Are Some Adoptive Families Broadsided by the Unexpected? Another Failed Adoption

Again, a story of another failed international adoption grabbed the attention of readers across the US a number of months ago. A seven year old boy, adopted from Russian is ushered to the plane in Washington, DC. He is put onboard by his grandmother, unaccompanied, to fly the long journey alone, He is met at the Moscow airport and taken to the authorities. We are heartsick for the boy. We rush to condemn the mother, but is there more to consider?

This wasn’t supposed to be this way. No adoptive parent, coming to the adoptive relationship with arms extended in love, plans for it to end this way. A number of adoptive parents with the highest motivations are blindsided by the unexpected. That unexpected is how it feels to live with a child who is demonstrating severe behavioral problems. They weren’t told or didn’t hear about the child’s history. They lacked full understanding of the impact this child would have on their lives. This wasn’t the dream for which they hoped.

This sad ending to the hopes and dreams of an adoptive parent and her child raises a number of significant questions that social workers in America must ask themselves again. Is the preparation of adoptive families enough to ready them for the unknown challenges of parenting a child with a history of abuse, neglect and trauma? Is there something that can be done differently for prospective adoptive parents to fully prepare them for the physical, psychological and emotional challenges they will face within themselves?

As the pictures we see of children around the world in need of permanent families and the stories we hear of their desperate state speak to our hearts, parents seeking to adopt these traumatized children must equip themselves for the journey. It is incredibly important that these deeply wounded children come to families where their new and unfamiliar parents truly understand the brokenness from which they came. It is vital that these children walk into homes where their need of emotional and psychological safety is recognized, and personal hopes and expectations of parents are set aside. It is imperative that these children rest in the arms of trauma-competent parents.

Who are trauma-competent parents? They are parents who know the life events their child survived changed him at the core of who he is. They are parents who recognize that children who live through layers of trauma see the world differently than children without such life-altering challenges. They may feel differently, they may behave differently; they may experience the closeness of family far differently than other children. Trauma-competent parents also know their child’s story will have an impact on them as they repeatedly listen to, hear, and feel the child’s story.

Trauma competent parents have hope.

What can adoptive parents do to equip themselves for this journey?

There are a number of ways:

• Trauma Competency based training that leads to experiential understanding prior to the arrival of their child.

• Post-adoption support, resources, and training designed to help parents with unfolding needs

• Connections with experienced adoptive parents who can act as mentors and coaches

• Connections with safe people who understand the unique challenges of parenting wounded, traumatized children

People around the world are hearing the cry of the orphan. Their hearts have been touched and changed. As they respond, they must be equipped for the journey.

For more information about trauma-competency training contact me at


245 and 580....just numbers

245 and 580....just numbers. No, these two numbers represent the people with whom I had the privilege of spending time today.

I was conducting a foster parent training in Butler County, Ohio recently...nearly 50 foster and adoptive parents attended this all day event. As I met them and listened to their stories, I realized the beautiful treasure sitting in front of me. It was a treasure of loving, sacrificial people who have given their time, talents and resources to meet the needs of abused and neglected children. I felt humbled in their presence.


What does the 580 represent? I bet you can guess.


Most of our blogging has been about the needs overseas because a lot of our focus is there. But today, I was reminded once again, that in this country, in this state, right next door, so to speak, are thousands of people who are making life changing commitments to children right here. They live by a higher principle of life. Let me share a story.


Sixteen years ago, Kevin and Cindy felt called to become foster parents. Shortly after going through the licensing process, they received a phone call from the agency, asking if they would take three-month-old Katie. Katie, theagency told them, was a medically fragile baby, born prematurely to parents who could not care for her. They responded immediately — yes!

Delicate and petite Katie was placed into their home the next day, right from the hospital. That first evening, had Kevin not known infant CPR, Katie would have died in his arms.

The weeks turned into months, the months into years, as they continued to care for this extremely ill child. Trips to the hospital were part of their weekly routine, not to mention doctors’ visits and hours of in-home care. Finally, the agency decided to move forward and seek permanent custody, thus opening the door for Katie’s adoption.

As an adoption worker, I was required at that permanency hearing to testify as to Katie’s “adoptability.” The attorney for the biological family got down in my face, nearly yelling, asking me, “Who would adopt a child like this? What’s wrong with these people? Why do they want to do it?” I simply responded to him by explaining that Kevin and Cindy love her deeply.

After the hearing, I went back to my office. A message my pastor and husband,David, shared recently in our church, came to mind. I sat down and wrote that attorney a respectful letter.
Here is what it said:

Dear Sir,
I didn’t reply adequately in court to you today as to why Kevin and Cindy are choosing to make Katie a permanent part of their family. Let me tell you why. Kevin and Cindy live by ahigher principle in life. It is called VRS.
V stands for Voluntary. No one is forcing them to make this lifelong commitment to Katie. They are doing it out of supreme love for her.
R stands for Redemptive. Redemption means to restore dignity to a person whose life situations are difficult, painful and heartbreaking. Such were Katie’s.
S stands for Suffering. Suffering means the loss of something for the sake of another. Kevin and Cindy have paid a high cost. Emotionally, physically, financially — in every way they havesuffered. They would not call it that, but that is exactly what it is.This is why Kevin and Cindy are adopting Katie. This is their life principle — Voluntary Redemptive Suffering.Respectfully,

We recently joined the family to celebrate Katie’s sixteenth birthday. What a glorious day it was as we reflected on the incalculable ways God had provided for this precious child and encouraged the family in uncertain times.

Those parents today, just like Kevin and Cindy represent the thousands of people coming forward to foster and adopt. They are among those who live by a higher principle of life — VRS — the law of Christ. Again, I was humbled in their presence.

Live creatively, friends. . . . Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. (Galatians 6:1-2, MSG)

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