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Adoptive Families Together: A Support Network for Parents

Adoptive Families Together: A Support Network for Parents
By Marshal D. Haneisen

Ogres are like onions. Children are like onions. OK, perhaps it isn’t fair to compare children to green fairytale creatures. But, what wise Shrek was implying in his famous line from the animated classic is that ogres are complex creatures. Humans — children and adults — are complex, too. Layers of emotion, experience, subconscious, and intention all work together to make each person unique. When raising an adopted child, parents may feel their children have more layers and more sensitive layers. These parents can look to Adoptive Families Together (AFT) for guidance, understanding, and peer support.

A program of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (mspcc.org), AFT is a support network originally created by four families who needed a way to connect with other adoptive parents.

According to Ashley Pepoli, director of Adoption Services at MSPCC, nine in-person AFT groups meet monthly throughout Central and Eastern Massachusetts. AFT groups are all parent-run and led by experienced adoptive parents. Meetings are free and are kept informal to be welcoming and allow newcomers to attend without feeling like they are joining a well-established club. Each group has a wealth of knowledge and shares different ways of handling challenges encountered in adoptive families.

“AFT groups are open to anyone with a connection to an adoption,” said Lori Bauemler, an adoptive parent herself, and MSPCC’s program coordinator for AFT.

Emotional triggers for adopted children can be varied and unpredictable. Anniversaries, birthdays, tween and teen years, and visits with a birth family can all raise challenges. Behavioral problems and mental health issues arise often, Pepoli said.

“A lot of families think the initial placement will be the challenge. The real adjustment period is a little later. Things bubble up. It is not a sign of failure if stuff comes up. We want families to reach out during those times, as well,” she said.

AFT groups can provide precious support to families at every point in adoption.

“We actually welcome families to become involved with AFT as early as possible, even pre-placement,” Pepoli said.

Dana Lehman of Roslindale and her wife, Amanda, attended AFT meetings before being matched with children. They went to meetings on and off for almost a full year before adopting 4- and 6-year-old siblings through foster care in 2010, and an infant through private adoption in 2014. They continue to attend meetings regularly.

“AFT is a place families come when they are struggling, and also to celebrate,” Lehman said. “For us, coming with the struggling has been very important. We came into this with eyes wide open and we have had a lot of struggles. We credit AFT for putting us in touch with other people who have been through these situations.”

Some AFT groups provide babysitters to care for children while the parents meet. Many AFTs have created friendships. Lehman’s family meets with other families for activities outside of the group meetings; AFT has served as a foundation for building a community.

Lehman is passionate about adoption. She understands the great need for more adoptive families and the importance of learning how many resources are available to help.

“There are still so many kids who do not have a safe place at home, and I don’t think that you can serve these kids well if you try to go it alone or don’t have your eyes wide open about the experiences they have been through,” she noted. “Every challenge our kids have faced I can think of a similar challenge I heard of in AFT.”

Knowing that no one will be shocked by challenges and experiences from adoption scenarios is important for those in the group, Lehman said. That’s because attending activities and school functions with parents in non-adoptive families can lead to encounters where one party simply can’t relate.

In the past six months, MSPCC staff worked with parent leaders to create an online support group for busy families that might not be able to attend the support group meetings. AFT is just one of the many services MSPCC offers around the topic of adoption. The group maintains a list of personally recommended service providers, including doctors, therapists, and other specialists with experience helping families through the unique challenges related to adoption. In addition, five years ago MSPCC began offering Wise-UP workshops twice a year. This curriculum was developed by the center for adoption support and education. It is an opportunity for adoptees ages 6-12 to learn how to talk about their adoptions.

To learn more about Adoptive Families Together, including meeting locations, dates, and times, contact Lori Baeumler at (857) 728-2157 or lbeaumler@mspcc.org.

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