Down Time & Special Activities for the Summer

 

Your child also needs some “down time” to become more regulated and calm.  Just as with movement activities, these quieter times include structure, engagement nurture, and challenge. So what are some downtime activities that promote connectivity with your child?

  • Eating and drinking together can be a bonding experience. You can look at each other while you eat, make pleasant conversation, and, as already noted, even have fun feeding each other.
  • If you are outdoors and your child is just eating a snack and is ready to get back on the playground, then spend about five minutes in some hand-clapping games while you are sitting.
  • Reading together provides an opportunity to ask your child about the characters in the book and what each character may be thinking. If there are parent figures, you can ask your child, “What is the Daddy doing here?” What are some other things daddies do with their children?” What do you like to do with your Daddy?
  • Putting together puzzles can challenge your child while you talk and create something together.
  • Playing board or card games—remember those?—allows for challenge and engagement with your child. Of course, you have other things to do, so encourage your children and their friends to play simple board and card games together. This can promote sharing, winning and losing, as well as cooperation.
  • When your child is resting, you may want to engage in body touching activities such as backrubs or just putting lotion on each other’s hands. When you do such activities, take notice of your child’s hands and count the freckles or other features, such as the nails. You can say, Phili, what cute little freckles you have; I can count three of them on your hand today. Tomorrow we will see if we can find more.” Encourage your child to also put lotion on your hands.

Screen Time is NOT Downtime:

A couple of times per day, you want to make sure your child has about 15-60 minutes of downtime—depending upon your child’s age and ability to have such low-activity. Playing on an Ipad , however, is NOT downtime. Yes, screen-time is definitely a break for you. And, let’s face it, every child is going to spend some time on their screens. So there is probably no need to feel guilty if your child spends less than one hour a day on electronic devices. However, the average child spends more than seven hours a day with these electronics. This amount of time is downright damaging. In addition, the games they play, no matter how innocent, can have an addictive nature and tap into the child’s brain’s pleasure center, increasing your child’s dopamine. Your child’s brain feels like it is getting a reward each time your child plays on the Ipad. So instead of getting pleasure from human interaction, your child gets pleasure from the online games. If that is not bad enough, research shows that the area of the brain where processing takes place, can shrink. A child from less than ideal circumstances already has more difficulty using their frontal lobe of the brain for such higher level functions such as planning and organizing. If this area of the brain is further compromised by the extensive use of video games, then your child can be further dysregulated—leading to angry outbursts, temper tantrums, and impulsive activities. In addition to the gray matter in the brain being compromised, the white matter in the brain is also compromised leading to problems in the connections in the brain. Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) can already have diminished brain function between the left and right brain hemispheres. Video games can further deteriorate this connectivity.

Initially, it is easy to have your child happily playing away on the Ipad while you get chores and other work done. However, there is a longer-term price to pay. For more information about the dramatic positive effects coming off of electronics can have for your child read https://drdunckley.com/2015/11/11/screentime-making-kids-moody-crazy-lazy/

 

And while we are discussing screen time, please put the phone away.  Even if you are not looking at it while your children are around, just the fact that your phone is out and within sight causes anxiety in children.  They know you could be interrupted any minute.  Somehow our parents and grandparents were able to go to the pool and beach without them.  Put yours away in a plastic Ziploc bag.

 

Special Activities for Special Kids:

 

Many of our adopted children who come from difficult places, have sensory and other issues that make it difficult for the child to engage. Attachment enhancing activities can still be done with your child’s special issues being considered. While I do not like to diagnose children, knowing what types of behaviors your child has (e.g., “My child is hyperactive at times and sometimes has difficulty paying attention.” instead of, “My child has ADHD,”) can help you gear activities with your child’s needs in mind.

For a child with attention and hyperactivity issues, try games such as “Mother May I.” Your child needs to focus on what is being said, (“Jump forward three times”) as well as actually following the instructions. For children who are newly adopted, this game can also reinforce listening to mom and obeying her as well as recognizing her as the “real” mom. The instructions can be playful and funny. Make your child laugh. You will too!

If your child has trouble sitting down, allow the child to have sensory gadgets to squeeze and hold while engaging in an activity. So while your child is being read to, let him hold one of these objects.  Some kids also need chewing toys as well.

For a child who tends to be anxious, any exercise that encourages breathing can be calming. You may want to listen to some muscle relaxation on YouTube such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Calming music is also helpful if you can talk to your child about relaxing her body and helping her breathe slowly and deeply. If your child (and you) can actually do this five to ten minutes a day, twice a day, this can make a great impact on your child’s anxiety level.

To make these relaxation exercises more kid friendly, you can give your child a lemon and encourage her to squeeze the lemon enough to “make” lemonade. As your child squeezes the lemon, your child can also tighten different areas of the body, starting with the neck, chest, and working down to his toes.

