The Blessings of Foster Care Adoption - Part 3

Sue Badeau and her husband have parented 22 children, two by birth and 20 through adoption, and they have served as foster parents for more than 75 children. What a wealth of experience she has shared with us in Part One and Part Two of this blog series.

Today, we conclude our interview as Sue addresses some specific issues that may concern potential foster/adoptive parents.

Dawn: Sue, what if there has been trauma in a child’s life?

Sue: Not all children who are adopted have experienced trauma, but we won’t always know for sure who has and who has not.  So ALL adoptive parents should learn about trauma-informed parenting (there are lots of good resources on the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website (nctsn.org) for example.  Trauma-informed parenting does not hurt a child who has never experienced trauma, but definitely can make a world of difference to a child who has.  

Some of the important things to understand, for example, are what sorts of circumstances cause trauma reminders (also sometimes called trauma triggers) for a child and how to help the child not only to be objectively safe but also to believe they are safe and to feel safe.  If you can provide this environment of both physical and psychological safety then you can slowly work on the other issues.  I teach many classes at conferences or churches about trauma-informed parenting with specific skills, strategies and techniques because I believe it is the cornerstone of successful adoptive parenting.  

One key phrase to remember is whenever tempted to think or say “What is wrong with you?” to or about a child (particularly when they are engaging in challenging behaviors) to change the question in your mind to “What may have happened to you and how can I help you to heal?”

I like to use the analogy of going across a very wide and deep river by driving across a bridge to get to a destination on the other side.  If you are driving along and the bridge is simply not there – it has been destroyed, flooded out perhaps, you can’t immediately get to the other side.  Most people, however, would not say “Well, because the bridge is gone, the damage is so great, I can never get to the other side again.  That’s it. Hopeless.”  Of course not!  At the same time, neither would we say, “Well so what, the bridge is gone.  If I have faith, a positive attitude and a willingness to try hard, I can just push a little harder on the gas pedal and drive across that river bridge or no bridge!” Of course not!  What would we do?  We would find an alternate way to cross the river – it might be by boat, or helicopter or even swimming.  It might be another bridge further down the river or it might mean waiting until a new bridge can be built, but one way or another we would find that alternate path and get across the river again someday.

So it is with parenting children who have experienced trauma.  The trauma in their life has “flooded out” important bridges in their brain, heart and spirit.  Some people respond by saying, “That’s it, this child is too damaged, he will never recover.  Its hopeless.” While others will say, “Oh this child just needs to “get over it” and try harder and think positive and it will all be fine.”  Neither approach is likely to be successful or appropriate for most children.  The third approach – finding that alternative pathway – is the job of the adoptive parent and the child together.  And it might be hit or miss (a boat ride might be perfect for one child but for another building a new bridge might be best).  In any case, it will require knowing the child well but also having the professional expertise about trauma to make the best decision.  You wouldn’t try to navigate a boat across a deep and mighty river or build a bridge without consulting with boating experts or engineers to assist you in the process, right? 

Dawn: Does an adopted child ever get over the feeling of abandonment or rejection?

Sue: I wouldn’t say that “getting over” is the actual experience.  It is more like healing from and integrating these aspects of their story into the wholeness of who they are as a person.  For example, if someone you love deeply has died, you may never “get over” the death – there may be a part of your heart and soul that is changed forever because of this loss.  But you are also changed forever by the depth and richness of the growth that came out of and after the loss.  In a similar way, children who are adopted can heal from all of the losses and traumas in their lives.  They can integrate these experiences into the full tapestry of what makes them unique.  Their broken shards of glass can become an amazing stained glass window.   

Most children will go through this metamorphosis.  It may happen slowly over time for most, and for a few it may seem to happen almost instantly.  There are a few children, however, who may seem not to be able to move forward and get past the hurts, rejections or other wounds of their early life.  It is impossible to predict, and truly, the whole story is not written yet until they draw their last breath, so there is always, always hope. 

