Coordinating Culture & Care

 

When a child enters out-of-home care, there are so many questions and so many things on the to-do list. Ensuring that the child is safe, that he or she has the clothing and hygiene products that are needed, and adjusting to a routine take precedence for all involved. However, understanding the culture a child in foster care is coming from when he or she is placed with a foster parent, is an integral part of welcoming that child into your care, making him or her feel safe, and helping lay the foundation of a successful transition.

Illustration of a cute city on the riverIn each of our family lives, there are likely hundreds of little habits or rituals that occur every day without us even thinking about it; they are what make up our family’s “cultural norm.” Children who come into foster care have these same kind of customs, routines, and traditions that were part of the cultural norm in their family of origin. Now, having arrived in your home and with your family, they are faced with having to learn a whole new family culture and figuring out how they fit into it.

Getting to know more about a new child’s culture can help you, as a foster parent, understand the child much better. While you learn about and work in ways to honor the child’s experiences, preferences, and routines, you can also teach him or her about your home, your own family’s culture, the values that are important to you, and the customs you honor. You might ask questions such as:

  • “How does your family celebrate holidays/birthdays?”
  • “How are household chores done at your home?”
  • “What is your favorite dinner?”
  • “What is your bedtime routine like?”

Like in all things that are new or unfamiliar, a new living situation takes time for all to adjust. As foster parents, we know you try very hard to be welcoming and comforting, with a goal of helping children and youth new to your homes make successful transitions. By being flexible and adjusting the culture of your home to accommodate some aspects of the child’s culture, you can give the children or youth in your care time to figure out his or her new surroundings, as well as reduce any possible cultural conflicts.

 

Exploring Culture

In the world of adoption and foster care, we often talk about transracial exploringcultureand transcultural families; those families made up of members representing different ethnic groups or racial backgrounds. But, in truth, while many adoptive families are transracial, all families are transcultural. Even in families where there is no history of foster care or adoption, no two individuals are identical (not even “identical” twins!).
There may be overlap, at times, in the way family members think about or respond to something, or how they identify themselves (e.g., “We’re Smiths!”), but each person’s individuality sets them apart.

For families who have adopted, the cultural differences are sometimes subtle, as in the case of a family who has adopted a child of the same race as their own. While they may share the same race, there are often differences in socioeconomic status, ethnic background, or customs and traditions. In other families, those differences may be more apparent, say, for example, when a family has adopted a child of a race or ethnic group that is visibly different from their own. While race, heritage, and ethnicity are all components of culture, there is much more to the definition of culture.

Culture is something that is crafted by and comprised of people. A nation can have a culture, as can a religious group, a business, or a family. Culture can include language, food, art, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among other things. It is the structure that forms how a particular group of people behave or live.

With a definition so broad, it is safe to conclude that culture is all around us. It is in the way we speak, how we approach adversity or happiness, and it helps to define the way we carry ourselves day in and day out. Culture can look different depending on where we are and who we are with. Cultural differences are not always tangible, but they can be. And there may be times when we need to step back to explore how we can understand and embrace differences between our own culture and the culture of another.

So, where do you begin to explore culture with your own children and family members? While there is truly no “right answer,” it’s often recommended to introduce the topic as soon as possible. There are so many points of exploration when it comes to culture, you will likely spend a great deal of time exploring together as a family, in addition to the time you each may spend individually. You could use a variety of methods to explore culture, both your family’s as well as others, including books, movies, food, discussion, visiting familiar spaces and places, creating new traditions, or recreating and incorporating celebrations of other traditions
and holidays.

In the pages of this issue of Partners, we hope you’ll find stories and ideas that will help you and your family begin to explore more about your own cultural roots – as individuals, and as a family unit. Together you can all learn to embrace your individuality, your family culture, and the cultures of others. Be prepared to be surprised, inspired, and to let your
children and family lead and teach you new things. Just as, in the words of Ghandi, “a nation’s culture resides in the hearts and soul of its people,” so does a family’s culture reside in the hearts and souls of each family member – birth, foster, or adopted.

