Psychosocial issues

So it’s not all unicorns . . . now what?

We at Project Hopeful believe in the power of prayer.  And not just a little bit.  We pray for things like the complete eradication of HIV in our lifetime, as we did last month.  We know that we serve a mighty God who is able to do all things, in His will.  So we pray, and pray a lot.

In addition to prayer, however, we also encourage adoptive parents to take advantage of the many God-given resources that are available when the difficulties of parenting children who were adopted arise.  Just like we would never tell scientists to stop searching for the cure to HIV because we are praying, neither would we suggest that someone who is in the valley with their child “just pray” and fail to take advantage of the lifeboat that God may have sent to them.  Last week this point was driven home for me as I was speaking to a friend of Project Hopeful.  She was just finishing her first Empowered to Connect conference with Karen Purvis and was sharing some of her learnings with me.  She wrote:
[Purvis] believes that the neuroplasticity of the brain makes it possible for the brain to overcome almost any prior insult with purposeful parenting.  But simple prayer and love  . . . will not be enough. [Purvis believes] reprogramming WILL NOT happen unless parents approach it knowing the science and how to use injured brain areas to get to ones that are currently offline.  That was sobering for me. I feel a new responsibility to approach my kids mindfully, purposefully. 
As I read my friend’s email, I was convicted about how often I choose to overlook warning signs that my children’s brains may be experiencing […]

It isn’t all Rainbows and Unicorns

We at Project Hopeful believe children should live in families, not institutions or temporary families.  Ideally, children would be able to stay with their first (biological) families, even if external interventions and support are needed to make the first family a safe, healthy, and feasible option.  That said, we recognize that the first family may not always be a real option, and if all means of keeping a child in their first family are exhausted, we support adoption.  In fact, most of our volunteer staff and Board members are parenting children who were adopted.  A big part of our lives is raising adopted children and educating other families who have adopted or are considering adoption – we believe in it that much.

Since we have walked through many adoptions – our own and ones we helped other families through – we have come to realize that many of the public messages about adoption are dangerously one-sided.

Celebrity adoption photos, dreamy Facebook posts, and “Merry Christmas-from-our -‘happy’-growing-family!” cards may have minimized the commitment that comes with parenting children from hard places.  We absolutely believe in celebrating adoptions but it is imperative that we begin to communicate more clearly:  adoption is hard.  While the anticipation during the paper stage, the process of being matched with a child, staring longingly at beautiful pictures of a child from another country, and even the first meeting can feel very fairy-tale like, this is not the reality of adoption.  There are rarely unicorns and rainbows.  Adoption is hard.

Children who were adopted come from broken places.  Even those who are adopted at a very young age have experienced trauma (or at minimum, great stress) in utero, which will impact their behavior and development […]

What if your mom was a T-Rex?

What if your mother was a Tyrannosaurus Rex?  You desperately need your mom to keep you safe.  You turn to her when you are afraid, you rely on her touch to comfort you.  Human babies need mommies (or daddies- a safe, loving caregiver) for survival.  What if the one person who could keep you safe was a scary, loud, rough Tyrannosaurus Rex, with a terrifying roar and sharp pointy teeth?

What happens when you come face to face with a velicoraptor?  What do you want to do?  Where do you want to run?  You run to the person who keeps you safe- your mom!  So, what if your mom is a Tyrannosaurus Rex?  Then what do you do?

Humans are blessed with an attachment system that serves many purposes.  The attachment system lays the building blocks for mental health, relationship skills, and self-regulation.  The attachment system is also a biological system that ensures our survival.  It is through the attachment system that little babies keep their parents close.  When babies are distressed, they behave in ways that brings a parent toward them.  As babies get older, they move toward their parents- with their legs or with their eyes- seeking out closeness and safety.  This system works because parents aren’t supposed to be scary.  When a small child is feeling anxious, nervous, uncomfortable, scared, or terrified their attachment system becomes activated and draws them closer to their attachment figure.