If in the pool, you can blow bubbles for a certain period of time. Your child’s taking big breathes, holding her breath, and then exhaling is very calming and helps your child relax. Your child can blow while you count and then you can blow bubbles while your child counts.

To help your child feel more in control and to further reduce anxiety, let your child be a special hero who is able to conquer all sorts of “monsters.” Give your child a towel gently knotted like a cape and let your child play superhero around the pool. Make up the names of various monsters that your child can whack with a pool noodle. “I am going to whack the pretend boogie man who lives under my bed.” (Of course, if your child has never mentioned such fears, do not introduce the thought into your child’s head.)

For children prone to angry explosions, help them to recognize what their body feels like when they “blow up.”  Do not try to discuss the situation in the middle of  your child’s outburst. However, during a time when your child is calm, encourage your child to “explode” like a volcano in the water. He can jump out of the water and then growl. You can do this also. Laugh about your explosions. You can do this with waves in the ocean as they come over the child’s feet. Discuss how angry feelings can take over—just like ocean waves. Or you can make a volcano out of sand and fill it with water. Ask, “What does an ‘angry’ volcano do?” Let your child either have water spill over or perhaps destroy the volcano. If in the pool, have your child splash their arms in the water and make big splashes that represent anger. Then talk about what anger feels like. Then talk about the things that cause your child to feel angry. Share some of what presses your buttons as well. From there you can discuss things that the child can do when he is angry so that he does not feel like the hot lava coming down a volcano. You can ask your child if going to another room, talking with an adult, or holding a stuffed animal helps with angry feelings.

For children with disruptive behaviors, such as those who refuse to follow rules and who refuse to accept “no” for an answer, you can use a bottle of soda water as an illustration of what it is like to hold onto anger too long.  Talk with your child about the things that make a bottle of soda water bubble up and then explode when you open the bottle (e.g., shaking it, turning in upside down). Then talk about ways to open the bottle so that the soda does explode. Then have your child talk about ways that make his bubbles get very excited and ways that he can settle down those bubbles so he does not explode (e.g., punching a pillow, talking with mom, or reading a good book).

For children with annoying behaviors, such as repetitive motions, getting into others’ space, or making inappropriate sounds, you can play games of things that annoy people and ask your child what annoys him. For example, you can both hum loudly and talk about how humming can be very annoying. Make fun of yourself. You can eat noisily and slurp your coffee extra loudly. Then discuss how these noises can be funny but they can also be ver….y annoying. Then get your kiddos to do the same. You may also want to write down some of these behaviors on a beach ball (see below),  in which you put down other social skills  on the ball (e.g., “chew with mouth closed”) and have your child talk about ways do the right behavior instead of the annoying one.

If your child has obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors, you can place beans, seeds, or marbles in a bucket, and these can represent the OCD thought or behavior. If at the beach, you can put wet sand in a pail. You can say, “These beans/marbles/ beads/sand are what sometimes takes over your thoughts.” (Do not say to the child she has OCD.) Then have the child put her hands in the bucket and feel the OCD problem taking over her hands. Describe how easy it is to get buried in the thoughts and feelings. Now, you, the parent, are going to protect the child from these beads. Put your hands over your child’s hands so that the beads or other materials cannot touch your child. Another way to do this exercise is to put little toys in the beads or sand and tell your child the objects are the OCD. Then you will put your hands into the sand and help your child’s hands not to get “attacked” by the objects that represent OCD. You, as the parent, can remove the OCD objects.

While keeping the exercise “light,” and even have moments of silliness, let your child know you take her thoughts and feelings seriously. The idea is for you, the parent, not to be the enabler but truly be the protector of your child and to help your child control her thoughts so she does not engage in ritualized OCD behaviors.

Almost all children from difficult circumstances have experienced trauma. Some of this trauma is not remembered or was more subtle. Serious outward trauma may be played out or discussed over and over again by your child. Your child may feel at times that he is re-experiencing it. Other children avoid talking about the incident, no matter how safe they feel with you. Often these children will be clingy and won’t want you out of their sight.

You can make a special box for your child and put things in there that represents part of your child’s history. Your child can take these items out and talk about them. The story your child tells may not be about the specific trauma but about other events that took place. As your child becomes more comfortable, she may begin to share with you. Mellenthin,* recommends watching  “Boundin” –a short film on YouTube that shows a lamb who faces adversity (getting shaved each year). After watching the video, you can have your child get a puppet or stuffed animal to replay what happened and how the  little lamb (and your child) can bounce back.

You can have fun using  beach balls to address many other issues including expressing feelings.   Blow up a beach ball and on the ball , using a Sharpie pen, write as many feelings (e.g., sad, mad, glad, excited, disappointed) on it that your children can name. Then toss the ball. Whoever catches it selects the feeling closest to the right thumb. Have the child share what makes the child have that feeling. Of course, the adults who play also share their feelings. The rule should be that a new feeling is selected each time and each child has a turn. The game can be varied by hitting the ball with your heads, your thumbs, passing it like a volleyball punch, or hitting it with the feet or knees and then picking up with the hands.

