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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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The Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASCW) will graduate its first cohort of 39 adoption-competent mental health and child welfare workers through CASCW's Permanency and Adoption Competency Certificate (PACC) program today. The graduation celebration will take place from 4 PM to 6 PM in the Minnesota Commons Room at the University of Minnesota St. Paul Student Center.

The PACC is a professional training program developed in response to community demand for an adoption-competent mental health and child welfare workforce able to serve the unique and complex clinical and practice needs for adopted individuals and their families throughout Minnesota. Through the PACC, mental health and child welfare workers are given the knowledge and skills needed to serve families and help prevent disruptions in the post-adoption period.

The PACC includes the nationally recognized Training on Adoption Competency curriculum developed by the Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) and additional modules focusing on child welfare permanency and the Indian Child Welfare Act. The PACC emphasizes the use of 'real world' case studies, small group work, and partner interactions in order to promote critical thinking and practice application discussions among participants.

"Going through the different case studies and having discussion was most helpful and relevant, as I can use the feedback [and] ideas to help in my job in engaging families I work with." Participant Response

Graduates of the PACC will be listed in a searchable online database. Families and professionals will have access to this database in order to locate adoption-competent practitioners in their area.

There are 37 additional participants in the current (fall 2012) cohorts in Rochester and the Twin Cities that will graduate in 2014.

For more information, please visit the PACC website.

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.

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.

Webinar on the Adoption Tax Credit

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This Thursday, October 4, 2012, a webinar will be held to discuss the Adoption Tax Credit. From the webinar description:

In this webinar you will gain an understanding about the goals of our advocacy efforts, as well as the history of this credits existence, an overview of the legislative changes, the difference between a refundable credit vs. a credit applied toward tax liability, definition of special needs adoption and description of the "flat" distinction, understanding of how the credit stands for 2012 and 2013 and, description of the adoption tax credit legislation currently in Congress and what legislators intend to do during the lame duck session upon their return to Washington, D.C. after the elections. Presenters will also provide helpful advocacy tips and strategies for making your voice heard by your members of Congress, and an adoptive parent & advocate will join the presentation to share their personal experiences with webinar participants.

To register, click here.

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MN Adopt is offering a webinar on September 12, 2012 on Communicating with Birthparents/Families: An Adoptive Mother's Experience. The webinar will be hosted by Terssa Markworth, MA. Terssa Markworth and her husband of 25 years have adopted waiting children from Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa and South Korea. She is currently completing her Master of Communication Studies degree program at the University of South Dakota Vermillion. Terssa enjoys speaking to civic groups, churches, professionals and other adoptive parents on how adoption has framed her family of 21 children.

From the description:

Open communication between adopted/foster kids and birthparents/families can be delicate. As caregivers to these children we want to ensure the best outcome while being sensitive to everyone involved. Join Terssa Markworth, adoptive parent of 17 as she shares her experiences from maintaining long-term communication with former foster parents to a Facebook friendship with a birthparent. Communicating with birth families has become more profound due to the internet, Facebook and cell phones. Special care must be taken when older children of sibling groups decide to search for birth parents. Terssa also discusses the approach she took when telling her adopted child about the death of a birthparent and how the "death of the dream" to later search affected the child. She shares strategies on how to effectively communicate with birth families while advocating for and supporting the needs of adopted children.

The webinar is $15 and you can register by clicking on this link. For more information on this, or other trainings, contact MN Adopt at trainings@mnadopt.org or:

612-861-7115
612-861-7112 (fax)
866-303-6276 (toll free)

browse.jpegChildren and youth that have experienced foster care, institutionalization and/or adoption often face additional struggles in school. Adoption Learning Partners and the Joint Council on International Children's Services is co-sponsoring a webinar, Adoption and Classroom Success: Beyond The Basics. The webinar will be held live Wednesday, September 19, 2012 at 7:00PM Central time with a Q&A at 8:00PM. The cost of the webinar is $15.00

Presenter Heather T. Forbes will discuss how adoption experiences impact children in school.

From the webinar's description:

Circumstances prior to adoption often cause adopted children to experience school, among other things, in a different framework than other kids. Orphanage care, foster care or prenatal exposure are all events that can affect behavior as a child grows.

Heather will present tips and strategies on how to help your child be more successful at school, therefore easing some of the stress at home. Heather will cover:

  • How to smooth school-related transitions
  • Helping teachers understand what is driving a child's negative behaviors
  • How to increase your child's motivation to succeed at school

Forbes is the author of the popular Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control: A Love Based Approach to Helping Children with Severe Behaviors.

To register for the webinar, click here.

For more suggestions on how to help your adopted or fostered child prepare for and navigate school, you can also check out the fact sheets available from MN ADOPT.

Topics include:

  • Adoption-Competent School Assignments
  • Adoption-Friendly Curriculum
  • College Aid
  • Making IEPs User-Friendly
  • Planning for Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities
  • School Issues With the Youth or Teen with Attachment Issues: The Dog Ate My Homework
  • The Impact of Adoption at School: Elementary Age Youth
  • The Impact of Adoption at School: Junior and Senior High
  • The Impact of Adoption at School: Pre-K and Kindergarten

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MN Adopt is offering a training on August 6, 2012 on Working with the Mind-Body Connection: Understanding Stress and Trauma in Adopted and Foster Youth. The training will be presented by Lora Matz, LICSW.

From the description:

Increased levels of anxiety, depression and hopelessness are being seen in children from all socio-economic conditions, cultures and family life. Stress-related stomachaches and headaches in children of all ages are being reported as the number one health concern for children by physicians today. The principals and practices of Mind-Body skills are easily learned and empowering. Lora Matz offers Mind-Body skills that not only increase self-confidence, resilience and self-regulation but contribute to decreased disruptive behaviors often seen in children who have trauma histories. Participants will gain insight on how to talk to children of different ages about the stress response and how it impacts the body and emotions.

