Shannon Dingle…Why do you keep writing about how broken kids in foster or adoptive placements are?

© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyA reader gently asked me this, and I immediately understood what she meant. I’ve written about trauma and attachment difficulties, and I’ve written about permanent brain changes resulting from institutionalization at an early age. I wrote a whole post about how “all kids do that” dismisses the hard histories that have shaped some of the behavioral responses our children show. I spoke at the Global Access Conference about the special needs of foster and adoptive families.

So, yes, I can see how it might seem like I’m saying that kids in foster or adoptive placements are broken while other kids are whole. That’s not what I’m saying, though, so I want to take a moment to clarify.

We are all broken. In Genesis 1, we see a perfect world in which everything God created was good. In the absence of sin, everything in the garden would have stayed good and pure and right and perfect. In the garden, adoption and foster care would never be necessary because no parents would die or be unable to care for their children or get sick or abuse their offspring or be coerced into giving up parental rights or neglect the ones born to them or give birth to a child outside of a loving and safe family environment.

But then we know what comes later in that book and what effects the first sin and all the ones that came after, including yours and mine, have reaped on this world. The need for adoption and foster care is one result of the brokenness of this world, and those of us parenting children who entered our home through adoption or foster care see daily the impact of that particular kind of brokenness.

But all of us are broken. I see the impact of other kinds of brokenness when the daughter who grew in my womb comes home in tears because someone made fun of her hair and when a healthcare professional rudely said “What’s wrong with him? Get it together, hon,” to my son whose sensory issues were manifesting a meltdown that didn’t seem age appropriate. I see it in the slumped shoulders and quivering lips of my dear ones when I lose my temper and yell at them instead of respectfully addressing whatever issues are at hand. I see it in our marriage, when a disagreement can escalate because I tend to shout more because that’s what my family did growing up while my husband withdraws more because that’s the behavior he learned at home.

It’s true, though, that I often write and speak specifically about brokenness in adoption and foster care. That observation is valid. We at Key Ministry are seeing an increase in the number of families telling us of challenges in church involvement after adopting and foster care, an uptick in the number of churches asking for help in including these families well, and – in Steve’s case as a child psychiatrist – a rise in the number of families seeking professional help for the children who entered their homes through adoption or foster care. At the same time, we’re seeing positive stories shared without the challenges (often because sharing those wouldn’t be respectful to the children involved), sermons about the need for orphan care with no comment on the difficulties that may arise, and memes that romanticize and glamourize the brokenness that leads to adoption or foster care.

Do I love adoption and foster care? Yes. Do I think the church ought to be involved in both locally and globally, as well as family preservation efforts to prevent their need? Certainly.

But I also want to make sure we’re telling the whole story. I’m not saying “don’t adopt” or “stop it with those memes” but rather standing in the gap between Hallmark movie versions of adoption/foster care and the hard realities that sometimes persist after placement. I’m saying “we’re all broken, but it seems like we’re glossing over this kind particular kind of brokenness.”

As Christians, we are people of the Truth, so let’s act like it by telling the whole story and loving children and families in the midst of both the beauty and the brokenness of adoption and foster care.

Updated May 27, 2016


NCTSDKey Ministry offers a resource page on Trauma and Kids to pastors, church staff, volunteers and families. The resource page includes links to all of the posts from our Fall 2013 blog series, links to resources from Jolene Philo, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and Empowered to Connect. Check it out today and share the resource page with others who would benefit.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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27 Responses to Shannon Dingle…Why do you keep writing about how broken kids in foster or adoptive placements are?

  1. Amy says:

    Thank you Shannon. This week, I’m leading a support group discussion on the book, “Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew” by Sherrie Eldridge. Your post resonates with many points she makes – Don’t gloss over our past, help me with my special needs, help me grieve, special days are difficult. And, the list goes on. As an adoptive parent and ministry leader, thank you for all that you do at Key Ministries!


