Archive for December, 2010

Infant Safe Havens

Every state in the U.S. has an Infant Safe Haven law, which states that an unharmed baby can be brought to designated places (usually hospitals, police stations, and fire stations) and relinquished to a staff member, no questions asked. Each state has its own rules about specifics such as the age when a baby may be relinquished, who may bring the baby to the safe haven, the period of time that the parents have to change their minds, and the specific places where the baby may be brought. These laws were enacted in response to a spate of incidents in the 1990s when babies were abandoned or even killed. It gives mothers in crisis a safe way to relinquish their babies for adoption quickly. What happens next, after a baby is relinquished to a safe haven? Generally, the state’s department of child welfare takes custody of the baby, places him or her in a foster home, and begins proceedings to legally terminate the parents’ parental rights.

Safe havens are not a perfect solution. Specifically, I worry that many states don’t have enough safeguards in place to protect fathers’ rights in the event that the mother gives her baby to a safe haven without telling the father. It also concerns me that children who are relinquished this way will generally not have any information about their birth parents, which is so important both emotionally and medically. I would also like to see more state resources spent on supporting parents so that they would not have to feel desperate enough to abandon their babies in the first place. Although these are strong criticisms that should be addressed in the state laws, they pale a bit next to the fact that we know that babies’ lives have been saved by Safe Haven Laws.

The most important thing about infant safe havens is that no parent should ever feel so trapped and desperate that they feel they must abandon their baby. No matter where you live, it is almost guaranteed that there is a safe haven near you where your baby will be safe and cared for. You can find a list of Infant Safe Havens by state by clicking here.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Happy Holidays from Adoptivity!

Whatever holiday you celebrate,
However you celebrate,
However you define “family,”
I wish you and your family joy and love this holiday season.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Adopted Children and the Holidays (again)

The holidays can be a chaotic and stressful time for everyone, and they present special stresses for adopted children and their families. As the holiday season continues apace, I wanted to take a moment to share again this post about special ways parents can help make the holidays warmer and brighter for adopted children. What better time of year to listen, accept, and nurture?

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Book Review: Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft

If you have adopted a toddler, you may be feeling a bit left out. Most adoption support groups, books, and other resources tend to focus on families who are adopting newborns. During the waiting period to adopt, this may not stand out, as waiting for a newborn is very similar to waiting for a toddler to come home. However, once your child arrives, you may begin to feel isolated as you start to face different issues than your friends who adopted newborns. It isn’t you: Adopting a toddler really is different!

Fortunately, there is a wonderful resource for new adoptive parents of toddlers in the book Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best (Perspectives Press 1997). Hopkins-Best and her husband adopted an 18-month-old boy from Peru and found themselves unprepared for the special issues that newly adopted toddlers present. Her book is a must-read for anyone who is even considering adopting a toddler. It includes a section on how to determine whether toddler adoption is right for you, the specific issues toddlers present, attachment challenges, child development, behavior management, and tips for easing the transition into your home. Finally, Hopkins-Best includes a chapter on taking care of your own needs as a parent while also looking after the needs of these very needy little people. Each chapter includes several personal stories from the parents of children adopted as toddlers, including 26 families who took an extensive questionnaire for this book.

There is something in Toddler Adoption for families at every stage of the adoption process, from those just considering whether adopting an older child might be right for them to families who have already adopted a toddler. I especially loved the way that Hopkins-Best conveys the joys and advantages of toddler adoption as well as its challenges, and that she does so in a way that only a parent who had experienced toddler adoption could do. Her material on child development and attachment is well-researched and thorough, and her tips for bringing your adopted child home for the first time are invaluable for parents – but even more so for the little people in their care during this difficult time. A short list of resources in the back helps connect parents with more support and information.

Most of all, the message that shines through Toddler Adoption is that you are not alone. The book allows you to benefit from the wisdom of many other parents who have experienced the special challenges – and special rewards – of toddler adoption.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Is Autism Really Prevalent in Adopted Children? We May Soon Know!

According to new research published in the journal Autism Week, doctors are now able to diagnose autism using an MRI brain scan to observe activity in the brain. In a study of 60 children, doctors were able to detect autism 94 percent of the time using this method. While it doesn’t answer the many questions parents have about what causes autism and how to treat it, the research is a tremendous stride towards understanding autism better.

