Category: adoption

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Understanding Ambiguous Loss

For nearly seven years now, I have suffered the grief from losing my son in 2004. I have been paralyzed, lost, and trapped in the pain since 2004.

I have grieved, or so I thought. Maybe I didn’t grieve. I really don’t know for sure, since this sort of thing was not part of my plan as a parent.

How does a parent resolve the unfair loss of a child into the system, that occurred because of a custody battle gone wrong, a spiteful spouse, and system failure?  That resolve does not exist. When the wrongs  are never righted there is no resolution, only the what ifs that run rampant. The frustration and anger is never-ending.

 I never knew it was something with a label, “ambiguous loss”.

 Wow.  There is a term for what I feel.  There is a label that is out there and recognized, as something real, and is far greater than I, alone, can overcome.  I can only feel it every day, every week, month, and year, since the loss of my son, as it eats away the inside of my spirit.

People have said to me, “move on” and “get over it” and “yeah yeah its been years, aren’t you past that yet?” or “at least he’s alive out there, he could be dead, ya know…” or one of a million other ‘words of advice’ in their futile attempts to fix me.   Yet I remain stuck, lost, and sad.  

On top of the myriad of emotions I feel as the mother, I often fear that if it feels this intense for *me* at *my age* with *my understanding of life* as an adult –  I CANNOT imagine how it felt to my eight year old son to go through what we went through!!

I don’t want to imagine how it felt for him, but as his mother, I have no choice but to wonder – which makes the impact of my own emotions that much greater.  It’s a horrible cycle that never ends.   There is no resolution, there is no finalizing the pain.

 So…Ambiguous Loss is what its called.  

Lets learn a little about it and how it affects the children in the child welfare system. As if we can even begin to understand how deeply they feel it as children… as if..


Understanding Ambiguous Loss

source: http://www.mnadopt.org

Ambiguous loss is a term that is used to describe the grief or distress associated with a loss (usually a person or relationship) in which there is confusion or uncertainty about that person or relationship.

There are two types of ambiguous loss:

1) When the person is physically present but psychologically unavailable. An example of this might be when a child’s parent has a mental health diagnosis or chemical use issues which make them emotionally unavailable to meet the needs of the child, even if that parent is physically present;

2) When the person is physically absent but psychologically present. Examples of this would be when a child does not live with a parent due to divorce, incarceration, foster care or adoption;

Ambiguous loss may overlap with trauma and attachment problems and symptoms may be similar to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

A person experiencing ambiguous loss may:

• Have difficulty with transitions or changes;

• Have difficulty making decisions; feeling “paralyzed” or overwhelmed when having to make choices about one’s life;

• Have decreased ability to cope with routine childhood or adolescent losses–not being able to “move on” from a disappointment or loss or feeling “stuck”;

• Exhibit learned helplessness or hopelessness;

• Have depression and/or anxiety;

• Have feelings of guilt.

Ambiguous loss affects adopted children who may think about their birth family, but birth family members and adoptive parents might also experience ambiguous loss. Both birth family members and adopted children may wonder about each other, or may mourn or fantasize about what it would have been like to stay together. Adoptive parents, especially if they adopt after struggles with infertility, may experience ambiguous loss over pregnancies that ended in miscarriages or the loss of the dream of having children biologically.

Pauline Boss, author of Ambiguous Loss: Coming to Terms with Unresolved Grief, writes,

“Although the birth mother is more conscious of the actual separation than is the baby given up for adoption… the birth mother is thought about often and kept psychologically present in the minds of both the adoptive mother and the adopted child.”

Consider how much more this loss might be felt by youth who were not separated at birth but lived with the mother or father for months or years before the separation occurred; or the effect of loss on children who experience multiple placements and caregivers.

Each move from a caregiver is one more time a child could experience ambiguous loss over the separation.

It was once thought that a child could not feel loss over the separation from birth family they had never known; however more recent research has shown that adopted youth may in fact grieve over the loss (Grotevant et al, 2000).

Adopted individuals who were able to discuss difficult feelings about the uncertainty and lack of information about birth family with their adoptive family showed less symptoms of ambiguous loss than those whose adoptive families had more closed conversations (Powell & Afifi, 2005).

