Using Technology to Connect with Birth Family

When I became an adoptive parent, I remember hearing about the importance of understanding and celebrating your child’s culture, heritage and birth family. I learned that ideally, children will be connected to their roots and their current family structure, and that we can bridge the great divide between birth culture and adoptive culture through cultural events, camps and language immersion programs.

Another way families connect is through open adoption, connecting directly with their child’s birth family through visits, phone calls or letters — thus allowing the direct transmission of both family culture and larger cultural understanding.

I am a PRO open adoption and as much birth family contact as is possible, there are many ways to make it possible. However, for some, in-person cultural experiences as well as tangible contact with birth family is limited, either because of safety issues or distance.

In my time parenting and now as an adoption professional, I have learned that technology can be our greatest tool in facilitating connection, no matter the adoptive family constellation or how it was formed — international, domestic, foster care — voluntary, involuntary or somewhere in between. In fact, there are many, many big and small ways our screens can bring us closer to each other and to the world at large.

To connect with distant family members, there are many free contact options through email, a private blog, and a Shutterfly share site, Skype or Facebook. Each of these can be used as a venue for sharing photos, funny stories and updates along the way.

Our Shutterfly site was a main source of communication with relatives living farther away. It enabled me to share photos and videos and see if they had been seen by the family members. It was nice to know they had gotten the update even if they didn’t respond.

If safety is a barrier, you can still use all the options above. If this is your situation, I recommend creating a separate, non-identifying Facebook and email account for yourself that you use ONLY to communicate with birth family.

One adoptive family I spoke with did just this, “I have a separate Facebook account that is connected to my children’s birth families. Right now the birth families are still hurting, so my posts are only frequent enough to let them know the kids are well cared for and happy. I have found that communicating too much pushes them away.

On birthdays, I usually check in. Sometimes I get a response and sometimes I don’t. I’m respectful of where they are in their journey.  Using this open, yet confidential method, adoptive parents can choose how much to share, while still leaving the door open for future communication, such as in person visits or phone calls, if birth families’ circumstances change.

And for all families, including those whose child’s birth family is unknown or for whom direct contact is not possible, in circumstances of international adoption, you can always connect with your child’s culture or country of origin online.

Starting with the simple search line, type in your child’s country of origin, language or cultural background and start exploring. If my child was from India, I could type, “India” “History of India,” “Current events India,” and so on and so on. From there you will be connected to current news events, videos, images and links to various websites that you can visit to learn more. As I did this for my situation, I was amazed at the wealth of information that poured from my screen.

You could also consider using your computer and iphone to help learn your child’s language with them.  There are many new and always improving language learning sites and apps, including: Duolingo, Livemocha and Babbel.

I’ve always loved this quote,

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart. Nelson Mandela

Learning your child’s “heart” language will help your child connect and will also increase your chances of open communication with members of his or her birth community as he or she grows.

Another tool is watching documentaries about your child’s birth country or culture, many of which provide a window into history and provide your entire family with a framework in which to place birth family connections. 

Steven Spielberg said, “I think documentaries are the greatest way to educate an entire generation that doesn’t often look back to learn anything about the history that provided a safe haven for so many of us today.”  Starting with google, search for documentaries on your child’s birth country — “Documentary about India,” for example.  Be intentional about watching these together as a family after you have previewed them, then setting aside a time to discuss what you’ve seen.

And while the history of your child’s country and culture is significant, remember to keep up with current events as well. These can be found through online newspapers by searching “newspapers in India” and/or setting Google alerts. Either option offers a wonderful window into the day-to-day happenings in the country or culture that you designate.

As an adoptive family, we have regular visits with local birth family and are involved in a diverse church, attend culture camps and cultural events whenever possible. However, I still rely on technology to make sure those connections remain strong and that both my daughter and I continue to grow in our knowledge of her birth family and culture.

I challenge you to explore these options and how they apply to your own situation. Then decide which ones fit best for your family and the dynamics of your relationship, so your daily world can be one step closer to that of your child’s birth family and culture through the thoughtful use of technology in your everyday life.

*Originally posted as “Birth Family Connections Through Technology” in AdoptionToday, March 2016

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Adoption and Foster Care Quotes

As an adoption professional and mom, I have seen the struggle between love and grief from adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, foster parents & foster youth.  No one quote or sentiment sums up the experiences of all, and to put it clearly, adoption is COMPLEX and encompassess all the emotions, but here are some quotes that rose to the top for me. Please share any favorites of yours in the comments. *I have done my best to accurately quote and link the source, if I missed something please let me know so I can fix it asap.

Some children and youth continue to mourn and grieve at the same time as they embrace their adoption. This is, as many experts have acknowledged is a paradox that one can understand the losses that adoption has brought as well as the gains. – JaeRan Kim

Adoptee rights are everyone’s rights, and they deserve to be protected. DaShanne Stokes

If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart. I’ll stay there forever. -Winnie The Pooh

Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously.

Alfie Kohn

Love you all the time – Alisa Matheson, Adoptive Mom

Grief is the natural response to loss, and those touched by adoption must be given permission to revisit emotionally the place of loss, feel the pain, scream the anger, cry the tears, and then allow themselves to be loved by others. – Sherrie Eldridge

Time and experience have taught me a priceless lesson: Any child you take for your own becomes your own if you give of yourself to that child. I have born two children and had seven others by adoption, and they are all my children, equally beloved and precious. – Dale Evans, adoptive mother

She is grieving, others are rejoicing.  She is wounded, others are unaware.  She needs comfort and nurturing, others are celebrating. – Sherrie Eldridge, speaking of an infant at time of placement

As a foster or an adoptive parent, it’s your responsibility to fill in all the gaps and missing pieces of the histories of the children you care foR. you MUST Hold their true, full story until they are old enough to carry it. – Alisa Matheson

Trauma is not “cured” through a “forever family” alone. The adoptive… that is best able to provide that supportive platform is one in which the child or youth’s history, including trauma, grief and loss is acknowledged and addressed. –JaeRan Kim

Mistakes. We are 100% allowed to make them. As humans. As adoptees. As adoptive parents. I did. I have. I will in the future. Our mistakes water our growth.  Kira, Kirabug

It has been said that adoption is more like a marriage than a birth: two (or more) individuals, each with their own unique mix of needs, patterns and genetic history, coming together with love, hope, commitment for a joint future. You become a family not because you share the same genes, but because you share love for each other.

Joan McNamara

We look at adoption as a very sacred exchange. It was not done lightly on either side. I would dedicate my life to this child. – Jamie Lee Curtis, adoptive mother

Contrary to what some parents might believe or hope for, children are not born a blank slate. Rather, they come into the world with predetermined abilities, proclivities and temperaments that nurturing parents may be able to foster or modify, but can rarely reverse. –Jane Brody, The New York Times Science section, 11/5

Born to someone else so quickly gets replaced with new names of practically strangers. These strangers’ names are added before bonds are made and nurture established… Names erased to be forgotten. Kira, Kirabug

We must be careful not to sanitize, sentimentalize, or even glamorize the pain of adoption; it really is miserable stuff, and it is intensely personal. – James Gritter

Kinship care is as old as humankind and family connections are truly deep in our DNA. … Children do better when they are cared for by relatives. – Lois Ann Day, Director, Oregon Department of Human Services, Child Welfare Program

Other things may change us, but we start and end with family. –Anthony Brandt

Being a white parent to children of color today means you will have to double-down on being uncomfortable as well as being fully committed to preparing them for survival in a world that gets more complex by the minute.