So, what does this have to do with adoption? Many adopted children, particularly those adopted from institutions with lower standards of attention and care, are diagnosed with autism or “autism spectrum disorders,” meaning that they display some symptoms of autism at varying levels of severity. However, the fact that most adopted children recover from these symptoms within weeks or months of arriving home with their adoptive families, and the fact that their symptoms appear to be the product of their upbringing and not their biology, has led researchers to conclude that this “institutional autism” is not really autism at all. Check out this paper, for example, to learn about the differences.

Reading about the recent research on MRI scanning and autism made me wonder if perhaps the MRI technology might be able to help adoptive parents learn whether their children truly have autism, or whether their autism-like symptoms are due to environmental factors. From there, they could better determine the best way to treat their child’s symptoms.

Do you have a child with autism or a child who was misdiagnosed with autism? Please share your stories in the comments or via email at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Children’s Books for Gay and Lesbian Parents

I was very pleased to come across a wonderful resource for gay and lesbian parents today during my travels on the internet. The Family Equality Council has compiled this wonderful list of children’s books that portray LGBT families. The list also includes books that portray single mothers, single fathers, and those that deal with issues of sexual identity and positive self-image. They are organized by age, from birth to age thirteen.

If I had one quibble with this list, it’s that it doesn’t include the delightful And Tango Makes Three, a book about two male penguins raising a baby chick in Central Park Zoo. As I mentioned in my review of the book, I think it is one of the most charming and positive books for children about the meaning of family.

Do you know a book that isn’t on this list but should be? Post it in the comments, or email me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

When Openness Could Save a Life

I was touched by this remarkable adoption story from the Times-Picayune. Madison Tully was born with sickle cell disease and lupus, a rare combination of autoimmune diseases. Jeff and Roxanne Tully adopted Madison through the Volunteers of America open adoption program in 1994, when open adoption was more unusual than it is today. Madison’s birth mother chose the Tullys by looking at adoptive-parent profiles, and the two families kept in touch over the years.

In November 2009, when she was 16 years old, Madison’s lupus was diagnosed after the disease began causing her immune system to attack her organs. The disease causes terrible pain that is poorly controlled even with multiple medications. She was one of only 12 people in the world known to have both lupus and sickle cell disease. Her doctors told the Tullys that Madison’s only hope was a bone marrow transplant. In addition to the risks of the procedure, which involved completely shutting down Madison’s immune system with chemotherapy, it was also highly unlikely that they would be able to find a bone marrow donor who matched Madison. Madison’s mixed black, Hispanic, and white heritage made the pool of possible donors even smaller than usual.

However, because of their open adoption, the Tullys knew that Madison had a full sister, Jasmin. They called and asked Jasmin’s mother to ask if 18-year-old Jasmin could be tested as a possible bone marrow donor. Jasmin didn’t hesitate to help her sister. Her response is instructive for anyone who wonders how to define family. “I didn’t even have to think about it,” she said, “I would do anything for Madison.”

Testing showed that Jasmin was a perfect match for Madison. Madison underwent the chemotherapy, while Jasmin had a series of shots followed by several days of having stem cells extracted from her blood. The transplant took place on August 4, and Madison has passed the 100th day, marking the end of the most dangerous part of her recovery. Her pediatric hematologist describes her as “doing phenomenally well.”

I hesitated to tell this story, because I don’t want to give the impression that medical necessity is the only – or even the best – reason to have an open adoption. Open adoption enriches families. It allows adopted kids to grow up confident, knowing their heritage and having the opportunity to ask their burning questions about why their birth parents chose adoptive placement. It respects the adopted child and the birth parents. And, yes, it also makes vital medical information available to adoptees who, at some point or another in their lives, are likely to need it. As in Madison’s case, it could even save a life.

Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

Sleep and the Adopted Child

All new parents struggle with lack of sleep, and that includes adoptive parents. Although most parents expect this with a newborn, some adoptive parents are surprised to learn that newly adopted children of all ages experience sleep problems, especially during the first weeks at home. Also, helping adopted children learn to soothe themselves to sleep is different and much more complicated than it is for non-adopted children, because of the special needs of adopted kids when it comes to attachment, bonding, and sometimes overcoming trauma. Pour a cup of strong coffee and check out these tips for dealing with sleep issues.