Dawn: Do all adopted children feel wounded?

Sue: No.  While many will and that is why it is important for potential adoptive parents to understand this, as well as understanding the tools and resources and supports they can have available to help the child through this, there are children who simply won’t experience feeling wounded at all.  Every child and every family is unique and that is part of what is so exciting about taking the adoption journey!

Dawn: How does being a Christian help the adoption process ~ bonding with a child ~ or does it?

Sue: I can’t imagine being a parent of any kind, let alone an adoptive parent, without the anchor of my faith.  Being a Christian helps me to see Jesus and His image in every child and to keep my eyes on Him even when I do not see things working out at all.  Being a Christian also helps me to honor and respect all the people that have helped shape my child – from birth families to former foster families, to our family to the church and beyond.  I don’t feel I have to “own” my children.   

Being a Christian gives me both hope and confidence that He who began a good work in my children will complete it and that He does have a future planned for each of them, a future where they can both have hope and prosper, and even if I don’t see that right now, I can have confidence that God will be true to his word.  Being a Christian means I can turn to God for forgiveness when I screw up and he will be faithful to forgive me.  I have not been a perfect parent to my children.  I have made mistakes and sinned along the way.  If I did not know that I could be forgiven, there are many times I probably would have wanted to give up. 

Dawn: One of the roles of the church is to care for orphans. What can churches do to help believers gain insight about personal adoptions?

Sue: This is a great question.  I would love to see every church ask themselves this very question.  At a minimum, I think that national adoption month (November) or national foster care month (May) provides a great opportunity to have at least one “Adoption Sabbath”.  A day where the whole church learns more about the needs of children in our own communities as well as around the globe and then prayerfully contemplates how to respond.  I love to be invited to help create these Adoption Sabbath days at churches and we have done everything from planning a special sermon and children’s story, to responsive readings, selected hymns, special prayers and more during the service as well as seminars and workshops before or after.  Often the offering is also donated to a charity that works with children in need of families locally or across the world. 

I have seen responses that are as small as the church that decides to designate a portion of their monthly offerings to go to the support of ministries serving foster care, adoption or orphans in the US or around the world.  I have seen responses that are as large as a church where several hundred children were adopted and/or fostered by the families of one single church.  Typically, God will call a church to something in between.  There is an organization called “One Church, One Child” that urges every church to support the adoption of at least one child – this may mean helping to recruit and even financially as well as emotionally and prayerfully support the adoptive family of one child.  Churches can provide respite, workshops or many other creative strategies to support children in foster care, children orphaned in other countries and adoptive or foster families here and abroad. 

The two most important things a church can do are first, to learn – learn the true facts about the children, their circumstances, their needs, the laws, etc – learn, learn, learn.  And second to listen – listen to God and listen to the needs of the families in their congregation, or their community or those elsewhere that God brings to their attention and then to respond to what they hear. 

Anything else you’d like to tell readers about the blessings of Foster Care Adoption?

Sue: Adoption will bring the greatest joy, and the greatest challenges into your life.  You will find you have strengths and abilities you never knew you had and you will find yourself to be inadequate in ways that you never imagined.  You will learn to trust and learn on God in ever deeper ways and you will see His miracles every day. 

Dawn: Are there any books or resources you’d recommend on this topic?

Sue: A great resource for books is Tapestry Books which specializes in books for foster and adoptive families and those who work with them.  It is located here:  http://www.tapestrybooks.com/ .  Tapestry has books specifically for each type of adoption situation from infants, to international, to older children. Another great resource is EMK Press, which, among other things, has published the Foster Parenting Toolbox (I have written a chapter in this book!).  EMK is here: http://www.emkpress.com/fosterparenting.html .  Jayne Schooler, Betsy Keefer Smalley and Deborah Gray are some of my favorite adoption authors and their books can be found on  www.Amazon.com

Dawn: Sue, I can't express how grateful I am that you poured out your heart to share this information with us. Thank you so much. I pray that many will consider Foster Care Adoption because of your encouraging words. Bless you, dear Sister in Christ.

