Confessions & Confusions: The Importance Of Teamwork

What We Did To Lead Our Foster Daughter Into Enjoying School

By Melodie Cook
April 21, 2017

A family does not become a family in a day. But holding onto each other through the good times and the bad times, is the key to making it all work out well.

March 26th marked one year since Natsumi moved in with us.

Recently, she was playing with friends in the house for three hours and after I got home, they all went outside to play basketball in front of the house and made a lot of noise. For me, this is a sight that makes me relieved — her journey to making friends was not an easy one.

Struggling At School

When she first started grade six at her “new” elementary school last year, many kids seemed interested to hang around with her and for some time it looked like she’d made many friends at once. Then, they began dropping off one by one, probably because she was “difficult” to be around. Likely due to various issues surrounding her move into our house coupled with her learning disabilities and borderline intellectual functioning, she regarded her new classmates with suspicion and fear and they could feel it emanating off her. We regularly got calls from the teacher that she was fighting with other students, usually physically.

During the first semester, my husband and I went to meet her special education and homeroom teachers. I was very surprised and a little hurt when her special education teacher told us that her behavior indicated that she was lacking in affection at home. I told him that she wouldn’t let us near her and wasn’t ready to accept any affection from us. She was the first foster child these teachers ever encountered (that they knew about), and for the first time I realized how little they knew about foster children’s adaptation to a new environment.

I was very surprised and a little hurt when her special education teacher told us that her behavior indicated that she was lacking in affection at home.

However, they were very supportive and willing to work for her, so we were in daily touch with them, although Natsumi claimed to hate them both. She lied about homework, saying that she had none or had done it before coming home. The teachers suggested that during the first semester, we would just focus on her getting comfortable with her new family and leave the academics until later. Although she needed help with math and Japanese, she didn’t like going to the special education class.

Positive Change

By the end of the first semester, however, things began to change.

Natsumi became more cheerful, less aggressive, and began confiding in her homeroom teacher. She began doing a little homework, and after joining the basketball team, became popular among the other players, although she often sat on the bench. Her team was a good one and won many tournaments. Their picture was in the paper recently and without parental bias, I would say that she had the best smile of anyone on the team; she was positively beaming.

Her grades began improving little by little and she demanded tutoring once a month after I asked a student from my university to help my son, who was also having trouble with math and Japanese. She started having friends to our house for overnights and staying at their houses, too.

The last time we went to meet her teachers, they told us that she’d stopped going to the special education classes and was attending her homeroom class for all periods. Because regular study exhausts her, she usually fell asleep during sixth period. Thanks to an explanation from the homeroom teacher, the other students knew that Natsumi needed down time and they were considerate of her and let her be. The teachers were pleased that her demeanor had changed for the better and she was showing her funny, sweet side to everyone. The caseworker was with us at that meeting and my heart was full and I couldn’t stop smiling at all that good news.

What Went Right?

Personally, I think we were very lucky because we had support from Natsumi’s caseworkers and social workers in addition to her teachers: all of us working as a team. Keeping each other regularly informed, we could help Natsumi get used to her new school, shuck off the anger, and show and share her wonderful personality with everyone.

In early April, we attended her junior high school entrance ceremony. Prior to that, we had her tested and learned that she wouldn’t have to go into the special education class, but I’ll keep a tutor for her because it’s likely that the study is going to be ramped up, and I don’t want her to feel overwhelmed and lose the confidence she’s gained over the last year. I doubt her teachers will tolerate her sleeping in class, but again, we’ve all spoken to the school administrators so they know something about her.

Keeping each other regularly informed, we could help Natsumi get used to her new school, shuck off the anger, and show and share her wonderful personality with everyone.

She looks great in her new school uniform, which she realized needs to be kept away from the cats or she’ll be forever brushing cat hair off it. I can’t sew to save my life, so picked up some fabric and string and had a bag for her music stuff made for her at the cleaners’ down the road. My husband and I are bracing ourselves for her first semester, which is bound to be stressful for all of us, but many of her friends will be attending the same school, which is a major relief for us. She also went to watch the school’s basketball team practice, intending to join it.

She — and we, working together and sticking together through the bad and the good — have come a long way in this past year. We’re very proud of her and I hope and believe she feels we are there for her no matter what.

“Confessions & Confusions” is Melodie Cook’s column on adoption and fostering in Japan. Here, she answers questions from potential adoptive or foster parents, those who have already been through the system or any parents who just need to let off some steam. Got a question? Leave a comment or send us an email at

Melodie Cook (originally from Canada), is an adoptive and foster mother currently living in Niigata, Japan. She is also a Professor at the University of Niigata Prefecture. After adopting her son in 2009, she started an online yahoo group “adoptioninjapan” in order to connect with other mixed-race families raising adopted children. She also has created a facebook page where adoptive and foster families can give and receive advice and support. Both groups are private, so please contact her to join:

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