  • First, put aside all the “sleep training” books. Most “sleep training” books on the market today are variations on the “cry it out” school of parenting. For example, some advocate that you let your child cry for five minutes before going in to soothe him, then for ten minutes the next time, then fifteen minutes, etc. They are geared towards parents of babies age 5 months and up, as babies under 5 months of age are unable to learn to self-regulate and soothe themselves to sleep. I confess that I am soft-hearted about this even with non-adopted infants, but for adopted children this type of sleep training is just a terrible idea. Even in infancy, studies show that adopted babies show symptoms of grief, loss, and even depression from separation from their mothers (if you don’t believe that infants “remember” their mothers, consider that babies’ limited sensory perception is entirely focused on only one thing – mom. Science-based development books such as Lise Eliot’s What’s Going on in There? are especially instructive.). Leaving an adopted infant to cry alone is literally the worst thing you can do in terms of attachment and healthy development. This is even more true for children who are adopted when they are older. Many children adopted from toddler age on up have experienced multiple separations from caregivers; some have even known abuse or neglect. Again, letting these children “cry it out” is just about the worst thing you could do to convince them that you are a reliable caregiver. The last thing you want is to gain hours of sleep at the expense of trust and security in your child. Rather than worrying about “spoiling” the child, spend the first several months focusing on proving to her that you will meet her needs consistently. A co-sleeper (a crib that attaches to the side of your bed so you can respond to the baby instantly at nighttime) is a wonderful idea for adopted infants, and some also advocate for “co-sleeping” even for older children.

  • Learn as much as you can about your child’s former environment. Especially if your child comes to you from an orphanage, conditions in his last environment might be very different from the ones in your home. Children who are used to sleeping in a communal room with many other children sometimes find it frightening to suddenly sleep all alone. Learning as much as you can about the lighting, noise levels, other people, and comfort objects in your child’s former home can help smooth the transition to a new home. Comfort objects such as blankets, stuffed toys, dolls, or even just a shirt or bedsheet are especially soothing to adopted children. If they don’t yet have a “lovey,” now is a great time to create one by making a favorite toy or blanket part of the bedtime ritual. Even if they seem questionably clean to you, try to resist washing comfort objects, at least for the first several months, as their familiar smell is a major source of their ability to soothe. Also, although by Western standards the “family bed,” or children sleeping in the same bed with their parents, is considered strange, this is the norm in many cultures and may prove very comforting for your adopted child. There is no right or wrong place for your child to sleep, only what works and what doesn’t.

  • Create rituals. Sleep experts for children and adults alike agree that rituals before bed create associations that tell our brains it’s time to sleep. A simple and consistent routine is key. For example, your family’s ritual might begin after dinner and consist of quiet play, bath, pajamas, story time, a song, then bed. Consistency is more important than the specific activity, so if you feel you might not have the energy to do a bath before bed every single night, leave it out of the bedtime ritual and simply do stories and/or songs at bedtime. This includes a consistent bedtime. Some experts recommend that parents change their kids out of pajamas first thing in the morning so that those clothes are strictly associated with bed. Again, incorporating rituals from the child’s former environment, if possible, is a great idea.

  • Get some support for you. Having said all that about attachment and proving to your child that you are trustworthy, I feel honor-bound to point out that every human being, including you, needs to sleep. There is a reason why sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Sleep deprivation impairs our ability to function, causes patience to run short, and can lead to post-adoption depression. If at all possible, have a relative, close friend, or trusted nanny stay overnight to take a shift or two during the first difficult months. Talk openly with your spouse or partner about a fair way to divide up the nighttime wake-up calls (and no, having the spouse who doesn’t work outside the home take all the wake-up call is not considered a fair division of labor). Nighttime parenting is hard, and going it alone is near to impossible. Have some frank talks (ideally before the child comes home) about who will help you.

  • The early bird catches some winks. Although they don’t always act like it, babies and children need a lot of sleep! Experts agree that the ideal toddler bedtime is between 6:30 and 8:00 PM. Although most adults slow down as they get tired, many children become more active when they get over-tired, resulting in a hyper child who is harder to settle down. Try to get a feel for when that window is when your child is tired, but not so tired that she beings to get wound up. That’s bedtime. Another advantage of an early bedtime is that parents get to spend some time together!