 

Home to Stay: Parenting with an Open Heart

Home to stay family photoJames and Alex met in 2002, while Alex was attending bible school. At the time, James was working in a Christian bookstore and, soon after meeting, they fell in love. Although, at that time, the laws did not allow gay couples to marry, James and
Alex knew they were committed to each other and hoped to grow and start a family of their own.

“Pretty much from the get-go we knew we wanted to have children in our home, but we weren’t sure how. We ordered books from Amazon that talked about a lot of different options, including surrogacy,” they explained. However, the couple felt that a lot of the options they read about were not good fits for building their family. In 2003, James saw television personality Rosie O’Donnell, who is also gay, talking about her experience as a foster parent. He was inspired by Rosie’s story and brought up the idea of fostering children to Alex, who was immediately receptive. “I liked the idea of helping children,” said Alex, and he signed the couple up for an informational meeting in Waukesha to learn about becoming foster parents.

As foster parents, James and Alex make a point of being supportive of reunification efforts; however, they always held out a hope to adopt, as well. They credit their workers with helping them to understand that most of the children who become available for adoption through foster care are older, school-aged children or siblings who need to be adopted together, and the couple said they were open to that
possibility throughout their fostering journey. Together, James and Alex fostered several children who experienced successful reunifications. And then they accepted placement of Elliot, who was only a few weeks old.

As Elliot’s case progressed, the efforts to reunify him with his birth family floundered, and James and Alex were asked to consider adoption. Since the couple was not able to legally marry, state statute only allowed one of them to be the legal adoptive parent. James and Alex decided that James would serve as the adoptive parent for Elliot, and that Alex would be the one to serve as the adoptive parent if they were to adopt again.

After their adoption of Elliot, Alex and James continued to accept placements for foster care. After a few years, eight-week-old Belle came to stay with Alex, James, and Elliot. When she became available for adoption, Alex and James welcomed the opportunity to make her a permanent member of their family. This time it would be Alex who would be the legal adoptive parent.

After Belle’s adoption, James and Alex decided to take a break from foster care and focus on their two children. They settled into the routine of family life and even achieved another dream, by opening a salon together in Wales, which they named ElleBelle, after their two children.

Elliot and Belle grew and flourished and James and Alex began to think about adopting once again. However, this time things would be a little different. “I know a lot of couples have qualms about adopting older children, but we thought that caring for a baby would be a bit of stretch in our family, especially with Elliot’s needs,” said James. (Elliot has autism.) “We decided to have an open mind and look to adopt an older child.”

Sure enough, within a few months, the county called about Adam, who was eight years old at the time. The adoption plan with the family currently caring for Adam was falling through and the case worker was hoping James and Alex would be interested in meeting the boy. Adam came for a respite weekend, and James and Alex knew right away he belonged with them. “Adam came to us on Thursday, and by Monday we registered him for school and decided he would stay with us,” said Alex.

After adopting two younger children, Alex and James did have some concerns about adopting an older child. “We knew that Adam came from an abusive background,” James said. “So we were concerned about him possibly acting out around Elliot
and Belle.” However, as James explains, adopting Adam was actually great for Elliot and Belle. “It’s been good for Elliot, because it has kind of helped him come out of his shell and be more interactive, and it also gave Belle someone else to play with. They do butt heads a little bit, but that’s a good thing, it’s normal.” He continued, “I know people have a lot of qualms about adopting older kids, but that kid [Adam],
he just fit in; with our kids, with the neighborhood. It was a different experience than adopting younger children, because I think he kind of knew he wanted a home, he wanted a place to belong . . . the change in his personality since that adoption date was final has been amazing. It’s almost as if he had a fear in the back of his mind that things might not happen, that they might fall through again. So he settled
down a lot after the adoption day.”

There are still a few challenges that James and Alex face in their day-to-day lives, many of which are familiar to many adoptive families. “Some of the questions the kids get asked are challenging. Like, on the bus, a girl asked them ‘are you
adopted? You don’t look like each other,’ and we have to help them come up with answers to that, and tell them that they don’t have to hide that they were adopted.”

