The Psychology Of Adoption

This week we are very glad to welcome a guest post by Marcus Clarke, a regular blogger at PsySci. In his post Marcus examines seven of the most common psychological issues our adopted children may struggle with.

Developmental Psychology has highlighted the profound importance of formative years on the psychological makeup of adults. From the early formation of attachments to the support system of primary caregivers, a child’s upbringing can have far-reaching ramifications on the child’s outlook, behaviours and relationships with others. Children who have been through the process of adoption have experienced interrupted and fragmented development, and as a result may struggle with a multitude of issues. In this article, I discuss seven common psychological problems in adopted children.

#1 Rejection and Abandonment

Children who have been adopted may experience feelings of rejection and abandonment from their birth families, especially if the circumstances of the adoption involved deliberate relinquishment of the child. The child may experience confusion and anger that they were ‘given away’, perhaps believing they were unloved, and may develop trust issues for fear of future rejection.

#2 Fear and Trauma

Fear is a common emotion in adopted children; fear of being hurt or rejected again, fear of the unknown, fear of what happened to other siblings or family members. The reasons for the adoption and the adoption process itself can be traumatic experiences for a child, and a common reaction to trauma is fear. Fear may have been the only constant that the child has known throughout their life and they may have a difficult time abolishing known fear-response patterns.

#3 Grief and Loss

As well as feelings of rejection and abandonment, adopted children may experience grief about the loss of the previous familial environment. This loss may encompass physical loss such as the loss of a mother, father and siblings, environmental loss such as the loss of home or school, or a loss of the child’s perceived significance and self-worth.

#4 Guilt and Shame

Adopted children may experience feelings of guilt and shame, especially if they harbour the belief that the adoption was their ‘fault’. The child may believe if they’d been a better child, they wouldn’t have been ‘given away’, or that it was their fault the family unit fell apart. The perception of being rejected can be so shameful to a child it leaves them feeling tainted or somehow undeserving of future love and happiness.

#5 Low Self-Esteem

The adopted child who feels guilt and shame at their perception of being rejected may in turn have low self-esteem. Feeling internal blame for the rejection, the child may believe himself incapable of being loved. These feelings may be compounded as the child goes through their life stigmatised as an adopted child, always feeling left out or different than other children.

#6 Identity Issues

Developmental psychology has emphasised childhood and adolescence as crucial stages in the development of ‘identity’. The upheaval of adoption and change in the familial structure can impact negatively upon a child’s sense of identity. Further, it has been suggested that as a child moves through the phases of adoption, their sense of identity undergoes rapid and multiple change as they come to understand and accept the adoption placement.

#7 Depressive and Anxiety Disorders

Any one of these complex psychological problems, has the real possibility of bringing about depressive and anxiety disorders in the adopted child. The very act of trying to resist the negativity of such psychological disorders, may instead create a cycle of defensive or aggressive behaviours, further embedding feelings of guilt, shame, fear, trauma and potentially rejection again if the adopted family cannot cope with the child’s defence mechanisms.

The upheaval of one from home, family and indeed, very way of life, can be distressing and difficult at the best of times. Add to that, the upheaval occurring during the formative years when one is discovering their sense of ‘self’ and there is no real question as to why adopted children may experience a common set of psychological problems.

Last week roundup results #31

Week #31 of the Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup are in.

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate new articles or vote for their favourites. And of course, congratulations to all our winners this week.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week top 5

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Living with someone else’s trauma

Last few months have been hard, much harder than what I anticipated when with my husband Diego and I decided to become foster carers. These months have been stressful and tiring, they have put my good will to the test, and drained off all my energies. And if being empty, discouraged and hopeless wasn’t bad enough, I also get to feel guilty for not being able to show more empathy towards our little foster girl Holly.

Every day is a constant struggle to try to contain situations so that they are manageable. Anything can trigger a dysregulated reaction in Holly: telling her no can results in a full aggressive response, asking her a question can turn into her leaving the room and ignoring me, giving her instructions can resolve in her shouting or crying or spitting or rolling on the floor. There isn’t a formula that works every time, her responses are volatile, and she can react positively to something one day and crumble down in pieces the following day.

As an adoptive parent, I never realised what foster families go through. Every day. 24 hours a day. For months. For years. They are the ones opening up their homes and hearts without notice, without introduction, without prior assessments, without really pondering if they have a “good feeling” about that child.

Nevertheless, they are the ones that adoptive families are often talking bad about, the ones that will be asked to leave the child’s life as quickly as the child got into theirs. I lost count of the many times I read the foster family constantly feed her chocolate, or the foster carer just put him in front of the TV all day or again the foster family didn’t care about my girl. Fingers are always pointed to the foster carers, as if they were the baddies in the child’s life, the ones who didn’t care about the child, the ones that adoptive families often blame when problems arise. Some of these adoptive parents must be right in complaining, but I wonder if I will be judged as harshly.

