Articles on adoption, foster care, & pediatrics

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Welcome Home Guide

What follows is a list of our typical recommendations at the initial post-placement evaluation. That first visit is a doozy, and much of what we say tends to get lost in the shuffle, so we'll recap many of our suggestions below. We like for folks to have a copy in hand when they leave our office, but you'll also find this article online at www.adoptmed.org/welcome, so that you can follow the links.

Medical Issues

If you are lucky enough to live within driving distance of an international adoption specialist, we highly recommend an initial evaluation 1-2 weeks after homecoming with someone experienced in the unique growth, developmental, infectious disease, and parenting issues that our children tend to bring home with them. A full list of international adoption docs can be found here, and we describe our recommended evaluations in this article, as well as in our travel packet.

Immunizations

Unless you've adopted from Korea (shots trusted), Taiwan (also trusted), or Guatemala (we sometimes trust the shots there), we recommend that you either check titers (blood tests to confirm immunity) or start over on shots.

  • Hib and Prevnar (pneumococcal) immunizations are rarely performed in the typical sending countries, so we like to just start those at the first visit. Luckily, you only need 2 each of these if started >12mo, and you only need one Hib if given >15mo.
  • It's also rare to see an international adoptee with full immunity to measles, mumps, and rubella, so we'll often start MMR over as well, unless MMR immunization is well-documented at >1yo, in which case we could check titers.
  • Many IA children have received multiple DTP (diptheria, tetanus, and pertussis) and Polio immunizations, so those are ones we like to check with titers. However, titers done at less than 12-18mo may reflect transferred maternal antibody, so these may need to wait until the followup blood draw when children have been home ~6 months. If we have to wait to check titers, we will usually give 1-2 DTaP boosters, and perhaps one polio (IPV) booster, both to ensure coverage (lots of tetanus and whooping cough around, not so much polio in this hemisphere though) and to give the titers a good chance of proving immunity. Tdap (tetanus booster with added whooping cough protection) is a good choice for 11-18yo adoptees, and is now allowed earlier for those with uncertain immunization history.
  • Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B titers are routinely checked at arrival and 6 months later, so we hold off on those shots until we see what the labs say.
  • Varicella (chickenpox, 2 shots) can also be checked with titers, but the extra blood and expense may not be worth it given that we wouldn't save that many shots.
  • The oral rotavirus vaccine is not an option, as the first dose must be given at 6-12 wks old, with the last dose not given later than 32 wks old.

I tend to be a "lumper" rather than a "splitter" when it comes to shots. There is no reliable evidence that immunizations "overwhelm" the immune system, and I prefer to have fewer shot visits overall than drag things out by only doing 1-2 shots at a time. 

The Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia is my favorite online source for shot information from the generally pro-immunization perspective, as they link to relevant studies and also specifically address a lot of internet vaccine mythology.

Lab Tests 

  • A list of typically performed lab tests is listed here. Yes, that's a lot of tests, but it's the only way to know if many frequently encountered problems are present or not.
  • This is standard of care for internationally adopted children, although we get a bit creative in our office with children from Guatemala and Taiwan, and don't perform routine labs for children from Korea.
  • Our lab on the 1st floor downstairs, or the lab at Children's, is a good place to get these done. If the draw is not going well, you can certainly decide to try again in a few days.
  • It's going to require a lot of blood, typically drawn from the elbow or back of the hand, but your child will make more. Try to be calm, supportive, and resolute during the blood draw, model deep belly breaths, and try to put worries about attachment trauma and other anxieties out of mind, since your child will respond to your emotional state.
  • If your insurance company balks at coverage (tsk tsk), you and your pediatrician can adapt this insurance letter by Deb Borchers, MD. Refer them to the AAP Red Book, as well.
  • In our office, you can expect a call or letter with all of the lab results in about 2-3 weeks, a bit longer if titers are perfomed. We'll call sooner with any concerning results.
  • If you haven't heard by 2-3 weeks, please give the nurses a call at 206-598-3030.
  • In 6 months or at 18 months-old, whichever comes later, we need to retest for HIV and hepatitis (to rule out exposures just prior to travel). This is a good time to check additional titers or follow up on earlier abnormal results, if we haven't already. We also retest for anemia and iron deficiency at the followup lab draw, since periods of significant catchup growth may cause children to outgrow their already limited iron stores. A TB followup test is also recommended.

