Post Adoption Support Services
Frequently Asked Questions
This page contains several sets of FAQs that pertain to adoption issues. Please select an area of interest to read the questions and answers provided.
- General Questions about Adoption
- Common Questions about Working with the Schools
- Questions about Attachment
The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) also has a set of Frequently Asked Questions about Adoption on their website. Additional information can be found at the DHS information gateway for Michigan adoption information.
If you cannot find an answer to your question about adoption you can contact your local DHS office. DHS County Office Information can be found here.
Below is a list of questions and answers prepared by research specialists in Michigan State University's School of Social Work to address some of the post adoption issues identified in an adoption survey conducted by the School.
Select a question below to read the answer.Clicking on the question will take you directly to the answer for that question.
- When should I talk with my child about his/her adoption?
- When my daughter was a toddler we often talked about her adoption and she seemed to understand. She is now in elementary school and recently showed considerable surprise when her adoption was mentioned. What happened?
- Should I still talk about adoption now that my children are teenagers?
- Do you have practical tips for talking about adoption with my child?
- How do I tell my children difficult information about their birth families or their personal histories?
- What is attachment and why is it important?
- What grief issues are associated with adoption?
- How do I find a therapist for my child who understands specific issues associated with adoption?
- Where can I find quality resources about adoption for my child and myself?
- We are parenting children with many special needs and love them dearly. However, do you have suggestions to help us cope with the demands and stresses of parenting?
- What is Open Adoption?
This is the Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) information gateway for Michigan adoption information. The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) also has a set of Frequently Asked Questions about Adoption.
If you cannot find an answer to your question about adoption you can contact your local DHS office. DHS County Office Information can be found here.
Becoming a family through adoption is part of your child's and your life. You can talk about how you became a family throughout your child's life. Your child will absorb your comfort regarding becoming a family through adoption more than the specific words you use when talking about it.
Still, the words you use will convey a positive or negative view of adoption and children who were adopted. You want to use words that say adoption is positive, natural, and not resulting from characteristics of the child. You can say "birthparent" instead of "real parent"; "birth child" instead of "own child"; "born to unmarried parents" instead of "illegitimate; "made an adoption plan" instead of "gave up the child"; "a child with special needs" instead of "a handicapped child"; or "was adopted" instead of "is adopted."
2. When my daughter was a toddler we often talked about her adoption and she seemed to understand. She is now in elementary school and recently showed considerable surprise when her adoption was mentioned. What happened?
Children take in only what they can understand at each age. As a toddler your daughter may have learned her adoption story. She learned some adoption language. She also absorbed your attitudes and feelings about her entry into your family. This was all beneficial.
However, children cannot fully grasp the concept of adoption until they begin to understand reproduction. Sometime during elementary school years they begin to understand that all children grow inside a woman and are born. They also begin to understand that most children's mothers are the same woman who gave them birth. When they begin to grasp this they may recognize sad parts about adoption for the first time. As you help her understand how you became a family, you may also need to support her through the sadness of separation from her biological family and through the disappointment of feeling different from other children.
Teenagers enter a new developmental stage and so, can understand adoption in new ways. During the teen years children's brains develop so that they can consider hypothetical situations. They can think, "what if I stayed with my birth family?" or, "What if I was adopted by a different family?"
In addition, one of the important jobs of teenagers is defining their identity. They need to figure out who they are given their genetic background, adoptive family, life experiences, relationships, goals, and abilities. They need to discover what their adoption means to them and their life.
Teens often think about these issues intensely. They may "try on" various identities in their search for themselves. Your support and openness during these years can help them develop a positive self-concept and healthy relationships.
Yes, here are seven tips for you to consider:
- Talk with kids at every age. Their understanding will change and mature as they grow up. They need to talk about it over and over.
- Remember that talking about adoption involves some difficult topics such as loss and grief but it can also provide opportunities to support your child and build a closer relationship.
