As can be surmised from our story outlined, we don't quite fit with specialty groups dedicated to families living with a specific identified issue. Nor do we automatically qualify for more formal supports (and don't necessarily need or want a lot of professional involvement, or direct therapy for the kids). At the same time, something is missing, and we are stretched in ways that are not sustainable. We experience frequent (and often extended) pauses in our days to manage (or prevent) dysregulation and directly work on connection. Unplanned detours in our routines lead to other necessary tasks not being done, or more regulated children missing out on family time while parents manage dysregulation. Connection/attachment needs come in addition to the "usual" demands of family life, and can easily be pushed aside in an effort to cover the basics. We know we need to be working less and maintaining a much slower pace to help regulate and build deeper attachments with our kids (they do so much better when life is simple), but aren't sure how to make that happen within our current financial reality. We already minimize outside commitments and evening activities, but even those efforts are inadequate.
So, what would help us, and families like us? Based on our experience, both looking back and looking ahead, we believe the following would offer the kind of hope, assistance, respite, and skill necessary not only to survive, but thrive, and to ensure our children do the same:
· Automatic access to post-adoption supports, with built-in invitations to schedule in-home social work check-ins at 6 months, 1 year, and even 2 years after finalization. Some families may not need this, and should be able to decline, but in our situation it would have been so helpful to touch base with a known person a year or two after finalization to identify areas for additional support or investigation and problem-solving.
· Formal and informal mentoring and "buddy" opportunities with other families, offered as routine practice.
· Financial support for families who either had placements prior to June 2015 (of siblings or children over 10), or who have particular needs that necessitate extra services or increased parental presence at home. For some families, work can still be an added stress that becomes unmanageable even with high needs children who attend school during the day. Such parents may require daytime availability for appointments, unexpected school pick-up, quiet time to take care of household business, particularly if household responsibilities and business cannot be taken care of when the child is at home.
· Practical daily living assistance programs to provide services like housekeeping, meals, childcare, and transportation during transition or times of added family stress.
· Respite or specialized "babysitting" with trained child care providers so couples can have some restorative time together and know there are opportunities for short "breaks". As well, on-site child care during support group gatherings and other meetings would allow more parents to attend sessions and supportive social activities.
· Funding for continued education (formal and informal) for parents, post-adoption, on topics like compassion fatigue and secondary trauma, attachment, self-care, and connected parenting, or other topics relevant to individual circumstances.
· Increased pre-adoption training focused on trauma, attachment, and development of concrete family self-care plans (including long-term plans for regularly scheduled couple’s time). Additional education stressing that mainstream parenting practices (e.g., time out, sleep training, behavioural methods) will be ineffective, and could actually harm attachment, would be invaluable.
· Extension of parental leave time to include a period similar to the maternity leave available to mothers who give birth, recognizing that adoption presents unique physical and emotional demands that often necessitate extended leaves even in addition to government-funded parental leave.
· Educational opportunities for friends and family, to increase their understanding of unique issues experienced by families formed through adoption, and how to support their loved ones effectively.
We have come to realize that our kids may bear the burden of their pre-natal and adoption experience indefinitely. Raising even one child with attachment and trauma needs requires intentional and time-consuming effort (which is absolutely of great value and worth), and raising three is triple the investment of time and energy. We continue to miss the early days of regular in-home social work contact, reduced work commitments, and connection with other families living similar experiences. Despite clear memories that this was definitely not an easy period, there was more opportunity for refreshment in a better-balanced schedule with some external support for good measure. This was enough to keep us going, compared with our current reality in which we continually feel we are "running on fumes".
In our situation, appropriate support would include a combination of informal contact and opportunity to reduce work demands in order to meet our children's needs. With so many creative ways in which support can be defined and developed, I am eager to see opportunities emerge over time that will contribute to healthy and happy adoptive families in Ontario. Let’s see #Support4EveryFamily become a reality for our children and the 7,000 children in care and their future families.