Talking to Children About Their Birth Parents

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1 Talking to Children About Their Birth Parents Too many children trying to understand the unexplained moves and relationships cut off in their lives conclude: I am bad, I am unlovable and/or I did something bad. If we do not give children honest answers about their first parents that they can relate to and/or understand, they will turn to their fantasies to find the answers or blame themselves. Understanding one s personal history is critical to developing a healthy sense of identity. Validate, don t contradict, children s feelings about their birth parents. I hate my birth mom should be answered with I bet you do, not They had so many problems of their own, they just couldn t take care of you. Start explaining the birth parent s problems to a child in their preschool years. Create a basic story to which details can be added as the child s cognitive abilities develop. Don t stay things that have to be contradicted later. Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child 1, by Betsy Keefer and Jayne Schooler, (Bergin & Garvey publisher) provide some examples; Preschool years: Your first mommy took some medicine that wasn t good for her. She did not get this medicine from the doctor, and it wasn t good for her. She took the medicine because she though it would help her feel good, but she was wrong. When she took the medicine, she didn t feel good, and she couldn t take care of you. You need a forever family that can keep you safe. That s why you are with [family name.] Early elementary years: Your first mommy made some bad choices before you were even born [or when you were very little]. She listened to a bad person who said she would be happier if she took drugs. This bad person, called a dealer, wanted to make money by selling drugs to people. Once people get started taking drugs, it is very hard for them to stop. They feel really bad whenever they try to stop. When your birth mom tried the drugs, she did feel better for a little while and thought the bad person, the dealer, was right! But the dealer did not tell her how bad she would feel when she stopped taking the drugs. An the dealer did not tell her she would 1 Pages ) Page 45

2 not be able to take care of you, or any children, when she was using drugs because she would be too sleepy. Pretty soon, she was taking drugs every day because she felt sick when she didn t. She wanted the drugs so badly to stop feeling sick, sometimes she would even use money for groceries or rent to buy them. You need to be with a family that can always make sure you have a safe place and good food to eat. That s why you will always be with [family name.] Middle school years and beyond: Your birth mom got hooked on drugs because she listened to the wrong people and made some bad choices. What do you remember about that time? How do you feel about it now? What questions do you still have? Additional points to reinforce include: You did not cause your parent s drug problem. Your parent treated you as she did because the drugs controlled her. Just because mom did not always teat you as a child should be treated doesn t mean that she doesn t love you. Your parent did not have control over her life and couldn t give you a safe, happy, and secure place to be. You need to grow up in a home where you can be safe from harm. Page 46

3 Exercise 1. Abandonment 2. Prostitution 3. Physical Abuse 4. Sexual Abuse 5. Mental Illness 6. Substance abuse 7. Crime Preschool Early elementary Late elementary Middle School High School 1. Abandonment Little is known about Josh s story. His adoptive parents have very little information about Josh, his birth family, or any other background. They do not even have his exact birth date. Josh was found on a warm summer morning on the steps leading to the library. He looked just a few days old. A note was taped to his blanket. I am young and alone. I cannot care for him. 2. Prostitution Chaos, confusion, neglect, abuse are words that depict the early years of Chris and Kimberly. The children s birth mother, a single mom, was trapped by a life-threatening problem drug abuse. A heroin and crack addict, their mother, Sharon, focused only on one thing getting enough money for the next hit. Care of her toddlers fell to a distant second. On many occasions, various men paraded in and out of their small, cramped apartment because the only sources of income that could support Sharon s habit was prostitution. Often the children were left alone when Sharon went out seeking customers. Other times, the children would be locked in the bathroom when their mother was working. Neighbors, tiring of Sharon s lifestyle, reported the situation to the policy and the local child services agency. The children were removed and placed in foster care. Page 47

4 Because their mother failed to complete plans for their return, they were adopted by their permanency planning family. 3. Physical abuse Kenneth came to the attention of child protective services workers after he entered Head Start at the age of three. With just one look at him, one could tell that he was an angry child. Even at three he struck out frequently at playmates slapping kicking, and biting them. His behavior mystified his teachers. They know his mother. She was a very quiet woman who rarely said very much when she came to get him each day. He always seemed happy to see her. On a rainy fall day, Kenneth was soaking wet when he arrived at school. The teacher always had extra clothes in the classroom. As she was helping this youngster change his clothes she was horrified by what she saw. Kenneth s back and legs were covered with varying shades of black and green bruises. She could tell that some of the injuries were older. One seemed as recent as a day or two. She simply asked Kenneth who did this to him, and this rely was, Daddy and Mommy. That simple question and response changed Kenneth s life forever. CPS became involved and Kenneth was placed in protective custody. Reunification was terminated at 12 months and Kenneth is being adopted by his permanency planning family. 4. Sexual Abuse Dusty was three years old when her stepfather entered her life. Within a year after he came, life changed dramatically for her. John, her stepfather, began grooming Dusty for sexual activity. It started when she was four with fondling her genitals. By the time Dusty was in second grade, he would come into her bedroom late at night and force himself upon her. One afternoon when Dusty was in third grade, a teacher overheard her tell a friend at recess about the things her daddy made her do. Within hours, her life dramatically changed again forever. The teacher notified CPS. Her birth mother denied all of Dusty s allegations and essentially chose her husband over her daughter. Dusty entered foster care and was adopted. 5. Mental Illness Roy was only three years old when he entered foster care, but already had more life experiences than many adults. Although Roy s mother loved him, she suffered with severe depression. She was totally detached from Roy s needs. Filthy and hungry, he often roamed around the apartment complex. Eventually neighbors reported the severe neglect, and Roy was removed. Since he could not safely reunite with his mother, his foster parents adopted him. Page 48

5 7. Crime Kristy s life was never quiet. Home life was chaotic, loud, and unpredictable. There were always a lot of people mean people who came at all hours of the day and night. Her parents had a home business that provided money for the family. It wasn t a legal business, but a dangerous one. Her parents would steal cars, repaint them to sell on the black market, or tear them down and sell the parts. Late on a warm fall evening, Kristy s life changed forever. An undercover police officer came to their home to buy a car. After the transaction was completed, he arrested both of their parents. At age four and a half, Kristy entered foster care and was adopted. Page 49

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