Adoption is not the end of the process; it is, in fact, the beginning of one! Post-adoption care and services play an integral role in making any adoption successful.
Being personally acquainted with the situation, I had long recognized the importance of high-quality post-adoption and foster care services to ensure permanency, stability, and well-being for children. But that’s not all; certain other aspects demand our attention.
Post-adoption services help address sensitive aspects such as trauma (young children, adults, and even parents can suffer from it), loss, separation, sense of familiarity or belonging, etc. Such services can also help children and their families address their specific needs and help family members strengthen their bond and deepen their attachment to sustain the relationship.
Previously for many years, post-adoption services were only viewed as services provided after the legalization (finalized process) of the adoption – and in some cases, only for very short intervals.
However, now adoption professionals and families have recognized that a comprehensive continuum of multiple forms of support that vary in intensity levels is necessary to ensure well-being, long-term stability, and true permanency for adopted children and the families.
Post-adoption services are a vital support to the families raising the children in cases where they suffer from severe emotional, behavioral, or psychological challenges. With the help of support groups and sessions offered at the Celia Center, families can remain committed and effective. Our services help parents nurture children while catering to their special needs. As well as providing adoption competent therapy to children, teens and parents offered at Yoffe Therapy.
“There is evidence of a strong relationship between providing support to adoptive families as a matter of course or in the form of preventive services and positive outcomes in terms of the health, well-being, and stability of the family (Groze 1996a; Smith & Howard 1994)”
At Celia Center, we work to serve the goal of:
- Support understanding of adoption by removing confusions surrounding the adoption process.
- Improve parenting skills so they are able to deal with their new family dynamics.
- Help parents and children cope with their traumas associated with adoption or foster care.
- Improve child functioning.
- Bridging gaps between the relational bands.
- Prevention of adoption disruptions.
The importance of post-adoption services and support groups can be viewed in a survey of parents receiving post-adoption services. 80% of the respondents reported betterment in their households. Some excerpts from the survey are as followed:
“Research has shown that adoptive families’ needs are multidimensional and may arise at each developmental stage for the family and the adopted person. From a program development perspective, the research makes clear the need for flexible programming that permits families to return for services when needed and does not limit the extent to which they may receive services.”
“Adoptive families have a need for an array of education, support and therapeutic community services. And they need to be able to access this array episodically. This mix of services must be provided by service providers and therapists with an adoption-competent knowledge base and core values, who can see child and family strength amidst complex circumstances and concerning diagnoses.”
“For moral, social, and economic reasons, it is in the public interest to assure that families remain intact and strong. The pendulum has swung and society again recognizes the importance of strong family systems in combating society’s ills. Adoption support and preservation services help build strong foundations for families created by adoption. By developing and implementing these services, families involved in adoption, service providers and policy makers are assuring adopted children of every opportunity to become useful, productive citizens.”
Some concepts behind the support groups of Celia Center are:
- Parental education
- Respite care and child care
- Services for children and parents, including groups of people from every age group
- Adoption assistance
- Support services including support groups and informal contact with other similar families
Celia Center was not my goal as I started, but it eventually became one. As I kept progressing, it became the highlight of my life as I could see my efforts bringing positive results.
Being a foster child myself who also went through adoption, I was aware of the miseries one can experience in this process. These were not the miseries that life caused me but the miseries which developed from my detachment from the world.
We need to realize that there is a ‘need to heal.’ There is a need to break the ice for the people who never get the chance to speak about how they feel. Even when they do speak, they are either shut down or not understood. They are received in a way that pushes them deeper into their shells, where they develop several traumas and social dilemmas.
To heal is to recover, to be at peace. It means to overcome the inner demons holding you back from moving forward. To heal is to set one’s soul and mind at peace. Healing cannot be achieved overnight. You have to go through a process, or sometimes a series of processes, to reach that state of mind where you are no longer bothered by what used to haunt you.
In order to heal, you need to stand tall in front of your fears and deal with them. You need to be reminded that you are loved, cared for, valued, and that you cannot be suppressed any longer. In order to heal, we need to break the chains of quietness, desolation, and life of fears. We need to come out clean to the greener side of life. The journey to healing could be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
People who have been through traumatizing events tend to experience heavy emotional burdens. It’s as if, over the years, the time has chipped away a significant part of them. This fear and struggle, if nurtured over a longer period, breed physical and mental disorders. These diseases devour the person slowly and gradually, leaving behind nothing but a hollow shell.
I can understand that after going through severe trauma in your life, it is difficult to grow from it. But for how long? For how long are you going to sit in that dark room? For how long are you going to absorb the pain? We have all experienced one of those dreaded days where you don’t want to get out of your bed. You just lie down, contemplating life and past events – it’s relatable.
