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Special Needs Awareness

Special Considerations for Special Needs Adoption

Opening Your Family to a Special Needs Child

November 01, 2009
In 2006, when Bridgette and Mike volunteered to be one-on-one volunteers at Damar, it was clear they had a special place in their hearts for children with developmental disabilities. Soon after, it was clear that they had won a special place in the heart of Sadie, the child with whom they were matched.

One day, only weeks after they met Sadie, she looked up at the couple and asked, "Are you going to adopt me?"

With no kids of their own, Bridgette and Mike knew adoption would be a big step and that adopting a special needs child would come with unique challenges. But they were up to those challenges. Now 10-years-old, Sadie is a full-time part of their family.

As Bridgette and Mike will attest, building your family through adoption can be a powerful experience. Building your family by adopting a special needs child comes with the added knowledge that you are giving a home to someone who needs it most and might struggle most to find one.

Adoption of any child can be complex and costly. As you begin the process, you'll find a variety of children awaiting adoption, including many classified as having special needs. This includes children meeting one or more of the following criteria:

• Age 2 or older

• Emotionally, behaviorally, mentally, physically or developmentally disabled or at risk of becoming so

• Sibling groups or biologically related children whose interests are best served if they're kept together.

While those criteria can seem straightforward, the needs covered by those criteria vary widely. Therefore, before considering the adoption of a child with special needs, you should assess your capacity and ability to address various challenges. Ask yourself the following questions:

• What strengths, resources and supports are available through your immediate and extended family and in your community?

• If the child has specific medial, behavioral or developmental challenges, do you live near professionals or facilities equipped to address those challenges?

• What hurdles might you encounter at home, in school or other settings, and what medical and social services are available to help you overcome those hurdles?

• If you have other children, are they prepared for a new family member? Could they understand and accept a new sibling's special needs?

• If the child is older, how will bringing an adolescent into your home affect your family?

• With younger children with behavioral, medical or developmental challenges, how will those needs change as the child grows into an adolescent and adult?

Currently nearly 130,000 children are awaiting adoption in the United States; many of them are children with special needs. Through a statewide initiative to promote the adoption of children with special needs, Indiana offers parents opportunities to learn more about the adoption process. The initiative will help you connect with agencies that provide foster adoption training, and assist individuals in preparing for adoption. Often, such agencies will continue to be key resources for post-adoptive counseling that might be needed. For more information, go to www.in.gov/dcs/adoption

Angel Knapp-Reese is the Director of Damar's Community Support Services Program.

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