Adoptive Parent Preparation Project
ADOPTIVE PARENT PREPARATION PROJECT PHASE I: MEETING THE MENTAL HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENTAL NEEDS OF ADOPTED CHILDREN
This publication, released in February, represents the initial phase of a broad, long-term Institute project designed to shape best-practice standards that will assist adoption professionals in the preparation and education of adoptive parents. This policy and practice paper outlines best practices for preparing adoptive parents to meet the mental health and developmental needs of their children.
The principal recommendations in the 18 page Policy & Practice Perspective brief include:
- More information about adoption and foster care should be incorporated into professionals' graduate training programs, and better continuing-education opportunities should be developed.
- Professionals should provide parent training/education both before and after the adoption; those who cannot offer such services themselves should provide appropriate referrals to their clients.
- Professionals should provide a balanced, realistic view of adoption - focusing on appropriate skills and expectations generally, and on the unique needs of the child to be adopted in particular.
- Because much of the current post-adoption counseling comes through community-based mental health professionals, they should receive better training in areas related to adoption.
The second phase of this project involves the development of a comprehensive set of curriculum modules for training parents on the mental health, developmental, and child-rearing issues related to adoption. The first of these modules, focusing on mental health issues in adoption, is being tested by practitioners and, after assessment and revision, will be made widely available later this year.
Changes in the institution of adoption over the past few decades have resulted in many questions about the best way to prepare and support adoptive parents for the task of raising their children. Historically, many parents who adopted children were given little, if any, information about their children's origins or about adoption in general. Yet, without adequate information, the chances for developing appropriate expectations about adoption, or for understanding the best ways of managing the challenges that can be associated with adoptive family life, are lessened. This is especially true for adoptions from the child welfare system and from other countries, where there is significant risk of medical and/or psychological issues.
It is widely accepted among adoption professionals today that parental preparation, education and support is crucial for the stability of an adoption and for the long-term emotional well-being of all family members. Nevertheless, there is a high degree of variability in the types and extent of preparation and education offered by agencies, attorneys, and others who facilitate adoption placements. Some of these organizations and individuals offer extensive services, both during the pre-adoption and post-adoption periods; however, others offer little to adoptive parents in these areas.
This paper, which represents the first phase of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's Adoptive Parent Preparation Project, outlines the basic principles, key issues, methods, and content areas forming best-practice standards regarding the preparation and education of adoptive parents. This phase focuses on preparing adoptive parents to better understand and manage the mental health, developmental, and parenting issues about which all adoptive parents should be educated, as well as those issues more relevant to specific types of adoptions. The information in this paper should be viewed as a roadmap for the development of specific curricula for professionals to use in preparing and educating adoptive parents in a wide range of content areas.
OBSTACLES TO ADOPTIVE PARENT PREPARATION & EDUCATION
An Adoption Institute analysis identified systemic, organizational, and interpersonal obstacles to effective preparation and education of adoptive parents, including:
- Inadequate training of adoption professionals -- in areas related to adoption, foster care, mental health, child development, and family dynamics -- in their formal schooling, on the job, and through continuing education programs.
- Insufficient financial and staffing resources to develop and implement ongoing adoptive parent preparation and educational programs.
- Inadequate guidelines regarding the necessary scope and content for adoption preparation and education programs.
- High staff turnover, particularly in the public child welfare system.
- Biases among some professionals who view adoption unrealistically, and consequently, either ignore, downplay, or dismiss the differences and challenges that can be associated with adoptive family life, or gloss over issues in an attempt to expedite a child's placement.
- Under-representation of birthparents and adopted individuals in professional positions associated with child placement and parent preparation, which can result in a one-sided presentation of adoptive family life and adoption kinship dynamics.
- Viewing adoption as a business focused primarily on making placements, with too little attention to best practices that support those placements, or to alternative permanency plans.
- Inadequate information about a child's birth family and pre-placement history.
- Lack of availability of adequate post-adoption services in most communities.
- Inadequate training of mental health professionals in areas related to adoption and foster care.
- Lack of receptivity to the information provided or failure to use services on the part of prospective adoptive parents because of unique personal vulnerabilities, insecurities, unrealistic expectations, and/or lack of knowledge about existing resources or ways to access those resources.
Based on a review of the research and practice literature, consultations with numerous adoption professionals and adoptive parents, and an evaluation of trends and developments in the area of adoption training and education (including requirements under the U.S.-ratified Hague Convention on Intercounty Adoption and its implementing legislation), the Adoption Institute offers the following general recommendations as a foundation for best-practice guidelines for the preparation, education, and support of adoptive parents regarding the understanding and management of their children's mental health and developmental needs.
