Building a Nest of Support for Families Experiencing Homelessness and Housing Instability

By Eleanor Beeslaar, HRI Graduate Assistant

Having a place to call home is an important of creating a warm and secure family environment where happy, healthy, and safe relationships can thrive. Unfortunately, many families across the country, throughout North Carolina, and right here in Guilford County are experiencing homelessness. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), adults and children in families make up about 35 percent of the homeless population in the United States. In January 2017, an estimated 184,661 people in families were identified as homeless, and almost 17,000 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation (NAEH, 2018).

Homelessness does not discriminate and can greatly impact the health and well-being of families. Family homelessness is the result of a variety of diverse factors; however, the most significant causes of homelessness are poverty, domestic violence, a lack of affordable housing, or unexpected events, such as the loss of a job, a sudden illness or injury, and the loss of a spouse/partner (National Center on Family Homelessness, 2011).

Families experiencing homelessness undergo considerable amounts of stress as they wonder where they will sleep or how and when they will receive their next meal. They must endure frequent transitions as they move between the homes of relatives and friends, campsites, cars, or shelters, and they are often faced with a lack of privacy as they stay in these different settings (National Center on Family Homelessness, 2011). Children are not unfamiliar with the effects of family homelessness, and can often feel the stress as their parents (National Center on Family Homelessness, 2011). Homelessness has a large impact on children’s education, health, safety, and overall development (National Center on Family Homelessness, 2011).

As a community, we have the power to help families currently experiencing or in the transition from homeslessness by building a nest of support. On December 1st, HRI will be partnering with The Salvation Army, Sesame Street in Communities, the Boys and Girls Club of Greensboro, Partnership for Children in Guilford County, and Greensboro Urban Ministry to host the Winterfest Early Childhood Resource Festival! These community organizations provide many helpful resources to support families in Guilford County who are experiencing the effects of homelessness. This event is an opportunity for families to meet these organizations and learn about the resources and supports they provide, such as child care resources, financial wellbeing, job preparation, health and wellness, and family relationships. Winterfest is a free event with food and fun children’s activities, including story time with a new book from Sesame Street in Communities! Click here for more information!

As you were reading, you may have been wondering what you can do to help these families. A great way for community members to families to get involved in ending homelessness is to volunteer with a local organization that provides services to individuals and families experiencing homelessness!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog, where we will highlight each of the organizations above and provide information about the services and resources they provide!

 

Resources:

Adoption is a Lifelong Process

By Eleanor Beeslaar, HRI Graduate Assistant

Adoption is a lifelong process with many joyous moments and loving memories. However, it is also a process of ongoing changes and challenges that can build strength, foster resilience, and deepen family connections. It is important to check in with your child and to seek out additional counseling services or resources, if needed. As a parent, your mental and emotional health are also relevant and deserve attention. If you experience new challenges throughout the adoption process, it may be beneficial to reach out to support groups for adoptive parents or to engage in individual counseling.

As adoptive families go through different transitional periods they will face new challenges that require positive communication, openness, and honesty within the family. As children grow older and continue to develop their identity, self-esteem, and sense of belonging, they may have questions related to their adoption, which can be difficult for parents to answer. If children are a different race/ethnicity than their parents, they may have questions about their birth family and cultural background as they continue to discover who they are. The North American Council on Adoptable Children has many wonderful resources that can help parents successfully address these concerns with their child. They have information, tools, and trainings about transracial parenting and helping adoptive children develop a positive racial identity.

Though we discussed many challenges that adoptive families may face, it is important to keep in mind that each family has a unique set of experiences and struggles and there may be challenges that we did not cover. Because each family has unique and complex needs, it is critical for families to have resources to help them meet these needs and develop healthy, happy, and safe relationships. We have compiled a list of resources for adoptive parents to use during the ongoing transitions and different challenges they may face as they move through life:

  1. HRI has many helpful resources for parents to use at different stages of their relationship with their child!
    1. Modules for parents: https://moocs.uncg.edu/hri/parent-child-relationship-modules/
    2. Parenting young children: http://www.guilfordhri.org/resources/youngchildren/
    3. Parenting teens: http://www.guilfordhri.org/resources/parentingteens/
  2. Carolina Adoption Services has resources on a variety of topics including: parenting adoptive children with Down Syndrome, single parenting, race and culture, food insecurity, talking about adoption, respite care, and more.
    1. https://www.carolinaadoption.org/post-adoption-resource-corner/
  3. The Child Welfare Information Gateway has several different resources for adoptive parents:
    1. Parenting Your Adopted School-Age Child: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/parent-school-age.pdf
    2. Parenting a Child Who has Experienced Trauma: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/child-trauma.pdf
    3. The Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/f_adimpact.pdf
    4. The Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Parents: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/impactparent.pdf
  4. The North American Council on Adoptable Children has resources covering many different topics including: childhood trauma, grief and loss, transracial parenting, disabilities and challenges, openness and birth family connections, parenting strategies, and food and nutrition.
    1. https://www.nacac.org/help/parenting/
  5. The Center for Adoption Support and Education has a list of adoption related books for parents and families, free resources and links related to adoption, webinars, and workshops.
    1. https://adoptionsupport.org/education-resources/for-parents-families/  

 

Finding an Adoption-Competent Counselor

By Eleanor Beeslaar, HRI Graduate Assistant

Once adoptive families decide to seek help from a professional counselor, it can be challenging to know how to start or where to look for a counselor who can best serve their needs. HRI has developed a series of steps to help families navigate this process.

 

  • Ask for recommendations for a counselor who specializes in adoption and has experience working with families. A great place to start is by reaching out to postadoption programs, support groups, and other adoptive families for recommendations (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015). You can also contact your adoption agency or case worker to ask for referrals for an adoption-competent counselor.
  • Search for an adoption-competent counselor using one or more of the online directories. If seeking recommendations from people you know is not an option, or if these connections do not have recommendations that fit the needs of your family, you can search for counselors using online directories. These directories contain a wide network of professional counselors and allow you to refine your search based on location, insurance providers/payment methods, and areas of speciality. Adoptive families seeking counseling should specify areas of speciality including adoption and families; however, it is also important to consider the specific needs of your family. For example, if your adoptive child faces challenges related to attachment or has experienced trauma, then it is important to search for a counselor who specializes in these areas. Counselors or counseling agencies also often have websites, which you can use to further explore whether or not this counselor is a good fit for your family. Here are some of the most prominent directories:

 

      1. Psychology Today
      2. The American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy
      3. Counselor Find

 

  • Consider whether the counselor is a good fit for everyone in the family. It is important to remember that each family member is different and has unique needs, which should be considered when searching for a counselor. By ensuring that everyone in the family feels comfortable with the counselor, you are creating an environment that promotes successful outcomes.
  • Once your family has identified a potential counselor, contact them to determine whether they are a good fit. Many counselors offer prospective clients a chance to talk by phone – and sometimes in person – to get to know them before making a decision about whether to enter into a professional counseling relationship with them. If you have a chance to do this, some possible questions you could ask are: (1) What kind of training have you received to work with adoptive families?; (2) Do you have training in trauma, attachment, or other adoption-specific problems?; (3) Can you explain your counseling approach to me?; (4) What experience do you have with the issue(s) my family is facing currently?; (5) What are your fees and payment options?; (6) How often will we come for counseling sessions, how long will sessions last, and do you have any limits or expectations about how long you’d work with a client?

 

It is also important to look for a counselor who explains things in terms that everyone in the family can understand, regardless of age or developmental abilities. One of the most important criteria for successful counseling, is working with a professional who makes the whole family feel safe, comfortable, and understood. Finding someone who embodies these qualities can help promote open and honest communication.

References

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015a, January). Parenting Your Adopted School-Age

Child. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/parent-school-age.pdf

 

Adoption-Informed Family Counseling

By Eleanor Beeslaar

Family counseling is a wonderful tool for all families, but it can be especially helpful for adoptive families as they adjust to postadoption life, go through different life transitions, and experience challenges unique to the adoption process. Adoptive families should seek counseling from adoption-competent counselors to ensure that they are receiving the best services possible for their specific needs and challenges (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013). Adoption-competent family therapy provides a space for adoptive families to express their concerns and work through challenges with the help of a professional who has expertise in topics such as: child development, attachment and reactive attachment disorder, communication patterns and family conflict conflict, trauma, and much more.

