Adoption, foster and kinship care are important resources for addressing the needs of children in crisis. The majority of adoptions today originate from foster care and kinship caregiving which typically means the child has suffered trauma and/or neglect. Families built through foster, kinship care and adoption represent bitter-sweet forms of family building as they incorporate the joys and pain of both loss and gain. All members of the adoption/permanency constellation, which include adopted persons, birth/first parents, permanent parents and extended family, experience lifelong intergenerational losses and complexities. How and when individuals are affected by both the positive and challenging issues of adoption and permanency depends upon many factors. These variables include personality, temperament, developmental stage at the time losses and/or trauma occurred, support systems, numbers of attachment disruptions, ongoing access to kin and whether there is open and honest communication between constellation members.

 

Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency are experienced by all members of the constellation and include the following:

 

  1. Loss
  2. Rejection
  3. Shame and Guilt
  4. Grief
  5. Identity
  6. Intimacy
  7. Mastery and Control

                      

Awareness of these Seven Core Issues and the challenges and their accompanying tasks can help constellation members better understand how the experience of adoption/permanency has impacted their life and relationships. In addition, it allows constellation members to use this unifying lens to better communicate their own core issues and better understand other constellation members’ core issues. A parent’s understanding of the Seven Core Issues enables them to better address the complex challenges and feelings their child may experience throughout various stages of development. This article provides an overview of the Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency and how they may affect the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of each constellation member throughout their lives.

 

Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency

 

The Seven Core Issues were first introduced in the 1982 article “Seven Core Issues in Adoption” by Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Deborah Silverstein. Regardless of how a constellation member experienced adoption, whether losing a child, adopting a child or being adopted, these lifelong complexities impact the lives of individuals and families. In 2019, Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Allison Davis Maxon expanded the Seven Core Issues to include all forms of permanency, as well as the additional impact that attachment disruptions and trauma has on constellation members. Regardless of your experience, whether you were adopted, fostered or parented by an extended family member; whether you adopted or fostered an infant, child or youth; whether you adopted from an agency, attorney, facilitator or from another country; whether the adoption was open, semi-open, or closed; whether the loss of the child occurred voluntarily or involuntarily for the birth/first parents; these lifelong core issues will have an impact.

Loss

 

Loss begins the journey. It is crisis and/or trauma that create the circumstances that lead to the necessity of adoption and permanency. The crises of an unplanned pregnancy, rape, incest, poverty, addiction, divorce, mental illness, war or a Country’s crisis that results in refugees, natural disasters, epidemics and cultural biases leads to the displacement of children. Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency, which include loss, rejection, shame/guilt, grief, identity, intimacy and mastery/control, are created through the disassembling and creating of a new family system. Loss began the journey for all members of the constellation and is the unifying issue that binds them together.

 

For birth/first parents, adoptive/foster/kinship parents, and people who are adopted, involvement with adoption/permanency is typically associated with an initial loss and many secondary losses that continue to affect constellation members throughout their lives. There are ambiguous losses that impact all members of the constellation which are vague and may be described as a feeling of distress and confusion about people who are physically absent but psychologically and emotionally present in their lives.

 

For birth/first parents, adoption and permanency means the loss of a child whom they may never see again and the loss of their parenting role. Adoptive parents may have experienced the loss of not giving birth to a particular child, failed fertility treatments, and dreams of raising a child with whom they are genetically connected. People who are adopted lose both their birth/first families; siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. They may lose cultural, racial and ethnic connections and/or their language of origin. If they are adopted as older children, they may also lose friends, foster families, pets, schools, neighborhoods, and familiar surroundings.

 

Losses for constellation members may include:

          A family member; the family tree is permanently altered

          The loss of their familial tree that includes a history, culture and lineage

          Vital physical, genetic, mental health and historical information

          Safety, love and protection of one’s birth/first parents

          Societal status and being part of the norm

          Their original role in somebody’s life

          Power over their life’s circumstances

 

Rejection

 

Constellation members’ core losses are most often experienced as a form of social rejection. Rejection is a perceived loss of social acceptance, group inclusion or a sense of belonging. Rejection can be real, imagined or implied. People get their most basic needs met through human connectedness; being rejected or ostracized from a person, family or community can leave an individual feeling a deep sense of abandonment and isolation. People describe feelings of unworthiness, being of little value and a fear of future rejection.

