Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review: The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide

Many months ago I was pleased to discover a list of resources for adoptive parents on Carol Lozier's Forever-Families website that included several of my own favorites, including books by Bruce Perry, Daniel Siegel, Sherrie Eldridge, and Nancy Verrier. I tweeted a link to the resource page and was delighted when Lozier  responded, beginning a conversation that ultimately lead to her offering to send me a review copy of her own book The Adoptive & Foster Parent Guide: How to Heal Your Child's Trauma and Loss.

I am embarrassed that it has taken me so long to post this review, but there are a couple of reasons for the delay. One is that I got sidetracked by my own adoption reunion with my biological father. For several months now this blog has focused more on my journey as an adopted person and less on my position as an adoptive parent. But the other reason is something that hit home as I read this book, and that is that as an adoptive parent I have moved well beyond the crisis period of intense adjustment issues that accompanied the early days of my foster-adoptive daughter Ashley's placement with us. This is a cause for celebration. It doesn't mean I'm "done," or that Ashley has no more adoption-related issues. As I know all too well, adoption is something that can affect a person through his or her entire life. Even now, there are times when Ashley will respond to something and I will catch a glimpse of the hurt child she was. That hurt child is still in there and still needs special reassurance and support from me at times, but she's not the primary version of Ashley who shows up in our daily lives. There was a time when I would have read Lozier's book hungrily, searching for something -- anything -- that I could use to help calm my child's fears, as well as my own, and to help her attach and heal. Now we are in a very different place as a family -- so much healing has happened -- and I so I read this book with intellectual interest and less personal urgency than I would have if it had come into my hands at an earlier time.

Nevertheless, I found myself excitedly underlining key phrases and jotting notes in the margins. I like a lot of things about this book. I appreciated that the author views attachment as a relationship issue between two people rather than as a diagnosis assigned to the child. ("A child cannot be characterized in one particular attachment style. For instance, it is incorrect to say a child is ambivalent or avoidant." Pg. 9) Though attachment styles are examined in detail, the focus is on healing and on helping the child develop a secure bond in the new family. That healing is possible is one of the core assumptions of the book, and a viewpoint that I heartily endorse. I became especially enthusiastic when I got to Part Two of the book: Healing My Child's Past Trauma. I love that this section opens not by focusing on the child, or on any challenging behavior that the child may be exhibiting, but rather on the parent and the parent's state of mind. "What is the energy between my child and myself?" is a question raised in Chapter 7. That same chapter includes a section titled THE FIVE S'S: DISCOVERING AND MAINTAINING CALM, which consists of "five suggestion to help parents find and maintain a state of calm with their children." That section alone is worth the price of the book. Why does parental calm matter so much? Because the parent's emotional state has a huge impact on the child's emotional state, and when the child is calm and grounded he or she is better able to think and to maintain self-control.

All in all, I would consider this book a useful addition to the library of anyone who is parenting or considering parenting a foster or adoptive child affected by early trauma. The book is easy to read, well organized (chapters stand on their own so the book can be read cover-to-cover or dipped into at any point), and provides a good overview of the complexities of parenting a child with a painful history. I can't speak to the effectiveness of the specific parenting and therapeutic strategies that the book recommends because I didn't have the book when Ashley was in her more active healing phase, but if you are looking for practical suggestions you will find plenty of them here. If you try them and find they work well for your family, please let me know!

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