The Center for Adoption Support & Education
MESSAGE FROM CEO
The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.)
Training for Adoption Competency (TAC)
As many of our readers know, CASE staff has been privileged to share our expertise in delivering mental health services to the adoption community, both nationally and internationally. Wherever we go, both professionals and parents express their wish to have CASE services available in their communities. They tell us that they need therapists in their community who understand the complex issues inherent in adoption; especially important for adoptive families whose children came from compromised beginnings. “I have tried so many therapists who just don’t understand adoption. I am tired of being offered what our family does not need.” “We know we need therapists to refer our families to…we just don’t have trained, qualified therapists in our community.” To meet the overwhelming need for “adoption competent mental health professionals” nationwide, for the past three years -- C.A.S.E. has been involved in developing an initiative, made possible by generous funding from the Freddie Mac Foundation, The Dave Thomas Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, The W. K Kellogg Foundation and Casey Family Services.
We are proud to share that as a result of this initiative, which involved guidance from a national advisory council, and collaborations with recognized experts in the field of adoption and child welfare, The Center for Adoption Support and Education developed the Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) program. TAC provides licensed mental health professionals with the knowledge, skills and values they need to provide adoption competent mental health services. This standardized, 78 hours of instruction in a manualized training curriculum includes a six month clinical consultation series to support learning to practice adoption-competent therapy. The program was pilot tested at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work. Careful evaluation clearly demonstrated TAC’s effectiveness in preparing mental health professionals to provide quality clinical services on adoption-related issues.
The Training for Adoption Competency (TAC) is designed to provide professionals in the mental health and child welfare fields with the clinical knowledge and skills that they need to effectively serve the adoption kinship network. The long term goals of TAC are to 1) establish national adoption competent training standards and certification ; 2) expand the access of prospective adoptive parents, adopted individuals, adoptive families and kinship families to adoption competent mental health professionals; 3) to provide adoptive families with the mental health services they need to be stable and healthy, and reduce rates of adoption disruption and dissolution; and 4) to strengthen the post adoption services offered by mental health and child welfare systems nationwide.
Participants of the TAC replication project spent a rigorous four days at C.A.S.E in training with C.A.S.E. CEO Debbie Riley and Project Coordinator, Madelyn Freundlich, in preparation for teaching the curriculum to professionals in their home states beginning Summer /Fall 2011.
During the week of May 2 – 5, 2011, C.A.S.E. was pleased to host the first training for trainers from Catawba County Department of Social Services, North Carolina; University of Minnesota: Twin Cities and Duluth; and Lilliput Children’s Services, California; as part of the initial replication process in preparation for launching the training nationwide. We are proud of this endeavor and thank all of our partners, including the funding Foundations, who believe in the need to build a workforce of “adoption competent” mental health providers to meet the growing needs of the adoption community.
We look forward to working collaboratively with other state public child welfare agencies, colleges and universities, and community organizations to build your capacity as well. Together we can make a difference! Please feel free to contact me at Riley@adoptionsupport.org for more information about TAC and future training dates.
THE REAL STRENGTHS AND CHALLENGES OF LGBT ADOPTIVE FAMILIES
By Cynthia Cubbage, LCSW-C and Vanessa Marshall, LCSW-C
According to the Census Bureau, between six and 10 million American children lived in gay, lesbian, or bisexual households in the year 2000. Single parents were heads of household in 27 percent of all families with children under the age of 18. The number of LGBT adoptive families continues to grow as a result of new laws in many states that make it possible for gays to marry and to adopt. And just like all adoptive parents, LGBT adoptive parents are experiencing both the joys and unique challenges inherent in adoption. However, in addition to learning how to meet their children’s needs around adoption, LGBT families, of course, must also help their children cope with the unique challenges that all LGBT families confront.
Having faced adversity related to society’s acceptance, LGBT parents may be more equipped to support their children as they face the hard questions of what it means to be adopted as well as society’s perception of adoptive families as “second best.”
On the other hand, societal prejudice can present LGBT families with a continual sense of challenge. As Abigail Garner describes in her book, Families Like Mine, societal, political, and religious messages that challenge an LGBT’s family’s “right to exist” can trickle down to the children. Adoptive parents need to prepare their children for these messages and support them to cope so that they don’t carry the burden of needing “to prove” that their families are just as legitimate and just “as good as heterosexual families.”
