News Release Archive

COMMUNITY SERVICES--Adoption Takes Time, Unconditional Love
NOTE TO EDITORS: First names are used at the request of some of
those interviewed.

For adoptive parents and children, getting used to each other
often takes time.

"Sometimes it takes a year or longer for adoptive parents and
children to feel bonded," says Debra, a Halifax resident who has
adopted a daughter with cerebral palsy. "But for us it was almost
like an epiphany --she seemed to be sitting there with these big
shining eyes saying,  Oh, I've been waiting for you' when we met
her for the first time."

The introduction can be stressful for both parents and children,
but it doesn't have to be.

Donna first met her daughter at an orphanage in Chile. "Social
workers told my husband and me that she never bonded well with
anyone," she says. "But when she saw us for the first time . . .
she immediately ran and jumped into my husband's arms."

"I think that with any kind of a relationship there are sparks
that naturally happen," says Corinne Steele, a former adoption
social worker who provides consultation at monthly meetings of 
the Special Needs Adoption Support Group in the Halifax area.

The group, in its eighth year, was designed as a support system
for adoptive parents of children with special needs.

In the context of adoption, the term special needs isn't limited
to children with mental, physical or emotional disabilities. It
also applies to siblings placed for adoption together, those who
belong to a minority group, or children older than 18 months.

Adoptive parents with special-needs children require support and
a way to deal with issues, such as coping with different
behaviours, says Ms. Steele, who has been with the group since
its inception. They need to find "people who share similar
interests, needs and expectations; and basically (help) each
other problem-solve."

Though eager, parents who adopt still have obstacles to overcome.
Jessica and her husband, who live outside the Halifax area, have
adopted four children. She has learned that dealing with
insecurity is one of the biggest challenges.

"Because many of these children have been in and out of foster
homes, they tend to be very insecure, so developing a comfortable
feeling of belonging and permanence is difficult," says Jessica.
"It's hard for them to believe that this is the last stop.
There's no telling or convincing them --it just takes time for
them to understand that they finally have a permanent home."

Debra speaks of a similar experience. Although a neurological
condition makes it difficult for her daughter to speak, she can
still express fear.

"After we adopted our daughter, my parents came to visit,"
recalls Debra. "When they were leaving, I passed our daughter to
my father and then walked away so I could take a picture. When I
turned around, I saw the terror on her face and realized the
connection she was making between the luggage sitting beside the
car and being handed to someone else. She thought she was leaving

As an adoption social worker, Ms. Steele often encountered this
insecurity in adopted children. "You can usually tell if fear of
being taken away is an issue," she says. "I've gone to do
followup visits where the children are dashing to hide in the
bushes as I pull into the driveway because they recognize my car
and think I'm coming to move them."

The adoption group members all agree time and unconditional love
are the keys to helping adopted children overcome that fear and
understand their home is permanent.

"Unconditional love means accepting them and their history,
listening to the stories of who they are and where they've been,
and being able to believe and accept this whole package of them
and their baggage," says Jessica.

As part of the support group function, there is a sharing of joys
as well as challenges. Debra glows with happiness as she talks
about her seven-year-old daughter and the changes she has made in
their lives. Since adopting, they have moved from the country to
the city, but the changes go far beyond a geographic relocation.

"Our daughter has added an important element to our family," she
says. "Just being able to participate in her growth and progress
during the past four years, when at three years old she wasn't
able to sit up and now she's walking with a walker, brings a lot
of joy." 

Adds Jessica: "Encouraging and helping the children to develop
and be the best they can be is our most important contribution to
them. And the fact that we're all working toward something
together, as a family, is as precious as gold to me." 

Donna says seeing their daughter develop from an introvert into a
well-adjusted sociable child makes them proud and happy they
found her. "She's become a self-confident adolescent who, during
the past eight years, has adapted to living in a different
country with a new language, a new home and different parents."

All the group members agree. They feel blessed to have an
opportunity to have a family they otherwise wouldn't have had.
For them, parenting a special-needs child just makes it more


Contact: Charlene MacLean-Richard
         Community Services

ngr                 Nov. 19, 1997                 10:35 a.m.