Category Archives: adoption

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

Elevator “wordle” pitch


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New avenues of creativity continue to be embraced this semester.  This week’s use of wordle to visually represent an elevator pitch was fun and  a great exercise.  Also, it can serve as a reflective tool to determine what edits are needed in the elevator pitch.   Reflecting on this wordle, there could be more focus on “community-engagement” in the elevator pitch, as those words do not jump out.  Wordle is a great visual tool that should definitely be included in one’s “tool box.”

The elevator pitch is below:


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

Creating an adoption competent community-Statement of need

On NPR news, Jennifer Ludden discusses in “Helping foster kids even after adoption,” the needs of families after finalization of adoption (August 28, 2012).

The Fostering Connections to Success and Increasing Adoptions Act of 2008 positively impacted permanency outcomes for children residing in the child welfare system through the promotion of adoption (Palacios & Brodzinsky, 2010).  There is a high need for stable, adoptive homes for children residing in foster care.  Every year, an average of 50,000 children are adopted from the foster care system accounting for nearly 40% of the adoptions in the United States (Hanna, Tokarski, Matera, & Fong, 2011; Harwood, Feng, & Yu, 2013).

Significance of Foster Care adoption 

Adoption provides permanency to a youth who otherwise would age out of the system and rely on independent living programs for support (Pecora, 2012). Youth who age out of the foster care system are considered the “most statistically at-risk youth” in the United States (Greeson, Thompson, Evans-Chase, & Ali, 2015, p. 94). There are a tremendous number of benefits and positive outcomes associated with adoption over the alternative permanency outcome of long-term foster care.  Research comparing adoption and long-term foster care indicates adoption provides more stability and costs less than supporting children through long-term foster care (Carnochan, Moore, & Austin, 2013).  In a study comparing adoption versus long-term foster care costs over an initial 7.7 year period, the government spends approximately $21,000 less on an adopted child than a child who remains in care (Barth, Kwon, Wildfire, & Guo, 2006).  It is estimated that foster care adoption saves approximately $258,000 in child welfare costs and nets $143,000 in taxpayer savings for each child (Kamarck, Wilson, Hansen,  & Katz, 2011).

In 2013, Florida finalized 3,356 adoptions of children involved in the child welfare system (News-Press, July 28, 2014).  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 dissolution across the state.  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.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 11.15.05 AMOne recommendation in the Governor’s Office of Adoption and Child Protection Annual Report (2013) is ongoing analysis of post-adoption services within each county (p. 37).  Currently, funding for post-adoption services in the state is limited to providing information & referral, educational materials & programs, mental health services through an adoption competent provider, and respite.  However, there is a lack of information regarding the extent and provision of these services in a specific county.  Specifically focusing on the yearly number of dissolutions, including the specific reasons, does not inform one’s understanding of “why” dissolutions occur in a specific community.   In order to understand the “why”, 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.

Adoptive families & challenges

Perry & Henry (2009) noted five critical areas related to special needs adoption: integration into the family, attachment formation and grief support, reasonable expectations of child behavior and family functioning, management of difficult child behavior, and availability of supports and social services.  Child welfare adoption that is considered “special needs adoption” identifies children who have a physical, mental, or behavioral disability or are of a specific race, age, or part of a sibling group which impacts the feasibility of finding an adoptive placement (LaFountain, 2011; Perry & Henry, 2009).  Children who have resided in the foster care system have significant needs that contribute to stress adoptive parents feel and the demands on the family unit.  Furthermore, these challenges may continue after the adoption is finalized.  In one study, 41% of special needs adopted children exhibited externalizing behaviors including lying, stealing, verbal and physical aggression, tantrums, hyperactivity, and inattention that scored in the clinical range of the Child Behavior Checklist (Zosky, Howard, Smith, Howard, & Shelvin, 2005). Adopted children also may exhibit internalizing behaviors of sleeping difficulties, lack of self-confidence, fears, insecurities, fantasizing, anxiety, and depression (Hanna & McRoy, 2011; Singer & Krebs, 2008).  LaFountain (2011) details the parenting characteristics of “tolerance for ambivalent and negative feelings, a sense of entitlement to care for the child, ability to find happiness in small increments of improvement, flexible expectations, good coping skills, tolerance for rejection, ability to delay personal gratification, good listening skills, a sense of humor, and flexible family roles” that contribute to the success of special needs adoption (p. 265).

When compared to parents of biological children, adoptive parents are more likely to have higher education and incomes than do the families of stepchildren or biological children, and adoptive parents are on average five years older than those of biological children (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2010).  Adoption-related experiences that contribute to the challenges facing adoptive families are adoptive parents who are coping with infertility, older child adoptions, or issues related to transracial and/or transcultural adoptions (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2010).  Finally, “adoptive families are two to five times more likely to seek counseling or other professional help and are four to seven times more likely to seek residential treatment for their children than are families raising the children born to them” (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2010, p. 12).

Why utilize a CEnR approach

Overall, the knowledge base on post-adoption services continues to be underdeveloped and there is a critical need for rigorous research (Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2010.  Beginning in early 1990’s, evaluations of post-adoption programs began, yet in 2001 it was noted the majority were descriptive and lacking comparison groups.  A lack of empirical knowledge, especially utilizing a community-engaged approach, hinders the development of evidence-based post-adoption support services.

