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Parenting with PACEs. PACEs science & stories. Trauma-informed change.

Trauma-Informed Parenting: What Adoptive & Foster Parents Can Teach, Part 2


There are many adults with low ACE scores who parent children with high ACE scores.

They are some of the best parents I know.

They are often feisty and fierce advocates who tirelessly seek out support, strategies and solutions to make the lives of their children easier and better.

The ones I admire most have helped me be a better person, a better parent and expedited my personal recovery as well.

Without calling it such, they provide a trauma-informed love. Here are 12 lessons I've learned.

  1. They view love as a verb. They see nurturing and attachment as an ongoing, never-ending process.
  2. They don't assume love is enough. Trust and consideration must be shared and earned and can be measured by being responsive, reliable and reasonable.
  3. They don't take the pain of their children personally. They see pain for what it is. Pain. And respond accordingly.
  4. They understand that trauma causes fear. Afraid children don't always act the same as children who feel safe. They provide reassurance rather than shaming their children for being afraid - no matter what the child's age.
  5. They advocate ferociously. They give their children support, understanding, respect and if necessary services and accommodations and insist others do the same.
  6. They reject shame. They refuse to let children be judged, shamed or punished for being hurt. 
  7. They understand the source of the pain their children express is outside the child. They consider pain as a natural and understandable consequence. They aren’t flipped out by symptoms or acting out.
  8. They provide reassurance when emotions, sensations or situations overwhelm.
  9. They don't deny that early and/or frequent adversity has an impact.
  10. They introduce joy, play and security. Children can learn to experience and inhabit these states, alone and with family, and to trust these exist as well.
  11. They know love, support, tools, safety and community heal - over time. 


When I became an adoptive parent I learned about attachment for the sake of my daughter.

I never knew what I learned about attachment would help me learn how to mother myself as well as her. 

I was in my mid-30's before I became a parent and I knew not to be abusive or neglectful. However, that 's not the same as knowing how to create and promote well-being, attachment and health.

I'm not sure I would have realized that good parenting is not only the absence of abuse if I had not been a parent via adoption.

Because of adoption I learned about the stability of routines, relationships and consistency and that even the youngest and tiniest human beings are people and not extensions of their parents.

I learned more about attachment from list serv groups and adoptive parent-run websites than I ever learned in my own therapy recovery.

While healing I learned how to identify and name abuse but I didn't necessarily know about well-being.

I learned about what creates healthy attachment and that needs and emotions are healthy and normal.

I learned I had to nurture and foster a relationship and that this process never stops.

I realize that adoptive and foster parents who have not gone through the same trauma a child has (domestic violence for example) are not also traumatized. That helps!

Parents with high ACEs who have children with high ACEs have a different road than parents with low ACEs who have children with high ACEs.

Sometimes they have privileges (wealth, race or great health, etc.) that their children may not have bad before. That helps them navigate in the world and to literally buy some of the support others do not have.

Often, they are not going through the same adversity as their children at the same time. For example, I was abused by my father when an infant. In addition, to responding to me my teen mother was also being abused herself. She was a victim of violence while a woman who was also a mother. Her husband was not providing her emotional or financial support. He was a danger to her.

Clearly, that impacted her ability to be responsive, attuned and attaching.

This is true for so many parents who have children who are also struggling with the same ACEs and at the same time. This can be hard when their are real-life and present Adverse COMMUNITY Experiences or Adverse Community Environments.

Many adoptive and foster parents do not share the same adversity, turmoil or disruption as their children, in the present or the past.  So of course that is much easier than when the entire family is in crisis or danger or scarcity.

These are huge issues. Still, the the way many parents love and respond to children who deal with the impact of many ACEs is often amazing.

I think, it’s in large part, because they have no guilt or shame about the trauma experienced by children they love. 

It makes me wonder if all parents couldn't parent and respond better if there was less shame, silence and stigma being carried and getting in our way?

I wonder how we can better support all parents so they (we) get enough support to be the reliable rocks our children require? And where can we get assistance when that's not possible?

It's something I'm still learning about and exploring.

I think there is a lot to learn about trauma-informed parenting and love from those who adopt children and/or have foster families.

I wonder what others have observed, noticed or experienced?

 Some of my favorite resources created by and for adoptive and foster parents:



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The Attachment and Trauma Network (ATN) is AWESOME and does so much to help with this issue. For those who don't have ACEs, there is sometimes a not knowing or realizing the full impact, because it may not show up til later. Many wish they had known or done more earlier and many speaks lots about when love isn't enough. It's what has helped many learn about trauma, and how loss of birth family, birth language, birth culture is a lot of loss and trauma even if there isn't abuse, neglect, and other issues. It's not something everyone knows or understand. 

Fostering Families and Adoptive Families and Adoption Today all have great online resources (though two of the three aren't as easy to find online). And also, Beth O'Malley of AdoptionLifebooks is also a great source as adoptive parent, who was also adopted foster care and an adoption social worker. 

I think helping people understand these issues, as relates to us, as parents, or our kids, or both is a GREAT idea!!!! 


So - I just came across this when doing a search for "foster."  In my EXTREMELY new project of screening caregivers of children for ACEs, I am running across children with high ACEs and foster/adoptive parents who are saying - oh everything is all right - they are out of that situation now but yet they are bringing the children to the dr for multiple issues, especially ADHD...  I am thinking I need to develop a resource specifically for foster parents about ACEs because they say this and then I also see a high re-entry rate for foster youth back into the child welfare system after adoption/foster care...  Anecdotally, I think they aren't realizing the FULL impact of the ACEs their children have...  

I say all this to ask - what do others think the experience of foster/adoptive parents is?  Do they need info from their dr?  Or is that too much for them?  Do foster/adoptive parents understand ACEs?  

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