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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

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Last week the Donaldson Adoption Institute released its newest policy perspective titled, "A Need To Know: Enhancing Adoption Competency Among Mental Health Professionals. The report highlights the difficulty that adoptive families face when seeking clinical therapeutic services in finding practitioners who have a deep level understanding and training in permanency and adoption. While many therapists may say they work with adoptive families, surveys have found that knowledge about permanency and adoption are at best minimal. A study by Atkinson, Gonet, Freundlich and Riley (in press) found that of 485 respondents, fewer than 25% considered that the professional they worked with was adoption competent. Alarmingly, 26% of the respondents noted that none of the professionals they worked with knew much about adoption and many stated that working with these therapists actually caused harm to the family.

Findings from the report:


  • Successful adoption is tied to good preparation of all parties prior to placement and to the availability and utilization of effective supports and other help, including counseling, afterward. Adoption-competent therapists are high on - and sometimes at the top of - the list of services that members of adoptive and birth families want and need.

  • Genetic risk and early trauma (primarily for children adopted from foster care or institutions) do not inevitably undermine development. Two key factors that facilitate their recovery are comprehensive pre-adoption preparation and education of families, along with the availability and utilization of informed mental health services.

  • Graduate education in relevant fields does not usually include adoption issues. A survey of directors of clinical training programs in marriage and family therapy, social work or counseling found only about 5-16 percent offered adoption-specific coursework. Two thirds of licensed psychologists in a national survey reported no such graduate coursework; fewer than one-third rated themselves as well or very well prepared to treat adoption issues, and 90 percent said psychologists need more adoption education.

  • The limitations of medical insurance can pose significant barriers to accessing adoption competent therapists. Most insurance doesn't provide sufficient mental health coverage to cover the complex, long-term needs of those involved, particularly children who have suffered early trauma and other adversity; and few if any carriers take into account that adoption-competent therapists may not be on their lists of covered, in-plan providers.

  • Which practitioners are adoption-competent is not always clear or easy to determine, in part because adoption counseling has not yet been identified as a professional specialty in the health care fields, with clear guidelines for training, practice and credentialing.

  • Without an appropriate process, many individuals and families will continue to be treated by professionals who are inadequately prepared to understand and help them.

In addition, the Donaldson Instiute made the following recommendations:


  • Develop Certification for Adoption Clinical Competence. People want and need to know that the professionals they are working with have the requisite knowledge, skills and experience to meet their needs. This should apply in the adoption realm as much as in any other, so a certification for adoption clinical competence should be developed.

  • Expand Adoption Training Programs across the Country. Nearly all existing programs require training in classroom settings, so the number of available professionals is restricted to those who live within commuting distance of current sites. Training needs to expand through more programs and the use of technologies such as webinars, "flip teaching" and "massive open online courses."

  • Strengthen the Clinical Components of Existing Training Programs. This can be accomplished by increasing the number of required clinical courses for mental health practitioners; offering additional clinical courses as electives; and/or offering additional clinical courses as stand-alone, post-certificate, continuing education courses. All programs also should offer some type of clinical supervision.
  • Develop Outreach Efforts to Inform Mental Health Providers about the Need for Adoption Competency and Opportunities for Enhancing their Knowledge. Broad-based outreach initiatives should be developed to increase awareness on the need for adoption-competence, to identify opportunities for training among mental health professionals, and to explain the benefits of developing this specialized knowledge.

  • Educate Insurance Providers about the Unique Nature of Adoption Issues and Advocate for Expanded Coverage. Concerted efforts must be made to educate insurance providersabout the unique clinical needs of individuals and families affected by adoption-related issues. This process will be greatly helped if the mental health field overtly recognizes the value of adoption clinical certification and supports its development.

  • Encourage Graduate Training Programs and Post-Graduate Clinical Training Centers to Include More Information about Adoption and Foster Care in their Curricula. The better grounding in these areas that professionals receive while in training, the better prepared they will be to serve the needs of adoption kinship members and to seek to expand their expertise on adoption- and trauma-related issues.

  • Encourage Research on Training Effectiveness and Outcomes. To better serve the training needs of professionals and the well-being of adoptive kinship members with whom they work, the Institute recommends that researchers examine the effectiveness of training programs in terms of knowledge gained by participants, changes in clinicians' practices as a result of training, and clients' progress and satisfaction with services.