  • Know that night wakings are normal. According to a 2004 poll about sleep habits in America, about 70% of infants, 47% of toddlers, 36% of preschoolers, and 14% of school-age children wake and need a parent’s intervention at least once each night. These statistics are for all children, not adopted children! It is normal for children to wake up during the night, and even more so for adopted children, who have experienced grief, trauma, and loss. Take a few deep breaths and calm yourself before you go in, then keep it loving, quiet, brief, and boring. Keep the lights dim. The less eventful your trip into the child’s room, the more inclined he will be to go back to sleep.

  • Know about night terrors. Night terrors are a sleep disorder where the child shows signs of extreme terror but are, in fact, still asleep. They generally do not respond to you and do not remember the episode in the morning. Night terrors are most common between ages two and six. Most experts recommend that you not wake the child up during night terrors, but simply stay with her to make sure she is safe (not sleepwalking or flailing) until the terror passes. A longer-term solution is to keep track of the exact time when night terrors occur, then wake the child 15 minutes before the usual “‘night-terror time” every night for seven consecutive days. Many parents report very good results with this technique.

  • Don’t underestimate the power of time zones. If you adopted your child from another state or another country, be sure to transition him gradually to your time zone. Conventional wisdom holds that people need one to two days to recover from jet lag for each time zone crossed, and this can be more for young children. Gradually move bedtime from the time it would be in the country of origin to the local bedtime.

  • Other resources There are a few other excellent resources on sleep for adoptive parents, One is The Center for Adoption Medicine’s page entitled “Sleep and Adoption.”. I also recommend the book The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley and Harvey Karp (there is a version for infants and a version for toddlers and preschoolers). Another good book on sleep is Sleeping Through the Night by Jodi Mindell. If you suspect that your child’s [mis]behavior during the day might be related to inadequate sleep at night, try Mary Sheedy Kurcinka’s Sleepless in America. While these books are not specifically targeted to adoptive parents, their gentle approach is much more suitable for adopted children than other sleep-training books. Perhaps most importantly, seek out support groups for adoptive parents and lean on friends who have adopted for advice. Although the first months can be a real challenge, I promise you will sleep again!
  • Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Adoptive Parents: The Hospital

    In domestic, private adoptions, most adoptive parents meet their babies for the first time at the hospital. As a follow-up to this post, which I wrote about the hospital experience for expectant mothers and how to prepare for it, I’d like to talk to about the hospital from the adoptive parents’ perspective. Just like the expectant mother, adoptive parents should think and prepare in advance to help these exciting and stressful first days go smoothly.

  • Know the hospital’s policies and contact person. Usually, as soon as an expectant mother and adoptive family are “matched” for placement, the birth mother’s lawyer or social worker will notify the hospital of the prospective adoption. One of the first things to do is to familiarize yourself with the hospital’s policies about adoption. For example, learn what paperwork is needed for you to be permitted to visit the baby in the nursery and see the baby’s medical records, whether adoptive parents are permitted to stay overnight, and to whom the baby can be discharged from the hospital. Most hospitals have a social worker or coordinator on staff to coordinate communications with the birth mother and the adoptive family. It’s a good idea to find out who this is and ask him or her questions about hospital policies early on.

  • Make sure that insurance issues are taken care of. Talk to your health insurance company about when you can add your adopted child to your policy. Many expectant mothers who are making an adoption plan have Medicaid, and the baby will sometimes be on Medicaid at first as well. Some states also have medical assistance subsidies for parents who are adopting children with special needs or children from foster care. Your adoption attorney or agency should be able to advise you about when your coverage should kick in, what other coverage is available, and what steps you need to take to make sure your baby’s medical expenses will be covered on time. Once you know what coverage will apply, let the hospital know the insurance details as soon as possible.

  • Communicate clearly and respectfully about what the expectant mother wants to happen at the hospital. Talk openly with the expectant mother (either in person or through the agency, depending on how open your adoption is) about what she wants to happen on the baby’s birth day. Is she open to having you in the delivery room with her? Does she feel differently about this depending on whether she needs to have a C-section? Does she want to take care of the baby (feeding, diapering, etc.) at the hospital, or will you do this? Does she want some “alone time” with the baby when you should give her privacy? Would she like you to visit her as well as the baby? Being honest about expectations and listening carefully to what the expectant mother is comfortable with will help prevent miscommunication and disappointment. Above all, let her know that you respect her wishes.

