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2004 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 10, No. 1
December 2004

Removing Barriers to Supportive Post-Adoption Services

Most child welfare professionals, researchers, and adoptive families agree about the common barriers to the delivery of post-adoption services. Here, based on advice from North Carolina post-adoption professionals, are suggestions for overcoming some of them.

An Open Door
Research tells us that for the average adoptive family, the time between finalization and the first request for support is five years (Lenerz, 2000). In some cases this is probably appropriate. For other families this amounts to a harmful delay. Kathy Clayton, a clinical post-adoption worker with Children’s Home Society of NC, says she’s worked with many adoptive families who don’t ask for help until they are in full-blown crisis, by which point “there is a part of the parents that has already given up.”

Solutions: Help families avoid crisis by:

  • Setting the tone from day one. Post-adoptive services should really begin with your very first contact with a potential adoptive family. Explain at that time the need for and availability of post-adoptive support. Explore and assess the family’s expectations.

  • Helping parents anticipate their needs. Many professionals we spoke with emphasized that children in foster care today have different and more serious needs than children 15 years ago. Agencies must help families generate realistic expectations regarding the social behavior and educational attainment of the children they are adopting (Barth, 2001), as well as the services they may need.

  • Normalizing Help-Seeking Behavior. Help parents understand that they and their children will very likely have support needs. Make it clear that the need for short-term residential and treatment services is normal (Barth, 2001).

Information
One parent told us, “We wanted special therapeutic or educational programs for our son, but we didn’t know where to find them. There was no resource directory.” Her remarks were echoed by a recent survey in which North Carolina adoptive parents said they needed more information on what services were available and how to access them (NCDSS, 2004d).

Solution: As explained in the following article, the NC Division of Social Services is working with four agencies to establish 24-hour “warm lines” adoptive parents can call for information. Until these resources are up and running, there are still steps agencies can take to help adoptive parents get the information they need. For example, they can create a list of existing resources and distribute it to adoptive parents prior to finalization. Help parents keep this list current by sending them periodic updates through the mail. Be sure to include on this list the Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (800/962-6817; web: www.ecac-parentcenter.org), which serves parents whose children have educational challenges, and the Family Support Network of NC’s Central Directory of Resources (800/852-0042; web: www.fsnnc.org), which has information on resources to assist children with disabilities and their families, and a lending library.

Respite
Foster parents make up at least 64% of those who adopt children from foster care (Freundlich & Wright, 2003). When these families transition to life as adoptive parents, their access to respite care often comes to an end, in large part because of the cost involved.

Solution: North Carolina encourages county departments of social services to develop known and trusted respite resource families who understand the needs of adopted children and their families. These respite resource families may be experienced foster families or other adoptive families. Agencies should also encourage adoptive families to develop their own networks for respite support so they can avoid placing their child for a respite stay with strangers. Respite care is also one of the areas that is covered by the vendor payments North Carolina makes to parents who adopt children from the child welfare system.

Another resource is the National Respite Locator Service (t: 919/490-5577; web: www.respitelocator.org). The website contains a list of respite providers in North Carolina. Please note that many of these providers have specific target populations and may not be available to serve a family unless it falls into the provider’s service categories.

Peer Support
Adoptive parents often say that their most important resource is other adoptive parents. One adoptive parent we spoke with said regretfully, “I wish they had paired me with an adoptive family in a similar situation. . . . There is nothing like being able to talk to someone who really knows from personal experience what you are going through.”

Solution: In the future information about support groups can be found by calling the regional “warm lines” being set up by the Division and its partners (see p. 7). Another referral source is the NC Foster Parents Association, which maintains a database of support groups. If there isn’t one near you, they can help you start one. Call 866/623-7248 or send e-mail to ncfpa@uncg.edu.

Some adoptive parents also find support online, for example at the following site, which features discussions about foster care and adoption in North Carolina: <forums.adoption.com/f493.html>

Affordable, Informed Providers
“After rushing her 11-year-old, newly adopted child to the hospital because of an unexpected psychotic episode, the intake worker, upon learning that the child was adopted, suggested that our colleague give her child back to the agency. Our colleague, upon learning that the intake worker had a social work degree, suggested that she give that back” (Kinship Center, 2004).

As this story illustrates, adoptive families often struggle with health, mental health, and school personnel who do not understand and are not sensitive to foster care and adoption issues. Working with unqualified mental health professionals can be not only frustrating, but harmful to families. As one county adoption worker we spoke with explained, “Some therapists will think it is the parents who have issues, that the parents are the cause of the stress in the family system. But in my experience, outside of maybe needing to work on more effective parenting strategies, the root cause of the things these families go through is the abuse and neglect the children have experienced, the time they spent in foster care, and issues connected to the adoption process. These things wreak havoc on families.”

Payment can be another barrier. Mental health providers say that excess paperwork and a payment lag time of six months keep them from accepting Medicaid or insurance.

Solution: Agencies can support adoptive parents in this area by steering them toward qualified therapists, and by periodically sponsoring educational sessions for health, mental health, and school personnel about the impact of foster care adoptions on families. Ideally, these training sessions would be offered by respected providers and in an accepted venue (e.g., at an AHEC). For more discussion of the importance of adoption-competent mental health services—and a list of the traits to look for in a therapist—see “Promising Practices in Adoption-Competent Mental Health Services” online at <http://161.58.194.157/casey_mhpaper.html>.

Education for Adoptive Parents
Social workers and adoptive parents alike say that we need to do a better job preparing adoptive parents. NC adoptive parents say they would like training in specific disabilities and anger, discipline, social, and emotional issues (NCDSS, 2004d). Others want more exposure to foster and adoptive children during the training they receive.

Solution: Some resources to consider are the classes for adoptive parents offered by Children’s Home Society’s SPAN program (call 800/632-1400), which conducts training on a wide range of relevant topics for a nominal fee ($10), providing space is available. You may also wish to direct parents to online learning sources, such as the free courses offered at <http://adoptionlearningpartners.org>.

Conferences are another resource. The NC Foster Parents Association holds an annual conference for foster, adoptive, and kinship parents. The next will be held April 15–17, 2005 at the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Research Triangle Park. To learn more, visit <www.ncfpa.org>.

Periodically the NC Division of Social Services also offers conferences for adoptive parents. Its most recent, “Rekindling the Spirit, Celebrating the Family,” held Greensboro on August 13–15, 2004, was attended by more than 300 families. The Division hopes to host future conferences for adoptive families if funds become available.

References for this and other articles in this issue