 

Constellation members may personalize their core losses in order to gain a deeper understanding about what happened to them and what role they may have played in those events. In an unconscious attempt to avoid future losses and to regain control of their life’s journey, the individual may assume the responsibility for the loss, believing that, if the rejection was their fault, then they can change or act differently and avoid future rejection. Rejection is felt in a person’s body as discomfort and physical pain.

 

Feelings of Rejection may include:

          Increased sensitivity to any further rejection; large or small

          Subsequent losses being experienced as rejection

          Questions such as “Why me?” or “What did I do or not do to deserve this?”

          Children believing the crisis was their fault due to ego-centric thinking

          Feeling judged, unwanted, different, ‘less than’, or ‘not good enough’

 

Constellation members may anticipate rejection, provoke rejection and/or defend against further rejection.

 

Shame and Guilt

 

Rejection leads to feelings of shame and/or guilt. Shame and guilt impact an individual’s self-esteem and self-worth and may create anxiety. Shame is maladaptive, while guilt is generally an adaptive emotion. Shame relates to self, guilt to others. Shame is the painful feeling that one is bad and undeserving of deep connections and happiness. Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime or wrong, whether real or imagined. Shame is about ‘being’ (I’m bad) and guilt is about ‘doing’ (I did something bad).

 

When shame is intensely experienced from infancy through the formative years, an inner critic is developed that creates a negative or harsh view of the self, caretakers and the world. Shame greatly impacts self-esteem. Shame leaves a person believing that their core self is ‘less worthy’ than other people. These beliefs increase anxiety and may lead to defensive behaviors. Shame and guilt discourage people from thinking of themselves in a constructive or positive way. It can limit individuals from loving and receiving love as they do not feel worthy.

 

Guilt develops from our earliest parent-child attachment experiences. Guilt is a learned social emotion. Consistent, secure and healthy primary attachment relationships allow the child to experience and internalize the attachment figures’ values and beliefs upon which a conscience develops. The conscience allows for guilt to be felt and develops as the child internalizes the primary attachment figures’ voices, actions and images, which are subsequently carried within an individual for the rest of their lives.

 

Family members, religious institutions and societal expectations have long created shame and guilt that impact birth/first parents and extended family. Adoptive, foster and kinship parents can also experience shame and guilt from those same sources. Children impacted by foster, adoption and kinship caregiving often experience both shame and guilt on-goingly as their understanding of what happened to them unfolds developmentally over time.

 

Shame and guilt have long been created by the secrecy attached to adoption and permanency. Secrecy has been used as an element of control over constellation members in the name of privacy.

 

Constellation members may experience shame and guilt when:

          Attachments have been broken

          Relational trauma, violence, abuse and neglect occur

          Stigmatizing words and labels are used

          Parents withhold important information from the child/teen/adult

          People are lied to, manipulated, coerced or important information is withheld

          Professionals and ‘systems of care’ criticize or demean (intentionally or           unintentionally)

 

Grief

 

The profound losses that created feelings or fears of rejection, which led to the emotions of shame and guilt, must be grieved. Adoption and permanency losses are too often left un-named, un-acknowledged and un-grieved. The losses may be difficult to acknowledge and mourn in a society where these forms of family building are seen as problem-solving events that benefit everyone. The culture perceives these families being formed as a solution to several individual’s problems; a child needs a family, a parent can no longer parent and new parents are created. This may be perceived as a ‘gain’ for everyone, rather than an event to which loss is integral. Because of this point of view, it may be difficult to accept, discuss and express the emotions connected to grief.

 

Acknowledging loss and making room for the ‘work of grief’ is essential to any healing process. In today’s culture, there are few models for healthy grieving. People live in a ‘quick fix’ society where individuals are expected to get over things rapidly and simply move on. Children are not taught how to cope with loss. Grieving is important because it allows people to speak their truth and express their feelings.

 

Grief is universal. However, it is experienced as a personal and highly individual process. A person’s grief process depends on many factors including: personality, gender, culture, temperament, religious and/or spiritual beliefs, coping styles, life experiences, the age the loss occurred, the nature of the loss and an individual’s support system. Everyone grieves according to their own timeline and in their own way. There is no recipe or prescription to shorten the process or make the suffering go away. It illuminates a truth in an individual’s life. Grief is about acceptance, patience, adaptation, forgiveness and endurance; it changes you.

