A few minutes ago I exchanged an email with an individual Claudia and I have known for years now who is an adoptive parent and who is an adoption professional. We were "chatting" about the trauma that enters the lives of those who work with challenging children, family systems and government agencies. I think this is a topic that needs much more exploration, so I will say a few things here that I have observed.
I have said any number of times that as an adoptive parent of (mostly) older children, I expected my children to be traumatized. Having read their files before they ever entered my home, I knew that they were conduct disordered, or anxiety-ridden, or attention deficit disordered, or drug exposed. I knew that one of our sons had been found in a box in a corner as an infant, in filthy conditions, with cigarette burns on his body. I knew that another of our sons had languished in a series of foreign orphanages (both state run and private) because the original adoption plan had been botched. We knew the birth parents of our two youngest sons, so as they grow up and exhibit some of the personality traits of their birth origins, we may be chagrined but not surprised.
And, to be sure, their behaviors are challenging. There are many times when I ask myself, "What have I done? What have I gotten myself into?" But, in the end, whether I find momentary solace or occasional lament, I remind myself, "This is what God asked you to do. You agreed. So, trust God and believe that you will find the strength you need." And this works.
What has been most difficult for me, though, is the trauma of being abused by the very ones who I naively thought would be supportive. In particular, it is the disappointments and lack of supports we have received from bureaucratic types that are most overwhelming. It's a sad irony, really. County and state agencies advertise the need for foster and adoptive parents to step up and provide care for neglected or abused children. In this "procurement" (and I use that word intentionally, because in retrospect it feels like we were commodities to be "procured") stage accolades are plenteous. "You are doing such a nice job with this foster care placement. S/he is getting better grades than s/he has ever before." "You would be the perfect match for this child/these children." "What a loving home you have." You know the lingo as well as I do.
Affirmation and commendation are warmly received by any parents who provide foster or adoptive services. But why is it that once the child/children are legally adopted and a "real" part of the family, the sense of affirmation fades? It is as though the tide dramatically changes. One who has been a prized foster parent is suddenly scrutinized because "the family setting" may not be "appropriate for [child in question]." What? Excuse me? We were good enough to be stellar foster parents, but suddenly, when we have made a more permanent, lifetime commitment to this child, we are the cause of his behavior?
Why is it that services seem available for a "child in care" that no longer exist for one who is "adopted"? And why are parents of adopted children held to a higher level of effectiveness than those who are foster parents? I mean, isn't an exceptional foster parent nearly as good when s/he decides to adopt?
The lack of services to good parents and good families who desire to do the right thing in our world need to be enhanced. I don't think any adoptive parent feels they should be treated as "spectacular examples of humanity" for their desire to do something that is foundationally so moral. What adoptive parents want is support so that their children can achieve to their level of ability (and perhaps, even beyond, a bit). It means that when an adoptive parent's child becomes involved in the legal system the parents should not expect to be blamed. It means that when an adoptive parent's teenage, multiple-diagnosed child, seeks employment there are some support services provided to assist.
It means that adoptive parents are given the opportunity to rise above the trauma they have invited into their homes. And this can only happen when those outside of the home value the role of an adoptive parent and provide resources, services and affirmation for the work we do. It is challenging enough for adoptive parents to do the work we do without having to be retraumatized by a social services system (and I am speaking here in broad terms, in systemic terms) that is antiquated, broken and underfunded.