When You Have to Disrupt the Adoption

People always say life never happens the way we envision. Despite our best efforts, things turn out differently than we anticipate. 

When we felt the Lord calling us to adopt, we didn’t even know dissolved adoptions were a thing. Yet we ended up living out our worst nightmare. We had to educate ourselves about mental illness, therapies, medications, doctors, lawyers, how to document every little detail, and eventually the ins-and-outs of the CPS system. Weekly therapy sessions, constantly changing medications, and researching the options available to us became our new normal. It was most definitely the furthest thing from how we envisioned our life would be. 

In 2010, along with our 13-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son, we embarked on a journey to bring a brother and sister sibling group home from Ethiopia. By the end of 2011, the time had come to travel across the world so that they could join our family. At the time of the adoption, they were 5 and almost 9. 

All we knew was that their biological mother had passed away, and there was no one available to care for them. We would later discover that the youngest, our Ethiopian son, had severe PTSD and anxiety among other mental illnesses that would take years to sort through. 

Our Judd clan had grown overnight to include an almost 15-year-old, an almost 9-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a 5-year-old. Our newest two children spoke no English and were reeling from some deep loss and trauma. It was overwhelming and exhausting. Before we knew it, we were operating in survival mode.

I would be remiss to go any further without pointing to Jesus. Each chapter of our family’s story has God’s fingerprints on every page. Even the darkest days were illuminated by Jesus’ love for us. No twist or turn was traveled alone. He promises in Scripture to never leave us or forsake us, and I am here to testify to that truth. 

Between the years of 2011 and 2016, our family walked roads that were almost unbearable. We noticed from the beginning that our Ethiopian son (whom I will refer to as H) was carrying the scars of trauma. He would have meltdowns that lasted hours. 

Although his meltdowns finally calmed down after a few months of being home, the PTSD and anxiety were still in full swing. He could not take a shower with the curtain drawn and could not use the restroom with the door closed. He was terrified of the dark and wasn’t sleeping well. He would walk with his back against the wall because he was afraid of who might come up behind him. He refused to be in a room with a closed door and often struggled with paranoid or irrational thoughts. 

Over time, other behaviors came to the forefront. He was very jealous of our other son (whom I will call C) — to the point of trying to hurt him in retaliation for things C was doing well. Fun time spent burning off energy on the trampoline became a time to try and injure C. H began showing signs of very dangerous behavior. We found hidden shanks he had made by whittling wood and throwing stars cut from old CDs that were sharp as glass. 

The overtly violent behavior started with little things, like putting thumbtacks in C’s doorway “so they would go through his foot when he got out of bed” and sleeping with items that could be used as weapons “to hurt C if he comes in my room.” We managed these behaviors as best we could, but our home was no longer a safe haven. It had become a war zone as we tried to keep things to a manageable level. 

Our oldest daughter (whom I will call A) was developing severe depression and anxiety as a result of the constant chaos. She was a competitive swimmer, and we were thankful she had an outlet outside of the turmoil that was our home. However, no matter the temporary distraction, our home life was having a negative impact on her mental health. 

By 2015, H was in and out of short-term psychiatric hospitals. We had exhausted every avenue available to us. We had tried 5 different types of therapies that were unsuccessful — including TBRI (trust-based relational intervention) and equine therapy, multiple psychiatrists, multiple medications, and a couple of months in a residential treatment center. 

We had EMS sedate him to safely transport him to a hospital after an hours-long fit of rage that included hitting police and EMS officers. H had told us that he had plans to kill us and proceeded to give me a very detailed description of how he would do it. At one point, he even came up with plans A and B to kill us in ways he thought he would not get caught. 

His rages were in full force by this point and would last 3 to 5 hours. He was extremely violent and would hit, kick, bite, and spit. We had to monitor his every move and keep him constantly in our line of sight to  protect the other children. We had alarms on doors and video monitors in rooms. No one was safe, and everyone had to be protected and watched at all times. 

Thankfully, the only ones to actually get hurt physically were my husband and me. Between the two of us, we experienced cracked ribs, kicks to the jaw, and an ER visit for lower back trauma from being repeatedly kicked by H while trying to restrain him. Our lives had turned into a nightmare beyond nightmares. 

While we struggled to keep everyone safe, our oldest daughter (by now an older teenager) began self-medicating in an attempt to mask the helplessness. We were so overwhelmed that we kept chalking it up to curiosity. No parent wants to come to terms with the fact that their daughter is struggling to cope. Her drug use eventually ended with a stint in rehab — yet another word I never envisioned having in our family vocabulary. 

