Hi! We're the Thompson family. We had four kids of our own, and in 1996, we decided we had the energy for one or two
more, so we became foster parents, and ended up adopting another eight!
We had a great experience both fostering and
adopting, but it wasn't always smooth sailing, and we'd like to share some of our experiences in the hope of making other
paths a little easier. And perhaps encouraging some more families to adopt someone.
|There are a bunch of us
|including spouses and grandchildren.
|and a more recent one.
How we got started...
We'd rented a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the mid-90's, and we were socializing with the cabin-owner. He was
an older guy, in his mid-50's, and he pulled out his wallet, and showed us a picture of his youngest daughter. She was about
two or three, and he explained that she was adopted. A light came on for both of us at the same time, and we both made up
our minds that one day we'd like to do that too.
We had four kids biologically, we were always conscious that if anything had happened to us, the parents, these
kids would not have been good candidates for adoption, because they had "Issues". One had petit mal siezures, two had
ADHD, and one had pneumonia seven or eight times before before teenage years. One of them had really bad asthma, to the point
of needing hospitalization a couple of times. And there were four of them. No one wants to adopt a family of four,
especially one that is not *perfect*. On paper, they looked bad, and no one would have wanted them.
No potential adopter would have been able to know that, despite their "Issues", they all had fabulous potential. All
are musical. One is an exceptional athlete. All are creative. All of them work really hard. All are really smart, and have
grown up to be successful. One's an accountant. One has his own mortgage broking business. One is a top-100 real estate agent,
and one is trying to make a movie, and yet, as young people, they had difficulties.
A few years later, our circumstances changed over the course of a few months.... our youngest biological was sixteen,
the oldest two had moved out to their own places, and we'd just sold one business, and our musical business had struck
a pretty big crow (that's Australian for "hit a snag") and we thought "It's time for a change."
It was a Sunday, and we turned on the TV that night, and there was an advertisement for Cobb County Department of Family
And Children Services, looking for foster/adoptive families. We thought that was probably a pretty fair sign from God, so
the next morning, we called DFACS. We learned that in order to be a foster/ adoptive parent, you had to have gone through
a thirteen week MAPP (foster training) course, and the next one was due to start that Tuesday. We thought that was another
pretty fair sign from God, so we signed up. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, it would be except that we're still waiting
to see if we get any more, so it's not quite history yet.
Fostering and adopting kids is a bunch of work, no doubt, but it's also enormously rewarding and satisfying. We loved
doing it, and would still be foster parents, except that Georgia automatically shuts you off after six adoptions. If you're at
all thinking about doing it, and you think it's something that God might want you to do, please give it a try.
Anyway, here are the Top Ten things you need to know to be a successful adoptive family (and that no one other than us
will tell you)...
Rule #1 - Be a foster parent first.
This is the single most important thing to do. If you don't follow any of the other rules, do this one. We didn't intend
to be foster parents, but being so made all the difference. Even if you only want to adopt, do the foster training... you'll
never regret it.
I remember being mildly resentful that I had to do parental training. After all, we had raised four children already,
and they were great. Surely we didn't need parenting classes. Did we?
Without giving away any of the MAPP course, I distinctly remember sitting in the first class, leaning back in my chair,
with my arms folded, and being politely bored. Then they dropped their first bombshell, and my mouth went open, and I leaned
forward and gladly paid attention for the rest of the course.
Each year, to retain your status as an approved foster parent, you have to do fifteen or so hours of approved training,
and every bit of it is worthwhile. As you'll read later, one of my children would almost certainly have died had I not just
finished an Infant CPR course as part of my fifteen hours when the incident occured.
I have to also say that, initially, we had no intention of fostering. We only wanted to adopt. We thought that our hearts
would be broken if we ever had to return a foster child. About half-way through the MAPP training, after listening to the
testimony of one of the parents, who'd fostered over 150 kids, we realized that the need of the children outweighed the potential
of us getting our little feelings hurt, and we decided we could foster a bit.
As well as adopting our eight, we ended up fostering about another forty kids. Most went back to birth familes,
or moved to other foster or adoptive situations. We never did get our feelings hurt, because other than the very first
kids you get (where there is so much pent up emotion that you think you're instantly in love until the Honeymoon Period is
over), you soon realize that it's like thinking you can fall in love with a random stranger walking down the street. You don't
do that, but you find you're able to parent a child, even if they're not going to be permanent.
Not only did we not get our feelings hurt, but we loved every minute of it, and would still be doing it, except that
Georgia law requires a foster home to be closed after six adoptions (other than extra siblings that come along afterwards
... they try to keep siblings together).
