Family relationships can be complicated. Families that come together through foster care, guardianship and adoption often experience added layers of complexity. One constant for all these families is the experience of loss. For some children and their parents and caregivers, these losses loom large, creating significant challenges. Families often fail to understand the significance of these losses and struggle to cope with and respond effectively to the unique experiences of grief, which can lead to difficulties in the household.
Some losses are more ambiguous than others and lack the finality that is necessary for an individual to come to a sense of peace and closure. Not knowing one’s birth story, having missing information, or having information but not knowing if or when you’ll ever see birth family members again can create significant distress for children and youth.
Loss can also be further complicated when the child’s adoptive family does not publicly acknowledge or support the child. The fact that the birth family may be physically gone from their lives doesn’t mean that they are emotionally and psychologically absent. Further, many children also lose a sense of their identities if they are now being raised in families and communities that are culturally or ethnically different from their families of birth.
When the losses we experience are not appropriately recognized and supported, it makes processing grief more difficult. This situation can impact the security and stability of the child’s current family placement, possibly lending itself to the very disruption the child or youth fears.
Youth may experience happiness at feeling safe and secure in a foster home yet sadness that their birth parent was not able to provide such care. Other times children feel relieved to have the permanency of being adopted yet angry at the circumstances that led to adoption. They may fear that this home may also not prove to be truly permanent. These complex feelings may lead children or youth to experience anxiety, depression or other behavioral and mental health challenges.
Imagine having all these complicated feelings at the same time while others are telling you how wonderful it must feel to be adopted. Of course, adoption is wonderful, and it is a significant protective factor, particularly for children and youth with traumatic and compromised beginnings who are at higher risks for developmental, health, emotional, behavioral and academic challenges. But the adoption doesn’t erase the past. When children and parents lack supports for people who understand their unique needs, the stability of the home can be compromised.
These families need mental health professionals with specialized training to understand the impact of loss and early adverse experiences and help youth and their families address the challenges they may be experiencing. This specialized training is called adoption competency.
Adoption Competency Benefits for Families
Many therapists and mental health professionals receive little to no specific training in graduate school on the needs and challenges of adoptive families. Studies conducted by both the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) and the North American Council on Adoptable Children indicate that adoptive parents often have difficulty finding services to meet their unique needs or had to go through multiple providers before finding a therapist who truly understands the issues and experiences relevant to adoption.
Untrained therapists who lack adoption competency will not be able to assess the situation accurately, which will impact treatment strategies leading to ineffective interventions.
Adoption-competent practices save families the stress and despair of implementing tools and responses in their homes that don’t best serve the family’s needs. Various adoption-capable supports can help and greatly assist in creating a holistic environment where families can thrive. When children have support and services that help them process their past traumatic experiences, they are better able to develop healthy and appropriate coping skills. Similarly, when parents are provided with tools and strategies that make sense based on their adoption experiences, they can better provide support and stability for their children who are in their care as a family.
C.A.S.E. therapists have been trained under their own accredited, nationally recognized Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) program and have the skills, insight and experience to help families navigate the many obstacles that affect them.
TAC is accredited by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. This comprehensive, evidenced-based training is designed exclusively for licensed mental health professionals, providing clinical knowledge and skills needed to effectively serve the adoption kinship network.
Three Significant Reasons Why Adoption Competency Matters
Adoption competency has implications for everyone involved with adoptions.
Adoption Competency Helps Kids and Families Thrive
Many children who experience foster care and adoption have experienced early trauma in their lives, which can lead to behavioral and mental health difficulties. The impact of these experiences compromise well-being in the family system.
Adoption competency refers to professionals who have had specific training about the needs, challenges and experiences of children and youth and their foster, adoptive and kinship families.
Infusing adoption competency in the provision of casework and clinical practice is essential to keep kids and families strong. Adoption-competent supports help children with these unique experiences and create an environment where they can thrive.
Adoption-Competent Practice Helps to Support Permanency
Children who age out of foster care without a permanent family environment are at risk for a host of difficulties, including homelessness, substance abuse and mental health challenges.
When children have services that help them process their past traumatic experiences, including their grief and loss, they are better able to develop healthy and appropriate coping skills. Similarly, when parents are provided with tools and strategies that make sense based on their adoption experiences, they are better able to provide support and stability for their children.
Families Will Get the Right Help
Research demonstrates that adoptive parents often have to go through multiple providers before finding a therapist who truly understands the issues and experiences relevant to adoption.
Untrained therapists who lack adoption competency will not be able to assess the situation accurately, which will impact treatment strategies and lead to ineffective interventions.
For many reasons, clinicians and caseworkers often lack training specific to the adoption experience, limiting their abilities to practice effectively with this vulnerable population. Adoption-competent practices save families the stress and despair of implementing tools and responses in their homes that don’t best serve the family’s needs.
Dawn Wilson, MSW, is the director of the National Training Institute for the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) based in Burtonsville.
Adoption Resources for Families
The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) is a national leader in mental health services for the foster care and adoption community. Visit adoptionsupport.org and baltimoreschild.com for links to the following adoption resources:
A free family resource packet containing articles for the adoption, kinship and foster care community (downloadable at https://adoptionsupport.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Resource-Packet-2.25.21-Final.pdf).
Post-adoption support for Maryland families (downloadable at https://adoptionsupport.org/maryland-post-adoption- support-services).
Books and merchandise (https://store.adoptionsupport.org/shop/booksandmerchandise).
Articles, fact sheets and podcasts on topics related to adoption and foster care (https://adoptionsupport.org/education-resources/for-parents-families/free-resources-links).
“Strengthening Your Family,” a live monthly webinar series for parents (https://adoptionsupport.org/syfwebinars).