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Trauma Related

The children that my husband and I are adopting have older siblings that are placed in another pre-adoptive home. The kids’ Guardian Ad Litem talked with both families and we both agreed to have phone contact with each other as parents.

Today was the first time that I was able to speak with the other mother. She seems very nice and we are both in agreement that our kids have been through so much trauma that we do not want to put the kids through pain and added trauma from them having visitation with each other. So we agreed on yearly letters and pictures sent out with our Christmas cards. It is more for us as parents to know how the siblings are doing and so when the time is right to tell our kids about the others, we are able to tell them how they are doing and what they have been doing.

My kids rarely talk about their biological parents and previous foster parents now. When asked about other kids at the biological parents house, the oldest will tell us barely about “a friend” that lived there. He will say what the favorite toy was or that he was mean to him. And that is it. They do not know these kids as their siblings. Her children are older so they remember my kids, but mine do not remember them. My husband and I want to tell he children about their siblings after they have been able to work out some of their demons and when they seem more healed from the trauma.

A little bit of background: the children were separated by the county workers due to the other children beating up my children.

With talking to this other mom, she was able to telling me about the abuse that her kids endured from the biological parents. My kids were under 3 years old when put into foster care so either they did not get the abuse or they were to young to remember it or know how to put it into words. Hearing what those kids went through, it breaks my heart thinking that little ones have to go through that sort of treatment.

The abuse included: beatings, left home alone, not fed, watching their biological parents beat each other up and be wasted, getting burned by biological parents, constantly being yelled at, locked in closets, trapped in the dark.

My question is this: In order to be able to help and protect my children, there really isn’t any good way to find out what really happened to them. But how do we gather this information? Do we flat out ask the kids if this stuff happened to them? Or ask the other mom to ask her kids? Or just leave it be?

I do not want to hurt my kids by bringing this stuff up, but somethings are better healed when you can talk about them. I don’t know what to do. Please give me your honest opinion! My husband and I are willing to hear all options to help our children!


This is a sticky situation isn’t it? All foster/adoptive parents struggle with how our decisions today will affect the future. I think you have to think of what’s best for your kids now and let the chips fall where they may. There is plenty of time later for talking to them about “the hard truths” Our social worker gave us no idea what our kids had been through, it wasn’t until after they came to us that slowly bits of info were revealed to give us the big picture. I am wondering if you have any contact with a grandparent or an aunt or uncle? In my experience, they were the ones who had no problems telling how trashy the parents were. We also made the decision not to have contact with the Bio-father, especially after he wanted to introduce my kids to their new baby sister. That’s not something I want to have conversations about at age 6 and 8. I had a friend whose adoptive daughters older siblings told her about the bio’s abuse during a visit and it really traumatized this girl. Trust God….and your gut. Hugs and Prayers!

Posted by AzureNC on Sep 14, 2017 at 8:24pm

Start with educating them about abuse as it is age appropriate, and as they get older, the conversation will eventually lead to more specific truths about thier history. Take is slow and gradually, but let them pace themselves. If they are old enough to ask the question, they are old enough to hear the truth in an age appropriate way.  Also, during these conversations, never ever say anything negative about anyone in bio family no matter HOW bad they were. My kids have been with me over 10 years now, and came extremely truamatized. They (and I) were allowed to be mad at bio mom for her actions, but were never allowed to say anything disrespectful about her at any time.
We started our conversation when we first got them at 4, 6, and 8 by explaining that addiction is a really bad disease that is very hard to understand.
As they got older, (upper elementary age) we explained that addition has no cure, that it is a disease that makes people unable to take care of themselves and other people, but that addiction does not mean that the person who has the disease has always been or always will be someone who can not take care of themselves or others. (Around this time is when I started telling them how thier unique personality traits, facial expressions, etc reminded me of thier bio mom, or Bio Auntie. We would look at photos and identify similarities in thier looks, and things like that.
As they went up to Middle school, and now High School and College (OMG ALREADY!!!), we got back into contact with some bio familly members. Some time later, we learned from thier Bio Auntie that thier Birthmom had been sober for 3 years, so I initiated contact with her. Once I determined it would be a safe relationship, I allowed them to seek contact with her if they wanted to. Now my oldest has met his bio dad, and has learned about TEN siblings he never knew he had. They have been able to reconnect with thier 4 oldest brothers too. I don’t think this would have gone so smoothly and in a healthy way had we not kept the dialogue positive and honest the way we did over the last 10 years.

Posted by notsupermom on Sep 14, 2017 at 9:05pm

Thank you so much for wanting the best for the kids!

I think sometimes the best way to help your children through their past is to create an environment that is conducive for them to talk about their trauma whenever they are ready. This is rough for me because I want to help people with situations right away. I find the biggest support for my children though is simply being available for them when they are ready to process the information - it might not even be me but me providing a family friend or therapist to help lead their processing.

With our children we find that reading various books or watching certain movies can create an atmosphere for us to ask questions about characters who are experiencing the same emotions or situations as our kids. Talking about characters in media is great because you can talk about the character and the conversation need not be directly about the child. It just overall seems to make the situation less tense and more organic. There are a lot of great books to be found from Jessica Kingsley Publishing’s website and at

I would also agree with AzureNC that speaking with extended birth family when speaking with the birth parents is not an option can be very fruitful. It might not just provide assistance for dealing with trauma but you may even discover medical histories and such that would be valuable for your child in the future.

Trauma is a tricky beast but simply being available for your child will make a big difference. Again, thank you.

Posted by darren_fink on Sep 14, 2017 at 9:10pm

Your children remember more than they can vocalize at the moment.  We started our daughter on trauma therapy when she was four.  The therapist had us write her life story including what happened and I read it to our daughter while the therapist did EMDR.  Of course it was a sanitized version and simply stated that her first dad and his girlfriend hurt and could not care for her.  There was also a kidnapping and that was touched on in a light way.  Basically the story skimmed her past in an age appropriate way but was meant to let her acknowledge what happened.  As she gets older and asks questions we fill in the details in an age appropriate way. 

As for no contact with the older siblings because of the beatings I feel that might not be your best solution.  First the older siblings were taught the abuse by the first parents.  A visit once a year perhaps at a restaurant or other public place with both sets of adoptive parents may be better for everyone.  Each set of children will see that their new parents can and will protect them and the children can connect in a non-abusive way.  Even with large age differences sibling bonds are important and as their new parents it’s your jobs to teach all these kids about healthy relationships and to help keep that bond.  IMHO

Posted by C3 on Sep 14, 2017 at 9:25pm

I think they remember more than you think. Trauma memories are burned deep.

I don’t know if meeting the sibs would cause more trauma. Some kids are glad to know sibs are OK and being taken care of, others need to see for themselves. Pictures sound like a good way to begin.

They may not talk about the siblings or bring up the past that doesn’t mean they don’t think about it. You could bring it up and say things like your brother was very hurt physically by so and so I don’t know if anything like that happened to you.

How old are your kids? that has a great deal to do with what and how to share.

This book might help you

Telling the Truth to Your Adopted or Foster Child: Making Sense of the Past, 2nd EditionSep 15, 2015
by Betsy Keefer Smalley and Jayne E. Schooler

A life book and time line can help too.

Where were they living when the   other sibs abused your kids? With foster parent? With birth family?

It sounds like the abuse was pretty profound so I doubt that your children were not abused.

The older kids could be a good resource for what happened depending on how easily they can talk about it. You can also ask the custodial agency for a review of the case and they may be able to tell you more. Since you are now the parents you can access old medical records as well if you know where they were taken for care.

You mention you want to wait until the children work out some demons from the abuse. Are they in therapy for the trauma? Maybe the therapist can help you with these issues.

I wrote some workbooks that help some children open up as they can color, answer questions, and associate with the children in the books. Go to amazon and scroll around

Best of luck to you and the kids.

Posted by Regina on Sep 14, 2017 at 9:34pm

Thank you everyone for your opinions.

My kids are 5, 4, and 1 1/2. We have had them for 13 months now.

We do not know of any biological family other than the parents and siblings. They all have TPRs in place. And honestly, I would never contact either parent. If I did, not so nice things would come out. The state doesn’t even know where they are at anymore anyways.

The older siblings with the other family are like 5 years or so older than my oldest. The stories that they have told their parents are awful. I have a copy of the petitions to terminate parental rights that lists what the state knows of how they were treated. Ninety percent of what they have said were not listed in the court documents.

The other mom said that she is hopefully going to get her kids in to see a neurologist because she believes that her son has a traumatic brain injury, as well as them all having PTSD, RAD, and possibly FAS.