Rule #2 - Adopt kids younger than your biological kids.
If possible, that is. This is not a hard and fast rule, and there are plenty of exceptions to this one, but our experience
is that foster/ adoptive kids younger than your own work best, because they're more likely to fit into your family, rather
than influence your family to change for them. Your existing kids naturally help set the expectations for the new ones. DFACS
can't and won't tell you this, but pecking order is really important.
Rule #3 - Don't be scared of families or multiples.
Lots of times, we've seen whole families come into care, and there's nothing much wrong with them, except there're more
than one, and people get scared of that. The downside is that it's more complicated, but the upside is that there is already
accepted structure in place, and it tends to work better if siblings are kept together, because there is already bonding.
If they can bond to each other, they can bond to you.
Multiples (twins, triplets, etc) scare people witless. No one wants them because they're so much work, and, make no mistake, they
are work, but multiples are great fun. We had three sets of twins, and it's not double the trouble... it's double the love,
and double the reward. If you can get mulitples, grab them with both hands.
Rule #4 - Be prepared to accept emergency placements.
This is another example of DFACS can't/ won't tell you, but emergency placements are immensely rewarding. None of ours
actually stayed permanently, because birth family or other adoptive families were found to take them, but every one of
them taught us something and that was reward enough. Many times the phone would ring in the middle of the night, and thirty
minutes later, there'd be a Child Protective Services worker at the door with a baby, or sleepy little child. In the intervening
thirty minutes, we'd have set up a bed or a crib, and gone through the clothes in the attic to prepare for the arrival. Our
children grew accustomed to waking up in the morning to find mommy and daddy saying "We have a new child today." We loved
that aspect of fostering, and still miss it.
Rule #5 - Be really, really careful about overseas adoptions.
It sucks to say it, because all kids deserve a shot at life, and there are lots of them overseas who need help,
but it is so .... you have to be really careful.
When you foster/ adopt a local kid, you get to know them for a period before you are even allowed to begin to make a
commitment, and still, then, there is a process that takes some time, and has many checks and balances along the way.
When you take a kid from overseas, you have no trial period. It's full-on from the beginning.
Here's the real issue... none of these kids are perfect. They all come with baggage. Sometimes it's minor, like
medical issues that can easily be treated, but sometimes it's severe damage like Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is probably
impossible to spot up front.
Now, there are lots of overseas adoptions that are absolute success stories, but unfortunately there are plenty
that don't work, and turn into disasters, because once you adopt someone, it's permanent, and they are your responsibility.
No one wants to talk about the ones that don't work.
If you still want to go ahead with an OA, the younger the child is, the better, and please join your local Foster/
Adoptive Parents Association. You will receive support and training that will prove invaluable.
The last point to mention about OAs is that they are generally expensive, whereas if you go through your local DFACS,
it will be about free, and in fact, you'll probably receive a small allowance each day to help with expenses. And maybe Medicaid
A better way to help kids overseas is to see if you can help provide jobs and education in that country.
Rule #6 - You can get babies locally.
A lot of would-be adopters go to DFACS, and say we only want to adopt a baby, and DFACS says "The waiting list is three
years." And that's generally true, but while DFACS cannot and will not say this, you can get babies locally.
What you have to do is be a foster parent who will accept a baby. Amazingly, lots of foster parents don't want
babies, because they're more trouble than a slightly older kid, or perhaps because both parents need to work, and they can't
look after an infant.
Here's what happens... if a baby comes into foster care, DFACS first tries really hard to get the baby back with the
birth family, either the mother or other blood relatives, but if that's not a workable solution for whatever reason (maybe
the mother is on drugs or something ... drugs are really hard to kick), then the plan soon changes from reunification to termination.
What that means is that if the child comes up for adoption, the foster family gets first dibs!
Other than our first two boys, who came as twenty-month old twins, all of our other adoptees came straight from the hospital
Rule #7 - Don't expect them to be perfect.
Guess what? Your biological kids aren't perfect. Not even you are perfect, although you might be close. ;-) Any
that you adopt will have flaws and blemishes too. Sometimes the blemishes are genetic (Bipolar issues, Tourette's Syndrome,
ADHD, Dyslexia ... there's a reason the parents got into trouble, after all), and sometimes it's just how they've been raised.
The parents might have had a substance abuse issue, or maybe they just didn't have much money, and they're trapped in a cycle
We've had kids come into care where there was no one in their extended biological family who could afford to support
the extra kids. When you're struggling to put food on the table, it's not possible to provide extra educational resources,
or to seek help for very treatable issues like dyslexia, and the whole cycle gets repeated across generations. Doctors
are really good at treating and managing whole classes of issues.