Our goal during the beginning of 2016 was just to survive until the end of the school year. Once school ended, we would try to figure out what our next steps would be. 

June rolled around, and all hell broke loose. After an extremely long and violent rage with H, we knew we could no longer keep our other children safe while simultaneously parenting him. He had begun hitting the other children while making known his plans to kill us all. We would have to hide the other children in a bedroom with the door closed and a noise machine running in an effort to minimize the trauma they were enduring on the sidelines. 

As our saga continued to unfold, the Lord orchestrated every detail so that we knew we were never alone. He placed just the right people in our lives at just the right moments. He opened doors for us that we didn’t even know existed. What we thought were obstacles, He used to strengthen our faith and trust in Him. He paved a way where there was no path. 

The following days, weeks, and months following that last violent rage with H were a whirlwind. In June 2016, we had H admitted to yet another psychiatric hospital (sadly, we knew the packing list by heart at this point) and proceeded to call CPS to turn in our own child. We told CPS that our family was in danger and that we would not be picking him up from the hospital. They opened a case on our family and interviewed all of us. We were told they would file charges against us for failure to take responsibility for H. 

Within weeks, we found ourselves staring at a stack of documents in a mediation room full of lawyers and case workers. We were given instructions on all the various times we would be expected to be in court over the next 12 months. It was overwhelming. We were encouraged to hire our own lawyer and informed that one had been appointed to represent H. Due to God’s faithfulness, we found an amazing lawyer with whom we formed an instant bond. She had compassion for our family and kept us informed every step of the way. 

A year later, we chose to terminate our rights in the hope that he would get the treatment he so desperately needed — treatment we sought over and over again, in the face of every imaginable obstacle. 

During the year H was in CPS care, he had to be removed from his foster family due to violent behaviors. After bouncing from placement to placement, he was finally adopted out of foster care, though we know his problems continue and likely always will, even with ongoing treatment. The damage was done long before he made his way out of Ethiopia. There are some things that love, no matter how strong, cannot “fix” on its own.

Our hearts will never be the same. We fought with every fiber of our beings for H. We loved him then and will always carry love in our hearts for him. But the point of this story is not us — or our children, or even “the system.” 

The point is that, in the short-term, there is help. You can and must keep your family safe. In the midst of the storm, that may seem impossible, but it isn’t. And in the long-term, there is healing — through therapy (individual and family), counselors, and the grace of God. In the midst of the storm, this too seems impossible, but it isn’t. The fact that you’re reading this is a testament to both of these truths.

We wanted to let others who find themselves traveling this difficult journey how we knew it was time to let go. We found ourselves caught in the cycle of “surely there is something we haven’t tried yet.” We allowed ourselves to feed into H’s cycles of rages and manipulated kindness. 

As he got older, the rages became more and more violent and dangerous. Because of my husband’s job, sometimes he wasn’t able to drop everything and head home to help with a rage. It was very difficult to protect the other children while keeping the destruction at H’s hands as minimal as possible. H had begun throwing things during rages, especially things he knew would shatter. Sometimes these episodes would end with glass all over the floor.

The immense amount of stress we were under had also begun to take a toll on our health. I had PTSD/secondary trauma that resulted in extended periods of heart palpitations, rapid breathing, anxiety attacks, hair loss, and a year of suffering from gallbladder attacks that led to gallbladder removal. My husband also had a miserable case of shingles that his doctor said was likely triggered by stress.

The last straw with the final rage we endured was that H started to turn his violence towards the other children. That last night, he hit and kicked one child and punched the other in the back. This would have continued had we not immediately intervened. We were unable to maintain a good quality of life for anyone in our home, nor was our home safe for anyone at that point. The mental health of two of our children was also rapidly declining as a result of H’s violence. 

In order to protect our family, we had to come to terms with the reality that we were all in danger. If you find yourself in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to reach out.  


About the Author: I am Rachel Judd — Jesus follower, wife to my wonderful husband of 23 years, and mother of 3 through birth and international adoption (Ukraine and Ethiopia). We also do foster care relief work through a local children’s home.

I am a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. I am also on the leadership team for a foster/adoptive mom retreat called Together in the Trenches Texas. My husband is an Air National Guard chaplain and engineer for NASA, so I also help with marriage and family retreats for military families when the opportunity arises.

We LOVE to travel. We are always on the lookout for our next adventure.

