Use PACE to Help Adopted Children Feel Safe and Supported

This post was written by the Director of FamilyWorks Together, Alisha Wolf, LGSW, MPH.  Alisha oversees the counseling, training, education, and special projects teams at Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together.  She received her bachelors from Skidmore College in English and Spanish and her Masters in Social Work and Maternal and Child Health from UNC Chapel Hill.  During her graduate studies, Alisha focused on issues surrounding adoption, foster care, and early childhood mental health.

As a follow-up to my blog post about playfulness, I wanted to explain in more depth each part of the PACE model: Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy.

PACE is a way of thinking, feeling and interacting with a child that helps the child feel safe. Children with a trauma history have learned that the world is an unpredictable and dangerous place. The adults caring for these children can send messages of safety by utilizing PACE.

PACE is based on how parents connect with infants, and the model holds true for connecting to children of all ages. Creating safety gives your child the opportunity to explore the world, their family and themselves.

Below are ways you can use PACE to make your child feel safe and supported, and in turn, help maintain your relationship:

Playfulness

Read my Playfulness blog post to learn how to bring out your sillies this week—even when it’s hard!

Acceptance

The Acceptance component of PACE asks parents to accept their child’s thoughts, feelings and choices. It does not mean accepting bad behavior, but instead accepting the fundamental characteristics and traits that make your child unique and special. Acceptance can help your child’s self-confidence and understand that bad behavior does not equate to a bad self.

For example, if your child says they do not like where they live, accept that the feeling is valid and then challenge it with follow-up questions like, “Why do you say that?”

Curiosity

Showing your child that you want to get to know them and are interested in their thoughts and feelings is critical. It may be difficult to have discussions with your child in instances when you do not understand their behavior (i.e., they may not want to go to school that day), but asking questions to ascertain what they are thinking and feeling will help build and maintain trust. Combined with the concept of Acceptance, Curiosity can ensure your child feels heard and understood in a judgement-free zone.

Empathy

Empathy with all children is important. However, showing Empathy to a child who has a history of trauma is necessary to build a strong relationship. One way to practice empathy is to put yourself in your child’s shoes and try to imagine the world from their point of view, then act and speak to them with that in mind.

How have you incorporated the PACE model in your parenting? What advice would you give to new parents who want to start practicing this model of parenting? Let me know in the comments!


Inspiration is in the Heart of the Beholder: An Adoptee’s Work Exploring Her Identity

This post was written by Laura X. Williams, an international transracial adoptee, who was adopted from Yiwu, China at 7 months old. Laura researches adoption and is the Special Programs Coordinator for 2018 Holt Adoptee Summer camp. She will be speaking at Adoptions Together’s annual conference, Voices of Transracial Adoptees on April 21, 2018.

 

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” –Fred Rogers

Mister Rogers always puts the struggle in perspective for me. Did you know his sister was adopted? As the movie theaters and nostalgic adults prepare for the release of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? on June 8th, I have been doing some deep thinking around the meaning of community, belonging, and what neighborhood looks like for internationally adopted, transracial adoptees.

Run-down on who I am and how I know what I know: I am an adoptee from Yiwu, China, adopted when I was 7-months old in 1995. My family’s labour pains began in the Hangzhou airport, the plane was the delivery canal through which I was rebirthed into my forever world, the Newark air-port solidified my delivery. “Welcome!” said America, “You are now the proud daughter of two Jersey born-and-raised white parents.”  We stayed in New Jersey for 19 years since then and have always had a cat around. Now, I’m 5-foot 5-inches college graduate who has made it her mission in life to foster collaborative adoption reform in the name of a more livable world for all.

What inspires you?

What initially inspired me or what inspires me to do what I do on a daily basis?

Pursuing the inquiry of adoption occurred to me as an innate, almost atavistic curiosity once society enlisted me into a future of higher education. Growing up being different in ways I had not chosen for myself, never felt troublesome. It just was. This was partly my attitude and partly my parents extremely proactive attempts to connect me with Chinese people in the United States. The spheres of Chinese dance, Families with Children from China, Chinese school, Also Known As, Inc., Chinatown NYC all became the interwoven fibers of who I was becoming. My parents tell me they would high-five ‘behind-the-scenes’ when I voiced a difficult adoption question:  “why was I given up?” “where are my birth parents?”, “what is wrong with me?”  They were just so happy I felt comfortable enough from a young age to talk to them about adoption things. It inspired my subconscious.

