The PAR-ticulars of designing an adoption-competent community

tree_hearts_love_wall_decal_decoration_sEngaging in Participatory Action Research (PAR) to critically examine and reflect on the post-adoption service needs and concerns of adoptive children and families’ residing in a specific community is both valuable and advantageous when comparing to other approaches. The active participation and collective, informed decision-making of all participants sharing equal power and control, throughout all aspects of the proposed study are noted strengths (MacDonald, 2012).   Therefore, an individual’s role in PAR is both a researcher designing and planning the study through dissemination and a participant contributing to the collection of data. The ultimate goal of both the current proposed study and PAR is the co-creation of knowledge, initiating an action that results in community change. This proposed study seeks to mobilize an adoption competent community that is continually responsive to the various needs and challenges adoptive families face at any given moment. Enhancing the lives of these individuals will equip them with the necessary tools and resources, therefore strengthening families’ and one’s ability to overcome unpredictable challenges.

PAR is a cyclical process involving research, reflection, and action. MacDonald (2012) stated there are three types of change involved when using PAR, “the development of critical consciousness of the researcher and the participants, improvement in the lives of those participating in the research process, and transformation of societal structures and relationships” (MacDonald, 2012, p. 38-39). This is reflective of four core values within the mission statement of the North American Council of Adoptable Children (NACAC).  NACAC recognizes the significance of empowering adoptive parents and youth to extend support to others in similar roles, as well as to advocate for child welfare reform. The recognition of connected communities encourages the promotion and support of adoptive families for foster children through a “supportive and informed” collaborative community. Finally, grassroots advocacy signifies improvements to child welfare policy and practice begins with the guidance and efforts of those who have personally experienced adoption.

The research team will be comprised of the Virginia Commonwealth University researcher, Breun Belcher, and community members representing adoptive parents and adoptees age 12 years and older including individuals who have experienced an adoption dissolution. The formation of an adoption advisory board and partnering with the university researcher serves as the initial foundation of the research partnership. The role of the university researcher will involve ongoing facilitation of the community-university collaboration and research process. Initial emphasis on the development of rapport and trust among all individuals is vital to build and maintain a strong collaborative research team.

Research design

The proposed research design will utilize the theoretical framework of case study using a mixed-methods methodological approach that includes both qualitative and quantitative data. Data collection will include longitudinal data, through multiple sources: focus groups, in-depth interviews, and surveys. This study will utilize a convenience and purposive sampling approach. Therefore, additional adoptive parents and adoptees from the community will be invited to participate in the study. Recruitment efforts will involve scheduled face-to-face informational meetings with administrators and staff members from local agencies such as child welfare and mental health, currently serving adoptive families, as well as local news and radio media and word of mouth. Inclusion criteria will include individuals who have legally finalized the adoption of a child previously involved in the child welfare system, including both relative and foster parent adoptions, individuals who have experienced an adoption dissolution, and youth, 12 years or older, and adult adoptees. Informed consent and assent for participants under 18 years of age will be required of all participants. Study participants will receive a monetary gift card incentive of $25.00 as an appreciation for their time and commitment.

Data collection

Initial data collection will be conducted through focus groups with participants and facilitated by the university researcher.   The aim of focus groups will be to examine current gaps and barriers in post-adoption services and emerging topics identified by the research team. Focus groups will be audio-recorded and later transcribed. In-depth, face- to- face interviews with each research participant, lasting 1-2 hours will be completed to explore parenting experiences of individuals. Interview questions will be a collaborative effort developed by the research teams. The utilization of qualitative methodology through in-depth interviews focuses on the “whole of human experience,” thus gaining a “broader understanding and deeper insight” (MacDonald, 2012, p. 34-35). Hutchinson & Lovell (2013) conducted a study with co-researchers and “service users” experiencing severe mental health issues through a PAR approach. Data collection consisted of a group interviews that did not include the lead researcher. Utilizing a group interview format informed peer support and emotional engagement throughout the interview process. Interviews will be audio-recorded and transcribed for data analysis. Quantitative data collection will be completed through the development of a survey by the research team that will be administered to individuals in the community including adoption professionals, agency staff, educators, and administrators to explore community service coordination.

Ethical Considerations

Study participants will be required to complete the CITI training on ethical considerations for human subject research. An additional training will be developed specific to the proposed study on designing a research study and the research process, data collection including interviewing techniques and survey development, and data analysis as it is expected individuals will have varying degrees of experience and knowledge of conducting research.   Training development will be an active collaborative effort of all individuals with the guidance of the university researcher. A final consideration is to recognize and address personal biases and interests of any participant that would negatively hinder collaborative efforts.


Hutchinson, A. & Lovell, A. (2013). Participatory action research: moving beyond the mental health ‘service user’ identity. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 20, 641-649.

MacDonald, C. (2012). Understanding participatory action research: A qualitative research methodology option. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 13(2), 34-50.

This post is a part of my ongoing participation in Collaborative Curiosity – an online course in community-engaged research sponsored by Virginia Commonwealth University. The course is FREE and open to anyone. You can join us on Twitter with #CuriousCoLab. You can follow me on Twitter @BreunBelcherSW

One thought on “The PAR-ticulars of designing an adoption-competent community”

  1. Hi Breun,

    Great post! Your writing and methodology demonstrate the knowledge and experience you have with adoption. I love the idea of creating an “adoption competent community.”

    My question for you is whether you foresee any ethical or logistical issues with involving teenagers as partners, especially those who may have experienced a dissolution?

    – Rachel

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