Lora Matz, LICSW is an internationally known health and wellness expert in the practices of Integrative Medicine. She currently serves as Clinical Education Specialist of Prairie Care and has a rich background as a psychotherapist, lecturer, writer and consultant in the areas of mind-body medicine and transpersonal development. Lora has many years of experience working with both children and adults in the areas of trauma and stress reduction strategies. She has served as Associate Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington D.C. and supervised the team who worked with the children who were on the school bus when the I-35W bridge collapsed. Addtionally, she has worked with adoptees and foster children as a foster mother, psychotherapist with both children and adults who have been adopted and their families. She also has worked as a psychotherapist and clinical supervisor with individuals struggling with issues related to failed adoptions.

For more information on this or other trainings, contact MN Adopt at:

trainings@mnadopt.org or

612-861-7115
612-861-7112 (fax)
866-303-6276 (toll free)

Webinar on helping children with sexualized behaviors

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MN ADOPT is hosting a webinar on July 25, 2012 on Helping Children with Sexualized Behaviors: What Parents and Professionals Need to Know with Jane Seymour, MSW, LGSW.

From the training desciption:
This webinar will review the common myths and facts about children who are exhibiting sexualized behaviors. Participants will learn about the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy sexual behavior in children. The presenter also explores the influence of early traumas, such as domestic violence, sexual and physical abuse and how it manifests with children who display sexualized behaviors. Parents and professionals will learn specific strategies and interventions for working with and helping these children.

Jane Seymour, MSW, LGSW is a Clinical Specialist with the MN ADOPT HELP program at Minnesota Adoption Resource Network (MARN). MN ADOPT HELP provides a Warm Line for adoptive families and connects adoptive families with adoption competent therapists. Prior to her work with MARN, Jane provided individual and group therapy to children who had experienced intra-familial sexual abuse. She also provided in-home therapy, education, and skill building to adoptive and kinship families. Jane has previously worked with families involved with Child Welfare, and with youth in residential and day treatment settings.

For more information on this or other trainings, contact MN Adopt at:

trainings@mnadopt.org or

612-861-7115
612-861-7112 (fax)
866-303-6276 (toll free)

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One of the practice issues that has been rarely talked about in academic, research or policy arenas that impact children that have been institutionalized or in foster care is the issue of eating behaviors.

It is quite common for children who have been neglected or for those who have experienced food insecurity, institutionalization in foreign countries or housing instability to have learned survival skills related to eating that may be difficult for foster and adoptive caregivers to manage.

Eating issues may be manifested in overeating, extreme pickiness, undereating, and hoarding. In addition, ideas about mealtimes may be very different for children who have had to learn to fight for food, were given limited options for food, or were not part of families or settings that had rules about eating (such as sitting at a table together, etc.).

Sometimes foster and adoptive caregivers end up inadvertently adding to the stress a child may have about food and mealtimes because they expect the child to understand that now food availability is no longer an issue or because meal time is expected (from the caregiver's view) to be a time of family sharing. Children that have experienced food insecurity or institutionalized meal times will not automatically understand the change, emotionally or behaviorally, once they move to a stable family setting.

Several years ago based on experiences as a case worker, I searched for research or practice guidance around this issue. At the time there was very little available. I finally wrote an article for Minnesota Adoption Resource Network (MARN) about this issue (click here for article), and I was excited to see that MN Adopt will be hosting a training on this topic on July 17, 2012.

From the training description:

Nurturing Feeding: Promoting Recovery from Eating Issues in Traumatized Children with Elizabeth Jackson, MS, RD, LD in Bloomington, MN

Children who have come from foster care or orphanages often have serious issues around found. This might take on the form of stealing or hoarding food, refusing to eat certain foods or developing a clinical eating disorder. Elizabeth Jackson provides participants a deeper look into food issues from infancy to adolescence. Topics to be discussed include:

  • Feeding during infancy and its impact on development of attachment patterns
  • Research on how trauma and neglect at all ages impact a child's eating habits and growth
  • Overview of Satter's Division of Responsibility that defines the optimal feeding relationship between adult caregivers and children of all ages
  • Treatment options for children and youth with habitual habits of hoarding and stealing food and eating disorders
Elizabeth Jackson, MS, RD, LD is an outpatient dietitian at Melrose Institute in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, a large, multidisciplinary eating disorder treatment facility with five levels of care. In January 2008, Elizabeth published her findings from years of successful group treatment of compulsive eating in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. She relocated to Minnesota in 2001 after 19 years in private practice in Michigan specializing in eating disorders and treatment of child feeding and eating issues. Elizabeth also developed curriculum and taught for eight years on eating disorders at Central Michigan University. Additionally, from 2002-2010, she was a clinical faculty member with the Ellyn Satter Institute, speaking and conducting workshops on child feeding and weight regulation throughout the U.S. and Canada.

For more information on this or other trainings, contact MN Adopt at:

trainings@mnadopt.org or

612-861-7115
612-861-7112 (fax)
866-303-6276 (toll free)

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MN Adopt is offering a training series, Beyond Consequences Training and Support - 8-part Series with Brenda Benning, MSW, LGSW.

This training series will provide insight into children's behaviors as well as hands-on skills to help parents work with children that have experienced traumatic histories. The series is based on the book "Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control" by Heather T. Forbes.

Dates begin Tuesday, July 10th. For more information on this or other trainings, contact MN Adopt at:

trainings@mnadopt.org or

612-861-7115
612-861-7112 (fax)
866-303-6276 (toll free)

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