A network of adoptive families, birth families, and adoption professionals which exists to improve the lives of children and others touched by adoption through support and education. UFA is actively engaged in community outreach and advocacy to raise awareness of adoption as a loving option.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Case For Dignity

When Noah Jones' parents were training to certify as foster parents in Kentucky, he learned a lot about the harsh realities faced by foster children. When nearly 600 area foster children changed families every year, they carried what few belongings they had in trash bags. At the tender age of ten, little Noah could imagine what that must be like.
"Packing kids' belongings into garbage bags is like telling them that their stuff has no more worth than trash," said Noah.
Noah's sense of compassion compelled him to spearhead an effort with his family to collect suitcases and duffel bags from friends and extended family. Their efforts were rewarded when they were able to collect more than 100 bags in less than two weeks.


Things grew from there. After sending letters to churches and putting ads in local newspapers and on radio stations asking for donations, the family was soon collecting about 500 bags a week. The bags are then given to foster care caseworkers to use as needed. There are now partners in the community who also accept the donations to make giving even easier.

Noah didn't stop there. He now supplies foster children with backpacks filled with donated personal items - shampoo, soap, a journal, and a toy, for example.
"My hope is that by giving the children things that are just theirs, they will feel a little control in the midst of the chaos."
Fifteen counties in Kentucky have pledged to Noah that they will use his bags instead of trash bags.


If you'd like to learn more about Noah's organization, visit http://www.acasefordignity.blogspot.com.



Do you know of a charity or organization doing good things in adoption or foster care?
Let us know and we'll spotlight them here on the blog.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Profile Improvement Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Heather Spencer. She is the winner of the multimedia adoption profile created by Shadetree Studios.

Here's what Heather had to say about what she has learned on her adoption journey:

Love Multiplies 
When my husband and I began the adoption journey a decade ago, I was a little nervous about the relatively new concept of "open adoption." I had no experience with anyone in an open adoption and was not sure how it would work. 
What I have learned through our experience of adopting two beautiful daughters is that love multiplies. I love our daughters' birth families! Our daughters' birth moms are strong, courageous, beautiful women who are an integral part of our family. We talk about our birth moms daily, we pray for them, we look at pictures of them. We draw pictures for them and text them and look forward to our next visit.

We love adoption!
We couldn't agree more. Thanks for that beautiful reminder, Heather. And we can't wait to see the finished product of your new profile!




In other news, we are unable to announce a winner for the second giveaway, the guide to writing a great profile. Unfortunately, we didn't have a single entry. Too bad. We thumbed through it and it looks really good.

Comparing Grief

I recently read this brilliantly funny book called "The Actor and The Housewife" by Shannon Hale.
I don't want to give anything away in the book but I will say that one of the characters loses someone they love and, while grieving, has this conversation:
And there was Joann, a well-meaning neighbor.
"I'm sorry about your husband."
"Thanks, I appreciate that."
"You know, my husband left me when I was thirty-three and had four small children. Just be grateful that didn't happen."
Becky stared. Only with superhuman restraint did she keep from asking, "You're saying I should be grateful my husband died?"
"Experts say that divorce is a harder trial to bear than the death of a spouse." The woman nodded to herself. "Hard stuff. Hard times. Yep, hard, hard times. Well, sorry!"
When I read this part of the novel I could relate to the way the Becky character was feeling. While I have never lost a spouse I know what it feels like to have my pain compared to other peoples pain and to not be validated by others.

One example of this was when Brad and I had gone through treatments for a number of years and were waiting for adoption #1. I was working in a job I hated but trying to deal with life. We had already had a failed placement and I was emotionally not well at all. One of my co-workers who had recently gotten married became pregnant. During the last trimester of her pregnancy she struggled physically with those things that women struggle with while pregnant. I remember while talking about babies and hoping for a baby she proceeded to tell me, "You haven't paid your dues!" I defended myself and said yes I had. She then said again "No, you haven't paid your dues!" 

