Understanding permanency in the life trajectories of children adopted from care in Australia
Purpose: International research has shown that children in long-term foster care often experience frequent changes of placement and school, insufficient integration into a substitute family and inadequate support when they make the transition from care to independence in early adulthood. The purpose of this study was to explore whether open adoption (with regular face-to-face contact) offers better opportunities for stability and permanence for children in out-of-home care in Australia who cannot return to their birth families.
Methods: This study is one element in a more extensive programme designed to explore the life trajectories of a cohort of children adopted from out-of-home care in New South Wales between 1987-2013. For much of this period the programme focused on finding permanent adoptive homes for children identified as ‘hard to place’. Data concerning children’s experiences before entering their adoptive homes were collected from administrative files and adoption records; quantitative and qualitative data concerning subsequent experiences were collected through responses to an on-line survey and through face to face interviews with adult adoptees and adoptive parents.
Findings: The whereabouts of 121 (58%) of the adoptees were known at follow-up. The findings suggest that the vast majority, including those who had experienced numerous placements while in care, found stable, permanent adoptive homes. The adoptees were also older when they left home than most care leavers, and they received more extensive, long-term support as they made the transition to adulthood.
Not all placements were stable. At least twelve (9%) adoptees had left home before they were eighteen, and fourteen (28%) of those who were no longer living with their adoptive families had left for non-normative reasons. However, the findings also demonstrate the strength of the relationship between adoptive parents and children. Adoptive parents continued to support adoptees who had returned to birth families or who had left their homes following intense conflict. Most adoptees had face-to-face contact with birth parents following placement; however almost all became closely integrated into their adoptive families. By the time of the survey (on average 19 years after placement) only five adoptees appeared to have no ongoing relationship with adoptive parents.
Implications: The study provides policy makers and practitioners with strong evidence of the value of adoption for children in care who cannot return to their birth families, and demonstrates how such placements can offer a route to permanence for older children who have extensive experience of abuse. The findings can also inform debates concerning the advantages and disadvantages of face-to-face post adoption contact in helping very vulnerable children to develop a sense of stability and security as they become integrated into substitute families.
Out of Home Care Adoption – Not Just For Younger Children
Purpose: The purpose of the paper is to describe how to achieve open adoption for older age children from Out of Home Care. We will focus on strategies to hear the voices of children, considering their understanding and readiness for adoption, and how best to support foster carers move to adoptive parenting.
Methods: This presentation is based on practice learning, based on case examples from the past 4 years. Information will be taken from records across 4 permanent care and adoption programs, as well as interviews with direct staff. A total of 17 children aged 8 and above were adopted in this period. We will consider general themes from all of these cases and will closely examine 4 case studies.
The site for this work is Barnardos Find-a-Family program which has been operating as an adoption agency in NSW Australia for over 30 years. All children in the program have been permanently removed from their birth parents’ care and have Children’s Court Orders until they attain 18 years of age. We have an adoption specific program for children under 5 years, alongside a well-established permanent foster care and adoption program for older children.
Our permanent care program works with young people aged 5-18 years who have experienced or been exposed to a wide range of adverse situations including significant abuse and neglect. As a result, many of these children display emotional and behavioural difficulties. Despite the obstacles, adoption has been achieved for many of our young people ranging in ages between 8 – 18 years. In the words of one of our young people, “Making the decision to be adopted at age 12 was so empowering for me…I feel really lucky. I know how many kids there are in the system who never find a permanent home”.
Findings: Whilst adoption for younger children is often seen as easier to achieve, there are a considerable number of successful older age adoptions that have occurred through our permanent care program. Whilst accepted that adoption is not suitable for all children, older children should not be forgotten within the adoption sector as security, stability and permanence are of equal importance to all children regardless of age.
Contributing factors for successful older age adoption include: careful recruitment and matching; therapeutic intervention and educational support; formal and informal support networks; casework support and carer training; and child’s readiness and understanding of the implications of adoption.
Implications: This paper will identify for practitioners the factors contributed to a positive adoption outcome, and, identify what some of the barriers that need to be overcome. We suggests techniques for improving practice and policy development when considering adoption for older age children who are in permanent foster care.
Unpacking the PPCA - Program to Prepare Children for Adoption
In Portugal, 351 children, on average, are nationally adopted every year. Adoption disruptions, the length of the process and the impact of not finding an adoptive family, are a concerning reality. This context is clearly a major risk for the psychological and social adjustment of both children and adoptive families, with potentially traumatic consequences throughout the life cycle.
A recently approved law stated the mandatory preparation of the child for adoption and post-adoption responses, and the privatisation of services for the matching process in adoptive families. Legislative changes demand reflections in practices and the expansion to new domains. They specifically urged the scientific community in Portugal to think on suitable ways of promoting the children’s psychosocial well-being, and the need to appropriately equip the workforce of professionals working in the adoption context.
In this talk we will present the PPCA – Program to Prepare Children for Adoption, a research outcome of the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences, University of Porto – Webs of Meaning. This innovative program aims to address the need for standardised practices and models for professionals in assisting children facing adoption. It also provides a route to assess and supervise the practice of professionals in implementing the PPCA. It comprises three published manuals including the presentation of the program and background theory (as well as pilot findings on previous applications), a child´s workbook (“I will have a new family”), and a professional workbook, allowing the register of the reactions of the child and guiding the professional work.
The PPCA consists of ten structured sessions designed for professionals involved in supporting children with adoptive plans. Its main goal is to facilitate the adequate psychosocial transition of the child to a new family, in order to contribute to the adaptation process, the attachment relations and the open communication about the past.
Based on a narrative-constructive approach, the PPCA defines a set of activities with the child. Openness of communication about adoption is promoted, as well as the spatial temporal organization of life memories, through enhancing the child’s constructions of his/her life history in a life story book. Supporting the grieving for the biological family and attachment to the new adoptive family are also key aspects of the Program. These factors are indicated as crucial for the psychosocial well-being of the child and new adoptive families.
Further research is being conducted to evaluate the impact of the Program in terms of anxiety regulation, emotional responses, and also the attributes of the newly formed family relationships.
We will focus on both the theoretical and the practical aspects of the program, in a lessons-learned format: the development of the published manuals and its contents, the training of the professionals, and their feedback on its implementation.
Mix and match: attachment focused interventions in the treatment of adopted and foster children
Attachment relationships are the foundation of human life. A huge body of scientific evidence is available on development, relevance and reparation of attachment relationships. This is especially important for the field of adoption and foster care, where the majority of the children have experienced attachment disruptions, early life stress and (developmental) trauma.
The focus on attachment and trauma, on developing and delivering interventions, thus helping families to bond and experience comfort and joy together, has been the main aim of my clinical work over the past decades. In working daily with adoptees and foster children and their families I have come to a method that is best described as ‘mix and match’, which means that I always design a personalized careplan, using elements of various interventions. These interventions have to be consistent with attachment theory, insights from affective neurobiology and findings from trauma research.
In every therapy I use (elements of) Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP), EMDR, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP), Phase Therapy, Attachment Story Telling, Play, and Theraplay (and more). All of these hold valuable elements to increase the child’s sense of safety, overcome trauma and form new attachment relationships. In many cases I collaborate with a neuro feedback therapist, in order to facilitate the therapy process even more on a neurobiological level.
I will systematically present data from a total of 194 treatments conducted in my solo practice between 2006-2016, giving an overview of therapy aim, length of treatment, treatment method and results. Data analysis is done by using qualitative analysis of treatment plans and quantitative analysis of case-files. Next to this, case-material will be presented in order to give insight to how attachment focused interventions work out for some individual clients.