Last night we had a 2 hour session at the VA, on “Contact and Telling”. The same people who were in our last training session were there last night, except one person.
The social worker trainer, (shall we refer to her as Jo?), talked for the first half hour of the evening. She explained how adopted children need to be told over and over their ‘story’, because as they get older they understand differently. If they ‘fully’ understand when they’re, say, 6, they might have lots more questions at 8 because they start processing things differently. Jo has a deep understanding of this (and the other topics on which we have received training) due to her years of experience as a social worker. [I will add more detail to this section when we get the handouts from the evening]
After the first half hour, an adoptive mother came to talk to us. She and her husband had adopted a girl 12 years before. This woman, let’s call her Emma, is still very involved in adoption, serving on adoption panels for several agencies including our VA. Their daughter, whom we’ll refer to as Abby, came to them when she was 16 months old. Emma, with help remembering from Jo, talked to us about how Abby has always been told she was adopted; they made it part of ‘normal’ conversation. Emma explained how Abby came up with new questions or new behaviour at certain points that indicated that she needed a new, age-appropriate understanding of adoption and her ‘story’. Emma also talked about how Abby has handled being adoption in relation to school — from happily sharing the information when she was younger, to now not wanting to mention it (at the age of 13) because she doesn’t want to be different.
There was one anecdote that Jo related at Emma’s request — the Snake. Jo was had a conversation with Abby to help Abby understand that Emma was Abby’s ‘forever’ family, but realised that it’s hard to understand what ‘forever’ means. So Jo got a large piece of paper and drew a snake on the page, starting in the top left and curving many times until it reached the bottom right. She started colouring in sections and labeling them. The first section was the hospital where Abby was born. Then the foster home where Abby lived until she was 16 months. Then Emma’s home. From this point, they started marking milestones — first day at school, etc. During the conversation, Jo emphasized to Abby that she was in Emma’s family now and that Emma and her husband would always be Abby’s parents. Next they started extrapolating into the future — finishing school, getting a job, moving into her own house, etc. Again, Jo explained that even when Abby was grown and as old as her mother, that Emma would still be her mother. This sounds like a lovely way to help a child understand about ‘forever’.
I hope to come back and edit this at some point to flesh out the developmental stages of a child’s understanding of adoption.
Terpsichore Barnett said:
I am not surprised, but am relieved, that the case presented included telling the child from the outset that she was adopted. I have a cousin who wasn’t told she was conceived through Donor Insemination, and thus was not biologically related to her father, until she was having very major surgery in her 50’s. This caused lots of emotional damage, not to mention shock.
As an aside, I don’t remember if I have ever told you that I’ve had 2 close friends who were adopted as infants and who eventually met birth relatives. Ask me about this if it would be helpful.