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When I began working with families as a parent educator and therapist in Florida, natural and enforced logical consequences were the go-to parenting strategy. I worked with many families stuck in destructive, multi-generational parenting patterns, many with significant personal issues and at risk of losing custody of their children. All of them truly wanted to do better, to break the cycle, to rise above the weight of the multigenerational and multi-systemic structures of oppression they couldn’t seem to be able to escape.
My advice was simple; be consistent, use systems of rewards and consequences (punishment) that send your children the message that the world would undoubtedly later provide: For every action there’s a reaction, and for every missed step, there’s a consequence.
Those families worked really hard at creating rule/consequence charts (such as sticker charts), hoping that if we together determined and employed the “right” consequence, we would be able to influence and hopefully eliminate undesired behaviors. Sometimes that worked, but most of the time the desired outcome was short-lived. More often than not, we tore the whole system down and went back to the drawing board to try to identify a better system — one that more closely aligned with the child’s personality and, though there were some positive results, the behavior always came back. The parents burned out — some overwhelmed and convinced they were ill-equipped to parent, others succumbing to unhealthy coping strategies — and I felt like a failure.
I remember the moment I decided I needed to find a different approach, I was sitting in front of my computer writing up a plan for another family with whom I was working. I vividly recall the frustration and dissolution I felt in my heart and in my gut, burdened by the fact that my work with those families didn’t seem to be helping at all. My thoughts floated to that definition of insanity many of us have heard before (doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results).
It would be years before I gained access to information about brain biochemistry and physiology and its effects on behavior, that I began to make the connections to formulate plans that have impacted the way I parent and the guidance I provide others stuck in unproductive parenting feedback loops — many of them feeling like absolute failures. How could we possibly expect positive responses from children while utilizing what are effectively punitive approaches?
Doctors Karin Purvis and Daniel Siegel became my mentors. Their books, videos, and articles made me understand that what changes behavior is human connection, a sense of safety, and the unwavering support of dedicated caregivers. Drawing from Purvis, Siegel, and others, Elana Roschy, WACAP’s Director of Social Service, explains, “Moving away from a fear-based approach doesn’t only focus on behavior, but on the physiological and stress responses that produces behavior.”
Yes, the parent/child relationship is hierarchal, but it is also a cooperative relationship that supports healthy brain development and allows both children and caregivers to attune to the internal processes that directly impact human behavior. As adoptive parents, often more frequently than those parenting biological children, we have to be aware of the impact trauma has on our children’s brain, and we have to create environments within which they are able to relax, get out of their reptilian brain (the reactive part) and open their ability to learn new strategies as neurological connections shaped through trusting relationships begin to form.
- Bryan Post’s “The Adopted Child: Trauma and Its Impact,” which includes a list of what we can do to heal trauma in the adopted child.
- Daniel Siegel’s Ted Talk on “Mindfulness and Neural Integration,” which “examines how relationships and reflection support the development of resilience in children and serve as the basic 3 R’s (Reflection, Relationships, and Resilience) of a new internal education of the mind.”
- Heather Forbes’ book, “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control.”
About WACAP’s Clinical Director, Zoila Lopez: Zoila joined WACAP in 2016 as Clinical Director. She is an adoptive mom, a former foster parent, and brings to her new role an extensive background of work as a therapist and adoption coach to support all members of the adoption triad.
When it comes to adoption, your employer, and the benefits you’re entitled to, it’s important to understand your rights as an adoptive parent. This is the second post of an Adoption Benefits series designed to help you better understand your rights, and learn about the resources available to you.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with adoption attorney Janna Annest and learn more about the Family and Medical Leave Act and how it relates to adoption. Please read on for her explanation.
Adoptive parents are entitled to the protections of the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to the same extent as biological parents. The FMLA’s definition of “son or daughter” expressly includes adopted and foster children, and the Act identifies placement of a child for foster or adoptive care as a qualifying reason for leave. But even though the law is clear, some employers have no experience with adoption-related parental leave. Therefore, adoptive parents should educate themselves about the FMLA.
