The Center for Adoption Support & Education
Letter from CEO, Debbie Riley
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
As 2011 draws to a close, all of us at C.A.S.E. are reflecting upon the focus of our work- to ensure adoption success. It has been an extremely challenging year, matching limited resources with growing demands for our expertise locally, nationally and internationally. This year we have provided clinical services to over 580 children and families and trained over 2000 families and professionals working with adopted and foster children
There is not a day that goes by that we are not deeply cognizant of the need for comprehensive, affordable, accessible adoption competent mental health services: whether we are asked to support a child’s understanding of their adoption experience; help a teen languishing in foster care to work through years of loss and grief, still waiting to find a permanent family; or assist parents who wish they could protect their children from the intrusive, invasive questions that non- adopted individuals ask their children about adoption.
We have had the opportunity to touch so many lives that have a personal and professional connection to foster care and adoption. For this we are honored that we have the trust of those who reach out to us to extend our knowledge and quality services.
We have continued to travel the globe to work with mental health professionals, child welfare staff, adoption agencies, educators, judges etc. to assist in enhancing their ability to match their services with the growing needs of the children and families they support. The challenges, some days, seem insurmountable. We have built strong partnerships and together we are making a difference in the lives of our most vulnerable children.
In August, C.A.S.E. was invited to facilitate a Kids’ Adoption Network Conference at the annual North American Council on Adoptable Children’s conference in Denver, Colorado, sponsored by Jockey International Inc. This was the 5th KAN Conference held outside of the DC Metro Region.
In October, I had the honor of being invited back to Australia with Kathleen Dugan, C.A.S.E. Founder, to continue educating and supporting adoptive families. We participated in the annual Families Adopting from China Conference, held outside of Sydney. We then traveled to Melbourne, hosted by Post Placement Support Services (PPSS), to present both W.I.S.E. UP! and our instrumental work with adopted teens. We were excited to provide training to over 150 families and their children.
Continuing our travel across the globe, we trained in Victoria and Vancouver, Canada. C.A.S.E. staff, Madeleine Krebs and Ellen Singer just returned from Edinburgh, Scotland where they facilitated our W.I.S.E. UP! Train the Trainer curriculum with the staff of Scottish Adoption, a non-profit adoption agency providing pre and post-adoption services. Madeleine and Ellen also demonstrated their expertise in leading three concurrent parent and child W.I.S.E. UP! workshops.
As you personally reflect upon how C.A.S.E. has touched your life: maybe attending a webinar or community based training, seeking consultation to help you through a challenging situation in your workplace, utilizing the wonderful C.A.S.E. publications and or receiving counseling from our clinical team of adoption experts, we hope you will consider making a year-end tax deductible gift. C.A.S.E. needs your support so that we can continue to support our most vulnerable children and families to ensure adoption success! We are so grateful for your continued support. A donation of any size can help us move towards our goal of raising $40,000 this holiday season. Even a gift of $15 goes a long way to support all of the great work at C.A.S.E. If you’d like to make a donation, click HERE. Wishing you and your family a year filled with hope, peace, and love.
Dear Ellen – Our family is different, how do I assure them we’re a great family?
I am a single adoptive mother of a 6 year old son who gets asked many questions about why he doesn’t have a dad, where his dad is, and on and on. It seems worse this time of year – holiday time – with all the commercials of happy two parent, 2 children families, the gatherings of family and friends, the school parties that include parents, etc. Consequently, we’ve been talking about his adoption story a lot. I am concerned that my son is harboring lots of sadness and still seems confused when I talk about his birthfather. I believe he thinks his birthfather is his “Dad” and he wants to know why he can’t see him.
Families who are “different” including those comprised of two heterosexual parents face unique challenges. Many single adoptive parents have shared that their children seem to get more questions about not having a dad or a mom than they do about being adopted. This is similar, of course, for adopted children in LGBT families where there may be two moms or two dads. Children who are part of a two heterosexual parent family are likely to be curious about why their peer doesn’t have a mother or a father. Single adopters, of course, get asked questions, too, from adults who may wonder if the single adopter is LGBT or heterosexual, and why they are parenting without a partner.
