Use the information below to guide your parent group in a discussion of the book Wounded Children Healing Homes: How Traumatized Children Impact Adoptive and Foster Families

This book offers group leaders an avenue to sharing strategies, resources, and hope over the course of a year’s meetings. Many families will decide to read ahead, but the guiding questions following the chapters will give you an anchor for your meetings. 

We suggest that you start each meeting with a quick and fun icebreaker (see our icebreaker link) to get folks warmed up and comfortable with one another.

Meeting 1 – Chapters One and Thirteen: Embracing a Love Like No Other: A Story of Hope & A Story of Hope: The Rest of the Story

We believe you always begin and end your time together with a feeling and message of hopefulness and gratitude, for whatever you can find to be grateful for. Research has proven that hopefulness and gratitude, when practiced regularly, relieve feelings of depression and lead to positive outcomes. We combined the “bookends” of the book in the first meeting because the author so beautifully embraces these two qualities. Hopefulness. Gratitude.

Set the framework for the rest of the meetings/chapters and confirm meeting times and days, any other housekeeping or refreshment details.

Meeting 2 – Chapter Two: The Power of Unmet Expectations

Research has shown that the number one reason for disruptions is unmet expectations on the part of the parents. If we can help parents realign their expectations, we can likely reduce or eliminate disruptions within our group.

This chapter is packed with foundational material to support foster and adoptive parents in developing realistic expectations for their child, their family, and the relationship they are building, including:

  • Ten expectations about adoption
  • The model of the myth
  • Readjusting shattered assumptions
  • Discussion questions from the book — These can be used by the leader to support a lively and open conversation about unmet expectations and strategies to manage disappointment

Meeting 3 – Chapter Three: Adoptive Parents and the Impact of Their Own Personal Trauma History

More and more we are learning that parents’ histories impact their ability to parent effectively and make space for “triggering” that can be harmful to them, their children, and their relationships. In this chapter, the author provides a thoughtful and supportive guide to understanding yourself better and improving your parenting skills through discussing:

  • Understanding your own trauma
  • Personal trauma’s impact on parenting
  • Adoption preparation as a mutual assessment
  • Parenting attachment styles
  • Discussion questions — These can be provocative in themselves. Encourage participants to discuss them prior to the meeting with a trusted advisor or partner. In the meeting itself, it is likely that participants will discover, once again, that they are not alone in their experiences or in continuing the journey.

Meeting 4 – Chapter 4: Attachment, Development, and the Impact of Trauma

As the author states, “This chapter will explore how attachment influences development and the impact complex trauma has on attachment.” He helps the reader better understand that the behaviors they are struggling to address are survival skills their children have developed and further provides a path to more patient and effective responses. Topics covered are:

  • Understanding the attachment process
  • Emotional regulation
  • Socialization and shame
  • Language and expressiveness
  • Plasticity and resilience
  • Complex trauma
  • Discussion questions — These guide the parent to both think about their child’s history and early attachment experiences and use the included chart of domains of impairment to better understand the impact. Considering those domains most impacted within the group as a whole may lead the leader to consider valuable guest speakers on a variety of topics.

Meeting 5 – Chapter Five: Living with Traumatized Children – The Impact on Parents

The author notes that this chapter can be difficult, as it validates the experience for families who are really struggling. It also, however, addresses the difficulties that arise when parents are blamed and judged, rather than supported and encouraged. She adds that this chapter will not answer the issues raised, but that throughout the rest of the book, the reader will find suggestions and strategies.

Covered in this chapter:

  • Children in foster care have a story that will Impact those who love them
  • Child meets the family
  • Early awareness of negative family transformation
  • Splitting
  • Reenactment
  • Vicarious trauma
  • Effects of caring for traumatized children
  • Discussion questions — These assist parents in identifying which effects have happened or are happening in their home and provide a space for them to share strategies that have worked for them.

Meeting 6 – Chapter Six: Living with Traumatized Children: The Impact on Birth and Other Adopted Siblings

Obviously, introduction of a new person into a family will have an impact on everyone in the family. The author notes that most parents have limited understanding or awareness (attunement) about how the other children in the family are doing and feeling. She offers both an understanding of what that impact can look like and strategies for parents to support all of the children in the family.

  • Potential impact on siblings after adopting a traumatized child
  • Potential strategies for children who experience grief, sadness, and anger when the family struggles
  • New behavior management techniques and/or house rules
  • Potential strategies when biological children feel their opinion don’t matter
  • Potential parenting strategies when a child feels invisible
  • Discussion questions — There are prompts for thinking about how to prepare and support children when welcoming a new child to the family, as well as two case studies for participants to respond to in terms of both preparation that could have happened and strategies to address and resolve issues that arose.

Meeting 7 – Chapter Seven: Confronting the Crisis of an Adoption Breakdown

In this chapter, the author addresses the reality that, with older, increasingly traumatized children needing permanency, the risk of disruption and dissolution will also increase. By understanding and responding to the indicators that a breakdown is potential, parents can increase the likelihood of a sustained, successful relationship with their children. Topic areas include:

  • Emotions on the route to adoption breakdown
  • When coping fails: stages of disruption
  • Discussion questions — Facilitators need to be aware that this can be a very difficult and emotional meeting. Be at your best when facilitating and remember that one of your most important roles is to hold hope for others when they are unable to hold it for themselves. The guiding questions open the door for participants to openly discuss the stressors they and their parenting partners are facing and encourage participants to share successes and strategies. One important instruction for the facilitator to convey is that this must be a “no judgment” zone in order for everyone to feel safe in being open and honest.