Sue Badeau became deputy director of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care in January 2003 and has been a child welfare professional for 26 years. Contact Sue's writing and speaking ministry at www.suebadeau.com. She writes two weekly blogs, "Building Bridges of Hope" and "Hope for the Journey" (a devotional). You can also reach her at: sue@suebadeau.com.  

Sue and her husband, Hector are the parents of 22 children ~ two by birth and 20 adopted. They have also served as foster parents for more than 75 children in three states, and as a host family for refugee youth from Sudan, Kosovo and Guatemala. You can read about her family at www.badeaufamily.com.


The Blessings of Foster Care Adoption - Part 2

I am learning so much about the adoption process through my interview with Sue Badeau. In Part One, Sue shared how she became involved in foster care and adoption, as well as some misconceptions people have about foster care and adoption and some important questions to ask before making the decision to adopt.

She continues with more great insight and challenges to people considering the challenge and blessing of Foster Care Adoption.

Dawn: Sue, what are the greatest challenges adoptive parents face?

Sue:  Stress, fear, confusion, grief, anger – lots of stuff.  It is so important to have a good support system in place.  The church can be a great support but many times our churches do not have a solid knowledge base about adoption or foster care, so they can inadvertently (and with all good intentions) actually undermine or sabotage the adoptive family rather than supporting them by buying into and promoting some of the myths and conceptions like those I described above.   

I would love to see a time when every church had a least a few people who really learned about and understood adoption and all the related issues such as child trauma and then were able to truly minister to families in their congregation and the community who are parenting children not born to them. 

Other challenges adoptive parents face have to do with not being able to find or access enough of the right kinds of services in the community for their child, particularly if their child has disabilities or mental health or behavioral health challenges.  This is another reason to have a strong support system so that together you and other parents can advocate for the services your children need. 

Finally, adoptive parents face the challenge of finding the balance they need in their own life so that they can best care for their child(ren).  They need rest, respite and attention to their own needs and their needs as a couple.  Jesus gave us an example of taking time to recharge, and we need to heed this wisdom in our own lives.  This is true, of course, for all parents, but I have found it to be particularly true for adoptive parents.  Especially if they have waited a long time and jumped through many hoops and hurdles on their path to adoption.  Once they have that child it is easy to make the child the center of their universe and forget to take time for their own spiritual, mental, emotional and even physical health and nourishment.  This is a lesson we learned the hard way over the years and it is a reason that we believe God has now called us at this stage of our lives to create a respite ministry for foster and adoptive parents and other stressed-out caregivers. 

Dawn: What is the biggest difference between adopting a foster child versus an orphan in an orphanage (in the US or internationally)?

Sue: First let me change the question just a bit.  While children in other countries may be in orphanages before adoption, children in the U.S. rarely are.  So let’s look at 3 basic types of adoption: (1) US foster care adoption (2) US infant adoption and (3) international adoption.

First, the similarities – in all three types of adoption, as I noted earlier, the child has experienced significant loss.  Even children adopted at birth experience the loss of their birth parents.  This loss impacts different children in different ways – some profoundly and some barely noticeable, but adoptive parents have to at least have an understanding of the reality of this loss and be prepared to help their child with the most helpful and healing responses to their questions and behaviors when (and if) they arise. 

Another similarity is that when you adopt a child you are, to some extent, adopting the birth family too.  Not in the sense that you will “parent” the birth family or even that they will necessarily be involved in your life (although that is possible).  But I liken it more to marriage – when you marry your husband, you marry the in-laws too.  Even if they live in another country or for some other reason you rarely if ever see them – even if they are deceased! – still, they are part of what makes your husband who he is and so to some real degree you are “marrying” them too.  Or as I sometimes put it, when you all sit down at the dinner table, the beloved Nana and the drunken uncle are there with you too even if you don’t see them – for better or for worse, it is all part of the wonderful messiness that makes a family a family and this is particularly true for adoptive families. 

