This was originally found on Adoption Today
This past November, National Adoption Month specifically focused on the needs of older youth in foster care awaiting adoption. With over 100,000 children in foster care currently waiting to be adopted and over 20,000 young adults exiting the foster care system without a permanent family connection, it is a laudable goal to expand efforts towards connecting children with a safe, healthy and permanent family. It is critical also to ensure that the children and families who do come together through adoption are provided with the ongoing post adoption supports they need in order to thrive.
When we consider permanency in adoption, we must reflect on this with the understanding that permanency is not achieved simply through a court decree that says ‘finalized’. The impact of adoption is lifelong, with different needs and issues that may arise at various points. Each individual and family will live their adoption experience uniquely; but one shared aspect is that every family can benefit from a connection to quality supports. Although we often associate the need for pre and post adoption services as more relevant to older child adoptions and special needs adoptions, the reality is, every adoption has needs that will manifest themselves throughout the lifespan. They may vary in degree and intensity, in part based on the experiences that preceded the adoption, but they are not specific to a certain type of adoption.
When we expand the conversation to consider pre and post adoption services and supports as relevant to all types of adoption, we are better poised to think about how the adoption experience is both individual and universal. It is an experience that arises out of a loss for all connected to it; the loss may be embedded in abuse and neglect, poverty, a lack of resources, an inability to benefit from current medical technologies or the many other paths that lead one to the destination of adoption. It is important to be realistic that the grief from this loss will never entirely go away and it is normal to allow space for its expression, and important to validate its presence.
The adoption experience also must be embedded in honesty and openness. We know this from research and the lived experience that maintaining connections between birth and adoptive families is beneficial for the extended family of adoption, in particular the child. Similarly, if trust is to develop between family members, it is important to be honest, especially with the child, about their history. While we all can agree that these are concepts that are important to strive for, they can be hard to put into practice. For families that have the right knowledge in place before adoption, and the supports necessary afterwards, it is far more likely that they will be able to navigate these connections in a healthy and child focused manner.
Adoption is ultimately an identity. And while no one identity will ever be the same, there are commonalities. The adoption identity has been shaped by many factors. There is a history to adoption that impacts how it continues to be lived. There are portrayals of adoption that fuel stereotypes and stigmas, and these impact the practices and policies that guide adoption, as well as how we individually view ourselves and hold our adoption experience. The adoption identity is always a blending, of families, cultures and traditions. Balancing these different elements, and arriving at our unique place in this shared identity of adoption, can be eased when there is a bridge in place to supports throughout the lifespan.
One thing that is certain is that adoption is a permanent part of any person’s identity; because of this, it is up to us as a community to ensure that adoption is never conceived as the end game. Permanency is important because all children deserve to be raised by safe, loving, and permanent families. But when the adoption happens, and no matter how it happens and what the unique circumstances are, it really is just the beginning. Let’s make sure we are all working towards having the right supports in place to build paths to permanency and to see it endure.