A little background: our oldest daughter came into our lives at 2:00 am on a Thursday morning in 2007 when a police officer placed this scared, tired, adorable 5 year old girl inside our car, buckled her in and wished us luck. This little girl was our niece and her kinship placement with us through the court system was meant to be temporary. Fortunately for us, this placement eventually became permanent and in 2010 we made a now confident, lively, adorable eight year old a forever member of our family through adoption.
The following year, we decided to add another member to our bunch with hopes of adopting a younger child – under the age of five. After MAPP training we waited two, long, agonizing years before we found our “younger child”- a 9 year old girl at an adoption party at Jordan’s Furniture. We were hesitant at first to fully embrace the possibility of adopting an older child, especially a child so close in age to our oldest daughter who was 11 at the time. Our uncertainty quickly faded when our oldest told us to: “Relax about it – you’ll never know if it will work out unless you try!” Sage advice from an 11 year old, and she was right! Our two girls are now teenagers and sisters through and through; they argue, they steal each other’s clothes, they defend one another, they have fun together – and did I mention they argue?
Race and Intolerance
As a mixed-race family, our daughters are biracial with white parents, we deal with tolerance issues on a daily basis. We were attending one of our daughter’s sporting events and a parent asked us if our daughter’s real father was black; the parent continued, “She runs so fast; her father must be black.” We have been asked, “Where did you get her?”; “Where is she from?”; “How much did she cost?”; “Does she need to wear sunscreen?”; “Is her hair real?” Our girls have been followed by sales clerks in stores into dressing rooms, and once prior to ordering at a fancy coffee shop, the cashier assumed that the girls didn’t have money and told them that their food stamps couldn’t buy them anything there. If anyone was wondering, ignorance is still alive and well.
Trauma and Trust
Race issues will be a constant challenge for our family, and the daily occurrences require us as parents to explain constantly to our children why certain people say things and act the way they do. Closely related to working through the seemingly constant barrage of ignorance is the ongoing battle of dealing with trauma, since the trauma our girls experienced affects every aspect of their lives. Any time you adopt a child, no matter the age or the circumstance, that child will be working through trauma: the trauma of losing their original care giver, the abuse and/or neglect they faced in a previous home, the uncertainty of the future. They will also have attachment issues- again, no matter the age or the circumstance. Adoptive children will test you on a daily basis, and why shouldn’t they? Their trust in you isn’t given to you the day you sign the adoption papers. Your child has been let down before and you need to prove to them that YOU will never let them down. This is an exhausting task; they will deplete your stamina, forcing you to keep yourself together and every time you prove to them you can, they will test you again and maybe just maybe you might get a millimeter closer to completing this immensely long journey of earning their trust.
School and Advocacy
Additionally, trust is a key concern for adoptive children in school. When our girls were placed with us, we immediately did two things: we signed them up for every sport and extra-curricular activity they wanted to do, and we had them evaluated for Special Education Services. We are both teachers and we have had our own students over the years slip through the system , as they never received the services they needed and some dropped out of school. We didn’t want that for our girls; instead, we wanted to make sure they had every advantage academically, socially, and emotionally to flourish. Many adoptive children have lags in their education, learning disabilities that manifest into behavior problems at school due to their previous trauma, and low self-esteem as a result of a lack of participation in social activities in the past. Break the cycle, get your children involved and get involved in your children!
Any parent, foster parent or caregiver in Massachusetts can request Special Education Services for the children in their care. If your child is school-aged and attends a public school in Massachusetts, you simply need to write a letter to the Principal of their school requesting an Initial Evaluation for Special Education Services. If the child is younger, you can request Pre-School Screening from the school district in which you live. Visit the Massachusetts Department of Education website for more information: www.doe.mass.edu/sped/
Don’t get us wrong, even if your child is placed on an IEP or 504 Plan, it doesn’t guarantee your child will receive what he/she needs. Some schools do lack the knowledge and skills to educate children with backgrounds in trauma. You must not let that stop you from making sure your child receives the education they deserve even if it means that you have to educate the teachers, staff and administrators on how to get the job done. This was evident to us when a teacher asked us how long it was going to take for our daughter to get over what happened to her in her biological home so that she may start succeeding in school! Again, ignorance is still alive and well – even in an educational setting!
Parenting adoptive children is hard, so don’t let anyone fool you into thinking it isn’t. But that hard work is worth it; for us, adoption has improved our patience, tolerance, compassion and our ability to recognize the good in situations-it has made us better human beings. And, of course, it has made us a family!
About the Family
Ms. R and Ms. M are teachers that spend most of their time watching their daughters (ages 15 and 13) complete in their various sporting events. Their other children- the dogs-they attend the sporting events too.