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In the foster care system any child 8 – 17 years old is considered a “special needs” child.  It may seem harsh that upon celebrating an 8th birthday a foster child would receive the label of “special needs.”  These children are more difficult to place with “forever families.”  Most families seeking to adopt want a baby.  Why a baby?  What about bottles, diapers, and lack of sleep?  An 8 yr. old child would be past potty-training, bottles, crying in the night . . . right?  What kinds of “special needs” could a healthy 8 yr. old possibly have?  Wouldn’t he simply need a bed, maybe a dresser, food, clothing, stuff like that?  “Special needs” children come with a monthly stipend to help pay for those types of things.  Love and nurturing affection would fix any other problems . . . right?  Here are a few things to consider before taking the plunge into older-child adoption.

  1. The child is probably living in survival mode.  That means he will likely feel a need to horde food – just in case he ever has to go without a meal.  He likely has had to lie, cheat or steal at some point in his past to meet his basic needs and may feel the need to do so again.  Granted, the foster care system has cleaned him up and told him that he will no longer need to do those types of things.  Most children never totally move beyond that survival mode.
  2. Because of past abuse and neglect, the child probably will be lacking some social skills.  Saying please  and  thank you will likely be foreign to him.  Patience and self-control will not be in the list of this child’s character traits.  Nor will gentleness, kindness, or generosity.  Likely the list would include selfishness, dishonesty, and gluttony.  After all, it’s a dog-eat-dog world.  Good character doesn’t come naturally.  
  3. Any gifts will probably be met with suspicion instead of gratitude. 
  4. Bathing and personal grooming will likely be lacking.
  5. Physical touch may be extreme at either end of the spectrum.  The child may prefer a complete “hands-off” approach or a “never leave my side” approach.
  6. Most older children have been bounced from foster family to foster family and from school to school.  Thus, there will be learning gaps that if not rectified may cause life-long learning problems.  Lack of educational consistency leads to a vast array of troubles.
  7. Family traditions and norms will likely be eyed with disdain.  Abusive families tend to lack family traditions – unless one considers the abuse itself a family tradition.
  8. Many of these children come with 2 settings – over-the-top or none-at-all.  A child may “try too hard” to earn love and acceptance or he may not try at all.

Parenting is a 24/7 job.  Parenting a child with a lot of baggage and a lack of basic human qualities can break even the most admired and skilled of parents.  “Special needs” adoptions are truly only for the strongest of constitutions and commitment.  A hearty few will find parenting these children worth the enormous price they are called to pay.  May they have boundless strength and unending stamina for the journey.

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