The benefits of adoption training

Even long-time parents need new skills to effectively parent adopted children

By Wendy Kittlitz

Many a parent has sighed and said, “I wish kids came with a training manual!”

All parents, from time to time, wish we knew more about how to parent a child. When we give birth, most of us start from square one, ready or not! We figure it out on the job, we ask friends and family, we read books or magazines and we learn as we go. No one requires us to learn anything to qualify as a parent. 

To qualify to adopt, however, the government requires us to take training. While some people welcome this opportunity, others see this as an intrusion or a suggestion that they are less adequate than those who parent biologically. Many who adopt are, in fact, experienced biological parents. Why do they need training? Why does anyone? 

Why adoptive parents need training

  1. Parenting adopted children is different from parenting biological children. 
  2. Parenting adopted children requires awareness of a variety of issues that biological parents usually do not face.
  3. Parenting adopted children will challenge you in ways you need to anticipate and prepare for.
  4. You need to be fully aware of what to expect in order to make a well-informed decision about whether parenting adopted children is right for you and your family.
  5. Someone else will be held accountable for placing a child in your care; if you are not prepared, the placement worker may not feel that placing a child with you is in the child’s best interest. 

What does training involve? 

  1. Time: Be prepared to invest time in this activity. Training will vary depending on the type of adoption you are doing and the agency providing the training, but a minimum number of hours is required in each provincial jurisdiction. We strongly advise you to exceed the requirements in terms of the time you invest in training. 
  2. Topics covered: Some of the topics you can expect to cover will include:
  • The basics of child growth and development, especially concerning attachment.
  • How to help adopted children with issues of grief and loss.
  • The significance of the birth family in the life of your child, regardless of whether the birth family is physically “present” or not. 
  • How to support adopted kids through issues such as early deprivation, neglect, abuse and temporary or long-term delays in emotional, physical and mental health.
  • The importance and necessity of preserving history and culture for adopted children.
  • Changes the adoptive family will undergo as a result of adopting a child.
  • How to effectively discipline an adopted child.

Some specific advice about training

  1. Expect to feel overwhelmed at first. A lot of information will come at you quickly. Some of it will be exciting and challenging; some of it may feel frightening. Take time to digest the information and then come back with questions and concerns (or discuss these with your social worker). 
  2. Plan to parent effectively. Once you have completed your formal training and been matched with a specific child, do your homework to be as well prepared as you can be to meet the needs of that specific child before, during and after placement. It isn’t just about meeting the standard or getting the piece of paper that says you took the training. It’s also about applying what you are learning to your family. 

    I have heard so many adoptive parents say, “I wish I had known this before I adopted.” Often, as a trainer, I know they were told about these issues, but they did not “get” what was being said. Training can vary greatly in its effectiveness and impact depending on who teaches it and how it is conducted (weekly meetings, all-day workshops, online reading or courses, meeting other families). The effort you put into your training will directly impact how much you get out of it.
  3. Don’t assume that worst-case scenarios won’t happen to you. Many people don’t really take in warnings about difficult issues because they believe that their experience will be different. If you are proactive about essentials like promoting attachment from early on in your relationship with your child, it is more likely that things will go well. 
  4. Consider adoption training as a long-term project. Much of the training you receive may not seem relevant at the time or in your particular situation. However, many families find that once a child is home, or when a new developmental stage kicks up something significant, they realize that there’s more they need to learn. Keep reading, networking and searching for resources. 

    Our counselling staff are trained to understand these issues and will be glad to speak with you if the need arises. Call 1.800.661.9800 and ask for our counselling assistant. 
  5. People sometimes report being “scared off” by training. Trainers don’t intend to scare you away; they just want you to have sufficient knowledge to accurately assess your options. A child with severe issues needs a family with special capacity to care for that child. It’s okay if that’s not you. 
  6. Ask God to show you what you most need to hear and learn. As believers, be diligent to excel at this task so that you can be the best parents possible for your children – parents who embrace wisdom and truth, whatever the source. Be wise, be discerning, be humble, be teachable . . . this is pleasing to God. You don’t have to agree with everything that you hear. As in all things, test what you are told against the Word of God and consult with Christians who are experts in the field.

Wendy Kittlitz is vice-president of counselling and care ministries for Focus on the Family Canada. She has worked as an adoption professional for 15 years and is also an adoptive mom.