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About 120,000 American foster children are expecting parents. One of them is now my daughter

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The day our daughter stayed on the corner of her foster mother’s house in a peach dress and gave a naughty smile to my husband and me, we knew we were her parents.

We also knew that we had made the right decision in adopting it from our state foster care system. What we didn’t know was how much we would rely on medical professionals, educators, and mentors for the next 13 years to raise her.

He had had a hard start in life. Abandoned in the state, she spent the first 18 months in a foster home with three other children her age. The repercussions of too little eye contact and little hugging in that first critical year of life did not appear until she entered first grade, when she suffered from such severe separation anxiety that we finally took her out of the classroom. and we found her a pediatric psychologist and alternative schooling.

All children have special needs and we learned that the most important job we would do was learn the best way to meet them.

Second, more than 120,000 foster children in the United States expect a permanent home at all times AdoptUSKids, a national project that brings foster children together with adoptive families. They are an age from babies to 21 about to age out of the system, all permanently abandoned by birth parents and longing for love and stability.
The stigmas against this demographic are profound. Possible parents worry about emotional effects of neglect and trauma, approximately babies born addicted to drugs, i how to maintain relationships with members of a child ‘s biological family, as recommended by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Thirteen years ago, my husband and I were two of these anxious adults. Then an adoptive parent made a presentation in one of our parenting classes.

“Sure, my son was born exposed to drugs and needed help,” she said, “but she’s also a football player and a class A student.”

What he didn’t say was what kind of help a child adopted by the foster care system often needs, and we didn’t consider asking for it.

The importance of caring for people with trauma

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Babies interact with their caregivers by breastfeeding or bottle-feeding while maintaining loving eye contact, according to a 2016 study published in the London Journal of Primary Care. Without this constant construction of affection for at least one adult who is dedicated to meeting their physical and emotional needs, the baby’s brain can begin to operate in “fight or flight” mode. according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
It is the same for older children who have dealt with neglect and abuse at home. According to a 2020 study, children exposed to childhood trauma develop a post-traumatic stress disorder British Medical Journal. They begin to perceive a trip to the office or a six-hour school day as a threat to their own existence.

At first we didn’t see it. At 19 months, our daughter responded to each new location and experience with an outstretched hand for a five-year-old foreigner.

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When he entered first grade, his attitude changed. Suddenly, she hid under her desk and shouted if anyone was approaching her. She refused to stand still to do homework and called me when I picked her up from school. His anxiety increased in direct proportion to the hours he was away from home. Companions began to shy away from her, confused by her behavior. He spent time in the principal’s office: a long time. She felt deeply depressed.

“I feel like a broken light bulb,” he once told me crying. He was 7 years old.

Until then we didn’t know that she would react to separating from her mother at birth and then losing her foster mother 19 months later, and that she was terrified that she would also lose my husband and me.

Caregivers need to apply trauma-conscious behavior to children’s behaviors in order to determine what works and what doesn’t, both at home and in the classroom, said Kendra Morris-Jacobson, Oregon program director at the Oregon Post Adoption Resource Center.

“Children need to feel safe to learn. Our job as adults is to create these regulatory environments, especially for children who have experienced time-associated traumas in the child welfare system,” he explained. “It’s critical to create an environment that responds to children’s ability and helps them stay regulated. What seems different is different for each child.”

Flexibility and creativity are key

After two years of public school without working for my daughter, third and fourth grade home schooling became what seemed like a therapeutic and safe environment. I changed jobs and changed my work schedule so I could spend days with her. We focused on academics half an hour at a time, interspersing excursions and bike rides and dance and gymnastics classes. Each week he saw a therapist and learned techniques to calm his body and mind.

They were not easy years, but they were very rewarding. My daughter and I read novels together that reflect her experiences as a bi-racially adopted black child with classroom anxiety and a passion for animals and dancing. We adopted a terrier, two cats and five chickens, which she adored. I discovered the ways he learned best, through videos and stories, with practical manipulations like flash cards and math counting blocks.

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The therapist finally diagnosed him with ADHD. We learned to help her stay organized and she went back to school in fifth grade as one of the best readers in her class, with a didactic accommodation for math. To help her form lasting friendships, I volunteered to coach a team for the “book battle” across the state. She and her classmates read a total of 16 books and competed with her classmates in a literary curiosity contest both locally and statewide.

Open adoption offers healing and connection

Over the years, we met her sisters and her birth grandmother, sharing vacations, dorms, and vacations. We encouraged our daughter to ask them and us about her family of origin and to express her emotions about her birth story.

As we have learned, adoptive parents need to listen carefully to children’s stories about their home family and validate the emotions that accompany them, says John DeGarmo, founder and director of The Foster Care Institute of Georgia. He is the father of six children, three of them adopted by the state.

“Consider the roles that pain and loss play in the lives of any child who has permanently abandoned their birth parents,” she says. “The internal process for everyone involved can be a challenge, especially for your child.”

He believes that while open adoption is not the right choice for all families, it benefits many children because they can maintain connections with important people in their lives through email, phone calls, and / or face-to-face visits.

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“This contact allows them to resolve feelings of loss,” he said, “and gives them access to information they might be looking for later in life.”

Although my daughter’s birth parents still can’t spend time with her, she sends text messages and emails to her sisters. Some members of her family come from Central America and we took her to visit the region so she could better understand her culture and history. We joined a local chapter of the NAACP, involved her with a group of classmates there, and found color mentors in a dance studio with a social justice approach. She is busy and happy.

That’s not to say that, as a family, we don’t get hit regularly. Mother’s Day is a trigger for our daughter. This is his birthday. But we learned the coping mechanisms: his favorite TV show and his favorite chocolate cake on the couch with us and the terrier. It has become resilient.

A village is needed to raise any child and certain types of villagers are needed to raise a child from the foster care system. Our daughter is surrounded and supported by the caregivers and mentors we have found for her over the years: loving neighbors, devoted teachers, insightful medical professionals, faithful friends.

Our daughter is now 14 years old. She becomes a friend and confident eighth grader who is preparing for high school, where she will join the dance company with dreams of becoming a physiotherapist for children with disabilities. The other night, she came home from three hours of jazz and playing and grabbed the cat before performing a lush hip hop routine for my husband and me. On the face, the same naughty smile that captivated us all those years ago.

Okay, this kid. We all get it back.

Melissa Hart is the author of “Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Adolescents and Adolescents.”

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