Being gay is hard in our society. There are LGBT parents that still have not necessarily come out of the closet and who may be grappling with their own ambivalence, and feelings of guilt and shame. They may not have come out to their children, or they may avoid the important, repeated conversations that they need to have with their children to help them understand their family. For example, one couple felt that it was obvious to their kids that they were a gay couple, and therefore, they “didn’t need” to talk to their children about their sexual orientation. They were more comfortable talking about adoption than about their sexual orientation. When children sense parental discomfort about any aspect of their family-- that parents are not speaking about openly, be it sexual orientation, adoption, or anything else--feelings of confusion can lead to feelings of isolation and shame. The adopted child may feel like he is left alone to make sense of his family.
PRESSURE TO BE PERFECT
One of society’s main objections to LGBT families is that children of LGBT parents will grow up identifying as LGBT themselves -a belief that implies this would be an unfortunate circumstance for the child. In response to this untrue belief, some LGBT parents hope that their children will be heterosexual and may feel “relieved” if they are. Another common societal concern is that children of LGBT parents will suffer from more mental health issues than children of heterosexual parents. In Families Like Mine, Ms. Garner discusses how in response to this false notion, many LGBT families feel that they have to present themselves as being a “perfect” family with no flaws (as if such a family existed!). Ultimately, LGBT parents who knowingly or unconsciously respond to society’s pressures in this manner may be sending messages to their children that are confusing and destructive.
The pressure to be “perfect” in order to validate parents can be terribly painful. Lindsay, a 13-year-old girl needed to prove to teachers, friends, and other adults in her community that her parents were “great parents”. She wanted to be the best in her class, popular, and appear happy all the time. However, Lindsay was struggling with relationship issues with her friends and appeared sad at school. Noticing that something was wrong, the school counselor asked Lindsay if she was having trouble at home. The counselor wondered if peers were picking on her at school because she had two dads, and if this was causing her to feel depressed. In addition, the counselor expressed concern that because there was no mother at home, Lindsay had no one to talk to about her feelings, like mothers and daughters do. As such, Lindsay felt that anytime she wasn’t her “happy-go-lucky” self, people would automatically assume that her sadness was related to having same sex parents.
THE ADOPTION STORY
Many heterosexual adoptive parents have concealed aspects of their history from the home study social worker out of fear of not being approved for adoption. For example, a couple that struggled at one time with marital issues may fear disclosing this information. In both domestic and international adoption, while being single may have been acceptable to adopt, being LGBT was not.
Many LGBT adoptive parents suffer with needless guilt around not sharing their LGBT status with the home study social worker. As a result, these parents may entirely avoid discussion of adoption and the adoption story with their child because of anxiety around having lied in order to adopt. A bewildered adopted child misses out on the emotional support they need from their parents to work through their feelings about birth parents, about being adopted, about having two moms, two dads, one lesbian mom, one gay dad, as well as why outsiders are sometimes unkind about their family. Parents need to be prepared to tell their child the “true adoption story” which includes not just the child’s journey into the family, but the parents’ own journey to adoption. This information is shared in a developmentally age-appropriate fashion. If parents have concerns about what, when and how to share information, they may want to seek support from an adoption therapist.
When adoptive parents are a different race from their child, there are important, extra steps they must make in their parenting journey to ensure that their child’s needs are met with relation to positive racial identity. It is critical that parents acknowledge the need for their child and the family to develop strong connections with people of their child’s heritage/race. Unfortunately, prejudice can occur when members of the child’s racial group are either opposed to adoption, transracial adoption and to LGBT families. It is not only important for LGBT parents to give their young children the language and tools to respond to questions about adoption, but to give them the skills and language to use to address homophobic and racist remarks.
One 17 year old put it this way, “Our family is so different…I never know exactly what reason someone may have for staring at us…but, being so diverse has made us a strong and proud family because there is nothing to hide…everything is out”. It is likely that what this teen is not saying is that his parents have done a successful job of preparing him to face the challenges presented by both adoption and racism/prejudice.
Many LGBT parents receive questions from their children that they need to be prepared to answer. For example, one child asked his two moms why he didn’t have a daddy. Another child asked his two dads if he was going to be gay like them? Think about how you would answer these questions. There are ways to answer these questions that assist in bringing clarity to your child’s unique family, and help to promote healthy self-esteem and resiliency in your children.
PLEASE JOIN US
On Wednesday, June 15, 2011, from 9:00 – 10:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, we will host a webinar, Creating our Families Through Adoption: The Real Strengths and Challenges of LGBT Adoptive Families. Along with a panel of LGBT adoptive parents, we will take an in-depth look at the unique concerns presented in this article. We will address how to respond to children’s difficult questions as well as other challenges including helping heterosexual adopted children with feelings related to being “caught between two worlds.” We look forward to providing participants with the critical knowledge and strategies they need to ensure that their children are supported to face the inevitable challenges that come with being part of an LGBT adoptive family.
