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Sunday, November 14, 2010


I have counseled children who have been adopted, their parents as well as biological parents who have lost their children.

Often, I am struck by what adoptive parents are not told. They are expected to take on the responsibility for raising a child who has frequently suffered in pre-adoption periods either through unhealthy pregnancies, attachment problems, neglect and abuse - or all of the above. Somehow, we expect adoptive parents to take on these children with one hand tied behind their backs as they only get to learn about what happened to the child as behaviors emerge.

I have regrettably even had cases where the truth about how bad it was for the child pre-adoption was not only withheld but downright misrepresented. In a letter to the editor of The Guardian newspaper in the UK, a magistrate has very nicely summed up the problem with this approach. She writes:

"You write in your editorial that parents who adopt "must be offered support" and that "children who are removed from dysfunctional homes need support for longer than is currently provided". I would like to suggest that using the term "support" in this context is to underplay the serious psychological damage which is the consequence of the "extreme abuse or neglect" suffered by 71% of those adopted, to quote again from your editorial. Where there is psychological damage, it is not support which is required, but serious therapeutic assessment and intervention of the sort offered by trained child psychotherapists.

We should not expect adoptive parents to provide psychotherapeutic treatment for traumatised children. We should be truthful about the extent of the trauma. We need to provide adequate finance for adopted children – and their adoptive parents – to be given therapeutic resources to address the complex issues involved. The long-term savings to the Exchequer would be considerable. Early intervention is well-known to obviate or reduce the need for future costly input."

The research increasingly tells us that early brain development has broad scale implications for life - be it school, relationships, family life, recreational activities - and that these are life long impacts. As a side note, these impacts are affecting people's capacity to even be successful with their careers as adults.

Given how broad ranging this research, why would we take a known vulnerable population, children being adopted from child protection, for example, and not do all that we could to focus on building as much brain strength as possible? As the magistrate suggests, that requires significant intervention over time.

As government budgets get cut, short term therapeutic interventions become fashionable. With this population, they don't work. One only has to look at the work of Dr. Bruce Perry to see this (his books should be essential reading for anyone who works with this population). The work of Terry Levy and Mike Orlans also shows this.

Adoption is only part of the solution but in the western world it has too often been seen as THE solution.

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