- Always tell the truth. Tell the part of the truth that your child is thinking about and can understand at the time. Build on the truth with additional details as your child matures. Your truthfulness helps build trust in your relationship with your child.
- Remember that this is your child's story and belongs to your child. Be very careful about sharing your child's private personal information with others. As your child matures he/she needs to have control over who knows that personal information.
- Remember that any information is better learned from a parent in a supportive way than found out later from other sources without parental support.
- Think ahead about your own feelings about the information and how you will talk with your child. Talk about your feelings with your spouse, partner, or another trusted person. Practice ways to explain the information before talking with your child.
- Look for opportunities to discuss adoption. Movies, TV, and books often provide openings for valuable discussions. Parents should freely and comfortably bring up the topic of adoption and not wait for children to ask questions.
Parents often struggle with this situation. Sometimes out of their love for their children they want to "spare" them knowledge of the information. The parents may fear the results of their children's knowledge of negative facts about their birth families. Or parents feel so sad about their children's early experiences that they do not want the children to know what happened. Unfortunately, "sparing" them does not work. Ignoring or denying it cannot change the reality of the children's lives and background. In addition, their background and experiences will have effects on their lives whether the effects are identified or not.
Your child will benefit more from gradually integrating information with your loving support. You should be ready to accept a wide range of emotions perhaps including sadness, anger, denial, family loyalty, fear, and confusion. Sometimes your child might direct the emotions at you, the adoptive parent, because the true targets of the emotions are not available. You can help your child by labeling the emotion, expressing acceptance, and gently suggesting that the feelings belong to an earlier situation.
Children who were adopted are entitled to information about their life history and biologic background. The information includes facts about their birth families, genetic information, placements, and circumstances of their adoption. This information is about their life and themselves. They need it to increase their self-understanding and to shape their identity. This does not mean that parents must tell them everything at a young age or at one time. Start with basic facts gradually adding information as they mature.
The book, Making Sense of Adoption: A Parent's Guide by Lois Ruskai Melina (Harper & Row, 1989) provides suggestions regarding specific situations including parental substance abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and mental illness. This book is a useful resource for talking with children about many kinds of adoption.
The simple answer is that attachment is a relationship. However, the powerful effects of that relationship are not simple at all! The child's first attachment is a one-to-one relationship on which the child will base all future relationships. Attachment is important for learning to manage intense emotions and stimulation. Attachment affects the child's brain development. It influences social interactions and self-concept. Attachment forms the basis for future conscience development. Building healthy attachment after early experiences without healthy attachment takes hard work by children and parents.
Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today's Parents by Deborah D. Gray (Perspective Press, Inc. 2002) is a useful resource for additional information about attachment and helping children recover from early attachment difficulties.
More FAQs about attachment can be found here.
All members of the adoption circle (birth parents, adoptive parents, and children) experience loss and grief. Birth parents lose the opportunity to parent their biological child. Adoptive parents miss the opportunity for biologic connection with the child they love and, if the child is older at placement, miss the opportunity to start parenting the child in infancy. Children lose the experience of being parented by their biologic parents. Children adopted internationally also lose their country of origin. All children who are adopted become part of a minority group.
Loss and grief for children who were adopted results from separation. At some time, even children adopted as infants, realize that they are separated from the parent who gave them birth. They will need to find an answer for the question, "Why did this happen?" or, more pressing for many children, "Why did this happen to me?" They experience a loss of what was and also a loss of what might have been.
Children who experience loss based on separation are vulnerable to more intense reactions to other losses in their lives. Common losses such as a broken toy, a friend moving away, or the death of a pet may provoke a more intense grief reaction than expected. These smaller losses provide opportunities for parents to teach their children about grief and to connect with them in support. Parents can help their children understand their feelings and learn words to express their feelings. Parents can help children label their experienced feelings as sadness, disappointment, confusion, rejection, grief, hurt, anger, or another word that fits their experience. Parents can show understanding and empathy for the emotions. Children can learn that they will not feel intensely sad forever. Children who learn to manage grief for smaller losses are better equipped to manage grief associated with adoption.