  2. I totally agree! I have two adopted children and I have met may kids/teens who are not adopted but all have been affected by turmoil in their life and left broken. However, the foundations of adopted and foster children quite differ. That’s not to say that those who were not adopted didn’t have just as much difficulty, but you have to remember that those who were adopted and came from foster care have a very different perspective of themselves and how others look at them which leads them to more insecurities, self-esteem issues, bonding problems, disorders, mental issues, etc… Even though we don’t want to treat them differently, in some aspect we have to in order to meet their very specific needs.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Rhonda McPeek says:

    We are experiencing this very thing right now!!! Real life trauma from the abuse of the bio family. I really need help and guidance to help our daughter that had to go to residential treatment. We have bio sisters from a sin group of 5. I would love to go to this conference and somehow I am trying to figure out how to be a voice for these innocent children that pay the price of their bio parents crime and addictions. My cell is 865-850-5693 please text me or call with any info that can better our family.
    I have raised 3 kids and was very successful I truly need help with my 13 yr old
    thank you,


  4. danabrown68 says:

    I agree 100%. Many kids are further traumatized because foster parents don’t have the full picture of what the behavior possibilities are with attachment disorders and trauma. When a foster family, with great intentions, gets a placement of adorable little children, they expect a normal daily life to ensue immediately. That is just not the case. It can’t be. Every child in foster care has trauma…even if it is just being placed in foster care trauma. But, when this wonderful family begins to have serious behavioral issues to deal with and they have not been trained or even given suggestions on how to deal with it, many times, they decide they are not the right family for the child and the child bounces from home to home. This creates even more trauma and attachment issues for the child. Educating with 100% honestly during foster classes is imperative to the well being of the child and for the family to be prepared. People are not so shallow that they will not foster/adopt because they are not getting what they feel is the perfect child. They will probably be more moved to help if they have the facts and the know how to help the child.

    We fostered and adopted three children. The smallest had major attachment disorder and I was completely unprepared. DSS knew of the attachment issues and didn’t even supply an in-home therapist to help with the transition and to help me with the stress I was feeling. My husband and I are Christians and we promised God that we would say “yes” to the children He placed in our home. We had to remind ourselves of this promise daily. We questioned our resolve daily. Prayed for clarity daily. It was a hard time. I had to advocate for my child and for myself. We finally got the children in the proper care, in-home therapy, and out patient therapy. Things got better.

    My point, it is about the well being of the kids. Not being up front about the issues that could be present, is not in the best interest of the children. Many foster parents are not prepared to deal with these issues. I wasn’t. Now, my kids are happy, healthy, but perfectly imperfect. Just like the rest of us. We still have issues, but I am better prepared to deal with them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jstokes2014 says:

    Thank you so very much for the truth! It empowers those of us in the trenches that we are not alone and fighting a battle that there is little support for in the church or society. We call daily on the blood of Jesus and stand in the gap for our beautiful child. It has been the most difficult thing we have ever, ever done but it has deepened our relationship with the Father. I long to be on the other side of heaven with the Hallmark version and the outcome we pray for daily. Thank you!


  6. Thank you for sharing this. As someone who works in social services, I often see the “glossing” over or only telling half truths. I appreciate your honesty.


  7. anonymous says:

    Please stop calling us “broken”. It is deeply offensive both as an adult adoptee and as an adoptive mom. We are not some project for you to fix.


    • Shannon says:

      If you read my post, I’m writing from the theological perspective that all of us are broken. So if you find that offensive, I can accept that, but please understand that I am not marginalizing adoptees or current/former foster children as broken but rather identifying all people as such.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Amanda says:

    Although I completely agree with you that the lasting impact of toxic stress and early childhood trauma must be present in every conversation about adoption and foster care, I find it problematic to refer to any child as “broken.” Bluntly, it blames and pathologizes an innocent child for the brokenness around them by which they have, through no fault of their own, been affected. The home that abused or neglected is the problem, not the child. The home that may be providing shelter but lacks an adult whom a child feels safe attaching to is the problem, not the child. Seeing children as broken may make it more tolerable for adults to deal with the child’s behavior. That’s the funny thing about pathologization. It’s an explanation that doesn’t directly hold adults as culpable in a child’s challenges nor hold adults as responsible to make things better for children through change in adults individually, in adult-run systems, and in a society where adults have all the power. But adoption and foster care aren’t about adults. They’re about kids. Period.


    • Shannon says:

      As I just commented above: If you read my post, I’m writing from the theological perspective that all of us are broken. So if you find that offensive, I can accept that, but please understand that I am not marginalizing adoptees or current/former foster children as broken but rather identifying all people as such.

      To go beyond that, though, I am one who experienced things as a child that led to some areas of brokenness for me, some that persist today. Was I at fault? No. Was I broken nonetheless in some ways? Definitely. That said, the title of this post came from a reader’s question. I don’t refer to children as broken. And I 100% agree with you that adoption and foster care are about kids not adults, but I often write to adults because (a) they’re the ones reading blogs like this and (b) they, as you point out, are the ones who have the power to make things better.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. shannon says:

    Yes! I love your compassion and how you bring all of us broken people together into this. The disparity between the glamorous promotion of adoption and yet lack of transparent information on what that really looks like for families is something that must change…and I believe, it is changing as people talk about it more and more. Thanks so much for being a voice for not just the children, but also for the families who are working so hard to help them.


  10. Deborah says:

    I HATE THIS! I HATE THAT I HAVE TO READ THIS. Tears are running down my face and moments of sobbing engulf me, but I keep reading on.
    I am living this. The pain and reality of our situation just sucks. There is really no other word for it. THIS SUCKS. The reality that our son will have to spend the rest of his life in an institution, unless, a miracle from our Father in Heaven is released to him soon, is a daily topic with my husband and I. I really believe in miracles. Why not for my son? Tears, tears, tears….
    Thank you for addressing these hard topics even as hard as they are to read right now. This is real life and very acurate information that the church needs to know.


  11. The thing is, you are touching on a universal subject (brokenness). And hardly any of us wants to be reminded of our brokenness. As you mentioned twice in replies to your post, the very idea of it is offensive to us.
    My family has a pretty unique adoption situation that I hesitate to write about because of confidentiality issues. But I will say that as unique as it is, my daughter’s brokenness isn’t any better or worse than biological kid brokenness. It’s just different. I have my own issues. Oh, so many issues… And you know what? I need to take them before the same God as my daughter does… and my husband… and every adopted kid… foster kid… rich kid… poor kid… and every one else in the world, Amen.
    I think we are living in a world that in so many respects wants to create niche markets for all of our special brands of brokenness. All our specific needs may stem from different wounds, but they all go back to the same root need: the Grace of God. Period.


  12. Samantha says:

    Diagnosing adoptee’s with mental health disorders like “RAD” and “Attachment Disorder” labels and assigns blame to the child for not “attaching” properly, when adoption’s very definition strips a person’s identity and family connections. It requires them to live a false reality of who they are, and creates loyalty issues which add yet another layer of disenfranchisement.‪‪‬


    • I agree that labels can be dangerous and damaging, especially when untrained parents “diagnose” these disorders without any professional involvement. Mental health disorders are real, but a diagnosis should never be a stopping point or a scapegoat but rather the starting point to therapeutically address the issue and support the child and the rest of the family toward healthy healing.


    • maryjane rivers says:

      On the other hand, it was a great relief to find out what was happening inside our adopted son’s head. There are articles about the dramatic brain changes that happen to children who have experienced trauma vs. those who have not. If you are not aware of this then their actions seem odd and scary. They often need more help than a family can give them and it’s up to the family to get them the help they need. Without that informa-tion the family would be helpless.


