Today’s article is brought to you through the generous support of our friends at the Jockey Being Family Foundation, who share our vision to provide education and support to strengthen families.
When considering adoption, it’s wise to assess whether you can handle various needs and scenarios. Parenting through open adoption, raising a child with special needs, and understanding prenatal exposure requires that you educate and prepare yourself. The reality is that all adoptions involve the risk of prenatal exposure to opioids and other harmful substances. So, it will help if you educate yourself on the short- and long-term impacts of alcohol and drug exposure on a child.
However, when considering the profile of a child who has had known or suspected prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, it’s equally essential to assess whether you will be a good fit for this specific child. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself (and your partner or spouse, if applicable) when you consider adopting a child who had prenatal alcohol or drug exposure.
7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering Adoption and Prenatal Exposure
1. Am I able to “go to the mat” for this child and their level or types of needs?
Can you get the right people on your side to advocate with or for you and your child? Are you okay with learning how to “go all Momma Bear” for the sake of this child? Or pulling someone into your circle which can be a fierce advocate for your child if you cannot? Some folks are naturally gifted at advocacy and have a wide bandwidth for the tension that arises when advocacy gets a little heated.
2. How much information is available to make an informed decision about the child’s prenatal exposure?
Once you’ve got a child’s file to review, go over it carefully with your caseworker or attorney. Consider presenting the profile to your pediatrician or a doctor specializing in adoption file reviews. Often local children’s hospitals offer a file review program for international and foster adoption cases. Remember that often, the files will be inaccurate or incomplete, so even a file review might not give you the whole picture.
3. Do I know where to go for ongoing education about this child’s needs and outcomes later?
Of course, Creating a Family adds educational content regularly about prenatal exposure, outcomes, treatments, and related parenting topics. So that’s an easy “yes.” However, it’s crucial that you also have local-to-you resources that will encourage you to continue learning. It’s vital to keep pace with new treatments and interventions for children with learning or behavior struggles from prenatal exposure.
4. Do I have access to services and providers that will serve this child’s needs?
Location, location, location! It’s not just a real estate mantra. Access to medical providers is necessary for kids who experience severe impacts from prenatal alcohol and drug exposure. But even for a less-impacted child, access to the specialists she may need is an important consideration.
Practically speaking, if you must drive two or three times a week for several years for private occupational therapy, sustaining that level of care might be hard for your busy family with a therapist who is an hour away.
Consider what educational services are needed as well. If you cannot get adequate Life Skills support at your preferred private school, is the public school accessible enough to your daily life, and do they have providers to help your child thrive?
5. Can I provide a stable, nurturing environment to help this child succeed?
It’s easy to fall in love with a sweet little face when presented with a file to consider. But these little ones are more than a pretty face. When you learn about the potential behavior struggles or learning disabilities, do you think you are up to the challenge of unconditional love and nurture even when they act less than adorably?
Consider talking with your partner or a trusted confidant. Get their input on how you face difficult moments. Ask for their perspective on your strengths and weaknesses. Think about where you can grow in your ability to do the hard stuff that will inevitably come in parenting a child with special needs. Do you have a plan to facilitate that growth?
6. What are my expectations for this child?
“Expectations” is such a loaded word. We all have them. We must figure out how to manage them to navigate our lives well. When considering your expectations of the family you are building and the children you will raise, it’s wise to ask yourself if you can be flexible with those dreams and plans. It’s unreasonable and unkind to lay the weight of unrealistic expectations on a child.
Can you let go of your preconceived notions of “successful adulthood” to embrace a broader definition of success for your future child? For example, do you highly value a college education for your children? Are you going to be able to flex with that expectation for a child with a severe learning disability?
Setting reasonable short- and long-term expectations is easy for some folks to do. Others struggle to adjust. There’s no shame in either ability. But honesty in the assessment is critical. Ask yourself, “Can I reframe my dreams and plans for this child to parent this child as he needs me to raise him?”
7. Do I have a network of support to parent a child with prenatal exposure?
In such a transient culture, it’s not uncommon to live across the country from grandparents and siblings. That’s okay. Do you have other family or close friends who will be your support system? A strong support network is essential for a connected and healthy family life. When parenting a child with prenatal exposure impacts, it’s even more crucial. You want a “safety net” of folks who will come alongside you to recharge you and provide respite so you can renew yourself.
You also should consider if there is a network available to you of other families parenting kids with similar needs who can share ideas and coping skills and say, “I get it.” Online communities and in-person support groups for families with prenatal exposure will be your people.
The Answers Might Create More Questions
There are no easy answers to these questions. These seven questions might be spurring more follow-up questions than answers for you. That’s okay – you are not alone in that. The key to the process is an honest and reasonable assessment of yourself and your partner. Determining if you are a good fit for a child who has had prenatal exposure requires honesty, thorough preparation, and healthy self-assessment before jumping in with both feet to set yourself and your child up for a successful, loving life together.
Have you asked yourself any of these questions? How did you answer? Tell us in the comments!
Image Credits: Dejan Krsmanovic; CDC; Helena Lopes