 

Grief for constellation members is complex as they have experienced a profound loss that changed the trajectory of their life. In the re-arranging of family trees through adoption and permanency, parents are grieving unborn children, children are grieving as their understanding of what happened to them unfolds and birth/first parents are grieving the loss of their baby/child that they hope is alive and well.

 

Constellation members may experience grief when:

          The original separation occurs

          Anniversaries of the loss or crisis occurs

          Subsequent losses that require more adaptation occurs

          Someone asks a question that triggers the feelings of loss

          Memories surface in connection to the crisis, loss or person lost

          A child/teen’s understanding of adoption and their story unfolds

          Search and reunion occurs

         

Identity       

 

If constellation members have acknowledged and identified their losses, examined feelings or fears of rejection, become aware of any issues connected to shame and guilt, and addressed their grief process, they have the opportunity to build a cohesive identity that includes their adoption and permanency status. As a life-altering event, adoption/permanency affects an individual’s identity. The pursuit for self-identity is at the heart of the human journey. All individuals are on a quest to understand who they are, where they fit and share their stories with others to better understand themselves. Stories that are broken due to historical or personal events can make it difficult for people to understand and express who they are and solidify their life’s narrative.

Identity formation begins in childhood and moves to the forefront during the teenage years. Gaps in identity may be more pronounced when a child starts school or has a family-oriented classroom assignment (e.g., creating a family tree).

 

If you are adopted, you may have experienced adoption-related identity issues throughout your life and you may feel as though your identity is incomplete, as if you are missing some pieces to your puzzle. Your birth/first parents are your genetic parents, but they aren’t parenting you. You were born into one family and became part of another family from whom you learned values, religions, traditions, family stories and views of the world.

 

If you were adopted and lack genetic, medical, religious, cultural, ethnic, racial and other historical information about your birth/first family, you may want answers to questions that would help form your identity, such as why your birth/first parents placed you, what became of those parents, if you have siblings, and whether you resemble your birth/first parents or extended family?

 

Adoptive, foster and kinship parents may not feel like the “real” parents or feel entitled to be the ‘real’ parents. Birth/first parents may be unsure of their role in their child’s life since they are not actively parenting the child day to day. People who were parents are no longer the ‘everyday parents’ and people who did not give birth become “everyday parents”.

 

The losses in adoption and permanency create complexities and additional tasks for all constellation members that need to be addressed in order to achieve a healthy identity.

 

Constellation members may experience identity issues when:

          Tweens and teens are forming their identity

          Children feel insecure or angry and say, “You’re not my real mother/father”

          Search and reunion occur

          Personal or intrusive questions are asked

          Medical issues arise

          People ask, “Are those your real children?”, “Are those your real parents?”

          People ask the birth/first parent, “How many children do you have?”

          Birthdays, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day create questions about one’s           connections

         

Intimacy

 

Intimacy requires an individual to know who they are and what they need in relationships and believe that they have value. Individuals’ most primary motivation is the drive to belong and learn how to get their emotional needs met through human connections. Intimate attachments provide the network through which all social, emotional, physical and psychological needs get met. Intimate attachment relationships require trust, respect, acceptance, empathy and reciprocity.

 

If individuals have acknowledged their core losses, noted where, when and with whom rejection surfaces, addressed feelings of shame and guilt, taken time to grieve, and have embraced their identity, they are able to offer an authentic self in an intimate relationship. Identity and intimacy are linked; as a person clarifies and re-clarifies who they are, their ability to relate to others, forgive others, embrace others and trust others is enhanced. If the earlier core issues have not been addressed, an individual may not know themselves well enough to know what they ‘really need’ or what they have to offer the other person in an emotionally intimate relationship. All constellation members have been impacted by a core loss that changed their identity, which may lead to intimacy challenges.

