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Share Your Story: Pre-Adoption Education

New international adoption regulations require pre-adoption education for all prospective adopters. Do you think this is a good idea? What kind of preparation did you have? Would you do anything differently? Share Your Story, January/February 2004

Our readers overwhelmingly said, "Yes!" Here are some of the most compelling reasons:

You can form important connections that will help you through the adoption

I was part of Sacramento County Fost/Adopt program. We were required to take an 8-week class (which I believe is now 9 weeks). At the end of our training we received our Foster Care License, and our homestudy was completed about 1 month later. Not only did we learn a lot in training, but we formed a support group. The eight families still keep in touch and get together frequently for birthdays, holidays, and adoption celebrations.
Vickie, California

Yes - it is good to require adoption education, just as it's good to require driver education. And of course, one size can never fit all. A combination of pre- and post-adoption education is what I recommend. My husband and I brought home our daughter last spring from St. Petersburg at the age of 1. We have a great social worker who helped us work through parenting and relationship issues. Our agency provided us with post-adoption help that was and is immensely helpful, as well: the ongoing paperwork (social security, passport, birth certificate), a reference to an adoption doctor specialist for medical testing, encouragement to seek support from the state Early Intervention program to get help for our daughter, information on support groups (FRUA), adoption literature, and assurance about basic care of a toddler and the specific needs of an adoptive child. One example of precious advice: "Many adoptive children will regress and repeat a learning or developmental stage with you to aid in the attachment process. That's normal - don't worry if he/she takes a few steps backward at first. Think of the shock he/she has just been through."

My husband and I are in the process of adopting two children from Russia. We both come from large extended families, and are the first to adopt on both sides. While the rest of our friends, family members, and co-workers go to Lamaze classes, we go to adoption classes. Fortunately, we have an International Adoption Clinic here in Cincinnati. Our education was outstanding. We learned about medical concerns, developmental stages, heard from an occupational therapist and speech pathologist, got to interact with other parents who have been through the adoption process internationally, and met with a social worker about attachment issues. Let me assure you we got more out of these sessions than we could have ever hoped!! And we now have a relationship with a local clinic that will guide us through our journey while half way across the globe. We continue to read books, magazines and Web sites, but these classes were by far the best experience we could have had. I think anyone who feels this is going to be an easy process is crazy, and our theory is to take advantage of all the help and knowledge we can get. Hopefully there are more people out there that have been as fortunate as we have in finding a wonderful way to educate themselves.
Julie, Ohio

Some people respond better to teaching than self-education

As part of our adoption process my husband and I attended more than 40 hours of pre-adoption education, provided by our agency. This is small-beans compared to the hundreds I have undertaken on my own. However, I thought it was great to be able to attend the classes with my husband-we had many great discussions. My husband is not the avid book hound or internet surfer that I am, and it was much easier for him to accept teaching from the agency than from me.

As a social worker/educator, I'm all for it!

As a Family Life Educator and an adoptive parent of a daughter from India, I am a strong advocate for pre-adoptive education. There are parenting skills unique to the adoptive setting, such as: relating to the adoption agency, navigating the legal system, and meeting the needs of a child who has been in institutional or fragmented care. Pre-adoption education offers parents instruction and guidance in preparing for their child's physical and developmental needs as well as information regarding medical and legal issues. Pre-adoptive education is also a vehicle for a rich network of follow-up resources and support. When we adopted our daughter, we lived in a small town in Louisiana and there were no preparation programs for prospective adoptive parents. Later, in graduate school, I wrote an eight-hour adoptive parenting course and taught it at the local Red Cross chapter. It was well-received, and continues to educate prospective adoptive parents where I teach it at my local community college.
Missy, Pennsylvania

As an adoptive parent and social worker I fully support the regulation for pre-adoption education. There are many issues related to adoption that couples may not consider in the whirlwind of excitement in bringing a child into their family. My husband and I have adopted twice from Russia and we received pre-adoption education as part of our homestudy. Our social worker gave us a lot of information to think about and consider, such as the effect on the institutionalized child. I believe that ALL parents should be required to take a parenting course before they have children-the more informed we are, the better choices we make, and the better parents we are. This will only benefit our children!

