Family Structure (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Adoptive Parents

Adoption is another subgroup of parenting with so many variables that it is tempting to say it can only be understood on a family-by-family basis. Given that about 120,000 adoptions occur annually in the United States and about 1 million children live with adoptive parents, there are endless differences (NAIC, 2002). Infants may be adopted at birth from parents who relinquish their rights immediately, they may be adopted by family members, or they may be removed from their birth parents because of abuse or neglect and spend years in foster care without a permanent home. They may have been exposed to drugs or alcohol in utero. Obviously, the circumstances leading up to the adoption will have considerable effect on the child’s outcomes. For infants and toddlers, the developmental work of developing relationships and establishing trust are highly dependent on consistent, responsive caregiving. Achieving a balance between a secure attachment to a caregiver and a healthy ability to move out into the world to explore can be challenging for any baby. Infants and toddlers who have experienced many disruptions in early relationships may have particular difficulties in establishing trust and in feeling safe enough to explore the world (NAIC, 2002).

Implications for teachers

Teachers may also need to support adoptive parents as they struggle with particular issues. In an earlier section of this chapter, we described some of the issues men and women struggle with as they become parents. While the process of adoption is very time-consuming, many adoptive parents have only a few days between being notified that their child is available and actually receiving the child. In contrast to a 9-month pregnancy, this can leave very little time for emotional preparation. In order to protect themselves from disappointment, the adoptive parents may not dream and fantasize about parenting as much as the pregnant couple. They may be afraid at first to become too attached to the baby. They may worry whether they will love the baby or whether the baby can love them, given the lack of genetic connection. Adopting families may be acting in opposition to their own families’ cultural beliefs and values concerning adoption (Frank & Rowe, 1990). They may also need help in determining whether issues that arise are typical behavioral issues for infants and toddlers or whether they are related to the adoption.

Foster Parents

When children are abused or neglected, they enter the child welfare system and, often, are placed in foster homes. More than 30% of all children in foster care are under 5 years of age. Infants comprise the largest cohort of the young child foster care population, accounting for one in five admissions, and they remain in care twice as long as older children (Dicker, Gordon, & Knitzer, 2001). These children are possibly the most vulnerable in our country. In order to be placed in foster care in the first months or years of life, they have already experienced deficient or dangerous parenting. They may not have received prenatal care, and they may have been poorly nourished and substance exposed in utero. Nearly 80% of these children are at risk for medical and developmental problems due to prenatal exposure. They may have witnessed or been victims of physical or sexual violence. More than 40% of foster children are premature and/or of low birth weight. More than half have serious health problems and more than half have developmental delays—4 to 5 times the rate of children in the general population. With all of these problems, children in foster care are also unlikely to receive basic health care such as immunizations, and are highly unlikely to receive early intervention or mental health services due to fragmented systems and record keeping (Dicker et al., 2001).

Implications for teachers

Participation in high-quality early childhood programs is included as one of five strategies to promote the healthy development of young children in foster care proposed by the National Council on Poverty. High-quality early childhood programs provide stimulating, engaging, and nurturing environments that can be inherently supportive of development. Early childhood teachers can also provide information, strategies, ideas, and emotional support to foster parents. In recognition of the important role early childhood programs can play in the foster care system, Early Head Start and the Children’s Bureau launched a collaborative effort in 2002. Twenty-four Early Head Start programs received grants to enhance and expand services for children and their families who are part of the child welfare system, as well as to provide more intensive services throughout communities. This initiative emphasizes both the important role that quality programs can play in children’s development and the need for early childhood programs to develop the specific skills and knowledge necessary to serve these children effectively. Another acknowledgment of the benefits of high-quality child care programs comes from the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services (IDCFS). IDCFS has implemented an extensive system of developmental screening and services for children in foster care. As one of its available services, the IDCFS has appropriated $2 million of child care funds to cover the costs of private early childhood programs for children in foster care.

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