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.

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