It is heartbreaking to consider the numbers of children who are adopted, sometimes for years, then returned back to foster care. The consequences of reinforcing in a child’s mind that they are not good enough, not lovable enough are devastating. Equally heartbreaking is the pain of the adoptive family who took this child into their home as their own, believing they had enough love to conquer all challenges, only to discover that the emotional, behavioral and sometimes physical problems the child faces require way more than love.
On any given day in Hillsborough County, Florida alone, there are 2,000-5,000 children living apart from their parents because their home situation is unsafe. While the initial intention is to stabilize the situation and reunite parent and child, in many cases the situation cannot be made safe for the child so parental rights are terminated and the child enters the foster care system and can be adopted.
We serve all families in Hillsborough County who have adopted or are in the process of adopting because all their children are dealing with the loss of their biological families. The majority of the children we serve are, however, in foster care at the time of adoption. They come from severely dysfunctional biological homes resulting in the court terminating parental rights. Physical, sexual and verbal child abuse, domestic violence, substance abuse, neglect and abandonment can often be the norm. Yet these children experience profound grief at the loss of their biological parents. Often they bounce around from one foster home to another, living out of a suitcase, never feeling secure, never feeling they belong, never feeling loved. They often do not even know their address. Many of the children suffer from severe reactive attachment disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Most act out, sometimes severely, because of the deep emotional pain they are in. A few have even killed family pets and threatened to kill or harm their adoptive families.
The adoptive parents that love these children desperately want to help them, to make them happy, but the stresses on the parents, on their marriage and on the other children in the home can be intense. It is common for these adopted children to display an array of behaviors stemming from their experience with trauma, loss and grief. Adoptive families often try to cope with these behaviors on their own. Eventually these situations can escalate, forcing the family to believe that there is no alternative other than to give up on the child. When this happens, the child is further emotionally damaged and abandoned by yet another caregiver.
Some families seek out professional assistance but, unfortunately, service providers are not always schooled in the circumstances that are unique to adopted children. Untrained professionals have the potential to cause more harm than good to a family’s situation and, at the very least, may prove ineffective in helping the family.
It is when families reach their breaking point, believing they have nowhere else to turn, that they discover the Sylvia Thomas Center.
The Sylvia Thomas Center improves the lives of these children and families in profound ways through education and case management services. We firmly believe that when families and all those who touch the lives of adopted children are educated in the unique needs of adopted children, issues can be recognized and addressed more quickly and effectively, children can be better healed, family bonds can be strengthened and more adoptions can last forever. The more we can train, the better the outcomes for families and children. While training can result in healing beginning sooner before the issues become extreme, case management services are still needed to oversee and assist in the healing process, especially where finances and insurance are inadequate. Our services are in line with what we train; they are comprehensive and family-centered. We strive to help the parents help their child and to strengthen the family in its entirety.
From October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2009, the Sylvia Thomas Center worked with 432 families, many of whom were in crisis, some ready to surrender their foster or adoptive child back to the state. In each of these instances, the Center was able to provide the supportive services that allowed the family to successfully recover, preventing the dissolution of the adoption and ultimately helping the family to become stronger and more stable overall, to become a “forever” family. Over 50% of these families received some form of training. Approximately one-third of the families we serve come from the greater Brandon area.
We currently serve children and families in Hillsborough County, Florida but recognize there are far more children and families who need our help – in Hillsborough County, throughout the state of Florida and across the nation. We cannot turn a deaf ear to the cries of the children and the tears of the families. The Sylvia Thomas Center is uniquely qualified to help. Therefore, we say:
We can, we should and we will.