Adoption-competent counselors can help children who are experiencing anxiety related to an insecure attachment style by using developmentally appropriate techniques to foster trust and develop a secure attachment to their adoptive parents. The counselors may use therapeutic styles and techniques that focus on encouraging gentle connection, such as eye contact and nurturing behaviors (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013; Riley & Singer, 2018). Family counselors can also help parents develop skills and strategies to increase trust and connection in the parent-child relationship outside of therapy.

Family counselors who are specialized in adoption are able to assist adoptive parents in understanding the underlying meaning behind their child’s behavior. Counselors can help parents understand their child’s behaviors from a developmental perspective, in the context of their past experiences, and with consideration for their feelings and emotions regarding adoption (George, 2018). This can help parents communicate and connect with their child and gives them the tools to navigate challenging feelings and behaviors their child may be having surrounding their adoption.

Adoptive families with children who have experienced trauma can greatly benefit from working with adoption-competent counselors who are specialized in trauma. It is important to treat trauma as early as possible to ensure that children feel safe in their new families and experience successful life outcomes, such as healthy future relationships (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013; Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014). Counselors can help children work through emotions related to past trauma by using trauma-specific therapy techniques. They can also help parents understand the developmental impact of trauma, identify trauma triggers for their child, and learn skills and strategies to help their child form secure and trusting relationships in their adoptive family (George, 2018).

Some children in adoptive families may feel reluctant and have difficulty talking to their parents about their adoption. They may be afraid of hurting their parents by asking them about their birth families, as this can be a challenging topic to discuss. Adoption-competent family counselors can support children in navigating this conversation with their adoptive parents. They can help the family identify methods of effective communication when discussing challenging topics related to adoption, such as giving parents tools to better understand and to appropriately address the needs of their child, especially regarding adoption related concerns. Additionally, counselors can work with children and parents to learn how to handle any questions or comments about adoption they may receive from other individuals, such as friends or family members (Riley & Singer, 2018).

Counselors can be particularly helpful in situations where adoptive families are navigating challenges related to increased contact with birth families. They can help families set up boundaries and facilitate positive communication to best benefit the child and strengthen family relationships (Riley & Singer, 2018).

Adoption-competent counselors can also help parents reflect on their experience and process any feelings and emotions they may be experiencing related to their child’s behavior, past trauma, or information about the birth family. Counselors can work with parents to better understand what they need to regulate their emotions and take care of themselves, especially during times of conflict or difficulty (George, 2018).

Family counseling with an adoption-competent counselor provides an opportunity for families to develop positive skills and strategies related to communication, conflict management, child behavior, trauma, attachment, navigating boundaries with birth families, and so much more. The information and skills adoptive families learn during counseling can not only help them with challenges they are presently facing, but they can also prepare families for future challenges and transitional periods, as well as enable them to strengthen family connections and form positive, lasting relationships.

References

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013, August). Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons.

Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/f_adimpact.pdf

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2014, November). Parenting a Child Who Has

Experienced Trauma. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/child-trauma.pdf

George, S. (2018, October 4). Working with Foster and Adoptive Families through the Lens of

Attachment. Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2018/10/working-with-foster-and-adoptive-families-through-the-lens-of-attachment/

Riley, D. & Singer, E. (2018). Adoption. Retrieved from

https://www.aamft.org/Consumer_Updates/Adoption.aspx

Common Challenges for Adoptive Families

By Eleanor Beeslaar, HRI Graduate Assistant

Adoption is a beautiful process that brings joy, hope, love, and security to the families and children who find one another through this path. However, just like any other family going through a transitional period, adoptive families may face challenges related to the changes occurring within their family.

Attachment

Adoptive families may face challenges related to disruptions to childhood development. School-age children learn essential skills and develop important beliefs and values that impact them later in adolescence and adulthood, and adoption can make this process more complex. An important developmental consideration for children who have been adopted is attachment. If the attachment process was disrupted in early childhood, adoptive children may have trouble developing a secure base, which is needed to form healthy relationships and to feel safe to play, learn, and explore. Children who have had disruptions in the attachment process may exhibit anxiety, developmental delays, or traits of a younger child. Though this may seem worrying at first, it is important to understand that this is a normal developmental event considering the child’s past experiences and potential trauma (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015a).