A classic book addressing children's grief is Helping Children Cope with Separation and Loss by Claudia Jewett (The Harvard Common Press, 1982). This book includes many practical suggestions and ideas for activities with children.
The search for a therapist can seem confusing and difficult at first. Psychotherapists with a variety of academic degrees offer therapy in agencies, group practices, and private practices. Finding a therapist who understands adoption is important because much of the knowledge base regarding adoption and foster care is specific to those fields. Also, this knowledge is usually gained through experience since it is often not taught in school.
So where does a parent begin? Ask others who may know professionals in your area. You can ask the professionals involved with your adoption process. Agency adoption and foster care social workers often know the community resources. The regional Post Adoption Support Services office may have suggestions. Other adoptive parents may offer specific information about local therapists. The networking and information available through the parents in adoptive parent support groups is valuable.
After you have a list of names you can gather additional information to help you make a choice. Even excellent therapists are not a good fit for every family. You can call several therapists and ask if you could talk with them for a few minutes. Remember, if you catch them with 5 minutes between appointments they will not be able to have a thoughtful discussion with you. You can ask if they are willing to call you when they have a few minutes to talk. When you have opportunity to talk you could very briefly describe your concerns and consider asking them some of these questions:
- Do you have any openings?
- Where are you located?
- Do you accept my insurance or Medical Adoption Subsidy (if your child is certified for subsidy)? If not, what are your fees?
- What days/hours do you offer appointments?
- What degree do you have? Are you licensed or certified?
- How long have you been in practice?
- What proportion of your clients are children? What ages do you typically work with?
- What proportion of your child clients are foster children or children who were adopted?
- What experience do you have with adoption?
- What kind of therapy do you use with children?
- How do you involve parents in the therapy?
- How long do you usually see children/families?
Many excellent resources exist to provide information and support for adoptive parents. Parents benefit from using resources to help them provide for their child's needs. Here are a few suggestions you can use for a place to start:
- Tapestry Books, PO Box 359, Ringoes, NJ, 08551. www.tapestrybooks.com. They have a large catalogue of books for adults and children in many types of adoption circumstances.
- National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, PO Box 1182, Washington, DC, 20013-1182. www.calib.com/naic/ This web site includes all aspects of adoption.
- Adoptive Families, 2472 Broadway, Suite 377, New York, NY 10025, 800-372-3300. www.adoptivefamilies.com This bi-monthly magazine can also be found on newsstands and contains useful adoption information.
Although often deeply rewarding, parenting children with special challenges—for example, ADHD, attachment disturbance, intense emotional reactions, oppositional behavior, or fetal alcohol effects—can be exhausting and discouraging at times. Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
- Your parenting and family life will not be "typical." Do not expect that most people will understand, even if they are generally caring and well-meaning people.
- Find people who do understand your situation or are at least non-judgmental and supportive. Parent support groups can be helpful in this area.
- Re-evaluate your priorities for this stage of your lives. The level of cleanliness of your house, the intensity of your work, contact with extended family, or travel plans may need to be adjusted so that you can meet your child's needs at this time.
- Learn as much as you can about your child's particular needs.
- Seek support or professional services as needed. This does not reflect inadequate parenting; rather it reflects the complexity of the challenges your child presents.
- If you are parenting with a partner, take time to nurture that relationship too.
- Arrange occasional respite time for yourself.
- Maintain your health—physical, emotional, and spiritual. Your child will benefit from your health.
- Take time to play and look for the humor in situations. Don't take yourself or situations too seriously. A hearty laugh is healthy for individuals and relationships.
An adoption is considered an Open Adoption when the birth and adoptive parents have some kind of personal contact and exchange of information before or after the adoption is finalized. This includes a broad range of possible relationships between the birth and adoptive parents. For example, letters may be exchanged through an intermediary so that names and addresses are confidential. Or, the birth and adoptive parents may meet one time but not disclose names or addresses. On the other end of the continuum, the birth and adoptive parents may have an ongoing relationship and frequent personal contact with each other. Each family makes agreements and plans suitable for their personal situations. The assistance of an experienced adoption social worker is often helpful for families making open adoption arrangements.
