Kids Speak out on Adoption: A Multiage Bookwriting Group for Adopted Children with Special Needs

Article excerpt

This article describes the conceptualization and development of the Saturday Club for Adopted Kids (a four-session, multiage, bookwriting group for adopted children and young people) and the benefits of offering such a project-oriented group in which adoptees can tell their stories and share their experiences in an environment that supports their recovery from early trauma and offers them a way to transform the meaning of their personal losses into social action to help others. Club participants produced a book, Kids Speak Out on Adoption, based on their experiences, perceptions, and feelings.

Each year, approximately 18,000 children with special needs are adopted in the United States

Tatara 1988

. The term special needs includes children who suffer from exposure to alcohol and drugs in utero, as well as those who have experienced neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or the repeated trauma of losing significant or potential attachment figures Bowlby 1988; Jewett 1982; Moroz 1993a

. Typically, these children present strong behavioral and emotional challenges to their adoptive families Churchill 1993; Moroz 1993b

. The demands and stress inherent in these adoptions contribute to reports of unsatisfactory adoptive adjustments as high as 25%

Kadushin 1980; National Committee for Adoption 1985; Nelson 1985

and adoption disruption rates ranging from 10% to 13%

USRE 1985; Festinger 1986; Groze 1986; Partridge et al. 1986; Barth and Berry 1988; Rosenthal et al. 1988

.

About two out of three children taken into protective custody nationally will not have received mental health services prior to being adopted

Grabe 1990

. Not surprisingly, these children often lack basic trust in adults as benevolent caregivers, or a sense of themselves as worthy of love and nurturing care. Not having experienced control over what has happened to them, they may lack self-discipline and strive in various ways to establish a sense of order in their lives. Because so much has in fact happened to them, and they have had so little influence over their circumstances or the life-altering decisions made by adults around them, these children often have long-term struggles developing trust, identity, self-esteem, control, and attachment. Although these developmental tasks are universal, children who eventually become eligible for adoption through the child protection system typically have many painful and incomprehensible experiences that they must make sense of and come to terms with. This process of finding meaning in what has happened to them is often made difficult by the reality that ties to their family of origin and its cumulative history and culture are partly or completely severed.

The Saturday Club for Adopted Kids, and the book that resulted from it, Kids Speak Out on Adoption

1993b

, was a small effort to support a group of adopted children in their quest to make sense of their lives and to give voice to the wisdom they individually and collectively had to offer each other, adoptive parents, and practitioners. The Saturday Club was developed by the Vermont Adoption Project as part of a two-year Adoption Opportunities grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The project included curriculum development and training, direct service, and research components, all of which focused primarily on the needs of children and their adoptive families. The project conducted a needs assessment of all adoptive parents of children with special needs who were receiving adoption subsidies in Vermont, and a qualitative study exploring the strengths of adoptive families who had adopted a child or children with special needs. The idea for the Saturday Club emerged from many conversations with these adoptive parents.

It seems logical that child welfare practitioners would turn to adopted children to understand the experience of being in out-of-home care, being separated from biological parents and siblings, and adjusting to the expectations of one family after another. …