Gone are the days of trash bags in place of luggage and rushed placements into adoptive homes. Or at least, they should be. Truthfully, there will be times when rushed placements are the only option, but in a better situation, a child’s transition to a new home will include:
The child’s team meeting with each other to come up with a plan, and continuing to meet to adjust that plan accordingly. This could include the child’s current caregiver, legal representative, therapist, the agency, the prospective adoptive parents, and other appropriate parties. Likely, not everyone will agree on every detail, but will be able to have detailed discussions and make agreements on how to move forward. Many topics can be addressed, including those on this template (please feel free edit/use this form): Adoption Transition Planning
Once you have made some preliminary agreements about the transition plan, you get to meet each other (unless you’ve already met each other at a match event, etc.)! It is widely suggested that if your family does not regularly attend Disney, then do not do this on the first visit. Remember that you want to be in an environment that allows for interaction without causing too much pressure/anxiety on anyone. So while you don’t want to just sit and stare at each other, a loud/overstimulating environment may not be the best either. Families find it helpful to bring pictures to the meeting, including of their family, home, activities they do, their pets, etc. As for introductions, you will find different opinions on this. Some workers like to say “Hey, these are my friends that we are going to spend time with!” My personal challenge to this is that a) children are smarter than we give them credit for, and will likely catch on and b) remember, we are modeling the idea of being truthful and not lying. Some workers have found success with preparation with the child before the meeting. The prep work helps to set expectations, address any fears, and offer support. Ideally, the matching and disclosure process will have helped the family to identify if they can meet the needs of the child so that by the time this visit happens, it is less about “Hey, do we like each other?” and more about “Hey, let’s start building our relationship because I am committing to caring for you”.
After the initial visits have occurred and everyone feels comfortable doing so, visits would become “unsupervised”, meaning that it would be you/your family and the child continuing to getting to know each other. These visits usually lengthen in time until an overnight visit occurs. Keep in mind that the transition process will look different for children who are residing further away/in another state. In this case, it may be helpful to utilize technology (video chat, phone calls, etc.) to build the relationship as frequent visits may not be an option.
During visits, the team should be checking in with each other to see how they are going, and continuing to make plans for future visits/placement. It is important to take cues from the child, but also to be mindful of not rushing. Everything being done should replicate how we want the child to handle relationships, including endings when necessary. Healthy goodbyes are encouraged and can be done by having one on one time with people he/she will not see as often, writing cards, getting contact information and making plans to stay in contact, giving gifts, verbalizing their feelings, and other ways to acknowledge this change. It is especially helpful to have important people in the child’s life give them a “permission message”. A permission message is communicated to the child to allow them to move forward and continue to grow and attach to their new family. For example, a foster parent can say “I am really going to miss you and will continue to love you. I am so happy for you that you will have even more people to love you and I want you to know that it is ok to love them too.”
Prior to the child’s placement into the home, it is highly recommended that all referrals be made so that services can begin as soon as possible. It is a critical time in the relationship and all involved are going to need support; it would be unwise to wait for a crisis to then put in a referral. Proactive support is one of the key factors to encouraging healthy adoption transitions and adoptions in general. The pre-adoptive family will make the final changes to the home (furniture, safety precautions) prior to the child’s move. Hopefully, a transition time was chosen that allows the child and family some time to adjust to each other, such as over the summer break. In some cases, families utilize FMLA to have time to spend with the child.
What to expect after the child is placed with your family? A honeymoon period typically occurs. As a therapist, I look forward to when that ends as it can be indicative of many different things, including a child’s growing comfort, his/her readiness to show “true” feelings, and the potential to allow the adoptive parent(s) to meet these needs and give support for what is usually a highly tumultuous time in the child’s life. This is your time to shine, parents!! It is also a grrrreat time to use your supports. There are support groups, adoption competent therapists, the agency, and potentially post adoption supports. Of course, you can also utilize friends and family; though they may not quite understand what you are experiencing and can offer suggestions and advice that may not be helpful for a child who has/is experiencing trauma.
During this time, between placement and adoption finalization, there should be a worker visiting your home monthly and offering support. In Florida, the placement period must be at least 90 days before finalization. Other states require other time frames. I believe New York requires 6 months before finalization. The idea is that this allows additional time for support and to reduce the occurrences of adoption dissolutions (when an adoption fails after the finalization). While I support families taking longer than 90 days to finalize, if needed, I have seen some cases when the family struggles with transitioning away from the support of the agency. In these instances, it can be helpful to link the family to other supports within the community while encouraging the parent(s) confidence in themselves and the child’s need for “normalcy”. We have to remember that the children who are still waiting in foster care need these agencies to help them find their own adoptive families, which is not always easy. Thankfully, post adoption programs throughout the country are becoming more robust as they recognize the need and importance of supporting children and families after they have legally finalized their adoptions. So, know that you will have support when needed!