-By Kimberly Grike, Adoption Case Manager, Lutheran Children and Family Service
For the past seven years, I have been working as an Adoption Case Manager at Lutheran Children and Family Service. My days have often been filled with many challenges and yet, when I stop to think back upon my experience as a whole, it is the positive moments and success stories that most easily come to mind. I have had the pleasure of meeting, and working with, children and families from all different backgrounds, and through the adoption process, I have been witness to new beginnings, tremendous transformations, and opportunities to explore what it really means to be “family.”
Although I have enjoyed all aspects of my position – from assisting families with initial application paperwork and the family profile process, to helping match prospective adoptive families with children who are in need of a permanent and loving “forever family,” those closest to me know that my favorite part of my job is providing a service called “Child Preparation.” Through this unit of service, which is County-referred and supported by the Statewide Adoption & Permanency Network (otherwise known as SWAN), I am able to work with an identified child, or sibling set, for a period of six months. During the ten sessions that I have with the identified child/ren, my objective is to help the youth with case-specific goals, which often include:
- Gaining additional understanding the child’s birth family history/reasons why foster care placement was necessary
- Learning about the identified permanency goal (i.e. – adoption) and what the associated process entails
- Creating a Lifebook (a special scrapbook that tells the child’s unique story and also offers a visual representation of his/her life history)
- Exploring the child’s feelings and emotions about his/her life experiences
- Looking toward the future by identifying, setting, and working toward the child’s goals
I strongly believe in the Child Preparation unit of service and find it to be by far the most rewarding aspect of my job because I have seen the amazing things that can occur during the process. Take for example, a sibling set of brothers whom I worked with earlier in my career. The boys, named Scott* and Thomas*, had entered foster care due to ongoing concerns in the birth family home. The boys were part of a very large sibling set, and although some siblings were placed with extended members of the birth family, no kinship resources were available to provide for Scott and Thomas. As such, they were placed into a generalized foster care home. Although Scott and Thomas initially did well in the placement, Scott became withdrawn and Thomas began acting out behaviorally. Thomas’ behaviors escalated to the point that he was demonstrating disruptive behaviors at school, engaging in self-injurious actions, and threatening to cause serious harm to himself. Scott and Thomas were enrolled in therapy, yet their behaviors continued. The foster mother, who had previously expressed an interest in adopting Scott and Thomas, began to question whether she would be able to do so due to the deteriorating circumstances. In an effort to try to stabilize their situation and maintain their placement, the County referred the children for Child Preparation Services.
When I first met the boys, they were receptive to interactions but hesitant to talk about their life history and feelings. They were both outwardly quiet and withdrawn, yet they also appeared to be interested and willing to participate in activities that had been planned. Over the course of the initial sessions, I tried to help the boys understand the factors that impacted their placement. I also spent time talking with them about the guilt and split loyalties that they were feeling because of their deep connection to their birth mother and their newly formed relationship and bond with their foster mother. I utilized hands-on activities, including a science-based experiment about living things and “needs,” various art projects involving a variety of mediums (paint, pastels, charcoal, etc.), and learning games about adoption to help the boys understand their situation and also explore their associated feelings regarding such.
As the series progressed, Scott began to open up and communicate his feelings more freely. He expressed a desire to be adopted and noted that he had been feeling scared as he thought that he had somehow caused his own placement into foster care; he noted that he felt he had been “bad” or done something wrong. For Scott, being able to learn more about the facts surrounding his birth family home and the reasons why he entered foster care, allowed him to be free of the guilt that he had been carrying. Similarly, through the Child Preparation process, Thomas slowly began asking questions and expressing that he felt that if he said he wanted to be adopted, he would hurt his birth mother’s feelings. Through activities, Thomas was able to reconcile that his birth family and his foster family were both extremely significant parts of his life. It also became apparent that some of Thomas’ negative feelings about adoption were stemming from his misconceptions about Court; he disclosed that he was terrified that he would have to be in the presence of a mean judge “like on TV!” After such disclosures, I was able to calm his fears by explaining the courtroom set-up and adoption finalization hearing process. I also reassured him that the judge would not be like Judge Judy!
As I witnessed the boys’ changing behaviors and attitudes during sessions, their foster mother also reported that Scott appeared to be happier and was more readily interacting with others in the home. She also noted that Scott’s behavioral concerns, particularly those that had been demonstrated at school, were nearly nonexistent. Both boys showed improvement academically and were described as taking pride in their life stories by talking with the foster mother and friends about their past, present, and goals for the future – something that they had not previously been willing, or able, to do.
Although I believe that the boys’ progress was truly the result of a joint effort by all associated team members (foster/adoptive mother, agency foster care staff, county representative, mental health professionals, the boys themselves, etc.), I am not sure they would have been as successful if the Child Preparation process had not been offered. Reports indicated that they were not receptive to traditional individual therapy, and although Child Preparation is not counseling nor am I a qualified mental health professional, the activities and projects proved to be therapeutic and non-threatening for Scott and Thomas. They were able to ask questions and receive pertinent information without fear of judgment. They explored their past and realized that they did not need to sever old connections in order to cherish new ones that were being formed.
With their new found perspectives on their past, present, and future, Scott and Thomas moved on with their lives and in fact, they were adopted by their foster mother after the Child Preparation series was completed. Although I have not heard from them in a few years, at last update, they were excelling in all realms of their lives.
*Names were changed to ensure confidentiality and protect the privacy of the children described above.
About Lutheran Children and Family Service
Lutheran Children and Family Service (Eastern, PA) is a non-profit founded in 1922 by the Lutheran Church in Philadelphia in order to provide child placement services on the church’s behalf. Part of the local church unit, the “Synod,” until 1965, it was then incorporated as the Lutheran Children’s Bureau. In 1970, the name was changed to Lutheran Children and Family Service (LCFS). LCFS served the Synod covering all of Eastern Pennsylvania. Since 1975, LCFS has provided community-based services to a diverse clientele of children, families and seniors throughout Eastern Pennsylvania. www.lcfsinpa.org