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At the University of Minnesota we are pleased to be part of a growing network of centers offering permanency and adoption competency education through our Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate program (PACC), mentioned in the Donaldson Adoption Institute report. We also offer an elective course in our MSW program at the School of Social Work, Permanency in Child Welfare. You can learn more about our PACC program here and view professionals that have completed the PACC certificate on our PACC Professional Directory.

For the full report, you can download a pdf and learn more about the report at the Donaldson Institute website here.

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[Uncredited photo from Governing Magazine]

On August 13, 2013, Jonathan Walters looks at the myths and challenges of kinship care for children in the child welfare system for Governing magazine.

In Agencies Taking a Second Look at Kinship Care, Walters relates a commonly uttered phrase when caseworkers hesitate to place children with relatives, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree."

But Walters challenges this belief. In addition, Walters points out that children experience less trauma when placed with people they know. Walters points out that there are many policy challenges to kinship care, including licensing, reimbursement or subsidies, and services that are available. Many states are now creating policies that heavily focus on placing children with relatives, even, as some argue, whe it goes against the child's "best interests."

To read the article, click here for the full story.

Contested adoption pits family against foster parents

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This guest blog post was written by Emma Siebold.

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The article, Split the Baby: Two Sides of an Adoption Battle, was published in the Minnesota City Pages newspaper on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 and written by Olivia LeVecchia. It discusses the court battle between the Grossners and Dunnings, two families fighting for custody of two young African American girls, currently three and two years old. The two girls are the biological children of Princton Knox, the son of Dorothy Dunning. They were put into foster care with the Grossners after their births because drugs were found in their systems. The article mentions briefly their biological mother, Javille "Angel" Sutton, but does not comment on her current whereabouts and involvement in the case. The older of the two girls has been living with the Grossners since 2009 and the younger was born a year later. It was ruled by the lower court that the girls were to remain in the care of the Grossners. This decision was appealed by the Dunnings but the ruling was upheld; the case is currently being contested in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

A strength of this article is that the information is presented in a way that is easy to understand to the general population. It provides general legislative information pertaining to permanency laws such as the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) and federal and state laws regarding race and permanency decisions. This tone is appropriate because this article is featured in a public newspaper, as opposed to a scholarly journal, which may require more scholarly language. The author seems to take on a sense of neutrality when discussing the viewpoints of the foster parents and paternal grandparents. The article does not seem to side with either party. One limitation of this article, however, is that it does not include very much information about the role of the biological parents in this case. The biological mother is mentioned briefly, the author mentions she has had several other children removed from her custody due to drug addiction. The author discusses the biological father's drug addiction, noting that he is no longer using drugs and has another family. In order to present a well-rounded discussion of all the parties involved in this case, including the foster parents, paternal grandparents and child welfare system, the article should include more of a discussion of the biological parents.

The article seems to take the position that the Child Welfare system fractured. It subtly comments on how the adoption process is very slow and provides a disservice to children and families; foster, adoptive, and biological alike. On several instances the article seems to critique the slowness in finding relative placements for children, citing federal and state mandated timelines that were not followed. The article also comments on the discrepancies in the federal and state laws around race considerations and permanency. The article seems to take the position that it is not as simple an issue to eliminate race completely in permanency decisions; race and culture are inevitably intertwined.

Two sides of an adoption battle

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This guest blog post was written by Ryan Lewsander.

Right now the Minnesota Supreme Court is tasked with making a tragic choice: who will they rip two children away from, their prospective adoptive family, or their biological grandmother and extended family in Georgia? The sad drama of this case is documented compellingly in Olivia LaVecchia's City Pages article "Split the Baby: Two sides of an adoption battle" published on January 13th, 2013.

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The story begins in October 2009 when Javille "Angel" Sutton gave birth to a baby girl, Princess, born with cocaine in her system. Hennepin County Child Protection Services (HCCPS) responded by placing the four-day old infant with foster parents Liv and Steven Grosser in Plymouth, Minnesota. Upon learning that her granddaughter was in the system, Dorothy Dunning, of Mississippi called HCCPS on December 2nd, 2009 and expressed that she wanted Princess with her. In April 2010, HCCPS sent Mississippi an Interstate Compact in the Placement of Children (MICPC) to approve Dorothy Dunning's home as a placement for Princess. This process was bungled, and after a year and a half HCCPS withdrew its' MICPC and told the Grosser's to move forward with their plans to adopt Princess and her baby sister, Hannah. Not long after that, Mississippi sent a completed home study of Dorothy Dunning to Minnesota, and in March 2011 HCCPS reversed itself and supported Dorothy's claim for the children in court. Now the Minnesota Supreme Court will decide the fate of the children after hearing the case this January.