I’ve always wanted to help people. Once I learned to fold fortune tellers, I went on an 8-year-old’s campaign selling them for money I intended to send to my orphanage (update: the campaign didn’t last past my family during Thanksgiving dinner). I understood there were people somewhere (China) who somehow (orphanage) sustained me for the first 5,110 hours of my life. But is and has been a process for me to hold them in my heart as human instead of just a concept out in space. I may never meet them or be able to directly thank them for my salvation who felt me when I couldn’t feel myself? I need to understand myself, for something deep within me sings a melody of transgression. And I never wanted to land in a meaningless desk job. So, I used the tool around me of education to struggle through the lack of choice, disconnection because of it, and  a humanizing gratitude while meeting other adoptees who may be seeking the same social validation I was looking for.

Now what?

I remember in high school, sitting under dimmed spotlights, behind a microphone, in front of an audience of my first-generation Asian-American peers to tell them, “Tonight we heard raw stories of our strength and courage as Asian-Americans. I feel so connected to both the Asian-American community and the Adoptee community, I draw on the strength of both communities. I am double supported and feel empowered because I am of both.” I recurrently have to check my privilege.  When identity exploration informs each element of how we live our lives, and when part of that identity is a big question mark, no wonder it gets complex fast.

My mentor who is a transnational, transracial adoptee herself gives a great metaphor “It’s like, Bill Nye loves touching the slimy bacteria for science, while other people would rather not. It is the same in our pursuit of understanding adoption, some people would rather not go there while others like us, like to sit in the muck.” There’s something about complex “muck” of adoption that attracts people like me to interrogate and encourage myself to create meaning in our complex web of inter-connected relationships. I think we are all in a constant state of love- having to adjust our worldviews in order to love the most. That constant adjustment is my survival, my sustenance.

When I feel drained by the amount of intellectual and emotional energy I exert as an adoptee working in adoption, talking with other Chinese adoptees reminds me I am doing meaningful work. Giving the gift of validation for someone ungrounded is only the beginning of a deeper exchange. I’ve come to believe, no matter how micro a conversation may be, in the grand scheme of things, it holds the power to transform our social world. Even if it just transforms you.

Mister Rogers inspires me, my friendships guide me, my presence grounds me and I look forward to spreading the love in the neighborhood!

 


The Opioid Crisis and the Child Welfare System: Launching a Response in the Face of a Landslide

The Rise of Opioid Use in the United States

 

Since the turn of the millennium, the number of overdose deaths in the United States attributed to opioid addiction have more than quintupled.   Individuals across the country facing opioid addiction struggle with access to safe treatment, support systems, and post-treatment care to successfully transition into sober living.  As the opioid epidemic surges, child welfare agencies face the overwhelming challenge of coping with some of its most vulnerable victims: children impacted by opioid use.

 

 

Child Welfare Agencies Across the Nation Struggle in the Face of the Opioid Epidemic

As the number of individuals struggling with addiction across the nation rises, so increases the demand on public foster care systems whose purpose is to provide temporary safe haven to children whose families cannot safely care for them.  When a parent is charged with a drug-related offence and incarcerated or ordered to enter a treatment program, children are often placed with a foster family during this time.

Foster care systems in states like Indiana are seeing a surge in the number of opioid related case entries over the past few years.   “We’ve gone from having 2,500 children in care, three years ago, to having 5,500 kids in care. It has just exploded our systems,” says Indiana juvenile court judge Marilyn Moore, who oversees cases in Indianapolis.  In Florida, the number of children living in foster care has tripled due to opioid related deaths.  In Philadelphia, systems are responding to the crisis by allowing foster care providers to apply for waivers that allow them to care for more than the state-mandated number of children per-home.  From 2014 to 2016, capacity waivers went up nearly 50%. More foster kids mean more stress on those foster families.

The Opioid Crisis is Disproportionately Impacting Women

As the scientific community continues to gather and analyze data related to opioid use across the United States, another fact is becoming clear: the use of opioid drugs is disproportionately impacting women.  Overdose deaths attributed to prescription pain relievers among women increased more than 400% from 1999 to 2010, compared to 237% among men.  Heroin overdose deaths among women have tripled in the last few years. From 2010 through 2013, female heroin overdoses increased from 0.4 to 1.2 per 100,000.

The number of opioid-related deaths among women is growing at an alarming rate.

So why is this data concerning for child welfare agencies? As the number of women struggling with opioid substance use rises, the number of infants born with prenatal exposure is also increasing.  Between 2000 to 2009, prenatal opioid exposure increased from 1.19 to 5.63 per 1,000 hospital births.  A few of the major barriers limiting access to prenatal substance abuse counseling and care include stigma surrounding substance use and pregnancy, risk of punishment related to prenatal substance abuse, and a lack of access to comprehensive, specialized treatment programs designed to care for pregnant women struggling with substance abuse disorders.