I can't even begin to tell you how this hurt me inside. I left work that day and once I got in the safety of our own car (Brad picked me up that day) it all came out. I cried so hard. It hurt so much to be told the pain I had gone through didn't count and I didn't deserve to be a mother. I look back on this experience and others like it (unfortunately I had way too many of these types of things said to me) and I realize how often people felt the need to compare their pain with mine and needed to somehow state how much more difficult what they were going through was than what I was going through. 

 These experiences made a huge impact on me and I have tried to always validate another person's pain.  
image by David Castillo Dominici
One of the great things we learn as go through difficult trials is the ability to feel compassion for another person's trial. While circumstances may be different we all feel pain. All pain hurts and it is so important to validate what the other person is going through. 
 
I also remember having an Ah-Ha moment after one of these sad encounters. I had been pondering how Jesus (who is not female) could understand my pain as an infertile woman. Of course, later I realized in a real way that He has felt my very pain through the Atonement but at that time I wasn't at that complete understanding yet. But one thing came to me. I remembered all the accounts of Christ suffering and being told horrible things, being spat at and some not believing He was who He said He was and I wondered how that felt for Him. I realized many did not validate Him. When I had this thought come to me I wept as I realized how much my Savior understands me. 
 
Validating some one's pain is a great gift that we don't give to one another often enough. 

Understanding our own grief and feeling compassion for others who are feeling loss is important as adoptive couples are chosen by a Birth Family. While there are many similarities between what a Birth Mother feels after placement and what an Adoptive Mother feels as she deal with infertility it is important to not "compare" grief. Birth Mothers, Birth Fathers and Birth Families need to feel validated and need support rather than being told what they feel isn't much compared to _______ (you fill in the blank). 
 
While it is always nice to hear that people believe you are courageous and that you "did the right thing,"what many Birth Mothers need is someone to understand they are hurting and to just let them feel what they feel and know that they can say whatever they want at that moment and won't be judged. Validating their pain - validating how they feel in that moment of sadness - allows them to feel loved and cared for as they crawl through their hard place. 

I don't write this as just an adoptive parent. I am also part of a Birth Family. My incredible niece, Erin, placed her baby boy, Gabriel, for adoption. I, of course, am not a Birth Mother, but I love the Birth Mother and I love my Birth Nephew and it was hard to say goodbye to him. I felt feelings I didn't think I would because I understand what was waiting for him on the other side of the adoption. I was very surprised at what I learned.

I also write this as a Mother who loved a baby with all of her heart and cared for her for 8 wonderful months and then had to say goodbye knowing I would never see her again....knowing she wouldn't have the same level of care as we could give her. It was a very hard experience that still hurts.

Validation helps people dealing with loss, pain and grief.

It is amazing what happens when you give the gift of validation. You find it coming back to you in ways you never expected.


We'd like to hear from you. Have you experienced the difficulty of having others discount your grief? Of feeling that your feelings of grief were not validated? How did you deal with it? 
Leave your comments below, or submit your own guest post.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Adoption Myths Busted, Part 5


This is the fifth in our series of common misconceptions about adoption.
To read more, see Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4.



X "Adopted kids are always screwed up. If you place for adoption, your baby will be, too." 


I think it's funny now that I actually worried about this. There are several factors playing into this misconception. One is that people don't make the distinction between foster, international, and infant adoptions with birthparents making the choice to place. Which is not at all to say that children adopted through the state or internationally will be "screwed up" but those adoptions certainly come with different sets of challenges. The studies I've seen showed that children adopted within the first 6 months of life (barring any abuse or neglect) showed no negative repercussions as a result of having been adopted. When compared to their peers they did as well or better in areas of academics, behavior, identity, or feelings of belonging. Then, when compared to those raised by single, biological parents the gap widens.

I think another factor is, yet again, the influence of the past. In the "dark ages of adoption" there was no openness, no information, no communication from a birthparent, and there was alot of shame and secrecy. We've learned from these mistakes and we now see that those things contributed to feelings of abandonment and inferiority. In this day of open, real, working relationships between birth and adoptive families, a child knows they came from love to love. They were not unwanted. They have extra family who cherish them. There are no gaps in their identity. This is something that makes them special. We don't whisper about adoption anymore. There is nothing to hide!

