Education Of Adoptive Parents

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education of adoptive parents

Numerous adoption agencies nationwide hold adoption classes for prospective adoptive parents as part of the family assessment process or HOME STUDY.

Policies of the agency are fully explained during the course of the classes, such as why a particular agency wishes one parent to stay home and be the primary caregiver for the child for the first three months of the child's placement (or some other timeframe) or why the agency places a child in a foster home after release from a hospital rather than directly with adopting parents.

Adoption issues are usually covered, such as when and how to talk to a child about adoption, how to deal with relatives and acquaintances and problems the child may have if the child does not resemble the parents in racial or ethnic background.

Parents adopting children with SPECIAL NEEDS will usually learn about physical and sexual abuse along with suggestions on how to handle problems that may occur as a result of previous abuse. Social workers usually encourage parents to ask for help and not fear that they will be unable to finalize their adoption if they let the social worker know about a problem.

The classes are primarily held to help prospective parents prepare for parenthood and to educate them as much as possible about adoption. Classes are usually small groups of up to 20 couples, and the couples often develop a strong camaraderie that may last for years after they've adopted their children.

In some cases, social workers bring in birthmothers, adult adopted persons and adoptive parents as speakers, either singly or on a panel. Social workers encourage prospective parents to ask many questions.

A doctoral dissertation by Marlene Ross revealed adoption classes can have a long-term positive effect. In her 1985 study, Ross studied 30 families with adopted adolescents. One-third of the families had attended adoption classes prior to adopting their children or when the children were young.

Her results: the parents who had had "early adoptive education activities" were more open to discussing adoption with their children and more willing to acknowledge differences between adoptive and birth families. They were more receptive to learning about adoption and more positive about adoption classes.

She also found that parents of adopted children only were more interested in adoptive education than were families of adoptive and birth children. Self-esteem scores were similar for adolescents in adopted-only families and adoptive/birth families.

Specifics of Childcare

Because of the anxiety associated with the adoption process, even when adoption agencies offer classes, the prospective parents may not fully listen and take advantage of the information offered. In addition, they usually concentrate on adoption issues rather than basic child care issues, such as how to change a baby, give it a bath and so forth.

As a result, some educators offer child care classes to prospective parents or individuals who have recently become adoptive parents, combining information about adoption with basic child care information. Adoptive parent and professional nurse and childbirth educator Carol A. Hallenbeck describes many issues that should be covered by educators, including issues rarely covered by agency classes; for example, some adoptive parents may actually feel a postpartum depression after their infant arrives home.

Confused by this feeling and fearful about such feelings, they can be tremendously relieved to learn other adoptive parents often feel an initial overwhelming tiredness, especially during the first six weeks after adoption.

Says Hallenbeck, "No matter how perfectly this all too longed for child fits into your plan, he will most likely bring you down to earth with a thud."

According to Hallenbeck, parents must learn "parenting is hard work and fantasies about parenthood can almost never be lived up to." She described one father in a class who, before he became a parent, insisted he would never become frustrated if his son screamed through dinner every night. One week after becoming a parent, he said, "I really love my son, but I sure get tired of trying to eat dinner while he's screaming!" When such feelings are brought out and shared, they may be amusing. When bottled up, the parent may feel he or she is inadequate or not as good as a parent to whom a child is born.

Community Education

Adoption education is also sometimes provided to the community at large, either by local adoption agencies in a forum setting or by adoptive parent support groups. Some groups visit local schools and explain their views on adoption to adolescents. Others offer seminars to anyone in the public who is interested.

Large organizations, such as the NATIONAL COMMITTEE FOR ADOPTION, OPEN DOOR SOCIETIES and NORTH AMERICAN COUNCIL ON ADOPTABLE CHILDREN (NACAC), provide information for both adoptive parents and professionals to discuss and learn about the most salient issues in adoption.


Carol A. Hallenbeck, Our Child: Preparation for Parenting in Adoption-Instructor's Guide (Wayne, Pa.: Our Child Press, 1988).

Marlene Ross, "The Educational Needs of Adoptive Parents," Ph.D. diss., The American University, 1985.

Diane Scovil, "Adoptive Parents Need Our Support," RN 52 (December 1989): 19.

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