How Can We Effectively Handle the Burdens of this Epidemic?

  1. Remember that addiction is a disease. Individuals struggling with substance abuse challenges can be effectively treated by mental health professionals and deserve compassion and respect from their communities. Remaining focused on treatment and recovery is an ethical imperative for child welfare professionals and part of laying the foundation for community healing.
  2. As child welfare agencies struggle to respond to the burdens of the opioid epidemic, systems must dedicate resources to recovery-based programs with the goal of healing, not punishment. The more families fractured by addiction, the more challenging the work for systems designed to create healthy futures for children. By investing in the health of parents, we invest in the health of future generations.
  3. The disproportionate ways in which opioid abuse effects women across the United States directly impacts infants and children in our communities. Removing stigmas associated with prenatal substance abuse treatment, offering options for pregnant women to enter treatment programs without the risk of punishment, and expanding access to comprehensive substance abuse treatment programs that specialize in prenatal and postnatal exposure is a first step in removing barriers to keeping families together in the face of substance abuse challenges.
  4. In particular, child placement agencies must face the opioid crisis using a multi-pronged approach. First, by building and maintaining a network of community partners to act as a strong referral sources for clients who are struggling with substance abuse disorders, placement agencies can ensure that clients have access to treatment when they are ready.  Next, by communicating to your community that your placement plans include a strong referral network to treatment programs, your agency can help to ensure women and families struggling with substance abuse are able to access treatment. Additionally, by educating your teams to remain judgement-free in the face of challenging substance abuse issues across the country, we can signal that our doors are open to women and families who need our assistance during some of their most difficult times.  Finally, educating potential adoptive and resource families about the realities of parenting infants and children born with prenatal exposure ensures that we are continuing to build a qualified, loving pool of families for infants and children impacted by the opioid crisis.

If you or a client you work with is currently pregnant and struggling with opioid addiction and would like to discuss this with one of our counselors, please contact us confidentially: https://www.adoptionstogether.org/pregnant/speak-to-a-counselor/


Using Faith to Discriminate: Why Faith-Based Adoption Legislation Matters for All Adoptive and Foster Families

This week, Adoptions Together has been contacted by several LGBTQ families interested in pursuing adoption who’ve expressed concern about recent discriminatory legislative efforts in Georgia. Today, we focus on the broad sweeping impact of “faith-based” adoption legislation and how it effects all families.  This post was written by Adoptions Together Marketing Specialist, Samantha Skrok.

What’s Happening in Georgia?

Recently, the Georgia Senate passed Senate Bill 375, which would give private and public adoption and foster care agencies license to discriminate against couples based on their religious beliefs.  Known as the “Keep Faith in Adoption and Foster Care Act”, proponents of the bill claim it would allow more agencies to act in the interests of children, broadening opportunities for kids living in foster care to achieve permanency in stable homes.  Opponents of the bill point out that enacting such legislation closes the door on qualified parents whose faith doesn’t align with child welfare agencies and their employees, preventing them from serving as adoptive resources for children in need of families.

The Rise of Faith-Based Adoption Legislation

 

The total number of states allowed to discriminate against families based on religious beliefs comes in at seven (North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas).  Since the United States legalized same-sex marriage on the federal level in 2015, five states have passed laws allowing public and private adoption or foster care agencies to refuse services to clients based on their religious beliefs.  Alarmingly, Texas, South Dakota, Mississippi, and Michigan have all passed faith-based legislation permitting agencies to refuse services to children in addition to potential adoptive families.  If we include Georgia, the first few months of 2018 could see Americans in eight states facing faith-based adoption legislation that targets families based on religious grounds.

 

Who Is Being Targeted by Faith-Based Adoption Legislation?

That’s a good question without a simple answer- the easy answer is that children waiting to be adopted by qualified families are the largest victims of faith-based legislation.  Nearly 118,000 children are waiting to be adopted from public foster care systems across the United States today.  Faith-based legislation allows both public and private agencies to reject potential adoptive and foster parents based on their religious beliefs.  The most common targets of faith-based legislation are LGBTQ individuals, like Fatma Marouf and Bryn Esplin whose application to foster refugee children through Catholic Charities in Texas was rejected due to their sexual orientation.  The result is that more children wait for longer periods of time to achieve stability in permanent families.