Furthermore, you cannot imagine the screening and procedures a couple goes through to adopt these days. And infertility can be quite the refiner's fire. I think these folks are the cream of the crop! And after their work and wait and worry, and knowing the sacrifice it came from, they don't take parenthood lightly and they don't take their children for granted.
- Tamra Hyde, birth parent, board member of United For Adoption


Do you have an adoption myth you'd like to debunk? Send it to us.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Everyone Needs a Family



And here is the update a short time later...


Monday, March 25, 2013

Big Brother

The Shuman family used this picture to announce that after many months of searching and a roller coaster of failed adoptions, their son would finally be a big brother. He is photographed here with the couple who will be placing their baby with his family. 

Our thanks to the talented Briana Marie (this little guy's talented mama) for submitting this photo.


Do you have a photo that celebrates adoption? Send it to us so we can share it here.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Educating Hospitals About Adoption: (Part 2)

How Hospital Staff Can Support Parents Considering an Adoption Plan

Best Practices Recommendations for Hospitals

Like social workers and adoption professionals working with parents considering adoption, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare staff at the hospital must also be aware and respectful of the parents’ rights. The delivery and hospital stay is an important and emotional time for any parent, and this is equally true for parents who have chosen adoption for their child. Hospital staff should be sensitive and responsive to the needs of women who choose adoption, as well as the adoptive parents who may also be present at or after the birth.
image by dchasteen
Two hospitals that have set a great example of caring for children, birthparents, and adoptive families are Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker, Colorado, with its Family to Family Adoption Support Program, and Sanford Clinic Women’s Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Following are some of the ways in which these two facilities have integrated adoption-sensitive services into their protocol.

Train staff.
The most important thing a hospital can do to support parents considering adoption and prospective adoptive parents is train staff on adoption policy, including the legal basics involved. Training is particularly important for staff members and social workers who might be responsible for reporting pregnancy results, assisting in labor and delivery, or helping new parents during their hospital stay.

Through a federal grant from the Children’s Bureau of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program provides free training to many workers in both clinic and hospital settings. This training provides participants with an understanding of adoption policy and practice, an overview of the adoption laws in their state, and ways to accurately and comfortably share the option of adoption with expectant parents and provide the appropriate support should they make an adoption plan.(8)

It is also valuable to have one designated staff member who is an “expert” in adoption. This person can be the point of contact when other staff members are uncertain how to proceed in a situation with a particular parent or family. This staff member can also build relationships with adoption and other social services providers, and update hospital or clinic policies as needed to reflect current laws, trends, and best practices in adoption.

Establish policies that are birthparent-focused and friendly to adoptive parents.
The best way to ensure compassionate care for all participants involved in the adoption process is to plan ahead for it. Hospitals with clear policies in place will understand what it means if a patient makes an adoption plan, and will make sure that staff members are prepared in advance. In most states, birthparents rightfully have parental rights until taking the necessary legal steps to transfer rights to adoptive parents. Clear policies legally safeguard the hospital in sending an infant home with someone other than the biological parent(s).

The Sanford and Parker programs stand out in part because supportive hospital and clinic administrators worked to put clear, ordered policies in place in order to better serve both birthparents and adoptive families. Parents making an adoption plan deserve to have their choices honored and their wishes respected throughout the birth and their stay in the hospital. Following are some important issues to be considered when creating hospital policies regarding adoption:

  • Designate a staff member to be an adoption expert, and clearly define the role. Alert all staff that this person is the best in-house resource for questions regarding the adoption process.
  • Follow the birth plan provided by the mother, or work with her to create one that reflects her wishes. Remember to include prospective adoptive parents if and when the mother has chosen to do so.
  • Clearly identify ahead of time the people whom the mother wishes to be present at the birth.
  • Establish a clear way to identify on a mother’s chart or elsewhere in her hospital room that she is considering adoption or has made an adoption plan, so that staff can be aware and act accordingly regarding her birth plan, visitors, etc.
  • Clearly determine with the mother whether she would like the adoptive parents to be allowed to spend time with her and/or the infant in the hospital, and at what times she would like to allow this. Decisions must also be made regarding who may visit the infant in the nursery, and whether adoptive parents should receive a wristband, ID, or other designation indicating to staff that the mother has allowed them to be there.
  • Establish a clear policy based on the law in your state regarding the infant’s release from the hospital. Determine who the baby may be released to, and ensure that any necessary paperwork is completed by adoption workers or hospital staff to ensure a smooth discharge for both the mother and child.
  • Ensure that appropriate post-hospital care instructions and any complimentary gifts for new parents are given separately as needed to both parents and prospective adoptive parents.

