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Adopting Special Needs Children

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    There are thousands of children currently in the foster care system that fall into the category of “Special Needs” waiting for a family to love and support them. The term special needs instantly brings to mind the thought of a child with a disability, in adoption terms the term encompasses a larger meaning. The term special needs pertaining to adoption means a child that is difficult to place by the state adoption unit or adoption agencies. The majority of these children have no health or temperament problems; they are just considered “hard to place” by most adoption agencies.

    The range of ages for children in this category are from infant to 18 years old. Adoption can be a very good experience for both the child and the new family, however there will be challenges such as attachment disorder, jealousy, confusion. If the adoption agency will prepare both the child and the family for these difficult times the adoption can be successful. (Babb & Laws, 2007) Adopting Special Needs Children Adoption has the potential of touching the lives of millions of families throughout the world.

    For many families adoption is the only way to complete their family. In the United States, more than 110,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes (Utah Adoption 2000a). Families wanting to adopt children with special needs must take the time to decide if they have the emotional, physical, mental, and financial resources available to be successful as a family. Statistically couples who want to adopt children with special needs already have large families with many biological children and/or other adopted children.

    The adoption of special needs children can cause added stress to the birth or previously adopted children because the dynamics of the family change dramatically. For established families the motivation for adoption shifts from wanting to form a family to providing a safe and loving home for a special needs child. When families adopt special needs children, the parental responsibilities throughout the adoption process are organized by the adoption agencies. The soon to be siblings and their responsibilities many times are not adequately addressed which can cause confusion and resentment. Studies have shown that amilies with birth or previously adopted children are at the greatest risk for failure from the lack of proper therapy to prepare the children for this life altering change. The adopting parents need to be aware of the role the siblings will play in “making or breaking” the adoption. Because there are many demands and added stresses that accompany the adoption of a special needs child, adoption agencies should provide training and counseling for the entire family. There are agencies that recognize the need for specialized therapy to assist the family as a whole when adopting special needs children.

    The program “Partners: A model program for special-needs adoptive families in stress” has been developed to assist families to receive the crucial therapy which helps with help adoption process. This program states that once the adoption process has begun it does not end for any family. They believe agencies should be ready to help whenever needed with the availability to provide services at anytime, is vital to the success of the adoption. Family oriented therapy and mental health resources should be considered a routine part of an adoptive family’s experience (2000a).

    There is a growing number of children entering the foster care system during the first 3 to 4 years of life. The first few years of life is when the brain is developing personality traits, learning processes and emotions. The nerve connections that are forming during these critical years are influenced by negative emotional and physical conditions, including neglect, child abuse, or violence within the family. If portions of the brain go unused for any length of time the brain structures will atrophy and die. The consequences of multiple disruptions in a child’s life can be harmful when attempting to create a bond and attachment to a family.

    The need for stability and feeling safe is crucial at any age for a child’s development. For a child to develop into an emotionally healthy human being he/she must have a loving relationship with a loving, nurturing adult. Attachment to a primary caregiver is vital to the development of emotional security and social ethics. Children that grow up with attachment disorders with an inability to trust and love will often grow up and be angry and emotionally unstable. The number one reason children are taken away from their biological parents is because of neglect.

    Neglect has profound and long lasting consequences to the development of a child. If treatment is made available to the children that are victims of neglect there lives could be enhanced dramatically (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2000). There has been federal and state legislation created which focuses on moving children out of unstable environments within foster care to the stability of their own home via adoption. The passage of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, focuses on the continuity of relationships for children rather than multiple foster placements.

    The Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 was written to lessen the amount of time a child is placed in the foster care system and expedites the adoption for these children when it is unlikely they will reunite with their biological parents. This legislation has greatly influenced the children with special needs being placed for adoption (Keagy & Rail, 2007 p. 217). An opposing view of the adoption process comes from an article titled “Adoption: The damage to children” Diane Turski believes that the child should stay with the birth mother or extended family.