A new ball can be blown up and on it you and your children can put on it social skills such as saying, “Thank you,” giving compliments, asking a question nicely, and staying in your own space. As noted above, you can also put down the opposite of annoying behaviors (e.g., quietly chew food).

The third ball can have coping skills on it, which may include deep breathing, doing jumping jacks, pushing the wall down, blowing bubbles, talking to someone, hitting a pillow. It is better if your children can be involved in coming up with their own coping strategies. Playing with the ball can be used to address other issues as well.**

Remember, you only have to get it right with your kids about 30% of the time to be a good and effective parent.  Also, the more playful you are, the more you will enjoy your kids, and, in turn, you will be creating fun summer memories.

 

* Play Therapy: Engaging and & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders, by Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S, 2018.

** This was developed by Robert Jason Grant and is called Feelings Beach Ball: from Play Based Interventions of Autism Spectrum disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities.

Summer Activities That Promote Attachment

 

 

Summertime can mean more time for your child to say, “I’m bored,” and for you to feel frustrated with the lack of structure. Or summer can be a time for you to have greater opportunities to enjoy each other’s company. If one parent is home during the summer, there may be ample time to partake in lots of activities that promote attachment. If both parents work, there is usually more free time afterhours without the demands of homework, sports and other practices.

 

Why Increase Attachment with Your Children:

As your attachment grows with your children, you truly will begin to enjoy them more. The more you “like” your children, it is much more likely your children, in turn, will be more cooperative. Attachment forms the basis of all healthy relationships starting with the parent-child bond, which then prepares the child for the next real attachment in adult life: the child’s future spouse. In turn, children who have secure attachments are more happily married and then form  secure attachments with their children. Of course, we need healthy relationships with siblings, other relatives, and friends. However, there are only two true attachments: caretaker with child and romantic partners with each other.

Well-attached children can control their emotions and engage in give and take activities. Parenting such children is obviously more pleasant. Regardless if your child was born to you under optimal conditions or if your child came from a neglectful or abusive background, attachment-enhancing parenting takes time and effort. It can be downright exhausting at times.  If you are going to have a summer filled with attachment-enriching activities, this will also require some intentional planning as well “being in the moment” with each child.

 

What to Include in the Activities: In every activity that you do with your child, there should be four components as suggested in Theraplay ®:

 

  • Structure: This means the activity is organized and you, as the parent, are setting limits. You are also directing the activity in a cooperative way with your child. It is not a free-for-all for your child, yet your child can make suggestions and have choices as to what they can do. Let’s say you are in the water with your child, you can play such games as dunking your head underwater and coming up and touching noses. Although you are in control, your child can then suggest that you put your hands under water and bring them and clap them with each other. During snack or lunchtime at the pool, you can feed each other a few pretzels. So even in settings, such as being at the park, your child can have plenty of time to freely run-around, but also you will take time to personally engage with each child or your children in a group activity.
  • Engagement: You are participating with your child in the activity. If you are at the pool with your child, there can be plenty of time for playing with friends and jumping off the diving board, while you are cheering your child on. For a few minutes, while at the pool each day, make time to engage intentionally with your child.
  • Nurture: Caring for your child in a sensitive and attuned manner helps your child calm down. During snack or lunchtime at the pool, you can feed each other a few pretzels. As you feed your child and vice versa, you are also providing structure in that you select the food you will feed each other and your child knows what to expect. Of course, as you feed your child, you are also engaged with the child and looking into the child’s eyes. If, for example, you find a crumb on your child’s face, gently stroke your child’s face, as you notice his eyes, and brush the crumb off.
  • Challenge: As you engage in activities with your child, you want to realistically give your child more opportunity for him to do better than the last time. You would not expect your four-year-old child to keep his head underwater for 30 seconds the first time at the pool, but you could challenge your child to keep your heads under water for three seconds and then touching noses when your heads bob up.

High Energy Activities:

If your kids are typical, once they are outside, they will want to go full-steam ahead and get lots of running around time. This can be a great release of energy. Plus, your kids really need to use their large muscles. The swinging, bouncing, and climbing provides your child a full sensory experience as well. Yet such strong movement for extended periods of time, tends to wind up children, causing them to become dysregulated (meaning mood swings, being agitated, and feeling out of control). Yet, even when your child engages in movement activities, provide structure that allows your child to have varied activities as well as some down time. Calming your child down can usually be accomplished with set times for snacks and rest. Usually kids will stop to get a drink and eat something substantive.

Stay tuned for another blog with ideas for Down Time and Special Activities

* Play Therapy: Engaging and & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders, by Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S, 2018.

Top Three Reasons to Become a Dad Using Embryo Adoption

 

There’s a false notion in some circles of American culture that fatherhood is, well, unmanly. Changing diapers? Beneath us. Strapping on an infant in a Baby Bjorn? Emasculating (not to mention a little silly looking).