As human beings, and as foster carers, we are all led by our emotions. I want to think I’m led by love and compassion. My guess is that Holly is led by fear and loss. Our hope as carers is that these children will eventually form a relationship with us and that through this bond we can help them to start working through their emotions and start to heal. Attachment is our strongest tool as carers and the biggest hope for our children.

But Holly doesn’t want to deal with me, she doesn’t even like me. She told me! One day my son asked her: I love my mummy. Holly, do you love my mum? She didn’t even have to think about it. In a strangely cheerful voice, she straight away answered no. The silver lining is that she said she loved Diego, so there is a safe person in her life to retreat to if she needs to.

My life today is unrecognisable, I feel 10 years older, tired as I’ve never been before, hollow and on the verge of bursting into tears most days. I’m emotionally drained, and I believe Holly senses that. The more I feel exhausted, the more my relationship with Holly deteriorates. She doesn’t do it on purpose. She probably feels my struggle but doesn’t understand it, and most likely this makes her feeling anxious around me. Anxiety triggers fear, fears triggers dysregulations, dysregulation triggers a range of bad behaviours.

My days are ruled by someone else’s emotions: our foster girl ones, my son’s, my husband’s. In the midst of all this, I struggle to find the time to process my own. Each day rolls into the next, all yesterday’s issues remain unsolved, and the guilt for my previous mistakes bottled up. That scares me, and I feel I’m losing control.

Last week roundup results #30

Week #30 of the Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup are in.

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate new articles or vote for their favourites. And of course, congratulations to all our winners this week.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week top 5

Did you know a new roundup is always on? You can visit this week roundup, or add new article to it.


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Blame the foster carers

Life with Holly hasn’t changed much in the last month or so. We have positive days, pull-your-hair-out days, and every other kind of day in between. What we haven’t cracked yet, is what makes such a big difference between a day and the next.

It is a demoralising thought. We wake up every morning hoping for the best. We try hard to forget what happened the day before and put on our best smile, and sometimes that alone takes an enormous amount of effort. And after all that prep work, we can tell how the rest of the day will go within 15 minutes of interacting with her.

Because Holly is the discriminating factor between a good day and a miserable one. How we react to her moods plays a huge role too, of course, but although we can correct our attitude and behaviour, she can’t. A bad day stays a bad day for her. We spent the last three months trying to understand what outside factors affect her behaviour so much, and we’ve got nothing to show for it.

What we learnt though is that when Holly is having one of her bad days, it is best for everyone if we stop pretending we are her parents.

It feels wrong to write that and much harsher than it actually is. It’s not neglect, if that’s what you’re thinking. We could never neglect a child of ours. What changes is the distance we keep between us and her. We behave as any caring adult would behave towards somebody else’s child. If she needs us, we are there for her. If she wants to talk to us, we are there to listen. We just wait for her to come to us first, and in truth, she never does.

I don’t believe Holly has formed a real attachment to any of us. She plays with us, sits on the sofa with us, goes along with our routines and small house rituals. She coexists with us, but I don’t believe she cares for us at all, and that saddens me. I would be happy to know that she didn’t need us, that her loyalty lies with someone else–with her birth mum perhaps–but I’m not sure of that either. I am starting to believe Holly has very little trust in grown-ups and, given the choice, she’d gladly do without.

And if that is the case, if Holly really hasn’t formed an attachment to us after all this time, it means we have failed her in our duty as foster carers. It means that all we did to include her in our house and our life was not enough to convince her we are safe, that she could trust us. It’s probably our fault at the end, but if we are to be blamed, it shouldn’t be for not trying hard enough. It should be for not speaking up earlier perhaps.

Despite the many reassurances from Holly’s social worker, we suspected Holly had behavioural problems from very early on, although we tried hard not to look for them. The way she behaves with complete strangers, for example, friendly to a point the person feels uncomfortable about it, could suggest an attachment disorder. Other behaviours and delays in her development may point to Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder, a form of FASD, and if that was the case, then we would have needed more training to deal with it.

But no one knows, because she’s so little, and before the age of 3 any serious behavioural problem is generally bundled up with the typical tantrums of a toddler. We keep writing what we see, little clues, possible symptoms, without ever suggesting any condition of course, because that’s not our job.

And sometimes I wonder if anyone really wants to know about it. A lot of work has been done already to find a more permanent accommodation for this girl, and the simple threat of a serious condition could put a stop to all of that. Plus a diagnosis would take time, these children grow fast, and past the age of 3 it becomes harder and harder to find a suitable family for them.

