Parenting: Each Child a Unique Journey

The following is a guest piece by one of our Board Members, Kelly Wolfington. 

Back when our "home-made" son was 12 and our "home-made" daughter 7, my husband and I thought we were "born to be parents". (By the way I refuse to use the term "biological" or "natural" child... they seem so antiseptic and inaccurate... just what is unnatural about an adopted child? Our two children were such a joy and we loved the parent process so full with joyful rewards, the inevitable challenges notwithstanding.

So, one evening, when out to a romantic dinner, my dear spouse spontaneously asked, "If there were anything you could do to improve our lives what would it be?" Without hesitation I replied... another child... but this time I would adopt." He was stunned that I could be so quick and yet had never even shared this thought before. So, now it was his turn. "What his one thing you would do?" His response, "I don't have anything so why don't we go with yours." Thus began a 6-year odyssey trying to help the spirit of our next child find his or her path of destiny to us.

Having two "biological/natural" children already we figured we would have to go outside America's shores. Back then trans-racial adoptions were actually being reversed by some Courts. We were resolutely unwilling to have our family or our adopted child suffer the uprooting pain of such a tragic post-placement separation.

Upon completion of a home-study and the associated group sessions we were ready to begin. First Columbia. All our paperwork was approved (including fingerprints, tax returns and criminal records). Columbia then closed down its adoption program. Next to Bolivia. Same story. Next to Paraguay ... but their last rule was that both adoptive parents live in Paraguay for around 4-6 weeks continuously. We would not leave our home-made children for so long. Then... a miracle... my lifetime best friend told me of a local agency that handled quasi-open adoptions. I took our bushel basket of paperwork with me and in about 3 months a computer match was made for us with a woman anticipating delivery in January (only 2 months away!).

On January 12, 1991 our son, Adam, was born. On January 14 he was in our arms. We readied ourselves for another cakewalk through parenting. But, as our home-mades were meeting the challenges of adolescence, our young son, Adam, was traveling his own unique journey... with issues we simply did not anticipate, did not understand and had no adequate source for insight to unravel his difficulties. (Turns out the year he was born an amazing book was published that I discovered 18 years later and I am so thankful for this find.) Our adopted son was struggling unconsciously with a package of questions and confusions. Some seemed obvious... but these he denied.. such as a sense of abandonment. Others, it turns our could have been foreseen and even empathized into neutrality had we been aware and head he been able to articulate what was going on. 

My coming articles will share what we have learned through life as adoptive parents. Howe we all benefited from communications, therapy and most of all, research and reading about the adopted child's tangled, often subconscious anxieties that translate into fear, frustration; even anger. Demystification has blessed us with the most powerful bond of love imaginable with and for our son, Adam. I hope some of what we have experienced will be helpful to others. 


Who Do You…?

Today's post is a guest peice by our staffer, Nancy.

Trust. Five little letters. Big meaning. When one adopts, that word becomes HUGE. Trust is most definitely a part of the adoption process. The agency has to trust your intention to adopt and work on your behalf. You have to trust that the adoption agency you work with will approve you as adoptive parents. If you work with a lawyer, trusting him or her is also part of the process. 

But most of all, I think you need to trust in yourself that you are ready for this commitment--no matter what comes! (And believe me, for some of us, lots of “stuff” comes!)

Many girls dream about their weddings and white picket fences, but I dreamed most about being a mother. When I had a nearly impossible time conceiving, I had to trust there was a way I would someday be a parent. For my husband and me, that miracle happened through adoption. 

We were elated—the joy our daughter brought to our lives was unbelievable. We trusted that our “identified adoption” (the birth parents have a say in who adopts their child) would be relatively uncomplicated. We were referred to an agency and engaged them fairly quickly. We interviewed several lawyers and chose one with nearly a whole wall full of pictures of children he helped become adopted. (Seemed like his track record was nearly unparalleled.) We thought our adoption would be finalized with relative ease. What we did not know is that somewhat blind trust could have cost us our adoption. 

Perhaps knowing a bit of our story will help anyone in the process, especially when facing snags, to trust the bottom line. What we could not have known was that our supposedly easy adoption would take nearly 18 months to complete—but given our circumstances, should have been done a lot sooner. The lawyer we trusted so completely had a staff member who unknowingly filed our paperwork in a dead file. That original paperwork was not found for over six months. Needless to say, this delayed our finalization!