April Dinwoodie

The most powerful ties are the ones to the people who gave us birth … it hardly seems to matter how many years have passed. – Anthony Brandt, writing about Blood Ties in Esquire.

It shouldn’t take a miracle to find people you are related to by blood. –Jenn Gentlesk

No matter how I feel about my family, it does not take away the trauma from pre-birth/birth/relinquishment. From what I understand better now; this is part of who I am. I can’t go back and unring the adoption bell. – Hilary Shafran Snow

I. Am. Grateful. I. Am. Adopted. Every. Day. I am grateful I was one of the lucky adoptees that landed in a family that FEELS like home. It FEELS like I am exactly where I should be. I’ve always said that God is wise, and He placed me with the family I needed to be with. But as I get older, I also realize that I am exactly who my family needed.  What I am NOT grateful for is the baggage that comes with adoption.  – Hilary Shafran Snow

There is…nothing to suggest that mothering cannot be shared by several people. H. R. Schaffer

You can’t erase a child or young person’s DNA or culture and replace what was there with what feels better or comfortable for you. Foster parent’s first need to recognize that these differences matter and how they are navigated can make all the difference in service to the emotional, phycological and physical safety of children and young people. – Shavonn Smith

What we have long known about adoption is that when we don’t understand something fully and would rather look away from the hard parts, we leave children, especially those with complicated family structures with very few soft places to land.

April Dinwoodie

Every child has the right to know and be cared for by his or her own parents as far as possible. Families needing support to care for their children [should] receive it. – Articles 7 and 18, Convention on the Rights of the Child, United Nations September 2, 1990

I can’t think of any other human experience where the most complicated parts of our individual and collective existence live, breathe, and collide than adoption and foster care.  – April Dinwoodie

When I was a child, I loved being adopted. I liked announcing it, seeing how it made me special, unknown, different. Those very things would feel crippling decades later as I found they kept me from being able to connect with other people in ways that felt safe. I was special, unknown, different.  –Anne Heffron

One signature changed our lives. One flick of the pen. One second for the ink to dry and I was no longer yours, you no longer mine.

Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

The Beatles must have been thinking of me and other adoptees when they sang, “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello” because those could have been my words to my mother on my first day as I was carried from the birthing room to the nursey and away from her forever. If my mother and The Beatles can leave me, you can leave me too. I expect it of you and everyone else I love.  – Tim Treweek

If my parents are my (adoptive) parents and the people who created me are my (biological) parents, I don’t have what is considered normal for a person in this world: parents.  – Anne Heffron

Adoption is complex. Adoptees are often expected to feel grateful for their placement, and folks tend to get defensive and uncomfortable when we express “negative” feelings about our experience. Claire Hudson, Project Daw

So be happy, sad, angry, frustrated, elated, joyous, isolated. You choose how you feel about your adoption journey. ⠀ Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

NEVER speak ill of your child’s first family. Their choices may look different than your own, and I am sure there can be truly horrific circumstances, but they are still your child’s blood. Focusing on the negative aspects of their family of origin will only further divide you. Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

Come to terms with the fact that there are uncomfortable parts of adoption and foster care, and shedding light on that doesn’t make us negative or angry—it makes us honest.

Mark Kuligowski

I do not believe that the current distribution of power in the adoption triad is equal. I believe that until adoptee and birthparent rights are placed at the center of the narrative, we cannot operate in the triad as equals. ⠀ Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

The fact that the public with throw money at hopeful adoptive parents, yet turn a blind eye to the needs of expectant mothers and adoptees is disturbing.  Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

Fearless love is what is needed in adoption, and I have seen it in this community. There is space for all of us in adoption.  Our hearts are big enough and strong enough to walk through this together.

Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

We are expected to ask the hard questions, and give others the space to answer. I know I speak for many adult adoptees when we say ENOUGH. Enough to the secrets, the lies, the expectations. We are here and we are doing the work and showing up. Are you able to say the same? Are you stepping into situations that make you uncomfortable? Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

If more preventative services such as housing vouchers, drug addiction classes, extra parental help, etc. were available, less children would have to enter the foster care system. These types of things will help keep families together instead of having to undergo separation and grief. Strengthening families is the key to a successful living – not tearing them apart.  Former Foster Youth

I found a family that I embraced and felt the most comfortable with at work. One of my managers claimed me as her daughter. She is willing to be there for me through good times and bad. She is my biggest support. She constantly tells me she loves me and that she is proud of me and all my accomplishments. …I trust her to be there when I need her to be or to give me advice. Family is where you make it, not always a result of birth or assignment. – Former Foster Youth

Throughout my life I had heard horror stories of foster care. It was something I feared more than the situation I was in with my own family. The stigma of foster care scared me away from trying to reach safety. However, when I was 15, I decided it was time to get help. This ended up with me being placed into care with my siblings.

Former Foster Youth

I can both love my family and miss my connection to my biological mother. I can grieve the “what could have been”, while still recognizing everything I have BECAUSE I was adopted.  Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

Within the last two years I have grown closer to them (my birth family) and made the decision to move in with my mom. I realize that many people wouldn’t give up the opportunities that I “gave up” when I moved in with her. She was gone from my life for 11 years and every day I missed her. Though she wasn’t permanent in my life, she was a part of my heart and who I am.  – Former Foster Youth

When you have pain from a headache, you take medication.  When you have pain from a broken bone, you go to see a doctor.  But what do you do when your pain is caused by sibling separation? Where do you go? – Former Foster Youth

I had hoped my siblings and I could remain in the same home, but in order for us to succeed, we had to separate. Currently we choose to communicate on our own time and we choose to limit the amount of time we spend together. In some cases this is the most beneficial way for siblings to love each other in the safest way possible. I love my siblings and I choose to continue to hold them in my heart, but I’ve come to the conclusion we grow best when we are apart.  Foster Youth

If you are feeling hopeless because of a failed adoption or foster placement, do not give up!  Find your voice and advocate for yourself. You will quickly find others who want to support you. 