    Diane believes the bond between mother and child began while the baby was inside the womb, if separated the child will experience severe psychological trauma. She feels strongly that the child will have a sense of abandonment which can result in inability to trust anyone. As children grow into adults they realize they carry a feeling of “not being lovable enough” and many suffer from low self esteem. Adoption agencies and adoption lawyers have an agenda which is to make money so they will play on the mothers emotions and make them feel the adoption is in the best interest of the child (Adoption: The damage to Children, 2003).

    An example of an adoption that went wrong is the story of a little girl from Russia and who was brought to the United States and was adopted. Nina was 2 years old at the time she was adopted by Peggy Hilt. Peggy had a hard time connecting with Nina: whenever she would try and hug or kiss Nina, she would pull away. Nina was abusive with her 4 year old sister and would throw violent tantrums. Nina would destroy furniture and possessions: every day presented difficult challenges for Peggy. As Nina grew older the problems became harder to deal with and Peggy began drinking excessively.

    Peggy was in denial and would hide her drinking from her husband because she was ashamed. On the morning of July 1, 2005, Peggy found Nina wiping feces on the walls and furniture. Peggy and a year and a half of frustrations came to a head; she snapped and became physically violent. She grabbed Nina around the neck and shook her violently; she kicked her repeatedly and drug her to her room. After the violent attack was over Peggy felt horrible but she knew at that point it was too late. Nina died the following day after a futile attempt to keep her alive. Peggy is now serving a 19 year sentence for second degree murder in Virginia prison.

    Peggy realizes she deserves this sentence and does not want sympathy for her crime; she feels there is no punishment severe enough for what she has done (Wingert, 2007,pp. 1-4). Why do some adoptions go so horribly wrong? The children that are adopted are often victims of trauma, mistreatment, malnutrition or from being institutionalized. Some children are suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome, mental illness, or reactive attachment disorder. Adoption agencies overseas often mislead prospective families and do not disclose the physical and emotional problems a child may have.

    Most families looking to adopt feel they can love any child that comes from hard circumstances. Adoption agencies are not providing the education needed to make the adoption successful. Joyce Maguire Pavao, founder of the Adoption Resource Canter in Cambridge Massachusetts; states that adoption is not about finding children for families, it is about finding families for children. Statistics report that adopted children often have learning disabilities, eating disorders, alcohol abuse, and sometimes a tendency to commit suicide.

    Adopted children feel insecure because of their previous living conditions, and will often question their own identity. The adoptee attempting to find their own identity will sometimes borrow one from the adopting family. This can be a very stressful time on the child and can affect his personality for the rest of his life. Adoption is a process that our society developed for children to have the opportunity to grow in a loving environment (Oak,2008). Adoption creates issues that can be very difficult to deal with, one way to make sure the placement works for everyone involved is to have a better understanding of all the issues.

    Adoption can trigger seven lifelong issues for birth families, adoptee, and adoptive families which are: Loss, Rejection, Guilt and Shame, Grief, Identity, Intimacy, and Mastery/control. Every person involved in the adoption process will have a different experience and may experience these feeling at different times. These seven issues are expected and normal after an adoption. If the issues are recognized and proper education is made available to families it can make the transition easier (Utah Adoption, 2000c). What does “special needs” mean?

    When the term “special needs” is associated with a child many people immediately think of a child with a disability; however, when the term is used with regards to an adoption the meaning is defined differently. The steps or factors needed to classify a child as “special needs” vary from state to state. The term special needs pertaining to adoption means a child that is difficult to place by the state adoption unit or adoption agencies. The majority of these children have no health or temperament problems; they are just considered “hard to place” by most adoption agencies.

    These “special needs” children range in age from infants to 18 years. A few of the reasons a child may be placed in this category or labeled “special needs” would be due to physical or health problems, greater than 6 years old, being of an ethnic or racial minority, history of neglect or abuse, or testing positive for HIV (Babb & Laws, 1997). Because of the shift toward an increasing number of special needs adoptions; there has also been an increased rate of children and families experiencing post adoptive problems (i. e. , financial, medical, behavioral, legal) (Keagy & Rail, 2007,p. 19). When a child is adopted, there are likely to be problems with developing a bond between parent and child.

    The child may feel the trauma of separation, inability to trust, and fear of abandonment; these feelings can complicate the development of a healthy attachment. The introduction of special needs adoption was during the 1960’s when a handful of Michigan parents decided to make a change. Peter and Joyce Forsythe, with 2 biological children, applied to adopt a child that was in Joyce’s words “past the supply and demand curve. The agency they had applied at made them wait for 4 years, during this process the Forsythe’s met other families in the same holding pattern of the adoption process. One day in 1967 the Forsythes came across a documentary with evidence that the agency keeping them waiting had 889 waiting children. As a result of the evidence, the Forsythes along with the other families waiting to adopt, created The Council on Adoptable Children (COAC). Groups like the COAC have advocated for the adoption rights of these special needs children to be adopted ever since the late 1960s.

    Today advocates believe that if the children are made more visible that people will adopt them, giving these children the loving homes that they deserve to be raised in (Sullivan,1996). The financial responsibility of raising a special needs child can be overwhelming and may also be the deciding factor when a family is deciding to adopt. There is now an adoption subsidy program available to help offset the short and long term costs associated with adopting a child who will be in need of special services. There are guide lines the children must meet to be eligible for the Federal IV-E subsidy program.

    The benefits can vary from state to state and include: monthly cash payments, medical assistance, social services, and non recurring adoption expenses. Before any family adopts a child with special needs, they need to talk to the adoption agency handling the adoption for more information regarding adoption assistance (Utah Adoption, 2000b). As the future unfolds, adoption will be affected by a range of economic, social, and political factors that will affect the number of special needs children needing adoption.

    The number of children living in foster care that are available for adoption continues to grow mainly from poverty and neglect related factors. Poverty and neglect have consistently been identified as the key factors why the number of children in foster care continues to grow and will continue to grow until there are changes in policy and practice. Bringing attention to the growing need for placement of special needs children has dramatically changed the culture of adoption. Special needs adoptions represent the civil rights for children in the foster care system who have a right and a need for a loving family.

    In the past 100 years the rights of these children were overlooked because many medical professionals believed these children lacked feelings or the need for the connection with a family. This issue is far from being resolved; however, the adoption process is now focused on the specific needs of each individual child. The need for families willing to adopt special needs children has and will continue to grow.

    References Adoption:

    Mothers In Exile. (2002). Adoption: The damage to Children. Retrieved February 3, 2010, http://www. xiledmothers. com American Academy of Pediatrics. (2000, November 5). Developmental Issues for Young Children in Foster Care. Journal of Pediatrics 106, 1145-1150. Retrieved January 20,2010 from American Academy of Pediatrics database. Babb, L. A. , & Laws, R. (1997). Adopting and advocating for the special needs. U. S. A: Greenwood Publishing Group. Keagy, E. J. , & Rail, B. A. (2007). Handbook of Adoption. (pp. 217,219) London ,New Delhi: Sage Publications. Oak, Manali. (2008, May 5). Buzzle. com. The effects of Adoption. ttp://www. buzzle. com/articles/the-effects-of-adoption. html. Sullivan, A. (1996, June) Special Needs Adoption: Lessons from Experience. Children’s Voice. http://www. casanet. org/library/adoption/special-need. htm. Utah Adoption. (2000a 2000b 2000c ). Adopting a Child with Special Needs, Adoption Subsidy, Lifelong Issues in Adoption. Retrieved January 20,2010, from http://library. adoption. com/articles/adopting-a-child-with-special-needs-2. html , http://www. adopting. org/adoptions/adoption-and-foster-care-glossary-adoption

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