Having clear policies in place allows hospitals to better inform and assist their patients in advance, ensuring that parents considering adoption are not distracted by unnecessary questions or, worse, judgments about their decision-making process. Such policies also help inform prospective adoptive parents and allow them to better understand the role they will be allowed to play during the hospital experience. At Parker Adventist, if the mother is willing, potential adoptive parents are allowed to “room in” at the hospital and remain there until the infant is discharged. If the mother chooses, the child to be adopted can also stay in the adoptive parents’ room, allowing the parents to benefit from the infant care expertise and guidance of the hospital nursing staff.

Create and distribute helpful resources.
Both Parker and Sanford hospitals provide excellent resources that can be given to parents considering adoption. Sanford’s brochure lists the rights and responsibilities of birthparents, and gives quick and clear information about their options under state law. This resource also lists contact information for several local adoption agencies so that further information can be sought if needed.(9) Parker’s brochure for birthparents answers frequently asked questions about adoption, provides a basic discussion about the different types of adoption, and includes a list of important things to consider when thinking about adoption.(10) Hospitals interested in providing similar brochures to women considering the option of adoption can also request free brochures from the National Council For Adoption.(11)

Provide opportunities for patients to learn, connect, and support.
Some hospitals choose to host support groups or educational trainings regarding adoption. Hospitals might host support groups for birthparents who have made adoption plans, or they might provide special training for adoptive parents. Parker Adventist offers several classes, including one entitled “Maybe We’ll Adopt,” which gives prospective adoptive parents information about a variety of local adoption resources as well as a broad overview of the adoption process. Parker Adventist also provides CPR and Newborn Infant Care classes for parents, which meet the parental training requirements for some adoption agencies.

Assist in recognizing the adoption for the child as well as all parents involved.
image by santheo
There are many ways that parents making an adoption plan and prospective adoptive parents choose to recognize and memorialize the adoption during their hospital stay. Fingerprinting is a special and memorable procedure at the birth of any child, and some parents involved in an adoption take this opportunity to honor the special relationship formed by adoption, ensuring that both sets of parents receive a copy of prints to help them remember the birth. Fingerprinting or the exchange of small gifts might also be part of a larger adoption “entrustment ceremony.” At Parker, birthparents and adoptive parents are given the opportunity to take advantage of the hospital chapel should the birthparents choose to have a special ceremony.

Conclusion

For parents considering adoption, the hospital’s policies, knowledge of, and overall attitude towards adoption may have a tremendous impact on the birth experience and adoption process. For those that do make the decision to place their children, the time in the hospital may be the only time they are able to spend as sole parents to their children.

Helping parents considering adoption to feel safe, respected, and empowered throughout their child’s birth and their hospital stay is consistent with the high quality of service, professional ethics, and patient-focused values that good hospitals, clinics, and healthcare workers endeavor to provide. An adoption-friendly hospital environment benefits all involved in the adoption process, and is especially important for parents considering an adoption plan.

Published October 2012 by Devon Karst with Megan Lindsey
Posted here with permission from NCFA


Devon Karst was an NCFA intern from May to August 2011. In May 2012, she graduated from Appalachian State University magna cum laude with a degree in psychology. She hopes to attend law school and one day practice adoption law. Megan Lindsey is the Director of the Infant Adoption Training Initiative and NCFA’s Assistant Director of Policy.

(8) Six regional grantees and their networks of trainers in every state provide this training throughout the United States. Grantees include: Arizona’s Children Association, Harmony Adoptions, Latino Family Institute, Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota, National Council For Adoption, and Spaulding for Children. For more information on the Infant Adoption Awareness Training Program, please visit www.iaatp.com to learn about the grantee in your region or request a training.