Sadly, adopting a baby is another activity that too often makes the list of unacceptable activities for men. I know. I was one of those dads—until embryo adoption upended my world.

This Father’s Day, you might be looking in the mirror and wondering what it means to be a man. You and your wife might be facing the daunting challenge of infertility. Or your spouse might be trying to convince you to explore embryo adoption to build your family, even though you’ve told her a hundred times it isn’t for you.

Let me offer some small assurance. Embryo adoption will forever change your definition of manhood, that’s true. But it will change you for the better. Whether you hope to become a first-time dad or to add another bouncing baby to your quiver, here are three reasons you should strongly consider becoming a father through embryo adoption.

Reason No. 1: The most fragile among us deserve the best of your strength.

Odds are good you probably aren’t a body builder, bouncer, or professional wrestler. That’s fine. Strength shows itself in many forms, most of all in families, where good dads really shine. It’s especially necessary when it comes to giving frozen embryos the best chance at life.

Consider this: Hundreds of couples who have used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to build their families are praying and working with an adoption agency to find a family to give their remaining embryos life. An embryo might only be a few days old, but for those of us who believe life begins at conception, it is also a baby with hopes, dreams and a future. What if that tiny life were part of your family? What could you accomplish together? What higher purpose could you achieve?

Reason No. 2: Now more than ever, the world needs fathers to contribute their unique gifts to children.

Boys who grow up to be men—and dads—are one of society’s most undervalued resources, according to Warren Farrell and John Gray, authors of the 2018 book, “The Boy Crisis”. In that book, they write: “Worldwide, the amount of time a father spends with a child is one of the strongest predictors of the child’s ability to empathize as he gets older.”

As a dad, you will help your children learn how to treat other people—with respect, love, and kindness. The traits you admire most in other people are traits you can have a direct role in fostering in our next generation of leaders. Embryo adoption enables you to make a difference not only in the lives of an embryo baby and the placing family from whom you are adopting, but in your community and the world. Children grow up to become what we model for them.

Reason No. 3: Because fatherhood will immediately begin reshaping your life’s priorities—for the better.

You might occasionally feel a tinge of guilt as a man. Perhaps you’re spending too much time at the office. Maybe you’d like to prioritize time with your wife, your spiritual walk or even a favorite hobby, but you simply can’t find the time.

It’s at times like these that watershed moments arrive to transform how you think about what matters most in your world. Embryo adoption might well be such a moment for you. The entry of a baby into your life forces you to rearrange your priorities. Caring for a little person means giving of your time, energy, and humility (as a dad to four, I eat humble pie for breakfast with a soup ladle). Yet it also means some of the most rewarding and inspiring moments of your life.

Embryo adoption isn’t for everyone. But if something inside of you yearns to be a dad, take the first step with your spouse. Learn a little. Ask questions. And consider the embryo babies and placing families who are looking to someone just like you to make a difference.

Nate Birt and his wife, Julie, are adoptive parents of Phoebe, a Nightlight® Christian Adoptions Snowflakes® baby. Nate blogs quarterly for Snowflakes® and is the author of “Frozen, But Not Forgotten: An Adoptive Dad’s Step-by-Step Guide to Embryo Adoption” from Carpenter’s Son Publishing. To subscribe to his email newsletter, visit www.frozenbutnotforgotten.com.  

How to Manage and Complete Adoption Paperwork

 

When my wife and I meet new people, I love explaining what I do for work and the joy I get from helping guide families throughout their adoption process. I love sharing the adoption stories and testimonies of the families we work with, and how each have a personal and unique journey through adoption. For those looking to build their family through adoption, the process is indeed a journey; one that will be simultaneously life-giving and challenging. As with any journey, often times the hardest part is getting started.

 

I find this to be especially true with the families I work with as they begin to navigate the adoption paperwork stage of the process.  Adoption paperwork is a necessary and vital part of the adoption journey, but it can definitely feel overwhelming for families.  Even the most organized of couples tend to have a hard time keeping it all together! At Nightlight Christian Adoptions, we acknowledge the difficulty of this process, so we have compiled a few tips to help families manage, and ultimately complete, their adoption paperwork.

 

     1. Break Paperwork Down to Manageable Pieces

 

One of the biggest mistakes I see families make in the adoption paperwork phase is when they try to take on every form at once. This usually starts out with good intentions as the family is driven by their excitement to keep the ball rolling, but it is almost always met with them becoming overwhelmed. Instead, we recommend that families break their paperwork down into manageable pieces.

 

Breaking the paperwork down is a beneficial way to both organize forms and find peace of mind by putting your work into perspective. A helpful way to do this is to separate the paperwork into corresponding sections in a folder or binder. An example breakdown of this is as followed:

 

  • Agency Forms
  • Home Study Forms
  • Financial Forms
  • Dossier Forms
  • Education Forms, etc.

