Needing Attention

Though my children are not adopted, when the youngest son was born, at about 2 years old for him and 6 for the older boy, there developed a lot of problems.  I would wake up every morning thinking I am not going to fight with him and within 20 minutes he would act up and I would react.  My dad had quite a temper that terrified us when we were growing up even though he never laid a hand on us – just seeing his face turning red was enough to suppress us for fear of going too far.

Also, my mom and youngest sister had a terrible relationship and so I knew how important it was to turn the situation around as quickly as possible.  My husband started taking the younger one and I started taking the older one when each parent needed to have direct responsibility for one kid.  That took care of it in only a matter of months.  Thankfully.  All that was needed was the direct attention that had been in short supply as I cared for an infant.

Today, I was reading about a foster parent having trouble with older foster children (ages 9 and 12) who also has 4 younger biological girls (ages 2, 3, 4 & 6).  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the acting out and behavior problems of the older foster children are cries for attention.  It is tough enough to have been removed from one’s original parents . . . just that explains much.  I do know how this situation came to pass as a kind of natural trajectory but it doesn’t appear to have a good prognosis though the foster parents are trying and do care.  It may be that they simply cannot give enough with the other demands in their immediate family.

An Atlantic article in 2015 details some of the behavioral problems that adoptees exhibit.  This is the happy story a lot of people believe –

There is something temptingly tidy about the idea of adoption: A family with extra love and resources meets a child in desperate need of both. The happy ending almost writes itself.

Only that is often not the story that actually exists.  At the start of kindergarten, one study showed, about one in four adopted children has a diagnosed disability, twice the rate of children being raised by both biological parents. Adopted children were significantly likelier than birth children to have behavior and learning problems; teachers reported they were worse at paying attention in class, and less able to persevere on difficult tasks.

A follow-up study suggests the problems for adopted children not only fail to fade with time—they multiply.  A growing chorus of voices are challenging the popular Pollyannaism around adoption including adoptees who are now speaking out.  Add me to that chorus.

Adoptive parents tend to be especially sensitive about their children’s well-being, and aggressive in obtaining diagnoses and related treatment for them. In other words, the very qualities that make adoptive parents stand out—their resources, their proactivity—also prompt them to seek out expert care at the earliest sign of trouble.

With parents this dedicated, why do adopted children seem to struggle so much?   One theory might be based in knowledge about attachment – a strong bond with at least one nurturing adult—usually the mother—is essential to a child thriving.  Mother/child separations cannot help but be part of the problem.



Helping Families Stay Together

We’d be better off spending the money upfront, whether that’s in the form of early childhood education, preventative healthcare, or helping families get the support they need to stay together. It would cost less overall and be more beneficial to those who truly need it. There will always be cases where throwing more money at a scenario doesn’t help, but overall, it makes more sense financially and emotionally.

If we really cared about children, we would want to do everything in our power to keep them out of the foster care system.

I am so grateful no one ever reported us as having children out of control. There was a time in our lives when I worried about that. I even cautioned my children to try to be on their best behavior out in public or they could end up like that episode of The Simpsons when the children are taken away.

I was happy to read that there are efforts underway to totally rewrite how child welfare works.

As a society, we should be helping children BEFORE a caseworker shows up at their house. We should be supporting that family BEFORE anyone feels inclined to call a child abuse and neglect hotline on them.

As a society, we can be spending taxpayer funds more effectively by spending them on prevention.  Many believe it would be cheaper to intervene earlier. It would be less traumatic for the children and their parents.  Therapists, parenting coaches (children do not arrive with an operating manual) and mental health professionals could help families avoid bad outcomes.

A good goal to begin with is to find families at risk but not over the edge yet.  Families that lack secure food and housing because of poverty. Those young parents who grew up without good attachment to their own parents (in my case, my parents were adoptees and I can see now that they were strangely detached as parents, though overall good parents who did love and care about us).

I remember my mom telling me how she didn’t know how to cook or clean house when she first married my dad because her mother lacked the patience or tolerance for flaws to teach her. My mom made certain her daughters had such skills.

Here is the shocking statistic for only ONE of these 50 United States –

In 2019, in the state of Colorado there was a $558 MILLION dollar budget and 8,820 children were taken out of their family homes and placed in foster care.

I find that staggering and very very sad.