Our recent Facebook poll showed up to 95% of adoptive parents are not sufficiently trained on developmental trauma and the related diagnoses including Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
While adoptive parents don’t understand the scope and magnitude of developmental trauma, they do do expect children coming out of foster care to have some issues. Among the adoptive and fostering communities, these are considered “normal for foster kids”:
- Food issues
- Potty Issues
- Attention deficits
- Difficulty accepting affection
- Difficulty attaching
- Sleep disturbances
- Separation anxiety
- Poor hygiene
- Physical aggression
These issues are indeed common among foster kids, but normalizing them is a problem.
Because parents are told these behaviors are normal, and will diminish once the kids are safe in their “forever home,” they don’t raise the alarm bells they should. We often lose sight of the fact these behaviors are usually symptoms of neglect or abuse.
All children adopted out of foster care or international orphanges have, by definition, experienced one or more adverse childhood experience (ACES). ACES are traumas including being separated from a caregiver, physical abuse, neglect, and more. Unfortunately, most adopted children have more than one ACE which can cause developmental trauma when experienced by a child before the age of 5. During those formative years, their brains are rapidly developing and so particularly vulnerable.
According to one study documented in The British Journal of Psychiatry, nearly 50% of children from deprived backgrounds (and from foster care) may meet the diagnostic criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
YET only 5% of adoptive parents are trained to recognize the signs of developmental trauma and get help for their child.
This is a staggering lack of pre-adoptive training considering the high likelihood (as high as 50%) their child will have developmental trauma.
Here’s what parents are saying about the lack of pre-adoption training
In foster parenting training we were told about RAD but that it was so rate that it was not worth much discussions as we would likely never see it in our home.”Micci
We knew RAD was a likely thing when we started fostering, not because our agency bothered to tell us, but based on our own research.Adrienne
We knew and were trained and immediately sought help through a therapist we were already using. It didn’t change a thing though. She still tried to have me killed this past November. All the resources, professionals, etc didn’t make it any better.Christina
I recognized something was wrong on day 2. It took me 10 months of researching to find what it was.Julia
Yes I knew, but NO I was completely unprepared for the extent to which the challenges would be.Laura
We adopted 15 years ago and were told nothing and knew nothing about RAD. I should add that I am a medical professional and was never taught anything about this.Nancy
We were not taught about it. In fact we were not even told he had been diagnosed with it. Of course we were told that he had had Leukemia and would need follow ups.Beth
Love alone is not enough
While few pre-adoptive parents are trained on developmental trauma and RAD, they are consistently told “these kids only need the “love of a forever family” to heal and thrive.” While it’s true they need love in a forever family, love alone is not enough.
Just as love cannot heal a broken arm, strep throat, or leukemia – love alone cannot heal developmental trauma. Developmental trauma is a brain injury that requires highly specialized treatment.
Without adequate training, parents are unprepared to recognize the symptoms and get the early intervention these children so desperately need. Sadly, far too many families are already in crisis before they get professional help. In some cases the children end up institutionalized or incarcerated. Other families are forced to trade custody for mental health care. Some adoptions fall apart.
These are preventable tragedies, in many cases, if only pre-adoptive parents were trained and prepared.
What parents need in pre-adoptive training
For adoptive children to thrive, our pre-adoptive training (often called MAPP classes) must be reformed. The information needn’t be told in a way that scares away prospective adoptive families. But it does need to be comprehensive and allow each family to honestly evaluate their ability to care for a child from hard places. It also needs to equip parents to recognize when they need professional help and to know how to get it.
Prospective adoptive parents ned to walk away from training with:
- A comprehensive understanding of developmental trauma – the science of trauma, the risk factors, and potential impacts to the child.
- A familiarity with the hallmark symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
- Practical training on the how-to of therapeutic parenting.
- A full understanding of the warning signs that a child needs professional help.
- Guidance for how and where to find help.
Parents must understand that they are not able to heal developmental trauma on their own. Let’s give them the information, community supports, and mental health resources they need to successfully help their child heal and thrive.
If you’re an adoptive parent who wasn’t provided with training on this important topic, here are some resources to check out. More resources are listed on our Resources for Parents page.
(Let them know @RaisingDevon sent you!)
I live in Charlotte, NC with my family and am working on a memoir about raising my adopted son, Devon.