Published in Fostering Families Today January/February 2017
Within our unique experiences, what each of us has in common is the fact that we are connected to a family. We all have a family we are born to; some of us also have family we know through the experience of foster care or adoption. In adoption, it is essential that the family building experience is not considered complete when an adoption is finalized. Rather, like all experiences in life, the journey of adoption is one that evolves over time and has different needs at different junctures. Too often though, families that have experienced the complexities of adoption are left without the ongoing resources needed to ensure a healthy future.
The Donaldson Adoption Institute (DAI) in partnership with the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition of New York (AFFCNY) has launched a new initiative to provide education and advocacy surrounding the need for post-adoption support. “Building Strong Families: Advancing Post-Adoption Services” includes a new website platform focused on post-adoption support services including information on advocacy efforts to ensure these services are accessible and appropriately funded.
A key element of this initiative will be to provide a platform to advocate for the funding necessary to create adoption competent supports and ensure they are available and accessible to all families who need and want the services they deserve. DAI conducted research in 2014 that assessed the level of development of adoption support and preservation services; this report reveals that around ¼ of states have only minimal services and another 19 states maintain moderate services, with some additional supports available outside the subsidy. Only 17 states were classified as offering substantial adoption support and preservation for families.
Surely we can do better than this. And we must do better than this if we want to argue that adoption can meet the best interests of children in need of a permanent family. The reality is all families experience challenges at varying points throughout their life journey. For families that come together through adoption, these challenges are often related to the experiences that preceded the adoption, including for both parents and children. Effective pre-adoption support, counseling and education must go hand in hand with the creation of robust post-adoption services.
Too often the transaction of finalizing an adoption is viewed as the conclusion to the adoption experience; in particular with regards to adoptions from foster care, the “successful” outcome is one where a child is connected permanently to a family through adoption. What happens after is seemingly less concerning, although it should be just as critical to us as the efforts we make to move children from foster care into permanent homes.
The reality is many families in need of support will find other avenues, including creating their own mutual aid groups. Most families will muddle through their struggles, yet they are needlessly burdened in the absence of accessibility to appropriate adoption supports. Bottom line-it doesn’t have to be so difficult.
The more extreme outcomes of adoption disruption and dissolution are less common than news headlines would lead us to believe. And when they do happen, it is often desperation that leads families to feel as though they have to give up on their own family structure, a desperation that all of us are responsible for creating when we leave families to navigate these complexities alone. The worst outcomes for families in crisis can be seen in instances of unregulated child custody transfers, also known as “rehoming,” where parents place children they’ve adopted with new caregivers outside of legal channels and without appropriate oversight. Again, this is not a common occurrence; its reprehensibility though speaks volumes and even one child “rehomed” is one child too many.
Our Building Strong Families initiative serves to incorporate practical resources and advocacy tools via our web platform; it also includes an advocacy effort that will occur in New York and ideally serve as a model for advocates in other states who are striving to compel their legislatures to provide families with the supports they deserve throughout the lifelong journey of adoption. We will profile quality support services and service providers on our web platform and we welcome contacts from community members who are aware of model programs that can serve as a foundation for program development throughout the country.
Families that come together through adoption are not unlike other complex families of today’s modern world. Family is the core of our humanity; it is an experience that connects all of us, and all families deserve the resources necessary not just to survive but rather to thrive. Strong families build strong communities and strong communities make a better world for all of us.
Learn more about Building Strong Families at www.buildingstrongfamiliesny.org.
Together, we can work to Adopt Reform!