The first question is whether the FMLA applies in the first place. The FMLA applies to (a) private-sector businesses with at least 50 employees; (b) all state and local governments; and (c) all public and private school employees. Employees must have worked for an eligible covered employer for a total of 12 months (not necessarily consecutive), and for at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months preceding the leave in order to claim benefits under the Act.
If you and your employer qualify, the Act requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for and bond with a newly placed adoptive or foster child. The Act ensures that employees cannot be penalized for taking leave, so you must be allowed to return to work at the same level of pay and benefits. You can take the 12 weeks anytime within the first year after birth or placement, and adoptive and foster parents can actually begin the leave period before the child’s birth or placement, if the absence is necessary for the adoption or placement. Activities like counseling sessions, international travel, legal appointments, and meetings with birth parents can all qualify.
Employers may agree to allow the 12 weeks to be spread over a longer period of time (for example, working half-days for 24 weeks), but they are not required to. Likewise, employers can require you to use accrued vacation or other personal time as part of the 12-week leave. Your employer is entitled to ask for proof that the requested leave qualifies under the FMLA, but a letter from your agency or attorney should suffice.
If you or your employer fall outside the scope of the FMLA, that doesn’t mean you are out of luck. Check your state family leave laws on the National Conference of State Legislatures site, because they may provide even broader benefits than the federal Act (for example, by requiring smaller businesses to comply, requiring that a portion of the leave be paid, etc.). If you do not fit the criteria for state or federal laws, ask your employer directly! Even if it is not required by law, your employer may still choose to follow the Act or provide other reasonable parental leave benefits. You employer may also be able to help you determine the most beneficial way to use vacation or personal leave time that you already have available.
Foster parents are eligible for FMLA leave regardless of the age of the fostered child. However, a state agency and/or court must be involved in the placement – informal arrangements do not count. When parents adopt a child they have fostered, they would be entitled to FMLA leave at the time of the initial placement, but not to a second leave period at the time of adoption.
Remember, the FMLA applies equally to all parents! Adoptive and foster fathers can – and should, if possible! – take full advantage of available leave. In practice, fewer men take parental leave than women, but the tide is turning. Fathers who do take parental leave help correct the misperception that fathers play a less critical role in the early stages of parenting.
About Janna: Janna Annest is a shareholder at Mills Meyers Swartling P.S., where her practice focuses on adoption law, estate planning, and business disputes. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and has been named to the Washington Rising Stars list of outstanding lawyers from 2009-2017. Janna joined WACAP’s Board of Directors in 2014, and currently serves as Chairperson. She is an adoptive mother of two. Outside the office, Janna spends most of her time exploring West Seattle with her husband, daughter and son.
Lew Bequette, WACAP dad and member of WACAP’s board of directors, recalls his experience traveling to Russia with his wife to adopt their son.
In August of 1999, my wife and I traveled to the city of Vladivostok in the Russian Far East. This trip was the culmination of a process that took more than a year, but was successful because of the help we received from a dedicated nonprofit, WACAP (World Association for Children and Parents).
During our two weeks in Russia we traveled four hours each way by car to the city of Nahodka, twice.
On the first trip we met our son Michael for the first time. After receiving final approval from a Russian court in Vladivostok, we traveled back to Nahodka to pick him up and take him home.
Michael was six months old then, and he was undernourished, under stimulated and behind schedule in every measurable way. The staff of the “baby home” was doing its best but could not provide adequate care due to extremely limited resources. When they brought Michael to us he had nothing, he was wrapped in a rag, and they needed the rag back.
After coming home, Michael performed the amazing “adoption blossom.” He gained weight, he developed all the skills that babies need, and eventually he grew up to be a good looking, smart kid with a bright future. And this summer, he also became a high school graduate, making his mother and father very proud.
So here’s what I would like to tell Russian officials:
- There are kids waiting to join a family.