  13. Sarah says:

    I was a foster kid, so I have a unique perspective in praying about adopting some day from foster care. I sense that God could have that on the horizon at some point, but my husband and I need to be in complete unity and really feeling grace for the challenges that WILL come. I still have flashbacks to some of the trauma from that time in my life, although the Lord has healed so much. We just need to be sensitive to know when the right time is… including for the children we already have. Thank you for being real in this post because it doesn’t help anyone to paint adoption as a romanticized rescue effort. It’s war. Worth it? yes… but not without a fight.


    • I love your perspective. Yes, it’s definitely worth it! And I agree 100% with your approach to wait until you and your husband are in complete unity – this fight would be a million times harder if my husband and I weren’t both completely in!

      If you haven’t read any of her material, Heather Forbes is a great resource. Her books could be especially valuable for you, as they not only prepare parents to lovingly raise children with trauma histories but they also help parents identify the cycles of trauma or dysfunction from their past that have to be dealt with in order to be healthy parents. I definitely have had some parts of my own history that I’ve needed to process and work through, and her books have really helped with that and shaped me into a better mom.


  14. Genia says:

    Anyone who asks a question like that has no experience with the foster care system. I was recently with a foster mom from another state & let me say the foster care system nationwide is is shattered!!!!!!!


  15. FightCPS says:

    There is an epidemic in our country. Every day parents’ rights are being violated. Parents’ Constitutional Rights are being violated by the ones that are being paid to uphold them. These rights are being violated by Child Protective Services (CPS). They are also being violated by juvenile court judges and lawyers. The system is corrupt and it needs an overhaul ASAP!
    Georgia’s Senator Nancy Schaefer, before her death, was on the path of destroying CPS. She was able to uncover the truth behind CPS and their illegal kidnapping of children that were not being abused by their parents. Her death has not gone unnoticed by those, parents and grandparents, who have been victims of these judges, lawyers, and CPS workers. Parents have lost custody of their children based mainly on hearsay allegations that can be made anonymously to the child abuse hotline. These children are being ripped away from loving and safe families all because of money. These precious children are being taken away, brainwashed, and put on psychological altering drugs for issues that these children never had when they were residing with their family. These children are taken so that judges, lawyers and CPS workers can make a living.
    In 1997, President Clinton signed the Adoption and Safety Families Act. The Title IV-E Foster Care federal funding depicts that the state will receive money for each child removed from their home and placed in foster care. For every child then adopted, the state receives what they consider a bonus. Children are being ripped from their parents for money.
    Parents’ 4th Amendment right is being ignored by forceful entry by police and CPS workers or through coercion or threats. They come into our homes without a warrant and/or without imminent danger to the children. Their 5th Amendment right is being violated when they are being forced to speak because of threats of not being able to see their children or threats of having their children removed from their homes. Their 6th Amendment right is being violated from hearsay, which in most cases of CPS are all based on an anonymous call to the child abuse hotline. Their 14th Amendment rights are being violated when parents do not receive due process and when children are being interviewed at school without a parents’ knowledge or consent or a right to counsel. CPS workers are told by their supervisors to interview children alone. Most cases, if not all, are not even videotaped or recorded. These children do not know their Miranda rights or their Constitutional rights to remain silent and that they are free to leave the room. Many children are taken from their classroom and interviewed and detained with a CPS worker, most times alone. Children are asked to strip in front of a CPS workers and once taken into custody children are then interrogated and brain washed to believe their parents do not love them or want them. They are taken to doctors and child abuse assessments without their parents present, without a lawyer present and without consent from the parents. Visitation is then given to parents, but are often supervised by a CPS worker. All of this done before due process to determine if indeed a parent has committed a crime. Parents are treated as though they have committed a crime BEFORE due process. Parents have the constitutional right to be legally protected from slander or libelous reports against them, yet many parents are put on the Child Abuse Registry without being convicted of a crime of child abuse. Child abuse is a crime, yet, these parents who have had CPS in their lives, are NEVER arrested, and are NEVER convicted of a crime. Why is this? Because in reality a crime has NOT been committed, yet they are treated like criminals. Even criminals that commit murder are entitled to a fair trial, so why aren’t parents?
    What if this was your family? What if your children were ripped from you based on an anonymous phone call? What if your children were taken from you on hearsay? What if you were only allowed to visit with your child if it was supervised because no one can witness to the fact that you actually did these crimes that you are being accused of? What if this was being done to your grandchildren? Wouldn’t you fight? Wouldn’t you try to do everything that you can to make this epidemic stop?