Yeshi Vaughan

Sometimes life gives you a bad hand. With your cards already dealt, there’s nothing else to do but take a seat and play the game.  Dameon, Former Foster Youth

We should be so successful in helping youth build their permanent connections, that a young person feels supportive outside of their legal permanency outcome. – David Hall

From a personal perspective, I find that permanency is not materialistic, but rather purely emotional. For myself, I believe that permanency is feeling welcome and restored.  Former Foster Youth

Even though I knew my parents had made some mistakes that were inexcusable, they also were victims of oppression in other areas of life that my foster parents wouldn’t acknowledge.  Former Foster Youth

As a foster parent, it is important to meet the youth where they are at. They come with their prior experiences – both good and bad.   Former Foster Youth

Although being a foster parent may seem like a very challenging “job”, it comes with “rewards”. You get to provide a youth with a what is a stable life. You get to be the individual who can make a difference in this youth’s life. You get to be the person the youth turns to when they need support. You get to be the individual the youth thanks for contributing to their success. All in all, you get to be the parent the youth never had. Therefore, being a foster parent is challenging, but worth the effort if you treat the youth well.  Former Foster Youth

We need foster parents, and we need good foster parents. Every single new, good foster parent has more than enough power to make a positive change that a youth will carry with them for the rest of their life. In some cases, it’s a positive change that will save their life. The best thing about this is that there are no requirements to be a great foster parent other than being a responsible, caring adult with a passion for helping youth.

Former Foster Youth

Because of low expectations that society has for foster youth, restrictions strain their ability to live a typical life. For example, the stigma that foster youth are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system may concern people and are less likely to give them “benefit of the doubt”. Or because we are often labeled with bad behavior problems, adults are more likely to just give up on us.  Former Foster Youth

There is so much loss wrapped up in adoption that it is unfair to ask a child to be thankful. —Brooke Randolph

For those non adoptees reading this: most of us are fighting battles you will never have the privilege of knowing. We will nod when you tell us we are lucky, and we will smile when you tell us how blessed we are. Inside we are screaming for you to understand. We will only share the joy and not our pain out of fear of rejection. We have so much to lose by sharing ourselves with you.  Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

When no physical contact exists, adoptees will find a way to connect. For me, it’s my dreams. I can go there and be with her (my birth mother). My hope is that when I am yearning and feeling that deep connection with her, that she is somewhere feeling it too, and maybe we are both having the same dream. ⠀ Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

As an adoptee we are all aware of the duality of our lives, always wondering about the you that never was.  The vanishing twin that was lost at birth before you went on to become the chosen one, the special child.

Jack Rocco

The siblings of anger are sadness and grief. So yes, I guess I am an “angry adoptee”, but does that preclude me from feeling love, joy, and happiness within my story? Can I be angry one day and happy the next day? ⠀Have you tried to hold a singular emotion for your lifetime? It’s impossible. ⠀ Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

Adoption has made me realize that all things in life come with a duality to them, and being cognizant of that fact has allowed me to enter into new phases of motherhood prepared to face what may come. I celebrate the DNA that makes them (my children) unique, but I also celebrate the delicate tapestry that was woven for them through adoption. Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

As a child being raised in the system that’s supposed to be temporary, I always dreamed of finding a family that would love me. Instead, I spent two decades in foster care, eventually aging out.  – Former Foster Youth

Adoption starts and ends with trauma. No “perfect” adoptive family can fix that. What you can do is learn from us. Talk to your child, talk to a therapist, take education courses that are not taught or developed by adoption professionals, but instead feature birthparent and adoptee voices, or trusted adoptive parent voices.

Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

As foster parents, you’re leaving a mark on this child’s life, and the impact you have on them can make or break them.  Jessica Determan

The birth family constitutes the preferred means of providing family life for children. – Child Welfare League of America, Standards of Excellence for Adoption Services

Adoption Loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful. – The Reverend Keith C. Griffith, MBE

Preserve the birth family whenever possible. Adoption professionals should take care to explore and offer adoption alternatives to expectant parents considering adoption for an unborn child and to parents whose children have been involuntarily removed from them through the judicial process. Expectant parents should be taught about the worth they have to their children. … Every attempt should be made to preserve the family of origin, and when family preservation is not possible, to safely place the child in the extended family. – Adoption Social Worker L. Anne Babb, Ethics in American Adoption

Every society, including our own, accepts that it is generally in the best interests of children to be raised by their biological parents unless they cannot or do not wish to do so. – Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, Safeguarding the Rights and Well-Being of Birthparents

We can fund wars and build bombs, but we cannot empower mothers to keep and care for their children? – Jennifer Lauck

In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness. – Alex Haley

Until I hold my original birth certificate in my own hands, I can only be sure of whom I am not, not of who I am.- Robert Wilson Harrington McCullough

He who can reach a child’s heart can reach the worlds heart. – Rudyard Kipling

Somehow destiny comes into play. These children end up with you and you end up with them. It’s something quite magical. – Nicole Kidman, adoptive mother

When sharing photos of adoptees, it is important to remember to protect their story. I am not saying “don’t share”, but I am saying to be responsible and only share as it relates to YOUR story. Do not share specific information about their birth family, medical history, mental health, etc.  Claire Hudson, Project Dawn

Regrettably, in many cases, the emphasis has changed from the desire to provide a needy child with a home, to that of providing a needy parent with a child. As a result, a whole industry has grown, generating millions of dollars of revenues each year.

United Nations, Commission on Human Rights, 2003

To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. – Cicero

Almost everyone believes that at some level birthmothers make a choice to give their babies away. …Adoption is rarely about mothers’ choices; it is, instead, about the abject choicelessness of some resourceless women. Rickie Solinger, Beggars and Choosers

Nothing that you have not given away will ever truly be yours. – C.S. Lewis

Making the decision to have a child–it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. -Ellen Cantarow

The central struggle of parenthood is to let our hopes for our children outweigh our fears. – Ellen Goodman

Your children need your presence more than your presents. – Jesse Jackson, Adoptee

It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself. –Joyce Maynard

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings. – Hodding Carter, Jr.

Foster care is not forever. Children and youth can and do return home to their families. In fact, this is the most common outcome.

It’s not what you leave to your children, it’s what you leave in your children. –Shannon L. Alder

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove…but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child. – Forest E. Witcraft

My love for my birth parents in no way takes away love from my parents. It’s not a pie. —Jeanne Modderman

Who we are and who we come from matter, raising a healthy adoptee is possible but you must be willing to embrace the entirety of their story, even the parts that challenge your deepest insecurities.

Rebecca Dolan, adoptee

If I do not teach my sons to celebrate and rejoice who they are — strong. smart. handsome. important. black. — they will be at even greater risk of believing the many lies that say it is just too hard to stand up or stand out. They may fall victim to the narrative that tries to imply that they are somehow less than. —Christina Causey, adoptee and adoptive mom

Don’t try to silence me or my thoughts on being adopted. I have a voice and everything I say is truth and valid. I been through it, therefore, I know. This is my story.  —I Am Adopted

We might not share DNA, but we do share soul. —Lauren Meely, adoptee

Even if they show interest in meeting their birth parents as they grow up, you will always be mom and dad. —Taylor Walker, adoptee

All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.