Some adopted children make up their own story about the circumstances of their adoption or use “magical thinking” to
describe their imagined adoption scenario when they lack information.

Adoptees have described the lack of knowledge about their biological families and reasons for separation as like “a book without the first few chapters” or as “lives written in pencil that can easily be erased.”

Some researchers have found that ambiguous loss often peaks for adopted youth during adolescence when identity becomes part of the teenager’s developmental tasks.

According to Boss,

“. . . the greater the ambiguity surrounding one’s loss, the more difficult it is to master [the loss] and the greater one’s depression, anxiety, and family conflict”

Why is this?

• It is difficult for a person to resolve grief if they don’t know if the loss is temporary or final;
• Uncertainty about the loss prevents a child’s ability to reorganize roles and relationships in their family;
• There is a lack of a clear, symbolic ritual surrounding the loss;

• The lost relationship is not socially recognized or is hidden from others;

• The griever is not socially recognized (this is often the case with birth family, regardless of whether the child was removed voluntarily or involuntarily);

• The circumstances that led to loss are perceived negatively by others.

In the case of a parent’s death, for example, people understand the loss and rituals (such as funerals) help the child understand and provide closure to the relationship with that parent.

However, as Boss writes,

“Existing rituals and community supports only address clear-cut loss such as death.”

When a child is separated from his or her parents due to child protection intervention, relinquishment or abandonment, the parent may be physically absent but the psychological presence may still be very much in the child’s mind. Knowing the parent is out there “somewhere” can be confusing or  anxiety-inducing for the child. They may wonder if they will run into the parent at the grocery store, for example, or wonder if the parent will call them someday.

Also, because adoption is commonly viewed positively as a joyous event in our society, a child may feel confusion or guilt over being asked to be happy that they were separated from their birth family. Extended family members and community may not recognize or understand that adoption is directly related to the loss of  the original birth family.

Suggestions for helping children manage feelings of ambiguous loss:

• Give voice to the ambiguity. Provide a name to the feelings of ambiguous loss and acknowledge how difficult It is to live with this ambiguity.

• Learn to redefine what it means to be a family.

Boss writes,

“Acting as if the membership list of an adoptive family is etched in stone may in the end be more stressful than explicitly recognizing that the family has some ambiguous boundaries.”

• Adopted children need to be given permission to grieve the loss of their family of origin without feeling  guilty

• Help the child identify what has been lost (the loss may not be limited to the actual parent – the loss could also include the membership of that extended family, the loss of the home or town they were born in, the loss of having a family that looks like them, the loss of their family surname, or for internationally adopted youth the loss of birth country and language;

• Create a “loss box.” In her work with adopted adolescents, therapist Debbie Riley guides the youth as they decorate a box in which they place items that represent things they’ve lost. This gives the youth both a ritual for acknowledging the loss and a way for them to revisit the people or relationships in the future.

• Include birth parents and birth family members in the child’s family “orchard” so the child can literally and figuratively place them in their self-narrative “history”

• Sometimes certain events trigger feelings of loss such as holidays, birthdays or the anniversary of an adoption. Alter or add to family rituals to acknowledge the child’s feelings about these important people or  relationships that have been lost.

For example, adding an extra candle representing the child’s birth family on his or her cake may be a way of remembering their part in your child’s life on that day; or even an acknowledgement like “I bet your mom and dad are thinking about you today” recognizes those ambiguous relationships.

• Don’t set an expectation that grief over ambiguous loss will be “cured,” “fixed” or “resolved” in any kind of predetermined time frame.

Explain that feelings related to ambiguous loss will come and go at different times in a person’s life and provide a safe place for the child to express those feelings.

Adults must be mindful of the trauma that accompanies each transition to a different placement or with new caregivers.

It is important for social workers, foster parents and adoptive parents to recognize how ambiguous loss and grief may affect adopted youth – especially as they near adolescence and young adulthood.