Yes, and it should be custom-tailored

The first time we adopted, we received general childcare information, but very little about our child's country or issues that surface as children get older. I feel all people should be educated about their child's origins geographic/cultural origins. People enjoy showing off the cute little kid, but have no idea about their child later, when they are not as cute. There are far too many kids out there who don't have a clue about their country, etc. I feel that, if adopting internationally, the parents should be encouraged to pick up their child themselves, so they can learn about their child's culture and life first-hand. I have a relative who adopted internationally who does not conceive of her child as being from a different country; they live in an affluent neighborhood and regard their daughter as white, never do anything from their child's culture, and have discouraged her desire to travel there.

It should have been required to begin with

Before we embarked on our adoption journey, my wife and I did a lot of reading, soul-searching and learning. Our local Lutheran Social Services office required all of their families to attend a series of pre-adoption classes that touched on everything from dealing with grief related to infertility to the dossier preparation process to what it's like to grow up adopted. My wife and I were shocked to learn that similar classes were not required everywhere and by all agencies. Friends of ours who adopted, both domestically and abroad, at the same time as we did never had even a single educational session! We do not feel our experience would have been as smooth had we not attended these pre-adoption classes. We are grateful to the LSS staff for their assistance and have recommended the classes to other families considering adoption. We are very pleased to hear that these classes are now a requirement for all families. Not only did we learn a lot...we formed new friendships and our son has a built-in support network, in the children we met through our shared experiences. In the sea of seemingly endless, redundant, and unnecessary regulations related to adoption, we feel strongly that this one is key.
Chip and Celeste

I should have paid closer attention

My husband and I are those parents. We had classes on behavior problems, attachment disorders, etc. But you are so excited, you go through the hoops required of you, and you often don't absorb much of it. We adopted two children from Russia: a 7-month-old boy, and 7 months later we adopted a little girl, supposedly 3 yrs old. The first time, the baby boy we were referred was unavailable. We were offered a supposedly "unadoptable" boy, but we adopted him anyway.

We were not prepared for the issues we encountered with "Becky." She didn't want to come with us or near us from the very first moment. Once we arrived home we discovered she had severe attachment problems, as well as sibling-related and sexual problems. Our agency just kept encouraging us to work through it.

Several people from the agency and our Pastor recommended that we have her removed from our home. She wanted nothing to do with our son, and we were afraid for him. She was mean to him, and our animal-kicking, slapping, etc. The sexual problems were something neither one of us could deal with. We took her to a psychologist who recommended she be removed, receive therapy, and be placed in an institution or a home with no other children. Our lives were unraveling and I was ready for a nervous breakdown.

Months later our agency said they had an employee who wanted to adopt her. After several conference calls we agreed, flew her there, and shipped her belongings, bikes and all. This woman did not have to purchase one thing for her. Several months went by and she refused to adopt her, saying she was causing to many problems. She suggested that an employee at Becky's school would adopt her. Soon she began refusing to speak with us, or give us any information about "Becky"-where she was, if she was okay, etc. All this despite that fact that she worked for our adoption agency, we were still paying her monthly education and insurance costs, and "Becky" was still legally our child. We contacted an attorney, believing that if something happened to her, we would be legally responsible. We were very afraid and concerned. I finally called the school that "Becky" attended, and spoke with the owner. She informed us that "Becky" was okay, and after a long discussion she told me that she and her husband wanted to adopt. The couple was currently undergoing their home study with an agency from New York. We had her removed from the other home, placed in this family's custody, and followed through with the adoption.

To say the least, our agency did not support us. They told us that we were horrible for what we did to her. We all wanted what was best for "Becky," and our lives as well. But, when the agency needs information about our son to continue their adoptions in Russia, they call us. I give them the information they request, only because I would not have this precious child otherwise. I am devastated by how this all took place.

It is a tragic story, but I believe it worked out for the best for all of us. We really did not understand "attachment disorder," etc. You believe that if you love them enough, give them the best you have, it will be okay. But for us, it was a nightmare. I pray that she will hopefully not remember all the details that led up to her current family. I hope and truly believe that she is happy, loved, and well cared for. Her parents knew her, they saw her every day, and worked with her. She had developed a relationship with them, and she would be their "little girl" with no competition. We were terrified, and overwhelmed. I feel isolated from the adoption community. My son is now over 5 years old, and to this day I feel I cannot call my agency and ask for contact with other adoptive families in the neighborhood, though I would love for my son to meet and play with children like him. It is a sad yet angry feeling.
AF Reader

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