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Crisis Prevention, Trauma and Disaster Information: Training, Supports and Materials


Kaylene Scholl Henderson MA, BCCLC

Author, Trainer, Board Certified Christian Life Coach, consultant








Crisis, Loss and Trauma of the Biological Child in the Adoptive Family

Kaylene Henderson

Liberty University Online



The goal of the research paper, Crisis, Loss, and Trauma of the Biological Child in the Adoptive Family, is to heighten awareness of psychological effects, development, and outcomes of the biological child that are influenced by the addition of an adopted child into the family structure.

The major themes of the research paper surround the impact of crisis, loss and trauma incidents that a biological child faces in the family of adoption.  With major research looking at the psyc

ological dysfunctions of the adopted child, little attention is considered on how the dynamics of the adopted child plays a part in psychological challenges for the biological child.

            This paper’s dialog will explore situations that cause crisis, loss, and trauma experiences for the biological child. The contribution to these situations are attributes the adopted child brings, how the parental style or interaction with the attributes of the adopted child affect the biological child and the impact of sibling attributes and parenting responses.  The culmination of these scenarios make a profound impact on the psychological development of the biological child.


 Crisis, Loss and Trauma of the Biological Child in the Adoptive Family



            The first mention of adoption in Biblical accounts is the adoption of Moses, an Israelite, into the house of Pharaoh (Exodus 2:10; Luke 7:21). This adoption had much  physical and spiritual significance in the land and foundation of the world’s interaction with each other. Moses had the fortunate opportunity to be nursed and cared for by his biological mother causing a bond to his family of origin.  Though raised as a prince of Egypt, Moses’ loyalties remained with his national heritage.

            The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data for year 2013 reports that 50,608 children in the state foster care system were adopted and 101,840 children were released from parental rights and custody waiting to be adopted, with another 254,904 children coming into the foster care system (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2014).  The median age of the children was 8.2 years old with 52% male and 48% female children with a total of 641,000 children served in the foster care system (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2014). A report from year 2010 shows that a total of 11,100 immigrant-orphan children were adopted. Of those adopted in this category 4,864 children were male and 6,236 were female with 5,874 children between the ages of 1-4 years old (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2014).

            There are numerous reasons that children are brought into the systems of care resulting in the need for adoption. Adoption care expert Carrie Craft, (n.d.) describes these reasons as physical abuse often from extreme discipline methods; sexual abuse which could mean exposure to sexual content, fondling or other behaviors on a continuum of acts and neglect which includes basic care needs physically (i.e. food, shelter, clothes) and the neglect of medical needs for reasons other than religious beliefs, unless the life of a child is in imminent danger. Other reasons may include the incarceration of the parent when other family is not able to care for the child, abandonment when a parent does not return for a child after leaving in another’s care or truancy issues when a parent is not cooperating with the school to warrant the child’s participation (Craft, n.d).  Craft (n.d) notes that the two least reasons are death of a parent and the voluntary relinquishment of a child to the welfare system.

The choice to adopt may be as varied as the reasons adoption is needed.  Patricelli (2015) describes the reasons she encounters inquiry is due to infertility, lack of appropriate partner, step-parent adoption and the idea of ‘saving a child.’ This motivation of families to adopt children in need may surpass the understanding of parent-child attachment styles, crisis and trauma on specific brain development, and interpersonal relationships within the family structure that may cause crisis, loss and trauma on the biological child. Contributions of the adopted child’s attributes, parental style and interaction with the adoptive child impacts the psychological development and outcomes of the biological child (reference?).

Attributes the adopted child brings to the adoptive family composition

            After identifying the reasons that children need placed into other care and adoption dynamics that contribute to the attributes the adopted child brings to his/her  new home can be explored. These children have experienced crisis and trauma in their life which has rendered them a victim of  their circumstances. Crisis can be defined as an event that is predictable, yet the person is not able to control the force of the event and/or may not be able to function to remain safe (Sealise, n.d.).

