Archive for March, 2011

Bikers Against Child Abuse – What Do You Think?

As a lawyer practicing child-welfare law, I hear about a lot of interesting organizations that support vulnerable kids, but none has fascinated me quite as much as one I learned about today: Bikers Against Child Abuse International (BACA). My first reaction was “this can’t be for real,” but the more I read, the more interested I became.

BACA’s mission is “to create a safer environment for abused children.” They do this by forming a visible support network for abused children in their communities. When they learn of a child who has been abused, they first verify the complaint through law enforcement and Child Protective Services. Then they get the parents’ permission, get a group of BACA members together, and go to the child’s house to meet him and offer him their support and protection. They give the child a badge, a jacket, and a number to call, and they offer to come back any time that child feels frightened, 24 hours a day. They will escort the child when she feels afraid, attend court hearings with her, and stay with her when she is alone. They also make themselves visible in the child’s community by going door-to-door and explaining their mission, as well as conducting community events and fundraisers.

When I first read about this, the problems leapt out at me. Wouldn’t a group of bikers showing up at a child’s house scare the living bejeezus out of him? Is “visiblility in the community” really code for “vigilante justice against the abuser?” How are these volunteers screened to make sure they are not child abusers themselves? However, BACA seems to have thought of most everything. They have annual trainings with a social worker to learn about abused children and how to work with them. They have strict policies regarding contact with abusers — if the abuser’s identity is even known to BACA, they withdraw their physical presence to avoid any contact with the abuser. They also require a criminal background check of all members, and all members must attend at least 80% of monthly chapter meetings and be voted in by the other members in order to join. The site really answered all of my questions except what (if anything) BACA does if it is a custodial parent who is the abuser.

While I still see potential for problems if members weren’t adequately screened, didn’t follow the rules about having no contact with the abuser, or otherwise weren’t good role models, I really admire these bikers for stepping up and taking some real action against child abuse. In a world of scarce resources and bureaucracy, sometimes the legal system alone fails children. It brings tears to my eyes to think of a vulnerable child being able to sleep soundly knowing that she has a strong group of mentors surrounding and supporting her. BACA seems to be a well-run organization with excellent rules to prevent potential pitfalls. I’m just about the furthest thing from a biker that you could imagine, but whether you are dressed as a biker or Mother Theresa, if you support children, you have my support.

What do you think? Is BACA the real deal? Leave your comments below or email them to me at evaughan (at) vaughanfirm (dot) com. If you are a member of BACA or have ever seen them in action, I’d especially love to hear from you.

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

Can a Traumatic Childhood Make You Sick?

This week’s New Yorker includes an article that will be especially fascinating to adoptive and foster parents. It’s about research on how childhood trauma affects life-long health (the full article is available only to subscribers, but this synopsis is fairly good). The article focuses on the work of Dr. Nadine Burke, a pediatrician at the Bayview Child Health Center in San Francisco, California. Dr. Burke noticed that many of her patients, most of whom come from low-income, inner-city families, displayed the same laundry list of ailments. Most also had suffered abuse, neglect, trauma, and loss throughout their childhoods, many while in the foster-care system. Dr. Burke began to be convinced that there was a connection between childhood trauma and long-term health problems.

Dr. Burke found support for her theory in a study by Vincent J. Felitti and Robert F. Anda In this study, members of the Kaiser Permanente HMO in the San Diego area were sent a questionnaire that evaluated their “adverse childhood experiences” or “ACE” (negative childhood events like abuse, neglect, parental drug use, etc.). They then compared the survey responses to the patients’ medical records. Felitti and Anda found that patients with higher ACE scores (indicating more childhood trauma) had higher incidences of chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer. Even when they screened the results to eliminate behavioral factors like drug and alcohol use and smoking, the patients with higher ACE scores still had more health problems.

Several other studies have supported the one by Felitti and Anda, including one from Dunedin, New Zealand that found that adults in their thirties who had been abused as children were twice as likely to have high levels of an inflammatory protein in their blood, which is a predictor of cardiovascular disease. It is also supported by research on rats, showing that traumatic experiences cause changes in the rats’ brains that leave them unable to regulate their stress responses. This effect is reduced by parental nurturing. Burke also did research using the ACE questionnaire on her own patients, and found that learning and behavioral problems were much higher for kids with high levels of trauma (3% for children with ACE scores of zero to 51% for children with ACE scores of 4 or higher out of 10). Wow! In case you didn’t feel important as a parent, this research suggests that how you nurture and care for your child can actually change his or her brain chemistry and life-long health. As Dr. Burke says in the article, “you can trace the pathology as it moves from the molecular level to the social level.”

The good news for foster and adoptive parents is that there is strong evidence that these health effects can be lessened or reversed, even among older children and adults, although scientists are still studying which interventions are best. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, stress reduction, and medication are all methods that are being tried, and a study in Oregon also suggests that secure emotional attachment with the child’s current caregivers makes a big difference. While therapy is unquestionably important for kids who have experienced trauma, your instinct to nurture, love, and reduce stress in your adopted or foster child could be, quite literally, just what the doctor ordered.