Helen Keller

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. – Morrie Schwartz

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about. – Angela Schindt

I am a living testament you can be adopted and successful. – Daunte Culpepper, Adoptee

A Lifebook affirms the fact that everyone is entitled to his own history and confirms who he is, and provides a sense of full identity. A Lifebook provides tangible evidence to an adopted child of his continued existence. – Mary Hopkins-Best

However motherhood comes to you, it’s a miracle. – Valerie Harper

Being a parent wasn’t just about bearing a child. It was about bearing witness to its life. -Jodi Picoult

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. -Richard Bach

Little souls find their way to you, whether they’re from your womb or someone else’s. – Sheryl Crow

We should not be asking who this child belongs to, but who belongs to this child.

James L. Gritter

They may not have my eyes, they may not have my smile, but they have all my heart. -unknown

Families don’t have to match. You don’t have to look like someone else to love them. -Leigh Anne Tuohy

Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone, but still miraculously my own. Never forget for a single minute, you didn’t grow under my heart but in it. – Fleur Conkling Heyliger

Family is not defined by our genes, it is built and maintained through love. – Amalia G.

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. – Desmond Tutu

Adoption is a beautiful, burdensome blessing.

Jody Cantrell Dyer

Destiny is not always preordained. Life is about making choices. Our lives are the sum of all the choices we make, the bridges we cross, and the ones we burn. Our souls cast long shadows over many people, even after we are gone. Fate, luck, and providence are the consequence of our freedom of choice, not the determinants. When justice is served by following our principles, making good decisions brings us inner peace. ― Judith Land

A birthmother puts the needs of her child above the wants of her heart. — Skye Hardwick

The hardest decisions we make are often the best decisions we make. It just takes a little while to feel their benefits. But, just like flower seeds in the soil, they show themselves at the right time.— Butterflies and Pebbles

Adoption isn’t a birthmother’s rejection but an unconditional love that inspires her to put herself last and do all she can for her baby. — Mary Hines, Birthmother

Forgive yourself for not having the foresight to know what now seems so obvious in hindsight.

Judy Belmont

If you love someone unconditionally and with your whole heart, then you will do what is best for them not you. — Talitha

Finding my birth family was the single most important moment of my entire life, it was (as) if I’d been holding my breath my entire life and for the first time I could let it out. My ability to be a healthy adult depended on the chance to sit in a room with people who look like me and to feel truly known for the first time in my entire life. —Rebecca Dolan, adoptee

Some share the same blood that pumps through one’s veins, but that does not make them family. It is the union of self-sacrificial love, willing to die for one another. That is the definition of true family. —Jesse Genualdi, adoptee

Don’t tell us we’re lucky, tell us it’s okay that we’re sad, tell us that missing people we don’t know is okay and that loving two moms is safe to say out loud. Tell us that home can be a place we start and a place we end up.

Rebecca Dolan, adoptee

Children and mothers never truly part, bound together by the beating of one another’s heart. — Charlotte Gray

To attain to a place of acceptance of an adoption decision is an honorable goal, but often an arduous journey. — Sandra Cantrell

He is mine in a way that he will never be hers, yet he is hers in a way that he will never be mine, and so together, we are motherhood.

Desha Woodall

Adoption carries the added dimension of connection not only to your own tribe but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties, and family. It is the larger embrace. -Isabella Rossellini

There are times when the adoption process is exhausting and painful and makes you want to scream. But, I am told, so does childbirth. -Scott Simon

Every child deserves a home and love. Period.

Dave Thomas

My birth mother brought me into this world, but it was my adoptive parents who gave me life. -Christina Romo

By choice, we have become a family, first in our hearts, and finally in breath and being. Great expectations are good; great experiences are better. -Richard Fischer

Adoption is not about finding children for families, it’s about finding families for children.

Dr Joyce Maguire Pavao

Adoption comes from the heart, but the adoption process comes from the Law. You should follow your heart, but be sure you also follow the law. -Irina O’Rear

Children and mothers never truly part, bound together by the beating of one another’s heart. -Charlotte Gray

*I have done my best to accurately quote and link the source, if I missed something please let me know so I can fix it asap.

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I just browsed through a long list of adoption and foster care quotes and found it really insightful. Check it out!

Lifebooks for Foster Care and Adoption

Many foster and adopted adults speak with pain about the missing pieces of their history and have chunks of their lives they cannot remember, because they were young when they happened.

As a foster or an adoptive parent, it’s your responsibility to fill in all the gaps and missing pieces of the histories of the children you care for. you can hold their true, full story until they are old enough to carry it.

Lifebooks are a great way to honor your foster child’s (or adopted child’s) life – ALL of it.

…a Lifebook is used after placement and for years to come as a way to help the adopted child connect his past and present life… a Lifebook affirms the fact that everyone is entitled to his own history, confirms who he is, and provides a sense of full identity. A Lifebook provides tangible evidence to an adopted child of his continued existence.”

Mary Hopkins-Best, Toddler Adoption: The Weaver’s Craft Revised Edition

Lifebooks come in a variety of forms, but the basic premise is to gather information about your child’s life before they came with you and their time with you as well.

Since foster care and the timing of moves are so unpredictable, start a Lifebook as soon as possible. Even if you only add one page or one memory, you can create something that will follow the child throughout their life. Most people wait until the child is either adopted or going to be adopted to start, but they have already lived a lot of life before that happens.

When working on it with older children, I just let them know that it is a memory book and we want to get all the info we can together so that they have something that talks about their whole lives. For infants and younger kids, I complete it and then pass it on. They can always add to it when they get bigger.

As far as the format – it is wide open. What I have found works best for me is a 3 ring binder and those plastic sheet protectors. Then as you gather information, photographs, school work, etc you can just slide it in. It also makes it super easy to rearrange and add to. My social worker was able to provide me with a blank Lifebook in a three-ring binder with some fill-in-the-blank pages. You can ask your workers if they have something similar.

Possible Lifebook Sections

  • All about me – Details about them from whatever age they are at the time they make the Lifebook – it can always be updated.
  • All about my birth family – This can be tricky, but gather info as you can. Tell the birth family you want to honor their child by making a memory book and would love their help. It can help break down barriers and help them be involved in the process.
  • Letters from special people – I always write a letter and invite others who are close to the child to do the same – birth family, foster family, etc. This can be a good way to involve other children in the home.
  • Memories from the birth family & past placements – Older kids, I just ask them to tell me some memories while I type them down – works best after you have formed a relationship and they are comfortable with you. For younger kids, I ask older siblings, aunts, uncles or any cooperative birth family members to tell me memories – after I explain what I am doing and why.
  • Memories from their time with you – SO FUN to do anytime but also to revisit as the child is preparing to move on – honor your time together.
  • Photographs – Any you can get from the birth family, past foster families and time at your home as well. (I love photography – so my kids have TONS of photos when they move on. I print out 4-8 for each month spent with me and put the rest on a disk – that they can use to print whatever photos they’d like when they get older).
  • Samples of their school work/artwork etc.  – Every kid’s memory book should have some art in it. 🙂
  • Medical information  – Store it away as you get it – growth charts, immunization records are always needed by the child down the road. Once their primary pediatrician knows you, it usually isn’t a problem to ask for these things a while back as well.