 

Another way to break down the paperwork requirements is to separate responsibilities between you and your spouse. You can designate who fills out each section of forms and come together on the forms that require both adoptive parents to complete. Regardless of one’s method, breaking down the paperwork into pieces helps families manage their work and prevents them from becoming overwhelmed with the process.

 

 

  1. Utilize Your Checklists

 

A helpful tool that every Nightlight office provides for families is a checklist for the supporting documents of each case stage.  Viewing the adoption paperwork broken down as a checklist allows a family to physically track their progress towards completing their required forms. We advise families to always keep these checklists handy, and to utilize their own created checklists if it helps them understand the process more tangibly. For families with children in the home, this is also a way to get them involved in the adoption process. One idea for families with little ones is to have a checklist of adoption paperwork on a whiteboard or poster board where they can help you place a sticker or draw a checkmark when and item is completed. This could be a fun way to have the whole family feel a part of the adoption process while giving you a visual of your progress.

 

  1. Make Copies of Everything You Complete

 

Often times I find that families become so focused on filling out and uploading/mailing their forms that they forget to make copies for their own records. This causes an issue later in the process when a document needs to be resent or referred to, only for the family to realize that they mailed or discarded their only copy. Several of the documents completed during the adoption paperwork phase will need to be referred to again in the process, and ensuring that your family has access to what you have already completed will save a lot of time and energy in the future.

 

Your family might choose to store everything online or through hard copies, but regardless of the method it is important to keep records of your paperwork throughout the entire adoption journey. For example, a family that is adopting internationally might think that they are finished with their paperwork once they have arrived back in the U.S. with their child. However, in reality they will need several of their documents in order to obtain the child’s social security number, U.S. Passport, and start the re-adoption process if applicable. So a good rule of thumb is to always back-up and keep record of every document you complete!

 

  1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

 

This tip might seem like a no-brainer, but you would be surprised how frequently I hear from families who are hesitant to ask for help from their agency caseworker or adoption advisor. At Nightlight we are always willing to help walk our families through the process: from start to finish! This includes the paperwork phase, as we recognize the amount of work that is required and the confusion that comes with the process. From application, to home study, to dossier, to post adoption; whatever questions you might have regarding paperwork during your adoption journey, your Nightlight adoption advisor or caseworker is willing to help you find a solution.

So although paperwork is not the most exciting part of your adoption journey, it is something that is vital to the process. Instead of becoming overwhelmed with the amount of forms and documents, utilize the tools at your disposal to organize and manage what needs to be completed. As always, Nightlight Christian Adoptions is here to see that your journey end with you welcoming your child into a loving home.

 

written by John Hewitt, M.Div.| Home Study Coordinator

Can Military Families Adopt?

 

 

On any given day in America, there are over 443,000 children in the Foster care system.   In 2017, 123,000 of these children were waiting to be adopted, 69,000 parents relinquished their rights and 59,400 children were adopted.1  I believe one of the most untapped resources available to make a difference in these statistics exist within our Armed Forces.  Members of the military have had to be flexible and open to change and are very committed, mission-oriented people.  As a retired Navy Chief and a former member of this unique community, service members collectively bring diversity in race, culture, ethnicity, and personality, and can be good candidates for foster and adoptive programs.

Military installations have built-in support networks for military families, including substantial health-care and housing benefits and “ready-made” communities. More benefits for adoptive families include adoption reimbursements, Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) for children (as well as adult family members) with particular medical and/or educational needs, and New Parent Support Programs on many installations.2

We have successfully placed many children with military families over the years.  The process is similar to their civilian counterparts with some exceptions if living abroad:

Home studies Abroad: Social worker travels to servicemember location incurring additional costs to service member to cover lodging, meals and travel expenses.

  1. Pre-adoption Education: 10 hours of Hague required training, including supportive materials
  2. Home study visits and education provided within your home, conducted over a 3-day period.
  3. Follow up support provided via SKYPE and email

 

  • Some of the challenges that service members may experience that differ from the civilian population are frequent moves (PCS) and Deployments. Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves normally last three years or longer and the entire family moves to a new location.  Deployments, on the other hand, are meant to be of a more temporary nature, generally lasting from months to years, and only the service member leaves.  This may cause delays in completing the home study, but working collaboratively with the service member, it can certainly be accomplished.
  • A deploying military family member will need to grant power of attorney to his or her spouse (or another family member, in the case of a single parent adoption), and more information about power of attorney is available on the Military OneSource website at Military One Source. The spouse or family member should also have a mailing address for the military member during deployment, as well as a method for reaching him or her in an emergency. It is a good idea for the military parent to keep his or her command informed about the adoption process to facilitate timely completion and delivery of essential documents.
  • Dual-military families and single soldiers that are adopting may also be eligible for a four-monthdeferment of deployment or change of assignment in order to complete an adoption or welcome an adoptive child into. As with the 21 days of leave, only one member of the dual military family can take advantage of this resource. And just like the leave and reimbursement benefits, an adoption deferment must be requested within the first twelve months of placement.3

If you are stationed in the United States, you are governed by the laws of that state.  For more information on the laws governing various states visit: State Laws.