    • Dr. G says:

      Hi FightCPS,

      I suspect from this you (or someone close to you) had a very negative experience with CPS.

      From comments we’ve received, I suspect there are localities where the situation you describe is a problem. Fortunately, in my thirty years of practicing in psychiatry, I don’t see what you describe going on in the region where I live. My experience has been that counties bend over backward in our part of the country to try to keep families together and the workers are very cautious before recommending that kids be taken from the home. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of kids from our practice who have been placed outside the home in recent years…usually because of the child/teen becoming violent toward others in the home.

      Sorry for your experience.


  16. Lori says:

    Why in the world isn’t more being done to keep families together instead of fostering and adopting. Many of these children aren’t orphans and have loving families. I can’t help but think how it must grieve God to see all this destruction of families at the hands of these fostering and adoption agencies that are just making a profit off these children and the foster/adoptive parents who are also contributing.


  17. Sharon Ronan says:

    I have both personal and professional experience in the foster care world. I must sat that I was known for painting a very realistic picture at the classes I gave for foster parents. I often used a panel of other foster parents to help give a balanced view. I tried to scare away potential foster parents who were very needy emotionally. I said if ou were sad because your children left home to get puppy, not to do foster care. Foster parents need to be fairly whole to be able to meet the challenges of parenting kids who have faced some many challenges. No one needs to be perfect, but rather self aware and willing to do hard work.


  18. tom says:

    This hits home for me. My wife and I had two kids placed for adoption from foster care. No major issues noted. But once they came home, we started to see very significant psychiatric issues with our daughter. As months rolled by, through lots of counseling and psychiatric visits, it became obvious that she had issues in the bi-polar/schizophrenic realm of things. She was extremely violent towards her bio brother and our bio son and to me (I had knives and scissors thrown or stabbed at me virtually daily). It reached a point where she was threatening to kill herself and everyone else.

    We had to make a brutal choice. It wasn’t just a matter of us being able to handle it, it was a matter of what was actually best for all of the kids involved. After we disrupted the adoption process, we learned that CPS had concealed from us her previous diagnoses, her previous psychiatric hospital records, etc. Apparently because this was a “hard placement,” so they just tried to stick them somewhere and hope for the best. Despite the recommendations from the psychiatrists/therapists saying she should not be placed with any other kids (especially her bio brother).

    It’s been about 3 months now, and not day goes by that I don’t hurt for her. This whole thing has broken my heart in a way that I didn’t think was possible. With what she’s been through, to have to go through this…it just hurts. I know she probably hates us, and probably always will, but if she gets the help that she should have received in the first place, then I can accept that. But the path she was on, someone would’ve been seriously hurt or worse.

    There are problems across the whole system, and as you say, we’re all broken so it doesn’t do a lot of good to try to throw blame around. We are working to try to improve communication from CPS to adoptive families in our state. We didn’t ask the questions we should have…honestly we didn’t know exactly which questions to ask. We didn’t expect it to be easy, but we didn’t expect the state to create a situation that was dangerous. I think training of the adoptive families is critical because in the giant, faceless CPS systems across the nation, there are times when they make bad decisions…when they push to make a “match” when there isn’t one.


  19. tiffany hines says:

    Thank you for writing about the “brokenness”.
    My daughter is from China. We recieved her the day after her first birthday. “She is to young to remember” a phrase I heard for years.In dealing with her “brokenness” I had to deal with mine. Adoption has allowed me to face and fix some of the brokenness in me. Facing my issues gives me empathy for hers. It has also helped me give myself credit for the progress we have and not to blame myself for what I can’t fix.


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