In response to the high number of adoption dissolutions in Manatee County, a community advisory board of diverse individuals including adoptive parents, two families who experienced a dissolution, teen and adult adoptees, and two mental health clinicians who are also adoptive parents was established.  This academic-community partnership has developed a strong and trusting working- relationship through weekly in-person meetings over a nine month period.  Strengths of the academic-community partnership to conduct the proposed research study include individuals committed to the advisory board representing a diverse adoption population in Manatee County, as well as possessing a vast amount of adoption knowledge and experiences.  Two community needs assessments were conducted with adoptive families and professionals from areas of child welfare, mental health, education, public health, and the Department of Juvenile Justice.  As a result, the community expressed a need for in-depth examination of the needs of adoptive families after finalization, with the long-term goal of developing an adoption competent community.  This proposed study aims to fill in gaps and further develop knowledge through community-engaged research with adoptive families and adoptees.  This proposed study is designed to address the following specific aims:

1. Examine the extent to which gaps in adoption-compentent services for adoptive families exist in the community.  

2.  Assess the parenting experiences of adoptive families after finalization of adoption.   

3.  Examine the extent to which barriers exist in the community which negatively impact the coordination of effective services available to adoptive families.  

Please view my elevator pitch

Part 3

1. Establish a clear purpose & goals of engagement and population of interest being sought out.  Given the lack of rigorous examination of post-adoption services, a gap of knowledge exists.  Engaging with individuals who are directly affected by adoption every day, such as adoptive families and adoptees, and collaborating to establish their goals in conducting community- based research is fundamental.  This community-based engagement will explore ways to build an adoption competent community both directly and indirectly strengthening adoptive children and families, thus reducing the number of adoption dissolutions that occur.

2.  Knowledge of all aspects of the community is vital given the diversity among adoptive families.  Adoptive families consist of one or two-parent families, LGBTQ individuals or couples, transracial and transcultural families, and relative and foster parent adoptions.  Many of the families have interacted with community agencies and the child welfare system in varying capacities before the adoption was finalized.  These individuals all differ in their perception of past experiences, both negatively and positively, with community-based agencies.  Understanding each individual’s perception and experiences will facilitate building a strong and trusting partnership among all partners.

3.  Build trust in order for community to engage and commit will take time as the researcher’s past experience with adoption is limited to professional experience.  Scheduling regular and on-going formal meetings  is key to the engagement process.  Child-welfare agencies are the gate keepers to engaging with the foster and adoption community.  Becoming involved with adoption-related agency activities and foster-parent association meetings is one step to demonstrate one’s genuine commitment to this community.

4. Empowering the communities right to self-determination from the beginning and throughout the process is critical.  In order to formulate research questions and a research plan through collaboration, all individuals contribute through attendance of meetings, voicing input, sharing of ideas and decision-making in every aspect of engagement.


Barth, R. P., Kwon, C. L., Wildfire, J., & Guo, S. (2006). A Comparison of the Governmental    Costs of Long‐Term Foster Care and Adoption. Social Service Review, 80(1), 127-158.

Carnochan, S., Moore, M., & Austin, M. J. (2013). Achieving timely adoption. Journal of Evidence-based social work, 10, (3), 210-219.

Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute (October 2010).  Keeping the promise:  The critical need for post-adoption services to enable children and families to succeed.  Policy & Practice Perspective.

Greeson, J. K. P., Thompson, A. E., Evans-Chase, M., & Ali, S. (2015). Child welfare professionals’ attitudes and beliefs about child welfare-based natural mentoring for older youth in foster care. Journall of Social Service Research, 41(1), 93-112.

Hanna, M., Tokarski, K., Matera, D., & Fong, R. (2011). Happily Ever After? The Journey From Foster Care to Adoption. Adoption Quarterly,14(2), 107-131.

Hanna, M. D. & McRoy, R. G. (2011). Innovative practice approaches to matching in adoption.  Journal of Public Child Welfare, 5, 45-66.

Harwood, R., Feng, X., & Yu, S. (2013).  Preadoption adversities and postadoption mediators of mental health and school outcomes among international, foster, and private adoptees in the United States.  Journal of Family Psychology,27(3),  409-420.


Kamarck, E. C., Wilson, J. B., Hansen, M. E., & Katz, J. (2011). Eliminating barriers to the adoption of children in foster care. Recommendations for Nationwide Reform Presented by Listening to Parents.

LaFountain, R. (2011). Individual psychology as a framework for understanding and encouraging adoptive families with late-placed children. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 67,(3), 245-268.

Palacios, J. & Brodzinsky, D. (2010). Adoption research: Trends, topics, outcomes.  International Journal of Behavioral Development, 34(3), 270-284.

Pecora, P. J. (2012). Maximizing educational achievement of youth in foster care and alumni:  Factors associated with success. Children and Youth Services Review, 24, 1121-1129.

Perry, C. L. & Henry, M. J. (2009). Family and professional considerations for adoptive parents of children with special needs. Marriage and Family Review, 45, 538-565.

Singer, E. & Krebs, M. (2008). Assisting adoptive families: Children adopted at older ages.  Pediatric Nursing, 34(2), 170-173.

Zosky, D. L., Howard, J. A., Smith, S. L., Howard, A. M., & Shelvin, K. H. (2005). Investing in adoptive families: What adoptive families tell us regarding the benefits of adoption preservation services. Adoption Quarterly 8(3), 1-23.

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