When the attachment figure is the source of the anxious, nervous, uncomfortable, scared or terrifying feelings children are left with an unsolvable dilemma.  When your fight/flight/freeze system is activated by the same person who activates your attachment system, you’ve got a big problem.  It is this unsolvable dilemma that […]

The Stigma Double Standard

Every so often people with a bone to pick take aim at Project HOPEFUL, critics vocal about all we do wrong and how they can do it better.

We get it. We’re not for everyone. Our brand of advocacy is a little too in your face for some people. We’ve been rocking some boats with the Truth Pandemic, apparently. Some might prefer we sit down and shut up.

We’d like to sit down, shut up, and maybe take a load off while we’re at it. Project HOPEFUL has been working since 2006 to help find homes for orphans, educate about children living with HIV/AIDS, and support families who would seek to adopt these children. It’s tiring work. You see, we all might like a little break.

It is not likely to happen any time soon, though. Not while the Stigma Double Standard exists. Believe us. THIS is personal.

Have you heard of the Stigma Double Standard (SDS)? It is an insidious “little” double standard that isn’t really small at all. We believe its implications are profound. SDS starts out like this: Parents of children with HIV/AIDS shouldn’t disclose their child’s status if they want to combat social stigma. This only turns their child into a cause. The best way to handle this is to lobby in other ways.

Then, SDS takes another turn and assumes that every parent on the front lines of advocacy for orphans/adoption of children with HIV/AIDS must be in it for all the lovely attention they get.

The Stigma Double Standard truly baffles us as a staff. Do parents running races to raise funds for a cure for Leukemia face this? What about those with public care pages outlining their child’s congenital condition or an upcoming […]

Your Questions Answered: Dealing With Family

By: Jen Sloniger
Your Questions Answered is a blog series which addresses Project HOPEFUL blog readers’ most burning questions. Please submit your questions to:
QUESTION: How do you suggest I go about sharing news with family and friends that we plan to adopt a child with HIV? I shared with my sister (she has two children) and she seemed very anxious about the idea.
People commonly wonder which approach is best for sharing the news that they plan to adopt a child with HIV/AIDS or other special needs. There is no formula to follow for guaranteed success. But there are some helpful things to consider.

In Person Is Best
This may seem like a given, but, believe me, some people have chosen to share their big news via email, or even had family members
stumble upon their announcement by visiting their blog. This definitely is not the way to go if you want to ensure feelings do not get hurt. If you
plan on disclosing your child’s status you’ll want to make sure the people closest to you know first. Just like you might for any big occasion in
your life, plan to share with your inner circle first, and in person. Sitting down for a talk will give you a sense of people’s initial reaction to your
news and help guide you in determining who might require a little more reassurance about your decision.

Adjust Your Expectations
Though it can be a real bummer, my best advice for parents adopting a child who is HIV+ is not to expect anyone to cheer them on in a big
celebration when they first reveal their plans. Experience tells me that most extended family and friends experience an initial bit of shock upon
hearing the news. Remember, […]

Your Questions Answered: Overcoming Language Barriers

By: Jen Sloniger
Your Questions Answered is a blog series which addresses Project HOPEFUL blog readers’ most burning questions. Please submit your questions to:
QUESTION: How does a family deal with the language barrier of adopting an older child who doesn’t speak English? Is that even possible?
ANSWER: Kendall that is a great question, and actually one we’ve been asked several times before. I’m not sure how it is we hadn’t addressed it until now.

Language is a big deal. We use it for self-expression, for emotional release, for building relationships and so much more. For the older adopted child it can be difficult to lose the ability to express themselves. Especially at a time when major life-change is taking place.

Research indicates a child’s native language skills are the best indicator for their success in learning a new language. So, it’s very important parents ask their child’s caregivers whether their child is doing well or delayed in the first language. Parents should gather as much information as possible about their child’s language abilities.  This is especially true for adopted children who need to begin school soon after arriving home. A helpful checklist of questions which should be asked can be found HERE.