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School will be out soon and my children are requesting to see movies, including Kung Fu Panda 2. I am aware that there is an adoption theme in this movie and I am not sure if it is appropriate for my children to see.
Many parents have asked us about this movie and so through the lens of adoption, this is my review. As with many children’s adoption-themed movies, Kung Fu Panda 2 has many good elements and some potentially confusing messages. It is important for adoptive parents to remember that regardless of whether you take your children to see this movie, especially given its generally favorable critic reviews, their friends and peers are probably seeing it and “learning” about adoption from it. It is therefore possible that the movie will prompt them to ask your children questions about their adoption. For that reason alone, I recommend that you take the time to go and see the movie, without your children. That will help to prepare you to prepare your children for their peers’ reactions, as well as to decide if you want your children to see the movie. You may certainly have a different opinion of this movie and decisions about what is good or not good must be decided on an individual basis. Only you know what the benefits/challenges may be for your individual child.
What I liked about the movie – The love and strong bond between Po (the Panda) and his Goose adoptive father is lovely and clear. Any doubt that an adopted child may have, even unconsciously, of whether he is deeply loved by his adoptive parents, is dispelled by the example of this moving, secure relationship. The father also does a beautiful job of telling Po his adoption story.
The movie shows Po’s strong desire to know “where he came from” – his need to understand why he was adopted – his story. This theme validates and normalizes this extremely important feeling that many adoptees have. Po’s father worries about what this revelation will mean for their relationship, but is totally understanding, accepting and supportive of Po’s need to know. It is good for the non-adoptive audience to see that even if adoptive parents feel anxious about birth parents, they support their children’s need for connection and understanding.
The messages that may be confusing – This is clearly a trans-species adoption and even some of the other characters in the movie are surprised to learn that Po (who’s an adult) did not know he was adopted until his father tells him. In addition, once Po understands that he was adopted, as noted above, his father worries whether Po will still consider him to be his father. While this is a real worry for many adoptive parents, especially when their children seek relationship with birth family, this is potentially confusing for adopted children and their non-adopted peers. Adoptive parents should always confidently give their children the message that Adoption means we are their parents – without any doubt or question, and that relationship with birth parents does not change that. Adoption means they have two families. We are all REAL. I am concerned about the non-adopted audience who may wonder if adoptive families always struggle with feeling this kind of uncertainty and insecurity.
Some points of concern – Po’s father finds him as a baby abandoned in a carton. Watching this may be hard for adopted children who were left and found – especially as the movie takes place in China. While parents usually explain that this is how adoption has to happen in China because of its rules/laws, and they tell their child that she/he was left somewhere safe where they would be found and taken care of – at the police station, at the orphanage, it is certainly one of the more challenging adoption stories to explain. However, Po finds out that he was left by his birth mother (and father) to keep him safe from the evil peacock who was trying to kill him. Po’s birth parents were parenting him and had no choice but to leave him for his own protection. Po and the audience feel relieved and therefore understand and forgive Po’s birth parents for abandoning him. This positive explanation may make some adopted children wonder about their own adoption stories. Maybe my birth parents left me but intended to come back for me? Others might feel bad because their birth parents chose to make an adoption plan. And of course, the non-adopted children may wonder, maybe my friend just got separated somehow and his birth parents would want him back.
There is a simplistic message about leaving the past behind…that you may have not had the best beginning but the future can be great. The message to Po is that the only way he could be a true warrior was through inner peace, and the only way for him to find inner peace was to understand his adoption story. Teaching resilience is important – and this is a positive, important message. However, again, I worry that Po found “inner peace” because he found out that his birthparents only left him to keep him from getting killed. Any other explanation for adoption just pales in comparison, and the road to inner peace for most adoptees is a much more complex journey. Yes, this is a children’s movie, but our children have complex emotions. Loss and grief are complex.
A troubling part of the movie to me comes at the very end. Just prior to the last scene, Po returns home and affirms his relationship with his father, who is joyous and relieved. However, then, in the last scene, you see that Po’s birth father has learned that Po is alive. That’s it. It lets the audience know that another sequel, Kung Fu Panda 3 is coming. But it generates anxiety as to what will happen to Po when his birth father finds him? What will happen to the relationship between Po and his father, the Goose? It gives a kind of “uh oh” message. Relationships between adoptive and birth families should not be fodder for such titillation. They are relationships that should be normalized and not the subject of mystery and suspense. I am now concerned that Kung Fu Panda 3 will not show Po’s birth father meeting Po and his father, with everyone warmly embracing each other into their lives. That would be boring. I worry that there will be some kind of silly conflict between Po’s birth family and adoptive father, with really bad messages. I hope I’m wrong.