I can guarantee that my kids have PTSD and I feel like they have some form of attachment disorder as well. They had a previous diagnostic assessment completed that said PTSD, disinhibited attachment disorder, and I can’t think of the other one right now. (It has been an awful day for many reasons today). We went to get a new one since they are in their forever home and since the first one was completed in December 2016 and we got the kids in August 2016. In the 4 months they were with us, no one came to assess them so I do not know where they got the information from.

We have been waiting to hear back from Lutheran Social Services in our area on setting up therapy appointments for them. They completed diagnostic assessment appointments the end of July/beginning of August and we still have not received the results or heard if they are going to set up sessions for them. I have left tons of messages for them to get back to me. Our adoption case manager has left them messages too. They have not replied to her either.

With everything going on lately, I feel like the most worthless mother. I knew coming in to this that parenting is hard. And parenting a traumatized child will be even harder. On top of that, going from 0 kids to 3 kids overnight that are all traumatized, it is very challenging. I am doing everything that I can think of but I still feel like I am doing nothing to help them. I feel like I may even be making their lives worse. My husband tells me several times a day that I am a great mommy and that our kids have come a long way since we got them. Maybe I do not see it since I am with them everyday. Or it could be that I hear from so many people weekly of things that I should be doing differently. Hearing everyone criticize me makes me feel like I should give the kids back to the county.

She has a friend that has a little boy who is very spoiled and nasty mean to everyone and has to be held quite often (he is 6). My sister talks about how bad the friend’s parenting style is. And when we were at my sister’s she told me that my youngest is turning out to be like him. It hurt me a lot because if she thinks that my son is like that boy and that I coddle my son too much, what does she think of me as a parent?

And during this “conversation”, my sister told me that she will now no longer try to give me parenting advice since I got so butt-hurt by her comments. She told me that if I want advice I should go talk to our mother because she thinks my mom and I are the same and have the same opinions and raise our kids with those same opinions. Mind you, she hates our mom. She hates how we were raised (we had a rough childhood, nothing like my kids had though). She hates how our mom treats her and her family. So I gathered from that, that I parent like my mom and my sister hates how our mom parents and think she is a bad mom, so i must be a bad mom too. Again, she got mad that I was butt-hurt by her saying that too. In our “talk” i was pretty much told that I am a bad mom from her twice. You know, so if you hear it enough, you start to believe it yourself.

My doctor has put me on a moderate dose of Zoloft for a form of postpartum depression that foster/adoptive families get.

On top of hearing today all of the stuff that the kids endured, hearing that my husband’s uncle passed away, and the “normal” fighting and tantrums my kids have, my sister was ever so kind to tell me that “the youngest is too spoiled that my older two will grow up resenting him and hating him. Just like I felt for you.” He has hit terrible 2s and wants nothing to do with anyone that is not mommy. We can be in a room of 15 family members and all he wants is me. I have started hiding behind people or faking having to go to the bathroom so that he will find someone or something else to play with. As soon as he sees me or hears me, he is right next to me. He will scream and cry at the top of his lungs for me to play with him or hold him. It goes on and on all day. I timed him one day to see how long he’d cry for if i didn’t pick him up and it was at 1 1/2 hours when I finally caved in and picked him up. He will do the same thing with food. He will scream and cry until he is fed. I swear he turns into Hyde when he is hangry. The older two if asked to wait until supper is ready instead of eating a small snack, they are okay with that. If they eat after 3:30-4pmish, they will not eat supper. My sister pretty much told me that I am starving my kids since i wont let them snack but he can. He could eat snacks up until supper time and still eat supper. He is not chubby at all either. I do not know how to limit his snacking or holding him. Yesterday, he pulled out the drawers and climbed up to the snack cupboard. We have cheap locks from Walmart on them, but he if tough and if pulled hard enough he can get it open. I gave in and gave him a snack yesterday because i didn’t want him falling off the counter ripping the door open.

The kids tell us and each other all the time that they love each other and they want to help their youngest sibling out all the time. Of he cries, their first answer is does he need juice? Can I get him a snack? If he wants a toy they have, they let him play with it because he will be done playing with it in less than 2 minutes.

We started video taping the kids playing when we can’t be in the room to show others how they are when at home (option brought up by Lutheran Social Services). When my sister first came over and saw it, she asked about it. I told her and I told her what we have caught the kids doing while we are out of the room. She told me to watch them better. I asked her how she could sit and watch her kids 24 hours a day. If I did that, I would have to bring them with me to the bathroom, when I cook, etc. You shouldn’t have to do that. Her reply was “Well my kids don’t need therapy.”

