WED July 11, 2018 WED July 11, 2018
1:30 pm 1:30 pm
Cartier II Cartier II

Susana Corral

Associate professor, Faculty of Psychology and Education, University of Deusto

Susana Cormenzana

Associate professor, Faculty of Psychology and Education, University of Deusto

Ana Berástegui

Researcher, University Institute of Family Studies, Comillas Pontificial University

Noemí García-Sanjuán

Research Assisstant, University Institute of Family Studies, Comillas Pontificial University

Inés Aramburu

Researcher, IUSM Vidal i Barrquer, Ramon Llull University

Josep Mercadal Rotger

Research methodology coordinator, IUSM Vidal i Barrquer, Ramon Llull University

Amy Conley Wright

Director, University of Sydney

Judy Cashmore

Professor of Law, University of Sydney

Betty Luu

Research Associate, Institute of Open Adoption Studies, University of Sydney

Amy Conley Wright

Director, University of Sydney

Susan Collings

Research Fellow, School of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney

Mandi MacDonald

Professor of social work, Queens University Belfast

Paper session: Open adoption

Development and design of an intervention on family relationships and communication about adoption

This paper presents the design and development of an intervention program for adoptive parents, which looks at communication about adoption and family relationships as the building blocks of communication openness. Talking about the origins and in adoption is one of the most difficult tasks in an adoptive family and even though parents inform of talking about the origins, it is oftentimes experienced with preoccupation and anxiety.
“Building family relationships in adoptive families: talking about the origins” aims to provide adoptive parents with skills and competencies to foster openness and therefore a healthy development of their children, with an intervention steaming from the Attachment Narrative therapy and the Systemic theory.
Key elements included in the program are the mentalization process; the understanding of the child’s feelings and emotions; the needs and legitimacy of both the adoptive and the biological family; the need for the child to elaborate and integrate their double origin and the need for the psychological permission of the adoptive family to do so as well as the acknowledgement that adoptive parents can create a climate of emotional attunement with their children, and nurture an open and honest communication.
The program consists of six 2-hour sessions and has been designed for parents with at least one adoptive child between 3 and 12 years old. The program begins with Session 1 (“Welcome”), where parents introduce their families and share their experiences of the adoptive process. Session 2 (“Talking about feelings”) deals with the emotional expression; parents work on identifying and managing the feelings related to the adoption, and the relationships of those feelings with their behaviors. Family sculpting is used in this session to visually represent the family relationships and the related feelings and emotions. In session 3 (“Talking about our family”), participants work on the genogram of their families of origin and the genogram of their children. Session 4 (“Narrating our history”) covers the narration of the family history by means of a narrative that the parents will compose. In session 5 (“Communication between parents and children”), participants share experiences around talking about adoption. Finally, in session 6 (“Goodbye”) the intervention is drawn to a close.
Program evaluation
The program is currently being piloted, by means of a quasi-experimental longitudinal design, using pre-, post-intervention and 6-month follow-up measures. This multicentre evaluation includes a mixed-methods approach to assess the effectiveness of the program. Some of the measures included are communication about origins, family cohesion and adaptability, expressed emotion and adjustment in both parents and children.
Findings and implications
In addition to the development of the intervention program, some preliminary findings on the effectiveness of the program will be presented and discussed.

Contact arrangements with birth relatives for children adopted from care in New South Wales, Australia

Purpose: Legislative changes passed in 2014 in New South Wales, Australia established legal preference for open adoption over long-term foster care when it is determined that there is no realistic possibility of a child being returned to live with his/her parents. As part of a legal adoption order, an adoption plan includes provisions for contact with birth relatives. Drawing upon a descriptive analysis of adoption orders finalised in 2017 in New South Wales, this presentation will identify patterns of contact with birth relatives including parents, grandparents and siblings. Arguments for the benefits of contact will be presented, as well as challenges and facilitators for contact. The presentation will feature aggregated case studies that highlight experiences with contact in open adoption from care.
Methods: The analysis is based on court files of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (NSW) in 2017 relating to adoption applications for children in out-of-home care. These data provide information on the type of orders and how proposed post-adoption contact is determined (as an agreement between the birth parents and adoptive parents, as a condition of consent) and whether this differs for contested vs non-contested adoptions. and the conditions judges apply concerning post-adoption contact. Information about contact was extracted from case files by a member of the research team, removing identifying information. Three researchers independently coded the data, using an inductive approach based in grounded theory.
Findings: Several preliminary themes emerged related to experiences of contact during time in care, at the time of the judicial hearing, and plans for ongoing contact post-adoption. There were strong views expressed about the value of contact for identity purposes. Adoptive parents are expected to demonstrate commitment to birth family contact, with evidence that contact has been attempted or is underway. Additional analyses (in progress) regarding consideration of the views of the child, birth families and adoptive families will be reported at the conference.
Implications: Birth family contact is an expected feature of open adoption from out-of-home care in New South Wales, unless there is evidence that such contact would be against the child’s best interests. This research examines the way in which justices of the New South Wales Supreme Court have applied the ‘best interests’ principle in deciding whether an adoption order should be made for a child who is currently in out-of-home care and how contact with birth families figures in that decision. This research has implications for legal interpretation of the ‘best interests’ principle particularly in relation to children’s ongoing relationships with birth family. There are also implications for social work practices to encourage and sustain positive contact experiences between adopted children and their adoptive and birth families.

