Early intervention for adoptive families
“I was going through a very difficult time at the beginning of my adoption,” says adoptive mother Carrie Crowley. “I was breaking down and was desperate for support. I was isolated and emotionally exhausted.”
Crowley’s feelings are far from unique. Children joining their adoptive families from the foster care system have typically experienced inconsistent care, neglect, abuse, and/or multiple disruptions in their environment and relationships. The effects of these chaotic experiences are sometimes seen in behavior and in their relationships with others, especially caregivers. The adoptive parents also bring their history, experiences, and expectations to this new relationship. The inherent challenges to building a new parent-child relationship should be acknowledged and addressed as early as possible when a new family is formed.
PASS, or Parent Adoption Support Services, is an early intervention service designed to give adoptive families the best possible start. PASS utilizes a parent-coaching model that identifies the parent-child relationship as the central, most significant dimension in the family’s life. Parents are coached in attachment strategies, trauma-informed care, and the basic principles of child-centred play.
Practical help and support
“The program provided a supportive outlet for our concerns, needs, and areas where we need further help and advice,” says adoptive mother Rebecca Ozbadem. “The strategies and advice we received could be used immediately, and we always felt that the PASS facilitator had our and our children’s best interests at heart.”
The Ozbadem family adopted a teenager and a younger child, and both participated in the program. “Our 15-year-old liked how the PASS facilitator asked for his opinion and help,” says Rebecca. “For example, he was asked to play with toys or read books to see if it would be a useful item for other children who have been adopted. Getting him involved this way seemed to give him a sense of empowerment. For our youngest child, she really enjoyed child-centered play time. It was a valuable opportunity for us as parents to follow her lead and make room for her to express herself. We would recommend this program to other families, and hope it remains an option for all adoptive families.”
Paula Hogan, who adopted twin toddler girls, agrees. “From the very first few sessions it was noticeable that both children were calmer, more focused, and better able to communicate what was important to them. It was incredible to see each child’s unique personality shine through and a stronger attachment [to us] form.”
“PASS has given us knowledge that has helped us to be more effective parents,” says Ozbadem. ”The learning that we gained has given us perspective and benefited our family in many ways, such as understanding development, stress and trauma, the impact of early life experiences, and how to support our children through behaviours.”
“Knowing what was critical in their lives helped us understand specific behaviours,” adds Hogan. “One child had a hard time leaving the house, but having her own set of keys to hold as she left our home was all she needed to feel secure.”
Building relationships that heal
“We believe that the greatest potential for healing lies within the parent-child relationship,” says Janis Fry, Program Manager at AFABC. “In fact, it may be detrimental to expect a newly adopted child to build a relationship with an external therapist.”
Hogan agrees. “Very few parents allow themselves the opportunity of shutting out everything else and focusing solely on the child in front of them. What we think our children enjoyed most was feeling like they were the most important person in the world.”
Another unique feature of PASS is that it is delivered in the family’s home. “We found that new adoptive parents are typically so overwhelmed and exhausted that leaving the home to access services is just one more stressor for them,” says Fry. “So we go to them; by doing so we see the family interacting in real situations, not just on their best behaviour in a therapist’s office.”
“The support given by my PASS worker has gotten me through the really rough periods,” says Crowley. “I believe that all adoptive families should have this program in place prior to the child coming home.”
PASS is currently available in the Lower Mainland, Victoria, Nanaimo, Kelowna, Nelson, and Kamloops with plans to expand to other communities. Families may self-refer, but usually an MCFD social worker will facilitate this. Post-adoption assistance coverage may be available to eligible families. Learn more about PASS.