How to … support adopted and fostered children

Kathryn Chedgzoy – mum of three adopted children

It doesn’t take much experience in working with children to realise that a child’s background, home life and previous circumstances plays a fundamental part in how well, or not, a child is able to learn, adapt to situations and interact with others.

Every child will respond to a given situation differently, which can be one of the wonderful but also most frustrating, puzzling and challenging parts of working with children.

So what are some of the things that are worth thinking about if you have a child in your group or Sunday school class who has had some experience in the care system, either as a foster child or is adopted?

I have already said that every child is different, so the first thing to remember is that there is no one thing that you should or shouldn’t do, or a magic formula that can be applied.

However the few thoughts below may help you in thinking a little further about the specific situation you are working with.

  1. Time in care, even for a very short amount of time, will have a lasting impact on the child, whether it is obvious or not.
  2. Children need to be loved even if they do not know it or show it, or in fact act as if the opposite is true.
  3. Bear in mind that certain situations, stories or incidents will have a specific meaning to the child that you may not be able to predict; so be aware.
  4. Whether a child is in care, or has been in the past, the child’s story is theirs to tell and not anyone else’s, and we need to respect and respond to their need for privacy or appropriate disclosure.
  5. If in doubt about how to handle a situation, subject matter or general behaviour, seek advice from the parent or carer – they are best placed to be able to advise.
  6. If you are presented with challenging behaviour, try to discover the underlying need behind that behaviour and engage in active listening.
  7. Focus on praising good behaviour rather than disciplining poor behaviour.
  8. Where possible, enjoy the child and delight in them and their development.
  9. Adopted children can sometimes be emotionally, socially or educationally developmentally delayed and so you may need to adjust your expectations.
  10. The teenage years are difficult for anyone with all those hormones flooding the body, but for adopted children it can be especially challenging as they begin to deal with many conflicting emotions and try to grapple with the fundamentals of their identity.

Having said all that, don’t assume that just because a child is adopted they will be any different from the other children in your group.

For adopted children who have had a positive experience of adoption, the message of the gospel – of a heavenly loving, always giving Father who has chosen us to be adopted into his family – can hold a very special and deep meaning.

Above all, when we feel out of our depth and at the end of our understanding, we must remember that we have an all-knowing and gracious God who gives us everything we need and who has the power to heal all wounds, even the most hidden and deep-rooted ones.