(9) Sanford Clinic Women’s Health. Adoption Rights and Responsibilities. Sioux Falls, SD.

(10) Family to Family Adoption Support Program at Parker Adventist Hospital. It’s Your Choice. Parker, CO.

(11) National Council For Adoption provides free brochures in English and Spanish that can be given to women considering adoption. Two brochure options are available – one to provide information to expectant mothers considering adoption; the other for those individuals that make up an expectant mother’s support system, to help them understand adoption and how to best support mothers considering this option. NCFA recommends that health clinic staff and others add to the brochures relevant information for local adoption agencies and other important resources.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Educating Hospitals About Adoption: (Part 1)

How Hospital Staff Can Support Parents Considering an Adoption Plan

Imagine a teenager or a young woman in her hospital room, staring at her new baby. She has never seen or felt anything like this before. Despite the enormous emotional difficulty, this particular young woman chose adoption for her child. Today she will sign papers and place her child with his new adoptive family. She believes that this is the best decision for her and her child. Yet she may be thinking: “I didn’t expect to feel so connected to this baby.” “Do other birthparents feel this way?” “Am I doing the right thing?”

Many young women making adoption plans have experienced similar feelings.(1) In a perfect world, childbirth and parenting might be both expected and desired for every person involved, every time. In reality, however, pregnancy is often unexpected, and then a woman or couple must deal with this news and make difficult decisions about the future. Will a woman carry her pregnancy to term or choose to terminate? If she goes ahead with the pregnancy, will she parent the child herself? Will she consider allowing others to parent her child through adoption?

image by Harbor Life
Although pregnancy decisions can be difficult to make and adoption is the less frequently chosen option, there are many reasons why adoption can be a positive option for both birthparents and children who are adopted. Many birthparents feel great love for their children, yet they make an adoption plan for them rather than parenting because they believe it is the best choice. Compared with unmarried mothers who parent their children, unmarried teenagers who place their children for adoption are more likely to obtain a higher level of education, obtain better employment, and achieve a higher level of financial stability. They are also less likely to need public assistance, and are more likely to marry in the future – and when they do, are more likely to delay marriage until an older age.(2) According to the National Campaign to End Teenage Pregnancies, 62% of mothers who became pregnant under the age of 18 do not receive a high school diploma.(3)

If an expectant mother believes that making an adoption plan might be best for her and her child, it is an option she should be able to freely consider. Many women report a high level of satisfaction with their decision to make an adoption plan.(4) Women who voluntarily choose adoption, free from pressure or coercion, also report a high level of satisfaction with their decision. Many express positive feelings about providing their children with loving families through adoption.

Infant adoption also often offers many positive benefits to children. Children who are adopted are less likely than their non-adopted peers to have divorced parents and are more likely to be raised by parents with college degrees. They score higher than others in the general population on many indicators of wellbeing, including school performance, friendships, volunteerism, optimism, self-esteem, social competency, and feelings of support from others. They are also less likely to exhibit high-risk behaviors such as alcohol use, depression, vandalism, fighting, theft, weapon use, and driving/riding while drinking.(5)

In 2007, infant adoption represented 0.4% of live births – 1.3% of births to unmarried women – in the United States.(6) All expectant parents receiving pregnancy options counseling should be fully informed about all of their options, including the option of adoption, and fully supported in the choice they make.

Respecting Their Decision

It is essential that parents who have made the complicated but loving decision to make an adoption plan feel supported and respected in their decision. It is especially important that they be treated with respect and understanding during the pivotal time when they are in the hospital for the birth of their child.
image by circulating
Frequently, expectant parents considering adoption are very involved in the process of choosing the potential adoptive parents, and may have even gotten to know them quite well. Hospital staff should be trained on and aware of the emotional and legal implications of adoption, and strict policies should prohibit any medical staff or hospital employee from attempting to influence the mother’s decision for or against adoption. While in the hospital, she should always feel supported and respected in her decision, and free to exercise her right to change her mind about adoption.

When the child is born, parents who have made an adoption plan will have the option to see their baby and spend time with her, and many do. This is a highly emotional time for any family. The birth of their child can cause even parents that might have felt very certain about their adoption plan to question their decision or change their minds, and prospective adoptive parents need to be aware of this. It is important for mothers considering adoption to know their rights, and for hospital staff to be accommodating and respectful of her decisions during the birth and hospital stay.

