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Adoption Issues From a Strengths Perspective
By Deborah H. Siegel, PhD, LICSW, DCSW, ACSW
Social Work Today - July/August 2008 Issue - Vol. 8 No. 4 P. 34

Birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees face predictable crises given the life-changing nature of this event. Idealized or deficit approaches don't work, but a strengths perspective does.

Sam is a bright, energetic, enthusiastic 12-year-old boy. His mom and dad, Mary and Mack, love him dearly and are earnest, skilled parents who conscientiously create a nurturing home. Sam thrives; he has a best friend next door, gets Bs in school, attends weekly religious school and prayer services, walks his dog every day after school, and enjoys riding his bike and playing his electric guitar. He and his parents often go on hikes, attend sporting events, and take day trips as a family or with friends. It appears that Sam is doing well because he is adopted.

This description accurately summarizes Sam's life, and so does this: Sam was born with cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol in his tiny body. Sam's birth father, incarcerated shortly after Sam was conceived, has never seen him. The state child welfare agency removed Sam from his mother's custody shortly after birth, and in the first two years of life, Sam lived in four different foster homes before he was legally freed for adoption. Sam's behavior is often impulsive, hyperactive, and inattentive. His classmates tend to steer clear of him because he bumps into them, grabs their things, or blurts out rude comments (e.g., "You're stupid!"). Homework is a daily struggle, as Sam finds it hard to sit still and stay on task. He often forgets, loses, or partially completes his assignments. Lately, his behavior at home has been especially irritable; when his parents prompt him to do a task he doesn't like, he yells, "You're not the boss of me!" and stomps away. He's spending more time alone in his room. It appears that Sam is struggling because he is adopted.

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- Deborah H. Siegel, PhD, LICSW, DCSW, ACSW, is a professor in the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College, a clinician specializing in adoption issues, an adoption researcher, and an adoptive parent.

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