 

Constellation members may experience intimacy challenges when:

          They have experienced relational trauma, multiple moves, and attachment disruptions

          They have experienced abuse, violence and neglect

          An adoptee lacks genetic, ethnic and racial mirroring

          They lose an intimate connection to a child they were parenting

          They lose an intimate relationship with a partner and/or family member’s

          The crisis of infertility, invasive medical procedures and sex on demand in order to conceive,
          impacts the couples’ sexuality and their relationship

          Professionals and the courts intrude into a person’s most intimate and personal decisions

          People ask intrusive questions about infertility, your child’s story or the loss of your children

 

Mastery and Control

 

All of the unidentified, un-named, unacknowledged and un-grieved losses can create intense feelings of powerlessness and loss of control. Mastery over one’s life circumstances has been lost at some point by all members of the constellation. Everyone lost some power and control because of a life crisis, with the infant/child losing the most as they had no input into the decision that changed their life trajectory. For adoptees, the early loss of control that moved them from one family tree to another, resulted in the ultimate loss of power and control. Traumatic losses and multiple attachment disruptions are a repeated assault on one’s need to feel empowered, secure, valued and connected. The desire for power and control over one’s life unfolds through each stage of development and throughout adulthood.

 

Human beings need to feel in control to feel secure. The loss of control can have a long-term impact on constellation members. Birth/first parents may emerge from the adoption/permanency process feeling victimized and powerless. Adoptive/permanency parents have lost control of over when, how and whom to parent. Adoptees and/or children in foster care had no choice about being adopted or fostered and must cope with the haphazard nature of how they joined their particular family. They may wonder, with all the families in the country that are looking to adopt or foster, “How did I end up in this family?”

The ultimate goal for all members of the constellation is mastery, which is a regaining of power and control over one’s life. Every human being needs to feel powerful. Power is a strong component of resilience. Feeling empowered gives a person the ability to have an effect on others, feel that they have authority and rights, be hopeful and create change.

 

Mastery is a hard-earned proficiency. The achievement of mastery in various aspects of one’s life is a process, a journey, which includes adapting, learning, self-awareness and forgiving.

 

Constellation members may experience a loss of power and control when:

          Major life decisions about who will parent the child are made by courts, social workers, and others

          Infertility, genetic factors and life circumstances force a decision whether or not to parent and                  how to become a parent

          The courts terminate parental rights

          An infant/child/teen is repeatedly moved from place to place

          A new birth certificate is issued and the child’s name and birth information is changed

 

Constellation members gain a sense of mastery when:

          Their own core issues are acknowledged and addressed

          They can identify their strengths, needs and value to themselves and others

          They clarify what they were able to control and not control

          They can forgive themselves and others for decisions/mistakes that were made

          They can acknowledge other constellation members’ losses, challenges and pain

          They clarify the lessons that they have learned and take the time to celebrate their
           accomplishments, their resiliency, strengths and gains

         

The Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency triggers such depth of emotions that the authors recognize that there is no way to put into words the feelings that all constellation members experience over time and no words that truly reflect each individual constellation member’s unique experience. This article is a brief introduction to the Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency. The book includes a more thorough exploration of the Seven Core Issues along with tools and interventions for healing. 

 

 

By Sharon Roszia and Allison Davis Maxon, Jessica Kingsley Publishers July 2019

 

Sharon Kaplan Roszia, M.S., is an internationally known trainer and author who helped pave the way for open adoption practice believing in keeping connections over time. She has been devoted to her work in adoption and foster care since 1963 and is also a parent by birth, adoption, and foster care. She has co-authored two books on open adoption, The Open Adoption Experience and Cooperative Adoption. She is co-author and master trainer of Kinship Center’s ACT: An Adoption and Permanency Curriculum for Child Welfare and Mental Health Professionals. Sharon is a consultant for the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. Contact Sharon at www.sharonroszia.com. 

 

Allison Davis Maxon, M.S., LMFT, is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of child welfare and children’s mental health specializing in attachment, developmental trauma, and permanency/adoption. She is the executive director for the National Center on Adoption and Permanency and was the child welfare consultant on the Paramount Pictures movie ‘Instant Family’. She is co-author and master trainer of Kinship Center’s ACT: An Adoption and Permanency Curriculum for Child Welfare and Mental Health Professionals and co-author and master trainer of Pathways to Permanence: Parenting the Child of Loss and Trauma. Contact Allison at www.allisondavismaxon.com.  

