Helpful attitude adopted Counseling: The Center for Adoptive Families helps parents and children cope with stresses arising from adoption. It also offers workshops at schools and counsels birth parents.

July 07, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Beyond the normal kid stuff, adopted children can hear especially hurtful questions from other children, causing stress for them and their adoptive or birth parents.

"Why didn't you stay with your real family?" other children may ask. Or, "Why do you look different from your mother?" Or, "Why didn't your real family want you?"

Similarly, some parents say, teachers may unintentionally embarrass adopted children by assigning classes to draw family trees, discuss their ancestors or talk about their earliest memories at home.

Adoption begins a lifelong process, say adoptive parents who run the Center for Adoptive Families, which was formed by a licensed child-placement agency, Adoptions Together Inc. of Baltimore and Kensington. The center helps adoptive and birth parents, schools and children cope with questions and problems stemming from adoption.

Debbie B. Riley, who has a 4-year-old adopted son, is director of the center, which she calls "the only post-adoption education and counseling center in Maryland."

Marilyn Schoettle, the center's assistant director, is the adoptive mother of a son, 11, and daughter, 9, both born in Thailand.

"Adopted children ask, 'Who am I?' " Riley said, "and think about adoption often, especially after the age of 7. They vary in their adjustment. Questions come up most often in schools. Adoptive parents are being asked to care for more and more children. It is critical that families get support.

"There's a whole range of adoption issues everyone should talk about."

A major one involves the "special needs" of certain adopted children, defined by the center as those who are over age 6; are of color; have had or will have siblings; have emotional, physical or learning problems; or are at high risk, such as by being born to mothers with AIDS.

Some special needs adoptions don't work, and the children may be returned, but there is little reliable data on how often this occurs, said Casandra Fallin, program manager for adoption at the state Department of Human Resources. "Far too many of these families suffer because of the dearth of post-adoption help," she said. "We haven't supported them enough.

Help in crises

The center helps fill the need and supplements the work of local social service departments, she said.

In the past nine years, about 10,000 children have been adopted in Maryland, 2,400 of them with special needs, the center said. A year ago, of the 1,851 children listed as legally free to be adopted, 63 percent had special needs.

In addition, at any given time more than 7,000 children are in foster care in Maryland.

The center helps in crises, several parents said.

Brandon was 3 1/2 when Cindy and Larry Roth of Dundalk adopted him two years ago. Six months later, he had a stroke. The Roths turned to the center for help with the questions that arose from adoption and illness.

"They were the greatest help in the world," said Cindy Roth. "We started coming every two weeks to the center's meetings in the city. Yvonne Harris directs them. Her program was our support group."

Brandon couldn't speak for a while, but he recovered within a year, helped by the center and others. He regained his confidence and has completed kindergarten at Holabird Elementary School.

The Roths, who are in their 40s, married nine years ago. They have older children from previous marriages.

"Adopting Bran has been a real pleasure" said Cindy. "He's an outgoing little bubble. Mr. Sunshine. We told him right away he was adopted. He tells kids he's proud of it because we chose him. And we still go to meetings."

The center helps in other ways, such as by bringing adopted children together. Susan and J. Michael McHugh of Perry Hall adopted Jessica in Louisiana when she was 5 and Owen in

Prince George's County when he was 8. They are now 10 and 13.

"I think it's a wonderful program," Susan McHugh said. "Our children have learned they're not alone when they talked with other adopted children. The program's especially helpful for adolescents. They may have more questions and problems. Smaller kids learn it's not their fault they're adopted."

Many services

The 3-year-old center, the idea of Janice Goldwater, executive director of Adoptions Together, runs two programs, the free Project Succeed, for parents and teachers, and Kids' Connection, at a fee, for children.

Project Succeed offers counseling, meetings every two weeks during the school year, a lending library, informational services and workshops for schools. Four hundred families and 600 educators, mostly in elementary and middle schools, have taken part in various activities in Baltimore and in Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The services are offered to help parents prevent adoptions from failing. Birth parents are also counseled. Child care is provided during meetings for parents, giving children a chance to share experiences.

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