We had five (count them---five!) social work visits which, at the time, was the norm in the state in which we adopted. We had a great rapport with our social worker, but since our case seemed to drag on, we found she had been transferred to another agency location and we had to start all over with a different social worker. Even though the agency had everything required in our file, the new social worker asked all the same questions, verified again and again the same details, needed updated clearances, as I remember, etc. More time. More hassle. I understood their need for thoroughness, but to us, it was rather daunting.

We felt the first social worker had been accepting of us as a couple and trusted our desire to adopt and raise our daughter (who was already in our home). Our social worker had seen the three of us together, and she told us she felt we were solid! The new social worker was nice, but much more aloof. We (I) didn’t trust that we had the same foundation or footing with her. I remember at the end of her second visit, receiving no obvious verbal clues, wanted to boldly ask, “Well, do you approve us or not?” It was a nerve-wracking time to say the least. (By the way, I did end up asking her—calmly and over the phone—and she laughed softly, “Of course! It’s obvious you three are a family!” So much for being afraid to ask questions!)

We had to trust that even though we were (what felt to us) “scrutinized” (twice, mind you), things would work out. Perhaps you will trust me when I say: sometimes blind trust needs to take a back seat to trusting in yourself. It is perfectly within your rights to ask questions and advocate on your own behalf, should that become necessary. 

Case in point! When we didn’t hear from the lawyer for a long time, we naturally just “trusted” that things were okay. No phone call from his office with a court date, or more questions we needed to answer. No nothing. Then one day we received papers from his office that indicated our case was being terminated for lack of our response. Terminated? What? We weren’t terminating the adoption! We had gotten a verbal approved on our homestudy, so the agency and the social worker weren’t “terminating” it. I was in contact with the birth mother and knew she wasn’t terminating it. What in the world--?

Our lawyer matter-of-factly told us that he didn’t have our signed papers. Excuse me? We signed and had sent them in months ago. Good thing for my gotta-keep-a-copy-of-all-documents philosophy. I made a copy of our copy and hand-delivered them that day!

Oh. Their mistake, they said. So sorry, they said. And a few days later, we received our original paperwork with a scrawled note that it had been misfiled. Someone probably had to root through a bunch of files to find it!) 

Trust is a powerful word. No one is infallible. “Stuff” comes! So if there is too much silence as you are in the adoption process, going with your gut is critical. I would say: trust most of all in your desire to create your forever family--and do your best to overcome the odds of Murphy’s and assorted other laws that might keep you from your goals of parenting a child. (And remember, that child is counting on you!) 

If you feel you are playing “Wheel of Fortune” in your adoption process and need a vowel to solve the puzzle, you don’t need Vanna to help! Remember “U”/”you” are in the very center of T R _ S T! 


Wednesday's Child Featured Children: Juwon and Tyrek

Juwon, 13 and Tyrek, 10, are brothers who share similar interests. Enrolled in regular education classes, they do well in school and get along with their teachers and peers. Aspiring musicians, they dream of one day playing in a band together. Juwon and Tyrek also like playing sports and watching funny movies in their free time. 

As fans of music, Juwon and Tyrek met up with Wednesday’s Child host Vai Sikahema at the School of Rock. There they had a great opportunity to test their skills. Juwon loves the drums while Tyrek is a guitar player. They got a private practice session with a staff member at the school. After getting warmed up, the boys got on stage with Vai ready to rock! They also got to meet the kids in the school’s house band, who all reminded the brothers to keep practicing and encouraged them to follow their dreams.

The day was definitely a success! Vai later sat with the boys to talk about family. Both Juwon and Tyrek long for the day they will be adopted. They hope for a loving and caring family who live in a safe neighborhood. All families will be considered. 

Will you be that family for Juwon and Tyrek? 


