Academic journal article Family Relations

Supporting Families as They Adopt Children with Special Needs

Academic journal article Family Relations

Supporting Families as They Adopt Children with Special Needs

Article excerpt

Supporting Families as They Adopt Children with Special Needs* Laurie Kramer** and Doris Houston

The stability of adoptions involving children with special needs is likely to be enhanced when families perceive that the are receiving support. The purpose of this study was to identify the types of formal and informal supports that are used and desired by families who are parenting children with special medical, behavioral, or developmental needs. An overarching goal was to provide recommendations for addressing parents' unmet needs. Forty parents, who were in the process of adopting at least one child identified as having a special need, completed a comprehensive questionnaire about their use and preferences for support. Two parents also participated in in-depth interviews. Although adoption and child welfare agencies have traditionally assumed responsibility for meeting the needs of pre-adoptive families, the current results indicated that parents rely on a variety of resources that include, but are not restricted to, the adoption agency. Informal, agency-linked resources, such as access to family resource support specialists and experienced "master" adoptive parents, appear to be relatively untapped sources of help for many pre-adoptive families. Results are discussed in terms of the desirability of providing pre-adoptive families with more integrated support systems.

Key Words: adoption, child welfare, foster care, special needs children, support networks.

Adoption provides an opportunity for a renewed sense of belonging, security, and family stability for children in foster care who cannot return home to their biological parents. Although healthy infants are eagerly sought for adoption in the United States, older children and children with special needs may wait years in substitute care until an appropriate adoptive placement becomes available. Once a placement is identified, the transition to adoption can be a difficult one for both children with special needs and parents. Children who are removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect typically enter pre-adoptive placements with complex medical, emotional, developmental, and behavioral needs (Partridge, Hornby, & McDonald, 1986; Rosenthal & Groze, 1992; Smith & Howard, 1994). For example, growing numbers of children enter foster care as survivors of sexual exploitation and drug and HIV exposure (IDCFS, 1996; Lakin, 1992). Many foster children have been identified as experiencing psychological difficulties such as depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, and problems related to separation and attachment (Smith & Howard, 1994). Furthermore, children with traumatic histories may demonstrate a range of maladaptive behaviors including eating disorders, sexual acting out, suicidal behaviors, fire setting, stealing, vandalism, and aggression (Berry, 1990; Berry & Barth, 1990). Thus, families who adopt children with a history of abuse or neglect often face serious challenges that can threaten the stability of the adoptive home. One important factor that may enable parents to sustain their commitment to a child who presents challenges is access to supportive resources (Barth & Berry, 1988; Groze, 1996; Nelson, 1985; Partridge et al., 1986). The purpose of this study was to further our understanding of the needs of pre-adoptive families who are parenting a child with special medical, behavioral, or developmental needs.

There is growing evidence that children experience better developmental outcomes when they are adopted rather than remain in substitute care (Barth & Berry, 1988; Rosenthal, 1993). For example, Lahti (1982) showed that adoptive children demonstrated enhanced family adjustment, emotional stability, and development when compared to their peers who remained in long-term foster care. Similarly, Kagan and Reid (1986) showed that 70% of youth who experienced multiple living arrangements and institutionalization demonstrated greater than expected levels of stability in their educational and work placements following adoption. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.