by Angela Tucker
In early April, I journeyed to Amherst, Massachusetts to present at the UMASS Rudd Adoption Research Program Conference. The conference is an annual gathering of academics from all over the United States where the biggest names in research, including Ruth McRoy and Ellen Pinderhughes, were on hand to represent their work on family preservation, openness in adoptions for birthmothers, minority recruitment, and racial identity development.
Armed with preconceptions of what an academic research conference would be like, I carefully studied up on recent cutting-edge research and publications. I feared that my lack of academic credentials would leave me woefully unprepared to communicate or that my decade of direct practice within the adoption field would pale in comparison to the caliber of folks I’d be interacting with. As an adoptee without any advanced degrees, I felt an immense honor, duty and responsibility to ensure that my presentation matched the rigor of my counterparts.
But as I mingled with other speakers and presenters at the Chancellor’s home for the pre-conference reception, I quickly learned that my anxiety about interacting with such esteemed professionals was unfounded—silly, even. Although many conversations were laced with academic jargon, I was able to make sense of their profundities.
I was attending the conference to give a presentation with fellow adoptee and adoption services colleague Steve Kalb of Holt International Children Services entitled “How Adoptees Are Shaping Post-Adoption Services.” We were humbled to be invited, as it conveyed the message that there is value in hearing from adoptees who are serving as adoption professionals. And we were proud to share about the great strides adoptees have taken to influence post-adoption services best practices, such as the creation of open source transracial adoption training tools like The Adopted Life Series and child-centered programs such as the Holt Adoptee Camp.
The conference was rife with powerful presentations and jam-packed with breakout sessions. I did, however, have three major takeaways I am excited to share with you:
- “There is no such thing as a child without a family!” – Sue Badeau
Sue Badeau has a lifetime of experience caring for kids through adoption and foster care who come from difficult backgrounds including abandonment, incarceration or death. She acknowledged that it can be easy to forget that all children have families when we’re working to provide stability and security by way of searching for a new family. She admonished all of us to operate with the belief and truism that every child has a family. All too often, many folks within the adoption field support children without the consideration of familial ties and connections they already have. Biological cousins, grandparents, and siblings all should be factored in to decisions around placement and overall wellbeing of our kids in foster-care. This conversation naturally led to the new research currently being done on family reunification and kinship care.
- What if we encouraged older children and teenagers to interview their prospective adoptive parents?
During the plenary session, Amnoni Myers, a young adult who emancipated from foster care, discussed topics related to older child adoptions, suggesting that practitioners allow teenagers to interview prospective parents themselves. She wondered: what it would look like to provide teenagers more control and agency in an inevitably chaotic time in their lives? How might flipping the power dynamic by placing adoptive parents on the hot seat and allowing teens to ask questions impact the success rate of older child adoptions? Teens may then ask questions such as: “Have you ever had kids in your home before? If so, what happened to them?” or “What are your discipline philosophies?”
- How can we bring researchers and practitioners closer together?
By the end of the conference, I found myself wishing that peer-reviewed research articles and conferences like this were more accessible to the general public. I believe many of the families I work with would enjoy applying this information. Unfortunately, the use of exclusionary, academic language and keeping research articles behind paywalls, make it difficult for practitioners to implement research-based changes in their work.
For example, in the groundbreaking and oft-cited MTARP study, we learned that, as satisfaction with openness increased, birthmothers’ current global level of grief decreased. This study began in 1972 (data is still being collected currently), but practitioners are just now responding to these findings by providing empowerment services to birthparents and advocating they have more agency in open adoption agreements. For the most part, adoptive parents still remain in control of the amount of contact provided to birthparents, despite what we’ve learned from the MTARP study.
To mitigate this discrepancy, I have begun to employ the Community Based Research Model within my Post-Adoption work at Amara. JaeRan Kim, a Korean adoptee, and professor at University of Washington has partnered with us to develop a new conceptual model for supporting families in establishing and maintaining open adoption relationships with birth families. Community Based Research models are inherently rooted in reciprocity and a mutual respect of each others’ roles and subsequent expertise. We believe that collaborating in this way will yield results to benefit the individuals most directly impacted, as well as build the body of knowledge for research.
Many of the presentations were videotaped (including mine and Steve’s!). View them here. And if you’re interested in learning more about Amara’s Post-Adoption services, please reach out to me: email@example.com