The Need for Professionals who Understand the Lens of Adoption

Date: November 15, 2019 Author: Communications Contract Staff Coordinator Categories: ACT News | ACT News | Adoption Awareness Month | Adoption Support | Mental Health | Permanency and Adoption Competency Training

Written by ACO's Kathy Soden, Sylvia Gibbons, and Dianne Mathes

Earlier this week, we explored Pathways, our specialized training program for adoptive, kinship and customary care families and the parent support networks it helps create and build. We believe Pathways and parent support networks can make a real positive difference to families.

But there are times in many families’ journeys when that’s not enough.

Over the years, we’ve recognized both personally and through our ACO work that sometimes families need more. Beyond the circles of family at the centre, layered and supported with education and peer support, families may need the added “buffering” of professional support – from professionals who truly understand what intervention through an adoption lens means.

The idea that adoption and permanency journeys involve complex issues is a relatively new concept.

The reality that families touched by these journeys have unique dynamics with many layers to them has only been recognized in the past few decades. The historical perspective on adoption was very different. As late as the 70’s, children who were adopted were “as if born to” their new family. New ways of thinking and the voices of adopted children and adults and their families have dramatically altered these beliefs.

Adoption trauma and the reality that there are core issues for children and adults, adoptive parents and original families has become recognized and needs to be addressed. It is the voices of these individuals who are living in adoption that are teaching us. Curriculum and best practice approaches are needed so that intervention works and resolves the loss and trauma that lives in adoption and permanency journeys.

It is speciality work. The professionals who are being asked to do this work need specialized training just as all professionals in any field do. Professionals in child welfare and children’s mental health cannot do this important work without the knowledge and tools that are presently not available in traditional programs. This is key to providing the additional layer of support, or "buffer" that families on permanency and adoption journeys need.

A few comments from families:

"We didn’t have adoption competent professional help. This caused further harm and trauma to my son."

"My kids now avoid therapy and mistrust professionals and I wish this wasn’t the case. But I think it’s because some of the therapy we had did not understand how therapy and counselling can be experienced by children with adoption trauma. I still feel guilty for letting myself complain about them and their behaviours in front of them in session after session as part of the therapy. It had an effect – on their self-worth and in their relationship with me."

"I realize that the professionals are good at their jobs; but that does not always mean they know how to help our kids.  We need specialized professionals to help us help our kids."

The ACO is working hard to change this reality for professionals and the children and families on adoption and permanency journeys.

How we understand and work with adoption is drastically different and is constantly changing. We need to give professionals supports and training that will keep them in pace with these changes and what they mean to intervention in all forms. The ACO through its ACT training program provides an important level of specialized training for professionals working with families on permanency and adoption journeys.

Professionals who take ACT learn to work through the lens of adoption in different ways.  

What does this lens of adoption look like for professionals? We’ve come up with a few examples that might shed some light on what we mean by the lens of adoption and permanency:

  • Parents often feel blamed when they seek professional help, whether that be through a CAS or a mental health professional. Why might that be? Would a better understanding of the unique and complex dynamics of families on permanency journeys help?
  • Our children are sometimes viewed as manipulative by professionals. Why might that be? Would a better understanding of their grief and loss and developmental trauma help begin to identify and address their unmet needs?
  • Our children’s behaviour is often poorly understood across the systems and environments they interact with – school, mental health, health, justice. Why is that? Would the idea that behaviour IS communication help with unpacking what might be beneath their behaviour?
  • Professionals often want to use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with our kids. Families find it to be not very effective. Why is this the case? Might it be that until kids have their basic needs met they cannot effectively access their cognitive abilities? Is the CBT being offered developmental trauma informed and adoption competent?
  • Sometimes professionals want to provide therapy only to the child/teen rather than together with the family. Why might that make children think there is something wrong with them and that they need fixing? What might that do to a child’s self-esteem and to their internal working model? Might the concept that the relationship is the client be helpful to consider?
  • Our kids and teens sometimes come to hate therapy and mistrust professionals– why might that be? Might the practice of having parents and others complain about them in front of their kids have something to do with this? Might the core issue of shame and their internal working model be playing a role? Might the lack of understanding of their journeys and their view of self impact this?
  • For international adoptees interested in visiting their “home” countries there are lots of things to consider – why is that? Might conversations around identity, culture and openness be helpful to have as part of this?
  • Teens often struggle with identity formation. Adoption and permanency journeys make that process more complex. Why is that? Might an understanding of the layers involved on permanency journeys and the 7 core issues of adoption help with the process of identity formation?
  • Sometimes professionals treat teens and adults without ever asking them if they’ve been on a permanency journey. Why might this be helpful to know? Might it impact how they see themselves and how they see the world around them?
  • Many adoptees are interested in their original families and some may want to search for them and possibly reunite. What is involved in this? Might it be helpful to better understand identity formation and openness to help guide them in this journey?

Having the opportunity to “wonder” about these and many other issues in a professional, supportive, educational environment will equip professionals with a framework for their work with all those touched by adoption and permanency journeys.

This is truly specialized work. Understanding is the first step to healing. 

Our next ACT training begins in February 2020. For more information about ACT and to register:

Families can find those professionals who have taken the training on our website. 

But we need more professionals in Ontario who understand.

Family Matters. Family is at the centre.

With the right specialized support families can meet the needs of their kids - and kids can get the lasting permanency they need to thrive.