This is the sister who tells me up and down that their is nothing wrong with my kids. That they are normal toddlers. That they don’t need therapy.

I never felt like I was good enough for anything growing up. My husband is the one that was the first big supporter in my life. He got me to believe that I was good enough. That I was better than most because of my strength to over come the obstacles thrown at me. Now I am back to square one, thinking that I once again am not good enough. He has tried so hard to make me see things the way he does since getting the kids but I have not been able to see it.

Thank you for all the input!

Posted by FosterToAdopt on Sep 15, 2017 at 1:09am

FosterToAdopt, you are amazing! Going from 0 to 3 kids under any circumstances would be a complete life altering adjustment. We went from 0 to 2 and I was in a fog for at least 6 months.  It sounds to me like you need support. In my humble opinion I think you should seek out support groups in your area for social support, resources and positive relations.  I’ve found that I can’t maintain relationships with judgmental uninformed critics.  Your sister doesn’t sound supportive or healthy for you or your kids to be around.  Based on some comments before we were matched with our kiddos, I decided I would minimize contact with those who couldn’t be supportive or insisted on providing inappropriate commentary. Some people have been wonderful and others I just see rarely if at all.

I would also consider just giving yourself a break and not trying anything new for x amount of time. You have ALOT going on simply with forming routines, appointments, flowing up on things already in play, seeking out support.  Time and consistency will help in many ways both for you to garner strength and for kids to adjust and develop.

Lastly and most importantly, Try to step back and reflect on where the kids were at previously so you can appreciate what a rockstar you are.

Hugs to you!

Posted by AttitudeOfGratitude on Sep 15, 2017 at 10:17am


I was just at my doctor for a follow up on my thyroid medication. My blood pressure was very high compared to what it was when I was there 2 weeks ago. She asked if I’ve had added stress. I brokr down real bad. I told her of the comments I have people say to me about our parenting and such. I had a break down in her office. She put me on another higher dose antidepressant and wants me to go to counseling.

Have any of you done counseling for something like this? Or does anyone know if it will negatively affect us finalizing the adoption?

I emailed our care team and let them know what was going on but haven’t heard back yet. I’ve been panicking since I left the doctor thinking I just ruined having a future with my kids because I’m too emotional.

Posted by FosterToAdopt on Sep 15, 2017 at 4:41pm

Foster to Adopt - I have been where you are now, with the critizing, unsolicited advice, depression, all of it. I had to learn to tune everyone out, and follow my instincts, ignoring all others. My daughters were 4 and six when we got them, and I carried them all the time while people walking behind me, and past me mumbled under thier breath, or said directly to my face that she was too old to be carried. Just because your kids are not physically disabled, does NOT mean they do not have special needs. I doubted myself constantly, and then, after several years of doubt, people around me got quiet, and learned to let me do my thing. now, 10 years later, the people who were telling me that I was too hard on my kids, too sensitive about certain topics around my kids, not sensitive enough about thier history, (INCLUDING some social workers) are now telling me that they did not understand why I did things the way I did back then, but now that they see how far my kids have come now, they do. The better my kids got, the more my confidence in my parenting grew.

The early years are especially exhausting, both physically and emotionally. You are not raising “normal” toddlers, you are raising truamatized toddlers. Look at them as newborns. Newborns learn how to form healthy attachments by being held, and being fully dependent on thier parents. Your kids are only learning that now. Hold them, give them more attention than your body wants to allow. The exaustion and doubt you feel is normal. Every new parent feels that way, a combination of shock, exahustion, and questioning every decision they make. You are experiencing this times three! Give yourself a break. Kids are so incredibly resilient! They will be okay!

They may not remember the abuse and neglect, but they will still have to work through the long term effects of it.

And above all, practice self care. If you need a break, take one. Need to talk this through with a therapist?
DO IT! It will not hurt your adoption process at all.

Social Services can help with kinship care, and other resources for you, and your kids. Ask them for help. Demand help. It will not affect your adoption. We got very demanding, even issued legal threats to Social Services to get the help our kids needed, and all it did was get us services for our kids (literally the next day), and motivate Social Services to get rid of us by speeding up the finalization of our adoption.