Meeting 8 – Chapter Eight: Managing the Crisis of an Adoption Breakdown

Nearly all families experience those moments of being “on the brink” at some time or another. By anticipating those times and being prepared, parents can better ensure that the breakdown does not actually happen and can use these challenging times as springboards to a deeper understanding of their child and a deeper commitment to them. Many experienced parents have confirmed that relationships with their children are strengthened during and in the aftermath of these trying times.

The author offers guidance and strategies regarding:

  • Common triggers for adoption-related crisis
  • The child’s perspective
  • The parent’s perspective
  • Survival skills for adoptive parents
  • Discussion questions — These guiding questions will probe the feelings parents experience about adoption itself, the child, and the way those feelings change over time. They lead parents to think about triggers, patterns, strategies, and what success looks like for them.

Meeting 9 – Chapter Nine: The Maltreated Child in School

We can’t talk about parenting our children, without addressing their experiences in school – after all, this is where they spend most of their time outside the home and school is also where they can experience success or failure in many arenas at once. The author offers guidance and strategies around:

  • Nuts and bolts of the school experience
  • How cognition functions
  • Distress tolerance
  • Emotional regulation
  • Behavioral control in the classroom
  • Relationships at school
  • Self-concept and school
  • Discussion questions — As the leaders facilitate this discussion, they may want to also develop some educational advocacy approaches that the participants can use immediately. 

One easy and effective strategy is to bring an impartial partner to IEP and other meetings. This partner is often another parent (who does not identify themselves as such), dressed in professional attire and carrying a briefcase or professional notebook. The parent introduces them as, “Ms. Stone, our family’s educational advisor. I’ve asked her here to observe and take notes for me.” This is effective for several reasons—it allows the parent to concentrate on the discussion itself, it allows for an unemotional recording of and feedback on the meeting, and it puts the school on notice that you are taking things seriously and are committed to get the best outcome possible for your child.

Meeting 10 – Chapter Ten: School Interventions for the Maltreated Child

The best approach for children to experience success in school is when parents and the school work as partners for best outcomes. This chapter is rich with information, approaches, and guidance to making that happen, including:

  • Guiding principles for working with maltreated children
  • From parent-child to teacher-student
  • Strategies for teachers
  • When individual attention is called for
  • Distress tolerance
  • Executive functioning delays
  • Parent-teacher relationship
  • Special education and alternative placement
  • Discussion questions — Facilitate continued conversation about school success for our children. An additional resource for families is Lost in School, by Ross Greene, which is a book written for parents and teachers to use as a guide together in supporting children who have gaps in their development that impede learning. The approach removes the stigma of being a “behavior problem” at school and underscores the difference between “can’t” and “won’t” for a child who struggles, as well as concrete advice for teachers around why it’s important to recognize this.

Meeting 11 – Chapter Eleven: Living with Children with Attachment Trauma: Understanding the Terminology, Diagnosis, and Parenting Strategies

First and foremost, we like the term attachment trauma, rather than attachment disorder or reactive attachment disorder (RAD). A disorder describes something that is wrong with a person, a trauma lets you know that something outside the person caused a change. As two young people with lived experience have described it, “They said I had attachment disorder. Really, I had a life disorder. I attached accordingly;” and “Workers talk about how I have ‘attachment problems.’ They move me five times to five different sets of ‘parents.’…Not much chance to attach anywhere in that mess. This chapter does an excellent job of making attachment trauma both understandable and expected, rather than a child’s disorder. Additionally, there are some excellent resources and advice, including:

  • Understanding the concept of attachment disorder (Note: this book was written in 2009. Since then much has been written about a new diagnosis that has not yet been included in the diagnostic statistical manual (DSM) that is used by clinicians to determine both treatment approaches and qualification for insurance coverage. This section is heavy on the RAD diagnosis. We think you would be better advised to see materials on developmental trauma disorder which appears to much more accurately  address the complex trauma that many of our children carry, leaving room for hope and healing.)
  • The process of assessment
  • Attachment therapies
  • Discussion questions — There are some good guiding questions. The facilitator can also be invaluable in prompting participants to share successful strategies for both building attachment and reducing trauma for their children. 

We also recommend looking at the resources below, as they are current and reflect the newest resources on parenting children with attachment trauma. Below are some links, some of which are more for you to share with providers.

Meeting 12 – Chapter Twelve: Taking Care of Yourself: The Parent’s Neglected Task

This is critical to the well-being and sustainability of the family as a whole. As you hear any time you board an airplane, if cabin pressure drops, put your own oxygen mask on first. As parents we are called to serve and care for our children on a round the clock basis. You cannot give what you don’t have. This chapter includes many gems, like:

  • Principles of self-care for foster and adoptive parents
  • Interviewing prospective therapists
  • Find outlets for your own needs
  • Choosing your battles
  • Finding respite care
  • Find ways to have fun with your child
  • Reframe your definition of success
  • Discussion questions — These offer a great starting-off point for sharing self-care strategies. Look for opportunities to build on these discussions to develop:
    • Mentoring partners
    • Child care exchanges
    • Family events
    • Parent to parent support networks
    • Sharing of resources that have proven to be adoption-competent

Also check out NACAC’s webinar It’s Time to Take Better Care of Ourselves!, presented by Maris Blechner, former NACAC board member, founder of Family Focus Adoptions.

If this is the last meeting in a series with your group, have a celebratory ending! Check in to see what the group wants to focus on next. Do your best to keep the connection and momentum going!!

Categories: Group Activities & Programs, Parent Group, Parenting

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