However, the Human Rights Campaign points out that faith-based legislation can be used to target families from all backgrounds.  In its brief “Disregarding the Best Interests of the Child: License to Discriminate in Child Welfare Agencies”, the HRC points out that, “Parents can be rejected because the agency has an objection to them for any reason, including interfaith couples, single parents, married couples in which one prospective parent has previously been divorced, or other parents to whom the agency has a religious objection.”  This should be of concern for all families interested in growing through adoption or foster care.

Why is this a Concern for Ethical Child Welfare Professionals?

Simply put, children waiting for permanency need more qualified adoptive parents. Faith-based legislation does not achieve this- it does the opposite.  By working with all families, regardless of their religion, marital status, or sexual orientation, agencies grow permanency opportunities for children who desperately need them.  Research shows that LGBTQ youth in particular are over-represented in the foster care system, making them a vulnerable target for maltreatment and discrimination.  Faith-based laws that allow agencies to mistreat populations designed to protect them at the top level is a failure of systems by its very definition.

More than two million LGBTQ couples, individuals and families across the United States are interested in serving as family resources for children through adoption and foster care.  LGBTQ families are currently raising more than 3% of children living in foster care across the country.  The American Academy of Pediatrics supports full access to adoption and foster care rights for same-sex couples as part of promoting growth of stable and healthy families for all children.

 What Can You Do to Discourage the Passage of Faith-Based Adoption Laws?

1. Contact your elected representatives to voice concern for the growing trend of this discrimatory practice designed to target families and provide vulnerable children with less stable futures. Your voice is valuable. Find your elected representative here. Find your Senator here.

2. Support organizations like the Human Rights Campaign whose mission it is to protect the rights of families and children like yours who desire to grow through adoption.

3. If you’re considering adoption, choose an agency whose mission it is to provide services to all families, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Discrimination serves no one and limits our ability to make progress toward healthy futures for all families and children.  To find an agency that serves LGBTQ families as part of its mission, use the HRC’s All Children, All Families map.


Acquiring U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children

Acquiring U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children

 

The foreword of this post was written by Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director and General Counsel of Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together. Dawn represents the agency in adoption cases and oversees its business operations, including finance, human resources and information technology systems.  Dawn is an active advocate for the rights of children, particularly those impacted by the public child welfare system, and frequently consults with policy makers on matters relevant to families and children.

Foreword
by Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director and General Counsel

Over the last few months, I’ve received several calls from parents who adopted their children internationally more than a decade ago and need guidance on how to obtain proof of their child’s U.S. citizenship.  In a few cases, the child wants to sign up for military service and their Russian birth certificate is raising eyebrows with military personnel.  In other cases, parents are finding they need additional proof of citizenship so their child can obtain a driver’s license.  Yet other parents are concerned about proving their child’s citizenship in light of increased government and media attention on immigration and deportation.

Regardless of the reason, the place I turn for answers is in a blog post written several years ago by Irene Jordan, LCSW-C, who ran our international and home study services departments for many years.  Although Irene passed away in 2016, her knowledge and experience in these matters continues to guide families through this complicated issue.  Given the increased attention on citizenship, this seems like a good time to re-post Irene’s blog about international adoption and citizenship.

*****

 

U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children
By: Irene Jordan, LCSW-C
Director of International Adoption and Home Study Services (1994 to 2015)
Adoptions Together

 I recently got a call from a frantic adoptive parent: “I took my son to the MVA to apply for a learner’s permit. They said he has to have proof of U.S. citizenship. They told me that his Maryland birth certificate is not proof of citizenship, since he was born overseas.  I’m not even sure if my son is a U.S. citizen!  Help! What do I do?”

Such calls are not unusual.  Whether or not your internationally-adopted child is a U.S. citizen depends on a number of factors.  Even if your child is a U.S. citizen, you may not yet have proof of citizenship.  It is crucial to ensure both that your child has U.S. citizenship, and also that he/she has proof of that citizenship.

  • Is my child a U.S. citizen?

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows certain foreign-born children adopted by U. S. citizens to automatically acquire U. S. citizenship when they enter the United States.  In order to automatically become a U.S. citizen, the child must meet the following requirements of the Child Citizenship Act:  have at least one adoptive parent who is a U.S. citizen; be under 18 years of age; live in the legal and physical custody of the adoptive parent; and the adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration.

The Child Citizenship Act took effect on February 27, 2001. Adoptees who met these requirements on that date automatically became U.S. citizens.  Adoptees who were 18 years of age or older on that date did not acquire American citizenship from the Child Citizenship Act. In addition children whose adoptions were not finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. immigration did not automatically acquire American citizenship from the Child Citizenship Act.

