Christy’s Resource Room: “Finding Hope” by Amber Jewell

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If you’re a fan of A Fostered Life Podcast, you may remember Episode 1, “From Foster Youth to Foster Parent.” My very first podcast guest was Amber Jewell, a former foster youth, licensed social worker in the foster care world, foster parent, and adoptive parent who was very helpful in shedding light on how being part of the system can have a long-term affect on youth in care. As she shared from her own story, she gave wonderful insight into what teens in care need in order to thrive as they move into adulthood.

Now, Amber has opened the pages of her life even more in her new book Finding Hope: The 12 Keys to Healing Hardship, Hurt, and Sorrow (Hatherleigh Press, 2021). Finding Hope is the personal story of the lessons Amber has learned in her quest to live a life filled with hope in spite of years of abuse and abandonment. By exploring what she calls the twelve “keys” to healing past pain, Amber unpacks a mindset shift that must take place in order for someone coming from a place of pain to “create a life you will love.”

Acknowledging that the healing journey begins with “challenging the lies and misinformation that we have allowed to take over our thoughts,” which she calls “weeds in our garden of hope and resiliency,” Amber confronts head-on the devastating effects of abuse and neglect many children experience during their formative years. She is honest and transparent about how abuse and abandonment can lead to hopelessness. But she does not leave us there, because, while she has “been there,” she did not stay there. This book is her effort “to roll away the rock from covering the mouth of our life-tunnels and instead show a glimpse of the brightness we each can seek.”

In fact, this book would be great for anyone who has experienced trauma early in life that continues to affect them in adulthood. While there are several books that have come out recently that deal with childhood trauma and healing, not many seem to be written by people with Amber’s unique perspective. That perspective lends credibility to the message she delivers that, despite being “a person who has floundered in puddles of abuse, physical and emotional brokenness, imperfection, hopelessness, and even the shadow of death,” there is healing and hope “for what is yet to come.”

For me, the most powerful section of the book was chapter eleven, “Seek Freedom Through Forgiveness.” No one except a fellow former foster youth has the credibility to tell others in foster care about the power of forgiveness, but, as Amber points out, both scientific data and her own experiences support the fact that unforgiveness is a prison that keeps its victims in chains. Without shying away from the costly act of forgiveness, describing the process as “long, gruesome, and exhausting,” Amber asserts that it is only through forgiveness that one can experience true freedom and find real hope. I appreciate her honesty and courage to make that claim.

If you know a teen in foster care, a former foster youth, or an adult who continues to struggle from childhood trauma, or if that describes you, consider adding Finding Hope: The 12 Keys to Healing Hardship, Hurt, and Sorrow by Amber Jewell to your library. Her warmth and winsome example of grace and strength will be a wonderful encouragement to you. If you’re a foster parent, I also recommend having it on your shelf for later. You never know when you might have an opportunity to share Amber’s powerful path of healing with someone in your care.

Note: the link to this book is an Amazon Affiliate link, meaning if you use it, I will receive a small commission. 

My Talking Points for National Adoption Day 2020

We were “nominated” (for lack of a better word) by one of our kids’ former case managers to be this year’s “Feature Family” for King County, WA’s 19th Annual National Adoption Day ceremony, held yesterday via Zoom. Before accepting the opportunity, I spoke with all of my kids and asked them if this was something they wanted to do. Four of our five kids wanted to do it, and the one who didn’t was fine with us doing it and talking about him—he just didn’t want to be on camera. So we said “yes” and prepared for the event.

Ahead of time, one of the planners asked me to respond to two questions. I wrote out my thoughts but failed to ask how long they wanted us to present, and when the time came, after some family banter and silliness, I only got through two of my bullet points! Since this is something I think about a lot, I thought I’d go ahead and share everything I had planned to say here.

Q. What made you decide in adopting from foster care?  Why are you adopting today?

A. When we became aware of the thousands of children in foster care, we decided to be foster parents instead of starting a family the more traditional way. We have always gone about foster parenting as supporting reunification, but being open to adoption if/when reunification was not an option. We have had children who were reunified, children who went on to other foster homes where they were either reunified or adopted, and we have adopted our five. (We finalized our last two adoptions in March and April of this year.)

