Whether or not a child has been living with you, helping them transition from foster care to adoption is a marathon, not a sprint. This journey affects your child, you, and the other kids living in your home. How can you help your child move smoothly from foster care to adoption? These tips can make the transition smoother and more successful for all involved.
5 Tips for a Smooth Transition from Foster Care to Adoption
Each of your family members has unique thoughts and feelings about the significant changes when a foster child is adopted. Preparing this child and yourself for the differences in mindset and roles in your home takes thoughtful intention. These tips can make this transition smoother and more successful for you all.
1. Slow Your Roll When Moving from Foster Care to Adoption.
Even though you may be eager to have this child officially become a family member, it’s best to slow down the process and take your time. If the child has not lived with you, start with short visits and phone calls. Schedule a night out for ice cream or a playdate with the foster family.
Gradually increase the time you spend with the child. Invite them to sleep over for a night or two. Use the transition time to educate yourself and other family members on trauma and its impacts. Be sure to speak specifically to your family about challenging behaviors you can expect, such as sleep disruptions, aggression, control, or isolation.
2. Capture Their Story.
During this transition, you can also start a Lifebook for your adoptee. Your book doesn’t have to be fancy or turn into an overwhelming project. Instead, do your best to compile important information and photos of your child. The caseworker, former foster families, or birth families might have significant contributions you can access.
Creating these books* shows the child that you value their history. It also can help them make sense of their story. Continuing to add to this book with them throughout their life can be a trust-building activity that buffers your relationship with trust and attachment.
3. Make Space for Mixed Feelings About Going from Foster Care to Adoption.
Of course, you love your adoptee and may be eager to announce their arrival into your family to the world. However, try to take stock of your child’s temperament and be sensitive to their feelings about this significant change.
In Acknowledging the Adoption.
Planning a huge celebration may be overwhelming for them, especially if they have not been living with you for a while before the adoption. Suss this out slowly and consider putting off a big party or finding an alternate, more intimate way to acknowledge the adoption.
In Grappling with the Process.
Expect your child to have mixed feelings about the adoption process and its finality. They may feel happiness, excitement, grief, loss, anger, and confusion. Make space for their emotions and give them time to process their feelings. It’s also common for your resident children (children already in the home) to have mixed emotions about the changes this adoption brings. Continue open conversations with all as you build trust.
In a Name Change.
Your child may also have mixed feelings about changing their name. Many adoptive parents wait until their child is older and has had time to process their thoughts and feelings. You can keep the dialogue open and revisit the topic occasionally while your child thinks it through. By honoring their process and decision, you are building trust and respect between you.
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4. Know When and Where to Seek Help.
It’s not uncommon for new adoptions to experience a “honeymoon period.” However, challenging behaviors may start to crop up when that is over. One of the most common and troubling behaviors is the inability to self-regulate or calm down. Your child might struggle to process BIG emotions. Keeping yourself calm in the heat of the moment is vital. And remember that regression in some areas is typical during this adjustment period.
You won’t have the solution to every dilemma these behaviors present. You won’t be able to answer every question or fear your child faces as the permanence of this adoption settles in. That’s okay. Try to reach out to other adoptees, adoptive parents, or a community of support for help. It’s also a great idea to get into counseling, either as a family or with your child, to learn new tools and get support for your child’s needs.
These are a few recommendations for getting help for your family:
- Many parents in our community found helpful information in The Connected Child* and other TBRI education or resources created by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis.
- A Guide to Selecting an Adoption or Foster Therapist
- Children’s books are excellent vehicles for introducing complex topics surrounding adoption. CreatingaFamily.org has a list of suggested books about foster care adoption for both children and adults.
5. When a Child Doesn’t Want to be Adopted.
You may have a tween or teen living with you who has chosen not to be adopted. It’s okay to spend time trying to understand and help them explore their reasons behind this choice. But then you should work to accept and honor their decision. Of course, make sure they know they are always welcome to change their mind but that no matter their decision, you will be present with and for them as they grow.
Try to process your feelings about their decision and remember there are other ways to remain in their life. You can consider guardianship or a permanent managing conservatorship, for example. Family is more than just a legal connection, and the most important thing is that they know they belong and are loved.
Respect and Honor Builds Trust and Attachment
Above all, communicate how deeply you value your newly adopted child’s thoughts and feelings as integral to your family’s well-being. Whether they are making small decisions or navigating significant life changes, if they know that they matter and are treasured for their unique being, they will learn to stand on a foundation of trust and secure attachment that helps them face life as they grow to adulthood.
Just a note: the resident children in your family also need attention for the transition. CreatingaFamily.org has excellent content that can help you attend to the needs of your resident children.
November is National Adoption Month. If you want to learn more about the needs of children in foster care to find permanency through adoption, check out The Children’s Bureau National Adoption Month campaign.
Image Credits: Mikhail Nilov; cottonbro studio; SHVETS production
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