Fostering lifelong connections for children in permanent care in Australia

Purpose: Efforts are currently underway in Australia to improve permanency and support lifelong birth family connections for children in permanent care, including through open adoption. International evidence regarding the benefits of contact for children is, however, mixed. It has been reported to help some children to resolve attachment difficulties and feelings of loss; however, for others, it may have a detrimental effect. Contact can also pose challenges for adults. Birth parents and other relatives and long-term carers, guardians and adoptive parents, who become children’s permanent families, often need professional support to establish constructive and positive relationships. Countries with similar child welfare systems have less emphasis on direct contact and higher rates of adoption from care, whereas the emerging model in Australia is permanency with lifelong connections to birth family. This policy approach requires evidence-based practice informed by the contact experiences and preferences of children and their birth and permanent families.
Method: Qualitative methods were used to understand the perspectives of children, birth parents and permanent families on what helps facilitate positive contact experiences and how caseworkers can support adult family members to build constructive and respectful relationships. Focus groups were undertaken with permanent families (N=30). Semi-structured interviews with birth parents (N=20) and children (N=20) incorporating arts-based methods, including bodymapping, is underway and preliminary findings will be presented. Inductive thematic analysis and visual analysis of children and parents’ creative products are used to identify family resources and caseworker attributes and practices that support contact.
Findings: Permanent families find contact a source of considerable stress and many report a lack of consistency in the agency support available to them. Most recognise the importance of contact, not only for children but also birth parents, but some felt agencies prevent them from forging early connections with birth relatives. Families vary in how well they can manage contact and some will need professional help to learn how to communicate with openness, empathy and mutual respect. Results for birth parent and children will be reported will be presented at the time of the conference, providing perspectives from the adoption triad.
Implications: The results in this study and lessons from existing international good practice will be used to develop a suite of practical resources for caseworkers. Action research will be used to trial, adapt and implement these resources with caseworkers in NSW. The Australia approach to permanency with direct birth family contact may be informative for the development of policy and practices elsewhere.

Birth family contact after adoption from care: adoptive parents' perspectives on the challenges and benefits

This paper will report on a recent research project that sought to understand adoptive parents’ perspectives on birth family contact and their associated support needs. It will focus on the particular complexities of contact following adoption from care, the main route to adoption in Northern Ireland where the study was conducted.
The paper will focus on two of the study aims which were to ascertain:
– the nature and extent of post-adoption birth family contact experienced by participants and,
– the challenges and benefits for adoptive families associated with contact.

The study was commissioned by the Health and Social Care Board for NI, ethical approval was granted by Queens University Belfast, and recruitment was facilitated by Adoption UK. All participants were members of Adoption UK, and all had experience of birth family contact since adopting. Twenty-six adoptive parents attended one of four focus groups, and ninety-three adoptive parents completed a computer assisted self-interview questionnaire online. The questionnaire comprised a range of quantitative questions, on which frequencies and cross-tabulations were calculated, as well as evaluative and open-ended qualitative questions. Responses to the open-ended questions were collated and input to Maxqda software to facilitate a content analysis to identify themes and their frequency. Focus group interviews were digitally recorded, transcribed and Maxqda used to facilitate thematic analysis of group-level data.

Three quarters (n=70) of the adoptions represented in the questionnaire had taken place in the preceding 5 years, estimated to represent almost a fifth of children adopted from care in NI over that period. The majority of the children (81%; n=73) had face-to-face meetings with birth relatives, and over a third (38%; n=35) had multiple arrangements for various forms of contact. Most of the children were initially placed with their adoptive family on a fostering to adopt basis (62%, n=58), and most respondents indicated that birth parents had not given formal consent to the adoption. In these cases the children will have entered care because they suffered or were at risk of suffering significant harm. Almost a third of respondents(n=30) indicated that their child was having face-to-face contact with a birth relative in whose care they had experienced neglect or abuse.

This paper will give an overview of the study and will address the following themes emergent from the findings:
-Sibling and extended family contact
-Multiple and complex arrangements
-The benefits and challenges of contact for adoptive families
-The emotional impact of contact visits for children who have experienced significant harm
-Management of relationships, boundaries and social media use.

The paper will conclude by identifying the factors that contributed to satisfying or beneficial contact, and those that rendered contact more challenging for adoptive families.