THU July 12, 2018 THU July 12, 2018
1:30 pm 1:30 pm
Cartier II Cartier II

Simone Czech

Executive Director, Department of Family and Community Services, NSW State Government

Mark Galvin

Partner, EY Evaluation Practice Network Lead

Melissa Kaltner

Principal Research Officer, Family and Community Services

Lisa Vihtonen

Operation Manager, Barnardos Australia

Mandi MacDonald

Professor of social work, Queens University Belfast

Krystal Cashen

Graduate student in psychology, 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

Paper session: Open adoption

Supporting Practice in Open Adoption of Children from Out of Home Care

Despite evidence on the potential for children in care to benefit from open adoption and efforts to reform legislation and support adoption practice, its uptake in Australia remains low. Some authors have postulated that the detrimental impact of Australia’s past adoption practices have created a reticence among frontline practitioners to consider adoption as an alternative to long term foster placements.

The current mixed methods study assessed frontline child protection practitioner knowledge and attitudes towards open adoption in the state of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Child protection practitioners across NSW (614 total) completed a survey measure, alongside in-depth interviews with a subset of 22 respondents. These measures explored participant knowledge of open adoption, attitudes towards open adoption for children in out of home care and needs regarding support for undertaking open adoption casework.

On the basis of these findings, a conceptual framework of open adoption practice was developed which highlighted the influence of workforce drivers of capability, capacity, communication and culture. The interconnected nature of these drivers and the associated need for structural support to achieve change in open adoption practice was apparent. These findings provide an evidence based framework which can support child protection agencies to achieve permanency outcomes for children in care.

Facilitating Contact in Out of Home Care Adoption

Purpose: Open Adoption is legislated practice in New South Wales. The purpose of this paper is to describe practice learning on how to achieve workable contact arrangements.

Methods: This presentation is based on practice experience about casework within the pre-adoption phase of placements. Information will be taken from a file review of children where adoption orders were made within the past 4 years across 6 adoption programs. We will look at the perspectives of the child, the adoptive parent and the birth parent when closely examining a case study from each of the 6 programs. Using interviews with direct staff we will examine some of the obstacles to navigate when arranging direct contact and how these can be overcome.

The paper is based on casework practice within Barnardos Find-a-Family program. All children in the program have been permanently removed from their birth parents’ care and have long term Children’s Court until 18 years of age. Over recent years, Barnardos have specifically focussed on working with children under 5 years of age to secure an Adoption Order in a timely manner with time frames supporting the commencement of the adoption processes within 12 months of placement. Our adoption program works with some of the most vulnerable parents in society, those who experience homelessness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction, poor mental health and incarceration.

Findings: Despite the obstacles, most children in the program have ongoing face to face contact with their birth parents. Direct contact between a child and their birth parent usually occurs between 2-6 times each year. Contact potentially has significant advantages for the child and the birth parent with benefits including: open knowledge and understanding of biological identity for the child, the birth parent’s opportunity for ongoing involvement in the child’s life and facilitates communicative openness outside of visits for adoptive parents.

Barnardos staff work collaboratively and proactively with proposed adoptive parents from the commencement of the placement to support them being able to arrange and facilitate these visits and often challenging relationships. Training, casework support and preparation of all parties enable those involved in contact to feel more confident and comfortable with these arrangements, reducing the need for agency support post adoption.

Implications: The experience of Find-a-Family has led to development of strategies to assist managing contact experiences for all parties and making contact part of the “every day”. Practice knowledge will assist preparation for the challenges that occur at times when working with birth parents, including potential safety risks, managing conflict and inappropriate behaviour, contact in prison and engaging with parents. This paper has implications for policy development when considering direct contact within an open adoption context.

Adopters’ evaluation of social work support for post-adoption contact: suggestions for trauma-informed, family-focused intervention

This paper will report on adoptive parents evaluations’ of social work support for birth family contact following adoption from foster care in Northern Ireland (NI). The evaluation formed part of a study into adoptive parents’ experiences and support needs in relation to contact. This paper focuses on one of the key aims of the study which was to ascertain the types of support for contact that the adoptive parents used and how helpful they found these.

Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom but has separate adoption legislation. As is the case across the UK, most adoptions in Northern Ireland are initiated by statutory child welfare agencies to secure permanent families for children in state care who cannot return to their birth kin. The paper will chart how social work support for contact has developed across the region in response to increasingly open adoption practices, and will identify priorities for expanding and refining this intervention based on adoptive parents’ experiences and suggestions.

Adoptive parent evaluations of support provision were elicited through 4 focus group interviews involving a total of 26 adoptive parents, and through a Computer Assisted Self-Interview questionnaire completed online by 93 adoptive parents. All participants were members of Adoption UK in Northern Ireland and all had experience of post-adoption birth family contact. The online questionnaire comprised a range of quantitative, evaluative and open-ended qualitative questions which addressed topics derived from existing research and themes emergent from the group interviews.

The findings supported anecdotal practitioner evidence of strong expectations of birth family contact during adoption proceedings in Northern Ireland. Social work agencies in the region had developed innovative service responses to increased rates of face-to-face contact. Three quarters of questionnaire respondents (n=70) told us that they received some formal social work support in relation to contact. This was mostly provided by the adoption agency that placed their child. Face-to-face meetings with birth relatives was the predominant form of contact, reported by the majority of respondents (81%; n=73). Almost all families who had face-to-face contact had some social work support for this, which was rated as helpful. This support mainly took the form of: assistance with practical arrangements; reviewing contact plans; and a worker in attendance during visits.

Adoptive parent evaluations, however, revealed a need for more sophisticated support, in particular: scaffolding of complex relationships across the adoptive kinship network; and services informed by understanding of the impact of early childhood trauma. The paper will conclude with suggestions for achieving trauma-informed, family-focused support for contact.

Examining Kirk’s Social Role Theory: Revisiting Shared Fate in a Contemporary Adoptive Sample

Kirk’s social role theory has been influential in examining how adoptive parents come to understand their role as parents and develop trusting relationships with their adopted children through acknowledging differences between adoptive and non-adoptive families. However, the social context surrounding adoption has changed substantially since Kirk first proposed his theory. Norms of secrecy and prioritization of phenotypic similarity have been replaced with a growing acceptance of open adoption arrangements.

The present study aims to empirically examine Kirk’s social role theory in a contemporary adoptive sample. The present study is also among the first to examine associations between acknowledgment of differences (AOD), empathy, and communication longitudinally. It was hypothesized that AOD would be positively associated with later empathy and communication and that empathy would predict later communication. Moderation of these effects by level of openness was also explored.

Participants were selected from a larger study on openness in adoption. Adoptive mothers who completed measures during the first (MChildAge = 7.78 years) and second waves (MChildAge = 15.73 years) of data collection were included (N = 177). All participants had adopted infants in to same-race families through private, domestic adoption. At Wave 1, AOD and empathy were measured using the Kirk Adoption Questionnaire. At Wave 2, empathy and communication were coded from interviews with the adoptive mother. Level of openness was coded categorically using four levels: confidential, time-limited mediated, ongoing mediated, and disclosed.

Analyses were conducted using the PROCESS macro in SPSS to test for direct effects and moderation by level of openness. AOD at W1 was positively associated with both empathy (b = .09, p = .018) and communication at W2 (b = .12, p <.001)). Neither relationship was moderated by openness. W1 empathy was also positively associated with communication at W2 (b = .11, p = .005). However, this relationship was moderated by openness. Simple slopes analyses showed that the f between W1 empathy and W2 communication was only significant for those with time-limited mediate contact (b = .42, p <. 001).

Our finding that AOD is predictive of later empathy towards the adopted child and communication about adoption provide empirical support for some of the tenets of Kirk’s theory. However, our findings regarding empathy suggest that more research is needed to understand the role that empathy may play. W1 empathy was only associated with later communication for those who had time-limited mediated contact. While a lack of significant association for those with other types of contact may be attributable to differences in the way empathy was measured, it may also be that experiences and development of empathy for the adopted child differ across adoption contexts. Implications for research with diverse adoptive samples (e.g., transracial adoption) will be discussed.