We have had a lot of experience with reactive attachment disorder and many other challenges along our journey. It has given me a heart for reaching out to others in similar situations. I help run a small Facebook group of “trauma mamas” here in the Houston area.

You can find me on Facebook and Instagram.

What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

I’ve long held the belief that adoptive/foster parents are missionaries. When I tell people about our international adoption, I like to say that not only did I visit the country, but I also brought some natives home.

This true for all adoptive/foster parents. We don’t clock out and go back to our dorm or hut or whatever the missionary lives in. We also don’t get on a plane and go back to the comfort of our own home.

What if We Treated Foster Parents as Missionaries_

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

If we change the way we think about adoptive/foster parents and slide them into the missionary category, there will be changes in four areas:

Our Prayers

First, adoptive/foster parents will be prayed for more often. Think of how often we pray for missionaries. We tack their photos up on the fridge to remind us to pray for them daily. If we see adoptive/foster parents as missionaries, we will do the same for them.

  • Pray for safety. Adoptive/foster families need a hedge of protection prayed around them. They are in the midst of a battle.

“The protection of children isn’t charity. It isn’t part of a political program fitting somewhere between tax cuts and gun rights or between carbon emission caps and a national service corps. It’s spiritual warfare.” – Russell Moore

  • Pray that they can minister the gospel. It’s tough to be in the middle of the battle and keep ministering the gospel at the same time. While there may not be actual bullets or bombs, foster and adoptive parents face many spiritual and emotional battles.
  • Pray that adoptive/foster parents will be able to teach and reach across cultural lines. Kids that have come from hard places have come from a different culture. Many of them have come from a culture of abuse and neglect. They don’t speak the same language or believe the same things. Most often when a kiddo is being fostered and he is brought to church with the family, the assumption is that he will immediately speak the language of religion. He won’t.
  • Pray that “the natives” will trust them enough to listen. Once these kiddos walk through the doors of our homes, we expect them to feel safe and secure and attach immediately. They won’t — and beyond that, they can’t. When kids come home through foster care or adoption, the foster parent isn’t automatically held in high esteem. Mom and dad aren’t regarded as trustworthy. They may be viewed as just another pit stop for kids with a garbage bag full of belongings. These kiddos may be thinking that these people will hurt/abandon/molest them too. These kiddos have never felt safe. Why would they feel safe with foster or adoptive parents they just met?

“With “normal” families, you can assume that if they haven’t asked prayer for something specific, they probably don’t have any really urgent needs. But foster/adoptive families kind of habituate to a higher level of chaos and urgency, and you feel like this is what they signed up for, so they won’t usually ask prayer for specific things.” – Kristin Peters, adoptive parent

Our Expectations

If we really, fully understand the full-time ministry that is fostering or adopting, we won’t be shocked when these families aren’t at church every Sunday. We would just assume they are doing their job.

Sometimes foster/adoptive parents are so deep in the trenches, they can’t escape. They’re working so hard on attachment with these kids that any break — even just to come to church — can destroy the work they have done. When my newbies first came home, we didn’t go to church or homeschool group for a while. After a while, I heard the gentle grumblings of the leadership wondering when I was coming back to teach.

When we did come back, I kept my kids with me. It was my primary job to attach to them. All of my other commitments were secondary.

Our Contributions

If we view foster and adopted parents as missionaries, we will do everything we can to make sure they are equipped spiritually, emotionally, and physically before going on their “mission.”

When my family traveled to Poland to adopt our four, we had Rubbermaid containers of supplies, suitcases, and books. On the second trip, the children’s church filled those same containers with supplies to leave at the orphanage for the kids and staff.

Missionary families need physical supplies. They also need training. Would you travel to another country to preach the gospel if you didn’t speak the language or at least have an interpreter? And wouldn’t you go to a Christian source for training instead of a secular one?

So, why don’t we offer spiritual and physical training from a Christian perspective for our adoptive/foster missionaries? It does exist. Why not offer it within the four walls of the church?

Our Involvement

Finally, if we view foster/adoptive parents as missionaries, we will consider it an honor to invest in their journey.

“God asks us to reach out to those who need Him. Adoptive families have done this in a more sacrificial way than most people could even comprehend. It is the right thing for the body of Christ to support those who have given themselves so fully to the care of the little ones God has sent them.” – Elizabeth King, missionary and adoptive mom

This is probably the most difficult one for the body of Christ to swallow. I’ve been told that since I chose to adopt, I just need to suck it up, so to speak. In case you are wondering, I did not receive or ask for money from the church to fund my adoption. But I sure wish it were available for other families. We pay monthly support to missionaries so they can do their thing. Why not do the same for foster/adoptive families on some level?

