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Episode 90: When Foster Care Leads to Adoption: Processing Big Emotions

By March 23, 2020January 3rd, 2023The Forgotten Podcast

This was my first time meeting and getting the opportunity to talk with Cameron Lee Small, and it did not disappoint. Cam gets adoption. As a Korean adoptee who grew up in Wisconsin, Cam now uses his experience to walk with adoptive families as a clinical counselor. As we talked, I kept nodding my head in agreement. Cam wants to help people understand they are seen, heard, and to know that they matter—that they are not in this alone. It’s the same message I believe in for TFI and for my own family. Through our conversation, Cam helps identify fears when foster care moves to adoption. In naming both the good and hard emotions our children feel, we can begin to help them heal. That’s the goal in all of this today—to learn to walk with our children so that their story can move them to a place where healing can begin.


1. “And” is a powerful word as we help our children process their emotions.

Cam beautifully modeled how we can give voice to all of the emotions swirling inside of us and in our kids. I’m glad you adopted me, and I wish I lived with my parents. I’m thankful I was adopted, and I have these other questions. Love and loss go together in this space of foster care and adoption. We, as parents, have to create space for our children to express all of their emotions—whether they are pleasant or hard. We have to be willing to allow our children to share the pain so that we can process that pain together. Our children are grappling with real questions, trying to make sense of it all. Allow them to use AND instead of BUT. In doing so, you have the opportunity to validate all of their emotions.

“We’re pushed to either you’re happy or sad. It can’t be both, buddy—gotta choose one. It’s complicated grief. There is more than one feeling happening together.”

2. It’s not a question of if we should tell our children their story but how.

It can be confusing for children to know how to make sense of their stories. Not only do adoptees often have loss in terms of connections, but also there can be loss of continuity. They may know only bits and pieces of the whole story. Not being able to connect all of the dots can leave them feeling uncertain. As parents, we can help give language to that—something Cam wished he would have had. Helping our children tell their story isn’t a one and done type of a conversation, nor a one-time milestone event. It should be an ongoing conversation. Listen when they bring it up, and allow them to share without immediate correction if something isn’t said quite right. Be sensitive to crafting the narrative. Shape it in a way that doesn’t elevate one person over another. Particularly as you speak regarding birth parents, use strengths-based language, and be okay with saying “I don’t know” when there are parts of the story that are just unknown, but then sit with them in that grief of not knowing.

“We can tell them their story from day one, and it’s up to parents to decide how they are going to say that in a way that honors and edifies the truth but also makes it accessible for the child.”

3. As you help shape the narrative of your child’s story, allow others into that process as well.

Particularly for those of us who are raising children who don’t have the same skin tone, ethnicity, or culture as us, we have to allow for greater conversation about these differences. Cam pointed to the Center for Adoption Support and Connection’s resource, W.I.S.E. Up!, to help our children navigate what to do when questions from others are raised. Walk with and coach your children on their options. You don’t have to spill all of your story anytime someone asks. Cam shared it’s also important to bring our children to spaces and people who have the same kinds of questions that they do. They, too, can be coaches. There is collective unity with people who are navigating similar experiences. In visiting a church with Korean believers, Cam finally saw himself reflected in a place where previously he felt little connection. Having that extra voice from someone who understands is powerful.

“Be a family that’s open in general to being interested in people that are different than you.”



We hope this episode has helped you wherever you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal! If so, will you tell others?

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Meet Our Guest

Cam, trans-racially adopted from Korea and author of This is Why I Was Adopted, holds a Master’s in Counseling Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is a licensed professional clinical counselor. In addition, he is trained in biblical counseling, certified in non-violent crisis intervention, and is a member of the American Psychological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program. He currently provides clinical mental health services in Minneapolis, MN, for individuals and families on the adoption and permanency spectrum.

Foster Parents, check with your agency to see if listening to this podcast will count toward your foster care training hours!

Special thanks to Resonate Recordings for their knock-it-out-of-the-park podcast production services! If you have a podcast or want to start one, reach out to our friends at Resonate!

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