- The competency of all professionals in the field should be increased by incorporating more information about adoption and foster care into their graduate training programs and by developing more intensive and extensive continuing education opportunities for them in a wide range of areas relevant to child placement and family support, including but not limited to:
- Ongoing changes in contemporary adoption practice
- Laws associated with adoption policy and practice
- Awareness of personal values, attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes associated with adoption-related practice
- Managing client defensiveness, denial, and resistance
- How race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and sexual orientation influence adoption practice and adoptive family life
- Role of racial and adoptive identity in adoption
- Biological, experiential, social, and cultural factors affecting child development and adoptive family life
- Mental health issues in adoption
- Developmental issues in adoption
- Family life cycle and parenting issues in adoption
- Role of loss and grief in adoption
- Intervention strategies for supporting adoptive families
- Awareness of community resources relevant for parent preparation, education and support
- Impact of adoption on the life course of adopted persons
- Impact of adoption on birth family members
- Impact of openness in adoption on the adoption kinship network
- Parent preparation, education and support should be mandatory components of the adoption process for everyone facilitating adoptions. Furthermore, parent preparation and education should be ongoing procedures that begin during the application and homestudy phase and continue throughout the post-adoption period. For professionals who are unable to provide appropriate pre- and post-adoption services, best-practice standards require that they be knowledgeable about relevant community resources and provide appropriate referrals to their clients.
- Adoptive parent preparation and education programs should utilize a combination of individual and group approaches; they also should be guided by adult learning theory, which emphasizes the efficacy of an active, multi-source, multi-method strategy of instruction. Opportunities for adoptive parents to interact with their peers, especially those who have already successfully parented adopted children, as well as with adult adoptees and birthparents, are highly recommended. So, too, is the use of web-based courses, especially for adoptive families who are geographically isolated, or who utilize adoption professionals who do not provide appropriate training themselves.
- Effective adoptive parent preparation and education should be defined in terms of facilitating appropriate knowledge, skills, and expectations related to adoption in general, and to the unique history and needs of the child to be adopted in particular. To achieve this goal, professionals must provide a balanced and realistic view of adoption, and be guided by the following points:
- Help parents understand and manage their vulnerabilities and/or defensiveness, which may interfere with receptivity to the information provided
- Be thorough and objective when sharing background information
- Emphasize both the benefits and risks associated with adoption in general, and with the child's unique history in particular
- Emphasize that risk associated with specific biological and/or pre-placement experiences only means that the child is more likely than the average child to have adjustment difficulties; it does not necessarily mean, however, that the child will have these problems
- Emphasize the high degree of variability found in children experiencing the same type of adverse biological and pre-placement experiences
- Emphasize the role played by high-quality caregiving in the amelioration of early developmental problems
- Adoption professionals must create a collaborative relationship with adoptive parents so that they will feel welcomed, valued, respected, and supported. In such an atmosphere, parents have the greatest chance of understanding their personal vulnerabilities, being receptive to the information provided, and developing realistic beliefs and expectations about adoption, as well as the skills needed to manage the inherent challenges that can be associated with adoptive family life.
- Because much of the available post-adoption counseling for adoptive families is through community-based mental health professionals, it is critical to ensure that these professionals receive better training in areas related to adoption. In keeping with this goal, we recommend the following:
- Encourage directors of graduate training programs in social work, psychology, psychiatry, and marriage and family therapy to incorporate information on the psychology of adoption
- Create easily accessible, well-publicized continuing-education programs focusing on parenting, developmental, and mental health issues in adoption geared toward all the helping professions
- Create web-based courses on the psychology of adoption to serve not only the general population of professionals, but also those who are geographically isolated or for other reasons cannot attend conferences, workshops, and community-based continuing-education programs
- Create adoption certification programs to support uniform standards of clinical competence among mental health professionals
- Foster collaborative training in the psychology of adoption among all helping professionals
CONTENT AREAS FOR PARENT PREPARATION & EDUCATION
Our analysis leads us to recommend that all adoptive parents be prepared and educated in the following areas:
- Mental health issues associated with adoption -- understanding both the benefits and risks related to adoptive family life, as well as those factors that influence children's variability in adjustment
- Normative parenting issues in adoptive family life -- how adoption influences child-rearing at various stages of the family life cycle
- Developmental issues in adoption - how adoption impacts the life of the child at various developmental periods and into adulthood, including the importance of birth family members in the mental and emotional life of the child, regardless of the amount of contact among these individuals
- Talking with children about adoption -- guidelines about how to share adoption-related information with their children, especially when it is sensitive or when there is an absence of information
- Role of loss and grief in adoption - the extent and unique nature of adoption-related loss/grief, as well as how it affects children's adjustment and how parents can help their children cope with it
- Identity issues in adoption - the way adoption colors children's identity, as well as ways parents can help their sons and daughters develop a positive and secure sense of themselves
- Role of the search process in adoption - the nature of and motives for searching among adopted individuals, as well as ways parents can help their children with this process.
- Support services in adoption - the relevant community services and supports that are available.
In addition to these content areas, which are critical for all adoptive parents, this policy and practice paper highlights a number of areas of preparation and training that are more relevant for specific types of families - particularly those who adopt through the public child welfare system or from other countries, and/or who adopt across racial lines, who create some type of contact plan with birth family, and/or who are gay or lesbian.
The nature of adoption has become increasingly complex over the past few decades. So, more than ever, parents need to be educated and supported to meet the challenges that can be associated with adoptive family life. This education should begin during the adoption application and continue throughout the post-placement and post-adoption periods. Responsible practice dictates that all professionals involved in facilitating adoptions - e.g., agency personnel, attorneys, independent facilitators - ensure that their clients receive appropriate preparation and education, either by providing it themselves or through other qualified professionals in their communities. The Adoption Institute hopes this paper will encourage professionals to become better prepared to meet the needs of their clients and set more uniform standards for preparing, educating and supporting adoptive parents to meet the mental health and developmental needs of their children.