In previous columns and articles, I have discussed helping children learn to use the W.I.S.E. Up! TOOL to handle the challenge of these questions. In this column, I would like to focus on the impact of these questions on the children and the kinds of conversations parents can have with their children to assist them in their struggles around their family composition.
To help your children with questions related to being part of a single adoptive family, you must first address your own feelings about your family. Do you feel that your family is second best? Do you feel guilty that your child does not have a parent of the opposite sex from you? Are you struggling with feelings of regret, shame, difference? It is understandable if you do, given society’s many messages, especially at this holiday time of year, about what families should look and be like. Nevertheless, you do need to assess and acknowledge if you are struggling with these painful, often very private feelings. Working through them is not easy but you cannot help your children with their feelings if you are not cognizant of your own feelings.
Even if you are not struggling in this way, you may, of course, worry about how your children will feel about being adopted and being part of a single family. If you have fears, you need to determine if you are unknowingly communicating to your child that it is not acceptable to express any negative emotion about their family. It is important not to overly reassure your child when he/she raises questions or appropriately expresses feelings of anger, sadness, curiosity, and frustration about not having a dad or mom. Children need permission to have and express all of their feelings. Parents should give the message that no feeling is unacceptable.
Here are some tips to guide the conversation:
- Be mindful of not inadvertently communicating your own ambivalence to your child.
- When your child asks why he doesn’t have a dad or mom, why you didn’t marry, etc., age-appropriate honesty is best. "I didn’t find anyone yet that I wanted to share my life with, and I wanted to raise a child." "I like being single and I wanted a family." "I was married once but we were not happy together and I still wanted to be a parent."
- Elicit feelings with open-ended questions/statements: "What do you think about that? Do you think about having a mom/dad? Tell me what you think/feel." If your child begins the conversation by expressing feelings (e.g. "I wish I had a dad."), validate them first. "I can understand that. Tell me more. What do you think it would be like to have a dad?" "It’s OK to feel that way." Validation of feelings does not mean that you share your child’s feelings.
- The last part of the conversation should always be a validation of your family. "I understand how you feel. However, we are a mom/son (daughter) family, a dad/kids family, etc. and we are a great family!" Validating your family does not invalidate your child’s feelings if those feelings have first been acknowledged.
- It’s perfectly all right to express your honest emotions if they do not invalidate your family. "I would like to have a partner/husband/wife someday and would be glad for you to have a dad/mom. Maybe that will happen, maybe not. We are a fabulous family just as we are."
- When possible, don’t be afraid to let your child know that while it may not be the same as his fantasy, you would be glad to fulfill his wish or ask someone else to help out regarding something relating to having a mom/dad. Example: "If I had a dad, he’d take me fishing." "I’d love to take you fishing. Would it be all right if I took you fishing?" or "I see that you really don’t want to do that with me. Do you think it would be fun if Uncle Mike took you…I know he’d love it." It is important to ensure that your children have close relationships with both female/male family and friends.
As for your son’s confusion about birthfathers, confusion is a common feeling with ALL children as they strive to make sense of their adoption story. Many children in closed adoptions say that they want to see their birth parents. However, single adoptive mothers have shared that they are reluctant to talk about "birthfathers" for fear that their children will have too much interest in them. They may try to sidestep the basic story of all adopted children --that adoption means they were born to another woman and man, their birthmother and birthfather and then became part of their adoptive families.
It is better to acknowledge feelings of confusion with reassurance that understanding will come in time. "I understand that you wish you could know your birth father/birth mother. It seems troubling/confusing to you that you don’t know him/her, especially because our family does not include a "Dad"/"Mom." However, it is not possible right now for you to meet your birth father/birth mother." You can give age-appropriate answers to the question of "Why not?" recognizing that confusion will likely persist as children cannot understand adult situations/circumstances/problems. This understanding comes with maturity. However, never underestimate the significance to your child and your relationship of open communication, validation of feelings, and talking about adoption!
If you have a concern/question, please feel free to e-mail me at Singer@adoptionsupport.org or call me at 301-476-8525 ext. 25.