Lavecchia's article does a good job of presenting the details of the timeline of the case, and the injustices done to both the Grosser family and Dorothy Dunning. The complexity of this contested adoption depicted in the article enables the reader to feel empathy for all parties in the case, as is appropriate. What's more, the article does not shy away from illuminating an important element of the dispute: race. The Grosser family is a White suburban family and Steven, the father, works as a Corporate Financial Officer. Dorothy Dunning is African-American who cleans homes professionally and whose son's crack addiction was a reason for the children's removal upon birth. The article provokes the reader to think about how race should be considered in cases of permanency. More specifically, it challenges many readers to wrestle with their prejudice that white affluent families are better caregivers for their children than poor black families, and should therefore be privileged in these kinds of disputes. A key question this article provokes is how would this case be different if Dorothy Dunning was white and middle-class and the Grosser family was black and working-class?

The article also hits on the widespread perception of permanency in child welfare as a confusing mess, and excessively bureaucratic. In this case, it appears that HCCPS made major mistakes by not searching out Dorothy Dunning as an option for the children, and by encouraging the Grosser family to adopt only oppose it three months later. Not to be outdone, Mississippi demonstrated extreme incompetence by taking a year and a half to complete a home study to approve Dorothy Dunning as a fit placement for the children. It is these kinds of mistakes that lead people to believe that the system does more harm than good for vulnerable children.

To read the article in full, click here.

This guest blog post, also about the Family Reunification Act, was written by Colleen Doescher-Train.

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On February 13th, 2013 five Minnesota State Senators introduced S.F.422; appropriately nicknames the Family Reunification Act of 2013. The Family Reunification Act, as currently written would allow parents who had their parental rights terminated at least 36 months ago to possibly be reunified with their child(ren). This bill requires certain criteria to be met in order for the county attorney to petition for a child to be returned to their parents. Children would need to be 15 years of age or older and never have been adopted. Parents would need to have the financial means and ability to take care of their child.

Following this, several articles emerged regarding this bill and what the potential effects are if the bill is passed. Specifically, Minnesota Public Radio published an article written by Sasha Aslanian on February 26th, 2013 titled Family Reunification Act could restore parental rights in some lost custody cases. Within the article, Aslanian appears to be a proponent of this legislation being passed. John Choi, who is currently an attorney for Ramsey County, unified with other supporters of the bill at a local addiction recovery center. He spoke regarding the proposed legislation and how it would affect children who are currently waiting in limbo in the foster care system to be adopted. Currently, there are about 35 children who meet all of the criteria to be reunified with their parents.

A positive aspect of this article is that it brings awareness that there is children who are currently aging out of the foster care system without being adopted. At the same time, a limitation of this article is that it does not go into full detail regarding the number of children who do age out of foster care. Nor does it discuss how the legislation differs from last year's proposed legislation that did not pass. The article briefly mentions the potential negative affects that aging out of the foster care system has on a child. Without a family to lean on for support, these children are at higher risks of homelessness, drug use, and other chronic problems.

Many current publications that are read by the general population on a daily basis do not depict the number of children who are aging out of the Child Welfare System without a permanent family. According to Minnesota's Child Welfare Report of 2011, there were 469 children who were under state guardianship who aged out of the foster care system during 2011. These children have no family and nowhere to call home. Children who have a permanent home when they reach the age of majority are more likely to become more productive members of society. Research has also shown that young adults who have aged out of the foster home system show a genuine want to return to their biological parents. Allowing a family to be reunified will have a lasting, positive impact on the child's life and on the parents.

To read the bill and track it as it moves through the Minnesota Senate, click here.

Further reading opportunities:


References:
Aslanian, Sasha. (February 26th, 2013). Family Reunification Act Could Restore Parental Rights in Some Lost Custody Cases.