  • My child meets the other criteria. How do I know if my child’s adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration?

The last requirement for the child to qualify for automatic citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act is that the adoption must have been finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration.  If the adoption overseas was final under the laws of the foreign country, and of U. S. Immigration, your child will have entered the U. S. with an IR-3 immigration visa. Children with an IR-3 visas automatically become U.S. citizens when they enter the U.S.

Adoptions from Russia, China, Guatemala, Latvia, Lithuania, Vietnam and Azerbaijan are all finalized in the foreign country.  However the Child Citizenship Act also requires that the adoption was finalized under U. S. Immigration regulations. Those regulations require that the child be visited by the sole adoptive parent (in the case of a single parent) or by both adoptive parents before the adoption was finalized. Adoptive parents are required by the foreign adoption laws in Russia, Lithuania, and Azerbaijan to visit the child before completing the adoption. Therefore if you adopted from one of those countries, your child should have entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, and is a U. S. Citizen.

Adoptions from China, Guatemala, Latvia and Vietnam do not require both parents to see the child before the adoption was finalized.  If the sole adoptive parent or both parents did not see the child before the adoption was finalized, then the child will have entered the U. S. on an IR-4 visa, and is not a U.S. citizen until the adoption is finalized in the U.S.  Children with IR-4 visas obtain a Resident Alien card (sometimes referred to as a “green card”.) Please note that many of the children from these countries were visited by the sole adoptive parent or by both parents before the adoption.  Those children entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, and are therefore U.S. citizens.

Adoptions from Korea are not finalized overseas.    Families adopting a child from Korea need to finalize the adoption in the U.S. so that the child will meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa, the adoption should be finalized in the United States under your state’s regulations. Your child acquires citizenship in the U.S. when the adoption is full and final in the U.S.  The adoption decree and the birth certificate from your state, however, do not serve as proof of citizenship.

  • What documentation do I need to serve as proof of my child’s citizenship?

There are 2 forms of proof of citizenship: a U.S. Passport and a Certificate of Citizenship.

Beginning in January 2004, USCIS has issued Certificates of Citizenship automatically to children who qualify as citizens under the Child Citizenship Act.

If your child entered the U.S. before January 2004 on an IR-3 visa, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application. You can also apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship.

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa or an IH-4 visa, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application after you have finalized the adoption in the U.S. You can also apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship after you have finalized the adoption in the U.S.

  • How do I apply for a certificate of citizenship?

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa and the adoption has been finalized in the United States, you can apply for a certificate of citizenship by submitting Form N-600 Application.  Information and the form can be obtained through the USCIS website.  This site also provides the fee information and the address to which to send the form.

With your application, you will send a copy of the adoption decree from the court in your state.  You will need to submit 2 photos of your child. The filing fee should be paid by certified check or money order. Send copies of the required documents, unless specifically asked to send originals after your application has been reviewed. It is recommended that the application be submitted through a delivery service that can be tracked, such as Federal Express or UPS.

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa before January 2004, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by submitting Form N-600 Application as above. You will not need an adoption decree from the court in your state.

  • How do I obtain a U.S. passport for my child?

If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, then you can apply for a U.S. passport at any time. If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa and the adoption has been finalized in the United States, you can apply for a U.S. passport.  You and your child will need to go in person to a passport office or satellite location. A list of locations nationwide that accept passport applications can be obtained through the Department of State website.

You will need to send a certified copy of the final adoption decree (with translation if the decree is not in English). You will also need to send the child’s foreign passport, showing the immigration stamp in the passport, or the child’s permanent resident card (“green card”).  The foreign passport will be returned with the child’s new U.S. passport. You will also need to send proof of identity of the American citizen parent(s).  Submit these documents with the passport application, passport photos of the child, and fees. The forms and full instructions can be obtained through the Department of State website here.

  • What if my child was adopted under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions? Is she a U.S. citizen?

A child whose adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the Hague Convention (including recent adoptions from China) will receive an IH-3 visa, and will automatically be a U.S. citizen. The requirement that the sole or both parents visit the child before the adoption is finalized has been eliminated under the Hague Convention.  A certificate of citizenship will be issued and mailed to you automatically by USCIS.

  • My daughter was over age 18 at the time that the Child Citizenship Act took effect on February 27, 2001. Is she a citizen?