  • Just start. Whatever you do is more than they have.
  • Work on it little by little if the child is helping you. Many times talking about the birth family with the foster family is complex emotionally and can be hard – take their lead and don’t push it. Again whatever you do is more than they have.
  • Make copies – The simple truth is that things get lost when kids are in foster care. You and your foster child have invested a lot of heart and soul in their Lifebook, you’d hate to see it gone. So the best practice is to make at least two copies. Keep one copy with you (the foster family) and give one to the child’s social worker to put in their file. Give the original to the foster child themselves if they are old enough or to an adult in their new placement to keep safe.
  • Encourage the next home to add to the Lifebook and then SEND IT WITH THE CHILD wherever they go next. Whether it is an adoptive home, a foster home, or a group home, that child will make memories there – you want them to keep the ones they have and make more.

Sometimes the hardest part of a lifebook is the beginning. You can do it. Your child will thank you.


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I just read an article called, “Lifebooks for Foster Care and Adoption” and really liked it. Check it out!

Social Stories for Kids in Foster Care

A social story is a powerful tool to be used to help foster children understand typical reactions to UNUSUAL situations – like moving from one home and one set of parents to another. Changing homes multiple times in early childhood is not typical in the general population, but for those involved in foster care, it is far too common.

A genius friend of mine wrote a social story for my two-year-old, complete with photos and a simple story, to help with the transition. It was called PUMPKIN’S VERY SPECIAL FAMILY and ultimately helped us both with the transition and worked like a charm as it helped a young toddler understand on a deeper level what would happen when she moved.

Key points to keep in mind when writing a Social Story for Kids in Foster Care:

  • Use words at the child’s level – a book for a 2-year-old should sound very different than one written for a 10-year-old
  • Tell the child’s story from their perspective
  • Give them feeling words (and let them know its okay to be happy AND sad, scared AND excited, especially around feelings about moving)
  • Personalize it!  Use your kid’s names, their parents names, photos of everyone you can.
  • Use a story structure – a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Remember the child is the star of the story, don’t embellish anyone else’s feelings (it may be very true that you will miss them terribly and their parents will smother them with love, but this story is kiddo focused – and they might have all kinds of different feelings.

She wrote another version, this time for my seven-year-old and four-year-old who are transitioning back in with their parents (yeah for reunification!!!).  Here is their social story, along with a few modifications for confidentiality (names and specifics changed, but in the book, they LOVED seeing and hearing their own names).


Buddy’s story was written for a 7-year-old who loved superheroes, helping people and was so excited to move back in with his parents. When I read the story to him, he asked, “Why is everything so super in this book? Cause I like it.” Then he asked, “Can I really stomp my foot if I’m mad? Because sometimes I’ll miss you.” Spot on in helping him verbalize some of the mixed-up emotions present in reunification and adoption situations.

Once upon a time, there was a superhero named Super Buddy. Super Buddy does not have a cape, but he has something even better. He has strength and gentleness inside him that make him so special to those who love him!

Super Buddy has superpowers. He is a great big brother, helpful and kind. Lots of people love Super Buddy!

One day, Super Buddy and his little sister, Princess Bug move to a new place. A place they have never been before. They meet someone who loves them and takes care of them. Her name is Alisa.

Super Buddy goes to school, takes swimming lessons, and gets even better at using his superpowers of caring, helpfulness, and kindness.

Time goes by, and Super Buddy and Princess Bug spend time with Alisa and time with their parents, who loves them very much.

One day, the word comes from the galaxy that Super Buddy and Princess Bug are going to live with their parents again! Super Buddy has lots of feelings inside about moving.

When Super Buddy moves with Princess Bug, he is excited to live with his parents again, but he misses Alisa, too. When he misses Alisa, Super Buddy can send a letter in his magic mailbox. He can talk to people. He can stomp his foot if he is mad and he can cry if he is sad. When he is happy, he can remember that it is okay to smile and laugh.

Super Buddy can remember his superpowers of strength and gentleness. His strength inside helps him deal with hard things. Super Buddy’s gentleness helps him treat others with care, helpfulness, and kindness. These are the things that make Super Buddy so super.

Super Buddy can trust that Alisa is sending her love to him, even when they are apart. Super Buddy can know in his super heart that so many people love him. And he can believe that this love is more powerful than any superpower.


Bug’s story was written for a 4-year-old girly girl, pink-loving princess. She was also reunifying with her parents. She also loved her story, as well as the pictures of the pretty princess (clip art) I put on the front. She also really, really enjoyed the photos of her, Buddy, her parents and me throughout the book.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there was the greatest princess in all the land. Her name is Princess Bug.

One day, Princess Bug and her big brother, Super Buddy, move to a new house with someone who will love and care for them. Her name is Alisa.

Princess Bug learns lots of things at Alisa’s house. She gets a special tutu and wings and a magic wand at Christmas time!

Princess Bug is so great. Now that she is four, she can do lots of great things. Her favorite thing to do is love others. She can also zip bags, write her name, snap her fingers, pour her juice, put on her seatbelt, put on her clothes, walk her baby to the park, brush her teeth and stay in bed!

Time goes by, and Princess Bug and Super Buddy spend time with Alisa and time with their Parents, who loves them very much.

One day, the word comes from the kingdom that Princess Bug and Super Buddy are going to live with their parents again! Princess Bug has lots of feelings inside about moving.

When Princess Bug moves with Super Buddy, she is excited to live with her parents again, but she misses Alisa, too. When she misses Alisa, Princess Bug can say, “I miss Alisa.” When she feels sad, she can cry. When she feels mad, she can stomp her foot. When she feels happy, she can laugh.

Sometimes, Princess Bug can dream happy dreams about Alisa and the fun times they had.

Princess Bug can know in her heart that Alisa will always love her, no matter what. And she can know that she is so special for all the great things she is inside: strong, smart, sweet and funny. Princess Bug is the greatest princess ever.

IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

I just read an article called, “Social Stories for Kids in Foster Care” and really liked it. Check it out!

A How-to Guide for Foster Care Adoption

Children and youth enter foster care at no fault of their own.

The number one goal of all foster parents should be reunification, but there are always children and teens who cannot return to their birth family. In fact, according to NACAC, 24 percent of child and youth, who leave foster care are adopted.

Of all adoptions, 51 percent were by foster parents (concurrent adoption), 35 percent by relatives, and 14 percent by individuals or couples who were neither kin nor foster parents (foster adoption). Most adoptive parents were coupled, though 25 percent were single women and 3 percent were single men. These numbers remain relatively static year to year. 

The number one goal of all foster parents should be reunification, but there are always some children and teens who cannot return to their birth family.

I was one of the 25 percent of single women who adopted.

My road to motherhood was a winding one.  In the midst of my single-hood, I questioned whether or not I would ever be called Mamma.  The ache of not knowing was unbearable at times. 

