Testimony of Phyllis Stevens, founder and executive director of Together as Adoptive Parents; kinship, foster, and adoptive parent. Phyllis was a speaker at the June 18 Legislative Briefing: Ensuring a Family for Every Child.
My name is Phyllis Stevens; my husband and I have six children – one birth son and five children that we adopted from foster care, three with very special needs. I’m also the Founder and Executive Director of Together as Adoptive Parents Inc.
When my husband and I married 38 years ago, adoption was part of our plan. We believed that if you love and nurture a child it did not matter what had happened to them in the past – our love would fix it. We truly believed love was enough. We quickly realized that you needed love, but it was not enough.
We were not prepared to parent a child that had been sexually abused, a child with fetal alcohol syndrome and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a child that is mentally challenged.
The only training we had was the pre-adopt training. We had no clue what we were in for. We were told that the children had special needs but we did not know what that meant.
Children who have experienced trauma, including the loss of their family, are placed into foster, adoptive, and kinship homes every day. Many of these children have been neglected, abused and/or abandoned.
Many foster, adoptive, and kinship parents do not understand their children’s needs or the most effective strategies for addressing them, and as our children grow their needs change. We as caregivers have a NEED and a RIGHT for ongoing education and support services. I emphasize ongoing. Caregivers should have the opportunity to attend training and conferences several times a year.
As the leader of a support organization and a regular conference trainer, there are some questions I get asked frequently:
- “Why is my child so angry all the time?” You would be angry too if you had no control over where you lived or how long you would live there. No control over when or if you can see your birth parents or siblings. No control over your life.
- “Why does my child gorge or hoard food?” When a neglected child is placed in a home they are in survival mode. It does not matter that you have told them over and over again that they can eat whenever they are hungry. They will still sneak and hoard food because their brain is asking them “When will I eat again?” Parents need to know that it may take years before the fear is replaced by trust.
- “Why my child is so manipulative and controlling?” Parents need to know that their child sees the world as a threat. They are their own security. They are scared. Again, they are living in survival mode.
- “My child is failing in school.”When you think of children, you don’t think about stress. Our children are not thinking about what they will wear the next day, they are thinking, “How did this happen, what did I do wrong, how can I fix it?” They are wondering if they will ever see their family again. The last thing they are thinking about is that spelling test.
Parents need to know that the behaviors listed above are only external reflections of the internal fear and chaos within their children.
Families should be prepared for the reality that issues will surface and resurface, and that challenges face them over the course of their children’s lives.
Parents need to know that a child who has been neglected, abused, and abandoned swings back and forth in their emotional state.
Parents need to know that sometimes the smallest, kindest thing could be an emotional trigger for a child. This past Monday I was with a family that was having 13 year old twins placed in their home. During the course of the conversation the caseworker said to the family that they should not mention anything about taking the children to Florida or to Disney. The last pre-adopt family that they were with took the kids to Florida and abandoned them in the hotel. Parents need to know that anything can be a trigger for our children.
Training funds should be available and accessible for ongoing training of all caregivers, including adoptive and kinship caregivers.
State and federal foster care reimbursement policies were designed with the intention of ensuring that caregivers are fit and able to meet the needs of their children. Too often these policies fail to consider the special circumstances of some relative caregivers, relative caregivers that are not part of the child welfare system.
Caregivers must be prepared and supported in order for them to meet the needs of the children and youth in their care.