Anyone who is involved with the world of adoption knows that adoption has lifelong implications for everyone involved: birth parents, adoptive parents, and, of course, the people who are adopted from one family into another.
Until very recently, adoption was almost always shrouded in secrecy. The link between the birth parent and the adopted person was held in file boxes on the shelves of adoption agencies, paperwork that connected the adopted child to the parent or parents they came from. In order to access that information, adoptees and birth parents had to pay money. Had to know where to start. And had to rely on the cooperation of whomever received their request for information.
Nowadays, we recognize the importance of transparency in adoption and the benefits of a child knowing about their birth family and even having relationships with them. Most adoptions today are open, with at least some sort of contact between birth and adoptive families, but that leaves thousands of adopted adults with gaping holes in their life stories. In response to this, in 2018, Amara, a foster care and adoption agency in Seattle, launched Project Search and Reunion, a ground-breaking initiative that aims to audit 3,100 of their own adoption files between the years of 1950 and 2000 to ensure that adoptees and birth families receive the information and support they requested, especially in regard to searching.
In March, just before the world shut down and we all went into quarantine, I had a chance to hear a presentation about this important work, and in the latest episode of A Fostered Life Podcast, I’m speaking with Rena Konomis, a Washington state court appointed Confidential Intermediary and Project Director of Project and Search and Reunion. Listen as Rena explains the goal of the project and why it matters for everyone involved with the world of adoption.
I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did!
The focus on NAAM is not adoption, per se, but adoption from foster care. There are thousands and thousands of children across our country who, for all sorts of reasons, will never be able to go home to their families of origin. While many of them will age out by choice, and some don’t want to be adoptive, many others desperately want to be part of a family that will be there forever. They want parents who will become grandparents for their kids. They want a home to go to for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They want to be part of a family—they want to be adopted.
Every November, various foster care agencies across the country promote the adoption of children and youth from foster care into permanent, loving families. I’m so grateful for their work. I’m grateful that families are formed in all sorts of ways, and as a foster and adoptive mother, I’m grateful for my kids and the family we are forming together.
That said, it’s important for those of us who are adopting children to keep in mind that, even when adoption is a happy ending, it’s not the end of the story. Adoption—the need for adoption—is rooted in profound sorrow, loss, and pain.
In this video, I share a bit of my heart for the children in my care and the thousands of others who are affected by adoption, including the women and families of origin who were unable to raise their own children. Even when adoption was the “best” option, it’s still an option that carries a lot of loss and pain, and that loss and pain doesn’t go away.
I’m a fan of adoption. As I shared in this video, there is a lot of grace and beauty in adoption. But we must never forget, especially as we promote adoption during NAAM, that there is also a lot of sorrow and pain in adoption, and our kids need us to hold that with them, even as we love and celebrate their place in our families.
Back when we were in the process of becoming licensed to be foster parents, we were focused on the checklist of things we needed to do to prepare. Smoke detectors in every bedroom? Check. Medicines locked up and alcohol out of reach? Check and check. Crib slats the correct distance apart? Yes. Mattress thick enough? Yes.
The list went on.
Now, nearly six years and many children and family systems later, I realize that there are a few things that are not part of the required preparation for becoming a foster parent—but should be.
I shared about them in this video, but if you prefer to read rather than watch, here they are:
Listen to, read, and watch resources that amplify the voices of Former Foster Youth (FFY) and Adoptees.
As a new foster parent, I sought out other foster parents, therapists, teachers, social workers, and more in my endeavor to learn and grow, but it was years before I discovered resources that came from the perspective of children in care and/or adoptees (who have a lot in common). Unfortunately, without learning from FFY and adoptees, I was only one side of the story.
As the saying goes, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. But once I started listening to those voices—as I sat on foster care panels and attended workshops and conferences—I realized how vital it is for foster parents to gain some insight into how things look and feel to the kids in their care.
Here are a few places to start. There are more. Some are really hard to read. Some will make you very defensive. You’ll wan to say, “Not all foster parents! Not us!” Don’t do that. Just listen, and try to do better.
My brother and sister-in-law were foster parents for a time. Some cousins of my husband were as well, and we knew of some friends-of-friends who were foster parents. However, we never really discussed foster parenting with them before becoming foster parents, and even then, we didn’t reach out to them much.
What it took me nearly two years to learn, though, was that having friends—close friends—who were also foster parents was huge as we made our way through the ups and downs. Having people we could talk with and confide in was so important in not only surviving but finding a way to thrive in some of the crazy seasons and emotional rollercoasters we found ourselves on!
If you are thinking of becoming a foster parent, start finding support groups to attend. Offer to provide childcare or babysit for a foster family. Get involved before you have children placed in your home.
Study positive parenting practices and learn about trauma-informed parenting.
I meet so many foster parents who are caught completely off guard by the challenges of being the primary caregiver for children who have trauma in their backgrounds. Traditional parenting strategies, which are often dependent on punitive measures for addressing behavioral challenges, simply do not work.
Even if you have raised children of your own, even if you are sure that you know what you’re doing, if you’re planning to parent children with trauma in their past, and you are not equipped with positive, empowering, connecting parenting practices, it will not work.
If you are in the process of becoming a foster parent, or you’re just thinking about it, it’s not likely that anyone will tell you to do these things. However, I can tell you from experience that these suggestions are as important as checking the batteries in those smoke detectors and finding the right size lock boxes for your medicines!