I became a foster mom when I turned 30. The sound of these much-loved children calling me Mamma physically hurt my heart, as I knew each child would call me that only for a season – short or long, it would end. 

After two years, I let the county know that I would like to open and willing to adoption if a child needed it. My hope was always is that children are in a safe, loving home, with their birth parents whenever possible, but if that safe, loving, wonderful home is to with me, I was ready to be a Mamma for the long haul.

I would provide foster care, and also be open to adopting them if they were not able to be placed with family.

About a year after I spoke with my social worker, she called me on a Friday and a baby moved in on Monday. She stayed. And this one, this one, is my girl.  Through and through. 

She has the uncanny ability to drive me batty and have me rolling on the floor in laughter within minutes.  I think she’s hilarious (and she does to).

The thrill I get in hearing her call me Mamma is only second to the joy I see on her face when I retrieve her after being away for a time. 

When she was little, a teenage nursery worker asked, “What is it you do to make her want you like that?” Honestly, I am not sure, but I do know that it’s mutual.  I so enjoy this little one, she’s my favorite person (big or small) and am so glad I am her forever Mamma.

She also has first momma that we are lucky to have visits with, one of my favorite thing about her is that she calls our child, ours. But that is a post for another day.

Often people think that adopting from foster care is complicated.   It is complex, but it is also a road that many, many people have walked before you.  There are two main ways to adopt from foster care:

  1. Concurrent Adoption (our story)
  2. Foster Adoption (adopting a child that is freed for adoption before meeting you)

Steps to Adopt from Foster Care

  1. Think, “Hey this might be the way I/we want to build my/our family.”
  2. Ask questions – of everyone, friends, family, bloggers, adoptive parents, adoptees – make sure this is the best decision for you. Adoption isn’t for everyone and that’s okay.
  3. Attend into sessions, more than one.
  4. Apply to an agency or county Foster to Adopt program that fits you.
  5. Do the paperwork. It’s hard, it’s tedious, it’s repetitive. Do it anyway. The quicker you move, the quicker your social worker can do what they need to do.
  6. Visit with your social worker in their office & then in your home.
  7. Do some more paperwork & whatever the worker asks to you do.
  8. Give the worker some time, she/he has to write it, have it proofread for accuracy & compliance to the laws of the state you live and the state/county you plan to adopt from by another worker (and possibly your family), print, notarize if necessary, sign.
  9. Get approved & have an approved home-study.
  10. Decide if you want to foster to provide temporary care and be open to adoption (concurrent adoption) or only consider kids whose birth family’s rights have already been terminated.
  11. In concurrent adoption, wait for your social worker to call with a referral of kiddo who needs a place to stay for the night or maybe forever.
  12. Ask more questions – get as much info about kiddo as possible.
  13. In foster adoption (kids whose parental rights have been terminated) talk to your worker about kids and youth who need a home at that time. Most are not on photo listings.
  14. Ask more questions. See a theme here?
  15. Once you are matched with a child or the child you are fostering becomes available for adoption, let you worker know just how interested you are (we as workers offer aren’t sure of a family’s commitment until we hear the words, “We are in this 100%. We want this child to be a part of our family.” The words matter!
  16. Do what your social worker tells you.
  17. Go to court & finalize the adoption.

A very, very simplified overview of how to #adopt from foster care.

Adopting from foster care is a funny thing, there are a million steps and they ALL feel momentous and historic. If you take one step at a time, most people do end up adopting. If that’s you, please do the work along the way to no only have your home ready, but also your heart.

Strengthen your marriage if you have one, build your circle of support, get ready to love no matter what and hold on.


IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

I just read an article called, “A How-to Guide for Foster Care Adoption” and really liked it. Check it out!

9 Things You Need To Do AFTER You Adopt

After the judge declares your child’s adoption is finalized, you thought the paperwork was done and you could just live life right?!  Well, no.  

If you want to do everything RIGHT after your child’s finalization, here are nine things to consider in the weeks and months after.

When your child’s adoption is finalized, be sure to do these things to make sure your adoption is legal and your child has citizenship (and some fun stuff too)!

Original Birth Certificate

Now, this first one is actually one you do BEFORE you sign on the dotted line.

Prospective adoptive parents, you HAVE to get an ORIGINAL birth certificate for your child. Not a copy, an official, original unaltered birth certificate with birth parents full names written on it.

Once you finalize, the US government will issue an amended birth certificate stating your child’s adopted name & list the adoptive parents as the ONLY parents. The amended birth certificate will take the place of the original and in some states is inaccessible for life or until the child reaches adulthood.  

This can cause problems later on if the adoptee then wants to enroll in a native American tribe, get a passport or have a fuller picture of their story pre-adoption. So, do what you can to get an original birth certificate and keep it along with the amended one you are sent after finalization.

Consider Your Mortality

Parenthood makes you consider your own mortality in a new way.

Before I adopted, I had no reason for a will, appointing a guardian or life insurance, as I had no real material wealth and no dependents. Now I do.

But, after the finalization, I was sure to get the all in place, because as a single mom, I knew I needed a plan for who would take care of her and financial support in place for my daughter, should the worst happen.

This child is now fully your responsibility and you want them to be taken care of well, even if you can’t be there in the case of your death.  

Also, think about who you’d like to raise your child in case of your death and put that in your will. If you don’t have one, be sure to get or update your will and make sure your life insurance will cover your funeral expenses and some to help the new caretakers of your child.

Attempt to get a new Social Security NUMBER and card for your child. The office is sometimes hesitant to give a new number, but it can come back to haunt you later.

Social Security

Think about the many, many pieces of paper on which your child’s social security # might be on, papers at the county, the adoption agency, past foster parents, birth family, temporary caretakers (if a child is with someone over 6 months, they can be claimed on their taxes).

If you don’t get a new social security number, you may find that your child’s number has been used to claim children on taxes, open credit cards, false applications for loans, credit cards or bank accounts, used as proof of identity with law enforcement, used for medical care, used on utilities such as phone, water, gas, and cable.

When your child reaches adulthood, they might find that they have a poor credit history due to non-payment on those accounts opened fraudulently, or they might even have flags for criminal conduct that has nothing to do with them.

The easiest way to avoid all of that is to get a new number. They are sometimes hesitant to give a new number, be persistent. But, if they refuse to give you a new # you can request a flag be put on their file moving forward and then check to make sure their credit hasn’t already been tampered with by writing a letter to the credit bureaus.

This won’t prevent someone from claiming them on their taxes but might help sort out credit problems that might arise.

Medical Insurance

Add your child to your medical insurance plan.  Or if they are receiving insurance through medical assistance (part of adoption assistance for some kids), update name and contact information.

Professional Updates

Pro tip: When you adopt, update child’s information with the all professional’s the child has worked with, whether or not you plan to work with them again in the future.

That way, if you do need to see them again, the paperwork will all be current.  Also ask them to remove all other contact persons off of the accounts (social workers, birth family, etc) and update all contact information to you alone. 