Now for some differences.  When adopting a child from foster care, the process can be quite frustrating and seemingly unreasonable at times. There can be a lot of uncertainty for both the parents and the child.  While there are no fees, there are other costs – emotional costs.  And yet it is so rewarding – you get many joys and blessings allowing a child who is already partly developed to join your family and change your life. 

With a US infant adoption, more and more these days, infants who are adopted are placed through private agencies where the birth parents want some degree of choice in selecting the family and some openness after the adoption.  Your child has less of a “history” in the sense of their own life experiences but you may actually get to understand more of their history and heritage as you connect with the birth family.  Infant adoptions often have more of a streamlined legal process than those from foster care and the financial costs are significantly higher.

As for international adoption, there are many similarities to US foster care adoption – often long and frustrating process of paper work and legal hurdles.  You may or may not be given a lot of the child’s history.  The child very likely may have experienced some history of trauma before going into the orphanage, including, at times serious malnutrition or other medical challenges.  

Again, it is also rewarding and joy-filled to expand your family in this way and to see the day-to-day miracles that God brings into your life through this precious child. Like US infant adoption, international adoption is often financially quite costly.

In all three types of adoption, even if the child appears to be of your same race or ethnicity, you are often going to be crossing cultures – your family culture – race, religion, ethnicity,  etc  is likely to be different than the predominant or mix of cultures your child is familiar with. As with all the other aspects of adoption this provides an important opportunity to learn, to grow, to expand your understanding of relationships and development. It also brings an opportunity for a depth and richness in your family life that you never imagined possible!

Dawn: How does adopting a child change the personality of a home?

Sue: I don’t buy into a nature “versus” nurture argument, but the more I learn about human development, I understand that “nature” (genes, etc) and “nurture” (environment, relationships, etc) interact with each other to shape each person into becoming who they are.  So when you raise a child not born to you, your “nurture” – your faith, your love, the environment you provide, your stability and caring, and more – the environment of your church, neighborhood, extended family and community – will all play a role in helping the child become who they are meant to become.  But their “nature” – the gifts they received from their birth family will also be part of that equation.  Its complex but also pretty miraculous and beautiful!

So, all of this is to say that adopting a child forever changes the personality of the home.  It may be very subtle and only noticed over time, or it may be pretty dramatic – one home may go from quiet and orderliness to robust noisiness and seeming chaos, while another might go from a carefree “operate by the mood and seat of our pants” approach to life to one that is much more structured and orderly and disciplined in order to meet the needs of the child.  EVERY person in the family will change, and it is the role of the parents to acknowledge, respect, honor and support the changes in ways that ensure that each person (including the parents!) has the opportunity to grow and reach their full God-given potential.

Dawn: How can an adoptive parent help a child overcome fear and loss?

Sue: The most important thing adoptive parents can do (beyond staying solid in their own faith and marriage if they are a married couple) is to be there. It is the constant, stable presence of parents – parents who always return when they leave -  in the child’s life that will eventually help them to learn that they can trust again and it is trust that helps them overcome the impact of fear and loss.   

Let me give an example.  When we adopted our first child, Jose, he was a 2 and half year old boy from El Salvador who had lost everything – his home, his parents, all the sights, sounds and smells that he was familiar with.  So when he first became our son, he literally did not want to let us out of his sight.  If we even left the room – say to go to the bathroom – he would sob and howl in a heartbreaking way.  Being young and new to adoption, we felt that we did not want him to experience any more suffering so in order to keep him feeling safe we had to keep him quite literally at our side every moment, night and day.  Fortunately we had a wise pediatrician who told us this was only going to serve to deepen his fears.  That he had to experience brief separations from us and see that we returned – every time – faithfully so that he could begin to rebuild a sense of trust.  