If you are stationed overseas and adopting a child in the US, your adoption may be governed by the laws of your state of legal residence as well as the state where the child resides.  If you are adopting a child from another country, you will need to comply with the laws of your country of residence AND the child’s home country (if different), in addition to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) policies.  Your adoption advisor will assist you with navigating through this process.

Some of the more frequently asked questions asked by military families are answered at the Child Welfare Information Gateway site.  The following is an excerpt from their bulletin entitled “Military Families Considering Adoption”3

  1. Am I eligible for leave when I adopt a child?

Public Law 109-163, the Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, allows the Unit Commander to approve up to 21 days non-chargeable leave in a calendar year in connection with a qualifying adoption, in addition to other leave. If both parents are in the military, only one member shall be allowed leave under this new legislation. A qualifying adoption is one that is arranged by a licensed or approved private or State agency and/or court and/or other source authorized to place children for adoption under State or local law. Contact your Unit Commander’s office to determine current leave options and procedures.

The non-military parent, if relevant, may be eligible for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), through his/her civilian employer.

  1. What benefits are available to help defray the cost of adopting?

Most types of adoptions may qualify for reimbursement when the adoption was arranged by a licensed, private adoption agency, State agency, and/or court, and/or other source authorized to place children for adoption under State or local law. Military adoption cost reimbursement includes up to $2,000 per child (or up to $5,000 for adoption of more than one child in a year) for qualifying expenses and is available to military families whose adoptions were arranged by a qualified, licensed adoption agency.

Adoption reimbursement is paid after the adoption is complete for certain qualifying
expenses incurred by the adopting family including adoption and home study fees. The National Military Family Association (www.nmfa.org) has a fact sheet, DoD Adoption Reimbursement Program, with more information on qualifying agencies and allowable expenses.

  1. Can my adopted child get medical coverage through the military?

An adopted child, including a child placed in the home of a service member by a placement agency for purposes of adoption, is eligible for benefits after the child is enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Contact the I.D. Card Facility for more information or patient affairs personnel at a specific medical treatment facility.

Specific information on access and eligibility is available on the TRICARE Web site (www.tricare. osd.mil/deers/newborn.ctm) or by calling the DoD Worldwide TRICARE Information Center at (888) 363-2273.

Military benefits are available for all adopted children, not exclusively children with special needs.

  1. What other services are available for my child and family after adoption?

Child Development Programs are available at approximately 300 DoD locations, including 800 childcare centers and approximately 9,000 family childcare homes. The services may include full day, part-day, and hourly (drop-in) childcare; part-day preschool programs; before- and after- school programs for school-aged children; and extended hours care including nights and week- ends. Not all services are available at all installations.

The Exceptional Family Member Program, within the military, provides support for dependents with physical or mental disabilities or long term medical or health care needs. They will assist families who need to be stationed in areas that provide for specific medical, educational or other services that might not be available in remote locations.

Family Service Centers located on every major military installation can provide military families with information regarding adoption reimbursement and other familial benefits. Social workers may be available for family and/or child counseling. Different designations for Family Service Centers are as follows:

  • Army – Army Community Service
  • Air Force – Family Support Center
  • Navy – Fleet and Family Support Center
  • Marine Corp – Marine Corp Community Services
  • Coast Guard – Work/Life Office

Additional Resources for Military Families:

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway (www.childwelfare.gov)On this website, readers can find useful fact sheets such as Adoption – Where Do I Start?, Military Families and Adoption – A Fact Sheet, and Adoption Assistance for Children Adopted From Foster Care: A Factsheet for Families. Under the ‘Resources’ section, click on ‘Publications Search’ to find these and other topical resources easily and quickly.
  • National Military Family Association (NMFA) (www.nmfa.org)On this website, readers can find informative fact sheets such as Adoption Reimbursement Program Fact Sheet.
  • National and Regional Exchanges (www.AdoptUSKids.org; www.adoptex.org).
  • Military Spouse
  • Military One Source
  • U.S. Department of State, Intercountry Adoption

We honor our service members and look forward to partnering with you in your adoption journey!

written by CTMC Robbin Plows USNR, Ret and Nightlight Inquiry Specialist

 

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau.  Adoption Foster Care Analysis Reporting System (AFCARS), FY 2008-2017, Submissions as of 08/10/2018

2Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Working with military families as they pursue adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.

2Ibid

3Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2016). Military families considering adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau

 

Birth Mothers & Mother’s Day

 

 

Mother’s Day has recently passed and it has had me thinking of all the unique paths that lead to motherhood. Working in the adoption world has taught me so much about all the ways a woman can become a mother—whether that be through embryo adoption, domestic adoption, international adoption, or placing a child for adoption. While each path to motherhood is unique and has its own story, I want to focus on the story of the birth mother.