If your daughter was over 18 at the time that the Child Citizenship Act took effect, it is possible that she is not a U.S. citizen. Although legislation has been proposed to retroactively give citizenship to foreign adoptees who turned 18 before the Child Citizenship Act took effect, this legislation has not yet been passed. Therefore it is very important to determine if she is a citizen and for her to apply for naturalization if she is not a U.S. citizen.  She may have a Permanent Resident Card, giving her the immigration status of a lawful permanent resident. The Permanent Resident Card may have expired, but the Lawful Permanent Resident status does not expire unless she travels outside the U.S. for more than 6 months.

Check to see if you have a Certificate of Citizenship or a Certificate of Naturalization for her.  If not, your daughter should apply for naturalization in order to gain citizenship.  It is strongly recommended that she do this in order to avoid any risk of deportation or any potential denial of the application for naturalization.  The Application for Naturalization, form N-400, is available on the USCIS website.  If you need an attorney to assist you with immigration issues, check the website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

For additional information about the citizenship status of adult adopted persons, check the Guide to U.S. Citizenship for Adult International Adoptees at the Ethica.


Raising Compassion and Awareness for Individuals Affected by FASD

This post about FASD was written by the Director of FamilyWorks Together, Alisha Wolf, LGSW, MPH.  Alisha oversees the counseling, training, education, and special projects teams at Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together.  She received her bachelors from Skidmore College in English and Spanish and her Masters in Social Work and Maternal and Child Health from UNC Chapel Hill.  During her graduate studies, Alisha focused on issues surrounding adoption, foster care, and early childhood mental health.  

The New York Times recently published an article stating that more U.S. Children than previously thought may have Fetal Alcohol Disorders.  I was so excited to see this article published in such a high profile publication, because Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) have been an area of interest, expertise, and advocacy for Adoptions Together.  We have trained professionals on symptoms of FASD, treated families affected by FASD, and advocated for policy changes to better support individuals and families affected by FASD.  We believe greater awareness and understanding of the disorders among mental health providers, pediatricians, teachers and others that care for children will lead to better care, and ultimately more support for kids and families.

However, when I sat down to write this blog, I immediately felt nervous.  Talking about FASD isn’t easy, because it involves the stigmatized behavior of drinking during pregnancy.  This is also perhaps the reason that it is not as widely identified or diagnosed as it could be. With this article as further evidence, FASD is far more common than previously thought—according to the new numbers, more common than autism. And yet there is far more conversation around and awareness of autism.  I think this reflects the larger community’s challenge in taking on these disorders.  How to we simultaneously raise awareness, support the individuals affected, and show compassion to those mothers and birth mothers who consumed alcohol during pregnancy?  The challenges of FASD are as layered as an onion, and pulling one back only exposes another.  Issues of addiction, trauma, and access to and understanding family planning all arise.

At Adoptions Together, we think it’s critical to lean into the tough conversations.  FASD affects children in the adoption community as well as children raised within their biological families, and we believe this article sheds light on a tough conversation that we want to be a part of.  Will you join us?  Together, how can we provide prevention education surrounding the effects of drinking during pregnancy, provide support for women experiencing addiction during pregnancy, and support for families parenting children with FASD on both a direct service and policy level?  In a world that can sometimes feel increasingly divided, we embrace the challenge of coming together on this issue and compel our readers to become part of this conversation.

To learn more about FASD, check out our on-demand video: “Understanding Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders” (1 hour)

About the video: Children who have been exposed to alcohol before birth often experience social, emotional, and cognitive limitations that impact every aspect of their life as they grow, and can significantly influence the life of their family.  However, with early identification, diagnosis, and appropriate intervention, children who have been prenatally exposed to alcohol can increase their potential to lead healthy, productive lives. This seminar will help parents to better understand the physical and developmental impact of prenatal alcohol exposure so that they can effectively guide and support their child.  Participants will learn effective ways to discipline and create a supportive home environment, as well as practical strategies for helping their child reach his/her full potential.


Adoptions Together Supports the Rights of Transgender Families and Children

Adoptions Together Supports Transgender Families and Children

pride flag LGBT families

Adoptions Together staff, its Board of Directors, and its network of volunteers believe that transgender children and families have the right to access services of all kinds- particularly those intended to strengthen bonds and make relationships stronger.  Under normal circumstances, we complete this work quietly as part of our mission and vision to ensure every child will grow up in a permanent family.  These are not normal circumstances for many of the families we serve.  Our team is committed to providing comprehensive adoption and family counseling, education, and training services to all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender expression.

Now, more than ever, it is critical for Adoptions Together to focus our resources and dedicate our efforts to serving all families and all children.  As an agency that has helped same-sex and transgender families for decades, our staff is humbled to stand as allies with the LGBTQ community and to be a part of the LGBTQ’s diverse community.  Founded 27 years ago in response to the growing need for an adoption agency to serve families from all backgrounds, Adoptions Together is here for everyone.   By serving on the advisory committee for the Human Rights Campaign’s All Children All Families Initiative and maintaining our Seal of Recognition each year since its inception, we are fully committed to LGBTQ families across our region and the United States.