James added, “It’s also hard to try and find a balance with birth parents. Belle’s mom has been in prison, and we try to keep in touch through letters and pictures.” James and Alex stress that it’s important to set boundaries in those relationships. “Elliott’s mom sends text messages and we send pictures. She seems happy that he is doing well. You try to keep it simple and make it work.”

Several years after the adoptions of Elliot and Belle, not having both partners legally recognized as adoptive parents of both children is still an obstacle. Elliot was diagnosed with autism, and requires a lot of services to meet his unique needs. Because he is the only legal parent, James is the only one who can authorize those services. After Elliot’s adoption was finalized, the couple petitioned to have Alex gain parental rights, but were denied under the statutes at the time. However, despite these setbacks, James and Alex persevere. They were married in 2014, when same sex marriage first became legal in Wisconsin. The couple shared that, for same sex couples, things are changing and becoming easier. “Adam was the first child that we were able to adopt together, and both our names are on his birth certificate,” they said. Both James and Alex are hoping that, with recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court, new avenues will open up for them both to be legally recognized as adoptive parents for Elliot and Belle.

James and Alex do have some advice for other LGBT couples who are considering fostering and adoption: “Just don’t be afraid,” said Alex. “I think we were Waukesha County’s first gay couple who became foster parents and it worked out.” James added, “Just keep an open mind, there are so many kids here in Wisconsin that need your help. Even if it does not wind up being an adoption, you will know that you helped a kid. Kids need attention and love, to know they are heard and to know they are safe.

“The number one question we get about our kids is ‘where are they are from?’. People think they are from these exotic places, but they are from here in Waukesha. Most people forget that there are children in their neighborhoods who need a home.”

Nearly a dozen children have come to James and Alex through foster care and three have stayed forever. “When your kids are being naughty or sassy and you are dealing with the day to day things, you can kind of get lost in all of that,” Alex said.
“But then you hear from people that you have a good family or that your kids are great. Those are the proudest moments. You think things like ‘you didn’t eat your vegetables,’ or, ‘you’re being disrespectful,’ but then you realize none of that really matters because your kids are safe and they are happy.” For James, the most rewarding thing is, “just seeing them grow, seeing them run around and be happy and free kids.”

The Hardest Best Decision

Very often, we share a lot of stories about foster care and adoption from the domestic or birth parent 1perspective of foster parents, adoptive parents, child welfare staff members, and
experts in the field. The voice that is sometimes not as prevalent, is that of the birth parent. In this issue of Partners, we are sharing several stories from parents–a family that adopted internationally, a family that adopted domestically, and a family that adopted from foster care – who are sharing what they learned on their personal journeys, and the “tools” that they found helpful along the way. This story is from a
birth mom, Izzy, who made an adoption plan for her son, Jacob. She shares why she decided to pursue adoption, how she found the right family, and what “tools” helped her the most throughout the process.

“Deciding to pursue adoption was not an easy thing to do,” said Izzy, a Wisconsin birth mom. “In fact, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had to put my feelings and needs aside to do what was best for my son. So I knew from the first day, when I found out I was pregnant with Jacob, that I wasn’t ready to be a parent. I wasn’t emotionally or financially ready to be a parent; I wasn’t stable whatsoever.”

Izzy was a senior in high school when she got pregnant and did not have a continuing relationship with her son’s birth father.

“I was 17 years old and terrified about the whole idea of me carrying this child inside of me and the idea of child birth and having a baby at such a young age,” she said.

Even so, Izzy did her homework before choosing to take a path toward adoption. She said she, “looked at all my options, and they all overwhelmed me.” When she decided to focus more seriously on adoption, she said that she had so many birth parent 2questions running through her mind:

  • “Is this what’s really best for him?”
  • “Will I still be in his life?”
  • “Will he hate me?”
  • “How will I find the right people to raise him?”
  • “How will I handle not being his ‘parent’?”

Ultimately, Izzy knows that, “it took a lot for me to decide to have someone else raise him, but I knew inside it was the best possible thing for him and I still think that to this day.”