For anyone interested in doing more reading there is a helpful article on

There are public services available to families which help English language learners which many families tap into through their school district.

The truth is language can be a challenge for parents and children first arriving home. There are lots of tricks adoptive families use to overcome the language barrier.

Learn some key phrases and vocabulary words
If we think about this it’s pretty unfair to ask […]

Your Questions Answered: Building Support Through Education

By: Jen Sloniger
Your Questions Answered is a blog series which addresses Project HOPEFUL blog readers’ most burning questions. Please submit your questions to:
QUESTION: How can local church families prepare to welcome HIV+ children? How should they be preparing their congregations?

Hi Jennifer. Thanks for sharing your questions.

These days it is fairly common for churches to have the proper safeguards in place when operating programs for children, though some smaller congregations may not. As I’ve written about before any school, day-care, or church operating programs with children should be practicing Universal Precautions. PERIOD. If your church or group isn’t following Universal Precautions protocols then you should request that they implement them immediately for the safety of everyone involved.

As far as educating a church fellowship (or any other group for that matter) goes, it all depends on the willingness of the leadership to join you in this endeavor. Some leaders are resistant to the idea. Some haven’t confronted their own fears and stigma related to HIV and therefore are unable to lead their flock in doing the same.

However, there are many, many church leaders who are supportive and willing to promote education within their church… they simply may lack the time. My suggestion is always be willing to dig in and do any work you want to see happen. Don’t bring ideas before your leadership if you aren’t willing to invest the time and effort to bring them to fruition. Sit down and come up with a written proposal for what you hope to see accomplished. Keep it brief but make sure there is enough specific detail in there to prove you have a method to your madness. Ask your pastor […]

  • gavel
    Permalink Gallery

    Your Questions Answered: School Disclosure and Privacy Protections

Your Questions Answered: School Disclosure and Privacy Protections

Written by Jen Sloniger
Your Questions Answered is a blog series which addresses Project HOPEFUL blog readers’ most burning questions. Send your questions to:

Today we feature related questions from two of our readers :
QUESTION 1:What are the legal implications of sending your children affected by HIV to school? Do you have to offer this information publicly?

QUESTION 2: How do you handle negative and/or hysterical reactions [at school]?
~ Valerie
I’ll Address Andie’s question first because the answer takes a little more time.

Andie, According to a 1993 CDC article1, “no cases of HIV transmission in school have been reported, and current epidemiologic data do not justify excluding children with HIV infection from school or isolating them in school to protect others. Children with HIV infection should be able to participate in all school activities with the same considerations as other children, to the extent that their health permits.”

According to the same CDC article, “despite the large number of persons participating in contact sports, only one case of HIV transmission attributed to sports had been reported worldwide.”

That was in 1993. I hunted all over for any updated numbers but couldn’t find any.

Do you wanna know why I think that was? Because there AREN’T ANY.

Today, the ability for patients to receive HAART makes it extremely likely that those numbers haven’t changed since 1993 . So, if there was only ONE sport related case of transmission WORLDWIDE in 1993, and NO cases of transmission in school, it is safe to say there is no reason for parents to be concerned about transmission in school or during sports activities these days.

As Dr. Steven J. Anderson, Chair of the Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine, and team […]

Your Questions Answered: The Disclosure Decision

Written by: Jen Sloniger
Your Questions Answered is a blog series which addresses Project HOPEFUL blog readers’ most burning questions. Please submit your questions to:

Today’s question is always a hot one. Several people wrote to ask us:
QUESTION: How do you decide whether or not to disclose your child’s HIV+ status. Who should I tell; who shouldn’t I tell? What is it like to be a disclosing family?

Disclosure is a very personal thing. Many families choose to disclose or not to disclose based on factors like the type of community they live in, the strength of the support system of friends and family around them, their personality type, and many other things.