Posted by notsupermom on Sep 15, 2017 at 5:33pm

If your children were exposed to all you have heard I doubt that their emotional ages are the same as chronological ages. There is a evaluation called the Vineland II that helps. Parents answer questions and children are evaluated in things like social age, communication etc. Trauma moves etc almost always cause delays in social and other skills

So your 2 year old may be acting like a ten month old with fears you are leaving him when he can’t be with you. He might be insecure and not have learned object permanency yet.So if he can’t see you he thinks you are gone. That is an example as I do not know your kids I can’t say for sure. But if that soinds right ...when he yells when he can’t see you go to him see him as a scared baby not a brat. Play peek a boo and hide a seek a lot. See if he likes it.

Theraplay (not play therapy they are different) can sometimes help. Look here for info

Your agency may know of a support group for parents like you which can be helpful.

If he turns into a monster when hungry talk to your pediatrician. He might have sugar lows and need a more toddler like schedule (they graze do not eat three meals) If the kids were food deprived that is another issue.

There is a good book re that Love Me, Feed Me: The Adoptive Parent’s Guide to Ending the Worry About Weight, Picky Eating, Power Struggles and More Paperback – September 14, 2012 it is on amazon.

As far as criticism goes I guess you need to take it with a grain of salt. You could say to your sister “I know you are a good parent but you are parenting children without the same issues. If you san had diabetes I would not think you were a bad mom because you watched his food and gave him shots. My children’s issues are not visible but I still have to parent them in the best way I can.”
Would you like to read some books to help you understand?

You might like PArenting the hurt child by Keck and Kupecky. Loads of ideas re nurture, what works and what doesn’t and why.

Posted by Regina on Sep 15, 2017 at 6:24pm

Attitude of Gratitude, Notsupermom, and Regina:  You are all right-on!  And thank you for articulating your thoughts and suggestions so well. 

We also went from 0 - 3 kids (ages 8, 5,and 3 at the time) and the first 6 months were crazy.  I lost 30 lbs without even trying. Yes, our kids are definitely not their chronological age and they absolutely need a ton of nurturing, attention, holding, rocking, and consistent caring presence.  They didn’t get this as infants and toddlers.  Yes, our kids look like typically developing youngsters physically so uninformed individuals do not understand their needs. 

Hang in there Foster to Adopt and reread as many times as you need to the advice of Attitude of Gratitude, Notsupermom, and Regina.

Posted by Motherof3 on Sep 16, 2017 at 12:01am

Sorry for the delay.  I haven’t used this group for a while.  This discussion thread reminded me why I need to.

My children were placed in 2012 and I adopted them in 2013.  They are healthy, happy, beautiful kids.  They have also had a traumatic start in life.

I am also going through menopause.  Not a great combination at the moment.

We have ups and downs.  I try to take care of myself.  Today I got up at 6:30 to meditate before waking my daughter at 6:45 to complete the homework we couldn’t finish last night because she exploded.  (side note… see Beyond Consequences “Billy at school” if you need help with this ... I have found it extremely helpful, although I’m definitely not perfect.) 

Once again, it blew up.  I know I’m her Mom and she is supposed to feel safe blowing up on me when she feels so uncomfortable.  But it still hurts.  And I don’t always handle it well.  I didn’t handle it well today.  Again. 

Parenting is hard, but in the case of adopted children, it can be even more challenging.  Is this me (this is my first parenting experience?) Is this their history? Is this their personality?  Is something genetic going on?  I’ll never know. 

But thank you all for helping me by sharing your experiences. I truly appreciate the community.


Posted by Kennedy on Nov 28, 2017 at 2:03pm

Hi Kennedy,I also haven’t posted in awhile. Good to read your post again.

I’d like to recommend to Foster to Adopt to search for an in person support group of parents as well. It is very helpful to have connections with others who understand what ever your situation.

I agree with Daren Fisk that often the best policy is to let them open up to u when ready, or bring up thoughts when they express something connected that shows they are struggling and may need some perspective.

You know the ins and outs of your kids situation the best. Use your judgment on connection with similarly traumatized siblings. But I will just add that sometimes siblings and or other kids who have lived together thru abuse are more a support than a detriment. It really depends on the kids. It may be a relief to them to know the siblings have survived if they are doing well, and a source of strength.

It also may be a help if you can find a good trauma informed therapist, or one with much adoption work to help a child understand the effects of what they’ve lived thru in an age appropriate way. Trauma effects can be long lasting even if spoken of only rarely.

Posted by Happy Camper on Dec 21, 2017 at 3:53am

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