Samuels, Gina M. (2009). Ambiguous loss of home: The experience of familial (im)permanence among young adults with foster care backgrounds. Children and Youth Services Review, 31:12, 1229-1239.

Minnesota Department of Human Services. (2012). Minnesota's Child Welfare Report 2011 (DHS Publication no. DHS-5408D-ENG 8-12). St. Paul, MN.

What happens when adoption fails?

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Two weeks ago the City Limits newspaper published a series by Rachel Blustain on what she termed, "broken adoptions" - that is, adoption dissolutions.

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The numbers of how many adoptions fail is a tough statistic to obtain, in part because many adoption dissolutions occur years afer an adoption has been finalized; families move, they may not seek help, and the agencies that facilitate the adoption do not always know when the adoption is dissolved. In addition, there is no centralized mechanism for obtaining adoption data.

The series began with the story, "Growing Concerns over Broken Adoptions" in which featured one young woman who was adopted at age 7, only to be abandoned and put back into the foster care system by her adoptive mother at age 13.

The difficulty in obtaining solid numbers about adoption dissolutions is the focus of the second article, "Adoption Numbers in Question." Social service agencies that serve children report that anywhere from 5 to 25% of the kids they serve involve adopted children re-entering out-of-home care.

The third article, "From an Option to a Mandate" explores what happens when adoption is the permanency emphasis without the needed post-adoption services to support the families.

In "Solutions to Broken Adoptions May Lie in "Gray" Areas," a discussion of a different conceptualization to permanency is introduced - one that is flexible, allows children to stay connected with biological family in one way or another, and focusing on the needs of the child rather than agencies, workers and parents.

Finally, the story of one child, S.D., and her attorney who advocated against her adoption, is told in "One Foster Child's Choice: Not to be Adopted." I found the most compelling statement in this piece to be the last paragraph.

When Zimmerman went to court to argue against adoption for S.D., he had no fantasy of a happily ever after. "It was not a slam dunk," he recalls. Still, Zimmerman says, when he convinced the judge to let S.D. remain in foster care for the remainder of her childhood, he felt that he had done the best he could for his client as an individual, not as a permanency statistic.

Using social media to connect foster youth with relatives

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An interesting story came out earlier in the week about using social media sites such as Facebook to connect foster youth with relatives.

We typically hear stories about the problems associated with social media use among foster youth. In this story however, it is not a foster youth - or a biological parent - that is using Facebook to connect, it is the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services!

So far workers have searched Facebook for 80 families. From KHAS-TV in Nebraska, watch the video for more information.

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Last week a local news organization, The City Pages, published a feature article about a contested adoption case that the Minnesota Supreme Court is reviewing. As with many of these cases, this story highlights systems issues in child welfare, the tension between biological family and foster families, racial differences, interjurisdictional placements between states and the differences in state's proceedures regarding adoption, and much more.

In "Split the baby: Two sides of an adoption battle" reporter Olivia LaVecchia's story delves into many of these issues but the main attraction, as is often the case, revolves around race. The placement of the two young sisters at the center of this story has been presented as one in which the African American paternal grandmother has been denied custody in favor of a white foster family.

Our executive director at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, Traci LaLiberte and I met with Ms. LaVecchia to provide background context for adoptions and child welfare practice in Minnesota and a few of Ms. LaLiberte's comments are featured in the article.

Among the issues we brought up include:

  • The pendulum swing in child welfare as the profession emphasizes relatives and kin over "new resource" adoptions, a change from the past when many thought that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"
  • The interjurisdictional mistakes that were made in this case
  • The MultiEthnic Placement Act and Interethnic Provisions and how that legislation differs conceptually with the Indian Child Welfare Act
  • The difference between "active efforts" and "reasonable efforts"

While both parties in this case are arguing issues regarding race - that the children need to be raised in their cultural community according to the grandmother, over the argument by the foster parents that they are the only parents these children know and that race should not trump the relationship and bond they have with the girls.