Izzy met the couple who would adopt her baby through her high school teacher. “My teacher knew that I was considering adoption, and she knew Becky and Ben were looking to adopt. So she pulled me aside one day after class and asked me if I was still interested in [adoption]. When I said yes, she gave me Becky’s name and number and we started talking.”

Izzy took her time and got to know Becky and her husband, Ben. To start, Izzy, Becky, and Ben got together at Becky and Ben’s house so Izzy could see their home and get to know them. “Over the process of us talking, we grew a friendship,” Izzy said. “I began to be more and more comfortable with the idea of them raising Jacob. It took a little time, but I picked Becky and Ben because, honestly, they are great people and I couldn’t think of a better couple to raise him.”

Throughout her journey, Izzy pulled strength and support from her friends and family, which she said is a “big thing” in the process of adoption. She also said that it was, “very helpful to have a social worker to talk to about the whole process. [The social worker] knew all about adoptions and the pros and cons to it.”

Becky, Ben, Izzy, and Jacob have formed a strong relationship and Izzy is very much a part of the family. “Becky is so open with the adoption, and she was from the beginning,” Izzy said. “She [and Ben] made me feel like I was a part of her family and not just Jacob. It really made it so much easier for me. All in all, I couldn’t have picked a better and more loving family to raise ‘our’ little boy.”

The Right Match

Ben and Becky Eby married in 2007. Two years later, the couple was ready to start domestic 1their family. Ben and Becky conceived . . . and lost six pregnancies. With no clear answers as to why they could not carry to term, they began thinking about other options for building their family. Ben and Becky contacted the Coalition to get some information about getting started. Following, Becky shares more of their story:

“We decided to look more into adoption,” Becky said. “Over the years, we had discussed this route, but it took several years for the both of us to be on the same page and agree that adoption was the right path for us.

“We didn’t know many people who had adopted, especially not in Wisconsin. So our first step was calling an agency and setting up a meeting. From there, we decided to meet with two more agencies to decide which one was the best fit. We decided that we’d work with an agency, but also try to find a match on our own through an independent adoption. Everything I read online said that matches came from such
a variety of places . . . family friends, random acquaintances, or just being in the right place at the right time. (I happen to believe this is the work of a mighty God!)

“So, as we were working on our home study to officially become adoption-ready, we told everyone our plans to adopt. I blogged about it. I shared it on my business page for Facebook. We started a Facebook page and website specifically for our adoption journey, printed little business cards with our website address, and asked
friends and family members to pass them out. Sharing our story, including our losses, was one of the hardest things I have ever done. (And I made it through boot camp and military deployment. I have done hard things!)

birth parent 1“Ultimately, we ended up meeting our son’s birth mom through an acquaintance on a Facebook group. We did have a failed match before that, and the expectant mother there had seen one of our business cards on a community bulletin board. She also had seen our website previously when a friend shared it with her. So I don’t think any one “seed” we planted was responsible for us finding our match. Instead, it was a team of family and friends rooting for us, praying for us, and sharing our story. We did have a profile book at our agency, but it did not result in any matches.

“I did join a few adoption groups on Facebook that were really supportive. It was nice to hear that we weren’t alone in our frustration, sadness to still be waiting, etc. I wasn’t able to find a Wisconsin-specific group though, so I started one! It’s still a small group, under 150 people, but it’s very supportive and a huge resource on discussing state-specific things. Plus, it’s nice to know local families that have similar dynamics to ours!

“One thing I’m really happy we did was meet with three-four agencies, review policies from each, and ask a ton of questions before committing to one. Each agency has such different policies and the social workers are obviously so different! We wanted a social worker who we were comfortable with, so that played a big part in our decision.”

Becky and Ben have kept in touch with their son’s birth mom, Izzy. They all cherish the open relationship, learning together along the way.