Of course, proper family structure and discipline fixes a huge amount of issues.
Sometimes these kids are medically fragile ... what's known as Special Needs kids. We were really scared about that prospect,
because we were not confident that we could handle it. Then we got one. Two, actually. One of our sets of twins were born
very prematurely... about two pounds each. By the time we got them from the hospital, they had grown to about four pounds,
but were hooked up to apnea monitors and pulse-oxes ( a machine that measures a patient's pulse and oxygen levels) and one
was hooked to an oxygen bottle.
When the CPS workers brought them to our door, I remember thinking "We might have bitten off a little more than we can
A week after we got them, one of them stopped breathing in the middle of her feed. Her pulse dropped precipitously, and
her oxygen stats started dropping.
Fortunately, as part of our annual foster parents training, we'd just completed a CPR training course, and extra fortunately,
we'd paid special attention to the Infant CPR portion, so we knew what to do. Our eldest daughter called 911, and I commenced
She'd already stabilized by the time the paramedics arrived, but she went off to hospital for a week. It was touch and go, but she survived.
Because this baby had such a difficult start to life, the doctors all said she would not live. She and her
twin were both diagnosed as failure to thrive. They both lived and thrived. The doctors then said this one would probably
never walk. When it became apparent that she was going to walk, they said said "Well, she'll probably need a brace and a walker."
When she discarded the brace and walker but was slow to talk, they said "Well, she'll probably never talk". She has a slight
speech impediment, but talks so much, we sometimes wonder if she'll ever shut up. :-)
She talks, and sings and dances, and went to school on time, and is a beautiful little kid.
The moral is "Don't be scared of special needs kids" It's amazing what lots of prayer, together with stimulation, and
physical, occupational and speech therapy can accomplish.
Rule # 8 - Discipline!
The single "best thing" to do regarding discipline is to stay one step ahead of your children. If you do that, you can
usually preempt issues before they escalate.
We've got eight kids under thirteen and have almost no problems with disobedience or sibling rivalry. Either parent can
take all eight of them out to a restaurant by themselves without any problems.
All we're doing is providing structure, consistency, and firmness. We require good manners, and we try to keep enough
of an eye on them that we head off issues.
We're not doing anything special and every family can do that, and it makes life very pleasant for everyone.
Rule #9 - Don't be an island - get help!
The single most important thing we discovered about fostering and adopting was the need to get help, and get help early.
We were probably lucky because very early in our walk, we found there was this program in Georgia called Early Intervention,
and I expect there's a similar program everywhere. What happens is that if you think there are any issues with your baby,
you can get Early Intervention involved. They'll assess the child and recommend what programs might be needed. This can include
physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and actual medical help. I did not believe that a little
baby could possibly benefit from physical therapy.... it seemed like a nutty idea... but I soon became convinced that it really
does help. All of our kids went to Boot Camp early, and I'm positive it helped immensely.
As well as getting professional help through Early Intervention, we can heartily recommend joining your local Foster
and Adoptive Parents association. There you will find kindred spirits, a sympathetic ear when you need it, and lots of experience
and advice. It'll save you time, money and pain.
Rule #10 - It's great fun and immensely rewarding!
Yes, it's a bunch of work, but it's the most rewarding thing you'll ever do in your life. We've got eight, and we reckon
we get more out of it than they do.
That link should find it on Amazon, but if it's moved, searching Amazon.com or BookSurge.com should find it.
Thanks for reading,
Roger and Kate
Favorite movie: Cheaper By The Dozen, naturally
Here are a few links to some of Kate's music...
There's a program called My Turn Now, and they have a website, and books at the library, that show kids that are available for adoption. As I mentioned earlier, when we were first going thru the process, we were convinced that we only wanted to adopt someone... not foster anyone... and we found this program, and looked at the ever-so-beautiful kids in the book. We picked a brother and sister out of that book, and it inspired Kate to write this song. We never actually got those kids after all that, but we think it's appropriate for anyone who's had that moment of finding a child that they want to adopt.
Pray While I Watch Her Sleeping
When our littlest baby stopped breathing in the middle of a feed, she spent a week in the hospital. For a while there it was touch and go whether she'd make it, but she did make it. Kate wrote this song as a result, but what I didn't say earlier was that there two other occasions when this baby went to hospital in a dire state, and two of our others had hospital runs as well. We think this song is for parents who have a sick, or special-needs kid, and they're in trouble. It's for those times when your kid is in trouble, but there's nothing you can do, except pray, and hope that God or the doctors, or both, produce a miracle.
