For Professionals and Parents Using the Workbook:
We cannot heal what we cannot acknowledge!

     Our understanding of the Seven Core Issues, Attachment and Trauma enables us to better address the complex challenges and feelings that children and teens experience through various stages of their development. This workbook provides a roadmap to help children and teens explore the complexities built into adoption and permanency through skill building activities and exercises. It is designed intentionally to be strengths-based and empowering for children and teens. Learning the emotional skills to overcome one of life’s most intense and traumatic losses – is no easy task. Professionals and parents can use the workbook as a road map in supporting and guiding children and teens through a process of exploring, understanding, and healing. It has been constructed to be utilized in a scaffolded process, where one activity builds to the next. I encourage parents and professionals to take their time and allow children and teens to guide their own journey through the seven core issues. The workbook will help children and teens explore, process, think, feel and express as they move through the various tools and activities.

     All children, including those placed at birth, experience attachment disruptions, the severing of the attachments from their parents and families of origin. The child/teen/adult will be understanding and processing this major life altering event through each developmental stage of their life. A child’s developmental understanding of adoption/permanency changes and unfolds over time as their ability to understand what adoption/permanency is generally, ‘Why some children are not raised by their birth/first parents’, and specifically, ‘Why they are not being raised by their birth/first parents’. Babies, children and teens experience the traumatic losses associated with losing their connections to their birth/first families through a series of unfolding insights and understandings that often trigger the deep feelings, challenges and additional developmental tasks associated with the Seven Core Issues. I encourage professionals and parents to read ‘Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency: A Comprehensive Guide to Promoting Understanding and Healing in Adoption, Foster Care, Kinship Families and Third-Party Reproduction by Sharon Kaplan Roszia and Allison Davis Maxon.

     One of the most profound losses any human can experience is the loss of their parents. Babies and children who are displaced from their birth/first parents, also may lose an entire familial tree, including the ancestry, history and lineage from that tree. Some children may also lose their culture, ethnic/racial identity, language, and country of origin. The separations may have occurred at a pre-verbal stage of development when the child had no way of understanding or giving language to the overwhelming trauma, losses and feelings associated with what they were experiencing. The neuroscience research has shifted the focus to the vulnerable and malleable brain of the infant/child, who is often moved several times before attachment permanency is gained. This creates toxic stress that impacts brain development. Children enter foster care due to neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and in-utero drug exposure, and many will suffer the on-going effects of complex developmental trauma. The child/teen’s body may be loaded with toxic stress, fear and anxiety, easily triggered into distressed states of internal disorganization, shame and self-loathing. They may have sensory integration challenges and struggles finding internal calmness, organization, and regulation. It’s important to note that the mind lives in the body. If the body cannot relax the mind has trouble focusing, learning and retaining information.

     Parenting a child who fears attaching may be a new challenge for many parents. The child who has learned to fear attachment and emotional closeness may be aggressive, moody, fearful, defiant, oppositional, numb, angry, disrespectful, anxious, and controlling. When a little body cannot relax, even things like falling asleep, enjoying a meal, playing with your sibling, reading a book, or following directions becomes challenging for both child and parent.

     The majority of people in our culture were not raised in a family where adoption, foster care or kinship care were the norm. Few people imagine that they will be infertile, lose a child or grow up in another family. People generally have a vision for how they think their life will unfold. This does not occur for those individuals and families touched by foster/kinship care or adoption. There are additional developmental tasks that parents will be helping their children achieve and master. Parents are encouraged to help their child explore their strengths, challenges, thoughts and feelings through a series of exercises, activities and skill building tools.

     It’s important to know that parents have their own unique journey of losses and emotional challenges when parenting through foster/kinship care and adoption. I recommend parents explore their own attachment and loss history by doing the activities and exercises in ‘The Seven Core Issues Workbook for Parents of Traumatized Children and Teens’ by Allison Davis Maxon and Sharon Kaplan Roszia. The resources, activities and practice tools will strengthen a parent’s ability to effectively address their child’s trauma history, attachment impairments and core issues.

     This workbook was designed to help children and teens understand their body, heart and mind. Empowering children and teens to understand and know that their story belongs to them. Where facts flounder, fantasies flourish. When children don’t know the truth or facts of their story, they often fill in the blanks with ‘made up stories’, sometimes scary or hurtful stories like “I think I was a bad or unlovable baby”. It’s important to note that we are all storytellers, narrating our own life journey. Children are developing their own narrative and story about their life, what happened to them and why it happened to them. Their early trauma, losses and attachment disruptions can easily assist them in becoming a very negative storyteller as they narrate their own life story inside their body, heart, and mind.  Many children and teens find it difficult to talk about the hurtful and painful experiences and feelings connected to their loss history and trauma. Feelings of abandonment, rejection, shame, and grief can intensify in the teen years as identity building becomes a central theme. All of these complex issues and challenges are explored in a strengths-based way, empowering the child and teen to more deeply understand themselves and learn effective ways to express what is in their body, heart and mind.

Foundational Values of this Workbook:

Grief, loss and trauma must be acknowledged

Parenting any child can be an emotionally draining experience. Children with trauma, loss and grief need parents who can be emotionally available and responsive to their distress, hurt, fear, terror, anger and pain. Parents ability to emotionally regulate and emotionally attune to their child’s deepest wounds and suffering is an additional task for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents.

Adults need to make changes too

Children should not be expected to make all the changes when they come into a new home. Grown-ups must make changes too. It is important that children see adults trying to change, grow and learn as well. Permanency requires adaptation for all members of the family. All little humans need and deserve unconditional love and commitment from their grown-ups!