“Open adoption is beautiful, but there is no guidebook! Every birth parent, every adoptive parent . . . we’re all so different. So there is a lot of getting to know each other, navigating a difficult, emotional situation, especially at first, while everything is so new. For us and Izzy, communicating frequently is the best thing we’ve done. We try to build a relationship based on our son and on getting to know her, as an important person in our life.

domestice or birth parent 2“So, for our son’s first birthday, my husband had to work, so Izzy and I took the baby to the zoo together! [Ben and I] also surprised her at work with a card and gift before Mother’s Day. Most days I try to send her a Snapchat photo or video (or 10 of them!), because I know how much she values contact from us.

“At first, it was scary to share so much and we worried that it would hurt her to see him with us, but she has told me several times that she loves seeing him happy and loved by our entire family. We also were worried that it might be tough to set stronger boundaries later if there were any issues early on, but she has been so respectful of us as his mom and dad. Likewise, we respect her importance as our son’s first mother, and are so thankful for her choosing us to be his parents.

“We’ve known each other for a year and a half now, and it gets a little more comfortable, a little easier, every month. I can’t wait to see what our relationship looks like in 10 years!”

Tools Needed to Survive an Allegation

When individuals or families choose to become foster parents, they do so to help children in their communities and to provide a safe place for them—they open their hearts and homes and become licensed with good intentions. So, when an allegation occurs, it can leave foster parents reeling. A system they worked within is now investigating them. Foster parents are left feeling a range of emotions from fear, disbelief, shame, and bewilderment—all of which are common feelings when faced with dealing with an allegation.

Veteran foster parents often say that it is not if you will face an allegation, it is when. Foster parents are told of the possibility that they may face an allegation during training or during the licensing process, though that is certainly not the same as going through such an experience. Allegations can vary from a misinterpreted trigger from a child with a trauma history to a licensing violation. Regardless of the particulars and details, the experience of facing an allegation can be both painful and scary. Being prepared and knowing where to turn for support can help make the process a bit less stressful.

LibraryWe spoke with Sherry Benson and Tina Christopherson from the Wisconsin Foster and Adoptive Parent Association (WFAPA) and asked them to share with us the tools foster parents need in order to survive an allegation. Following are some of the suggestions they offered to help protect yourself, as well as the children you provide care for:

  • Document, document, document! Keeping track of phone calls and conversations with workers and other providers can help. Document behaviors observed and information disclosed to you by a child in your care—anything that may leave you feeling uncertain or wary—better to have it and not need it. It can help provide information during an allegation.
  • Seek out help and support. One of the most important things, say Sherry and Tina, is, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help. The more knowledge you have the better; knowledge is power.”

    WFAPA has a program to help foster families who may be going through an investigation of an allegation. The Foster & Adoptive Support & Preservation Program (FASPP), is a volunteer peer network that was developed to help support adoptive and foster parents who are experiencing investigations of allegations and provides a supportive and safe place for parents to talk about what they are going through. Sherry and Tina both recommend that foster parents talk to someone, ask questions, and ask for help, whether from a confidant, a support group, or therapist.

  • Take care of yourself. “Try to keep your life as normal as possible and make sure you take care of yourself,” advise both Sherry and Tina. “Make self-care a priority and don’t make any big life decisions during this time.”

    Part of taking care of yourself means making sure that you are meeting your basic needs: sleeping, eating, exercising. Talking to a therapist might be beneficial during this situation or seeking legal counsel from an attorney; every person and every situation is different. Ensuring you are taking care of yourself can help you better deal with this stressful situation with a clear head.Open door with bright light outside

  • After an allegation and investigation has occurred, it helps to debrief. Learn from the experience: What could I have done differently? What might I do differently from here on out? How can I better take care of myself? How can I prevent something like this from happening again? How can I better protect myself and my family? Learning your personal limits, and knowing that it is OK to say “No” when you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, can prevent a situation from reoccurring. “After-care is very important,” Sherry and Tina agreed. “There is hope.”

Sherry and Tina shared that the experience of dealing with an allegation is similar to going through the stages of grief and loss; it is a process that can impact relationships with your worker, agency, a child, and other providers. Even when a situation is resolved, many people are left feeling as though their reputation is tarnished and they second guess themselves. It is important to remember that this is a temporary situation. It is a frightening experience, but there is hope and help.