The need for services like ours is not shrinking.  Over 400,000 young people are currently living in foster care across the United States, and more than 25% of those children are awaiting adoption.  Of these children, LGBTQ youth are considered an over-represented minority, which means that the percentage of youth in foster care who identify as LGBTQ is larger than the general population. Passage of state laws like Texas’ HB3859, which allows child welfare agencies to discriminate against on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and religion force us to stand up against injustices we see being committed against the children and families we serve every day, and those who embody our mission.

Supporting families is what we do.  We promise to continue serving every family, every child, every step of the way with every resource at our disposal in order to make our community a stronger and more vibrant place.  We stand with you in opposition to the discriminatory and unconstitutional rhetoric being harmfully unleashed against our families, friends and colleagues.  We are members of the LGBTQ community, your allies, and we are always here for you.

Yours in support,

Adoptions Together Team


Become an Interim Care Provider at Adoptions Together!

Become an Interim Care Provider for an Adoptions Together Family!

Adoptions Together is in search of loving, qualified interim care providers in Northern Virginia and Washington, DC for infants transitioning into their forever families.  Interim care families provide nurturing home environments for infants while their adoption plans are finalized.  If you live in Northern Virginia or Washington, DC and are interested in providing short-term foster care for infants  please read the information below, then fill out this form to get in touch with our team.

What is Interim Care?

Interim Care is short term foster care provided by qualified, loving families that have been approved to care for infants whose adoption plans are still being finalized.  An interim care provider cares for the infant 24 hours per day (no daycare permitted).  The average length of a stay in interim care is 2-24 days.

Responsibilities of Interim Care Providers

Interim Care Providers are responsible for meeting the needs of these fragile, brand new babies while their permanency plans are being decided.  An interim care provider takes the baby to his or her pediatrician appointments, might meet with birth and adoptive families, communicates with social workers about the baby’s development, meets federal and local background checks required for childcare providers, and completes a home study (paid for by Adoptions Together).  Interim Care Providers are flexible, caring, compassionate, and understanding.

Compensation for Interim Care Providers

All home study and training fees will be provided.  All transportation costs related to the infant’s care will be covered.  All infants in interim care are eligible for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) formula benefits.  Interim Care providers are reimbursed at $30/day for each day the infant is in care.

Considerations and Eligibility Requirements for Interim Care Providers

The infants cared for in interim care settings are not available for adoption by interim care families. It is important for interim care providers to remember that infants in interim care may be returned to their birth families or placed with an adoptive family when interim care is complete.  All interim care providers must live in the Northern Virginia or Washington, DC regions.  All members of the household must participate in the home study and training process.

Still Interested?  Fill out our Interim Care Provider Inquiry Form!


What to Expect When You’re Expecting…an Older Child?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting…an Older Child?

This post was written by AdoptionWorks Family Specialist, Pam Hoehler, LCSW-C. Pam’s work with the AdoptionWorks program sees dozens of families each year go through the complex steps of the older child adoption process.  Pam has been a vital part of the Adoptions Together family for many years.  To ask Pam a question about the older child adoption process, send her an email at phoehler@adoptionstogether.org.

Resources and information for new parents of infants are everywhere. There are countless books, blogs, magazines, even a Bravo TV show, focusing on the latest research and trends to make the first few months of baby’s life with you meaningful and healthy. But what if you are adopting an older child from foster care? Your child will also have needs that must be nurtured and shaped to help him/her adjust to the new world around them. Undoubtedly, your child will have experienced loss, trauma, and multiple transitions, causing emotional dysregulation and behavioral challenges. These can make for a rough transition. So, what exactly can you expect when you child first comes home, and what can you do to do to ease the transition for everyone?

1. It’s OK to say No.

During the first few weeks, you may have friends and family who want to meet your child and welcome them into the fold. While this is endearing, the first few weeks are a time for you and your nuclear family to lay the foundation for bonding. Allow the child time to calmly adjust to his/her new home and routine, without the added stimulation of greetings and parties. Define family schedules and expectations, and keep outside events to a minimum. Enjoy simple activities together, such as taking the dog for a walk, playing board games or puzzles, and preparing meals. It’s OK to tell your friends and family that these early days for needed to bond as a nuclear family, and you look forward to introducing your child in the coming weeks.

