Parenting Practice or Policy & Procedure Mandate? Understanding the Impact of Foster Care, Adoption, and Kinship Care on Birth and Previously Adopted Children in Foster, Adoptive, & Kinship Families
By Eshele Williams, PsyD, LMFT
In social services, we are making a valiant effort to shift to a family foster care model, ensuring that every child in care has at least one enduring relationship with an adult that is intended to last a lifetime. With this goal at the core of practice, it is time that everyone, not only the child joining the family, be recognized in this endeavor.
I often wonder whose responsibility it is to ensure that the rights of birth children of foster and adoptive parents are recognized and upheld. Is it the responsibility of parents or policy-makers to ensure that birth children are not negatively impacted by a system that needs their parents to take care of other children?
I have worked with thousands of families that have not been able to find a consistent answer to the question: How will my child(ren) be impacted by my choice to be a foster/adoptive parent? As the birth child of foster, kinship, and adoptive parents, I have been attempting to answer this questions for myself and my mother for the last 22 years. The answer has taken on a multi-dimensional approach of using my personal experience, gaining professional training within the foster care arena, researching and studying the literature, and ultimately becoming an advocate for children and family rights. On behalf of families, I attempt to answer the question from the perspective of a Life/Family Coach, Licensed Marriage Family Therapist, and Trainer/Educator.
Parents’ Expectations and Assumptions
We know that it is not enough for resource parents to just go through training. Parents must be active members in the training process. It is the facilitator’s responsibility to dispel myths, discuss misconceptions, and create commitment— not simply to fulfill parent expectations. It is the parents’ responsibility to apply what is being learned to all aspects of their family life. This provides the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics inclusive of the impact on children already in the family, no matter how uncomfortable they may be to talk about. Parents expect, as they go through pre-service and in-service training with little knowledge of the appropriate questions to ask, that they will receive all they need to be successful. They typically assume that everything they need to know will be relayed to them by the professional taking them through training. Parents count on the fact that they will be trained on how to respond, that they will receive support when they have questions, and that action will be taken on their behalf when things occur that are outside of their scope of knowledge. They assume that if they did not learn something in training, they must not need to know it. These are some of the worst assumptions foster parents make when they are in the training process.
Parents assume that there will be little to no impact on the children already in their family and often never consider the impact on their adult children. However, when their children have experiences indicating that this is false, they are disappointed and find themselves unprepared for the changes that being a foster parent (family) has on their children.
The research and experiences of families indicates an increase in disruptions due to the children not getting along. Yet agencies fail to disclose this information in training and as it stands currently, there is no mandate to train on this subject. Agencies feel that they may deter families from becoming foster parents if they knew about potential problems. The information is too hard to find and a lack of consistent information exists in the available literature. And training is used to prepare for the child joining the family—not to prepare the children that already are there.
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Eshele Williams holds a Doctorate of Psychology in Organizational Management and Consulting and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). She is a current member of the Board of Directors of the National Foster Parent Association and chairs the committee examining the impact of fostering and adoption on birth children. She is an Adjunct Faculty member and current member of the Advisory Board of Pacific Oaks College, School of Child and Family Psychology. As an independent consultant, Dr. Williams is a trainer and Curriculum Developer of CWLA’s Kinship Care— Traditions of Caring and Collaborating Model of Practice. She is responsible for implementing the PRIDE Model of Practice and the New Generation PRIDE Model of Practice to develop and support resource parents. Eshele is available for consultation and future collaboration; she can be contacted at Eshele@att.net.