November is National Adoption Awareness month, and several courts in our area celebrate Adoption Day.

This year, Grand Traverse County Court is planning to recognize several adoptions on Friday, Nov. 22, with a special reception and opportunity for newly adopted children to pound Judge Melanie Stanton’s gavel. It’s an emotional day for all involved.

Many of our staff and board, along with extended families, are at court to honor these adoptions and hear the testimonies. Recent TV shows and movies shed a light on this process, but there are still many misconceptions about adoption.

Today more Americans than not have had a personal or family experience with adoption. We’ve learned a great deal from the days when young, pregnant girls went away to have their babies, to the open adoptions that began in the 1970s, when social workers recognized the importance of children being able to reconnect with their biological parents at some point in their lives. Now we understand even more about the loss that occurs with children who are removed from their birth families. The loss needs to be processed and talked about at age-appropriate stages through the child’s life.

Some children experience a cultural loss, or a race-identity loss, which can lead to other self-identity issues during their adolescence. Many Native American children were separated from their families and tribes in the years before The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978. The historical trauma that both Native Americans and African Americans have endured over generations will take many more years to heal from, with the help of an empathetic community that recognizes those causes and consequences.

We are learning so much more about the effects of past adverse childhood experiences and how we can help build a more resilient, compassionate community by supporting our neighbors with non-judgmental kindness and understanding.

Fortunately, there are many fine counseling services for all of these needs, as we know every individual adoption story is different. We at Child and Family Services offer specialized trauma assessments that can help guide parents and caregivers through the more difficult behaviors that may occur. We also offer counseling for children, adults and families — either in our office or at Peace Ranch, a partner nonprofit for healing.

We recognize that adults can experience post-traumatic events that have been buried for years, but may not resurface until they’re raising their own kids.

So when we celebrate “Forever Families,” it is with a full heart recognizing the stories behind every adoption. It could be a grandparent adopting their grandchild, because their own child died from an overdose. Or the couple who were empty-nesters and when they were getting their feet wet by becoming foster parents, found that they couldn’t say no to the kiddos who asked them on their second day in the home if they could stay there forever and call them Mom and Dad!

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About the author: Linda Sommerville is the development director at Child and Family Services of Northwestern Michigan.

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