            These normal human responses to an abnormal situation can create chronic ongoing neuro-biochemical rerouting or dysfunction  in the brain causing traumatic stress disorders (Hart, Clinton, & Dees, n.d.). Hart, Clinton, and  Dees, (n.d.), express that trauma stress is a powerful and serious condition causing forms of anxiety and depression that produce fears of the public, phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders, unstable mood disorder and bipolar/manic episodes.  These men also explain that endogenous (from within) anxiety disrupts brain mechanisms, and exogenous (from without, environmental) reaction to loss is a psychological response (Hart, Clinton, & Dees, n.d.). The disruption of the brain mechanisms and psychological responses interfere with memory, transference of memory onto others, reasoning, judgments, decision making, and problem solving (Robinson-Riegler, & Robinson- Riegler, 2008).

            Children who are witness to traumatic events wrestle with guilt issues with the nagging question of, ‘If I only’. According to Ellers (n.d.), guilt comes from an internal belief structure which takes incoming sensory data and attaches an internal belief system.  Ellers (.n.d.) describes forms of guilt to include imagined guilt that says, “I could have done something to help prevent the outcome of the situation.”  In most reality the child had nothing to do with the critical incident and no control or action on his/her  part could have prevented the outcome. Guilt communicates a wrongdoing. Shame which accompanies false guilt gives the internal message that says, “Something is wrong with me” (Ellers, n.d.).

            The impact of these belief structures about themselves and surrounding traumatic episodes can also disrupt the development of the nervous and immune system. According to Langberg, (n.d.), untreated trauma exposure can lead to somatic problems, migraines, intestinal problems, substance/food abuse, and sexual dysfunction. Ongoing medical intervention may be explored by the caregiver.

            In a research study focused on nature versus genetic dispositions in the behavioral influences of children raised in their biological home versus an adoptive home, the following was noted:  Medical attention needs and care are noted to be more prevalent in children of adoption; therefore, extra stress and care needs are required of the adoptive parent (reference?). The author sites numerous research components that recognize the variance of need differences between biological and adopted children and how those needs affect home-life environmental experiences (Grenke, 2012). Although not all adoptive children suffer from physical health challenges, many require additional supports from physical, developmental, emotional, speech, feeding or mental health delays needing additional time for support services.

Parental ( Mother) and adopted child interactions affecting the biological child

            In a field study interview with Ms. Miller (May 2015), a trauma and attachment therapist for adopted children, Ms. Miller reported that 75-80% of adoptive parents already had biological children prior to adopting their traumatized child.  Ms. Miller (May, 2015) expressed that the adopted children she treated had moderate to severe trauma disorders.

The emotions and behaviors of the adopted child have the potential to be traumatic to the adoptive family. The family impact from the behaviors of the traumatized child will be determined by the parental response to the adopted child (Sibey, n.d.). If the parent over-responds, takes the behavior of the child personally or does not remain in the position of parental authority/responsibility to keep the adopted child safe and meet his/her  basic needs, the child will take control (reference?). 

According to Ellers, Scalise, and  Cisney, (n.d.), meeting the basic needs of a child actually meets the psychological needs of the child. That is provided that the parent views structure, discipline, nurture, and safety as basic needs. The parent or primary caregiver is the person that influences the family mode of operating.  The authoritative parenting style is one that will set boundaries with love and supports to allow the child to explore the world around him/her (Feldman 2014).

As reported earlier in the article children with traumatic history will exhibit a myriad of challenges. The root of the challenges will stem from the attachment style in which the child is operating.  Research psychiatrist, John Bowlby is an excellent source for more extensive study and theory on attachment between a mother and her child. Nature has hard-wired a bond between the mother and her infant.  She is the source of nourishment, comfort and safety.

            When an adopted child is placed into an adoptive family, the family may have chosen the chi Family comparisons in research studies continue to show that conflict between the adoptive mother and adoptive child results in stress and disruption within the family environment. Observed and self-reported  family interaction studies completed by all members in the family suggest that the adopted child is more conflictual than non-adopted adolescents (reference?). This overall family interaction influences the adjustment of the adopted children.

            The child’s belief that he/she is  not loveable, worthy or good produces the need to fight against all that tries to prove otherwise. There is even the fight to keep his/her  belief safe that his/her  place in the adoptive family is not safe. Adoptive parents have communicated through private discussion boards and support groups that material items are torn and destroyed, food is stolen and hoarded even when freely given, pets are terrorized and drugged, prior family relationships disrupted, family entertainment sabotaged and constant line-of-sight of the child is imperative.