So, little by little we started leaving him with a trusted babysitter, maybe for as little as 20 minutes at first (and he would cry the whole time) to eventually a few hours.  Little by little he began to see that we did, in fact, come back and so he overcame his fears and learned that we were trustworthy.  Maybe we taught this lesson a little too well because after college, he accepted a job in Zurich, Switzerland and he is totally at peace there! LOL!  And yet, we are still very close, stay in frequent communication and he is fully attached to and bonded to the family. 

Dawn: Thank you, Sue. Your wealth of experience is going to instruct as well as encourage and motivate people to consider Foster Care Adoptions, I'm sure.

We will conclude this series in part three as Sue Badeau helps us understand how to deal with adopted children who may have experienced trauma (not all do), helping adopted children heal from any feelings they may have of abandonment or rejection, the difference Christians can make in the adoption process, the role of churches, and recommended resources.

Sue Badeau became deputy director of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care in January 2003 and has been a child welfare professional for 26 years. Contact Sue's writing and speaking ministry at www.suebadeau.com. She writes two weekly blogs, "Building Bridges of Hope" and "Hope for the Journey" (a devotional). You can also reach her at: sue@suebadeau.com.  

Sue and her husband, Hector are the parents of 22 children ~ two by birth and 20 adopted. They have also served as foster parents for more than 75 children in three states, and as a host family for refugee youth from Sudan, Kosovo and Guatemala. You can read about her family at www.badeaufamily.com.


The Blessings of Foster Care Adoption - Part 1

I always wanted to adopt a child. I wanted my husband to bring home an orphan from the Philippines or from Russia. God never allowed me the privilege. But I still love it every time I hear of a Christian sister who has reached out to bless a child through adoption. I think I'd have trouble with Foster Care unless I knew it would lead to adoption ~ it's so hard for me to love and then give away. I have nothing but praise and admiration for those who minister to children and teens in the Foster Care system.

November is Adoption Month, and I asked one of my AWSA (Advances Writers & Speakers Association) Sisters, Sue Badeau ~ who often speaks about adoption from foster care ~ to share her heart. She has so much to say, and it's all important to hear, especially if you are considering adoption; so I will share this post in three parts.

Dawn: Sue, how did you get involved in foster care and adoption?

Sue:  Like you, I always wanted to adopt.  As a young child, I even begged my parents to adopt.  One of my favorite books when I was around 10 or 12 years old was The Family Nobody Wanted by Helen Doss about a family who adopted a dozen or so children from all different ethnic and racial backgrounds and with all kinds of special needs.  I knew in my heart that this was exactly the family I DID want.  I was blessed to date and eventually marry a man who shared this vision.  His heart for children is even bigger than mine.  And so, it is not surprising that our own adoption journey began within months after our wedding day!

We attended a church event about a summer mission team that had worked in India with Mother Theresa and they had so many heart wrenching stories and slides about the orphaned children in India that we felt compelled to start there.  We went immediately the next day to a local adoption agency to “sign up.”  Little did we know what a HUGE journey we had just begun!  Since that day, we have gone on to adopt 20 children and we have been foster parents to over 50 additional children. 

Dawn: What is the biggest misconception people have about adoption or foster care adoption?

Sue: I would say there are four  major misconceptions.

The first is that you have to be “perfect” and wealthy to adopt.  Certainly there are adoption programs for people most interested in a healthy white infant where money is a huge factor.  But for the many, many children in need of homes right here in our own country as well as around the world, adoption can be completed with no fees (if working with the public child welfare agency) or with limited fees even with private agencies depending on the age and type of child (i.e. special needs, etc.).  And adoption agencies are looking for parents who are stable and can give a good home to a child, not for “perfect” people.