If you decide to take your child, know that any adoption-themed movie is great for generating discussion about adoption – ask your child what was good or bad/untrue, what they liked or didn’t like, their thoughts- their feelings and by all means, share your views. The movie has much violence and I wouldn’t recommend for children younger than 8 or 9, the age when children also comprehend what adoption means and are working to make sense of their story.
Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions and would like more information/clarification.
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On May 10, 2011, C.A.S.E. was one of several co-sponsoring organizations that hosted a Congressional Briefing on the need for post-adoption services. A video of the briefing, which included remarks by CASE founder, Kathleen Dugan, and several CASE families, can be viewed on the website of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute www.ccainstitute.org or through this link http://ccainstitute.org/our-programs/congressional-resource-program/past-crp-events.html The Policy Recommendations Report may also be accessed.
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Jockey Being Family ® Teams Up with The Center for Adoption Support and Education at the Annual NACAC Conference
Jockey International, Inc. is excited to sponsor the Children and Youth Program at this year’s NACAC conference that will be held on August 4–6, 2011 in Denver, CO. This program will include traditional activities for children and youth on Thursday and Friday, August 4th and 5th , plus a full-day program and carnival for children and families on Saturday, August 6th. The registration fee is $75 per child or youth, with registration open to the first 50 children ages 6 to 15.
Because of the unique Saturday program, at least one parent from each family must participate in Saturday’s activities with their child. Children/youth must be registered for all three days of the program.
Thursday and Friday
On Thursday and Friday, Abrakadoodle will offer age-appropriate art activities, such as creating planet scenes with glow-in-the-dark paints. On Friday, participants will examine pirate treasures and create treasure maps for a scavenger hunt. Participants will also go to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where they will explore a real pirate ship.
The award-winning Abrakadoodle program offers art camps and parties for children at school and in the community. In these programs, children create artwork, learn about art, develop new skills, explore creative art materials, and more!
Saturday Family Day
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS: TREK TO SUCCESS
Imagine hiking up one of the peaks of the Denver Rockies—an adventure that excites your senses and challenges your abilities. On Saturday, we invite you to join other adoptive families on this trek—a trek to success!
Jockey Being Family® and The Center for Adoption Support and Education (C.A.S.E.) have teamed up to offer a full-day program for you and your family to celebrate the joys of adoption. Inspired by the challenges of hiking the Denver Rocky Mountains, your children will identify their strengths and those that they would like to develop. As hiking gear equips the backpacker, your children will discover tools that will help them successfully navigate their lifelong journey of adoption. This W.I.S.E. UP!SM program will empower them to effectively respond to questions and comments about adoption and their family. Through games, theatre and art exercises, they will share meaningful experiences with other children who were adopted as they trek to success!
As parents encouraging your child on this journey, you strive to equip them with the skills they need to meet the challenges encountered at school, the neighborhood, and your community. Feeling different is a challenge for most children and coping with adoption-related differences can be quite daunting. Whatever the circumstance, as adoptive parents you want your children to be proud of who they are and comfortable with being adopted. In a parent program facilitated by Debbie Riley, C.A.S.E. CEO, you will also explore W.I.S.E. Up! and in addition, S.A.F.E. at SchoolSM (Support for Adoptive Families by Educators) as tools to add to your backpack of positive strategies to strengthen your family. As the adventure and the day come to a close, you and your family will enjoy a carnival with games, prizes, and cotton candy!
Click here to register for the children's and youth program online or download a PDF registration formto complete and submit to NACAC.
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C.A.S.E. staff has been busy the last several months training locally and nationally. Staff presentations were held at:
Debbie Riley: University of Maryland; New Worlds of Adoption Conference in Amherst, MA; the University of Connecticut in Hartford, CT; The Siena School in Silver Spring, MD; the LAB School in Washington, DC; the Ties that Bind Conference, Atlanta, Georgia; the Board of Social Work, Rockville, MD; the Dave Thomas Foundation – Wendy’s Wonderful Kids – in Cleveland, OH.
Madeleine Krebs: Foster Care and Adoption Expo Exhibit, Washington, D.C.; Kent County Department of Social Services, Annapolis, MD.
Lisa Dominguez: CASA Conference, Annapolis, MD
Valerie Kunsman, Ann Roth and Ellen Singer: W.I.S.E. Up! at Catholic Charities, Catonsville, MD
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