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Bonding critical for adoptive parents and children

Artyom Savelyev

Artyom Savelyev in a children's hospital in Moscow celebrating his eighth birthday Photo: EPA

By Rachel Schindler

As he celebrated his eighth birthday in a Moscow hospital this week, little Artyom Savelyev’s experiences continued to betray the hope of his Russian name, to be “safe and sound.” After years in Russian orphanages, Artyom became one of 1,500 children adopted from the former Soviet Republic each year by American families. Torry Ann Hansen, the Tennessee nurse who eagerly brought the youngster to her home and family surrendered her promise to keep Artyom safe and sound when she sent him back to Russia alone on a 10 hour United flight, carrying only a note saying she could no longer care for the boy and criticizing a system she claimed misled her through the adoption process.

While the compelling images and story of little Artyom have captured the public’s attention, the issue of failed adoptions is not uncommon. An estimated 15 – 20 percent of all adoptions are disrupted. Estimates are even higher among older children, international adoptions, and children with special needs.

The Attachment & Trauma Network says placements most often disrupt or dissolve when a child and adoptive parents are unable to form a meaningful connection, in other words, to bond.

Bonding – defined as the unique combination of emotional openness and physical closeness with another human being – most often begins while a child is still in the womb. This notion makes it obvious why many children are unable to establish an automatic connection with their adoptive parents. While it’s nice to think that love is all you need to maintain a happy family, many adoption professionals argue that understanding the concepts of attachment and bonding are critical for parents to create positive, enduring connections with their adopted children and each other.

Research shows that emotional and psychological attachment provides children with a solid foundation that allows them to thrive in the world and has a lifelong impact on human development. Early bonding influences how children do in school, how they build relationships, and how well they react to stressful or new situations. A lack of emotional bonding to those perceived to be closest to us can have lasting, detrimental effects.

Mental health professionals are surprised at the alarmingly high number of their patients who are adopted. Studies show averages of 25 to 35 percent of youngsters in inpatient treatment centers are adoptees (17 times the norm). Problem behaviors seen among adopted children include lying, stealing, difficulties with bonding, defiance of authority, and acts of violence.

Nevertheless, there are a high number of adopted children who manage to thrive in the world, despite their adopted status. Perhaps these children are the outcomes of secure bonds. With proper tools, models, and know-how, bonding can be established in families, whether they are biologically related or not.

Artyom Savelyev’s story and many others demonstrate the importance of improving post-adoption services.

Last year, PAIRS Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and leading relationship skills training organizations based in Weston, Florida, began training adoptive parents and adoption counselors through skills that enhance communication, emotional understanding, promote forgiveness, bonding, attachment, and healthy conflict resolution. Early results showed that such brief, 12-16 hour training experiences help adoptive parents deal with and support their children in processing feelings of grief and loss associated with being given up for adoption or infertility; managing challenging and disruptive child behavior, dealing with emotional and physical trauma, such as abuse and neglect, experienced by a child prior to adoption, and forgiveness.

Parents of adoptive children who participated in the PAIRS training said:

“I enjoyed the opportunity to share with my husband and to take home tools to use with our family.”

“The information presented in PAIRS is helpful to work through issues that may arise while raising two adopted children.”

“The experience opened my eyes to many complex issues and the tools available to manage them.”

“I learned skills to improve my communication with my husband to strengthen our marriage and raise our adopted children.”

“The skills I’ve learned will provide structure to communicate when emotions are strong and in calm times.”

“I am leaving here with the knowledge that I can better my relationship with my spouse, children, and family.”

“The information will help me go more in depth with my children’s feelings and emotions.”

In 2006, PAIRS Foundation received a multi-year federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, to provide marriage education and relationship skills classes to adults and teenagers in South Florida. To date, more than 5,000 people have participated. Many programs remain available at no charge through area churches and community organizations. The skills training provided through the classes can provide a lasting, meaningful benefit to adoptive parents and counselors. For more information, visit www.pairs.com or call (877) PAIRS-4U (724-7748).

Rachel Schindler, a member of PAIRS Foundation’s research and grant support team, earned her BA in Psychology and Sociology. She is working towards her Masters in Education.

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April 2010
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