This story, as with the baby Veronica case, pits the contested adoptions as matters of race, which often becomes the story and illustrates the very divided opinions people have about race and culture in America. However, what is often not as considered is that these issues are almost always about much more than race alone - they typically involve intense differences in opinions about whether biological families are more entitled to raise children than new resource families; the issues of class is often unspoken but foster families in these legal cases are almost always white and middle class while the relatives are often from communities of color and are working class; and finally in most of these cases one or more significant practices required by law were either not done properly (in the baby Veronica case, for example, the workers did not follow the procedures of ICWA) or they were not done to the effort they should have (such as following through with the state of Mississippi in the case of the Dunnings).

Some things to think about:

  • If the relatives, the Dunnings were white, do you think they would have been more likely to receive the children?
  • If the Dunnings had lived in Minnesota instead of Mississippi, do you think the case would have been ruled as it was?
  • If the foster family, the Grossers, were African American, how do you think this case would have been resolved?
  • Can race really be taken out of it, as the attorneys argued before the Supreme Court?

A webinar on engaging families around kinship care is available from the Florida's Center for the Advancement of Child Welfare Practice. This video could be helpful for practitioners looking for stragegies when working with families to provide kinship care. This video was created in 2008.

Jack Levine and Ron Morris developed this video training. They discuss differences in family structures, the development of a family engagement plan, working with families and the need for professionals to advocate for comprehensive services.

You can access the video here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Friday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

An article published in Pediatrics by Jones et al (2011) assesses the impact of missing or altered birth and medical information on internationally adopted children's health care in the United States. Among the chief concerns mentioned in the report is the tendency to alter the birth certificate once the child is in the United States based on American pediatric assessments, which doesn't always allow for time for the child to "catch-up" on developmental delays that result from pre-adoptive experiences. MedPage Today describes the report here. To read the article abstract, click here.

The Arizona Daily Star published an interesting article on how family courts struggle to respond to "changing definitions of family." From the article, ""We're redefining what constitutes a family," said McGeorge School of Law professor Larry Levine, an expert on sexual orientation and the law. "It's a whole new way of thinking about this." Read the full article here.

A perennial discussion in child welfare permanency is whether children are better off in relative placements or in a foster home where they have formed attachments to their foster parents. The Tampa Bay Times published an article that discusses one family's story and the tensions between two families when case workers do not do a diligent family search for placement. Read the article here.

Weekly news round-up

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Each Friday on the Stability, Permanency and Adoption blog we will provide a selection of news from the past week that you may have missed.

Today's news round up:

A new research center in Michigan will address the needs of grandparents raising grandchildren. The National Research Center for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren is the result of a collaboration between Western Michigan University and Georgia State University. According to Linda Dannison, Chair of Western Michigan University's Family and consumer Sciences, "Having a center devoted to better understanding and influencing policy and practices in order to facilitate people's awareness will have a more positive impact on the lives of children." For more information on the center, click here or visit the center's website here.

The boy removed from his mother's care due to his obesity is being placed in relative care. The Washington Post reports that the 9-year old will be placed in his uncle's care. According to the Post article, "The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio joined the case on the boy's behalf and said he should be with his family. 'We think it's a fundamental liberty for a child to be brought up in his home among family and friends,' said the ACLU's James Hardiman." Read the story here.

The Child Welfare League of America and Lambda Legal released a practice guide for state and local child welfare agencies working with LGBTQ youth in child welfare settings. According to the SDGLN.com article, ACYF commissioner Bryan Samuels is quoted, "These guidelines provide practical examples of practices that every child welfare agency can use to better meet the needs of the LGBTQ youth in their care." For the article, click here.

The Washington Post reported that the Virgina Board of Social Services has ruled that state-licensed adoption agencies can discriminate against LGBTQ prospective adoptive parents based solely on their sexual orientation. Read the full story here.

According to the Associated Press, the Bureau of Indian Affairs will hold a summit in South Dakota to address concerns that the state is not in compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. The state claims the NPR report which reported the great disparities in a three-part series this past fall is inaccurate. You can read the full article here.

In New Jersey, Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D) has introduced a bill requiring adoptive parents to raise their adopted child in the faith or religion of their biological parents. From the New Jersey Jewish Standard, Marc Stern, Associate General Counsel for the American Jewish Committee stated, "It is traumatic enough to pull kids out of a home, and if you have kids who are Sabbath-observant and eat kosher food, and you put them in with the family who is up next on the DYFS list, you are adding to the trauma," he said. The bill has received some support from Jewish, Muslim, Protestant and Catholic communities.
You can read the entire article here.

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