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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.

According to a study by researcher Alice Home, from the University of Ottawa School of Social Work, the major challenges for Canadian adoptive parents are finding and accessing post-adoption support and services, and getting a diagnosis and then understanding what that means for a child with special needs. Particularly challenging for parents who adopt internationally is the lack of information about the child's needs.

Home's study with 26 Candaian adoptive parents and with adoption professionals found that parents often struggle to find help, fearing that adoption agency workers will blame the parents for their problems.

Participants were videotaped and Home is in the process of publishing the findings.
The videos are available at the Adoption Council of Canada site.

Chapter 1: Working together across boundaries

Chapter 2: Stakeholder study

Chapter 3: Advocating for children with disabilities

Chapter 4: Ways forward

For more information:
HealthCanal article, "Unique study on adoptive parenting sheds light on lack of post-adoption support"
Adoption Council of Canada (AAC)

This guest post was written by Salma Hussein.

There is growing evidence that supports the role systematic racism and the workers biases contribute in the overrepresentation of families of color serviced in the child welfare. Consequently, resulting in unjust, unnecessary and unequal treatments that go on to influence both access and utilization of supportive services that are meant to assist families.

In the article written by Lorthridge, Croskey, Pecora, Chambers, & Fatemi, in 2012 we learn that disproportionality has been linked to a number of multi-level factors that overlap and have various impacts. These factors include parent and family risk factors, community risk factors, and organizational and systematic factors. For instance, in the parent and family risk factors, it is said that disproportionality exists because of a disproportionate need that exists. Risk factors including un-(under) employment, inadequate housing, substance abuse and other debilitating conditions are more likely to be present in families of color. Furthermore, the disproportionality of children of color in the child welfare system will not change unless these risk factors are reduced.

To improve child welfare services for families of color a multi level approach is suggested. Focusing on addressing parent and family, community and organizational and systematic risk factors that contributes to disproportionality. The idea is that all families and children live in communities that are then impacted by the organization they receive services from. The disproportionality mitigation model that was discussed in this article attempted to address risk factors at multiple levels.

The committee that was assigned to undertake the self -evaluation portion of the study felt it would be much easier to start by looking at the data, and then asking agencies/departments what they thought the causes were. The data that was examined came from the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, and included demographic information obtained from every section of the child welfare procedure. The analysis revealed that African-American families experienced poorer outcomes.

Particular strengths of this article is that it promotes further research to further investigate in determining specific factors that contribute to making some communities overrepresented in both entry and existing the child welfare system. Additionally, the article dispels myths about permanency by promoting a multi-level approach in working with families and communities. Similarly, a limitation of the study was a lack of a system to ensure case records to be readily and easily accessible for further use. Also, the number of African-American families involved in the comparison group study was very small. It is imperative to include more African-American in future research, in hopes of having research participants reflect service recipients. By doing so, we may be able to better understand strategies for improving the profession for all families, particularly communities that are disproportionally represented.


Lorthridge, J., Mc Croskey, J., Pecora, P.J., Chambers, R. & Fatemi, M. (2012). Strategies for improving child welfare services for families of color: First findings of a community-based initiative in Los Angeles. Children and Youth Services Review, 34, 281-288.

Report on children adopted by gay and lesbian couples

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A new report by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering on children adopted by same-sex partners found that these children have same outcomes as children adopted by heterosexual parents.

"Gay, Lesbian and Heterosexual Adoptive Families: Family relationships, child adjustment and adopters' experiences" studied130 families, 40 2-parent lesbian mother-headed households, 41 2-parent gay father-headed household and 49 2-parent heterosexual couple-headed households. Factors compared across the three households included family relationships, adjustment and both parent and child well-being. Findings showed that families were more similar than different but that gay-headed fathers were less prone to depression, a finding that is welcomed considering that fewer fathers participate in research on adoptive families making the comparison group of fathers in this study an important aspect of this study.

Another interesting finding of the study was the analysis of different "pathways" to adoption among the couples. Perhaps not surprisingly gay fathers reported having the least expectation of becoming parents, while both lesbian mothers and heterosexual couples reported infertility being the reason for choosing to adopt. In addition, only one gay couple reported trying to have children biologically through a surrogate while many lesbian couples and heterosexual couples attempted IVF or other alternative reproductive technologies prior to adopting.

