Tips for Professionals

Transitioning Children with Developmental Trauma into an Adoptive Home

By incorporating The 3–5–7 Model: Preparing Children for Permanency, by Darla Henry, workers and families conduct the preparation work, assist the child in grieving losses, formulate self-identity, establish trust and security through attachments, and build relationships and openness to join families on a permanent basis.

3 Tasks, 5 Questions, 7 Skills

The 3-5-7 Model for the preparation of children for permanency is based on three tasks, five questions and seven critical skills.

The completion of three tasks:

  1. Clarification of life events.
  2. Integration of all family memberships.
  3. Actualization in belonging to a new family.

The answering of five conceptual questions relevant to each child living in placement:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What happened to me?
  3. Where am I going?
  4. How will I get there?
  5. When will I know I belong?

The use of critical skill elements in the preparation work:

  1. Engaging the child.
  2. Listening to the child’s words.
  3. Speaking the truth.
  4. Validating the child’s life story.
  5. Creating a safe space.
  6. Going back in time.
  7. Recognizing pain as part of the process.

With a feeling of closure done in a proper transition, the child will feel secure in their new surroundings, which will give them the ability to make decisions and operate freely and with confidence.

Six Step Process

STEP 1: Preparation

Start on notification of an impending move. When preparing a child for a new placement or home, it is good to start weeks before the move. An effective plan includes purpose, frequency, length, location, activities, supervision, who attends, responsibilities, what to have at the visits. Visits occur at a consistent date, time and place, whenever possible.

Infants

How often: Two to five visits per week, each 60 minutes at a minimum.

Where: Home or homelike environment.  There should be comfortable furniture, soft/ambient light, no strong smells, not an overly crowded or busy area.

What: Parent meets child’s needs. Lots of time for one-on-one bonding.  If possible, skin-to-skin contact should be allowed.

Who visits: Parents and siblings separate or together, and other key people with emotional attachment.

Infants 6 or 8 months old should sufficiently establish a comfort zone with touch, smell and sight. Those 8 months to 15 months should get to know their new caretakers and not get the stranger anxiety from a move to someone they do not know. Visits should be held no more than one to two days apart. 

Toddlers

How often: Two to four visits per week, each at least 60 to 90 minutes.

Where: Home or homelike environment; doctor appointments.  See other considerations above.

What: Parent meets child’s needs.  Lots of-on-one time together without distraction.

Who visits: Parents and siblings separate or together and other key people with emotional attachment. Listen for who child asks to see.

Nearing 2 years and older, children can usually grasp that a change is about to occur. Explaining to the child that they are about to have a new home is important in preparing to accept that a move is about to occur. Attachments form at a young age. Children ages 1 to 5 should take approximately three to six weeks. The idea is for the child to avoid attachment disorders due to feelings of abandonment and rejection or fear of such.

Forcing a quick move will not force the child into bonding, but could cause them not to bond at all.

Preschool

How often: Two to four visits per week, each 60 to 90 minutes.

Where: Home or homelike environment. Community setting: parks, playgrounds, childcare, doctor appointments.  Places that provide places children opportunities to be active, be fed, spend time one-on-one with a parent or caregiver.

What: Child chooses what to do during visit; which book to read, what toys, what game. Ask child about their life. Provide lots of opportunities for the parent to connect with the child and provide appropriate discipline if needed.  Families should allow for some downtime during visits to give the child a sense of what living in the home full-time will be like.

Who visits: Ask child who they want to visit. Parents and siblings together or separate, and other key people with emotional attachment.

Elementary School

How often: One to two visits per week, each one to three hours.  Some contact can be facilitated by phone, Facetime, Facebook, or other social media.

Where: Child helps to choose home or homelike environment, or where child already is; school, sports, park, restaurant, therapist, doctor.

What: Child helps to choose: what child likes to do; sports, games. What child must do, homework, chores. While the visits should be fun, they should also not be overly stimulating. The child should get a sense of what life would be like with the parent or family.

Who visits: Ask child who they want to visit. Parents and siblings together or separate, and other key people with emotional attachment.

Teens

How often: At least once a week, one to three hours. Contact can be facilitated by phone, Facetime, Facebook, or other social media.