Establish Citizenship

If you adopted internationally, make sure your child’s adoption is final IN THE US and that they are a US Citizen.  Do the work now to make sure they are – so that they don’t have to deal with it when they want to go on that first international trip and find they can’t get a passport because they aren’t officially US citizens.  This happens all the time folks – MAKE sure.

View USCIS – U.S. Citizenship for an Adopted Child for more details.

If you adopted internationally, make sure your child’s adoption is final IN THE US and that they are a US Citizen.


Consider sending an announcement of the adoption to your friends and family. Be sure to discuss this with your child and use your best judgement if your child would like this done. Many adoption stories are full of grief and mixed feelings and finalization. Be sensitive to the way you mark this day with and for your child.

If you do create announcement cards, or if you just do a few, be sure to send one off to the White House and Disney World as well, they will send you back an official congrats – which is one extra fun thing for the adoption scrapbook.  

White House Instructions / Disney World Instructions

Luckily, President Obama was in office when I finalized, there is a signed card from President and Michelle Obama in my child’s Lifebook…. You might want to consider who is in office if you want a White House greeting.

IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

I just read an article called “9 Things You Need To Do AFTER You Adopt” and really liked it, check it out!

Concurrent Adoption from Foster Care

There are many factors that go into an adoptive placement decision, but most social workers follow a general placement preference for a child in need of a permanent family, always based on the willingness of the adults to parent and their suitability to do so. Which is why there are generally not infants, toddlers or young children on waiting children lists.

This is the list a worker will go down when deciding who is best to adopt a child in foster care.  She will decide at every step if this family is an option for a permanent family for this child.

If you are hoping to adopt an unrelated child that you have no current connections to, you are at least 6th on this list. For any child to be on a “waiting child” list, placement options #1-5 have either been inappropriate or they have said no to the placement of this child. And of course, each step of this process takes months and sometimes years, and all the while the child is getting older and most likely is experiencing further moves, trauma, and stress in their little lives.

General Placement Preference:

  1. Birth Mom or Birth Dad
  2. Birth Relatives the child has a relationship with
  3. Birth Relatives the child does not have a relationship with
  4. Current Foster Parents
  5. Kin – people in the community or in the child’s past that have/had a relationship with the child (past foster parents, school teachers, neighbors, sports coaches, etc)
  6. Unrelated foster or adoptive family in the child’s community
  7. Unrelated foster or adoptive family in the child’s state
  8. Unrelated foster/adopt family outside of the child’s state

For example:

  • A 6.5-year-old child comes into foster care.
  • When the child is 8.6 years old, birth parents’ rights are terminated because birth mom & birth date has been deemed unsuitable to parent the children and extended birth family begins to be looked at an option.
  • After this, the extended birth family has all been contacted and either haven’t shown interest, said no to placement or have been deemed unsuitable (due to past CPS involvement, drug/alcohol issues, felony charges).
  • When the child was 9 years old their current foster family said no to adoption
  • At 9.5 years old, a search for other adults in the child’s life is undertaken, but with high caseloads and new kids coming into care every day, it’s difficult to do the exhaustive search for people who may have been in this child’s life 5,6, 7 years ago…
  • If no extended family member, if not one current or foster parent, if no teacher or coach or friend parent said yes… The child is posted on a WAITING CHILD listing.

The reality of this is heartbreaking.

Consider becoming a concurrent foster placement for a child and be willing to take that child on the day they come into foster care and be COMMITTED to adopting them if they can’t return to their birth family.

So when that 6.5-year-old (or infant, or teen) is placed in your home, YOU are there, hugging, tucking in at night, dropping off at school, being there for the child, through every day of the 15 months of possible reunification and painful termination of parental rights. YOU are there for the birth relative search. YOU are there when the county gets to step 4 and YOU can say YES! The steps stop here, with me, THIS child is home.

That helps. That heals. That is hope.

Yes, it’s risky for your heart. Oh so risky. I understand, I do. I’ve done it. I’ve lived it. I’ve cried over kids returned to birth parents, I’ve ached. But, I also know that it is worth it. It is so worth it.

So if you find yourself wanting to adopt a younger child from foster care – that’s okay, the simple answer is that there ARE infants & toddlers who need a home from foster care, but they need a special kind of family. They need a family who can ride the roller coaster with them. To support the birth family as long as possible and to be in it for the long haul, for the child’s good – no matter where they grow up.

When a family is committed to providing foster care for a child and AT THE SAME time being open to adopting the child if they need an adoptive family, this is called concurrent adoption.

Concurrent adoption was put into place nationwide in 1997, with the passage of the Safe Families Act, which gave the option for social workers to plan for an adoption option for kids while their families were working on reunification.  It also requires States to file for termination of parental rights once children have been in foster care for 15 of the most recent 22 months and give preference to adult relatives over non relative caregivers.

Remember that the #1 goal of foster care is reunification, so while you are OPEN to adoption, be supportive of first families. Concurrent foster care is not a FASTER way to adopt.

Additional concurrent adoption resources:

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I just read an article called, “Concurrent Adoption from Foster Care” and really liked it. Check it out!

The First Night in Foster Care: What Foster Parents Need to Know

Today we will talk about how to make a foster child feel at home, the first day with a foster child, the first day with an adopted child, the first night with a foster child, the first night with an adopted child and how to be prepared for your first foster care placement.

Picture this, a school-age child is dropped off at your home by a social worker. They have just been removed from their parents. They are scared and confused. The worker leaves and you are face to face, alone with this child. Now what?

What’s next?

First of all, say hello to the child, introduce yourself briefly, show them in.  

Talk to the police officer or social worker, briefly, briefly – tell them to email or call later with any sensitive or graphic information.  Then most of the time, they leave rather quickly.

Give the child the tour of your house, make sure to show the child the bathroom and where they will be sleeping right away.  Let them open whatever cupboards they like and play with any and all toys (within reason).

Find something for them to do – age-appropriate toys, tv shows, etc.  If they have a backpack or jacket,  let them keep it with them or put it in their room, it is 100% up to them.  I had a girl keep her jacket and winter hat on for the first hour she was here once.  She got to choose when she took it off, I let her know she could take it off but didn’t try to help or worse, make her.  There is very, very, very little they are in control of at this point, let them control their stuff.

LET them be for a minute with you in the same room but not talking to them – they need to BE in the space before they can process you as another adult.

Get them a snack with something to drink.  It’s OK if they don’t eat it, provide it.  Let them be again.

Once they start to look at you, look curious, etc.  I ask, “Okay, so what did the officer/social worker tell you about me and this place?”  Generally, I get a shrug.  

“Well, my name is Alisa (I don’t assume they remember) and I live here with Sweetie.  We are the only ones who live here, I am not married and right now there are no other kids.  It’s my job to keep kids safe while the other grownups are figuring out what the plan is for you and your family”.  

If I know what’s next (court, weekend, visits, no visits, etc), I tell them.  Kids need to know what is going on and they deserve to.  “What questions do you have?”  Most likely other shrug but I assure you, it’s all going in.