 

In my first couple years working at Nightlight, I worked strictly with expectant mothers who were deciding to place their baby for adoption.  After placing their baby, they became “birth mothers” and just as any mother, will keep that title for the rest of their lives. Adoption is all about the unconventional ways to parenthood and this includes birth parents as well. In the process of working with expectant mothers, a large conversation piece that we often had was their value and affirmation as this child’s mother at this moment. They would not be parenting this child, but they were making parenting decisions for this child based on the family they were choosing to parent them. They were choosing the life they wanted for their child and choosing it in love, and that was not taking away their motherhood, but instead, validating it. As much as I reinforced this idea to them throughout pregnancy, I’ve seen more birth mothers believe this truth most when the adoptive mother reaffirmed her of this when they hold the baby for the first time or when the final goodbye is being said. Those have been the most tear-filled moments of my job not because of immense pain or joy from either party, but because of the raw, beautiful experience that two mothers, both valid in their titles, share over the same child. It is then when humbleness and gratitude meet that all preconceived societal hierarchies of motherhood are broken down to share an immense love for a child.

 

While it is easy to recognize the parenting mother on Mother’s Day (and please do, they deserve it!) let us not forget the birthing mothers as well – the ones who carried children and made hard choices in the name of love for their babies because after all, that is what motherhood is all about.

 

So, if you are a birth mother reading this and no one has told you yet, Happy Mother’s Day to you too.

In the Classroom: Acknowledging Foster and Adopted Children

 

 

As parents of six children, all school aged at adoption, we realized almost immediately, that adoption would need to be addressed in the classroom. We have been very involved in our children’s education, so have dealt with a lot of teachers! For the most part, we have been blessed to have amazing, nurturing and involved teachers, who truly wanted the best for our children. However, even the best teacher, may not be aware of how to be sensitive to the issues our children may encounter with some of the material presented in the classroom.

This week, I received an email from the PTA President, who’d requested the 5th grade parents to send in their children’s baby photos for the school yearbook. It brought up such sadness for me, as I thought about the children in the 5th grade at our school and others throughout the country, that would receive this assignment or others that request information or photos from early childhood. None of my children have a single photo of them as a baby or toddler.  Our youngest son looks at the early photos I took of him when he was six and refers to them as when he ‘was a baby.’ I sent a request to the PTA President to consider eliminating baby pictures from the yearbook as it highlights those children from foster care or international adoption who are unlikely to have those special photos. I was ignored, so I had to call in to the school principal.

There are a few school assignments through the years that are used to talk about genetics, family trees or a lifeline. I remember the second grade assignment to make a lifeline of major events for each year of the child’s life. I called the teacher and reminded her that my child and another child in the class that was in the foster care system, might not feel comfortable having their lives up on the wall for open house and all to see! The teacher began to cry and was very apologetic, offering to immediately cancel the assignment.

One of my daughters did the genetics assignment in school, ignoring the fact she was adopted, and identified her brown eyes coming from me and her blonde hair coming from her dad’s side of the family! I thought it was interesting that she did not want to make her story part of the assignment. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed by her adoption, or wanted to pretend her early years with her biological family did not exist. It was just that her adoption and anything related to it, even the color of her eyes, is her business, and she chose not to share her personal story in a school assignment with her peers in the classroom.

It is important that as parents, we encourage our children to feel comfortable sharing the parts of their story that they choose to share. School assignments need to include all of the students and include them in a safe, positive manner. At the beginning of each school year, I go to the school prior to the first day, introduce myself to my child’s teacher and share that my child was adopted and had some difficult years. I suggest that my child’s story is his or her own, and that we encourage sharing only if the child chooses.  Assignments need to be sensitive to that child’s history or lack of photos, etc. recognizing that for a child from Foster Care or Adoption, their story will be far different than other children in the classroom and may not be appropriate for sharing. I also provide a wonderful article from the U.S. Department of Education, “What Teachers Should Know About Adoption.” http://qic-ag.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/QICAG-Education-Brochure-v041-final.pdf I’d encourage all parents to help pave the way for their child, by following these steps, meeting with the teacher prior to the school year, giving a bit of general history, strengths and challenges of your child, along with this article. It can only help your child to feel more comfortable in the classroom and hopefully avoid some of these challenges.

Autism Advocacy: Fight the Good Fight for Them!

 

In March 2017 my husband, daughter and I welcomed our son/brother into our family through international adoption. Anthony and I were beyond grateful for Nightlight Christian Adoptions, our home study agency and our adoption agency, MLJ Adoptions International Inc. requiring so much education prior to traveling that gave us the tools to begin the attachment process and to help Jonathan journey down the path of healing and connection. As we settled in at home, we knew to best help Jonathan we needed further education and took a TBRI Caregiver course that gave us invaluable information and went in depth on explaining trauma and how it affects connection. We did several in home sessions with Amie Cooper, the Flourishing Families TBRI Practitioner, which took all that we had learned and really tailored it to Jonathan and our family. We saw improvements with each session.