- What helping professionals are likely to be in my child’s school?
- What do I need to do if I suspect that my child may need special services in school?
- What is the difference between “accommodation” and “modification” when it comes to my child receiving help in the schools?
- What do I do if I think my child needs special education services?
- What are some of the common special education labels that I might encounter?
- What if I do not agree with any part of the process in requesting special services for my child?
In addition to teachers and school administrators schools may have any of the following helping professionals:
School Social Workers intervene with students often those who are currently receiving special educational services or those students who need to be evaluated for special education services.
General Education Social Workers (often called SAFE workers, for Student and Family Education specialists) work with students who have emotional and behavioral issues and require support, but not necessarily special education services. They often run socialization groups for children during school hours.
Guidance Counselors are generally involved with academic counseling for students.
Talk to your child’s teacher. Be specific about your concerns and find out if the teacher shares your concerns and what he/she has done to try to help your child in the classroom. Find out what your child’s teacher suggests as ways that you can help your child outside of the classroom. Keep track of what is being done to help your child.
Accommodation refers to those services that will help your child be successful in school by accommodating to his/her special needs, usually those that occur due to a medical or psychiatric diagnosis. An example of an accommodation would be giving a student who has ADHD an opportunity to take a test in an environment that has less stimulation than the classroom. Accommodations in the schools are written in a 504 Plan that is developed for a specific student and lists all the accommodations necessary to help him/her to be successful.
Modification refers to the need to actually modify curriculum material so that the child is able to learn. Modification refers to those services that are generally provided in a special education program. Modification requires the development of an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for the child. This is done after the child is tested and specific recommendations are made for placement in a special education program.
You need to write a letter to the school principal stating that you would like to have your child tested for special education services. List the reasons why you are requesting testing and be specific about your child’s problems in the classroom. Always date your request and keep a copy for your record.
The school has 10 days to respond to your request. If the school agrees with your request they have 30 school days to test your child and to convene an IEP (Individualized Education Program) meeting. Parents must sign a release to have their child tested.
The IEP meeting will include those who have tested your child as well as other school personnel. Parents are in attendance and may bring an advocate with them. If the IEP team is in agreement that your child requires modification of the school material to be successful an IEP will be written that outlines the program your child will be in, including the goal and how many hours of special education service your child will require.
If the IEP team decides that accommodation in the school will meet your child’s needs, a 504 Plan can be written at this time that details what accommodations will be made for your child.
Common special education labels for school age children can include:
- CI – Cognitively Impaired (delayed intellectual development)
- SMI – Severely Multiply Impaired
- EI – Emotionally Impaired
- LD – Learning Disabled
- ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder
- HI – Hearing Impaired
- SLI – Speech and Language Impaired
- VI – Visually Impaired
- OHI – Otherwise Health Impaired
There are grievance procedures that are standard at every school. You can ask the school for a copy of those procedures. You can also contact one of the following groups to assist you:
The Arc Michigan
1325 S. Washington Avenue | Lansing, MI 48910-1652
Phone: (800) 292-7851 or (517) 487-5426
Fax: (517) 487-0303
Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service - Lansing Office
4095 Legacy Parkway, Suite 500 | Lansing, MI 48911-4263
Phone: (800) 288-5923 (Toll Free) or (517) 487-1755
Fax: (517) 487-0827
Citizens Alliance to Uphold Special Education (CAUSE)
924 Centennial Way, Suite 460 | Lansing, MI 48917
Phone: (517) 886-9167
Fax: (517) 886-9775
This material is adapted from: Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD, Maltreated Children: Experience, Brain Development and the Next Generation, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2009. Perry is an internationally recognized authority on children in crisis.
- What is attachment?
- Does the ability to attach vary from person to person?
- What role does the brain play in attachment?
- What are bonding experiences?