Each year, AFPAG (the Adoptive/Foster Parents Association of Georgia) runs a conference at Jekyll Island, with some great guest speakers, and great training. One year, a little old lady got up and told us how she'd been a judge's secretary when two kids were taken from the parents by the court (for whatever reason), but it was the weekend, and there was, in those days, no-one to take them for the weekend. They had no where to go, so this lady took them home, "just for the weekend", and they stayed for years. She ended up fostering a hundred or more kids.
Another lady who touched our hearts was the President of our local foster parent's association. When we first heard her story, it was at one of the initial training nights. She sat there, obviously tired, and with several little kids in tow, but with obvious, and unquenchable zeal for these kids. She told us how she'd been unable to have children at all, and so had turned to fostering and adopting. By the time we heard her, she'd fostered over 150 kids, and was still going. Several of her adoptees had grown up, and in turn, become foster parents themselves, because they appreciated the help she'd given them. It's kind of funny, but after she'd adopted half a dozen kids because she couldn't have kids, she suddenly got pregnant, and had several biological kids in a row. Stories like that are legion in the foster parent ranks, by the way.... _many_ people become foster parents because they can't have their own, and suddenly the pressure goes off, or God rewards them, or both, and they have several of their own. :-) Kate was inspired to write this song by the unsung foster parent heros. You never hear about the good ones, only the problem ones.
She's My Special One
One of our kids has a mix of problems, but in some respects, the most difficult one to deal with is Asperger's Syndrome, which is somewhere in the autistic spectrum. She doesn't have a mean bone in her body, and is very intelligent, but for the most part has no clue how to make friends. She picks up no cues about what is socially acceptable, and frequently says and does things that are entirely inapropriate, and ends up annoying even her most tolerant peers. And when she gets into trouble for ... whatever... she usually has great difficulty in understanding what she has done wrong. What makes it exceptionally difficult to manage is there is no medication that can help. Our plan is structure and constant reinforcement of proper behavior. Oh, and the Hope Method (that's where you cross your fingers and hope for the best :-) )
Not Just A Memory
This song was written for our first set of non-identical twins who were born addicted to cocaine at 31weeks gestation. They weighed two pounds a piece and were very ill. One had a grade two brain bleed and her prognosis was not great by anyone, the other one was a failure to thrive because she could not suck very well at all. They also were Foetal Alcolhol Syndrome babies, one having quite identifying characteristics on her face, the other just mild features. No-one gave them much chance at being normal. One was not suposed to walk or talk, the other no-one thought would eat enought to make it. They are now eight years old and walking and talking and doing well despite some minor learning disabilities. Unfortunately, their Mom did not make it to kick her habit. Two years later, we were called about their twin siblings who ended up coming home to us. Their Mom didn't make it that time either. We pray for her to be able to get clean at some time.
Here I Go Again
This song is for the unfortunate babies that are born addicted to drugs... and their moms. It's very sad for both, but there is always hope for both. Most "in utero" drugs, other than alcohol don't seem to impact babies too much, and there is a good prognosis for most of these kids. The mums always or mostly always want their babies, and nearly all try to kick the habit to be able to keep their babies. This song was written about the birth mothers that didn't make it, but their babies moved on to live wonderful lives with families who loved and enabled them to reach their full potential. What most people don't know that is if these children are removed from a "drug or addicted" environment they grow up to be perfectly normal kids on the spectrum.
This one is about babies that suffer from womb trauma. Again, it's sad, but sometimes the moms don't know that they are pregnant, and inadvertently subject the babies to the same abuse they are suffering.
Broken hearts and broken wings
When we got our first foster children, they were identical twin boys that were just twenty months old. They had obviously sweet natures, but bore signs of abuse and neglect. After we had them for two months, we thought they had improved immensely, so we had them tested. They tested at eight months development, but after another year, we had them tested again, and this time they were exactly in the middle of where three year olds are supposed to be. They came "for the weekend", but fifteen years leter, they are still there, and one wants to be a computer programmer, while the other wants to be a drummer.
All our kids came as babies, except for one who was a broken adoption from Liberia. He was sent back to Liberia as a thirteen year old, and we managed to rescue him before his green card expired. He understandably has issues with trust, and as a thirteen year old, we discovered he had never been to school, and tested to only grade one education. Despite his best efforts, high school has proven challenging, but he is now at Job Corps, learning a trade and getting his GED. He has achieved Silver level status for behavior and effort there, and should get a trade qualification and his GED.
If you'd like to buy any of these songs, please go to the itunes store, and search for "Broken Hearts and Broken Wings" by Kate Thompson.
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