Adoption and Permanency is a lifelong, intergenerational process that brings both grief and joy to individuals and families

Adoption and permanency is a lifelong process that is not complete when the adoption or legal process is finalized. There can be feelings of great joy as well as great loss throughout the various developmental stages of both the child and family.

Children’s losses must be reduced whenever possible

Adoption and Permanency begins with loss. Without loss, adoption and permanency would not occur. All those involved in the process experience loss and grief. The way those losses are resolved will impact children throughout their lives. Our goal is to ensure that the greater burden of loss is carried by the adults rather than by the children. The task for parents is to help their child know and understand their story from the beginning, which is where the losses and/or trauma resides. This allows the child to grieve incrementally as they understand their story with more and more detail as they grow and mature. The workbook will guide parents through a process so they can help their child explore and understand the complex thoughts and feelings that are created by the experience of foster care, kinship and adoption. Many children and teens feel overwhelmed and isolated with the deep feelings connected to their core losses. Empowering parents to emotionally attune with their child’s grief process can lessen their feelings of isolation. Sorrow shared is halved, while joy shared is doubled!

Families are the healing mechanism of the child

It is the parent’s task to heal a child. A therapist can help, but it is not the therapist’s job to heal the child. Parents need to learn as much as possible about creating and sustaining a safe, loving and healing relationship with their child or teen. It is the primary attachment relationship between the parent and child that is the ‘healing mechanism’. Parents should not be sitting in the waiting room while a therapist takes their child into an office for an hour. Families need to be included in the therapeutic process. Healing takes place 24 hours a day, seven days a week, not one hour a week in the therapist’s office.

Birth/first families matter

It is important to talk about birth/first families with children, helping them make or keep appropriate connections between themselves and their birth/first families. Appropriate information needs to be available for children to develop a sense of who they are, where they came from, why they were adopted/placed and who they will become. This workbook will give specific guidance as to how to help children and teens understand their story and acknowledge all of the difficult and complex feelings connected to their foster, kinship or adoption journey.

There are additional tasks for adoptive, foster and kinship parents

All of us have ‘legal parents’, ‘genetic parents’ and ‘parenting parents’. Most of us were raised in families where all of those roles were filled by the same parents. For children who have multiple sets of parents in these various roles, it can feel confusing and overwhelming at different stages of their development. A child may have birth/first parents, foster parents, kinship parents and adoptive parents, all of whom are ‘real’ and important to them. Understanding ‘what happened?’, ‘why it happened?’, and ‘when it happened?’ is an important developmental task for children who are not being raised by their birth/first parents.

Honor and respect diversity including sexual orientation, race, culture, ethnicity, religion, gender and age

All individuals and families have a culture, ethnicity and race. As children move from one family to another, they always experience a change of culture. These changes may also include race, ethnicity, socio-economic differences and/or spiritual practices. As we move children from one family tree to another, cultural, ethnic and racial identities can be lost, merged, forgotten, assimilated or honored. On-going open relationships with the birth/first family benefits children; openness can help address the various cultural, racial and ethnic identity challenges the baby/child/teen must navigate. Children should not have to lose any part of their identity in order to gain the stability of a family.

Professionals need to be clinically competent in Attachment, Trauma and Adoption/Permanency

It is not enough to be a trained therapist or social worker when working in adoption and permanency. Specialized training in attachment, trauma and adverse childhood experiences, as well as the unique dynamics of foster care, kinship and adoption-built families, is vital.  We would hope that all professionals are educated about the Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency and are using the practices and interventions outlined in all three books to address these issues with children, adults and families. Current mental health practices that do not offer stable, consistent and skilled therapists in these areas do more of a disservice as they create more losses and reinforce already fragile attachment skills for the child/family. Our inadequate and limited mental health diagnostic categories often lead professionals to misdiagnose and hence mistreat and often medicate inappropriately.

Success means the child has a family for life

Success is defined as a child gaining a permanent family. It is not defined as a perfect child within a perfect family. It is not defined as a child achieving success to make his or her parents proud. Our goal is always to maximize the child’s potential, within the reality of the child’s abilities. Having a supportive family who remains committed to the child, even as mental health issues intensify, often in adolescence, is imperative. As teens work hard to do the emotional work of building an identity and an authentic self, all the questions and deep feelings connected to their traumatic losses and separation from their birth/first parents often resurface. A family that nurtures strengths, while working on areas that need healing, will help to maximize all areas of their child’s potential.

Excerpt from: The Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency Workbook for Children and Teens: A Trauma-Informed Resource, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2023).

Allison Davis Maxon, M.S., LMFT is a nationally recognized expert in the fields of child welfare and children’s mental health specializing in Attachment, Developmental Trauma and Permanency/Adoption. She is the Executive Director of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency and was the foster care consultant for the Paramount Pictures movie Instant Family. Allison was honored in 2017 with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute ‘Angels in Adoption’ award and is the co-author of Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency: A Guide to Promoting Understanding and Healing in Adoption, Foster Care, Kinship Families and Third Party Reproduction, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2019) and The Seven Core Issues Workbook for Parents of Traumatized Children and Teens: A Guide to Help You Explore Feelings and Overcome Emotional Challenges in Your Family, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2022). Her newest book is The Seven Core Issues for in Adoption and Permanency Workbook for Children and Teens: A Trauma-Informed Resource, Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2023).






Pin It on Pinterest

Share This