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Trying to find the perfect gift? Looking to stuff your stocking? Searching for a great gift for a night during Hanukah? Or to celebrate Kwanza? This holiday season share gifts that highlight adoption understanding and communication.
This year, C.A.S.E. has a great new publication to get you and your kids talking face to face! Yes, it time for your kids to put away the headphones, Ipads, IPods, Nintendos, and cell phones. Engage them in a unique way to talk about adoption with 52 Ways to Talk about Adoption. All 52 ideas come as part of a deck of playing cards, an ideal small gift.
Don’t forget about our other amazing publications. With great options like Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens, WISE Up! Powerbook (Adopted and Foster Care), S.A.F.E. at School: Support for Adoptive Families by Educators, or a plush Jockey Being Family Bear, there is something in the C.A.S.E. store for everyone.
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2011 KAN CONFERENCE: A day celebrating the lifelong journey of adoption
C.A.S.E.’s 15th annual Kids Adoption Network (KAN) Conference and Carnival was held on National Adoption Day, Saturday, November 19. With 130 children and teens, and 120 parents in attendance, the day was a busy one, filled with learning, camaraderie and fun. While the kids enjoyed activities, games, and entertainment, C.A.S.E. CEO, Debbie Riley, taught their parents how they feel about being adopted at different ages/stages in her keynote address, Adoption Through The Eyes of Children. Parents also had the opportunity to choose from three different documentaries which further explored issues addressed in the morning keynote. Last year’s Keynote Speaker, Zara Phillips, adult adoptee who is a nationally acclaimed songwriter and author, returned this year to share her story and wisdom with the teens.
The following feedback that we received from both parents and kids illustrates exactly why we hold this signature event every year in November in celebration of National Adoption Month.
My children learned that a lot more people than they thought were adopted. They seemed to become more in-tuned to their own identities vis-ŕ-vis adoption. There were other subtleties; they seemed to be reassured and felt supported and comforted to be in that environment among so many other adoptees. They seemed proud to be adopted, rather than embarrassed. The experience raised their awareness of adoption issues. They learned from Zara that adoption is a journey and they can expect some bumps in the road. They were also reassured to see that she survived her challenges and flourishes as a happy, successful adult. They saw her as sort of a role model.
-Rachel, adoptive mother
As a result of the conference, personal adoption issues and feelings were raised to the forefront. Specifically, we discussed the birthmother's circumstances and feelings at time of placement. We talked about the birthfather and why his identity is unknown – and cleared up major misunderstandings. We also discussed fear of abandonment, which led to expressions of reassurance of permanency. Lots of emotions surfaced and excellent opportunities for communication presented. It is becoming easier to identify and be more aware of feelings and emotions and their connection to adoption. That is extraordinarily helpful in opening discussion, which is very important in the healing process.
-Karen, adoptive mother
I have a better understanding of feelings associated with being "the only black kid in the house" - for church on Sunday after the conference, we took our son to an all-black parish and although we, the white parents, felt out of place, it was GREAT for him and we're going to attend regularly now. We are talking about race more and how HE feels.
-Jane, adoptive mother
My son (12) was very difficult in the morning, not wanting to go. I happened to see him at lunch (as he was leaving and I was entering) and he gave me a hug, so that was a positive sign. At the end of the day, he said that next year if he gives me a hard time about going to the conference, I should remind him that he told me he had fun and wants to attend next year!
-Jim, adoptive father
I want to say how grateful we are that C.A.S.E. has come into our lives. We feel that the support we have received in person, through webinars and books has been invaluable for us as parents and for our child. The ability of the counselors and staff to recognize common feelings adoptees and their parents face has helped us immensely. The W.I.S.E.U.P book and program has given us the tools to respond to questions by inquisitive people. The K.A.N. Carnival has helped our family connect with other families in the area. Every year as fall rolls around, we are ready for a day of empowerment that the carnival brings to the whole family. The speakers inspire us to deeper levels of understanding about adoption and more importantly about ourselves. Our child wouldn’t miss it! Thank you for being here for us C.A.S.E.
-Maria and Alex, adoptive parents.
We hope to see those of you who attended this year can make it next year and we invite our new readers living in the Washington metro area to join us for this powerful day!
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