Of course, Project HOPEFUL is an organization which is filled with advocates, the overwhelming majority having made the decision to disclose our children’s status. If you asked our disclosing staff members I think they’d tell you that a main impetus for disclosing is the desire to flush out stigma. HIV/AIDS is no one’s dirty little secret. The issue of whether or not a family should hide their child’s leukemia, or diabetes, or down syndrome is a NON issue. I’ve never heard anyone talk about it being that child’s story which only they should share. Kids are born with many diseases yet it seems that HIV/AIDS is the singular chronic disease everyone wants to shame children for having or at least quiet everyone from talking about. No one bats an eye when a mother blogs about her child’s congenital heart defect. No one condemns her for sharing such personal information about her child without her child’s consent…. See my point?

Those of us who have disclosed did so knowing there were risks. We realized it might […]

Parent Forum February 12th

Are you interested in learning more about adoptive parenting of children with HIV/AIDS? Project HOPEFUL and University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital Adoption Clinic have created an informative Parent Forum you won’t want to miss! Come learn from medical professionals and Project HOPEFUL staff. Extended family members are invited too.

Visit our WEBSITE to learn more and to register.


A Child Shall Lead Them

Today’s Stigma Story was submitted by A’s mother on her behalf. A* is an 8 year old girl who is in the 3rd grade. Stigma Stories is a short series running through the week of World AIDS Day (Dec 1st) to highlight the need for education about HIV/AIDS. The Truth Pandemic Campaign was created to help combat social stigma through ongoing educational initiatives.

One day I was playing with my friends at recess, and I tripped. My knee started bleeding really bad. My friends rushed over and tried to help me clean my leg.  I told them not to touch my blood or anybody’s blood.  Then I went to the nurse.  When I came back, everybody kept asking me, “Why were you acting so weird?  It was just a little blood, not a big deal.” I answered them, “It was a big deal. You’re never supposed to touch anyone’s blood because you don’t know what they have.” I could tell they weren’t really paying attention and didn’t think I was making sense.

I was frustrated because it’s like children don’t know anything! I felt like I needed to talk to people about HIV and stuff–how you can get it and how you can’t.

“Guys,” I said, “Don’t freak out or tell everyone in the whole school this.  I have something to tell you.  I have HIV.”  They looked surprised.

“How did you get it?” they asked.

I said, “my mom had HIV and didn’t know, so I got it too.”

“What if you touch someone?”

“If I touch someone, you won’t get it. But you shouldn’t touch someone’s BLOOD, because HIV is in the blood.”

“What if you don’t know you have it? Could we have it?”

“No, you would know if […]

Disclosure Dilemma: When You Want to Tell

Today’s Stigma Story is written by Kay and Lance of Stigma Stories is a short series the week of World AIDS Day (Dec 1st) to highlight the need for education about HIV/AIDS. The Truth Pandemic Campaign was created to help combat social stigma through ongoing educational initiatives.

Lance and I have three precious children through adoption.  We are proud of that.  We cannot imagine loving them more than we do.  Two of them are of a different ethnicity and we love that about them.  We can’t imagine our family any other way.  We want the world to know what a blessing adoption is.  We hope God will use our example to further adoptions in our community.

Though, we have a secret we’re afraid to share.  At least that’s what it feels like.

Our three-year-old daughter has HIV.  Her disease poses no risk to our family, to our church, or to our community.  She takes medicine twice a day.  One day she can attend school, get a job, marry and have children.  For now she plays with dolls and likes to read in mommy’s lap.  But it feels like we are hiding something.

My husband and I have long since accepted her HIV.  We learned everything we could about the disease early on in the adoption process.  But we knew most people in our community still had old stereotypes and misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.  How would our community react if we told them we were adopting a child with HIV?  How would our friends and relatives treat us?  What would they think of our daughter?

We decided to keep her HIV status confidential because we wanted to protect her and our family from stigma and criticism and ostracism.  […]