Q. What have you learned from the experience of opening your home to a child for adoption?

A. We have learned… 

  • that every child has incredible potential to thrive once their world becomes less chaotic and more predictable and consistent. 
  • that trauma affects every child who is in foster care, from the tiniest baby to the teen ready to age out. 
  • that you have to be patient and committed for the long haul. Healing takes time—years—and you can’t rush it. You have to keep showing up for your kids, meeting them where they’re at, getting them the resources they need (like counselors, therapy, etc.) and being there for them through thick and thin.
  • that every child needs to know their story and have access to their birth parents, even if just through pictures or stories. No matter how young they are when they are adopted, they will be curious about where and who they came from. We need to give them total freedom and permission to talk about their birth family, ask questions, and even express their desire to be back with them. We cannot badmouth or feel threatened by them. We have to understand that it is perfectly reasonable that a child would miss their mom and wish they could be with her.
  • that foster parents need to do their homework and learn about how trauma affects children. Read books, follow podcasts and blogs by adult adoptees. Don’t be ignorant to how this affects your kids. Don’t expect them to “just get over it.”
  • that the stresses of foster parenting can be hard on a marriage. Make sure you have good “marriage self care” and open communication. It only works if both spouses are 100% on board. 
  • that you need other foster parent friends. You need to have friends who understand the particular trials and triumphs of foster parenting. A support group or just a few other foster parents need to be part of your community.
  • that, if you are a transracial foster or adoptive parent, you need to make sure that you have other people of color in your life so that your foster child is not the only person of color in your life. If you are a transracial foster or adoptive parent, you need to understand that being the only child of color in a white house (which is how transracial adoption usually looks, though not always) is it’s own unique trauma. Get educated and do the hard work to address the fact that it’s very hard for children of color to be raised in white homes, from elementary school on.
  • that the children are the heroes of foster care—not foster or adoptive parents. They are incredible and deserve the very best in life. We have the unique opportunity to step into their lives and offer unconditional love and support and a nurturing environment to help them thrive. They did not ask to be in foster care. They did not ask to be placed with us. We need to show a lot of grace to them and reiterate their worth to them over and over. We need to make sure they know that they are more than “a foster kid” or, once they are adopted, more than their foster care story. They are smart, fun, talented, competent people who have infinite value and a bright and beautiful future.

My husband tried to chime in as well, but we got cut off before he was able to say his piece. So I’ll share it here: we also want to acknowledge the social workers who labored tirelessly on behalf of our kids throughout their cases. We have had wonderful case managers who went many extra miles in order to ensure our kids (their kids!) had the best possible shot at a good life, despite all odds. They advocated, championed, and supported the kids at every turn, and we are so grateful for their hard work.

# # #

You may have seen this on Instagram already, but it bears repeating:

The main thing I hoped to communicate is that every child has incredible potential to thrive once their world becomes less chaotic and more predictable and consistent, and that adoption is always a combination of gratitude & grief. Sometimes you’ll feel more of one than the other, but, even in the best of adoption stories, both emotions are present in some measure.

Adoption is fundamentally a thing that exists because of tragedy. There is not a single adoption story that does not start with grief. Children should not have to be separated from their parents. It’s not how things are supposed to be.

But sometimes, it’s necessary. Parents have addiction and mental illness that makes it impossible for them to raise their children. Parents sometimes, tragically, abuse their children (or allow them to be abused by others) and can’t reform. Parents sometimes die.

And when that happens, and children need someplace solid to land, adoption is a means for them to find the love, stability, consistency, and safety every child needs in order to thrive.

Adoption Day is a happy day for many—primarily adoptive parents—but, for children, at its best, it is happy-with-an-ache. Happy-and-sad. Happy, but…

And our kids need to know that it is OK—no, more that OK, that is right and good and healthy—that they can hold both emotions at once. They need to be able to talk about their story. They need to know that they can talk about the sad parts (if they want to, and some don’t) even as they celebrate the happy parts.

So, Happy* Adoption Day!

*with an ache

Project Search and Reunion [Podcast Episode 20]

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! 

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