Adoption Dissolution Respite

When the Struggle Gets Real: Considerations Around Dissolution, Respite & Alternative Placements

This is a difficult topic, but one that we as agencies, adoptive families, and the Christian community need to talk about. Sometimes adoptive families become overwhelmed with meeting the needs of their child, and sometimes they find themselves feeling incapable (for a myriad of reasons) of parenting a child with significant emotional, medical, developmental, behavioral, or psychological challenges. We should never meet these families with judgment, but rather with the understanding that they too, like their child, have been through a really rough time, and need some support and help to find the right path that is in the best interest of the child and the family.

What does that help and support look like? Sometimes when a family is overwhelmed, all they need is a listening ear, a break, maybe some new skills or tools, and an infusion of hope. This is where the community and church can come together to provide some practical support (meals, errands, play dates) or emotional support (prayer, listening without judgment, flowers, gift cards). Other adoptive families who have “been there, done that” might have some specific wisdom to share, or can help with occasional childcare while the struggling family attends therapy or training, or just gets a weekend away. There are more and more adoption-competent therapists and training and intervention programs available to help struggling families. America World is happy to provide referrals to different resources, or we also offer support through our Post-Adoption Team (postadoption@awaa.org) and Adoption Coaching Program (ACT ).

“Respite” care is another option may be very helpful to a family. Respite is when another family is willing to provide care for a struggling child on a regular basis. It is more involved than simple babysitting, as the respite provider needs to have a basic understanding of the child’s (or teen’s) issues, behaviors, motivations, and challenges, and serve as a partner with the adoptive family. They work together with the adoptive family, using similar responses and providing consistency from one setting to another, so the child can continue to heal and the adoptive family can get some rest and time to re-energize. Respite providers may step in to help one weekend/month, or they may be available “on call” when things get really stressful, or they may provide after-school care a couple days per week. Some respite providers serve for weeks or months at a time. Each situation is different depending on the needs of the child, the family, and the respite provider. There are some organizations like Safe Families who are forming chapters of respite providers across the nation, or a respite provider can simply be a trusted friend or neighbor who is willing to step up, learn some skills in parenting a child with history of trauma, and commit to helping a child and family in their community. America World offers an online training for respite providers at this link.

Sometimes the needs of the child or family require more intense intervention. Some children with significant emotional or psychological struggles may need residential therapeutic care in a hospital, boarding school, ranch home, or similar setting for a while. This can be very expensive and logistically hard for families. Providing financial support for them (gas/airfare back and forth for visits, hotel rooms, meals out, copays if insurance covers it, fees/tuition, etc) can be a huge blessing for a family and child as they try to heal. These situations should not be treated as shameful or too painful to talk about, but rather like you would any hospitalization for any reason—with loving kindness, help, and support.

Occasionally, adoptive families feel as if they have done everything possible for their child. They come to a place where they feel they cannot meet the child’s needs, and they begin to wonder if this child would be better served by another family on a permanent basis. Of course, this is never a decision to be taken lightly. It is a very emotionally difficult decision whose effects can linger for years in the hearts and minds of the parents, siblings, and child. Having to transition to yet another home can add to the trauma and loss a child by adoption feels. However, sometimes it is in the best interest of the child, and a new family can be found that is better equipped emotionally and logistically to meet the needs of the child, and the child can flourish in that home. It is absolutely crucial though, that finding a new home for a child be done cautiously, ethically, and wisely. Not doing so could lead to abuse, legal issues, child trafficking, and other horrors. “Re-homing,” or unregulated custody transfer, is when a family basically gives their child to another person or family without a safeguard legal process. More details about this unethical and dangerous practice can be found on this Rehoming Fact Sheet. There are much better ways to deal with a disruption or dissolution. Programs such as Nightlight’s Renewed Hope and WASATCH’s Second Chance Adoptions have formal processes and help available to assist families who feel they need to dissolve their adoption and find a new family for their child. For more information on disruption and dissolution, the National Council for Adoption has published an excellent article, found at this link.

Call to Action for Adoptive Parents and the Church:

  • Create adoption support and respite provider groups in your local community. Reach out to Safe Families or similar organizations for more information. Or America World would be glad to help advise or provide some basic training your group. Just email Amber.Lewis@awaa.org for more information.
  • Consider fundraising to provide grants to families to help pay for post-adoption services like therapy or residential care. We have seen miracles as communities fundraise to help a family adopt a child. Don’t stop there though—continue that financial support throughout the lifetime of the adoption if there is a need.
  • Consider being available to adopt a child who is just not making in their original adoptive family. Pray, get trained, connect with a reputable program like Renewed Hope or Second Chance, to get started, or contact me for more information.

America World would like to one day develop our own support network of families who are willing to provide respite and/or adopt children from disruptions/dissolutions. We don’t have anything formal at this time, but we would love to hear from you if would be interested, AND if you feel you have a solid understanding of how difficult it can be to raise a child with significant attachment, developmental, or emotional challenges, and you have the time and resources to pour into a struggling child. I would love to know you are out there and ready to serve. We want to be, and enable others to be, the hands of Jesus, who calls in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

If this article is speaking to you personally as an adoptive family who is struggling, please consider calling or emailing me. You are not alone. Let us help and support you. We don’t have all the answers, but we do want to stand beside you and try to help you navigate this hard journey. We know you are out there, and we are praying for you.

Adoption Dissolution RespiteAmber Lewis
America World Adoption
Post-Adoption Supervisor
800-429-3369 Ext. 162
amber.lewis@awaa.org

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