Begining the Journey

The following was submitted to us by a volunteer. She is someone who is considering adoption and is volunteering with us as one way to get to know more about adoption. This is a very honest post and these are her reflections on what she has observed and experienced so far on her journey.
Over the past couple of years, I have started to think seriously about adoption.  I'm 34 years old, married and have no children.  When I was younger, my thoughts on adoption were quite limited and I naively believed that three types of people adopted: those that couldn't have biological children, Christian missionaries and celebrities, like Mia Farrow.  I didn't give much thought to the reasons people adopted, and now that I've started to think about adoption, I find the reasons people adopt as unique and interesting as the people themselves.
I know a stay-at-home mom who had one child but wanted more.  Her doctor told her it was a miracle she was able to have the one, and a second child was just not possible.  She told me she considered going back to work, but that she lacked the passion for any specific job or field.  She was the most fulfilled raising her son (and being a mom) and she wanted to be able to continue her dream job of raising children and positively effecting their lives.  Within a few years, she had adopted four children (all siblings) and later adopted a fifth child who was also related but had been living at another orphanage!  The last time we spoke, she told me that she was living her dream.  
I also know a single woman who was tired and scared of being alone and decided to adopt.  She is rarely home due to her demanding job, and her daughter is largely being raised by a nanny, family and close friends.  Recently, her child has developed behavioral issues and a child psychologist has told her that some children "act out" for attention.  I have no doubt this woman loves her daughter, but her primary reason for adoption was to fill a void in her life.    
Similar to these two women, my interest in adoption is largely shaped by my life experiences.  I was fortunate to have a loving mom and dad who made their two children their top priority; both encouraging and disciplining us so that we could one day, as adults, make more right choices than wrong ones.  And as I entered by 30's and was confronted with difficult choices of my own -involving my marriage, my finances, my career -- it became more and more clear how many choices we all make that will deeply affect our lives.  
However, children waiting to be adopted did not have a choice in the matter.  For various reasons, they need families that will love them and nurture their potential.  I realize how fortunate I am that I did not have this obstacle in front of me when I was a child and eliminating this obstacle is something that draws me to adoption.     
One day, my husband and I would like to have children, whether they are biological or adopted. And although I did not choose my family, my hope is that if I choose to adopt, that choice will enable a child to be raised in a loving family and have all the opportunities I had growing up.

Wednesday's Child Spolight: Frank

Frank is a dynamic 20-year-old with a great personality and a firm vision for the future. His goal is to own his own body shop and is preparing for it by taking part in his school’s auto mechanics program. In the meantime, he keeps busy with a variety of activities. He is passionate about sports and likes to spend time watching basketball, baseball and football games on TV. He also loves playing sports and participates in the Special Olympics in basketball, volleyball, softball and track and field.
Frank recently had the amazing opportunity to visit with the Philadelphia 76ers.  He was able to stand on the court to watch them practice before the game.  Mascot Hip-Hop and the Hare Raisers presented him with a huge bag filled with lots of goodies, including a personalized jersey. They also took time to shoot a few hoops with him.  Frank was very excited!  On the court, he met with former players World B. Free and Eric Snow. He then stayed to watch the game.  He was voted “Fan of the Game” and enjoyed watching himself on the JumboTron. 
The day was definitely a success!  Wednesday’s Child host Vai Sikahema later sat with Frank to talk about family. Frank longs for a family to call his own.  He has several months before he “ages out” of the foster care system.  Mildly developmentally delayed, Frank is learning to become an adult.  He is doing a great job in learning about finances and money management.  A supportive, patient, and loving family would help Frankon the right track to a good future. 

Wednesday’s Child Philadelphia Spotlight - Aaliyah

Meet 12-year-old Aaliyah. This beautiful preteen can be described as fun, loving, and energetic.  Aaliyah likes to draw, jump rope, and dance. In the 6th grade, she does well in school and really enjoys art class.  In the future she would like to become a doctor or nurse so she can help others.        

Aaliyah recently met up with Wednesday’s Child host Vai Sikahema at Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum for a day of fun and excitement.  Aaliyah had a great time pretending to be Vai’s doctor.  They did grocery shopping and toured the SEPTA portion of the museum. They played the large  piano and overall simply had a great time.  

The day was definitely a success!  Vai later sat with Aaliyah at the cafeteria where they shared a meal and spoke about family.  Aaliyah says race does not matter.  She wants a family that will love her, play with her, and encourage her dreams for the future.  

Will you be that family for Aaliyah? 


Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Excellence Award

Chris Jacobs, Program Director, Ken Mullner, Executive Director and Gloria Hochman, Communications Director

I really enjoyed myself at the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce’s Excellence awards dinner dance on November 18 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Center City. The Center was honored as the non-profit of the year. We received our award, along with 11 small businesses recognized for their excellence, before 600 community leaders. We were the lone non-profit among a sea of for profit businesses. It was an interesting experience. The group of professionals we were celebrating with was all very different. For example, some included Center City restaurant owners, sellers of motorcycle parts, as well as technology innovators. At first I couldn’t understand what, if any, similarities our organization had with these other small businesses. Then I started listening to their stories. 

Each group was being recognized for their creativity, vitality, stability and relevance. And what I realized was that we had a lot more in common than I originally thought. Each business began with a dream – ours was no different. NAC’s founder started in 1972 with a wooden recipe box on her kitchen table because she saw a need and wanted to fill it. Thirty eight years later, we have helped more than 22,000 children find their “forever families”. 

Although our organization was the only one providing a social service to the region and beyond, we all had some things in common - a dream, flexibility to stay relevant and adjust to better serve our constituents and a drive and desire to be successful. “We are proud to have received this prestigious recognition,” says Ken Mullner, the Center’s executive director. “But there are still children—115,000 in the country and 1600 right here in the Delaware Valley—who count on us for their futures. We are committed to our belief that ‘there are no unwanted children…just unfound families.’ We will continue to find them.” 


Defining Adoption Competency: Please tell C.A.S.E. what you think!

We would like to invite you to become part of a very important initiative.

Since 2008, Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) has provided national leadership to a project to answer the call of the adoption community to build accessible, adoption competent mental health services across the country.

As a first step, C.A.S.E. convened a group of nationally recognized experts, including parents, who identified the competencies that mental health practitioners need – the knowledge, skills, and values that they should have. These experts helped to develop a definition of an adoption competent mental health professional.  A curriculum based on the competencies has been developed and the first group of mental health professionals is completing their training to be adoption competent in their clinical practices.  

Adoptive parents consistently report that their greatest post adoption support need is “mental health services provided by someone who knows adoption." We often hear parents, adopted persons, practitioners, and researchers say that services need to be “adoption competent” or “adoption sensitive.” Although the terms “adoption competent” and “adoption sensitive” are frequently used, there are not standardized, well-accepted definitions for these terms. 

The definition that we are currently using is based on what experts think, but we want to hear from you about whether this definition is the right one. 

If you are an adoptive parent, an adopted person, a birth parent, a member of an adoptive family, or a member of a family affected by adoption, please tell us what you think an "adoption competent mental health professional" is. Click here to take survey 


Thanks to a Special Sponsor - Wendy's

The National Adoption Center relies on contributions from the public and private sector to do its critically important work.  One of our best partners is Wendy’s. Following in Dave Thomas’ tradition, this month Wendy’s not only continues its customary fundraising efforts but also gathers it employees to conduct a holiday gift drive for kids in foster care in the tri-state Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware region. So many children and youth will have a brighter holiday season thanks to generous partners like Wendy’s. We hope you will frequent them this month and throughout the year, and thank them for their generous support.


Wednesday's Child Spotlight - Blair

Blair, 14, is an active and friendly teen who loves playing basketball and baseball. Blair gets along well with both his peers and instructors in his 9th grade special education class where his favorite subject is Math. He loves animals and hopes to develop this passion in to acareer as a K-9 Police Officer. 

Blair recently spent the day with the New Jersey State Police K-9 Unit at their K-9 Academy where he had the opportunity to observe the extensive and ongoing training process that both officers and their canine partners must undergo in order to prepare themselves for the job. Blair observed and assisted with some basic walking drills where he called out commands to the officers and their canines. After watching the dogs perform numerous other drills, Blair watched as Vai put on the padded arm and acted as a decoy in the decoy training component 
of the Academy.

After successfully completing his first day of Canine Training, Sgt. Charous and the rest of the team presented Blair with a t-shirt, water bottle, and a hat to remember his day at the NJ State Police K-9 Academy. Following the day of training, Vai and Blair discussed what Blair is looking for in a family. Blair is looking for a permanent home with a family who cares about and respects him. As an animal lover, Blair would also love a family that has pets.

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