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

China Opens Adoptions to Single Women

Starting today, single women are now once again eligible to adopt from China. The China Center of Adoption Affairs (CCAA) announced yesterday that single women who meet certain criteria may now adopt “Special Focus” children from China. “Special Focus” generally means children who are older, who have been on the list of eligible children for more than two months, and/or who have special needs.
The list of eligibility requirements for prospective adoptive parents is fairly steep, and includes requirements regarding income, age, experience and training with special-needs children, number of children in the household, and more. Disappointingly, homosexual women continue to be excluded. You can read the full list of requirements here.

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

Seven Sensitive Times for Adopted Kids

All parenting has its ups and downs, and parenting adopted children is no different. One thing is different is that there are certain times that tend to be more difficult for adopted kids than their non-adopted peers. Be prepared to lend a listening ear and a loving voice during these seven sensitive times.

1. Birthdays As the very word “birth days” suggests, birthdays are a common time for adoptees to think about (you guessed it!) their birth. It’s natural for kids to think about their birth mothers on this day and to wonder about what that very first birth day was like. You can help by being open to talking about your child’s feelings. If you know about his birth parents and the circumstances of his birth, be ready and willing to talk about it in age-appropriate ways. A telephone call or visit to your child’s birth mother can be a great idea for those with open adoptions. Most of all, don’t dismiss your child’s feelings or insist that she “should” be happy because it’s her birthday.

2. Holidays, including Mother’s Day and Father’s Day Speaking of times when kids are expected to be happy, the holidays rank high. Like birthdays, the holidays are a natural time to reflect on family and the past, and this is often true of adopted children. The changes to their usual routine that holidays entail can also be hard on kids. For obvious reasons, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are extremely common times for adopted children to feel down or to have a lot of questions about their birth parents. Once again, staying open to these questions without judgment will help your child feel safe expressing her feelings to you. Incorporating traditions that honor your child’s birth parents and/or heritage can also be helpful.

3. Times of Change (moving house, a death in the family, divorce, a new sibling, etc.) Big transitions are difficult for everyone – even adults! Major life changes like moving, a death in the family, a divorce, or a new sibling can be especially unsettling for adopted kids, who are more likely than their non-adopted peers to feel insecure and to fear rejection or abandonment. Keep this in mind during times of major change, and make sure you schedule in some time each day to spend time with your child and reassure him that nothing will change the fact that you love him and that you’re a family.

5. Learning about the birds and the bees As children grow and start to have a better understanding about where babies come from, they tend to have more questions and worries about their birth families. While very young kids might be able to parrot back the basic fact that they were grown in another woman’s belly than mommy’s, this doesn’t mean that they understand it. Don’t be surprised if your child pops out with questions that you thought she already understood the answers to. This is a normal developmental stage as kids start to have a more accurate understanding of how birth and adoption work.

4. Entering school For many adopted children, entering school is the first time in their lives that they become aware that they joined their families in a different way from other children. This can be very distressing for some kids, especially if they are being teased about it at school. Stay wide open to listening to your child’s concerns and reassuring him that adoption is just another normal way that families come together. Be prepared to ask a few gentle, probing questions to get your child talking about what he’s feeling about school. If possible, talk to your child’s teacher early on, to discuss how to make adopted children feel more comfortable at school.

6.During certain school assignments If you have talked with your child’s teacher about creating an adoption-friendly classroom, this may not be an issue, but many parents find that their children come home with some decidedly non-adoption-friendly homework assignments. Tasks like making a family tree, writing a report about their cultural heritage, tracing which genetic traits they got from their parents, or bringing in a baby photo can be confusing or even impossible for some adopted children. Talk with your child first about how the assignment made him feel, then come up with creative ways that he could complete the assignment in a way that respects his experience.

7. Adolescence Let’s face it: Whether your child was adopted or not, adolescence is a hard time on kids…and parents! The normal developmental phase of becoming more independent and figuring out identity can be especially tough for adolescents who were adopted. Adolescents also tend to have more sophisticated questions about their adoptions. Don’t be caught off guard – be prepared to share more information as your child is ready for it. As always, stay open to listening to your child’s feelings without taking it personally or telling her how she “should” feel instead. Let her know that you support her as she figures out who she is in this world. Better yet, show her that you support her by attending adoptee-rights events (if she is interested), helping with her efforts to contact her birth parents, or otherwise being an ally to your almost-adult adoptee.

Adoptees, do you remember particular times in your childhood that were more difficult for you because of being adopted? Adoptive parents, have you run across any times that are predictably harder for your children that aren’t on this list? Post them 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.

The Adoptee Community

“Adult adoptees are a primary source for knowledge about adoption as an institution. Their perceptions are unique, for adult adoptees are actually the only persons who can tell us what it is like to live adoption in a society in which most people are not adopted.”