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For more information:
Ambiguous loss: Learning to live with unresolved grief. Pauline Boss, (1999). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
 
Ambiguous loss in adolescents: Increasing understanding to enhance intervention. L. Ashbourne, L. Baker & C. Male (2002).
 
This free, downloadable pdf is available at www.lfcc.on.ca.
Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow. K.J. Doka (2002). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
 
Adoptive identity: How contexts within and beyond the family shape developmental pathways. H.D. Grotevant, N. Dunbar, J.K. Kohler & A.M.L. Esau (2000). Family Relations, 49: 379-387.
 
Uncertainty management and adoptees’ ambiguous loss of their birth parents. K.A. Powell & T.D. Afifi (2005). Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Vol. 22(1): 129-151.
 
Beneath the mask: Understanding adopted teens. D. Riley & J. Meeks (2006). Burtonsville, MD: C.A.S.E. Publications
adoption, awareness, child welfare reform, foster care abuse, cps, family, foster care, government, system failure, videos
Videos:Foster care from the child’s point of view

PART 1

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pu4nldTcpt8&feature=related]

 

 

PART 2

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zbrk_Rd8xEU&feature=related]

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 3

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNIlXOALJjo&feature=related]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART 4

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8C9W5JewDI&feature=related]

adoption, child, child welfare reform, foster care abuse, cps, domestic violence, education, family, foster care, foster child, healing, love, system failure
How to Bond With Your (Foster) Child

Top 10 Five Minute Bonding Activities

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These activities are not for every foster/adoptive parent or every foster/adoptive child. Only do what is comfortable for you and your foster/adopted child.
Keep in mind:

  • Child’s Age – Chronological and Emotional
  • Child’s History of Abuse and/or Neglect
  • Comfort Levels

Please note that I’m not promoting these activities as a way to create an instant bond between you and your child. Bonding is a process that takes time. These activities are ideas that will help start the process of bonding.

1. Brushing Hair

This can be a great and easy way to spend time with a child. It also involves a safe touch, which is so important to creating a loving bond.

2. Read a Story

Not only will you be increasing your bond by spending time together, you’ll be increasing the child’s vocabulary and other literary skills.

3. Sing Songs

We used to have a tradition of singing songs before tucking our daughter into bed, favorites included Old Macdonald, London Bridge, and many different Sunday School songs. Also try songs like “This Little Piggy” where each line of the song is sang as you tickle a toe, involves appropriate, safe touching with a child who may be fearful of touch due to past abuse.

4. Clapping Games and Rhymes

Remember the games played on elementary playgrounds? If not here are some web sites with words. Fun activity involving safe touch.

5. Bed Time Routine

A routine can include tucking in with a soft blanket, hugs and kisses, a short story, song, or prayer. Keep in mind the comfort level of all involved. If a history of sexual abuse exists or you don’t know the child’s history, protect yourself against allegations by having another adult with you at bed time.

6. Staring Contest

Maintain direct eye contact, the first person to look away or blink loses. A fun game for older children and a great way to have eye contact which helps build attachment. Be sure the child does not interpret this activity as threatening or intimidating and understands that it is a game.

7. Hand Games

More safe touching activities like Rock Paper Scissors, Bubble Gum Bubble Gum in a Dish, or Thumb Wrestling. Some of the above links will take you to pages filled with more game ideas.

8. Paint Finger and Toe Nails

More appropriate for girls – this is a sweet way to spend five minutes. Consider allowing the child to paint your nails.

9. Rocking

This is one bonding activity in which you must calculate emotional age, history, and comfort levels. My son was 12 when he came to us as a foster child, but he needed and welcomed being held and rocked. I spoke to his therapist before rocking him and had no trouble in doing so. He was extremely small for his age, which made rocking him easier. Be aware of sexual arousal with older children and activities that involve such closeness.

10. Lotioning

Applying lotion to a child’s hands and feet can also be part of a bedtime routine. Children of color will benefit from having lotion applied to their legs, arms, face, and back. Caution: Consider child’s sexual abuse history, age, and comfort level with this activity. Some abused children can misinterpret different kinds of touch. Be aware of sexual arousal. If you sense that any activity is upsetting to the child – stop. Document the incident, tell the therapist at your next meeting.