2. It’s OK to also say Yes.

Your primary focus during these early weeks will be on your child and his/her adjustment. You may feel physically and emotionally drained tending to your child’s constant needs. Because of this, ask for and accept help when it’s offered, for daily tasks. When a friend or family member suggests, “Just let me know what you need,” respond with a request for a cooked meal that can be easily reheated. Or, ask for an errand to be run, such as a trip to the post office or dry cleaner. This may also be a time to splurge on a cleaning service or grocery delivery. Your primary responsibility during this time is to bond with your child, who might be rejecting that notion. Only you can complete this task, so use your support system to help care for you.

3. Structure and Routine is a Must….

It might be tempting, during this time of family hibernation, to clear your calendar and dream of days lounging around the house with your child. Your child is in a new, uncertain environment, and his/her anxiety will be running high. To help your child develop a feeling of safety, provide a predictable, visible schedule for each day. List your expectations for routines, such as brushing teeth, washing face, and getting dressed before come downstairs in the morning. Keep schedules simple, possibly using pictures to represent each activity. Display the schedule in a central location so that your child can refer to it throughout the day. Your child will find comfort in the consistency of this routine as they acclimate to their new home.

4. …Flexibility is Key.

Use your schedule as scaffolding for the family’s basic routine. There are times when your child will test your will and love for them, possibly through their refusal to brush teeth or wash his/her face. When these conflicts emerge, do not engage in power struggles. Know when to flexibly alter the schedule to keep your relationship-building the focus of the interaction. Use humor and patience to acknowledge the refusal while continuing your efforts to bond.

5. Kids are Weird and Parenting is Tough

No one said this would be easy. Children often engage in behaviors that appear strange to adults, but are developmentally appropriate for the child. I could not imagine leaving the house in the morning without brushing my teeth, but my children need several reminders to do this every day! Eating crusts on my sandwich is not a big deal, but to my children, this might evolve into World War III. It is important to remember that children act in ways different from adults, and while you are getting to know your child, it is helpful to reflect on their developmental stage to find meaning in their behavior. Are they asserting control in an otherwise uncertain time? Are sensory issues interfering with their desire to eat? All behaviors have meaning, and are linked to a developmental task. Keep your handouts from training close by and refer to them often!

All families will have bumps in the road when their child first comes home. Building a secure, trusting relationship is not easy, but necessary, for your child to thrive in your care. Maintain this as your focus, and seek help when needed. In a few years, you’ll be able to write the book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting an Older Child!”


What Does A Therapist or Caseworker Do when Parents’ Have “Blocked Care”?

Working Through “Blocked Care”

This post was written by FamilyWorks Together Master Clinical Trainer, Erica Moltz, MA, NCC.

Being a parent is hard work and it is especially hard if a child is challenging and exhibits oppositional behavior.  The reason that some children are so challenging is because of what has happened to them in abusive or neglectful relationships with other adults.  The result is that they often have “blocked trust” that prevents them from feeling safe with a foster or adoptive parent.

If a parent is struggling, they will often feel guilty, carry a sense of shame and fear, and worry that they may be harshly judged by professionals.   For a parent to hang in there with an extremely difficult child and teach the child to trust them, then the parent has to trust the professional and believe that that things will get better.  For the parent to get through their own “blocked care”, they have to feel safe enough with the professional to talk with them about their vulnerable parent feelings of sadness, anger, exhaustion, incompetence and worry.  The parent needs to trust that the professional understands that they are good parents who are doing the best they can, and are deeply committed to their children.  If the parent can learn to engage with a professional in an open way without feeling shame, then they will be more open to exploring new strategies to engage with their child and help their child learn to trust the. .

On May 5th in Silver Spring, Dr. Jon Baylin will be presenting an all-day conference, “Building Attachment through Trust: Brain-Based Interventions for Connecting with Mistrustful Children”.  He will be teaching professionals and parents about the core therapeutic attitude called PACE.   Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy are effective  strategies that professionals can convey to parents to build a trusting relationship between them. At times, parents need professionals to be playful, to generate laughter and lightness, and a sense of hope that things will get better. Parents need for professionals to accept that they have good intentions, wishes and goals for their child, so the parent will be open to the professional’s interventions.  When a professional expresses an attitude of curiosity with a parent, it will help the parent cultivate their own curiosity about what is behind their child’s behavior.  For example, a therapist could convey curiosity by asking a parent, “How do you feel the strength to keep hanging in there with your child?”  Empathetic professionals will give more than information and advice, they will be a supportive presence so the parent will feel alone in the hard work of teaching a child to trust them.