Becoming a foster parent exposes oneself to a certain amount of risk, though it is a worthwhile risk helping to keep our children safe. Please see our additional resources for more information and support. And, remember, you can always call the Coalition for help—we are here for you!

Thank you to Sherry Benson and Tina Christopherson from WFAPA for contributing to this article.

Cherish Every Day

Mark and Julie always knew that they would adopt; even before the couple married, they discussed adoption and they both felt that, “[it] was a beautiful way to expand a family.” So the option was never far from their thoughts, even as the couple wed and had three biological children. But, a few short years ago, Mark and Julie renewed the conversation.

It was the fall of 2013 and Mark and Julie started gathering information about local adoption agencies and the types of adoption they might pursue. “We just had a feeling that it was about the right time,” Julie explained. “So, one night, we just prayed like crazy, asking for a sign of what we should do.” The next morning, while attending services at their church, the pastor spoke about international adoption –
something he had never preached about before. Mark and Julie knew they had their sign.

InternationalAdoption.jpg

Photo by Shannon Rose Photography

In September 2014, Mark, Julie, and their three sons accepted the referral of a little girl named Ellie. They travelled to China in March 2015 to meet their daughter. The whole family then spent a little time in her native country before returning home to Wisconsin.

Building a Tool Box
As with any adoption, there is so much to think about, consider, prepare for, and plan for. For an international adoption, there are the added steps of travelling and language barriers to consider. The process is long and can test even the strongest of resolves, so having a fully stocked “tool box” is one way to get through each step of the adoption journey.

Friends and family. Mark and Julie found a support network of other families through the training classes they took from their agency. “There were about five families who got really close,” they explained. “We sort of formed our own mini support group.”

Faith. An important part of Mark and Julie’s tool box was – and is – their faith. The couple shared their belief that they were called through faith to adopt internationally and that they leaned on this particular “tool” a lot throughout their journey. Prayer was a source of strength and comfort for their whole family from beginning to end.

International adoption contains three big steps that can be daunting and may seem overwhelming – accepting a referral, preparing for travel, and making the transition into everyday family life once back home in the U.S. We asked Mark and Julie what was in their “international adoption tool box” and what tips and information they would share with other families adopting from another country:

Accepting a Referral

  • While waiting for a referral, try to focus on the blessings all around you rather than the big question mark of when the call will come. “I know,” Julie acknowledged. “Easier said than done! But try to cherish the moments you have in the current stage of life; before you know it, everything will change.”
  • Decide on an international adoption medical clinic to consult with while waiting for a referral. Some referrals come with only a few days to make a decision, so you want to have your doctors lined up ahead of time and
    know their procedure. Send your child’s file to them as soon as possible, after you receive it. This is a tip that proved especially important for Mark and Julie; when they received their first referral, they had only five short days to provide an answer.
  • Be honest with yourself and your spouse/partner about what you think you can and can’t handle, particularly when accepting a referral for a child with special needs. For Mark and Julie, they knew they were open to a child with special needs, but it’s important to know what’s right for you, your spouse/partner, and your children.“It’s tremendously difficult to turn down a referral, but sometimes it needs to happen,” Julie said. The first referral she and Mark received was one that they turned down. “Trust your gut,” she said. “Just like falling in love, when you read the file of the right child for you, you’ll know. Don’t let your excitement over the beautiful child in front of you prevent you from having honest discussions over what potential medical treatments lie ahead.”
  • If your child has special needs, do all you can to research that need. Understand that neither the best case nor the worst case scenario are very likely. Be sure you’re comfortable with something in the middle, hope for best case, and prepare for worst case.Having completed their adoption of daughter Ellie, Mark and Julie say that, in retrospect, they wish they would have insisted on some additional medical testing for their daughter. “It wouldn’t have changed our acceptance of her referral,” Julie said. “But it would have allowed us to do additional research and line up her specialists sooner, rather than later.”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your agency questions! Consult with the international adoption medical clinic and add the doctor’s follow-up questions to your own. Gather as much information as possible! Looking back, Julie says she wishes that she and Mark would have been a little more assertive in looking for answers to medical questions. “I don’t know if we necessarily could have forced the issue or not,” she said. “However, when questions came back unanswered and medical tests were not run, I would have pursued the issue a bit more. I realize you’ll never get an
    answer to all your questions, but I still wish we had forced the issue more.”