Speak up! Talk about the things that are bothering you. Don’t just sit there taking it all in. Don’t empathize with your misery. Be the master of your senses; don’t let anyone else control it or take hold of it. Healing is the process that will lead you toward recovery. Eventually, you will be able to break through the chains of depression, fear, and anxiety, and breathe freely once again!
When we don’t talk about these things, they grow bigger inside us. If they are not dealt with at the right time and with the right guidance, they explode in the form of anger, violence, traumas, and other such issues. To understand this better, consider a human being like a spring.
You keep pressing and pressing the spring so it will absorb all the pressure and reduce in size (getting oppressed), but when you reach the contraction limit, it will pop up. The spring will jump up even higher using the energy that compressed it, directed in the opposite direction. The same is with human feelings and emotions.
Don’t let your stored emotions burst into some kind of retaliation or anger. Don’t let it corrode your body and soul from inside. Don’t live with your fears. Value the life that you have been granted, and make the most of it by making it better every day. Believe in the power of healing, and believe that in observing your struggle you will surely be rewarded with something great.
For a free mental health consultation please visit Yoffe Therapy an adoption competent mental health center in the state of California.
 “Research on Postadoption Services: Implications for Practice, Program Development, and Policy” in The Postadoption Experience p. 295.
 “Perspectives on the Need for Adoption-Competent Mental Health Services,” Casey Family Services, October 2003, p. 72.
 “Adoption Support and Preservation Services: A Public Interest,” Spaulding for Children, revised May 2005
“There is a great mystery behind every one of our lives, the great human mystery of why are we here sharing this miraculous planet? Where did we come from? For the adopted child the mystery is even greater because they have two active mysteries. The existential one all humans share about our cosmic origins and purpose and then the very real, very literal mystery of where did I come from? And why did my birth parents give me away? These mysteries inspire many powerful feelings but for the adopted child, the pre-eminent feeling is often grief.
As an Adoption professional and former foster-adopt child, I want to inspire parents to understand how important “the act of joining with their child’s grief” is. As scary as it seems, it will be very liberating. This liberation will not only bring joy to the parents but joy for the child as well. And it is through joy, that the hormone for bonding, oxytocin, is released into the cells of the body which will restructure the brain and increase the desire for attachment. The parent must first “feel” the child’s grief and the child will “feel felt” at this cellular level for bonding to occur. Children feel good about themselves when their experiences are validated, supported, and reassuring.
Annette Baran, the author of the groundbreaking book, The Adoption Triangle, says that “Adoptive parents must weep with their child: ’We’re sorry, too, that you didn’t grow in Mommy’s tummy.’”
“I think parents don’t realize they’re allowed to show these feelings,” says Baran. “They think they have to present an unflagging cheerfulness about adoption, in order that the children will feel positive, too. This is a mistaken notion.”
“Parents whose children express sadness usually feel that they need to reassure them, rather than feel the sadness along with them. But having lost an original set of parents is something to feel sad about, and the best any parent can do for a child is to allow them to share those feelings of loss with them,” explains Baran.
So how does a parent do this?
I have an intervention that I have recommended to parents, which is usually done in a therapy setting, however, it can also be done at home. This intervention has brought emotional closeness as well as emotional intelligence between parent and child. And has helped parents feel their child’s grief in a non-threatening way.
This intervention was derived from another intervention I had created called The Anger Bag, which is composed of 16 coping skills for children to use and assist in expressing, releasing, and projecting their anger outward. I called the exercise the “Paper to Rip” intervention which has now expanded itself from “Paper to Rip” to “Hold On To My Feelings.”
This intervention has been successful with children between the ages of 4-17. Materials needed are an old phone book, an unused pillowcase feasible for drawing and/or writing on which will serve as a bag, and some permanent markers. I recommend providing a setting that is a comfortable space, okay for the paper to be scattered around i.e. family room, bedroom. The parent or parents, (it is strongly suggested that both parents be present) are instructed to have an attitude of playfulness, total acceptance, and curiosity, as well as empathy. These attitudes create a model of parenting which meets the needs of their child, by providing a container for their feelings and produce a therapeutic environment of emotional safety so the child feels “felt, heard and seen.”
To begin, the intervention can be introduced as “We have noticed you have been holding onto a lot of “feelings” and wanted to give you a way to release these feelings by letting you rip up this old phone book. And guess who is going to clean up and hold onto all of the feelings??? Not you, we are.” The parent entices the child through playfulness by demonstrating the task first i.e. opening the phone book, ripping out a few pages at a time, ripping or smashing the paper apart or together, stating with words an example of what they are feeling such as “I’m mad because I can’t drink soda for breakfast!!” and/or by showing their frustration/anger/pain without words via their facial cues by throwing the pages up in the air and watching them fall down. This is the critical element that gets children to begin the process of releasing pent of feelings. It is strongly suggested that parents encourage their children to say words associated with their feelings to help them build emotional intelligence by teaching “I messages.” “I feel ______ because __________.” But do not force the child if they are non-verbal, their resistance may be an explanation that they are not ready emotionally or are not feeling safe enough to verbalize at this time. To note: as a parent provides the opportunity for this intervention on a regular basis the child will begin to build trust, feel safer and be eager to express. An environment of safety must be established for the child to express whatever he/she pleases without criticism, rejection, anger, or dismissal by the parent(s). It is also important to note, as a parent how one’s own non-verbal facial expressions read to others. It is suggested to keep an open face, be overly curious (raised forehead), and breathe deeply during the exercise to help calm down and regulate any arousal states the child brings out emotionally within the parent in order to stay connected. If as a parent, you are becoming dysregulated and overwhelmed this is a signal the child is triggering emotional memories within your past which needs to be addressed and acknowledged for healing and understanding i.e. therapist, journaling, etc. as not to get in the way of building a trusting relationship with your child.
