MON July 9, 2018 MON July 9, 2018
10:30 am 10:30 am
International I International I

Kristine Freeark

Research Investigator, Centre for Human Growth and Development, University of Michigan

Robert Clifford

Fellowship winner, Winston Churchill Memorial Trust

Jen Dolan

Program Manager, Rudd Adoption Research Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Harold Grotevant

Professor, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Albert Lo

Graduate student in psychology, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Alex Gilbert

Founder & Director, I'm Adopted

Symposium: Innovative approaches to creating adoption communities for young people

Burning Questions: Meeting the needs of adopted adolescents for communication and connection

Open communication about adoption and having a sense of connection to others who share elements of one’s personal experience can reduce the turmoil that frequently occurs during adolescence. However, achieving these things can be challenging with this age group. Confiding feelings about adoption to parents can feel daunting. Sharing with peers, most of whom are not adopted, runs the risk of feeling misunderstood or too vulnerable. Therapy as a setting for talking can convey weakness and pathology when what adolescents need most is a normalization of their experience and acknowledgment of their strengths.

Opportunities to connect with adopted peers in group settings (when they exist locally) may be intimidating due to fear of not fitting in, expecting pressure to tell one’s story, privacy concerns, or feelings of vulnerability. Logistics (transportation, schedule) may also get in the way. Because the salience of adoption issues fluctuates, a young person might be motivated to attend one week and uninterested the next.
An online forum for adopted adolescents might circumvent many of these obstacles. Accessing perspectives of other adopted people from one’s own home or mobile device, when adoption happens to be on one’s mind, can make it less risky to engage.

A forum like this needs to appeal to this age group and focus on issues relevant to them. It also requires careful design and moderation to protect privacy and ongoing oversight of content and tone. Much of what is available online about adoption addresses the experiences and perspectives of adopted young adults, thus not always providing a space for what younger adolescents might be seeking or ready to process.

The idea for Burning Questions began with a group of teens who were eager to share insights about the lived experience of adoption both in person and through digital means. Implementation of the concept requires input from the target audience, but also from adults knowledgeable about adoption and development. The project has been carried forward by a team of 3 adopted adults and one psychologist (also an adoptive parent).

We have launched an interest survey (disseminated digitally), aimed at the adopted adolescent population, to learn about their level of interest in an adoption-focused platform and their ideas about its utility. Survey results will guide development of an online resource (perhaps podcast, YouTube channel or app) with creative and content input from an “expert” panel of adopted youth.

This presentation will detail the various aims of Burning Questions. We will report on survey results and discuss their implications for selecting digital formats that spark interest, build a sense of community, encourage reflection and discussion among peers and educate the nonadopted. We hope to spread word of this project around the globe and to benefit from the ideas of our audience.

Leadership development among college students who are adopted

The Rudd Adoption Research Program at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst has the goal of creating a campus environment and programs that are appealing, of value and of interest to students who are adopted internationally, domestically through the child welfare program or private adoption. The purpose of this paper is to focus on two very successful adoption related programs implemented by the Rudd Adoption Research Program.

The first program is the Adoption Mentoring Partnership (AMP). AMP is now in its 8th year and matches college students who are adopted with children in the community who are also adopted. Throughout the entirety of the program we have conducted research (both qualitative and quantitative) with the mentors, mentees and parents of the mentees which validates the success of the program. For example, parents of the mentees are contacted annually in an effort to learn their perspective on how they feel their child is or is not benefiting from the program. Every year parents have consistently indicated how grateful they are for the mentoring program. As much as they love their child(ren) they are not in a position to truly understand what it means to be adopted. The mentor is able to fill a void in a child’s life in a way the parent is not able. Other key findings are based on interviews conducted with the mentors. Themes that emerged from the interviews included; personal ethnic identity exploration, communication with family members about adoption and ethnicity and social exchanges outside of the family.

Our other newer program emerged based on the findings of the mentoring program and is called the UMass Adopted Student Advisory Panel (ASAP). Many students expressed an interest in being a mentor and yet decided not to participate in the program due to the time commitment required. Research from the mentoring program helped us recognize how much the mentors valued participating in the mentoring class and being in an adoption centric space. The mentors expressed that talking about adoption in an academic setting with other adoptees was a new and valuable experience. We therefore decided to create an opportunity for college students who are adopted to come together in a shared space without having to commit to 3-5 hours per week of mentoring. The mission of ASAP is to advise adoptive parents, professionals and non-professionals in the field of adoption about how to best support those who are adopted and their families. In addition, the group engages in adoption related advocacy by raising awareness on campus about the lived experience of those who are adopted. While advising, educating and advocating the ASAP members all benefit from being in the adoption centric space identified as being so valuable by the mentors. During the latter half of the spring semester ASAP members will be surveyed about the impact of involvement. These results will be presented, along with implications for future direction.

Connecting Adoptees around the globe with the "I'm Adopted" project

The I’m Adopted project is a global community organisation that helps adoptees around the world connect, in particularly to their roots i.e birth families. Started in 2015. It started as a small idea to help those adopted around the world connect. We wanted to create a community group that would give a voice to adoptees. With Social media playing a huge role in the world, we thought about using this as one of our main tools.

Founder of the project, Alex Gilbert did his own search for his birth parents in 2013. He was born in a small town in Russia in 1992. He was then placed in an orphanage for the first two years of his life until he was adopted into his New Zealand family in 1994. Throughout his childhood he was always interested in knowing who his birth parents were and in 2013 he tracked them down using social media to then eventually meeting them at the end of that year.

This sparked the idea for the I’m Adopted project, helping others now use social media as a search resource for adoptees. The project not only shares stories but also provides resources and tips for any adoptee who might want to search for their own birth family. Of course the project doesn’t just focus on helping adoptees search for their birth families, but they can also talk to each other or contact us at I’m Adopted directly for any advice. We are always here to talk.

Since the project started we have gained massive media coverage globally. Helping spread the word of the project and helping more adoptees connect. We started the project in English and then set up a version in Russian, Spanish and now Romanian. With helpers all over the world, we are able to get specific stories now translated into these home languages to help further for any information.

We run the project primarily on Facebook and through our Website. We share our stories through from our website to then Facebook, at which these are then shared to more people. We have grown to over 30,000 likes worldwide with over 400 stories now shared. Many of those who have found connections with the project.

I’m Adopted is important to us and we have been lucky to have been able to help more and more adopted people around the world connect. Not only online but also face to face. We have set up many meet up events here in New Zealand, to which many adoptees from all over the country have been able to meet and talk. This has helped a lot of us be open about our own journeys, talk about where we came from and also celebrate ourselves with our families.

We feel privileged to be able to provide a support platform via “I’m Adopted” to fellow adoptees around the world.