Parents can help children who face challenges related to attachment in many ways (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015a):

  • Provide a safe and secure environment with predictable routines.
  • Commit to one-on-one parent-child time.
  • Make eye contact and smile before addressing your child.
  • Offer gentle words of encouragement as often as possible.
  • Engage in planning future events with your child; this shows them that you plan to be together in the future.
  • Make your child(ren) feel valued at every opportunity.
  • Be playful and laugh together.
  • Nurture them as much as possible.

Social and Emotional Impacts

Adoptive children may also experience social and emotional impacts related to adoption. Elementary school-age children may struggle with identity development, as they must incorporate two different families and histories into their understanding of who they are. They may also be wondering why they were adopted, what happened to their birth parents, or whether or not they have biological siblings (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2013). Middle school-age children may deal with issues of self-worth, self-esteem, and feeling “different” both as normal developmental experiences during this age and feelings related to being adopted. Additionally, children who did not experience relationships with emotionally healthy adults when they were younger may have difficulty understanding, controlling, and expressing their emotions (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015a).

Parents can help children by (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015a):

  • Teaching them words for their feelings and explaining how to express their emotions in a healthy way.
  • Model healthy ways to express emotions.
  • Work with children to help them see someone else’s point of view to develop empathy.

Trauma

Adoptive children may have experienced past trauma, which can potentially affect their health and development. Traumatic events include abuse, neglect, parental drug addiction or mental illness, or being separated from loved ones. Children who have experienced one or more traumatic events may have developed behaviors that helped them survive and cope during those traumatic events, but now present as challenges in their new home. It is important to remember that it will take time for a child to feel safe and comfortable in their new home and their behavior will adjust as these feelings of safety progress.

Parenting a child who has experienced trauma can be difficult and can potentially lead to secondary trauma in parents and place added stress on family relationships. However, parents can be prepared for these situations by educating themselves on signs of trauma, becoming informed about trauma triggers, and seeking help form a trauma-informed counselor. Once parents can recognize situations that trigger trauma memories and behaviors, parents can help their children avoid these triggers. Parents must also practice self-care to avoid secondary trauma and relationship strains within the family (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015a). Additional measures that parents can take when dealing with trauma include:

  • Building trust with their child by being available, consistent, and predictable.
  • Teaching their child relaxation skills, such as slow breathing or listening to calm music.
  • Encouraging self-esteem through positive experiences, such as mastering a new skill or making developmentally appropriate choices to gain a sense of control.
  • Remaining positive and hopeful.

Another great resource to use with children who have experienced trauma is Sesame Street in Communities’ Traumatic Experiences tools!

Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Parents

Becoming a parent through adoption is a joyous and exciting experience; however, it also comes with stressors and challenges. Some families who choose to adopt may do so because they are unable to have a biological child. This process may result in emotional ups and downs, including feelings of loss, grief, guilt, shame, and inadequacy. These feelings are completely natural, but they must be addressed before beginning the adoption process and welcoming a child into the family. Individuals and couples can seek support groups and individual or couple counseling to help them work through these feelings and prepare for the adoption process (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015b).

The adoption process itself can present stressors and bring up difficult emotions for individuals and couples hoping to adopt. Many important and life-changing decisions are made during this process, such as whether to adopt internationally or domestically and whether to work with an adoption service provider. Families must also go through the home study process, which can potentially be stress inducing and feel intrusive. It is normal for families to feel some anxiety related to long periods of waiting and uncertainty; however, with the help of a good agency or social worker, families can manage the adoption process with help and support (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015b)!

After the adoption process is finalized and families have been united with their children, most adoptive parents experience tremendous joy and satisfaction. However, some parents may face some challenges during the postadoption period. Though many challenges are similar to those faced by biological parents, some are unique to adoption (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015b).

Postadoption Depression

Some parents may experience postadoption depression within a few weeks of the finalization of the adoption. This is very similar to postpartum depression and can occur due to feeling overwhelmed by a lack of sleep and the pressure of new parental responsibilities. Parents may also find it difficult to connect with their child and question their parenting abilities. Though these feelings may resolve on their own as families adjust to their new life, if these feelings persist, it is important to seek help from a professional counselor (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015b).