- When is it most critical for bonding to take place?
- What happens if bonding does not happened at critical times?
- How is attachment classified?
- What other factors influence bonding and attachment?
- How does abuse and neglect influence attachment?
Attachment refers to a special bond characterized by the unique qualities of maternal-infant or primary caregiver-infant relationships. The attachment bond has several key elements: (1) an attachment bond is an enduring emotional relationship with a specific person; (2) the relationship brings safety, comfort, and pleasure; (3) loss or threat of loss of the person evokes intense distress. These special relationships are important for the future development of the child and for all subsequent relationships that the child will develop.
Each individual's ability to form and maintain relationships using this "emotional glue" is different. Some people seem "naturally" capable of loving and form numerous intimate and caring relationships. Others are not so lucky, feel no "pull" to form intimate relationships, and find little pleasure in being with or close to others.
Just as the brain allows us to see, smell, taste, think, talk, and move, it is the organ that allows us to love — or not. The systems in the human brain that allow us to form and maintain emotional relationships develop during infancy and the first years of life (empathy, caring, sharing, inhibition of aggression, capacity to love, etc.).
The most important factor in creating attachment is positive physical contact (e.g. hugging, holding, rocking, singing, feeding, gazing, kissing, and other nurturing behavior). Factors crucial to bonding include time together (in childhood, quantity does matter!), face-to-face interactions, eye contact, physical proximity, touch, and other primary sensory experiences such as smell, sound, and taste.
During the first three years of life, the human brain develops to 90 percent of adult size. There are critical periods during which bonding experiences must be present for the brain systems responsible for attachment to develop normally. These critical periods appear to be in the first year of life, and are related to the capacity of the infant and caregiver to develop a positive interactive relationship.
Children without touch, stimulation, and nurturing can literally lose the capacity to form any meaningful relationships for the rest of their lives. Fortunately, most children do not suffer this degree of severe neglect. The problems that result from this can range from mild interpersonal discomfort to profound social and emotional problems. In general, the severity of problems is related to how early in life, how prolonged, and how severe the emotional neglect has been.
This does not mean that children with these experiences have no hope to develop normal relationships. Clinical experiences and a number of studies suggest that improvement can take place, but it is a long, difficult, and frustrating process for families and children. It may take many years of hard work to help repair the damage from only a few months of neglect in infancy.
Securely attached children feel a consistent, responsive, and supportive relation to their mothers even during times of significant stress. Insecurely attached children feel inconsistent, punishing, unresponsive emotions from their caregivers, and feel threatened during times of stress.
|Securely attached||60-70%||Explores with mom in room; upset with separation; warm greeting upon return; seeks physical touch and comfort upon reunion.|
Any factors that interfere with bonding experiences can interfere with the development of attachment capabilities.
INFANT: The child's "personality" or temperament influences bonding. If an infant is difficult to comfort, irritable, or unresponsive compared to a calm, self-comforting child, he or she will have more difficulty developing a secure attachment.
CAREGIVER: The caregiver's behaviors can also impair bonding. Critical, rejecting, and interfering parents tend to have children that avoid emotional intimacy. Abusive parents tend to have children who become uncomfortable with intimacy, and withdraw.
ENVIRONMENT: A major impediment to healthy attachment is fear. If an infant is distressed due to pain, pervasive threat, or a chaotic environment, they will have a difficult time participating in even a supportive caregiving relationship.
FIT: The "fit" between the temperament and capabilities of the infant and those of the mother is crucial. Some caregivers can be just fine with a calm infant, but are overwhelmed by an irritable infant. The process of reading each other's non-verbal cues and responding appropriately is essential to maintain the bonding experiences that build in healthy attachments.
There are three primary themes that have been observed in abusive and neglectful families. The most common effect is that maltreated children are, essentially, rejected and have difficulty developing emotional intimacy. In abusive families, it is common for this rejection and abuse to pass from generation to generation. Another theme is "parentification" of the child where the child acts like the adult rather than the child in the relationship.