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Editing the layout

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you’ll probably notice the changes as I am playing around with the layouts available.  I would love some input on what you like best?  What information you might be looking for but can’t find.  I would like to do what I can to enhance your visit to my blog as the topics I present here are rather dismal and difficult…. though necessary.

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adoption, child death, child welfare reform, foster care abuse, children, cps, families, family, foster care, government, healing, love, medicaid fraud, psychiatry, psychotropic medications, safety, system failure, texas
Child agency touts progress

Foster kid adoption rate has improved in S.A. region, but much wor

Web Posted: 10/03/2007 12:00 AM CDT

Nancy Martinez
Express-News Child Protective Services has in the past 21/2 years seen a higher turnover among caseworkers, taken on more cases, removed more children that it can place and seen a large gap in the number of black children in the system versus those in the community. Still, the state agency charged with keeping children safe sees itself as an improved department in the throes of heeding reforms required by the Legislature in 2005. That’s what about 75 child advocates who gathered Tuesday at a semi-annual child advocate meeting heard from CPS officials.

“We’re making a lot of progress. We’re a different agency than we were before the reforms,” Sherry Gomez, the San Antonio region CPS director, told the audience of foster care workers, community organizations, law enforcement officials and political leaders. “But it’s going to take awhile to transition.”

But Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who publicly criticized CPS this year for not following new state laws aimed at protecting young children by requiring that a specialist review their cases, reached a different conclusion.

“I don’t see the kind of improvement we need in the agency,” Uresti said during a phone interview Tuesday. “Status quo is not enough.”

At the meeting, held at the University of the Incarnate Word with the theme “The Dawn of a New Day,” CPS officials spoke about what the department is doing right and characterized its weaknesses — turnover is the worst it’s ever been and there are more cases than ever — as “growing pains.”

“CPS is a constant challenge. The system is overburdened, and we always need more reserves,” said Arabia Vargas, chairwoman of the Bexar County Child Welfare Board.

Still, there were marked improvements since the passage of Senate Bill 6, which required expansive reforms in virtually every aspect of policy, practice and performance for the beleaguered agency.

CPS touted its high foster child adoption rate: In fiscal 2007, 974 children in the San Antonio region were adopted, mostly by relatives. Last year, the region led the state with 651 adoptions, a vast improvement from the 316 in fiscal year 2004 and up from 625 in 2005.

Also discussed were the “taking it to the streets” efforts, in which caseworkers became decentralized, working across the city, and CPS’ “family team meeting” efforts, in which extended family members work with CPS to craft a safety plan for children.

Local CPS developments are reflective of what is happening across the state.

On Sept. 1, in its fourth 180-day progress report, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the umbrella agency over CPS, reported to lawmakers that the department is becoming more accountable and working on its shortcomings.

According to CPS, caseloads are also down for most caseworkers — from 27 average cases per day last year for San Antonio region caseworkers to 21 per day in fiscal year 2007, which ended Aug. 31. Statewide, the caseload decreased from 26 per day last year to 20 per day in 2007, according to CPS.

But one of the department’s biggest challenges this past year has been placing foster children.

Since April, 44 children in the San Antonio region have slept in CPS offices because there was nowhere else for them to stay.

CPS officials say finding placements is a daily struggle because the rate at which children are being removed is greatly outpacing the rate at which foster parents will take them.

CPS officials said the department is also striving to fix a problem of disproportional removals. Across the state and in San Antonio, more black children are taken from their parents. In the San Antonio region, 6 percent of children are black, but 15 percent of those in foster care are black, CPS reported.

Training new staff has become a significant challenge, especially because caseworker turnover is getting worse.

Despite the reforms, children are still dying of child abuse and neglect at an unprecedented rate.

In fiscal year 2006, CPS identified 14 children who died of child abuse and neglect, the second-highest number since the department began keeping track.

Death numbers for fiscal year 2007 are not yet available.

“The report reflects the status quo,” Uresti said. “We need to continue to monitor this on a monthly basis and not let up on our primary goal of protecting our children.”


nmartinez@express-news.net