–Child Welfare League of America

Learning about the perspectives of adults who were adopted as children is an excellent idea for all adoptive and prospective adoptive parents. Reading about these viewpoints can be difficult for adoptive parents, because it’s not all positive. While most adoptive parents know about the feelings of sadness, emptiness, and rejection that adoptees can sometimes feel, fewer are aware that some adult adoptees are very angry about the adoption system and certain aspects of their adoptions. These feelings can be hard to read about, but the truth is that ignoring them does not make them go away. Learning about the adoptee community and its varied perspectives is an important way that you can prepare to be an informed ally to your adopted child. Here are a few resources to get you started.

Any book by Betty Jean Lifton: Betty Jean Lifton was an adoptee who wrote beautifully about the lifelong experience of being adopted. Her books are Lost and Found: The Adoption Experience, Twice Born: Memoirs of an Adopted Daughter, and Journey of the Adopted Self: The Quest for Wholeness.

Bastard Nation Don’t be put off by the name – Bastard Nation is a well-respected adoptee rights organization that is active in issues such as adoptee access to original birth records.

Dr. John Raible Online Dr. John Raible is an Assistant Professor of Diversity and Curriculum Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is an adult adoptee who was adopted transracially, and his research focuses on racial identity, particularly in adoption contexts. He is an insightful writer and speaker whose perspective includes his personal experience as well as his extensive academic research.

Harlow’s Monkey A blog about transracial adoption from an adoptee’s perspective. Includes an excellent page for adoptive parents on how to be an ally to transracially adopted children and adults.

Heart, Mind, and Seoul A blog by an adult adoptee from Korea who is also a mother to one adopted son and one daughter by birth. Her perspective as both an adoptee and an adoptive parent is insightful.

The Declassified Adoptee Amanda is an adult adoptee who has reunited with her birth mother. She is also an adoption activist and adoptee rights activist who writes with eloquence and grace about her own experiences as well as adoption issues generally.

Sherrie Eldridge Sherrie Eldridge is an adult adoptee and author of many books on adoption, including Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. She writes, speaks, and coaches with the goal of helping adoptive parents and their children enrich their relationship.

In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories. This book is one of the very few written from adoptees’ perspectives.

Do you know of other great resources for learning more about adoptees’ perspectives? Post them 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.

Committment: The Key Ingredient in Open Adoption

Sunday’s Washington Post piece on open adoption reminded me that some of the most inspiring families I know are those who came together through open adoption. There is something beautiful about seeing people extending their definitions of family, navigating their own difficult emotions, and figuring out how to make their relationship work smoothly, all because they want the very best for the child. Beautiful as it is, it is not easy, and every family is a little bit different.

I have become convinced that the most important factor to having a successful open adoption is commitment. Don’t just have a fling with open adoption, marry it. This is equally crucial for adoptive parents and birth parents.

As an adoptive parent, agreeing to an open adoption and then not following through can be crushing to both the birth mother and the child. Aside from the importance of honoring your commitment to the birth mother, committing to open adoption also respects the child’s emotions and needs. Studies and stories from adult adoptees tell us that knowing about and having access to their birthmothers helps children thrive by easing feelings of rejection. Simply not knowing anything about their birth history can be exceptionally painful for kids, and often leads to wild imaginings (both fantasies and nightmares) about why they were given up or what their lives might be like if they were not placed for adoption.

In some cases, commitment here means more than simply holding up your end of the bargain. If your child’s birth mother goes off the radar and is unreachable for a while, commitment to open adoption also means actively pursuing this relationship as best you can, which can be a difficult dance of tact and persistence. If this happens, you will also need to make big decisions about how to explain these periods of lapse to the child.

As a birth parent, it’s essential to remember that an open adoption that includes visits is a lifelong commitment. Adopted children are especially vulnerable to feeling rejected or unwanted, and if you start by visiting once a week and then eventually get too busy or change your mind, this can have a huge psychological impact on the child. This is by no means meant to discourage you from having an open adoption with visitation! Rather, know that it’s important to honor your commitment by keeping up the schedule. If you absolutely can’t, make sure you communicate the reason clearly to the child, and try to substitute other ways to stay connected, such as telephone or Skype visits.

For both birth parents and adoptive parents, staying committed to open adoption means opening your heart in ways you never considered before. Setting the boundaries of an open adoption can be especially delicate. The first issue you are likely to face is agreeing on how much contact is the right amount. This agreement might change over time as the parties get to know each other better and see how they feel about open adoption, and it might change even more as the child grows and his needs change. Know that it’s normal for disagreements or misunderstandings to arise over the long life cycle of an open adoption. A birth parent might give advice and be perceived as trying to co-parent the child, or might give the child a gift that the adoptive parents don’t feel is appropriate. The adoptive parents might inadvertently say something to offend the birth mother, or might not invite her to a family event in which she thought she should be included.

These disagreements and misunderstandings are part of the reason why open adoption takes commitment. They are also part of why healthy open adoptions are so beautiful. Sure, it would be easier to walk away and [try to] forget that an adoption every took place between you. However, out of love for the child, for the child’s best interest, committed families keep coming back again, doing the hard work of communication and balance until they get it right.

There are as many different scenarios in open adoption as there are families who choose it. If you have experience with open adoption, from any viewpoint, I’d love to hear about it 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.

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