The study may be purchased through the BAAF site.

The HuffPost Live blog aired a show on transracial adoption. Featured guests include an adult transracial adoptee, Rachel Noerdlinger, adoptive parent Mindy Smith, researcher Darron Smith and Toni Oliver from the National Association of Black Social Work (NABSW).

You can watch the episode on the HuffPost Live website or below.


Prevention Action, an online news publication on issues related to improving child development and health around the world, published an article, "Stressed welfare systems impede evidence-based support for foster children" last week.

According to the article, a collaborative effort by rsearchers in the US and UK found that while several strong evidence-based interventions have been found to improve well-being for children and youth in out-of-home care, that these interventions are not being implemented because of system challenges.

The report cited several evidence-based interventions, including:
- Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC)
- Multidimentional Treatment Foste Care for Preschoolers
- Bucharest Early Intervention Project
- Incredible Years Parenting Program
- Keeping Foster Parents Trained and Supported (KEEP)
- Middle School Success (MSS)
- Fostering Individualized Assistance Program

These promising interventions were all found through rigorous research to have improved the well-being of children and youth in foster care, yet according to the authors, were not implemented because of the challenges of the child welfare system - including high case loads, staff retention issues, and a system that has to respond to immediate crises and high stress situations.

The authors state that child well-being should be the focus - as a strong priority on well-being leads to greater outcomes regarding safety and permanency.

For the article, click here.

I recently came across this resource from the National Resource Center for Adoption, part of the Children's Bureau network of Technical Assistance programs.

The Youth Permanency Cluster or YPC, is a group of demonstration projects funded in October 2005 during which sites worked to create, implement and evaluate strategies for achieving permanency for youth that involve practices that have not always been encouraged in traditional paradigms of "adoption":

  • Open adoption, in particular with sibling groups and families of origin

  • Promoting a range of permanency options including guardianship and kinship care

  • Promoting

models that draw on collaboaration and youth leadership

More information on the projects can be accessed at this link.

You can also download a copy of a powerpoint presentation, "Successful Strategies in Achieving Youth Permanency" that provides an overview of the projects.

Chinese-adopted children's adoptive parents' narratives

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AsGirl_000004802916Medium.jpgA recently published article in Adoption Quarterly by April Chatham-Carpenter explored the narratives that adoptive parents of internationally adopted Chinese children construct about the circumstances around their child's abandonment or relinquishment.

The study was conducted to explore the story narratives that adoptive parents use, and what is included and left out in these stories.

In Chatham-Carpenter's qualitative study, the author found that adoptive parents tell a "dominant narrative" in their stories to their children, in which they attempt to humanize their child's biological parents decisions,and counternarratives that seem to be an attempt to make the story more palatable for the adoptive parents feelings rather than their child's.

Parents in the study often included details about their reasons for adopting, the "referral" news, and the day the parents met the child along with their guesses about the reasons the child was abandoned or placed.

Birth parents and birth parent decisions/actions were mostly described in positive ways, portraying them as "loving" but "victims of something larger, outside their control."

Practitioners working with adoptive parents may find this article informative and helpful in training pre-adoptive parents about ways to talk about adoption with their child.

The article is available at

The University of Minnesota has some amazing scholars researching adoption. Here is a presentation by Megan Gunnar, Department Chair and Regents Professor at the Institute on Child Development here at the University of Minnesota, presenting a keynote address on the developing adolescent brains of post-institutionalized adopted children at the 2012 Rudd Adoption Conference, New Worlds of Adoption: Navigating the Teen Years.

For more presentations from this conference, visit the Rudd Adoption Research Program's YouTube page.

New study of public opinions about adoption

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A new study conducted for Oxygen Media surveyed more than 1,000 Americans about their views on adoption. According to the report:

  • 86% of women and 77% of men are open to single parent adoption;
  • 73% of women and 62% of men are open to gay and lesbian couples adopting;
  • 90% of women and 84% of men thought it was more socially acceptable to adopt across race than in the past;
  • 97% thought adoption was a good option for people who are infertile;
  • 17% of women and 34% of men thought adopted individuals struggle more than non-adopted individuals;
  • 19% of women and 27% of men thought raising an adopted child is more difficult than raising biological children; and
  • 17% of women and 35% of men thought it was better if the adopted child looked like the adoptive family.
The study found that 90% of those surveyed identified teen pregnancy as the main reason why a child is placed for adoption.