Rights of Parents Considering Adoption

When considering an adoption plan for their child, parents have many rights that should always be fully communicated to them and respected at all times throughout the adoption consideration and placement process. These rights include:

The right to be fully informed. Expectant parents considering adoption deserve free, accurate, and easily accessible information about all of their options, including adoption, and access to responsive professionals who can help answer all of their questions.
image from lacrossepregnancy.com
The right to make an independent decision. Adoption can be a positive option for many, but it is important to recognize that an expectant parent knows better than anyone what the best decision is for herself and her child. Counselors, healthcare workers, and adoption professionals can help inform the decision-making process, but should never be permitted to be coercive, present a bias for or against an adoption or parenting decision, or rush any parent to make a choice before she has fully explored and weighed all of the options. Even if an existing adoption plan is in place, a mother has the right to change her mind or revoke her consent according to the laws in her state, and if she does choose to parent rather than place her child, her decision must be honored.

The right to professional counseling. Expectant parents, both mothers and fathers, should have access to compassionate, professional counseling both before and after a child is placed for adoption. Those making a pregnancy decision deserve the opportunity to process all of their thoughts and emotions in a supportive and nonjudgmental environment, both as they consider and after a decision has been made.

The right to a safe and legal process. Birthparents should always have the right to be represented by independent legal counsel if they choose. The adoption process should always be safe, fair, and efficient for all involved, protecting the rights of birthparents while prioritizing the best interests of the child. Expectant parents should have and be advised of the right to change their mind within the legal limitations permitted in their state. This process varies by state, and so an adoption agency or attorney should always explain this process in advance and be available to help implement this process when requested.
image by Muffet

The right to their preferred level of continued communication if an adoption plan is made. Parents may wonder if they will be allowed or required to remain connected with their child if they make an adoption plan. Whether no communication, occasional letters and phone calls, or a close relationship with face-to-face visits is preferred, agreements should be made with adoptive parents who support the birthparents’ preferred level of openness and contact in the adoption relationship.

The right to be involved in choosing adoptive parents. Expectant parents have the right to be presented with options and have input regarding their child’s adoptive parents. Expectant parents should be able to ask questions of and meet with different prospective adoptive parents as they consider making an adoption plan.(7)

Now that we know why it is imperative that hospital staff have an educated understanding about adoption, the parties involved, and their rights, part two (following tomorrow) will examine ways we can accomplish this task.


Part 2 coming tomorrow...
Published October 2012 by Devon Karst with Megan Lindsey
Posted here with permission from NCFA

Devon Karst was an NCFA intern from May to August 2011. In May 2012, she graduated from Appalachian State University magna cum laude with a degree in psychology. She hopes to attend law school and one day practice adoption law. Megan Lindsey is the Director of the Infant Adoption Training Initiative and NCFA’s Assistant Director of Policy.

(1) At times, this article refers to pregnant women and mothers as the decision-makers. This language choice is not intended to deny the importance of fathers or their role in the decision-making process.

(2) Donnelly, B.W. & Voydanoff, P. (1996). Parenting versus placing for adoption: Consequences for adolescent mothers. Family Relations, 45, 427-34.

(3) Teenage pregnancy and education. (2010). National Campaign to End Teenage Pregnancy.

(4) McLaughlin, S., Manninen, D., and Winges, L. (1988). Do adolescents who relinquish their children fare better than those who raise them? Family Planning Perspectives, 20, 25-32.

(5) Benson, P., Sharma, A., & Roehlkepartain, E. (1994) Growing up adopted: A portrait of adolescents and their families. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

(6) Placek, P. (2011). National adoption data assembled by the National Council For Adoption. Adoption Factbook V. 7-8.

(7) Adapted in part from Harmony Adoptions “Birthmother’s Bill of Rights” (http://iaatp.com/docs/bmbor.pdf) and Spence Chapin’s “A Birthparent’s Bill of Rights” (http://www.spence-chapin.org/downloads/BillORights-2008_English.pdf).