Her Social Worker described Holly to us as a perfectly “normal” child, after she’s seen her only once. And perhaps she was right. I’m sure the same Social Worker–who since then have seen Holly one more time–is telling the exact same story to whoever might be interested in looking after this child, with the usual warning about her being so young and possible conditions that could come up in the future, of course, but otherwise a perfectly healthy young girl. And who wouldn’t want that?

Last week roundup results #29

Week #29 of the Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup are in.

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate new articles or vote for their favourites. And of course, congratulations to all our winners this week.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week top 5

Did you know a new roundup is always on? You can visit this week roundup, or add new article to it.


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You can now add the roundup badge to your website and make it even easier for your readers to vote for you.

You can find all the details on how to do that on this page.


And if you would you like to receive the results of our roundups delivered to your inbox each week, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

MadLug: Make A Difference Luggage

We had a little and sweet girl arriving at midnight carrying all she could in an overstuffed school bag and coat pockets. Another girl had her social worker carrying canvas shopping bags full of randomly organised clothes and teddies. Another child carried all her belongings in two pink gift bags with a glittery princess printed on it.

While sifting through their belongings I’m constantly surprised how disorganised and irrational the content of these bags can be: 3 pairs of socks but one single t-shirt, one extra pair of shoes but no underwear. The most consistent set of clothes they come with is what they have on them at the time they get to our place, and even that can consist of just a PJ’s, a winter jacket, and a hat.

A few days ago I saw this message on Twitter:

I'm hearing more & more stories of #lookedafterchildren being moved using binbags! this was stopped yrs ago. How are we back here #nobinbags

The conversation on Twitter went on for a while, and everyone had a sad episode to tell. Then I received a reply from someone who could offer help:

That’s how I first heard about the great work MadLug is doing, and has done in the last 3 years. We got in contact with Dave Linton, the company founder, who kindly agreed to tell us all about his company.

Restoring dignity

In the spring of 2014, while Dave Linton was attending an introduction to fostering course, he was shown a video interview with a young girl in a wheelchair who made the following statement:

Health Trusts don’t provide suitcases. Sometimes foster carers loan us a suitcase but more often our belongings are moved in black plastic bin bags and we lose our dignity.

This statement really stuck with Dave and for the remainder of the evening he thought of nothing else but the fact that these children’s had no option but to move their belongings in bin bags.

He went on to found, MadLug, a lifestyle brand selling luggage, backpacks, gym bags, and journals. Each sale made on the online shop is matched with a donation of a bag to a child in care.

Sell, sell, sell

He started with just £480. He established the brand, purchased some bags, and got selling online. As orders started rolling in, he quickly realised that the company business model could sustain itself, while at the same time make a difference for many vulnerable children. Already 1100 MagLug products have been sold to date, with the same number given to children in care. The free bags are unbranded to avoid stigmatising those who use them, which shows it’s not all about the brand 🙂

 

Support the cause

Dave has this to say about the support he and MadLug received: “We’ve come a long way in a short time and we have been particularly encouraged by how many people have already shared our vision for MadLug and giving children in care the dignity of moving their belongings in a proper bag. The level of support has been fantastic – I’ve been working closely with health trusts and charities from across Ireland and UK. Some of the most moving messages of support have come from people who have grown up in care and have experienced putting all they own in bin bags.”

You can read the full story about MadLug here.

You can help

If you too believe this initiative deserve your support, visit their site and purchase one of their fantastic products. Or if you are not in the market for a new bag but still want to be part of the movement, you can always make a donation.

Thanks to your purchase, a bag will be given to a child or young person who otherwise will have not choice but use whatever bag she can find around. Moving children in bin bags was a thing of the past, and your contribution could make sure it stays that way.

So… Happy shopping, and happy giving!

PLEASE NOTE: Full Time Tired is not affiliated with MadLug, or with any of its partners. We just believe their work is important and we are proud to support their cause on our website.

Last week roundup results #28

Week #28 of the Adoption and Fostering Weekly Roundup are in. You can find the results in the list below.

A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to nominate new articles or vote for their favourites. And of course, congratulations to all our winners this week.

If you are new to our roundup and want to know more, have a look at this page.

This week top 5

Did you know a new roundup is always on? You can visit this week roundup, or add new article to it.


adoption-and-fostering-roundup-badge


You can now add the roundup badge to your website and make it even easier for your readers to vote for you.

You can find all the details on how to do that on this page.


And if you would you like to receive the results of our roundups delivered to your inbox each week, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter.