family member — biologically related or not. They want to feel included as if they were always meant to be there, not as if they are lucky to be there. A child may very well feel lucky to be in the home they have been adopted into, however it is important for the child to hear the message that the luck goes both ways. Everyone feels fortunate to be part of the family.

You are one family.

Adoption should never feel like an “us” and “them” situation. Adoption is a “we” — it is a new togetherness. This journey is hard and comes with so many challenges. These young ones need love, stability, support, and safety. Something they may have never experienced before. It is the adoptive family’s job to provide this. And it is important that it be provided from a place of genuine care rather than ego.

Ego says, “Look what we’ve done for this child. Imagine where they would be without us.” Genuine care says, “Look what adoption has done for our family, where would we all be without it.” Notice the subtle message behind your words. Make it a life long mission to build up and bring life through this beautiful experience. 

Adoption will change your life.

In every possible and amazing way adoption will change your life. It will alter the course of your family. As a foster and adoptive mom who works with families who have been a part of these processes, hear me when I say that adoption is a great and beautiful gift. It is needed and it is necessary.

If you are considering this process and would like supportive counseling services to prepare your heart for for adoption, please reach out. Help is here, and your story matters. We at Covenant Family Solutions would gladly walk this journey with you. 

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