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Science of Parent-Child Relationships: (Part 2)

Parental Openness Can Help Children Learn to Trust
by Jonathan Baylin, Ph.D. and Daniel Hughes, Ph.D.

Continued from Part 1.

Dr. Baylin and Dr. Hughes are coauthors of Brain-Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of Caregiving for Healthy Attachment, published in 2012 by Norton Press. 


The Element of Surprise
Another essential component of change involves surprising the defensive child with unexpected playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy (PACE). Indeed, there can be no change without surprise as part of the parent-child relationship. Parents have to violate the child's negative expectations to help the child's brain start to see and feel the current signs of love and safety. In therapy lingo, creating a "therapeutic conflict" in the child's mind is an essential ingredient of change. When we detect a conflict between what we expect and what is actually happening, the brain's anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) becomes more active. Acc activity signals us that something important is going on and we need to pay attention so we can understand what's happening. This internal conflict helps put the brakes on old automatic ways of feeling, thinking, and acting, and thus serves as a gateway to change.

Using PACE, parents can promote the reversal learning and fear extinction that help defensive kids shift from mistrust to trust. PACE helps children see, hear, and feel the difference between the new sensations of being truly cared for and the negative sights, sounds, and touch associated with previous experiences and caregivers. Parents can highlight the element of surprise by using a surprised voice: "Wow, I get it! You thought I was being mean when I said you've really been showing your feelings lately. I guess it's still hard for you to know how much I love you!"

image by Ambro
Playfulness promotes engagement by keeping the defense system off. Just as receiving comfort soothes the stress response system, playful interactions can shift brains from defensiveness to pleasurable engagement. Playfulness can make a child forget to be mistrustful for a while. For example, when a child gets a bit silly, a parent might join in the silliness, taking care to monitor the child's response and match the child's energy without going overboard.

Acceptance - especially when a parent accepts the full range of a child's feelings while also setting limits to ensure safety - helps a child learn to feel safe with her own feelings and thoughts without having to suppress parts of herself and her experience. Deep acceptance is crucial in helping a child question her deeply engrained experience of feeling bad or unloveable. Parents of mistrusting kids have many opportunities to show acceptance of their child's negative feelings. One of the best times for showing parental acceptance is when a child is angry and expecting the parent to get mad in response. When the parent acknowledges the child's anger without being defensive, the child gets to feel safe expressing anger. This can help the child feel heard and seen in a way that can reduce the likelihood of escalation into prolonged rage. Feeling safe with negative emotions is crucial for learning to regulate these emotions.
image by Stuart Miles
Curiosity promotes a search for meaning, for incorporating new aspects of our experience into our knowledge base. When parents are curious about what's going on inside a defensive child's mind, they might jiggle the child's brain out of defense and get the child interested in why she feels what she does. A parent can use curiosity with a child about a negative interaction after the heat of the moment has passed, wondering out loud with the child what happened and what the child experienced. This is a great way to help a child reflect on her and her parents' actions instead of just moving on.

Empathy, in which parents mirror a child's emotions while still being a parent, helps parents attune to the child's experience and connect more deeply with the child. Fortunately, we have mirror cells in our brains to help us do this. When the brain's empathy system is on, the defense system is off. Parents of mistrusting kids do well, at times, to picture their child as an infant learning to be defensive without even knowing she was learning. This imagery can help the parent empathize with a child who is behaving defensively now.

PACE for Parents
In brain terms, parenting is a pretty complex process. Keeping the parenting brain healthy and working well takes self-care and supportive connections with other adults. Tending to the well-being and brain health of parents is one of the best investments we can make as a society. We need to understand as deeply as we can what it takes to parent well and how we can support parents, especially those who are experiencing extreme stress and are at risk of developing chronic blocked care.

image by Ambro
Helping parents embrace this model of brain-based parenting, a model of parenting the "whole brain child" as Siegel and Bryson put it, may be the most powerful intervention mental health professionals can use with families raising mistrusting children. Depending upon the parents' background and adult attachment status, this process can be straightforward or complex. Parents who have not resolved their own unfinished business from childhood will need to experience PACE from therapists in the early stages of treatment. Just as children need to be surprised by PACE, parents who expect to be misunderstood need to experience the opposite. They have to feel safe to share their darkets feelings about themselves and their children if they are going to trust the professional as a guide toward a better parent-child bond. Professionals can also help parents examine their own familial relationships and look for triggers in their own parenting.

