What People Are Getting Wrong About the Parkland Shooter & Adoption

Mar 1, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Image: Getty Images/Giles Clark

The horrific story of the 19-year-old who confessed to killing 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has shaken us all. Questions abound as to the shooter's background and what might have caused him to commit such a horrendous act of violence. The tragedy in Florida and the innocent lives lost will undoubtedly resonate in our country for years to come. Yet of late, much of the media has focused on the fact that the murderer, Nikolas Cruz, was a foster child and had been adopted at an early age.

The fact that Cruz was adopted and a foster child has no bearing on the killings and certainly did not "cause" him to commit these atrocities. Cruz suffered from a number of behavioral issues and anxieties, many of them perhaps from birth. Some suggest he suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder as well as reactive attachment disorder, and Cruz's attorney says the teen battled mental health issues including depression. Quite simply, the signs were there that Cruz was suffering. Yet while some people recognized that he was troubled, Cruz did not get the consistent help, therapeutic services and professional counseling he needed. The responsibility for this falls upon many shoulders, and hopefully all of us can learn from this tragic event.

More: An Open Letter to the Foster Parents Who Cared for Me as a Child

But for those who are now left questioning their decision or hope to adopt or foster a child in need ("How," they may wonder, "will I know I'm not taking in someone like Cruz?"), please remember: His is not the face of adoption or of foster care. This is not the normal experience of families who care for children in need in their homes — or of the children who live in those homes, sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. In fact, the norm for adoption and foster care is quite the opposite: a healthy and life-changing experience for both child and adoptive or foster family.

My family has been blessed through the years with the adoption of three children from foster care. These three children have in so many ways brought joy into our lives, and I cannot imagine a life without any of them. In my eyes, there is no difference between my adopted or biological or foster children; they are all my children, regardless of genetics.

I certainly did not set out and plan to adopt these three children from foster care. Over the 15 years I have been a foster parent, I have had over 50 children come through my home, and only three were adopted. Some came to my home at roughly the same age as Nikolas Cruz. Recently, I had two 17-year-old homeless boys living with my family; they both needed a home and support during their final years in high school.

More:  Kim Zolciak-Biermann Buys Kids Bulletproof Backpacks Post-Parkland

The adoption of a child is a joyous and happy occasion in the vast majority of cases. That's not to say the internal process for all involved isn't challenging; it is, especially for your child. For example, they may have a difficult time accepting the fact that they will never return to live with their biological parents or birth family members again. It's necessary for adoptive parents to allow a child time to grieve the loss of connection with their birth family. They may very well need time to experience the stages of grief before fully transferring attachment from their birth family to their new "forever family." Even though they may have lived in their adoptive home for some time, they will likely reexperience feelings of loss during the adoption process. It is essential they have the opportunity to discuss their feelings of grief and loss — and that someone (parent and/or professional) listen attentively to them, validating their feelings and emotions. After all, their birth family gave them a great deal: their DNA and of course their life. That fact will never change.

As part of an adoptive and foster family, my biological and adoptive children have been influenced in such positive ways by those foster children with whom they have lived and played and who they have learned from and have come to love. Our children have been introduced to a diversity of cultural beliefs and ways of thinking and have come to embrace differences. Additionally, my children have learned the joys that are found in adoption and have learned that family comes in different shapes, colors, sizes, etc. My own family, as a foster family, has included children from so many different ethnic identities and cultures. And as a result, my own children have a great deal of insight into and sensitivity toward the countless varying ways humans can look, act, think and be.

More: Waiting for a Foster Child Is a Lot Like Being Pregnant

So if you are considering adoption or fostering, do not let tragedy deter you. Do not let this isolated incident taint the norm. Yes, there will be difficult times during the adoption process and afterward too. It may seem at moments that your relationship with your child or children is taking one step forward and three steps backward. Yet with time, love and patience, adoption or foster care is often the greatest gift of love you can offer a child — a gift that will offer you so much as well.

Let there be no mistake: Each child is unique; each child is special; and each child is deserving of love.

Comments