Parents are encouraged to enjoy the child’s process by “oohing” and “aaahhing” with amazement as the child rips up the paper. This is a necessary part of the intervention as the parents are able to stay connected, focused, and excited by their child’s expression this will increase the levels of the oxytocin hormone, essential for bonding.
If the parent has witnessed the child utter words of frustration, anger, or sadness in protest I encourage the parent to ask the child, “Would you be willing to let mommy or daddy speak a feeling you have said before so we can feel it together?” i.e. “I’m mad because I don’t see my birth mother!” “I’m sad because we don’t look alike.” “I’m sad because I didn’t grow in your tummy!” “I’m sad because you are not my real mother.” “I mad because I have so many feelings and I feel so overwhelmed!”
After the phone book is completely obliterated in the living room the child is instructed by the parent to take a comfy seat somewhere in the room and “supervise” as the parent(s) “picks up all the feelings.” Be careful not to say “time to pick up the garbage.” And take a moment and breathe… to take in visually the scattered papers around the room and see them as your child’s “emotional life.” I usually make a statement such as, “Wow look at all these feelings!!! They sure can get messy. Are feelings messy sometimes? Thank you for letting me know about all these. Now, I am going to give them all the love and care that they need.” The parent (s) then picks up the pillow case, begins picking up each feeling, either in piles or single pieces and talks to them with great empathy, “I’m sorry too that you do not see your birthmother.“ “I’m sorry too that we do not look alike.” “I’m sorry too that your birth mommy could not be your everyday mommy.” “This feeling I am going to hold on to and give lots of love.” It is strongly suggested that parents do what they feel is authentic in their hearts at this moment. I have witnessed parents kiss each paper and not say much at all, hug piles of feelings and convey to the child through facial expressions “how much this means to them”, and have witnessed many parents have many tears upon truly understanding, seeing and feeling their child’s grief realizing it is their responsibility to feel it too with their child. I have seen children’s faces light up and be amazed at their parents capacity to be so reflective, open and honest about the reality of their adoption and how they became a family together. This intervention, I can proudly say has been a bridge towards healing and attachment for many of the families I have worked with and continue to work with.
At the end, when all “feelings” have been identified and placed in the pillowcase bag. Ask the child, “Are there any feelings I have missed?” The child scans the room and points them out so all have been acknowledged. Parents then are instructed to ask the child what they want to name these feelings today and have the child write the name, if they can, on the bag. Then the parents write a closing response on the bag such as “I understand.” “I love all of your feelings.” “I am here to listen.” “I want to help hold on to your sadness, so you don’t have to hold on all by yourself.” The parent then reads the response out loud to the child and lets the child know, “I(we) am going to hold on to these feelings until you tell me to let go of them. I will keep them close to my (our) bed and keep them safe.” This act of merely holding onto the feelings bag conveys to the child their feelings can be secured and their parents can handle them and will not be overwhelmed by them. Whether your child was in foster care, moved from place to place, or your child was adopted in infancy, there can be many different ranges of overwhelming feelings of grief connected to the separation from their birth families and the knowledge that they don’t have to be in this overwhelm alone anymore lifts a great weight off emotionally.
In closing, for an adoptee/foster child, this sense of security, and the need to feel heard and seen is imperative for building trust. If an adoptee/foster child feels their needs are not being met early in life, they will “numb” themselves emotionally or “shut off” their feelings. By enacting this “Hold On To My Feelings” repeatedly with your adopted or foster child, your child will develop a sense of belonging and this intervention will help them make sense of their early life and repair what has been emotionally “lost” and now “found” by you, the parent.
I hope you find this intervention as cathartic as I have had in developing as well as facilitating for families touched by adoption and foster care. With a warm heart, I encourage you to join with your child’s grief and feel liberated.
Jeanette Yoffe, MFT is a Psychotherapist Specializing in Adoption and Foster Care. She has a private practice in West Los Angeles. Other interventions can be found in her treatment manual, “Groundbreaking Interventions: Working with Traumatized Children & Families in Foster Care and Adoption” at www.JeanetteYoffe.com