            When the parent stays strong to his/her  commitment to make this family home for the adopted child, the child increases the behavior to weaken the resolve of the parent(s). Mom becomes target of physical, mental and emotional abuse by the adopted child. Many times the adopted child will triangulate causing the husband figure to takes side with the adopted child.

            In the field interview with Ms. Miller, Ms. Miller (May, 2015) expressed that the adoptive children may physically attack and verbally abuse the parents, exposing the family to their own trauma. Ms. Miller (May, 2015) responded that the struggles from the adopted child allow for less time in the community (isolates), causes more stress for the parents (predominantly the primary caregiver), and takes the primary family caregiver away from his/her  normal routines and practices the family relied on prior to the adoption.

            In what has now become the fight for her own life (physical, identity, spiritual) and safParents reported more negativity and less positivity as well as higher levels of externalizing behavior for the adopted child compared to the non-adopted child (Glover, Mullineaux, Deater-Deckard, &aAnother research study was completed with adoptive and non-adoptive families to consider how to promote protection against sibling adjustment issues. The dynamic of shared realities has  the potential of relational effects. The study focuses on communication patterns between family members associated with family types and the related closeness between sibling relationships (Samek, &Rueter, 2011). The research shared in this article continues to promote the leading of healthy communication style by the parents.

Parents who chose to be trained regarding integration between family members and communication styles will go a long way to supporting the challenges the family will face.  Families that include their biological children (when appropriate) in training prior to adoption and receive education on the effects of trauma will have a better understanding and can build a family plan of support.  Ms. Miller (May, 2015) commented, in the field interview, that she has witnessed families of adoption disrupt causing deeper issues for each family member due to lack of education and supports.

Studies have been cited that indicate that the parent-child relationship has the greatest effect on the sibling relationship. Family size, needs, composition and assigned roles are by large the contributing factors (Sailor, 2014). One adoptive mother shares, “Even though it is not always easy, each child that entered our home has been welcome and viewed as a sibling” (Judkins, 2014, p. #?).

Impact of adopted sibling  and parenting on the biological child

An empirical study of adoptive families and the effects on the biological children portraits that the adjustment of the adopted child is dependent on the level the biological child is prepared and the role in which the biological child is portrayed (Brabender, 2013).  Professionals in the adoption community suggest preparations of the biological child (ren) helping them to be excited and choosing to be sibling to the new adopted child.  Communication that is modeled to help bring closeness as a family unit will set the stage of the concept of family, though caution is presented in the emotional responses of how the child may perceive the union. “One area of encouragement is to know when and how to seek out professional help for family dynamics and associated behaviors” (Helland, 2013, p. #?).

Johnston (015), autrole displacements as a result of foster/adoptive children in the home.  states, “The impact of fostering on biological children is more than just a change in their day-to-day lives. Research finds that biological children are affected by fostering mostly through role identity, loss of familial normalcy, separation and attachment, and accelerated maturity” (article). An article by Medefind, and  Schooler, (2011) highlights how foster children induce lasting effects on biological children in the home.  These challenges could range from social disruptions, negative feelings to questioning their role in the family.

In the situation where the adoptive parent is struggling in his/her adjustment with the adopted child, the biological child faces a crisis of identity.  The birth child, dependent on age, is forced into roles of care for the family which could include daily care of the home or siblings and possibly parental child discipline roles towards other children in the home.  This role robs the biological child of possible age appropriate activities and peer engagement (Johnson, 2015).

A loss of childhood is just one area of loss for this child.  The relationship that was solid with the parents prior to the adoption becomes strained as the parents’ energies are demanded in the direction of the care and healing of the traumatized child who  has entered the family domicile. The parent-child relationship may shift into a parent-peer relationship as the two work hand-in-hand to meet the rigors of the daily demands to keep the family cared for and safe. In some instances, the biological child may take over the role of protector for the parent when the adopted child becomes volatile.

“The biological child becomes exposed to trauma”, says Ms. Miller  (May, 2015), during a field interview, “directly from abuse to themselves from the adopted child, or indirectly from watching the parent be abused or hearing disclosure of the adopted child’s past trauma experiences.”  Hearing threats of homicide, fire, stabbing or any other vile carnage potentially puts the biological child on high alert.  The threats are very real due to the visual evidence of prior abuse on a family member.