To build attachment and enhance the parent-child relationship, we need to employ a whole brain approach for both parents and children - a model that addresses how a child's early experiences affect not only the child but also the parent's ability to provide loving care. By helping parents learn to respond positively and proactively to their children's learned mistrust, we can create a roadmap for helping them teach their children to trust.


From Adoptalk, published by the North American Council on Adoptable Children, St. Paul, Minnesota; 651-644-3036;www.nacac.org

Monday, March 18, 2013

Welcome Home


This photo captures the moment when Mezgeb first came in our front door and was greeted by her big sister, Lucy. It was hard to get in the door at all because of the crowd of sisters around her. 


We love photos and stories like this! Do you have one to share? Send it in.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Smile Squared

Eric and Geri Cope adopted their first child, a son, from Guatemala in 2005. Being there, and at last becoming a family there, they knew they would someday return. Five years later, they did return to Guatemala as volunteers with Buckner International. They were part of a group that hosted a dental clinic at local orphanages and community centers.

Many of the children served didn't have toothbrushes, or even access to one in order to maintain dental hygiene that would keep them healthy and smiling. It was this trip that launched the idea behind Smile Squared.


The Copes wanted to find a way to provide toothbrushes for the vulnerable populations that they had served during their humanitarian mission. So, they developed a sustainable toothbrush. Following the example of companies like Toms and Buy1Give1, for every toothbrush sold, a toothbrush is given to a child in need.

The Copes now have a daughter, too.
image by Michelle Ross www.undergracephoto.com

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nature vs. Nurture

The author and her daughter
I was discussing the age-old debate of nature verses nurture as it affects the destiny of our children with a very dear friend, who sided with nature all the way. She believed that who we are and who we become is due mainly to genetics. Obviously we know physical appearance is controlled by genetics based on scientific evidence; but I have to say, my friend was seriously reconsidering her stance on the matter after spending a little quality time with my adopted daughter and me. She had also recently spent a little time with another friend and her adopted son; and between the two of us, we had her convinced that our little mini-mes, who were taking on many of our characteristics and mannerisms, had to be products of nurture seizing control.

Of course, my mom wished on me the fate that most moms do, that I would someday have a child just like me. Well, as fate would have it, I actually do have a little girl who is so much like I was as a child, and yet so very much her own person. For instance, her prissy, sassy little attitude-yep, all me! But her love of science fiction is not me at all. She has a desire and a need to build and create (and I’m talking robots, movies, etc.), while my only need to create is a story on a page or something yummy to eat. However, we both must do whatever it is we endeavor to do absolutely perfect and giving it our all.

I do believe there are certain “traits” that are God given and born within us; but much of who we become is shaped by our upbringing and by society’s response to us. As parents, it is key to communicate and build a loving foundation around the traits and mannerisms we have in common with our children, and to embrace and learn from our differences.

My daughter has picked up so many of my mannerisms because she has been with me since birth. The way our family does things, the way I do things, is all that she knows, so that’s who she’s becoming. I love when people tell me she looks like me, or when she and I give my husband the same “look” at the same moment! And the things she has picked up from him make me smile too! My husband has been a part of our lives for the last 3 ½ years, and nurture has taken over there as well.

All of that said, however, I must say that I do not truly know her birth parents so I cannot know which of her traits and mannerisms may naturally be a part of who she is. What I do know is that God created an amazing little being and charged my husband and me with raising her to be the best person she can be. We are entrusted with this life and we have been called to teach her about love, compassion, kindness, and so much more. We must make sure she has the tools she needs to thrive in this world, and to be a reflection of God’s love to all she meets.
By Andrea Ceely


We want to hear from you. How do you see nature and nurture playing out as your child develops? Are there things you hope your child gets from his/her birth parents and ways you wish they would  take after you? Leave your comments below, or submit your own guest post.

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