Of the participants in the study:

  • 66% knew someone who was adopted,
  • 33% had considered adopting, and
  • 21% knew someone who had placed a child for adoption.

The study was conducted to coincide with the release of a new show on the Oxygen network, "I'm Having Their Baby," which is about the experiences of women who place their child for adoption. The show premiered this past Monday.

Data, data, and more data

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Data Star Trek.jpg

As someone who is interested in understanding the impact of adoption on children, youth, families, and social welfare systems, one of my biggest frustrations is that there seems to be concurrently an over-abundance of data, and yet the adoption data is very unorganized, un-centralized and differs greatly depending on who is managing the data.

This past week, I saw two data-related stories that interested me. First, a blog I read regularly, the Child Welfare blog, posted about the blogger's project that aims to improve data-sharing capacity nationwide, county by county, so that nationally, researchers (and anyone interested in the data) could better understand the well-being of children in the child welfare system. County- and state-level data is often not collected uniformly, so this project would create an integrated database.

The other data-related story I came across comes from the Right For Kids site. This organization out of Florida created a ranking system of states using AFCARS and other national data to look at several measures of child safety, permanency and well-being (although the report could do a better job citing where the data came from). The full report is available here.

Adoption data in the United States is not centralized so we have no idea the actual numbers of adopted persons in the country, nor how many children are actually being adopted from the many different silos, or types, of adoption that can occur.

For example, each of the following types of adoption are tracked separately (or not at all):

  • children adopted from foster care
  • children adopted by relatives or kin
  • children adopted by stepparents
  • children adopted from other countries
  • children adopted through private arrangements
  • children adopted through illegal/undocumented arrangements
The reality is that the courts, the state child welfare systems, the private adoption agencies, and the U.S. Census all have different ways of "counting" adoption, and none of them are integrated. In addition, trying to understand multiple facets of adoption, permanency and well-being of children is difficult to do without good data. The U.S. Census only began asking about adopted children in the 2000 Census!

The Right For Kids report discusses their desire to have been able to understand even more about children and youth in foster care, such as their educational outcomes.

In Minnesota, thanks to the Minn-LInK project, the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare could answer that question - as they did in their study, Educational Outcomes for Children in Out of Home Placement - because of the shared data agreement between the state's Department of Human Services, Department of Health and Department of Education.

Better data and shared data means being able to better answer the questions we have about the children and families whom we are serving. Research tells us what is working, what needs to be improved, and promising practices that make lives better.

Adoptions in 2007 and 2008

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cover_AJ-0023A_page_1.pngThe Child Welfare Information Gateway has published a report on the number of children adopted in 2007 and 2008. For those who study adoption, this is an important update, as the last major report by the Children's Bureau looked at the numbers of children adopted in 2000-2001.

According to the report: There is no single source for the total number of children adopted in the United States, and no straightforward way to determine the total number of adoptions, even when multiple data sources are used. This report gives best estimates of the numbers of children adopted in each of the States for 2007 and 2008 from state courts, the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), and the U.S. Department of State.

Some of the findings from the report:

  • About 40% of the adoptions that occur are from public child welfare agencies (i.e. foster care adoption)

  • About 13-14% of adoptions are international adoptions

  • About 46-47% of adoptions are from private agencies.

The report is downloadable here or you can visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway page to see the table of contents or to dowload specific chapters of the report.

Youth in foster care: A report on teen parents

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643881_30290496.jpgAccording to a report from Chlid Trends released on December 9, 2011, youth in foster care have an increased risk of having a child as teen parent. These young parents experience many challenges and often, outcomes for these youth and their children are poor.

Teen Parents in Foster Care: Risk Factors and Outcomes for Teens and Their Children identify several risk factors these youth experience that may contribute to their becoming a teen parent, including:

  • raised in a single parent home
  • chaotic home environment
  • poverty
  • exposure to abuse and/or neglect
  • low academic performance
  • poor school engagement
  • risky sexual behavior
The research study also includes several recommendations particularly focused on creating ways to better understand this population, particularly the teen parents and their children. For the report, click here.