This is a task that is often fraught with nervousness and hesitation for adoptive parents. It is an added job that adoptive families have to undertake. Children deserve to know the whole truth of their beginnings and heritage and how their adoption came to be. For some parents, that is a reality hard to align themselves with if the child came to them at birth and looks just like them. The problem is that somehow the adoptee does find out at some time in their life; someone tells them, papers are found or a birth family member contacts them. The expectation that their parents would never lie to them is destroyed and along with it, a loving and trusting relationship. It also means the adoptee had built their whole identity on a series of lies. This can result in anger, grief, and even suicide. The reality is that there is nothing to be ashamed of as an adoptive family and the “not telling” says there is something shameful about adoption.

Families wonder what, when and how to talk about adoption to their child. They worry that the truth will hurt the child, cause a breach in their relationship or frighten the child. Every parent wants to protect their child. For some children there is a sadness, a fear or a lot of curiosity. Every child’s response is different. Matching information to the age of the child’s development; sharing the information with calmness and love; talking about adoption as permanent and having the child know other adopted people are all helpful tools. There is ample research that informs us on what children understand about adoption at different stage of life. The assimilation of this knowledge starts very young and continues into adulthood.

The backgrounds that are most scary for families include incest, abuse, addiction, rape, death and mental illness. Also complex is the absence of a birth father story, especially for boys. There are appropriate times and ways to introduce this information and are actually the reasons that many adoptions occur which can make sense to a child.
Other aspects of the “telling” may have to do with open adoptions, transracial adoptions and international adoptions. Those parents who received children through third party reproduction also have a truth telling task to address.

Remember, “Fantasies Flourish Where Facts Flounder!” Let’s get started and share the facts. I’m inviting parents to join me at Parentcirkle, where I am leading a virtual support group to help families help each other confront these fears and answer these questions. You can sign up here and enjoy your first session for free by using the code FIRSTFREE and there is reasonable cost for follow up sessions. I will look forward to meeting you and help address your concerns.

Sharon Roszia M.S.

Rituals and ceremonies are symbolic forms of communication that incorporate participant’s histories and traditions.  Some like Christmas, anniversaries, weddings and funerals are shared across families and cultures; others are more individual and private.  Some are celebrated yearly and some only once.

Rituals and ceremonies function as benchmarks, guideposts, and bridges for events in people’s lives.  For foster and adoptive families, rituals and ceremonies help clarify and maintain relationships in open adoptions.  Ceremonies have also helped children and their families make sense of difficult life transitions and can assist with creating stability for families who are confronting heavy emotional turmoil. They can assist in expressing and releasing such emotions as grief, anger and confusion toward a situation or person; create containers for memories so they do not obstruct efforts to create a new family; change the environment in which a family functions; and allows for acceptance of new rules, roles and relationships.  Rituals and ceremonies are particularly relevant to children in transition and in building new family attachments.  “The ritual becomes an initiation ceremony, granting the participants membership into a new definition of himself or herself.”  (Author Joseph Campbell.)

Adopted and foster children often develop elaborate rituals for routine tasks in order to reinforce their sense of security and continuity despite changes in their environment. A certain prayer, a song, a certain food, anything that is connected to our senses, can give solace as we move from the familiar to the new.    One type of ritual does not fit the needs of all individuals, families or situations.  Decide what the ritual is expected to accomplish; the type of ritual will vary according to the preferred outcome. Keep it simple and no longer than ten to fifteen minutes when children are involved.  Make sure that all the participants are rested.  Create a sense of mystery meant to capture people’s attention.  For instance, young children respond to bright colors and ceremony leaders who speak in hushed tones.  Food, music, lighting can all enhance the ritual.  A strong and trusted leader and a specific opening and closure creates a safe container for the ritual.  Maximize the ongoing effect of the ritual through capturing it with photos, video or audio. Put some thought into the time of day, the setting, the season of the year, and who will witness it

Rituals can be as simple as a set of songs and words to move a child into a bath and out; into bed and up in the morning or leaving for school and coming home. It can include notes in a lunch bag or a special pebble in a child’s pocket. It is create structure, routine and safety for the child whose world has already been upended.

Some of the bigger rituals such as moving from foster care to adoption, even within the same family; finalizing an adoption; and adding or loosing siblings, have to be more carefully planned and are meant to be remembered.

There are many books on the creation of rituals and they are handy to have on hand. Sharon Roszia has helped many individuals and families create rituals to move from infertility to adoption; let go of a child; welcome a child; build attachments; etc. She can be contacted for help in this area. Rituals are powerful!

by Sharon Roszia