And there are other ways to invest in foster care/adoption, too.

“You’re either called to bring a child into your home or support those who do! – Real Life Foster Mom

You can take them dinner, offer to babysit, buy school supplies, get them a gift card, buy Christmas gifts, or — my favorite — take a foster/adoptive Mom out for coffee and LISTEN. Not all investments require tons of money. What they do take, however, is time. Sacrifice a bit of your time for those who have surrendered all of theirs.

“Adoptive parents are like missionaries on steroids. There is no furlough from this job, no let-up in sight. If missionaries should be honored and supported, adoptive families – especially those who have adopted children from trauma – need our love, our respect, and our support just as much – and likely more. Maybe finances aren’t an issue. But finding time for friendship when you know your friends will never understand what you’re going through anyway and the demands at home are overwhelming – it’s just so hard.” – Elizabeth King

 

 

 

Changing How We Think About Adopted/Foster Kids

Often our society treats foster kids — and by extension adopted kids — as somehow less. Less important than adults. Less valuable than their peers. Less lovable because of their background, their biological family, or their behavior. Almost less than human. Different. Other. Less.

We would never say any of that out loud, of course. But some of the most insidious lies we believe are the ones we never put into words. Among them are some very harmful and mistaken beliefs we may subconsciously hold about kids from hard places.

Unfortunately, even subconscious beliefs will affect how we think about and treat others. In order to consistently live out pro-life values, we need to recognize the lies we believe about foster and adopted kids and replace them with the truth.

In order to consistently live out pro-life values, we need to recognize the lies we believe about foster and adopted kids and replace them with the truth.

Kids Are Valuable. Period.

As beings created in the image of God, all kids — including foster and adopted kids — have inherent and inalienable worth. I think all Christians would say they believe that. The problem is, we sometimes don’t act like it.

Instead, we act as if somehow a child’s worth can rise or fall based on what has been done to or for them. A child that we may have overlooked last week might suddenly seem more precious to us once we know they are a foster or adopted kid. Or we might act as though these kids are somehow second-class citizens because of their past or present situation.

It’s important to remember that adopted kids aren’t valuable *because* of what their adoptive families have done for them or even *despite* what they’ve been through. They’re just valuable. Period. No qualifiers.

Foster Kids Aren’t Broken.

I don’t think many people would look at a three-year-old foster child and say, “That kid is broken.” But that’s exactly what our actions often imply. Foster kids often behave differently than we would expect a “normal” child to behave. They act out, and it isn’t pleasant for their foster parents or for anyone else around them —  from teachers dealing with classroom disruptions to random strangers witnessing a grocery store meltdown.

It’s easy to look at these kids and see bad behavior in need of correction rather than a hurting child in need of love. But it’s important to remember that foster kids aren’t broken. They don’t need to be fixed. Like any child, they need to be loved. They need to be guided, disciplined, protected, and provided for. They need us to look past their behavior, see their hurt, and meet their needs.

Foster and Adopted Kids Are Not Their Past.

If you have watched any videos or read any articles about the long-term effects of childhood trauma, you understand that a child’s past — especially their earliest experiences — will leave a lasting impact. (If you haven’t, this TED talk is a good place to start.) We are all affected by what we’ve been through.

However, we must remember that while foster and adopted kids will certainly be affected by their past, they are not defined by it. Childhood trauma, foster care, and adoption will forever be part of their story — but it’s only one part. It’s not the beginning, the end, or even the climax. Just another chapter in a story still being written.

None of us would like to be forever known first and foremost for something that happened to us in the past. Neither do kids from hard places. We should interact with them in a trauma-informed way, but we should not equate them with their trauma, its effects, or their response to it. Beneath all the hurt is a real person with real feelings and a real future, and we need to treat them accordingly.

Adopted Kids Belong. So Do Foster Kids.

It would be almost unthinkable to look at a newly adopted child and say, “You don’t belong here.” But isn’t that the impression we give when we constantly tack on the word “adopted?” When we differentiate between adopted and biological children? When we ask which of a person’s children are their “real kids” or which of a child’s siblings are their “real” brothers and sisters?

Adopted kids belong, just as much as biological children. A family grows and stretches to accommodate those who become part of it — whether by birth or adoption. Adopted kids aren’t the last resort, a charity case, or a pet project. They are part of the family. They belong, fully and forever.

