Four years ago, Marissa Smith volunteered to help a member of the church where she worked, First Woodway Baptist Church, start a support group for adoptive parents. At the time, there were no such groups offered in Waco and Smith was very interested in helping fill this void.
“Adoption is near and dear to my heart,” said Smith, who is currently in the process of adopting a child with her husband. “I know that adoption is a response to loss and tragedy and, because of that, adoption is never easy or clean. There is always a need for post-adoption service.”
The group at First Woodway continued to grow even after Smith transitioned from the church to work as a case manager for MCH Family Outreach in Waco. When it became difficult for the coordinator to sustain the group on her own, she asked MCH Family Outreach to take over. Smith now facilitates the group as a monthly Caregiver Empowerment Group (CEG) for parents who have adopted or who are foster parents with hopes of adopting.
Through the CEG, parents come together in a safe space with others who are experiencing similar emotions and challenges. First Woodway provides meeting space and child care so parents can give their full attention to the group. Members of the group are also connected to other MCH programs if needed.
Smith surveys the participants each August to determine topics of interest and lines up guest speakers. She has also led the group in parent education programs utilized at MCH such as Circle of Security and Trust-Based Relational Intervention. The programs provide parents with tools and knowledge to help them navigate behaviors or other issues they may experience in their home in order to strengthen the family.
Recently the group was invited to a special activity provided by the church where families were led in art therapy by Rebekah Poynor. The activity allowed families to create a portrait together that could be displayed in their home as a way to build connection.
“When a family sets out to adopt, they are full of hope,” Smith said. “They are excited, they are loving, they are nurturing, and they are looking forward to the future as a family. But after adoption, the newness can wear off. Behaviors escalate, support from foster agencies and CPS can dwindle, and the family is often left alone to navigate extreme behaviors from a child they hardly know. It is difficult for parents to attach to a child they don’t get along with, a child they don’t necessarily enjoy, and behaviors don’t improve when there is unsecure attachment.
“Hope is key,” Smith said. “If we can come alongside these families and offer hope and practical tools, the family life improves, hope grows and the family becomes better connected.”