Travel Preparation

  • When it comes time to book flights, Mark and Julie recommend Adoption Airfare, as well as cross-checking with multiple travel agencies; there are big variations in airfare prices available.
  • Pack as lightly as possible. “My husband made me downsize packed items three times,” Julie said. “And he probably should have made me do a fourth!” It can be challenging to make it through all the airports. If at all possible, you might consider traveling with carry-on only.
  • Apply for your VISA early! Don’t wait until the last minute. “The adoption process is filled with lots of paperwork and lots of waiting,” Julie said. “Just when you think you’re done with paperwork, you realize how wrong you are!” She shared that, five days before they were scheduled to travel to China, she and Mark received a packet of papers that needed to be filled out for their home study. Thankfully, nothing hindered their plans, but it’s best to plan and apply for those travel documents as early as
    possible.
  • Stock your freezer. Spend some time preparing crock pot and other freezer-friendly meals so that, after you return home from travelling with your new child, you don’t have to worry about cooking for a little while.
  • Line up your child’s first pediatrician appointment and appointments with any specialty clinics they may need. Many doctors book several months out, so start now while you have time and aren’t sleep deprived.
  • Prepare your friends and family members for the possibility that it may be a while until your child is ready to meet them and/or accept affection from them. Let them know your anticipated plan of how you’d like them
    to interact with your child and also let them know that it may change once you return home.When Mark and Julie returned home, they slowly began introducing Ellie to the rest of her new extended family. “She acted pretty shy, but generally enjoyed the interactions for a short period of time,” Julie said. “However, we noticed that she got overwhelmed quickly, so we kept visits very short, calm, and spread out.” They knew Ellie had so many people who wanted to meet her, but followed their daughter’s lead
    and simply asked friends and family members for patience and understanding.
  • Get together with friends, go on date nights, or take a quick get-away with your spouse if you can. Life will change drastically when you come home and it might be a while until you can do those things again.

Transitioning back home

  • At the top of Mark and Julie’s list? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help!”Treat your return home like arriving with a newborn. Julie suggests enlisting the help of friends for things such as:

    – Leave money and a grocery list for someone to stock your kitchen the day before you arrive home
    – Set up play-dates at a different houses for older siblings; it can help keep a sense of normalcy the first several weeks home
    – Arrange for friends to transport older kids to/from extracurricular activities or practices so you can focus on slowly transitioning your new child into your regular schedule
    – Accept offers of meals. Depending on how your child responds to others, either welcome friends into the house with open arms or have a cooler waiting on the front porch

  • Take time to just simply have fun with your child. It’s okay to turn down invitations and simplify life for a while.
  • Follow your child’s lead when it comes to integration into the community and guests to your home.
  • Stay in close contact with your social worker, other adoptive parents, and other support or resource groups to help you as you encounter unexpected behaviors.
  • Let friends and family know how your child is doing. Be very clear about how they handle meeting new people, how you’d like them to interact with your child (e.g., can they pick up your child, should they wait for your child to approach them, can they give your child food, etc.). Mark and Julie kept friends and family members updated on their adoption journey and Ellie’s progress through a closed Facebook group. They posted updates before travelling to China, photos while there, and progress reports after they returned home.
  • Take care of yourself! Make time for each spouse/partner to exercise and have a little downtime.

Perhaps the best piece of advice that Mark and Julie shared was the last one:

“Enjoy the process and do your best to cherish even the hardest days. As you and your child transition through the challenging emotions and behaviors, you’ll grow closer to one another and you will both appreciate your bond even more. Remind yourself on the hard days that each stage is temporary.”