Investing one’s personal interest to explore the needs of a community promotes initiatives aimed at strengthening and empowering a community. The Manatee County Adoption Advisory Board research team aims to address the challenges facing families who have adopted a child from the child welfare system through a community-engaged research approach. A major implication of this approach is the promotion of collaboration and shared-power among the individuals serving on the community-research team. Building an adoption competent community ensures that the ongoing needs of adoptive families are met through the coordination of services and supports.
This ten-person research team is comprised of a Virginia Commonwealth University researcher, Breun Belcher, who brings over ten years of experience working in the child welfare system in various roles and has a strong knowledge base on adoption related issues, four adoptive parents, two former adoptive parents who each experienced an adoption dissolution, a teenage adoptee, and two adult adoptees. Initially, the university-community relationship was established through the formation of the adoption advisory board and a subsequent needs assessment to determine the aims of a community research study. Over the past year a strong partnership developed among the members of the research team. As a result, a shared mission emerged which seeks to respond to the lack of post-adoption services while addressing the steady high rate of adoption dissolutions occurring over the last 24 months, in comparison to other counties across the state. Each member of the research team has a personal or professional vested interest on the topic of adoption and voices a strong commitment to remain engaged in the university-community partnership.
The North American Council of Adoptable Children (NACAC) and the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA), have continuously advocated for post-adoption services in response to a strong association between a lack of post-adoption services and an increased likelihood of an adoption dissolution occurring or an adoptive child exhibiting severe mental health issues. On February 4, 2015, the Supporting Adoptive Families Act was assigned to a congressional committee. This bill seeks to enhance post-adoption support services further illustrating the significance of the proposed study.
Empirical literature exploring the needs of adoptive children and families, as well as the benefits of post-adoption services are not lacking. Furthermore, the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies in New York State, estimates 68% of children adopted in the United States are from the public child welfare system. Research examining outcomes in adulthood for individuals with a childhood history of foster care consistently supports the option of adoption over long-term foster care. However, each year it is estimated that 1 to 2 percent of foster care adoptions experience dissolution, the termination of the legal finalization of an adoption. This results in children having to return to the foster care system.
In 2013, there were 65 dissolutions across the state of Florida. Within a 22 month period, 12 percent of adoption dissolutions occurred in Manatee County. In 55% of the dissolutions in Florida, violent behaviors or significant mental health concerns were cited as the reasons for dissolution and the majority of the children were 13 years or older. Currently, funding for post-adoption services in the state of Florida is limited to providing information & referral, educational materials & programs, mental health services through an adoption competent provider, and respite (Smith, 2014). However, there is a lack of information regarding the extent and provision of these services in a specific county. A meaningful approach and analysis determining the effectiveness of current services and support groups, gaps in services, and experiences within an adoptive family that lead up to a family requesting post-adoption services is warranted. The “Keeping the Promise” report indicates “Adoptive families have a continuum of service needs; – some face only a few challenges, but at least 40 percent will likely require therapeutic counseling services to understand and effectively address their children’s emotional and behavioral issues and to facilitate a positive family adjustment…Those whose children have the greatest challenges require more-intensive supports such as respite care and specialized adoption preservation services. Being able to receive services for as long as they are needed, rather than for a time-limited period, is linked with more positive outcomes” (Smith, 2014, p. 4) (Atkinson & Gonet, 2007; Gibbs, Siebenaler, & Barth, 2002).
The proposed study seeks to address the steady rate of adoption dissolutions that are occurring and assess the critical factors that exist in the community and contribute to the rate of dissolutions.
The proposed research design will engage in Participatory Action Research (PAR) to critically examine and reflect on the post-adoption service needs and concerns of adoptive children and families. 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 of a PAR approach to examining the issues facing adoptive families (MacDonald, 2012). A mixed-methods methodological approach within a theoretical framework of case study will be utilized. Data collection will include both qualitative and quantitative data through multiple sources: focus groups, in-depth interviews, and surveys. Utilization of a convenience and purposive sampling approach to recruit adoptive parents, including relative and foster parents, former adoptive parents who experienced an adoption dissolution, and adoptees, 12 years and older, from the community to participate in the study. Participants will receive a monetary gift card incentive of $25.00 as an appreciation for their time and commitment.
This proposed study is designed to address the following specific aims:
- Examine the extent to which gaps in adoption-compentent services for adoptive families exist in the community.
- Examine the parenting experiences of adoptive families after finalization of adoption.
- Examine the extent to which barriers exist in the community which negatively impact the coordination of effective services available to adoptive families.
Data collection will occur in stages over the course of a year. Initially, the facilitation of a focus group with all individuals recruited to participant in the study will be completed. The aim of focus group discussion will be on examining current gaps and barriers in post-adoption services within the community. As well as to identify emerging issues the research team considers significant for future empirical examination. All members of the research team will attend and actively participate in the data collection process and serve in the roles of moderator, co-facilitators or observers during the focus group. The presence of all members of the Adoption Advisory Board research team during the focus group contributes to a feeling of mutual understanding among all individuals, given the shared adoption experiences of both the research team and study participants. Therefore, increasing the likelihood of creating a forum of mutual engagement and open dialogue among all participants. The research team will develop and utilize a semi-structured interview guide to facilitate the focus group discussion process. Focus group participants who identify as a current or former adoptive parent will be invited to participate in an in-depth face-to- face interview that will be completed within 90 days following the focus group. All members of the research team will serve in the role of interviewer to complete in-depth, face- to- face interviews with each consenting research participant. Interviews aim to explore parenting experiences of an adoptive parent and are expected to last 1-2 hours. Six months after the initiation of the community study, quantitative data collection will be achieved through an online REDCAP survey developed by the research team. The research team will contact the school board, local child welfare agency, and community mental health agencies to acquire agency staff and administrators’ email contact information. The aim of the survey will be to explore current adoption competent community resources to inform the development and coordination of preventative services responsive to the expressed needs of adoptive families.
The ultimate outcome of the proposed study is the mobilization of 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.
Council on Family and Child Caring Agencies (October 2013). A white paper post adoption services. http://www.cofcca.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Post-Adoption.pdf
MacDonald, C. (2012). Understanding participatory action research: A qualitative research methodology option. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 13(2), 34-50.
Smith, S. L. (2014). Supporting and preserving adoptive families: Profiles of publicly funded post-adoption services. The Donaldson Adoption Institute. https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/xpanel/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/ASAP-State-Study-Final.pdf
Zeitlin, J. (July 28, 2014). She’s given up: When adoptions don’t work out. News-Press. http://www.newspress.com/story/news/local/2014/07/28/given-adoption/13252695/
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