- Life is pretty hard without a family.
- Organizations like WACAP are helping.
- Most Americans give their adopted children a safe home and a loving family.
Unfortunately, I will probably never be able to reach Russia’s president and officials with this message, and there may not be much we can do at the moment to help Russian kids or to change Russia’s adoption suspension from 2013.
However, since you are still reading, I will tell you the same things apply to kids right here in the U.S. and all over the world. WACAP, and similar nonprofits can help, but they need your help, too. If you would like more information on how you can help kids become part of a family, please visit www.wacap.org.
Next year I will tell you about my daughter Anastasia when she graduates.
From a child’s perspective …
The world looks different when there’s someone holding on. Family changes everything.
WACAP believes every child deserves a family.
While adoption CAN be expensive and the process may feel very overwhelming, it’s important to know there are resources and support available that can make a big difference in taking this important first step. I speak with many families who reference limitations, obstacles and worries around the thought of adoption and whether adopting will even be possible.
Resources to Help
If you’re considering adoption or starting on that process, WACAP wants to provide resources to empower you to have the confidence to build your family through adoption. By knowing what resources are available, it’s my hope that I can help families see that adoption is achievable.
In response to these conversations, I feel it’s beneficial to share this information with families who are facing the same concerns. Therefore, I’m writing a 3-part series that will touch on the following topics over the next few weeks:
- Adoption Benefits and Credits
- Family Leave and Adoption
- The Adoption Tax Credit and the Financial Part of Planning for Your Adoption (Including WACAP Resources, Coaching for Adopting Families)
As they start out, families may not realize that there are a number of assistance programs set up to help absorb the costs of an adoption. Currently, the Federal Government offers a tax credit of over $13,000 following the finalization of an adoption that helps many families. Additionally, some states offer financial incentives to families that adopt a child from their state foster care system.
There are also many low-interest loans and private grant programs available across the country to adoptive families, so we encourage your family to do research on those programs. WACAP’s Family Finders Team keeps a list of grant and loan programs our families have found recent success with and we are happy to share that list with you by request. To request a copy, email FamilyFinders@wacap.org.
Ask about your adoption agency’s grants to see if you meet the eligibility requirements. WACAP offers grants to families who meet certain financial requirements and who are adopting specific children waiting for an adoptive family because of their age or because of other individual needs they may have.
Be Your Own Advocate
Many employers offer an “Adoption Assistance” benefit so their employees can be reimbursed for some of their adoption expenses. Companies may offer benefits to include additional time off, flexible schedule, access to onsite daycare and so on; it’s important to find out what type of benefits may be available to your family.
Keep in mind, if the company doesn’t have adoption benefits currently in place, ask about putting this in place. Be your own advocate. It only takes one person to start the conversation to establish adoption benefits and while it may or may not be put into place in time to benefit your adoption, the conversation will be able to help other employees with their adoptions.
Minimize your worries. (Ask)
It’s important to check with your Human Resources Department to better understand what your benefits include. I’ve had many conversations with families about taking time off from work and concerns with insuring their adopted child. In most situations, leave from work is available for adoptions, and don’t feel uneasy about asking how much time is allowed after placement.
Ask your employer for details about your leave benefit. In some situations, benefits are available even before you have custody: for instance, for in-country stays and traveling to bring home your child home.
Medical insurance is another common worry with an adoption, but rest assured that insurance companies cannot wait until the adoption is finalized to provide coverage for a child. Medical coverage normally takes effect when you have legal custody of your child. We encourage you to contact your insurance provider to discuss your medical benefits as this will provide good peace of mind. (You aren’t the first pre-adoptive parent with this question!)
It’s also important to know your rights as an adoptive parent and the benefits that may be available to you. … So stay tuned next week’s post on Family Leave and Adoption: The Law, Your Employer, and What You Need to Know.
