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Posted: Mar 30, 2008 22:04


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A review of a NATSAP Presentation from Winter 08 and an IECA Presentation from Fall 07

By Judith E. Bessette, EdD, Compass Consulting
Woodbury Research Affiliate

Forty percent of all kids diagnosed with ADHD are adopted, according to Mark Stein, PhD, Director of the ADHD Clinical Research Program at the University of Illinois - Chicago. While only two to four percent of all US kids are adopted, on any given day twenty-five to thirty-five percent of the kids in private pay/parent choice/special needs programs are adopted. These numbers are staggering…and have profound implications for programming.

In a well-researched and sensitive presentation by senior staff members of Three Springs, Erin Braley, Private Division Director, and Jane Samuel, Head of School at Auldern Academy, discussed Special Issues in Working with Adoptive Families at a recent IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) meeting. Drawing heavily on the work of Deborah Silverstein and Sharon Kaplan, now Roszia, their presentation was designed to help the audience understand that the adoption experience triggers several core issues for everyone involved - the triad of birth parents, adoptive parents and adoptees - and that while these issues vary in impact on any given situation, to disregard these core issues is a mistake. Given the number of kids in programs who are adopted, having staff members who understand these issues and are knowledgeable in helping kids and families successfully navigate through them is crucial.

Understanding the seven core issues in adoption, according to Silverstein and Kaplan, requires accepting the notion that the adoption experience is different from other forms of parenting…neither good nor bad…not a value judgment…but a description of what is. It is especially important to acknowledge that the presence of these issues does not indicate pathology but rather what can be anticipated to unfold - in varying degrees - because of the nature of adoption.

In addition, we must understand that the effects of these core issues ebb and flow throughout the lives of adoptees, adoptive parents and birth parents alike. With these two notions in mind, we can look at the core issues themselves.

The seven core issues that Silverstein and Kaplan have defined and this presentation reviewed are:

  • Loss

  • Grief

  • Rejection

  • Guilt and Shame

  • Identity

  • Intimacy

  • Mastery/control

The following summary highlights the information that was shared during this session. For greater detail, feel free to contact Erin or Jane…or look up material on the internet regarding Silverstein and Kaplan's work.

Loss is at the center of all of the other issues. Adoption is, inherently, about loss. Birth parents give up or lose their role as parents…adoptive parents have likely been unable to conceive or to carry a child to term…children lose one set of parents in order to gain another.

Grief, in the context of adoption, cannot be dealt with without first acknowledging the loss each member of the triad has experienced. Helping kids and families understand grief and then helping them to work it through is extremely important.

Rejection can be summed up for the adoptee by saying that to be chosen, he or she must first be unchosen. Both the birth parents and the adoptive parents play roles in the drama of rejection.

Guilt and shame are often the result of rejection - no matter which role in the triad was played. How could I have given her (or him) away? Why couldn't I (we) make a baby? What did I do that made her (or them) decide they didn't want me?

Identity - understanding who you are and who you are not is especially confusing in the adoption triangle. Birth parents become childless; a childless couple suddenly has a child; and adoptees are expected to feel nothing but happy about being born a Smith and suddenly becoming a Jones.

Intimacy is affected by the snowball effect of the other issues in play. Human beings need to sense that others understand them before they can develop a sense of intimacy. One maladaptive way to "avoid" the possible reenactment of any or all of the core issues is to avoid becoming close…to avoid commitment…to avoid intimacy.

Mastery and control are hallmarks of a well-adjusted adult. However, the experience of adoption can fly in the face of such mastery and control - and the previous issues - if unattended and unbridled - will not allow for their natural unfolding. In a sense, each of the three parties to adoption relinquishes all control - and getting back on an even keel is no small task for many.

To assume that because an adopted child is loved… or that because he or she is cool with the adoption thing or that birth parents and adoptive parents do not have unresolved feelings about one or more of the above issues ignores what the research tells us. The program Erin and Jane presented highlights the salient issues program staff must understand at a deep level. Every program that serves adoptive families must have staff that not only understand but can work with these issues.

The presenters of this program have many years of experience with the special needs population. Erin started as a front-line counselor with Three Springs in 1993. Her Master's Degree in Community Counseling is from Eastern Michigan University and she is a Nationally Certified Counselor. Jane started in public education over 30 years ago. After completing her Master's at Brigham Young, she moved to the private therapeutic arena and has had experience at Mount Bachelor, Northstar and New Leaf before joining Three Springs in 2005.

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