Identity

Some individuals and couples may struggle with adapting to their new identity as parents and question their ability to raise their new child. They may have difficulty adjusting expectations they may have had prior to the finalization of the adoption or worry that they do not feel connected enough to their child. It is important to keep in mind that adoption is a big life change and involves a period of adjustment for the whole family. Over time, parents will begin to feel more comfortable in their new role and deepen their bond with their child. Some helpful strategies during this adjustment period include: connecting with a support system of other adoptive parents, establishing family traditions, creating a family story, and connecting with the child’s birth culture (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015b).  

Feelings about Your Child’s Background and Birth Family

Parents may also have questions or concerns regarding their child’s birth parents or background. They may worry about their child’s ability to understand the adoption process and the difference between their birth parents and adoptive parents. Parents may also fear the possibility of their child wanting to contact their birth family, especially in cases where the child has experienced abuse or neglect by the birth family. These worries are normal and can be navigated by providing ongoing and age-appropriate information about the child’s background and birth family. This can help adoptive children understand the adoption process more easily and help them resolve some of the questions or wonders they have about their birth families (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015b).

Stay Tuned!

Despite the potential challenges of adoption, it is a wonderful process that leads to warm, loving, happy, and healthy families. There are many supports that families can reach out to during this process, and one of the most important ones is family counseling with someone who is specialized in adoption-related issues. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog where we will talk more about the many benefits of family counseling for adoptive families!

For more information about the topics discussed in today’s blog, visit the following websites:

References

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013, August). Impact of Adoption on Adopted Persons.

Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/f_adimpact.pdf

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015a, January). Parenting Your Adopted School-Age

Child. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/parent-school-age.pdf

Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2015b, August). Impact of Adoption on Adoptive Parents.

Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/impactparent.pdf

Family Counseling for Adoptive Families: Series Introduction

By Eleanor Beeslaar, HRI Graduate Assistant

Adoption brings families together in many different ways and for a variety of unique reasons. It can involve bringing children to the United States from another country or adopting domestically. Some families may adopt infants, while others adopt older children. Children may be placed individually or with their siblings, and they may or may not be of the same race/ethnicity as their adoptive families. There are many different reasons for adoption. Individuals and families may wish to expand their family or have a desire to help a child in need, and grandparents may adopt their grandchildren through kinship adoption. The number of adoptive parents continues to increase as more single women and men and diverse family structures make the decision to open their hearts and homes to children in need of a safe, healthy, and happy family (Riley & Singer, 2018).

Whatever your reason is for adopting, the decision to welcome a child into your family can be both exciting and nerve wracking. You may be worried about needs that your child may have, such as emotional, medical or academic support. You may also be wondering how you can best support your child as they work through challenges and difficult feelings related to being a part of an adoptive family. They may feel different from children who live with their biological parents, have feelings surrounding the idea of being adopted, have complex emotions about their birth parents, and worry about questions from their peers or other adults about their adoption. Though these concerns are challenging, adoptive parents can successfully navigate these topics with effective communication, love, and support (Riley & Singer, 2018).

In support of November’s National Adoption Month, over the next week, HRI will be sharing information about the complexities and challenges of adoption and how family counseling services can support families during this time of transition and change.

References

Riley, D. & Singer, E. (2018). Adoption. Retrieved from https://www.aamft.org/Consumer_Updates/Adoption.aspx

 

#FindHelpFriday: Seven Homes

Seven Homes is a foster care organization that works with children and prospective parents looking to adopt. A passionate staff of adoption agents, social workers, and case managers work with each individual child to help them find a caring home, be it a temporary foster parent or a forever family. With a mission to help children in every part of their lives, Seven Homes offers communal, emotional, and spiritual support to kids and their families. From organizing adoptions to planning family trips, there are so many ways Seven Homes gives to our community–and ways for our community to give back! To find out more about adoption, fostering, volunteer work, and other ways to contribute to Seven Homes, visit their website at www.7homes4kids.com, or contact them (336) 378-8030.

To learn more about Seven Homes direct from some of their staff, check out the video below!

Consistency in Gratitude

Consistency is a key factor in showing gratitude to the people we care about. When we regularly practice gratitude for the people in our lives, we show them that they are a priority, helping increase their sense of self-worth and strengthening the relationship. This consistent practice of gratitude also helps us see our lives and our relationships through a more positive, strengths-based lens, which can increase our feelings of happiness and overall life satisfaction.