About Debbie: Debbie joined WACAP in September 2015 as our adoption information specialist, and she continues to build strong relationships with families every day. She’s committed to helping families understand and navigate their choices as they consider adoption, and is passionate about building community partnerships to support families and connect them with the resources they need.
By Elizabeth Rose, WACAP China Program Manager
China has long been a country that draws families considering international adoption. WACAP has been working in China adoptions since 1990. In that time, the adoption landscape in China has changed along with the changes taking place in Chinese society, but the adoption program has remained stable and open. And still today, there are children who need families, and children who are waiting.
We help families welcome home a child who’s waiting for them, and if your family is considering adoption from China, we’d love to talk with you about a child who needs a family’s love.
About Adopting from China:
The children are always at the heart of families’ considerations, when families talk with us about adoption from China.
When it comes to the adoption process, there are many things about adopting from China that make it a popular choice for adoptive families — from the eligibility requirements, to families’ ability to identify children for adoption early in the adoption process, to the overall length of time it takes to adopt.
Changes and Constants: Children Who Need Families
The population of the children in China adopted by families internationally has changed a great deal over the years: For many years, we mostly saw baby girls with no identified medical needs. Over time, international adoptions from China became primarily “special needs adoptions.” Recently, we have observed that most of the children with manageable medical needs who are referred for adoptions are boys, and most of the girls with mild needs who enter the social welfare system in China are adopted domestically. Last year, for the first time since WACAP began working in China, we found more families for boys than girls!
Finding the Children, Finding Families
Identifying a Child — Many families who adopt from China identify a child they hope to adopt first (rather than wait to be matched with a child they have not identified themselves). This is one of the paths families may choose when adopting from China. According to China’s adoption requirements, families are allowed to be matched during the homestudy process; the children they can be matched with will have needs that China’s adoption authority feels are not “minor” needs. Families must only complete the homestudy and dossier paperwork within six months of being matched with the child. You can see some of the children who are waiting for adoptive families on secured Waiting Child website. These children can all be matched with families prior to homestudy completion. Our Family Finders staff also send information about children who are waiting. You can contact them at email@example.com with questions or to sign up for emails about waiting kids.
Waiting to Be Matched — Other families hope to adopt a young child with mild or moderate conditions and choose to use the China team’s personalized matching services, where case managers work one-on-one with families to find the child whose needs and age range aligns with what the family is open to. Families are able to be matched with a child through this process after completing required paperwork, and having that paperwork registered with China’s adoption system.
Currently, WACAP has limited number of families with the required paperwork completed and registered in China who are waiting to be matched – only five families as of this writing.
The length of time it takes to be matched depends greatly on the type of child a family hopes to be matched with. Over the last year, families open to a boy have waited no more than 8 months to be matched, with the vast majority of the families being matched in 4 months or less. Families hoping to adopt a girl have waited longer on average – the longest-waiting family was matched after 18 months and the majority of families waited 10 months or less.
About the Kids
Over the last year, WACAP has placed children with a variety of medical conditions into loving adoptive families. We have found families for children with spina bifida, limb differences, moderate and complex heart conditions, albinism, cerebral palsy, syphilis, hydrocephalus, dwarfism, deafness, and visual impairments.
China remains one of the countries with the most open eligibility requirements for adoptive families. Several months ago, the CCCWA announced changes to the eligibility requirements for adopting from China. Although the requirements around family size and age of children in the home is more restrictive than it was, several of the other guidelines were loosened allowing more flexibility for single women, families with some medical conditions, and loosening marriage length requirements for families who had a divorce history.
What hasn’t changed in China over the years is that there is a great need for adoptive families.
Today, there are over 3,000 children waiting for their family to find them.
WACAP Haiti Program Manager shares concerns of Partner Orphanage and Communities as Hurricane Irma Hits
“We are preparing for the hurricane, but are very concerned about all the people who don’t even know it’s coming, and if they do know, there’s nothing they can do to keep their homes and families safe.” -Maya Andreic, sharing the concerns of WACAP partner orphanage in Haiti