  • Know who will initially name the baby. Another issue to talk frankly about with the expectant mother is who will choose the name that will appear on the baby’s original birth certificate. Many birth mothers let the adoptive parents choose the name, while for others it is important to choose the name on the birth certificate, even if it won’t be the permanent name. Some especially open-minded adoptive families I know even worked collaboratively with the expectant mother to choose the name together! Whatever the expectant mother chooses, discuss it in advance so there are no surprises.

  • Guard your heart in case you can’t be there for the delivery. As an adoptive parent, you are probably just about sick of being told to “guard your heart” in case this or that goes wrong during the process. Few of us are really capable of “guarding our hearts” anyway! However, it is important to understand that an expectant mother has every right to change her mind about questions like whether you can be present in the delivery room. Especially if she is a first-time mother, the expectant mother has no idea whatsoever how she will feel and what she will want once she is in labor. Even when it is bitterly disappointing, it is essential to respect her wishes. Even if the expectant mother does not change her mind, there is no guarantee that you will be there for the delivery, as a fast labor, slow traffic, and other factors can cause adoptive parents to miss the birth. Make a “Plan B” for if you cannot be present at the birth. For example, you might ask if you can have photographs of the baby’s first moments, the baby’s first hat, etc. for your scrapbook.

  • Know your responsibilities. Will you be responsible for choosing a pediatrician to examine the baby before she is discharged from the hospital? Are you responsible for arranging a notary for the signing of the paperwork? What paperwork do you need in order to be permitted to take the baby home from the hospital? Talk to your adoption attorney to make sure that you have a complete list of your responsibilities, from court orders to a properly installed car seat.

  • Ask if you can meet others who will be at the hospital. Having other members of the birth mother’s family at the hospital can be a truly beautiful experience, and many adoptive parents feel enriched by getting to know more members of the birth family. That being said, it can be awkward if you are meeting the birth father, the birth mother’s parents, etc. for the very first time at the hospital. If possible, ask if you can meet these family members in advance at one of your meetings with the expectant mother. This can be a great opportunity to take pictures and ask questions so that you will be prepared to answer your child’s questions about his birth family as he grows.
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  • Look at time with the baby in the hospital as a gift, not a right. While it’s tempting to think of the first days in the hospital as your time to meet the baby, bear in mind that this is really the birth family’s time to say goodbye. Thinking of it as their time and treating any time you get with the baby as a gift will make these days more joyful for everyone. Try not to fear that “bonding” time with the baby will cause a change of heart about the adoption – this very rarely happens, and attempting to interfere with the birth family’s time with the baby will not prevent it.

  • Keep some focus on the birth mother. Many birth mothers report that they feel showered with attention and care while they are pregnant, only to be dropped like a hot potato once the baby is born. Ask the expectant mother if she would be okay with you visiting her after the birth, and if she says yes, do it. Bring her flowers. Let her know that you care about her, and not just the baby.
  • Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

    Economics Professor’s Research Makes a Difference for Adoptive Families

    I love stories about individuals who make a difference, especially when it comes to adoption law and practice. While you might not think of economics and adoption as two topics that naturally go together, Mary Hansen, an economics professor at American University, dug into the data on adoption and foster care policy and ultimately made a real difference in families’ lives.

    Hansen discovered that the law in the District of Columbia gave subsidies to foster families until the child turned 21, but only gave subsidies to adoptive families until the child turned 18. Hansen’s research also uncovered the fact that studies show that foster children do better when they are adopted. In short, the law was favoring fostering kids over adopting them by giving three years’ more funding to foster families, even though the permanency of adoption is better for kids. For families who need the subsidy money, the incentive was undoubtedly against adoption.

    Hansen testified twice before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Human Services, and eventually the Council passed an extension of subsidies for adoptive families for three additional years, to match the subsidies available for foster families.

    Hansen’s show of leadership reminded me how important it is for families to check their state’s policies regarding foster care and adoption. While many foster families wish to adopt their foster children, it is important to be aware of the laws regarding subsidies, especially if your child has special needs or your family is on a tight budget. It is sad that families have to choose between meeting their child’s needs and adopting the child in some states, but I think most would agree that meeting the child’s needs comes first.

    What I loved most about the article that I read was Hansen’s attitude toward family. Hansen, who is adopted herself and is also an adoptive parent, said that adoption “makes you think what family means in broader terms… Family is about commitment. Your family is the set of people with whom you are committed.”

    Do you have more questions about adoption? Contact The Vaughan Firm to speak with an adoption attorney.

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