Unfortunately, thousands of homes in the United States live as though this is a family’s norm. Attendance  at a conference for adoption, foster-care or trauma will cause even those living the life to walk away in disillusionment wondering if the stories can be real. Many are not quite aware that the story they heard was their own (reference?). Siblings are left to the shadows of their own perceptions as the parent race out the door for intervention of the latest attack from the adopted child. Ms. Miller (May, 2015) states that, “the primary client of the therapy session is the adopted child, though parents may have the biological child participate (if available), however I try to treat the family as a whole”

Ms. Miller (May 2015)  also stated in her interview that there are times that she, as a therapist, has met with the parents or biological/siblings to teach family members coping strategies in dealing with the adopted child. According to insurance constraints this often is not the case for most families. There are times that a therapist for an adopted child may refer the biological child for his/her  own therapy, mostly when this child has already had some prior history of his/her  own. Brahender and  Fallon, (2013) note that one strength of adoptive families is their use of mental health resources.

According to a national health interview survey, the prediction of Brand and  Brinich (1999) suggested that foster and adoptive children would have more behavioral issues and contact with mental health providers than non-adopted children.  Although this prediction was found true according to the study, the study was not able to determine differences in behavioral problems due to lack of information on the adoptive child, confidentiality laws, age of children at placement, age at adoption and type of placement (Brand, & Brinich, 1999). The study also describes that whether adopted or non-adopted, behavior issues were evident in both subjects, and however, the adopted children were the ones to receive the mental health care.

Dr. Olesen (2004) acknowledges in the book, “How siblings fare.” the emotional and spiritual neglect a biological child may endure as a result of the demanded time needed to care for an adopted sibling.  She also points out the physical and emotional abuse that is inflicted onto a biological child as a result of anger/rage from the adopted sibling. In conclusion she adds, “The benefits of working through the experiences associated with living life with a traumatized sibling is notable” (Olesen 2004, p. #?).

            In the article, Sibling issues in foster care and adoption (Author? Year?), research aOther Research indicates that biological relatedness was not associated with young children’s perceptions of closeness to siblings (Child Welfare, 2013).

In an article by Ms. Brown (2008), it is clear in her dialogue that sibling relationships have a strong tie to feelings and beliefs of self-worth, security and other life journey growth areas.  She also points out the realities that many children, adopted or biological, may not express their true feelings of the family mix. Children will acknowledge a ‘sibling’ relationship by virtue of a role or position in a family.  This role does not negate the dynamics the relationship may express in physical, emotional or mental interaction. Although times of difficulty may have adoptive parents questioning their decision, the importance of the sibling interaction and possible loss of relationship comes into question. A defining of family that includes siblings is given great value and importance as a gift, sibling to sibling   (Rueter, Keyes, Iacono, &McGue, 2010).

It is important to include that those who are not part of the nucleus family can highly impact the biological child in a family of adoption.  Responses of biological extended family, genetic connections and society views of the adoptive family play a significant role in the supports or lack of for a biological child (Nussbaum, 2007).


            The understanding of loss will acknowledge a death and grieving (Leming & Dickinson, 2011); first for the adopted child who has suffered severe loss of family, childhood and innocence; Second, for those who chose to walk beside this child, a loss of life as they once knew it. However, with loss comes opportunity to grow (Hoff, Hallie & Hoff, 2009).

According to Cisney (n.d.), post-traumatic stress is a helpful mechanism created by God as a response to threats against our safety.  The mind changes from an alarm system to help people respond to pending threat.  After dealing with the pending threat with positive coping mechanisms, the mind returns to normal baseline functions.  If normal baseline is not resumed intervention is possible and the hippocampus can be restored (Hart, Clinton, & Dees, n.d.)

In the situation of biological children coping with the adverse effects of their adoptive sibling, the outcome of negative versus positive outcomes are pointed to the parents’ approach to navigating through life challenges.  Positive growth for the biological child can be evidenced by lifestyle and humanitarian aid as adults (Medefind, & Schooler, 2011).






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