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Special Needs Adoption

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Introduction to Adopting & Parenting Children with Special Needs

(from the perspective of a parent in a domestic special needs adoption)

I am an adopting parent. I wish to open my home and my heart to a sibling group that needs me, siblings who want more brothers and sisters, namely the kids who are already here. I don't want to do this alone. This is what I need from the other stakeholders, from my village (if you'll excuse my calling on an oft-used metaphor).

From the adoption agency: I need support in the form of some encouragement and enthusiasm when I call to request an application packet. I know you are busy, probably too busy, and underpaid to boot, but if you treat me as though I am a burden to you, I may feel unwanted and drop the whole idea. Please understand that my first contact with you is critical. If I am truly one of America's greatest natural resources, please treat me as good as gold.

From my extended family and friends and co-workers: I need a slap on the back. Guess what, I'm not crazy. And I'm certainly no saint. This decision has not been made lightly so please don't assume I have not thought it through. I don't need your approval, but I would like to have it. I'd never tell you how many kids to have, so I hope you won't tell me. What I need from you is a big hug and a hearty "Congratulations!" You see, I'm emotionally pregnant right now. And expectant mothers need TLC.

After the Homestudy

Once the home study is finished and the match is made, I need 100% full disclosure from the agency. I need to know everything about the children that there is to know, to be the most effective parent I can be. And please give me full disclosure on the adoption benefits, non-recurring expenses reimbursement, subsidy, services, medical extras, and the rest. I need to know what is out there so I can advocate for my children. My love for my family is boundless, but my financial resources are very limited.

From my adoptive parent support group: I need you to be there long term. Every year, I will need something different from you. At first, mostly information, later, for social support and activities. And always, my children and I will need the warmth of friendship from other adoptive families.

From the administrative hearing officers and the Regional Children's Bureau: I need help advocating financially for my children when negotiations with state administrators break down. AAP contracts are complex instruments and the federal law is relatively young. Adoptive parents like me desperately need help when the process stalls. Please listen to me, be fair, and know that you may be my children's best chance to access adequate financial assistance and services.

From my attorney: I need expert legal assistance to finalize my adoption at the lowest possible cost. Please don't charge me $2,000 just because you know that my adoption expenses can be reimbursed to that amount. After all, there are other costs, too, even with public agency adoptions, such as visitation costs.

From my child's former foster parents: I need a blessing. Please give my children permission to love me and to be part of my family as they leave yours. Tell me the whole truth about them, help me prepare and then be there for them as they adjust. They will miss you. Remember that you will always be a part of our family.

After Placement

From my child's school: I need you to know when it is important that my child is adopted and when it isn't. It is important when her concentration lags or behaviors flare up due to his history of child abuse and neglect. It is not important on the playground when my child is trying to fit in. I need you to respect my role as the expert on my child's needs. I need you to listen to me when I ask for educational accommodations. Adopted children with special needs have special needs.

From my family doctor, pharmacist and therapist: I need you to be a bigger part of my village than you might be used to. I will need extra paperwork from you for adoption assistance negotiations, I may need more medical care for my children than is typical, from day one on. I need all the access to you that you can reasonably give me.

From my neighbors: I need your friendly smile and a little patience. My daughter has trouble with boundaries. Please forgive her for pulling the petals off the big rose on your rosebush. She knows now she shouldn't play "he loves me, he loves me not" with your flowers. Please look the other way when my impulsive son urinates in the backyard after a snowstorm. He doesn't understand that this is not the best way to perfect his name-writing skills. I'm teaching, they are learning, but it is slow going sometimes. Please be role models of neighborliness because my children began life in dangerous places and will learn how to be neighbors by watching you.

From my children's other set of parents, their birth parents: I need your acceptance and your prayers. While you get your life together, hopefully overcoming the big problems that resulted in the termination of parental rights, I am raising our children. If possible, send a letter and some photos occasionally to the agency. When the children are ready and want to meet you again, when it is safe, please be there for them. After the reunion, don't call me a glorified babysitter. Our children have two sets of parents - for always - please accept and respect my role in our children's lives as I accept and respect yours.

From society, the people at the grocery store, the guy who fixes my car: I need a little privacy and sensitivity. My different race children may not wish to explain to you, virtual strangers, why their birth parents are not raising them. If you want to know more about adoption, call an agency, read a book, or call me later. My kids are more comfortable this way.

From the residential treatment facility, the police and the juvenile court judges: I need you to understand that I am not the one who created the rage in my teen-agers. I have been a good parent. Please acknowledge this and don't blame me for their shoplifting and running away and vandalism. Instead, help me help them. Don't coddle them, but understand what they are working through. The teen years are especially tough on kids who have been through hell, who have lost everything, who struggle with feelings of loss only adoptees know.

The Forgotten Miracle

But have a little faith. They'll grow up and many of the seeds that all of us planted will germinate and grow and bloom and their kids, my grandkids, won't need you as much as I have needed all of you. Because the vicious cycle of pain will have been broken. For good.

That's the forgotten miracle of adoption. It breaks the cycle of dysfunction, stops it dead in its tracks, or at least, slows it down a little.

I know this because my sibling group, the ones who spent time in mental hospitals and residential treatment facilities, and yes, jail, are doing better every year. One went to college for a while and is a wonderful mother, and the other earned his GED against all odds and is holding down a job. We enjoy each other a great deal again, now that they are all grown up, but it took time. And blood, sweat and tears. And my wonderful village.

God bless you for staying the course with me. I thank you and my grandchildren thank you, and someday my great-grandchildren will thank you.

~ Rita Laws, Ph.D.

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