Where: Teen helps to choose; where teen already is; school, sports, park, restaurant, mall, therapist, home of parent or caregiver, doctor. It is advised to initially provide some activities that allow for contact but are low-key, such as playing games together.

What: Teen helps to choose. What child likes to do; sports, games, shopping. What child must do; homework, chores. Ask child about their life. Families should discipline as appropriate, but also consciously praise and build connection with the child more frequently than they utilized discipline.

Who: Ask teen who they want to visit. Parents and siblings together or separate, and other key people with emotional attachment.

STEP TWO: First Meeting

Ideally the first two to three hours of a meeting should occur with the foster parent, adoptive family and child/children, preferably in the foster home. The adoptive family should meet at a place familiar to the child (the foster home is usually the best place to start.)

The child will be comfortable if they know that it is fine to have this stranger in their own territory. The foster and adoptive parents should interact together with the child to make them comfortable. The foster parents should allow the adoptive parents time to speak and interact with the child. (See their bedroom; ask about their favorite toys or games. Talk about what they like to eat and play with.)

If more visits at the foster parents’ home are available, it is in the child’s best interest to have at least two more to allow for time for everyone to become comfortable and help normalize the transition for the child.

If it is not possible to facilitate a meeting between the foster family and the adoptive family in the foster home or at all, the first few meetings between the adoptive family and the child or sibling should not occur within an office setting unless absolutely necessary or requested by the child.  The child’s or sibling group’s case manager should be present, if it is an appropriate support for the child.  The family may also feel more comfortable with their worker present as well.  The visit should be scheduled somewhere in the community that provides the family and child time to talk, but also things to talk about.  Community zoos, children’s discovery centers or science exhibits, playgrounds, or similar areas are recommended.

STEP THREE: Additional Meetings

After first meeting in the foster home or somewhere out in the community, there should be several two- to four-hour visits outside the foster home within one to three days of each other. This allows the child to become more familiar with the family and also begin to build attachments. Plan a meeting at a fast-food restaurant or park to meet the child and spend time with them.  Food, activities and games are essential to help build attachment and begin the process of family bonding.

STEP FOUR: Visiting the New Home

There should be a minimum of two to three daytime visits at the new home for a period of two to six hours each within a one-week period with the first of these introduced by the foster parent.

The foster parent should bring the child to their new home. The foster parent should stay no more than 15 minutes unless the child is in distress. Make sure that discussions between the foster parents and the foster child occurred and that they understand that the home they are about to visit will eventually become their new home. This allows the child to feel that they have permission from their foster parents to be comfortable in someone else’s home.

Remember that the child doesn’t always really know the concept of “foster parent” or “temporary parent” until much older, as in 5 or 6 years.

Repeat the day visits at least twice more, but let the adoptive couple pick up the child from the foster home after the first visit at the new home. This will get the child used to going with the new parents and still be assured that they will be back home and with whom they have been for so long. It will relieve tension about the uncertainty of leaving foster mom and foster dad if they have lived there for some time.

STEP FIVE: Overnights to New Home

After the child has had at least two to three day visits with the new family, plan an overnight stay on a day when the adoptive parents will be home the next day to spend time with the child.

Continue overnight visits until there have been at least four to six overnights in the new home, alternating with overnights at the foster home. Eventually, the child will spend all of the nights at the new home and only days at the old home.

The amount of time will depend on the comfort of the child. At this time, depending on the child’s comfort, a three- to four-day stay is recommended. As the visits progress, the time spent at the foster home will decrease until the child spends more time at the new home than the old.

There may be a time when the child will probably not want to go with the new parents and want to stay at the foster home. This is normal as the child has an attachment to the foster home and senses some loss and is not yet as comfortable in the new setting. This does not mean the placement will not be successful.

STEP SIX: Placement Day

This day should not come as a surprise to the child but rather a day they are looking forward to, of course with typical trepidation. While many people may want to make the day celebratory, it is recommended that the day be like the others but acknowledging how special it is.

 

— Source: “The 3-5-7 Model: A Practice Approach to Permanency,” by Darla L. Henry