Preparing To Be There

Once your family is matched with a child, your social worker will walk you through the Child Prediction Path — a tool to help families anticipate and prepare for their child’s needs before he or she comes home.

A family playing with stickers. It's a great game for bonding and being prepared with bonding activities is one of the ones you can prepare for adoption.
Playing with stickers is a great game for bonding!

On 3-year-old Henry McNutt’s first night with his adoptive family, he kept his shoes on and stayed by the door of their hotel room in Vietnam. He cried, reached up and tried to turn the door handle. His body language was frantically, heartbreakingly clear: He wanted to leave.

He grieved. But he was not alone.

“I tried to be as compassionate as I could,” says Henry’s dad, Jason, recounting this first night with his son. “I leaned up against [the door] and kind of mourned with him that he couldn’t leave — that he couldn’t go back. So we slept right there in front of the door.”

Although Henry’s mom, Sara, studied child psychology, and their family had been through the adoption process once before, some of Henry’s behavior was completely new to them. Watching Henry continue to stay by the door or even bring other family members their shoes — wishing them to get ready to leave with him — Jason and Sara found themselves in uncharted territory. But even though this behavior was unfamiliar, they were well prepared and knew how to react. In fact, before they even met him, Henry’s parents had already anticipated much of what Henry would experience in their first days and weeks together at home in Minnesota.

“We had a lot of ideas on how to interact with him and build some early connections,” Sara says, “like feeding him snacks every couple of hours, blowing bubbles with him and being silly with stickers by sticking them to one another.”

How did the McNutts know what Henry might be experiencing and what they should do? One of their most helpful tools was the Child Prediction Path, created by adoption expert Kay Donley Ziegler.

A photo of the family just one month after Henry came home.
Taken just a month after Henry came home, this first family photo shows Henry comfortable and having fun with his family.

The Child Prediction Path is not a magical tool, but it is a tool that can help adoptive families in some ways “predict” how their child will adjust to a new life. In essence, it is simple: a Word document information chart with rows and columns addressing already known areas of concern and resources that the child is currently receiving as well as resources the family should look into before their child comes home. The family usually makes a first attempt to fill this out based on what they know from their child’s file. Then there’s the opportunity for families to go through the chart with their social worker, who helps them fill in the gaps and gives expert advice about their child’s potential emotions and behaviors, and how they should react as parents throughout this transition.

“The purpose of the prediction path is to review with families the specific information we have and know about the child,” says Celeste Snodgrass, a Holt social worker in South Dakota who walked the McNutts through their adoption process. “[Then we see] how that information hints at potential behaviors and issues — how those things could play out when the family travels and during the adjustment period.”

While the prediction path identifies potential areas of difficulty, it also brings to light the child’s positive behaviors, or special care that they received while still in country, and gives insight into ways families can use these positive aspects to help their child adjust to their new home.

While in care in Vietnam, Henry had developed strong, healthy bonds with the caregivers at his orphanage. And while forming early attachments is ultimately very beneficial — helping Henry form strong, loving bonds with his family — in the short term, it made saying goodbye difficult for him.

“Some very helpful tips [from the Child Prediction Path and Celeste],” says Sara, “included asking his caregivers to give Henry permission to love us, and taking photos with them.”

The predication path also helps adoptive parents be proactive and access the resources they will need once their child comes home.

“When a family comes home, they don’t necessarily have the time or the energy to research the right doctor or therapist,” says Celeste. “Going through this prediction path helps families identify which resources and contacts they need to look into before they travel and gives them a place to have all that info in one spot for easy access once they get home.”

Henry's family shows him photos of their home in Minnesota while they are in Vietnam in preparation for adoption.
In Vietnam, Henry’s family shows him photos of their home in Minnesota.

Henry has cerebral palsy and before he came home the McNutts made sure to research development professionals in their area who, if needed, would give him the highest level of care. They also talked about Henry with their family pediatrician, so when it’s time for his first doctor’s visit, they have a trusted doctor who is already familiar with Henry and his medical information. Having these small things figured out ahead of time help make the transition home as smooth as possible.

“It’s hard,” Jason says about the first couple of weeks they’ve been home with Henry. As is normal for adoptive families and children at this stage in the process, they’re experiencing the ups and downs of attachment, grief and adjusting to the new normal for their family. Sometimes, Henry wants to snuggle or hold his mom or dad’s hand. Other times, he’s not interested. Some days are happy and full of joking with his brother and sisters. Other days, he may seem somewhat despondent. But little by little, he’s adjusting. And through it all, Henry is learning that he can trust, and that he is loved as part of a family.

“The best thing to me was that it’s a really good reminder of not just this is what’s happening and a good way to address it, but a good reminder that he’s healing,” Jason says. “He’s adjusting and transitioning and it’s going to take as much time as it will take. [The prediction path] was really helpful to me because it doesn’t let me off the hook, but gives me the freedom to be loving and caring to him. So when he’s ready, I’ll be there.”

Megan Herriott • Staff Writer

mom adoptive son and dad holding hands and laughing

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