Workshop Recap

Adoption Through The Eyes Of A Child

On Friday, October 21st the Mahwah campus of Sage Day Schools hosted a presentation for over 100 educators, mental health clinicians, parents and interested parties on adoption. Presenter Madeleine Krebs, LCSW-C: Clinical Coordinator at the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) located in Burtonsville, MD was very well received.

Ms. Krebs pointed out that one-third of adolescents referred for psychotherapy are adopted. This underscores the importance of asking clients, students and parents about their experiences of adoption. Too frequently professionals do not even think to ask.

A profound loss is at the core of all adoptions. “Adopted children lost the opportunity to grow up with their biological family.” The issue is that adoption is typically believed to be “a problem solving event [with] all gains, no losses.” This can make it easy for professionals, adopted children and their families to overlook the mourning that needs to take place. However, Ms. Krebs pointed out, “we know that losses that are not mourned are DEBILITATING-freezing the individual in a state of uncertainty.”

Ms. Krebs also pointed out, “Adolescence raises many complex questions for parents whose children are adopted. Among these questions are, “Will my child become confused about her identity? Will a sense of abandonment and rejection replace feelings of security and comfort? Will being adopted make adolescence harder for them?” Ms. Krebs added, “These questions do not have easy answers but what we can say with some assurance is [first], being adopted is an integral part of an adolescent’s history and must not be ignored. [Second], adopted adolescents can successfully confront and resolve the special developmental issues adoption brings to this challenging stage.”

Krebs went on to share some of the core issues in working with adopted teens:

  • A critical developmental milestone for adolescents is the development of an identity. To accomplish this task the adolescent must figure out how they are alike and different from their parents. Teens raised by biological parents already know how they are LIKE their parents; the task for them is to figure out how they are unique.
  • Adoptees must define who they are without the basic knowledge of where they came from. They must figure out how they are alike and different from BOTH their adoptive and birth parents.
  • It is difficult for an individual to feel connected to a history of a people without knowing his ethnic background
  • Separation/Fear of Abandonment: Adoptees may find separating from family very threatening, or they may fear losing a second set of parents. There may also be resurfacing of early losses. They have a heightened sensitivity to losses and even transitions (graduations, change of schedule, even moving from classroom to classroom).
  • Control and power struggles are the hallmark of adolescence. Parents don’t want to give up control, while teens strive for independence. For adoptees the tension is greater; they may feel someone has always made decisions for them.
  • Adopted teens may have a pervasive feeling of not belonging. For instance they become keenly aware of the physical differences between themselves and their adoptive parents.
  • Adopted teens have a strong need to connect with the past.

And finally, Krebs provided key tasks for professionals treating adopted adolescence. Help them:

  • process and understand the reasons for adoption
  • cope with missing or difficult information
  • cope with feelings of being different
  • explore and get a sense of their identity
  • explore and share conflicting feelings about loyalty
  • achieve a sense of permanence with regard to family

Many attendees remarked how much they enjoyed the presentation. One attendee, a mental health professional who identified herself as having been adopted and as having an adopted child herself, said she had attended many workshops about adoption over the years and that this one had been “by far the best.”