The same is true for foster kids. A foster family is a “real” family in every sense of the word, and foster kids belong. Although their physical presence within the family may be temporary, for as long as they are there, they belong. When they leave, the family grieves as they would the loss of a biological child. Their absence leaves a hole because they were — and still are, in a sense — part of the family.

Kids Are Just as Important as Adults.

Not only are foster and adopted kids just as important and valuable as other kids, but they are just as valuable and important as adults. When we treat kids as though they are important, we aren’t indulging them — we’re aligning ourselves with God’s view of children. Over and over again, Scripture emphasizes the value of children.

Both Matthew and Mark relate Jesus’ teaching that “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” When he caught his disciples rebuking children who wanted to be near Him, Jesus went on to say,

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (See Matthew 18:2-6; Matthew 18-10-14; Mark 9:36-37, 42; Mark 10:13-16.)

We need to treat children as though they are valuable and worth our time, love, and respect, even when we don’t understand them, because that’s how Jesus treated them. Their needs and feelings are just as important and valid as any adult’s. Little voices aren’t any less important, and their feelings aren’t any less real.

We all know foster and adopted kids are people, too. We know they matter. We know they’re precious in God’s sight and made in His image. We just need to act like it — starting with rooting out any subconscious beliefs that undermine their value.

Want to hear more about this topic?

Grab a cup of coffee and join us on this week’s podcast:

Episode 68


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My name is Kristin Peters. I married my husband, Robert, in 2010, and we had our baby girl 5 years later, right after he graduated from law school. In fall of 2016, we became certified to foster and soon after received our first placement — an adorable little boy who is 2 years older than our daughter. He felt like part of the family from day one, but we were able to (finally!) make it official in February of this year. In addition to being a wife and mother, I work as a writer, an editor, and the content developer for SHIELD Task Force. You can follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/SHIELDWV), or check out our website at www.shieldwv.com.​

Mirroring and Kids from Hard Places

What is mirroring?

Mirroring is getting cues from from another person, not your five senses. These mirror neurons fire up for things such as: when we watch someone else laugh, enjoy something or show visible signs of stress.

Why is important?

Kids get their cues from us parents. They get approval in a smile. Disappointment in a frown or angry glare. Kids learn about themselves by mirroring how we handle the world around us. They mirror our reactions.

What does it mean for kids from hard places?

Kids from hard places are mirroring what they have been taught before they came ‘home’ to stay with us (whether forever or temporarily). They have beliefs based on what they have observed. They may believe that they shouldn’t exist or they have no value. They may believe that lashing out or shutting down is how you handle life. We can help these kiddos find help and healing by projecting our acceptance. We can handle situations with love, grace and mercy. Eventually, they will learn to do the same. It’s tough, but we can:

Faith it ’til you make it.

(Thanks, Jessica for the saying!)

What is the science behind mirroring?

 This is a scientific principle discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti  and his team in 1995. “Through these neurons we literally fire up activity in the brain without actually using our five senses through the normal sensory-cognitive cycle.” (Dr. Caroline Leaf)

Here’s a short video about the subject I filmed for The Whole House Adoption/Foster Support Group Page.

 

Redos and Kids from Hard Places

Traditional Parenting doesn’t work with kids from hard places.

We learn in ETC Parent Training we need to empty our traditional parenting toolbox and refill it with new tools.

A REDO is one of those tools.

Every offense by a child doesn’t need a volcanic reaction.

A redo is an opportunity for a child to redo the action in the right way. This is so important because it helps rewire the brain. A parent simply and playfully (if possible) walks the child through the proper steps. I use and example of this in the video below. A great thing to remember is a redo can be quick, playful and specific.  For example if you have two kiddos playing with cars and one grabs one out of the other one’s hand. Here are two scenarios:

Traditional Parenting:

Mom: Give that car back. You should know better. We share in this house. Blah. Blah. Blah- meaning a whole sermon on why we share.

Redo Parenting:

Mom: Let’s try that again, buddy. Give the car back. (Child hands car back however reluctantly, Mom smiles). Great job, giving the car back. We don’t take.

*If the child wants the car and they are community property, then you as the parent can work out a time for each child to use the car. This is also an opportunity for the child to ‘use his words’ and ask for the car instead of grabbing it. All of these tools should be used quickly and with a pleasant tone. When we use anger to work out scenarios, our child will too!

Here’s a short video I did on the topic for The Whole House Adoption/Foster Support Group: (don’t you love my expression?)