Tell them why your house is awesome (“I have a Wii and lots of board games and I love to do art.”), and the try to get to know them.  Ask about school, what subjects they like, what they like to do, etc.  Be interested and remember they had a whole life before coming to you and its okay to be curious.  In that same breath, be sensitive and if they clam up about something or if you know a certain area or person is sensitive, be quick to jump to an easy subject – favorite TV show, etc.

Find something they like for dinner/snacks and make it for them.  

While they are eating dinner:

Ask what types of food they like and make it a point to get those foods the next day.

I say, “I was wondering what types of foods you like because we are just getting to know each other and everyone likes different things.  Since you’ll be staying here for a while, at least for the night, I want to get food that you like too, so let’s make a list.  What is one thing that you like to eat?”  Then I write it down.  Whatever it is.

Even if the entire list is chips and ice cream I write it down, commenting whenever it’s true that I like that food.  I really do like chips and ice cream.  However, since I also like real food, I am sure to ask what fruits and veggies they like.  

If they are really stuck, I ask what they like to eat for dinner with their Mom or Dad.  If they say they eat Mac and Cheese, then I’ll say, “Great, that’s yummy.  When you have Mac and Cheese, what else is on your plate?”  Gets the juices flowing.  

The important thing to remember here is NOTHING they like or don’t like is wrong.  THERE are no good foods or bad foods in this conversation   It is all a window into their world.  And then – GO buy it.  

Not all of it, you are still the one in charge, but make a real effort to make foods the kids like for at least the first few weeks.  Mac and Cheese for a month won’t injure them – feeling like they aren’t part of the family and have no say, that might.  Explain how bedtime and waking up works well before bedtime and then review as your tucking in.

Also during dinner and then again at bedtime, I say, “Tonight, we’ll get you all comfy in bed, with a nightlight, blankets, pillows, everything and then it’ll be bedtime. I will go into my room and dink around on my computer, but I’ll come back and check on you in a few minutes and see if you need anything.  In the morning, you can play quietly in your room, but stay in your room until I get up and get you.”  Then ask what they understood and correct anything they got wrong if it’s an important detail.  Bedtime is hard no matter what that first night, but take away as much mystery as you can.

Find something to do together, Wii, board game or just checking out the house. Show them how to work the TV remote.

Hang out in their new room, help them make it feel like it is “theirs,” even if its short term, move stuff around, put in the things they like (books, small toys), take out things that are too young or too old for them. Have them make their bed so it looks “just right” to them, get the books ready to read before bed, etc.

Have THEM put on their PJ’s.  If they are physically able, have them do it themselves, behind a closed bedroom door or in the bathroom – privacy IS SO SO SO important, especially when you are a total stranger and you have no idea what they have been through.  Most kids don’t seem to care about the privacy thing, but you need to.

Brush teeth, wash face, go to the bathroom, etc.  It establishes that this is what we do here before bed, don’t worry if they actually get clean teeth or hands or face that first night, and don’t fight it if its not happening.

Read some books with the grown-ups on the floor and the kids in a chair. Preferably in the room they’ll be sleeping in so they can get used to it, but use wisdom if there is known abuse.  I always sit on the floor with the kids on something for a good long time, so there is a little distance, just in case.

Read Maybe Days… at least I always do and answer any and all questions the kid can come up with as honestly and openly as you can.  It’s a hard, emotional read that first night, but it always brings up a lot of, “I miss my Mom and Dad,” “I’m sad,” etc.  Let it.  Them saying those things is so, so good and healthy.  Let them.  Let them cry.  Let them know that you understand they miss their family and that it’s okay to be sad.  They are feeling all of it anyway, I assure you – so good to get it out.

Get kids in bed, tell them the bedtime and waking up plan again.  Then do it.  I say, “Alright kiddo,  now that you are in bed safe and sound, I am going to go into my room and work on the computer.  I will come back and check on you in 5 minutes to see how your doing.  Remember you can get out of bed if you need to go to the bathroom, but otherwise, I want you to try to stay in bed and wait for me okay?”

Answer questions about monsters, spiders, boogie men, what happens if they get thirsty, etc., Let them know that your house is 100% monster, spider, boogie men free and that there is a special cup in the bathroom just for them if they get thirsty.

CHECK on them in 5 minutes.  And in 10.  And in 10.  And in 10.  Until they fall asleep let them know when you’ll be back to check and then COME BACK TO CHECK.  The worst thing you can do at this point is to fail them.  Check on them.

Prepare to not sleep a lot.  Taking forever to go to sleep, sleep terrors, crying and waking up multiple times, or really early in the morning is normal and expected.  (And really, I am always super alert the first few nights as well, its new for me too.)

Wake up earlier than normal the next day yourself to see how the kids is doing – sleeping, great, let them sleep, awake and playing quietly in room (our rule) great, invite him/her out for an early cartoon session or breakfast, awake and helping themselves to the TV or fridge, remind them of the rules and escort them back to their room for 5 minutes… then invite for early breakfast or cartoons.

Tips from the trenches

No way around it, the first night in foster care is hard. Remember it is okay to have rules, but be flexible and above all – be KIND. It is worth its weight in gold to start your relationship off on a good note.

Every question they ask is a good one.  I like to let them know if another kid I have had, had the same question.  It lets them know that other kids have lived here and moved on, it also lets them know they are not alone and not crazy for wondering about that thing.

Give choices whenever possible, ask if they want to see the upstairs or downstairs first, let them choose between two snacks or two pajamas, or should we watch some TV first or play this came first?  Kids catch on quick and ask for the choices.

Use your own name and the names of those who live in your house a lot at first.  They have met a lot of new faces today, you can’t assume they remember your names.  Also, let them call you what they like.  

Most of my foster kids have called me Alisa, some have called me Mom from day one.  I remind them we’re not sure what the plan is (if I will be their Mom, most of the time that isn’t the plan), but if that’s what they want to do, that’s okay.

When getting to know a new foster kiddo say, “What questions do you have,” way more than you think necessary. Cause they have a billion of questions, but it’ll take a while to get up the courage to ask you.

On food, always have peanut butter, bread & fruit in the house.  If a child doesn’t like what you made or how you made it, let them know they can always make a sandwich for themselves or have fruit.  That way the alternative is a not very exciting, yet a viable, nutritious option, without you becoming a short-order cook.

Let them know about any security features on the house, motion detectors, door alarms, etc.  It would be SO scary for them to find out about those on accident when they got up to get a snack.

A few of you asked about bedbugs and lice and how to deal with them… I might do a separate post about this… but my short answer is, know at some point you might have to deal with both, but..

PLEASE DO NOT have foster kids undress in a garage or store their things outside because they are “dirty”.  Put yourselves back into the shoes of the child and take a step back.

Use mattress protectors.  By the lice treatment, use it when you need to.  But establish TRUST first.

IF you appreciated this article, please share with your networks!

I just read an article called, “The First Night in Foster Care: What Foster Parents Need to Know” and really liked it. Check it out!

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