Stool Tests

  • You'll need to submit a total of 3 stool samples to check for giardia and other parasites (O&P x3 and 1 giardia antigen), collected every other day. This is important, regardless of symptoms - 15-20% of our IA children have a parasite like giardia.
  • Until you know the results, be scrupulous about handwashing (Purell and other alcohol-based gels are very handy). 
  • Don't let your children bathe together until you know the stools are clear - baths are a great way to share giardia.
  • The lab will give you a bag with containers and instructions. Scoop a peanut-sized amount of stool into the preservative-containing vials, and on the day that you're dropping off the stools, submit a fresh (<4 hours old) sample in the screw-top plastic container as well.
  • Please make sure your samples are labeled with your child's name, and write in the date and time collected.
  • It's easiest for all concerned if you drop them off at our lab on the 1st floor, but you can also drop them off at a local lab, ideally a hospital lab that does this a lot. Have them fax us the results, and call us if you don't hear the results in 1 week.
  • It's not unusual for this initial evaluation to miss a parasite - we've had several cases of Ascaris (white roundworm) present several months later ... so have a low threshold to retest for parasites if unexplained abdominal symptoms persist.
  • If you have a positive result, we'll explain what to do, but please read our article on giardia and other stool parasites for more information.

TB Tests

  •  We test for TB exposure with a skin test called a PPD, on arrival and again in 6 months after arrival. This followup test is crucial - we have a lot of kids who do have latent TB who have false-negative tests on arrival, due to stress/malnutrition.
  • This skin test will need to be read by a health care professional in 48-72 hours. Our nurses can do this without an appointment. Just drop in during business hours ... bring your poop samples and drop them off at the lab on your way up.
  • Children 2-5 years or older can have a blood test for TB (IGRA) instead.
  • You may hear that this testing is unnecessary in children who received BCG, the TB vaccine performed in many of our placing countries. This is not true. A result of 10mm or greater is a positive result, regardless of BCG status. Our children tend to come from high risk backgrounds as far as TB exposure is concerned.

Followup Visits

  • We like to see children for followup visits every 2-3 months after arrival until they've been home 6 months. Our front desk can schedule these for you on the way out.
  • We're happy to help you transfer care to a more local pediatrician at any point in the process. Many families stay with us until that 6-months-home visit, when labs, shots, and catchup growth and development are well underway.

Referrals

We see significantly higher rates of visual, hearing, and dental problems in children adopted from orphanages. Prenatal exposures and malnutrition, untreated ear infections, lack of visual stimulation, lack of fluoride and minerals, and poor dental care all contribute. For that reason, we recommend:

  • Screening audiology evaluation by a pediatric audiologist in the first few months home. Most of our children are language-delayed on arrival, and audiology is extra important in that scenario. Parents and pediatricians miss significant hearing problems all the time, and ringing a bell next to a child's face is not an adequate test of hearing. We now have an otoacoustic emissions (OAE) gadget in our clinic for easy hearing screens, but it has a really low threshold to refer children to audiologists for further evaluation. If that happens, Children's Audiology (206-987-2000) is a good bet, since they're skilled in behavioral audiology techniques for young children. 
  • Screening pediatric opthalmology evaluation in the 1st months home. We see significantly higher rates of strabismus (lazy eye) and other visual problems in IA children. The earlier this is detected, the better. David Epley (206-215-2020) and Werner Cadera (206-528-6000) are two good local pediatric ophthalmologists.
  • Early dental visit. Pediatric dentists like to see children as young as 1yo. See this article for more about early dental care. We don't have a current list of favorite dentists - check here, and ask other parents in your area.
  • If we recommend an early intervention evaluation, you can access the nearest center by calling WithinReach (WA state) at 1-800-322-2588 for a local referral.

Nutrition and Growth

For infants and small toddlers, we recommend an infant or toddler formula with iron and essential fatty acids for the first 2-3 months home, even past the "typical" wean to whole milk at 1yo. Formula is just more nutritionally dense than milk, juice, or water, and contains essential nutrients for rapidly growing children. When you do transition to whole milk (>1yo) or reduced-fat milk (>2yo if they've had good growth), try to limit it to under 18 ounces per day, since excess cow milk will fill up their bellies at the expense of other nutrition, and can cause anemia.

While vitamins and minerals are best absorbed from healthy food sources, it can be hard to meet the complete nutritional needs of a rapidly growing adopted child (who probably arrived with micronutrient deficiencies) through diet alone, especially if they're picky or have oral-motor delays and sensitivities. For that reason, we also recommend as complete a multivitamin and multimineral supplement as you can find, at least for the initial 3-6 months of catchup growth if not beyond. Other good sources of essential fatty acids for older adoptees include fish oils and flax seed oil. Probiotics are another supplement to consider. Please see our Nutritional Supplements in Adoption article for more information and specific recommendations.

For other nutrition ideas, you could read following resources on our site ...

But I have also been fortunate to collaborate with SPOON Foundation on the content for their most excellent AdoptionNutrition.org web resource. That's the place I'd start.

Development

Our website is chock full of articles, links, and book recommendations on the topic of development in internationally adopted children:

Therapeutic Parenting

This topic should probably be listed first, as I believe it's the most important intervention for newly adopted children. Kids who've experienced orphanage caregiving, multiple placements, neglect, abuse, and other trauma do have special needs in the area of parenting and attachment. What you'll read in typical parenting books, and what may have worked with "typical" children is not always the best idea for many of our children.

Please see these excellent resources: