Responding to Adoptive Families in Crisis
by Beverly Belcher
Dee A. Paddock, M.A., NCC Psychotherapist, Consultant and Speaker, of Highlands Ranch, CO, voiced her experience as an adoptive mother at the August, 1998 North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC) conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. The following are notations from Paddock's workshop.
Creating a family through birth is so normal that it is beyond comment. Whereas adoption, on the other hand, opens up the floodgate to many myths and misconceptions. In fact, adoption is rarely anyone's first choice in building a family. Why? Because the common conception for most people is that the ideal family begins with a heterosexual, two-parent household and the family includes two kids and a golden retriever. However, keep in mind that less than 40% of families have such a beginning.
Paddock points out that mixed emotions about adoption undermine relationships for agencies and families. She says, "The perfect solution myth presents the shadow of adoption as, 'Oh! You're adopting, I'm sorry,' or, 'So you've decided to adopt? Well, aren't you special!' In other words, if you want to adopt, you are crazy."
According to Paddock, it is important for workers to put themselves in the shoes of each potential adoptive family. She says, "View the adoptive process from their perspective." Lived experience is reality.
As an experienced adoptive mother, Paddock says grief, trauma, anxiety, hurt, suffering, rage, fear and burnout are issues that foster and adoptive families deal with. As a result, crises happen often in these families. Paddock strongly emphasizes talking to families about how difficult special needs children may be before placements occur.
One of the barriers that foster families struggle with is the fear that workers will take their child away if they are not perfect. Moving the child should not be the first response to a crisis. Many times during a crisis call, the family does not need an answer or a fix. They often just need someone to talk to.
Adoption is a lifelong process. Therefore, professionals need to find a way to remain connected after the adoption is finalized. Families should receive long-term support long term to avoid disruptions.
"Professionals need to realize that when foster or adoptive mothers are angry as a result of a crisis, they act out emotionally," says Paddock. "When the adoptive family phones the worker to say, 'I do not want him, you come and get him,' what mom is really saying is, 'I need help, because my tank is empty.' The mother cannot feed her child on a empty tank. The worker needs to feed the mother, so the mother can feed her child."
Paddock also shared some positive responses and solutions to common problems in the adoption cycle.
James Hillman once said, "We are aboard the Titanic. What is the right action? What do you do while the ship goes down? Strike up the band? Take to the lifeboats? But there is no other shore. Check in with your analyst? Go down like Lord Jim, with honor, courage, decency? At least keep things shipshape? Or, perhaps, perform the rituals of sinking." Workers need to help the family in crisis absorb the initial shock. But how?