By Annie Berlin


Regardless of their age, many adopted children join their families with a history only they know, and in many cases, cannot even begin to tell. To the parents, unraveling that history is the key to understanding the child and helping them heal. That’s why Kinship Center, part of the Seneca Family of Agencies, developed a psychoeducational series specifically for parents and caregivers whose children have experienced trauma and loss. The series, “Pathways to Permanence 2,” is a specialized training program designed to help parents, caregivers or any other adult who is actively parenting children who were not born to them. It is relevant not only to adoptive and foster parents, but to kinship caregivers and guardians as well. Ideally, not only would the parents or caregivers be trained in the program’s concepts and techniques, but also the families’ extended sup-port systems and all the professionals who guide the family as well.


Take, for example, Debra Montanez. She wasn’t prepared to be a parent again, but as her children struggled with mental illness and drug addiction, Montanez had to step up to parent her five grandchildren. Not having parented for a while it was a challenge for her to even know how to communicate with the children. With the added trauma the children had experienced, there were extra challenges. Montanez’s grandkids did not come to her from happy, healthy home environments. They were neglected, rejected and had already been dealing with their parents’ mental illness, addiction and incarceration. Not having seen how they grew up, Montanez and her husband didn’t understand what the children had been through or the impact it had on them. Pathways 2 helped with that as well.


“I didn’t know what had happened when they were not in my home and with their parents who had caused all these different issues,” she said. “But every child I have has a different issue. These kids have had everything they know and love taken away from them. Regardless of what they’ve gone through, in their eyes losing their parents is like a death. They don’t even get phone calls most of the time to find out if they’re OK, and they want to know why. And I have to tell them, and that’s the hard part.”


But Pathways 2 isn’t just about the kids. The program also makes sure the parents under-stand how to sustain their own well-being. Starting out, having to have the grandkids at home, I felt resentment — not toward my grandkids — but toward my own that they weren’t able to take care of their own kids,” Montanez said. “I had lost the chance to be a grandparent, and we were now back in the mom and dad role. So I had harsh feelings toward my children. And they showed me ways of being compassionate.”


Families only work when they can come together to provide for everyone’s needs. That comes from creating a stable, healing environment and from the idea that a family is forever, and for everyone. “I came to the program thinking they were going to give me the answers, but what they gave me was much more valuable,” Montanez said. “They showed me that this was not a job I was taking on. This is my family and that turned me around.”


Kinship Center’s Pathways 2 training was created in response to a previously unfulfilled need. Often, issues that face adoptive and guardian families are not addressed or treated adequately by the social work and therapeutic community at large, according to Carol Bishop, executive director and state-wide adoption policy director with Kinship Center. Once the legal aspects of the child’s care are established, the family is often left on their own, without the community or other resources needed to help heal the child in their midst. The resulting stress often negatively impacts marriages and other children in the family.


Anecdotally, newly adoptive parents and caregivers tell a story that is altogether too familiar. The first weeks or months are filled with the excitement of a new family and get-ting to know one another. Then, when the novelty wears off, and it most surely does wear off for everyone, in its place are the behaviors indicative of the trauma the child sustained prior to being placed in the new home.


The adults are often left bewildered. They know something’s wrong, but they don’t know what to do about it. Left untreated, feelings and behaviors spawned by the child’s prior experiences of abuse and/or other types of trauma play out in every stage of the child’s development, each one becoming more difficult, challenging, painful and ultimately, contributing to a family system that may be unsustainable. “Without help from a trauma-informed, adoption-competent professional, parents may be at a loss when it comes to helping their child, and overwhelmed to the point of giving up,” says Bishop. “Divorce, placement of the child out of the home, or even disruption of the placement can sadly be the end result.”

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