The second major misconception is that “love is enough”.  Whether you adopt an infant or a teenager or any child in between, the child has lost their original parents and in most cases that child has lost much more – perhaps they have experienced the trauma of abuse, neglect and/or abandonment.  Perhaps they have lost siblings or grandparents that they loved.  In any case, these losses require more than “just” love to bring healing into their lives.  The children – no matter what age and no matter how “severe” the abuse they suffered or the special needs they have – are not so “damaged” that they cannot be healed and live wonderful, joyful, productive lives.  However, it takes a lot of hard work, faith, supports and resources in addition to love to make this happen.

A third misconception is that adoption is about “rescuing” children from horrible circumstances.  While this may at times appear to be true on the surface, it is not a good way or reason to go into adoption for three important reasons.  

First, no matter how horrific the child’s circumstances may seem, underneath it there are biological parents who do, indeed, love their child and those birth parents are created in God’s image too.  We must have respect for and a loving, compassionate and prayerful heart towards those original parents if we are to successfully parent the child we adopt, because the child is indelibly part of those birth parents and it is impossible to “hate” one while “loving” the other.   

Second, “rescue”-minded parenting prevents us from establishing a normalized parent-child bond with our child which is critical to the lifelong relationship we are beginning when we adopt.  And of course the “rescue” mentality sets us up for dismal failure if we do not see the results we hoped for and expected – only God can save, only God can rescue.  It is our job as a parent to love unconditionally, and not only to be the giver in the relationship but also the receiver – God gives us children, whether by birth, foster care, step-parenting or adoption – as a way of blessing us, teaching us and shaping us into the people he wants us to be. 

Finally, the fourth big misconception is that you can never love a child not born to you quite as much as you would love “flesh of your flesh” – this is totally untrue! 
I love every one of my children – both those born to me and those adopted – with my entire heart and soul and although the relationships with each child is as unique as the child him or herself, the quality and depth of the love is equal and deep beyond measure.

Dawn: What are some of the questions a woman should ask herself (or a couple should discuss) before making the decision to adopt?
Sue: Super question!  Here are a few (my top ten list) of the questions I recommend people ask:
1.      Why do I want to adopt? What do I hope to gain as well as to give?
2.      How do I expect adoption to change my life as well as the child’s life?
3.      How do I handle stress and conflict?
4.      How do I feel about working with multiple systems of care such as the child welfare agency, the schools, medical and mental health agencies, support groups, etc to help me in the lifelong journey of raising my child?
5.      How will I feel if my own family or close friends don’t understand or support my decision and where will I turn to get support?
6.      What role does my faith and walk with the Lord play in my decision to adopt?
7.      How will I feel if my child does not seem to attach to me, or does not share my faith or reciprocate my love?  Is my faith and belief that this is the right way to build my family strong enough to cope with those circumstances if they should arise?
8.      Have I ever spent time with families who have adopted children?  What have I learned from them that will help me?
9.      Are my husband and I truly in this together?
10.   Do I understand that adopting means not just changing my family for now but for all the generations to come?  What excites me about that? What concerns me about that?

Dawn: Those are great questions, Sue. I think this is an incredibly loving, unselfish choice. It reminds me of God's great love for us. He was willing to adopt people as His children who didn't know or love Him, and even when they did come to know Him, they could never love God back the way He loves them. Thank you for your insights and encouragement on this issue.

In part two, Sue Badeau will discuss the greatest challenges adoptive parents face, the differences between adopting a foster child versus an orphan in an orphanage, how adoption changes the personality of a home, and how adoptive parents can help children overcome their fears or sense of loss.

Sue Badeau became deputy director of the Pew Commission on Children in Foster Care in January 2003 and has been a child welfare professional for 26 years. Contact Sue's writing and speaking ministry at www.suebadeau.com. She writes two weekly blogs, "Building Bridges of Hope" and "Hope for the Journey" (a devotional). You can also reach her at: sue@suebadeau.com.  

Sue and her husband, Hector are the parents of 22 children ~ two by birth and 20 adopted. They have also served as foster parents for more than 75 children in three states, and as a host family for refugee youth from Sudan, Kosovo and Guatemala. You can read about her family at www.badeaufamily.com.