After a year of sifting through behaviors and recognizing some that were outside of the trauma realms, we decided to have Jonathan evaluated by a psychologist. His behaviors did in fact fall on the autism spectrum. For us nothing changed by having this diagnosis but for Jonathan this meant that the world would have a better understanding on how to help him. Doors opened for Jonathan for therapies that he so desperately needed. The public school system was able to meet Jonathan where he was and give him assistance he needed.

God has truly put a dream team together that supports him in every aspect, they genuinely care for him as a whole person and us. Now don’t get me wrong, it did take some time to find the right people but you are your child’s greatest advocate in every area! Fight the good fight for them. The best advice I could give a parent would be, don’t settle and trust your instincts because this can be portrayed as an invisible disability.

Because Jonathan sees the world differently, he has taught me to slow down, to look at the details. And I have learned more about dinosaurs and the human body than I ever knew! He really likes dinosaurs and learning how things work. When I look in his eyes, I see a child that is smart, brave and strong. I am so proud of Jonathan and all that he has accomplished. With his schedule full of therapies, he works harder than most kids his age. The first time I saw him draw a flower it brought tears to my eyes, to me it wasn’t just a flower, I saw all the hours his resource teacher, OT and so many more has poured onto him helping him. How do you say thank you to those people? The people that are helping our son manage his world around him, to learn skills that for most take for granted.

We truly believe being able to have the strong foundation established at the beginning through TBRI practices along with the help of Flourishing Families, we were able to enter into the second year advocating for Jonathan successfully as we continued to connect and grow as a family. Jonathan has already touched so many people in his life I know God has big plans for him and am humbled to be able to be his mom and to see God work in his life.

If you are a foster or adoptive family in the State of South Carolina, be sure to check out Flourishing Families and the services they provide at https://www.flourishingfamiliessc.org/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

~Anthony and Jennifer G.

Always Hope

 

In our years of waiting to build our family, we would often lose hope that it would ever happen. We would question if the word hope even existed. And when we started seeing others build their family, we would often feel defeated and hopeless in our journey.

While we were waiting, I went on a missions trip with our church. At the end of each day, we were asked where we saw God working in our daily task. We knew the question was coming so we began to look for God working throughout the day. Our answers varied—sometimes we saw God working in a conversation with a person, sometimes it was through a kind act, or sometimes it was God creating something sacred in us individually. It became the start of something new for me–to look for God in the daily. He’s already there….but when you look for God..you see God clearer and you don’t miss a moment. You have a perspective change.

I began to write down where I saw God in the daily moments and interactions. He was in the little notes left by my husband, He was in the conversations I had with friends, and He was often found in my workplace…a homeless shelter. He was reaching me in ways I never noticed before. He was in moving in my daily and creating beauty all around me….and I finally began to see it.

As I began to see Him more clearly, I quickly saw where He was leading me. He was leading me back to hope. Step by step..….He knitted our story together. He knew our future child and her birthparents…..He already knew how our story would unfold. Seeing God and being thankful in God for what he has done, grew my confidence of what he’ll continue to do, both in the daily and in the bigger moments. This ultimately rekindled my hope. We seek Him. We thank Him. We build our hope in Him.

You have to create your own hope…and hope for me came from creating a thanksgiving spirit. When you become thankful…you become hopeful. Always. And being hopeful will completely change your perspective of the adoption process. We have to protect our view of the process, because adoption is the most beautiful adventure this mama has ever experienced. Always Hope.

What is Secondary Infertility?

 

 

Last Wednesday, social media was flooded with photos of siblings—it was National Siblings Day! Some of you may frequently remember your brothers and sisters with fondness and great memories. Others may be reflecting on the colossal efforts you have made to have civil relationships with each other.

Siblings Day is a day of celebration, but it is also a day to acknowledge that not everyone has an easy time getting to a baby, let alone a sibling for their child!

Infertility does not exclusively occur with couples who are trying to start a family for the first time. Some are still facing infertility, even after they have brought a child into their home. They may desperately wish to give their child a sibling but it ends up being more difficult than they realized. This is called secondary infertility. According to the Mayo Clinic, secondary infertility is the inability to successfully achieve pregnancy or carry a baby to term after previously having a child.

Secondary infertility can come as a shock to many couples. And there are several emotions that come with the diagnoses: grief, guilt, shame, and even depression. However, through embryo adoption, a couple can still have hope to successfully expand their family.

Celebrating National Siblings Day does not look the same for every family. Siblings are more than just blood and DNA. There is no right way to grow your family—just look through some social media posts to see the countless unique ways families’ across the country celebrate their siblings. If you want more information on growing your family in a unique way, visit Snowflakes.org to learn more.